JAHS Chapter 1:
11-22 ending at Kennedy's laying in state at WH
Add in motorcade pics
And crime lab stuff palm print on box d NO, not till 26
mistaken descriptions of rifle
first pictures of bag
clean up crew NO when SS covered up in its reports
Welcome to Dallas
Above: the JFK limousine at Love Field, at the beginning of the fateful motorcade. A smiling John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline are in the back seat, with Governor John Connally of Texas sitting right in front of Kennedy. The grimace-faced man in the bottom right corner is Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman, Kennedy's chief bodyguard that day. (And yes, that's Clint Hill back behind Mrs. Kennedy.)
Above: the limo a bit later, near the beginning of the motorcade. Note that here, as above, Governor Connally is sitting right in front of Kennedy, and is not sitting significantly inboard of Kennedy (as some would later claim)--with his head in front of Kennedy's left shoulder.
Now here is a gif taken from the Jefferies film. This shows the occupants on the left side of the limo. That's William Greer driving the beast, and First Lady of Texas Nellie Connally in the jump seat in front of Mrs. Kennedy.
Now here, unfortunately, is the motorcade on Elm Street, as filmed by Mr. Abraham Zapruder.
Shots on the Motorcade
Forget everything you think you know about the Kennedy assassination. Your mind is clear and open to new impressions. It is 11-22-63. You are sitting at home, listening to the radio, when suddenly a newsman interrupts your favorite show.
He reads from a 12:34 P.M. UPI news bulletin: “Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas.”
These are the words of Merriman Smith, a reporter for United Press International. Smith was sitting in the middle of the front seat of the presidential press pool car—a car riding but five cars back of the Presidential limousine in the motorcade--that was equipped with a phone. Upon hearing these shots, Smith grabbed ahold of this phone, called in this report, and refused to yield the phone to his fellow reporters.
Now, to most humans, Smith’s behavior would be inappropriate, if not downright disgusting. Someone has shot at the President of the United States, and a veteran newsman has responded to this not by sharing the lone phone available to the press traveling with the President but by fighting off his fellow newsmen in order to hold onto a scoop.
Of course, in journalism circles, this is the stuff of legend.
According to this legend, Smith smothered the phone like a fumbled football in order to keep it from his chief competitor, Jack Bell of the Associated Press, as a now-diminished motorcade (a half a dozen motorcycle escorts, a lead car containing the Dallas Chief of Police and Dallas Sheriff, the President’s limousine, a Secret Service back-up car, the Vice-President’s car, a second Secret Service car, the Mayor’s car, and, finally, the press pool car) raced to Parkland Hospital.
Here, moreover, is footage of the pool car a few seconds after the first shot was fired. It is turning onto Elm Street from Houston Street, heading straight towards the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which the shots were fired. (At least according to the legend... Remember, we're like Sgt. Schultz on the 1960's TV show Hogan's Heroes. We know nothing.)
This footage was created by NBC News cameraman Dave Wiegman, who was traveling in the convertible just behind the pool car. He turned his camera on at the sound of the first shot, and began filming, hoping to catch something, anything, of importance. He then leapt from his car and ran around for 40 seconds or so before climbing back into the vehicle. While the footage of this mad race is priceless, it may have cost Wiegman something even more valuable. As a result of his mad dash around Dealey Plaza—a grassy park in Dallas, Texas, the scene of the crime--the car in which he was riding fell behind the section of the motorcade racing to the hospital. And that part of history—the arrival of the motorcade at Parkland Hospital, and the transport of the President and Governor Connally into the hospital—went unrecorded.
In any event, upon arrival at the hospital, Smith grabbed another phone and updated his story. This 12:39 flash reads: “Kennedy seriously wounded—perhaps seriously—perhaps fatally—by assassin’s bullet.”
