Chapter 4g: Thoughts on Shots

Above: Lee Harvey Oswald, firing an M-1 rifle while in the Marines. This was a semi-automatic weapon, meaning that each succeeding bullet entered the chamber without the shooter having to operate a bolt. This made it much easier to fire than the bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald supposedly fired on 11-22-63. 

Thoughts on Shots

Beyond the reasons already discussed, there are purely technical reasons to doubt Oswald was one among any number of shooters. The sniper's nest shooter was in a very crammed space, rapid-firing on a target moving left to right, and was purported to have taken these shots while sitting on a box, using a gun rest. There are 1) reasons to believe a man with Oswald's limited training would not only not be able to pull this off, but would not even attempt to fire shots in this manner, and 2) reasons to believe that whoever did fire from the sniper's nest did not fire shots in this manner. 


Now here is the box on the window ledge, as filmed by Tom Alyea on 11-22-63. To be clear, this footage was taken before the arrival of the crime lab, and the taking of any evidence photos.

And here is a photo of these boxes taken from above by the crime lab, a short time later. Now, the chief purpose of this photo was to show the three shells on the floor. But note, nevertheless, that the boxes in this photo appear to be slightly out of alignment, with the window sill box turned slightly to the left of the top box. Well, this confirms the placement of the boxes in the Alyea film, in which a slight gap between the window box and top box is apparent on the corner closest to the camera. 

Now here is the view down Elm Street from the sniper's nest on 11-22-63. This photo is presumed to have been taken within a few hours of the shooting with the purported rifle-rest box in its original location, albeit turned at a different angle to the window. Most current Oswald did-it theorists believe that 1) the first shot was fired just before Kennedy reached the tree just past the window ledge, 2) the second shot was fired just after he'd emerged from beneath this tree (in roughly the location of the white car in the photo), and 3) that the third and fatal shot was fired as the limo passed the location of the next car in the photo.

Now, there's a problem, right? One can see from this that the sniper would not have been able to track his (or her) target until roughly the time of the first shot, and that the box would have interfered with the tracking of the target from left to right. 

Of course, that wasn't the original position of the boxes. Here is another angle on this configuration of the boxes, courtesy newsman William Allen. To be clear, this photo is presumed to have been taken shortly after the photo presented above. 

Well, look at the boxes. Instead of having two stacked up on top of each other, and a third sitting on the window sill, as shown in the Alyea footage, this configuration has all three in one stack. Now let's compare. The bottom box of the stack is reported to have been 18 by 12 by 14, and the other two are reported to have been 13 by 9 by 8. If so, well, then, this stack would appear to be 32 inches high (14 + 9 + 9). 

Now, here's a photo of the Dallas Police Department's reconstruction of the sniper's nest on 11-25-63. Note that for this reconstruction the window box is once again on the window sill and that the bottom box has been turned on end. Well, this makes the stack about 27 inches high (18 + 9). So, yeah, okay, if this was indeed the configuration on 11-22-63, then the sniper would have had 5 inches more visibility across the top of the highest box than shown in the DPD's crime scene photo of the sniper's nest view, and the press photo taken by William Allen, and the sniper could have tracked the limo along Elm. Maybe.

Now, a close look at this photo proves the stack of boxes by the window ledge is about two bricks further to the west than the stack of boxes on 11-22-63, and that a stack of boxes just behind that stack has been removed entirely. Well, this served to give the sniper more room. And the question then becomes...was there enough room for the sniper to fire his shots on 11-22-63 should he have been sitting on the so-called seat box, and, if not, was the so-called seat box placed into the sniper's nest by the Dallas Police later in the day? (And yes, if you're following the bouncing ball, that's right...the Dallas Police failed to take even one picture of the so-called seat box on the day of the assassination.)

Now here is a photo of this reconstruction from a lower angle, so one can see that the top box of the stack was higher than the box on the window sill. 

In any event, on 11-27-63 the Secret Service filmed its own reconstruction of the sniper's nest. Although this reconstruction similarly excluded the stack just in back of the window, it nevertheless confirmed that yessiree there would have been enough space for the sniper to fire over the top of the window boxes, when the boxes were as filmed by Alyea. 

But look closer. This Secret Service reconstruction reveals as well that the right knee of the shooter, should he have been sitting on the seat box, as presumed, and as depicted by Agent John Joe Howlett above, would have been right up against the stack of boxes removed from the Dallas Police and Secret Service reconstructions of the sniper's nest, i.e. the boxes depicted in the Allen photo just back of the window stack.  

In such case, then, the Dallas Police and Secret Service photos of a re-constructed sniper's nest suggest what should readily have been apparent...that a sniper firing from this location would have to have cozied up to the front wall by the pipe, and would not have been readily visible to a spectator directly across the street. 

This reconstruction served to highlight another problem, as well. The so-called seat box as presented in the Dallas Police reconstruction photos was 14 inches tall. This was 4 inches shorter than the same-sized box stacked up by the window, when stacked up on its end. And yet, here, in the Secret Service's re-enactment of the sniper's nest, Agent Howlett is shown sitting on a much smaller and shorter box, with his butt at least 8 inches below the box stacked on end by the window. Well, this raises the question of whether or not a sniper sitting on the box as presented in the Dallas Police photos would be in a position to calmly look down the street and aim his rifle, as depicted by Howlett. 

I mean, looky here, take a second gander of Howlett on the box. Now imagine his rump lifted up four inches or more. Well, this would necessitate his leaning down over the box, correct? It seems possible, then, that the alignment of the boxes is suggestive of a sniper considerably shorter than Howlett, and perhaps Oswald as well.

So let us look, then, at other re-constructions or re-enactments of the sniper's nest, and see if they confirm our suspicion the seat box and window boxes were not properly aligned for someone firing the three shots proposed by most sole-assassin theorists. 

Now here is CE 880, showing FBI photography expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt in the sniper's nest window as he filmed the FBI's May 24, 1964 re-enactment on Elm Street. Note that he is yessiree crouched off to the left of the window, and is not sitting on the box by his right knee, the approximate location of Box D, the box on which Oswald was purported to have sat while he calmly shot the President. Now note as well that even with his crouch Shaneyfelt's arms are well above the window ledge.

And now take a look at Warren Commission Exhibit 581. This is one of the Army's shooters attempting to re-create Oswald's purported feat. Note that he is at an extreme angle to the window sill. Note that he is not using a rifle rest... And now note that his elbows are resting on a window ledge that is a foot or so further off the floor than the window ledge in the sniper's nest. 


Well, heck. In order to get the best angle down Elm, they had to get right up by the window, and hug the pipes to the east of the window. My Lord. They had made, assumedly inadvertently, a convincing argument the sniper wasn't sitting on Box D during the shooting, and not only that, that he did not use Boxes A and B as a rifle rest for the shots as the limo proceeded down Elm. 

Now wait a second. Perhaps the highlight of CBS' 4-part program on the assassination in 1967 was an attempted re-creation of Oswald's purported shooting feat, in which a number of shooters, of varying skill, fired at a target moving down a track at roughly the speed of JFK's limousine. These attempted re-creations largely failed. With one notable exception. On his third try, weapons expert Howard Donahue hit the moving target three times in 5.2 seconds. Now, here is a screen grab from the CBS program showing Donahue firing upon the target. 

Well, look at Donahue's position in relation to the simulated window sill and track. For one, there is no wall to Donahue's left and no tree blocking his view of the target or interfering with his tracking of the target. For two, he is not using a rifle rest. He is resting his left hand on the window ledge. For three, he is, much as the Army shooter hired by the Warren Commission, leaning on a window ledge a foot or so higher than the window ledge of the sniper's nest. Well, this was hardly a reasonable facsimile of the supposed sniper's nest.

And no, I'm not cherry-picking. Here is another image from CBS' broadcast. Note that a stack of boxes has been provided this shooter but that he has chosen to ignore it and shoot with his arms up in the air while crouching. 

Now it wasn't as if no one used a box. Of the 12 shooters hired by CBS to simulate Oswald's purported shooting feat, 5 of them were shown on the broadcast, and only 1 of these shooters used a box to support his aim. Here he is...

Well, okay. There is no box on the window ledge, just one stacked up behind the window on which the shooter is resting his hand. In other words, the rifle itself did not touch the box.   

So, yeah, CBS' simulation supported that a shooter's tracking a moving vehicle while sitting on a box and using a second box as a rifle rest was a feat neither the Army's shooters nor CBS' shooters were willing to attempt. 

Now, let's look back at Agent Howlett. Here he is again. Imagine he has a rifle in his hands and he is leaning forward taking aim at the President. He'd scoot his butt back a few inches. He'd put his right elbow near his right knee, and place his left hand, holding the barrel of the rifle, on the top box, right? So what was the purpose of the window box? Should the sniper have been tracking his target, it would only have served as a distraction, right?