A few minutes later, a more substantive bulletin followed. It reads: “President Kennedy and Gov. John B. Connally of Texas were cut down by an assassin’s bullets as they toured downtown Dallas in an open automobile today. The President, his limp body cradled in the arms of his wife, was rushed to Parkland Hospital. The Governor also was taken to Parkland. Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent assigned to Mrs. Kennedy, said, “He’s dead,” as the President was lifted from the rear of a white house touring car…”
A 12:45 follow-up adds: "Reporters about five car lengths behind the Chief Executive heard what sounded like three bursts of gunfire…There were three loud bursts. Dallas motorcycle officers escorting the President quickly leaped from their bikes and raced up a grassy knoll."
And then, at 12:54: “Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the president's car, probably from a grassy knoll to which police rushed."
Note that I have highlighted certain words in Smith’s last report. These words are at odds with what, first, the FBI, and later, The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (aka the Warren Commission), would come to conclude. These investigations held that the shots were fired seconds apart by a bolt-action rifle, and not by an automatic weapon. They also held that all three shots were fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, a red brick building sitting at the right rear of the President when the shots were fired—and that none of them were fired from the grassy knoll in front of Kennedy, and to his right.
Still, one might assume Smith’s reporting an anomaly, and that other reporters within the motorcade heard three well-spaced shots, and immediately suspected these shots came from a building in back of Kennedy.
But one would be wrong.
Take a gander at the bulletins sent out by the Associated Press within the first half-hour or so of the President’s arrival at Parkland. The first bulletin was provided by James Altgens--an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the assassination from the curb on Elm Street, and then ran to find a phone. Here is this first bulletin:
“President Kennedy was shot as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed him. She cried “Oh, no!” The motorcade sped on. Photographer James Altgens said he saw blood on the President's head. Altgens said he heard two shots but thought someone was shooting fireworks until he saw blood on the President. Altgens said he saw no one with a gun…”
Now, the rest of these bulletins come from Jack Bell, the Associated Press reporter riding in the pool car with Smith, who tried in vain to get access to its phone, but had to settle on calling in his reports from Parkland Hospital, along with everyone else. (Note: I have corrected some spelling errors and slightly edited both these AP bulletins and the previously cited UPI bulletins.)
“AP reporter Jack Bell… said Kennedy was transferred to an ambulance… Bell reported three shots were fired as the motorcade entered the triple underpass which leads to the Stemmons Freeway to Parkland Hospital. Pandemonium broke loose around the scene. The Secret Service waved the motorcade on at top speed to the hospital. Even at high speed it took nearly five minutes to get the car to the ambulance entrance of the hospital. Bell said a man and a woman were scrambling on the upper level of a walkway overlooking the underpass…Mrs. Kennedy was weeping and trying to hold up her husband’s head when reporters reached the car…Kennedy apparently was shot in the head. He fell face down in the back seat of his car. Blood was on his head. Mrs. Kennedy cried ‘Oh, no!’ and tried to hold up his head… Gov. John B Connally of Texas also was cut down by bullets. The President was slumped over in the backseat of the car face down. Connally lay on the floor of the rear seat. It was impossible to tell at once where Kennedy was hit but bullet wounds in Connally’s chest were plainly visible indicating the gunfire might possibly have come from an automatic weapon… It was difficult to determine immediately whether the First Lady and Mrs. Connally were injured. Vice President Johnson was in a car behind the President’s. There was no immediate sign that he was hurt--in fact there was no evidence at all at what might have happened to Johnson since only the President’s car and its Secret Service follow-up car went to the hospital.”
Now, some of the surprising comments contained within these bulletins—Kennedy’s being transferred to an ambulance, Connally’s lying on the floor of the rear seat—were almost certainly the consequence of Bell’s making his report over the phone to a third party who typed it into a teletype—in other words, communication errors. But the bit about Johnson not going to the hospital? That’s either a cover story designed to protect Johnson, or sloppy, sloppy reporting. And the bit about automatic weapons? This was within minutes of Smith’s reporting that the Secret Service thought automatic weapons were fired on the President, probably from a grassy knoll. This would be quite the coincidence…if it was a coincidence.
Now note that Bell’s initial reporting made repeated references to the underpass--which had been in front of the president at the time of the shooting--and did not mention the buildings behind the president at the time of the shooting.
Now consider that an AP article published in the Christchurch Star, shortly after the shooting, declared: “Three bursts of gunfire, apparently from automatic weapons, were heard.”
Well, it’s clear then. Prior to the reporting of the roughly 1:00 P.M. discovery of a bolt-action rifle in the school book depository behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting, the suspicion among the nation’s top newswire reporters--Smith and Bell, who’d been traveling just five cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade—was that an automatic weapon had been fired at the President…from a location in front and to the right of Kennedy.
In retrospect, moreover, this should not be surprising. When one looks at Dealey Plaza, and the location of the limousine when the shots were fired, it only makes sense that the shots would come from in front of Kennedy and to his right, from a white arcade or pergola (resting atop the “grassy knoll” so named by Smith), or from the railroad yards just west of this area.
Here, see for yourself.
The red arrow on the street reflects the location of the limousine while it was under fire. As we’ve seen, Smith and Bell were still on Houston Street, beginning a turn onto Elm, when the first shot rang out. It’s only natural, then, that they would assume the shots came from a concealed location the President was passing or approaching, such as the wooden fence just west of the arcade, or the underpass, and not a location he’d passed seconds before.
But it wasn’t just Smith and Bell who initially suspected shots came from in front of the President. Here’s Altgens, in an eyewitness account sent over the AP newswire that evening, after the discovery of a rifle in a building behind the President. (This more detailed account was also published in the 11-25-63 issue of Stars and Stripes.):
"There was a burst of noise - the second one I heard - and pieces of flesh appeared to fly from President Kennedy's car. Blood covered the whole left side of his head. Mrs. Kennedy saw what had happened to her husband. She grabbed him exclaiming, "Oh, No!" The car's driver realized what had happened and almost as if by reflex speeded up towards the Stemmons Expressway. There seemed to be utter confusion. One motorcycle officer ran his cycle into the curb, almost falling off. Police came from everywhere as the President's car disappeared from sight. At first I thought the shots came from the opposite side of the street. I ran over there to see if I could get some pictures. But it turned out to be just more confusion. Police ran in all directions in search of the assassin. I did not know until later where the shots came from. I was on the opposite side of the President's car from the gunman. He might have hit me. The motorcade was moving along in routine fashion until there was a noise like fireworks popping. I snapped a picture of the motorcade at just about that time, still unaware of what was happening. I cranked my camera for another shot. The procession still moved along slowly. Then came the second burst of noise."
And here’s the photo taken by Altgens just about the time the fireworks popped.
Note that the southeast corner of the school book depository—the supposed location from which all the shots were fired---is far down the street, behind Kennedy.
Now, if all the shots were fired from this building, as per the Warren Commission's subsequent conclusion, does it make a lick of sense that Smith and Bell, in a car right below the supposed sniper’s nest, and Altgens, on the street a hundred yards or so to the west of them, would all initially suspect shots had been fired from the grassy knoll area across the street from Altgens?
Perhaps. But here’s the key to picking up what I am putting down: I’m not here to say this is impossible or that is impossible, or that since this is possible it must be true. I’m here to assess what is likely.
And it seems unlikely that Smith, Bell, and Altgens would all come away with the impression shots were fired from in front of Kennedy, should they all have been fired from behind.
BIG PROBLEM: The earliest reports out of the media indicated a shot or shots came from in front of Kennedy, when the Oswald had been behind Kennedy.
At approximately 12:45 P.M., within 15 minutes of Kennedy's being shot, assassination witness William Newman, who was less than 30 feet to the right rear of Kennedy when the fatal bullet struck, was interviewed live on television station WFAA. This was 45 minutes before the announcement of Kennedy’s death. Newman told Jay Watson: "We were at the curb when this incident happened. But the President’s car was some fifty feet in front of us still yet in front of us coming toward us when we heard the first shot and the President. I don't know who was hit first but the President jumped up in his seat, and I thought it scared him, I thought it was a firecracker, cause he looked, you know, fear. And then as the car got directly in front of us, well, a gun shot apparently from behind us hit the President in the side, the side of the temple.”