It appears so. Here is a glimpse down the street over the tops of the boxes in the Secret Service's re-construction film. As this is shown, the narrator, James Underwood, adds: "We look out of the window over the re-constructed position of the boxes for a few seconds before we remove the boxes to photograph the simulated motorcade."

Well, I'll be. Assuming this shot was taken from the angle of someone sitting on the seat box, the boxes would not only have interfered with a sniper's firing down on the limo before it reached the tree (its location at the time of the first shot as proposed by most single-assassin theorists), but would have prevented a sniper from viewing the limo at the time most everyone agrees a shot was fired, when the limo first came out from under the tree.  

Might one assume, then, that the window box served no purpose other than to draw attention to the window after the shooting, and that the sniper was not sitting on the seat box? 

The problems we've been discussing would bubble back to the surface many years later, moreover. In 2011, the National Geographic Channel produced and presented a rather poor documentary, JFK: The Lost Bullet, that nevertheless had a few redeeming segments. One of these was an attempt to recreate the sniper's nest, and project the angles of the shots fired from the window. What they found went unstated, but could readily be observed by those knowing what to look for. Here is a screen grab from this program, showing the sniper aiming at the locations of the limo for shots two and three (Z-224 and Z-313). 

The problems we've been discussing would bubble back to the surface many years later, moreover. In 2011, the National Geographic Channel produced and presented a rather poor documentary, JFK: The Lost Bullet, that nevertheless had a few redeeming segments. One of these was an attempt to recreate the sniper's nest, and project the angles of the shots fired from the window. What they found went unstated, but could readily be observed by those knowing what to look for. Here is a screen grab from this program, showing the sniper aiming at the locations of the limo for shots two and three (Z-224 and Z-313). 

Well, hell, he's not sitting on a box, is he? And no, he's not directly behind the boxes in the window, is he? And yeah, it's just as we presumed. In order to fire the shots presumably fired from the sniper's nest, the sniper would have to have been snuggled up by the pipe to the left of the boxes, and firing at an angle to the window box. Well, this raises the question of whether or not this box was of any assistance, whatsoever. I mean, the car was rising in the distance from the perspective of the shooter, and the front rim of the box, on which the rifle was presumed to have been propped, was descending as the sniper turned to his right. Here, see for yourself.

Well, it seems clear, then, that at least two of the common presumptions about the sniper's nest are nonsense: 1) that the sniper sat on Box D while firing the fatal shots, and 2) that the window box (Box B) served as a rifle rest. Someone sitting on Box D (the seat box) in the position presented in the re-constructions would not have been able to fire the shots purportedly fired from the window, and the window box was too low to be of any assistance.

Now look back at Nat Geo's presentation for the stack of boxes behind the window. They had the bottom box turned top side up so that it stood 14 inches off the floor, when the Dallas Police and Secret Service presented this box as standing on end, so that it stood 18 inches off the floor. Well, a correcting of this (presumed) error would serve to lift the top box 4 inches higher off the floor, and put it right at their Oswald's stand-in's forearm. So, yeah, perhaps the top box of this stack (Box A), often accused of serving as a rifle rest, may have actually served as a rest for the sniper's right forearm.

Or not. I mean, if that was the case, why haven't any of the numerous re-enactments shown on TV replicated this arrangement? Here's a screen grab from a 2013 re-enactment performed for The History Channel program The JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide. Note that the shooter is using but one large box, that his left hand is on this box, that he is crouched (not sitting) directly behind this box, and that his trigger hand and arm are unimpeded by this box.  

And here's how, in 2020, Japanese network NHK presented the sniper in the sniper's nest, with the sniper sitting on a box...

Now let's compare this image to the previous re-enactments. That this was not an accurate depiction becomes clear when one compares the height of the boxes. The DPD and FBI re-enactments stood the bottom box on edge, which lifted the top box on the stack above the level of the box on the window sill. In this re-enactment, much as the 2011 Nat Geo re-enactment, the box on the window sill is higher. And that wasn't the only inaccuracy. Note the angle of the rifle out the window. Much as the 2013 History Channel re-enactment, the sniper is shooting almost straight out the window, as opposed to shooting far off to the right of the window. It seems clear, then, that NHK, as the History Channel, Nat Geo and CBS before them, found that the stack of boxes as portrayed by the DPD and FBI made little sense, and was of no assistance when firing off to the right where Kennedy and Connally were actually shot on 11-22-63. 