Now here's where things get sticky. As Newman said this, Watson was leaning over his right shoulder, so Newman pointed to his left temple, with his only free hand.
Here, see for yourself...
Now, newsman Watson then did his job, and asked if non-newsman Newman thought this second shot came from the same direction as the first. Newman responded: "I think it came from the same location apparently back up on the mall, whatchacallit...not on the viaduct itself but up on top of the hill, on the mound, of ground, in the garden."
So that was what America, and the world, was told, in the moments after the assassination--that Kennedy had been shot in the left temple from a mound behind where Bill Newman had been standing. This seemed to jive, moreover, with what motorcycle officer (and supposed Kennedy bodyguard) James Chaney had just told a radio interviewer--that the second of two shots had struck Kennedy in the "face." (At the time, of course, no one knew Newman had been standing on the right side of Kennedy, and that he'd pointed to the wrong temple.)
That didn't last long.
At 1:17, about a half-hour later, Watson interviewed Gayle Newman, who'd been standing right beside her husband and had had an equally close look at the President's wound. She reported: "We were standing next to the curb so the children could see the President. And the car was just up apiece from us and this shot fired out, and I thought it was a firecracker, and the President kind of raised up in his seat. And I thought, you know, he was kind of going along with a gag or something. And then all of a sudden the next one popped, and Governor Connally grabbed his stomach and kind of laid over to the side. And then another one—it was just awful fast. And President Kennedy reached up and grabbed--it looked like he grabbed--his ear and blood just started gushing out." Now, as she said this she motioned to her right temple with both of her hands.
Here, see for yourself...
Well, alright. That's one left and one right. Shall we go for a tie-breaker?
At 1:33 p.m., when Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announced President Kennedy’s death from Parkland Hospital, he told the country: “President John F. Kennedy died at approximately one o’clock Central Standard Time today here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound in the brain…The President was shot once, in the head...Dr. Burkley [Dr. George Burkley, Kennedy's personal physician] told me it is a simple matter…of a bullet right through the head.
Now, at this time, Kilduff pointed to his right temple.
When then asked where the bullet entered, Kilduff specified "It is my understanding that it entered in the temple, the right temple.”
Above: the scene outside Parkland Hospital in Dallas as the public awaited word of the President's condition.
Although much about the assassination of John F. Kennedy is in dispute, or tinged with mystery, most everyone agrees he was shot in the head on a Dallas street about 12:30 PM CST, 11-22-63, and that he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital shortly before 1:00 PM CST.
While this marked the end of history for Kennedy, his death marked the beginning of a bizarre new chapter in American history...that continues to this day.
CBS News, whose reporting on the shooting was to become the stuff of legend, reported so many falsehoods and half-truths in the first hour after the shooting that one might wonder why the entire news team wasn't fired. As we've seen, within a few minutes of the shooting, the Associated Press reported that Kennedy had been transferred to an ambulance before being raced to Parkland Hospital. This non-fact was then repeated by such news legends as Walter Cronkite on CBS television, Dan Rather on CBS radio, and Chet Huntley on NBC television.
The details of the shooting were especially muddled. Within a half-hour of the shooting, Walter Cronkite, once again repeating an inaccurate report from the news wire, solemnly told the nation: "Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire, however, came from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the Chief Executive's car, possibly from a grassy knoll, and that's that knoll to which motorcycle policeman were seen racing and where the huddled figures of a man and a woman were seen on the ground with a crowd surrounding, which suggests of course that perhaps this is where the shots came from. This we do not know as yet, positively." Moments later, Eddie Barker, reporting from Dallas, compounded this mistake, declaring: "The report is that the attempted assassins--we now hear it was a man and a woman--were on the ledge of a building near the Houston Street underpass." Soon afterward, Cronkite told the nation: "Governor Connally was shot, apparently, twice in the chest."
After this rush to speculation, however, Cronkite grew more cautious, and stressed that they had unconfirmed reports that Kennedy was dead and unconfirmed reports Connally was in surgery. He then reported that a Secret Service agent had been killed in the line of duty while trying to protect Kennedy, noting that "apparently, this is correct." (Apparently, it wasn't).
But Cronkite's cavalcade of confusion was far from over. Moments later, after reading a report that Governor Connally had said he was hit from the back, Cronkite tried to correlate this information with the information previously received. He told his audience: "Governor Connally could very possibly have been shot in the back with the assassin's bullet still coming from the front of the car. He rode in a small jump seat in the center of the back of the specially-built presidential limousine." (Apparently, Cronkite thought the jump seats faced the back of the limousine.)
Above: Assistant White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announces the death of the President. Incredibly, this was not broadcast live. As a result, many of the reporters in the room raced out of the room upon Kilduff's announcement...in an attempt to be be the first to a telephone.
The cavalcade continued. After receiving word that a witness claimed to see a man fire at Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, which was behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting, Cronkite held up a photo of Kennedy in the motorcade and asserted: "The assassin took dead aim. He got the President, apparently, with the first shot in the head, and then Governor Connally with the next two shots." Cronkite failed to explain that CBS News now believed its earlier reports regarding multiple assassins and automatic weapons were inaccurate. He just changed the story as new information came along--whether or not this new information had been confirmed. As much as an hour after the shooting, in fact, Cronkite was still reporting that "a Secret Service man was also killed in the fusillade of shots that came apparently from a second floor window." (Ironically, he reported this canard just before reporting, affirmatively, that Kennedy had passed.)
Above: CBS newsman Walter Cronkite removes his glasses to announce the death of the President.
Should one wonder where CBS got this story that a Secret Service Agent had been killed, moreover, one should consider that 1) around this same time an AP dispatch (found in the Racine Journal-Times) reported that "A Secret Service agent and a Dallas policeman were shot and killed today some distance from the area where President Kennedy was assassinated" and 2) that ABC News claimed they'd received confirmation from the Dallas Sheriff's office both that a Secret Service agent had been killed and that four shots had been fired at the limousine.
Even worse, when one considers the subsequent refusal of the American people to believe the findings of the Warren Commission, was the analysis of Don Goddard, V.P. of ABC News. After explaining that American assassins normally use pistols and make no attempt to escape, he pronounced that "This must have been a very carefully planned terrible tragedy and conspiracy."
In the meantime, while the news networks continued to botch the story of the century, the new President of the United States was en route to Love Field, to take over what just that morning had been Kennedy's plane. Here he is, streaking off before the announcement of Kennedy's death. (He's accompanied by Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood (L) and Congressman Homer Thornberry (R). Johnson's watch reads 1:25.
While no recordings exist of Johnson's thoughts at this moment, we are fortunate that he soon thereafter told his secretary Marie Fehmer to write something down...and that this revealed his inner-most thoughts...
Here are the notes jotted down by Fehmer, and subsequently put on display on the Johnson Library website (the direct quotes attributed to Johnson are in bold.): "1:40 P.M. Arrive Air Force One. Go into bedroom of plane to use phone. The President had talked to McGeorge Bundy via WH line before I got there. When I walked in, the President looked up and said 'Write this down as what has happened. I talked to the Attorney General...Asked him what we should do...where I should take the oath...here or there...said he would like to look into it...and would notify me whether we should take it here or not... McGeorge Bundy and Walter called me...thought we should come to Washington as soon as could. Told them I was waiting for the body and Mrs. Kennedy. The Attorney General interrupted the conversation to say that I ought to have a judicial officer administer the oath here.' Then I tried to get Waddy Bullion for the President...he was out of his office. Called Judge Sarah Hughes' office...they said she was not there. The President said that he'd talk to anyone in her office. He got on the phone and told the person at the other end that he needed someone to administer the oath...and to find her...and to get her to Love Field. Judge Hughes called in at 2:02--said she could get to the plane in ten minutes. The President left the bedroom in the plane--where above had taken place--and came into the stateroom to wait Mrs. Kennedy's arrival and to join Mrs. Johnson, J. Valenti, Cong. Thornberry, Cong, Brooks, Cong. Thomas, Rufus Yongblood and MF. Mrs. Kennedy arrived at 2:02 with the body. She was met by the President and Mrs. Johnson and comforted."