In 2021, moreover, I finally gave in, and asked for some assistance on this issue. And found it. Yes, on February 9, 2021, Sixth Floor Museum curator Stephen Fagan kindly responded to my request he provide me a photograph of what one would see while sitting on the box which Oswald had supposedly been sitting upon. Now, he didn't actually sit on the box, but he told me he did try to reproduce what someone Oswald's size would see while sitting on the box. He sent me two photos, representing two slightly different views obtained by varying his forward lean. Here is the first photo. 

Well, it's as I've mused. If Oswald had been calmly sitting on Box D, the seat box, his view of the street below would have been obstructed by the window box, Box B.  So let's look at Fagan's second photo, which was taken while he was leaning sharply forward. 

Egads!!! When leaning forward, the box is lifted even higher into view, and obscures even more of the street, including  the stretch of street where the first shot was fired. 

So, no, Oswald did not sit on the supposed seat box while firing his rifle. If he had, the window box would have obscured his view of the limo as it passed in front of the building and even afterwards. 

It seems obvious, moreover, that the area into which the shots were fired is to the right of the window box, to such an extent that a rifle "resting" on this box would have to be "resting" while at a sharp angle to the box. 

So we have no reason to believe the seat box and window box were used during the shooting.  They would have, if anything, interfered with the tracking of the limousine. 

It bears repeating here, moreover, what was discussed back in Chapter 3--that, even with the addition of these shims, and a re-aligned scope, the test shooters hired by the Warren Commission failed to match Oswald's purported feat... (And this, even though they'd been given practice shots...and were firing upon stationary targets...from half the elevation Oswald was purported to have fired from... etc.)

Here, once again, are the targets fired upon by the professional test shooters. The location of their hits are circled in chalk. The then-presumed location of Oswald's two hits are marked by red stars. 

Here are the targets for the first and second shot. 

Note that the test shooters performed far better on the first target. This was because, unlike Oswald, who was purported to have begun firing as soon as his target (Kennedy) had come out from under a tree, they'd been allowed as much time as they needed for this first shot. Now note how with the second shot, for which they'd had to operate the bolt of the rifle, and re-acquire the target within the scope, within a few seconds, their accuracy went to hell. Not one of their shots came as close to the center of the target as either of the hits attributed to Oswald. 

Now here's the third target. (This target, as published by the Warren Commission, was incredibly hard to make out. So, yes, I've altered the contrast on this image in order to reveal the chalk marks.)

Now this is even worse than the second target. Not only were none of the "hits" as close to the center of the target as the two "hits" attributed to Oswald, some of the shots fired at this target missed completely. It appears then that the process of rapidly re-loading the rifle and re-acquiring the target as it gets further and further away gets more and more difficult from shot to shot, and not easier. 

It seems clear, then, that Oswald would have to have had considerable practice with this rifle in order to have accomplished his purported feat. And that's not just my conjecture...

Above: Dr. John Lattimer conducting his Mannlicher-Carcano tests, as presented in the May 1972 issue of Resident and Staff Physician. Note that he is sitting directly behind the boxes on which he rests his left hand, and that there is no box  in front of the box on which he rests his left hand. This is at odds with the sniper's nest as presented by the Dallas Police and Secret Service. 

So...single-assassin theorists supporting the LPM scenario (the currently popular scenario in which shots were fired at or just before frames 160, 224, and 313 of the Zapruder film) have a choice. First, to be true to Lattimer, Connally, and Oswald's brother, they must agree that the Warren Commission was wrong and hold that Oswald had somehow acquired extensive practice with his rifle. Second, to be true to the accumulated literature on sniping they should either 1) assert Oswald used a gun rest and a scope, and missed anyhow, and then propose he successfully fired the next two shots while using the iron sights, or 2) take a cue from the HSCA and admit the use of a scope would only complicate his shots, and assert that he tracked the limo using the iron sights for all three shots. In any alternative, they should admit that the photos of Kennedy's stand-in taken through a 4 power scope from the sniper's nest at the moment of the head shot are deceptive, and most probably not representative of what actually was seen by the sniper.

That they continue to use this photo to push that the shots were easy and that Oswald used a scope indicates that they either have far greater faith in Oswald's ability and/or luck than warranted or far less respect for the truth than desired.

Of course, those claiming Oswald performed the shooting without using the scope are no better...

Not to be Outdone...

The Warren Commission, as we have seen, concluded that the shooting was not all that difficult for someone of Oswald's shooting ability. As ridiculous as this was, however, it was destined to be topped by the conclusions of a subsequent government body regarding the difficulty of the shooting, and Oswald's ability.