Now, it would subsequently become clear, via the statements of Fehmer, Robert Kennedy, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, Judge Sarah Hughes, the phone records for Air Force One, and, gulp, Johnson himself, that this, Johnson's first recorded statement after his predecessor's murder, was a deliberate deception... a stinking lie.
1. Johnson didn't ask Robert Kennedy what he should do. He'd talked to others and had already decided what he should do before calling Kennedy. When one studies the full record, moreover, it becomes quite clear that he called Kennedy some 20 minutes after his arrival on the plane, told Kennedy he planned on being sworn in, and asked Kennedy to fetch him the exact words for the oath of office.
2. Kennedy did not call Johnson back and give him the exact words for the oath of office. He had Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach perform this humiliating task.
3. Neither Kennedy nor Katzenbach told Johnson he should be sworn in in Dallas. The phone records indicate, moreover, that he called judge Sarah Hughes' office before calling Kennedy.
It seems clear, then, that Johnson was fearful his taking the oath in Dallas would be painted as a power grab, and that he'd sought to cover himself by creating a fake record suggesting Robert Kennedy had told him to take the oath in Dallas. Never mind that the oath Johnson took as Vice-President still applied, and that his taking the oath in Dallas was a meaningless ceremony that could have been delayed hours, days, weeks, months, and forever. Johnson could have taken an oath as President at the beginning of the next term in 1965, and been fine, in the eyes of the world, and of history. His taking the oath in Dallas, and his delaying the departure of the new president (himself), the old president (Kennedy's body), and the freshly-widowed First Lady, then, can only be seen as a curiosity, and a possible indication more was at stake then might otherwise be apparent.
It was but a short time later, however, that such talk came to a trickle. The Dallas Police had a suspect--Lee Harvey Oswald--who worked in the building from which the police now claimed shots had been fired, and who was arrested in a theatre after purportedly killing a cop.
This gave the newsmen something to talk about besides how little they knew about the shooting...
Above and below: two photos of Oswald's arrest at the Texas Theatre.
Within a few minutes of Oswald's arrest, for that matter, the press got a chance to redeem itself--to report on a major news event without flubbing the facts or coming to incorrect conclusions.
Let's see how they did...
But first...a little rewind.
Well, alright, that's two right, one left. Shall we go get another?
Sure. Less than forty minutes after the announcement of Kennedy's death, at roughly 2:10 P.M., eyewitness Abraham Zapruder took his turn before the cameras on WFAA, and confirmed the observations of Burkley and Gayle Newman. Describing the shooting, Zapruder told Jay Watson: “Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn't say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything (at this time, and as shown below, Zapruder grabbed his right temple), and I kept on shooting. That's about all, I'm just sick, I can't…”
And so...by 2:15 P.M. CST, 11-22-63, the news media had had four primary sources of information regarding Kennedy's wounds--the fresh recollections of three eyewitnesses to the shooting, and the President's Press Secretary quoting the President's personal physician. And all had indicated there was a large bloody wound on the front of Kennedy's head...
So let's see how this information was presented to the public...
A Tragedy of Errors
At 2:16 PM CST, two of the doctors who'd tried to save Kennedy--Dr.s Malcolm Perry and William Kemp Clark--appeared before the media.
Now, for a number of years following this press conference, the exact words of Perry and Clark were debated. But by the mid 1970's, a transcript was discovered at the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas. And this is what it said...they said...
Above: the 11-22-63 Parkland Press Conference in which Dr.s Malcolm Perry and William Kemp Clark first described President Kennedy's wounds to the public.
Dr. Malcolm Perry, who had performed a tracheostomy on the President in an effort to save his life: "Upon reaching his side, I noted that he was in critical condition from a wound of the neck and of the head...Immediate resuscitative measures were undertaken, and Dr. Kemp Clark, Professor of Neurosurgery, was summoned, along with several other members of the surgical and medical staff. They arrived immediately, but at this point the President's condition did not allow complete resuscitation...The neck wound, as visible on the patient, revealed a bullet hole almost in the mid line... In the lower portion of the neck, in front ...Below the Adam's apple." (When asked if a bullet had passed through Kennedy's head) "That would be conjecture on my part. There are two wounds, as Dr. Clark noted, one of the neck and one of the head. Whether they are directly related or related to two bullets, I cannot say...There was an entrance wound in the neck. As regards the one on the head, I cannot say." (When asked the direction of the bullet creating the neck wound) "It appeared to be coming at him." (When asked the direction of the bullet creating the head wound) "The nature of the wound defies the ability to describe whether it went through it from either side. I cannot tell you that."(When asked again if there was one or two wounds) "I don't know. From the injury, it is conceivable that it could have been caused by one wound, but there could have been two just as well if the second bullet struck the head in addition to striking the neck, and I cannot tell you that due to the nature of the wound. There is no way for me to tell...The wound appeared to be an entrance wound in the front of the throat; yes, that is correct. The exit wound, I don't know. It could have been the head or there could have been a second wound of the head. There was not time to determine this at the particular instant."
Dr. William Kemp Clark, who had examined the President's head wound and pronounced him dead: "I was called by Dr. Perry because the President... had sustained a brain wound. On my arrival, the resuscitative efforts, the tracheostomy, the administration of chest tubes to relieve any...possibility of air being in the pleural space, the electrocardiogram had been hooked up, blood and fluids were being administered by Dr. Perry and Dr. Baxter. It was apparent that the President had sustained a lethal wound. A missile had gone in or out of the back of his head, causing extensive lacerations and loss of brain tissue. Shortly after I arrived, the patient, the President, lost his heart action by the electrocardiogram, his heart action had stopped. We attempted resuscitative measures of his heart, including closed chest cardiac massage, but to no avail." (When asked to describe the course of the bullet through the head) "We were too busy to be absolutely sure of the track, but the back of his head...Principally on his right side, towards the right side...The head wound could have been either the exit wound from the neck or it could have been a tangential wound, as it was simply a large, gaping loss of tissue."
BIG PROBLEM: The only two doctors to observe Kennedy's wounds and speak to the media on the day of the assassination indicated that the shots came from in front of Kennedy, when Oswald had been behind Kennedy.
Above: Dr. William Kemp Clark (the tall man standing back by the chalkboard) and Dr. Malcolm Perry (at right) during their 11-22-63 press conference.
Now, to be fair, the newspapers rushed out in the immediate aftermath of the shooting had contained only the sketchiest of details, much of which was inaccurate. The Boston Globe's first attempt at telling the story, in its 11-22-63 Evening Edition, for example, contained two dueling inaccuracies on its front page. The UPI article on the right side of this page began "A single shot through the right temple took the life of the 46-year old chief executive." And the Dallas-datelined AP article on the left side of its page began "A Secret Service agent and a Dallas policeman were shot and killed today some distance from the area where President Kennedy was assassinated." (The story that emerged would be that Kennedy was shot at least twice from behind, and that no Secret Service agent was shot and killed, or even shot, or even involved in a shooting, beyond helplessly watching Kennedy get shot.)