By the close of its existence, at the end of 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had come to accept that the assassination of President Kennedy had been recorded on a dictabelt recording created when a police motorcycle microphone jammed in the open position. They'd been told, moreover, that this recording captured shots from the sniper's nest circa frames 160, 190, and 313 of the Zapruder film, and a shot from the grassy knoll circa frame 295. Well, for this to be true, the sniper's nest shooter--Oswald--would have to have gotten off two shots in about 1.7 seconds--when the FBI had concluded long before that it would have taken 2.3 seconds to re-load, aim, and fire the rifle. So how did the HSCA get around this? Well, on March 21, 1979, months after the committee had seized to exist as a committee, its two top counsel, Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, performed some tests to make sure that the rifle could, in fact, be fired in the time allotted. 

Blakey's memorandum on these tests is included in Vol. 8 of the Committee's report. It's remarkable in a number of ways. For one, it admits that the rifle purportedly used in the assassination had deteriorated by 1979 and was not used in the tests. For two, it admits that the tests were performed by four expert marksmen on a rifle similar to the one purportedly used in the shooting, and that each was allowed to practice with the bolt for several minutes before firing. Now, Oswald, as we've seen, was not an expert marksmen, and was not believed to have practiced with the bolt for several minutes before firing. But wait, it gets worse. These four experts were allowed two series of three shots each, using only the iron sights, thereby bypassing the problematic scope the Warren Commission had come to claim was the key to Oswald's success in the shooting. The memorandum then records the results of these tests, er rather, the highlights of these tests. One shooter, Officer Masson, hit the body on the first two shots and narrowly missed the head with the third. It took him 2 seconds to fire the first two shots, and slightly less than 5 seconds to fire all three. Well, this was not bad, but was this really the best series of the eight attempted by these experts? Yep. By a country mile. The memo then offers that two shooters, Smith and Masson, were able to fire two shots within 1.9 seconds, and that ONE of their three shots--clearly not the rushed shot--scored a "kill," which, unbelievably, is defined as ANY shot hitting the silhouette of a body from the waist to the top of the head. Well, these three highlights--the other five attempts to replicate Oswald's purported shooting must have been totally embarrassing for these three to have been the highlights--leads Blakey to conclude that "it is apparently difficult--but not impossible--at least with only minimal practice with the firearm used--to fire three shots, at least two of which are 'kills,' with an elapsed time of 1.7 seconds or less between any two shots." 

Well, it's difficult, but not impossible, to do many things people are not likely to do, or to have done. If you see someone walking down the other side of the street, it's possible they got there by doing a cartwheel over a moving car. But is it likely for them to have performed a cartwheel over a moving car? In any event, Blakey then acknowledges that he has come to conclude that Oswald was capable of performing the shooting as proposed "even though, in the limited testing conducted, no shooter achieved this degree of proficiency." Well, geez, the fastest any of these experts was able to fire the rifle--which was not the actual rifle, and which was presumably in better condition than the actual rifle--while using the iron sights and disregarding the time-consuming scope, was once every 1.9 seconds. So where does Blakey get off just assuming Oswald could do it in 1.7 seconds? this is key, so pay attention...he, Robert Blakey, and his assistant, Gary Cornwell, picked up the rifle after the experts had failed to fire the shots as fast as was deemed necessary, practiced with the bolt for a couple of minutes, and then fired the rifle as fast as they possibly could--and were able to do so in 1.5 and 1.2 seconds, respectively. That's it. They'd shown that the rifle could be fired faster than once every 1.7 seconds. Of course, they did this WITHOUT ACTUALLY AIMING the rifle. (They pointed the rifle in the general direction of the target, fired...and missed every time). Well, this was just ridiculous. Fabulously ridiculous. Keep in mind that the HSCA--at Blakey's urging--had already concluded that the first of Oswald's shots--the one for which he'd had the most time to aim and fire--had missed Kennedy, Connally, everything... And now absorb that he turned around and told them that Oswald had hit Kennedy and Connally with the second shot while just pointing the rifle in Kennedy's general direction. 

Yeah... You can't make this stuff up... Nor should you want to...

Thoughts on Shots (Continued)

Hmmm... Beyond that many witnesses thought they heard shots from the knoll, a number of witnesses saw smoke or smelled smoke in the area. Was this smoke the smoke of a firecracker? Used for diversionary purposes? By someone trained in military tactics?

Chapter 4h: The Curtain Rod Story