And TV was no better. But a few minutes before the press conference, Dan Rather had told his CBS audience that "we've been told" that the fatal bullet "entered at the base of the throat and came out at the base of the neck on the back side."
And so this press conference served a purpose--an all-important purpose--to get the facts out there so the media would stop badly mis-informing the public.
It was not without success.
Shortly after the press conference began, less than ten minutes after Rather had made out that a bullet had entered Kennedy's throat and had exited from the back of his neck, Walter Cronkite corrected this canard for CBS' audience. He reported: "We have word from Dr. Malcolm Perry, the surgeon at Parkland Hospital who attended President Kennedy. He says that when he arrived at the Emergency Room, he noticed the President was in critical condition with a wound of the neck and head. When asked if the wounds could have possibly been made by two bullets, he said he did not know." Cronkite then described some of the care Kennedy received while at Parkland, including that he'd received a tracheotomy.
But the other networks and news agencies weren't so precise, or accurate.
It seems clear, moreover, that many of these mistakes were spurred not by these reporters understanding too little, but by their knowing too much. FOUR sources (five if you count Chaney) had told the nation prior to the Parkland press conference that the President had received a bloody wound on the front of his head.
And yet no such wound was mentioned by the doctors who'd inspected Kennedy's wounds...in a press conference designed to clear up confusion!
There's also this to consider... Prior to the press conference, three sources--United Press International, the Associated Press, and eyewitness Bill Newman--had suggested or reported that shots had been fired from in front of Kennedy...
And now Dr. Perry had joined their ranks--by describing Kennedy's neck wound as an entrance...
So, yeah, in retrospect, it's not at all surprising that much of the reporting on this press conference was wrong, or at the very least, confusing...
In his own rushed report on the press conference, NBC's Robert MacNeil summarized: "A bullet struck him in front as he faced the assailant." As NBC had previously reported that Kennedy had been struck in the head, its viewers would undoubtedly have taken from this that Kennedy had been struck in the head from the front.
And other news reports supported this belief. An AP dispatch on the press conference quoted on WOR radio at 2:43 CST claimed that Dr. Perry said "the entrance wound was on the front of the head." This dispatch, moreover, was quoted far and wide. The Albuquerque Tribune, on the stands within hours of the press conference, related: "Dr. Malcolm Perry, attendant surgeon at Parkland Hospital who attended President Kennedy, said when he arrived at the emergency room 'I noticed the President was in critical condition with a wound of the neck and head.' When asked if possibly the wounds could have been made by two bullets, he said he did not know." The article concluded, however, that "When asked to specify, Perry said the entrance wound was in the front of the head."
They were not to be outdone, for that matter. The 11-23 San Francisco Chronicle, building upon the inaccurate reports of the AP and UPI, put its own spin on the press conference, reporting "At Parkland Hospital, Dr. Malcolm Perry said Mr. Kennedy suffered a neck wound--a bullet hole in the lower part of the neck--and a second wound in the forehead."
Even the great ones got it wrong. An 11-23 New York Times article on the press conference reported: "Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam's Apple... This wound had the appearance of a bullet's entry. Mr. Kennedy also had a massive gaping wound in the back and one on the right side of the head. However, the doctors said it was impossible to determine immediately whether the wounds had been caused by one bullet or two."
The doctors, of course, had never mentioned a gaping wound on Kennedy's back.
At 3:30 PM CST, Dr.s Perry and Kemp once again spoke to the press, this time on the phone to local reporters unable to attend the official press conference. Connie Kritzberg of The Dallas Times-Herald was one of these reporters. Her article on the President's wounds was published on 11-23.
Neck Wounds Bring Death
Wounds in the lower front portion of the neck and the right rear side of the head ended the life of President John F. Kennedy, say doctors at Parkland Hospital.
Whether there were one or two wounds was not decided.
The front neck hole was described as an entrance wound. The wound at the back of the head, while the principal one, was either an exit or tangential entrance wound. A doctor admitted that it was possible there was only one wound.
Kemp Clark, 38, chief of neurosurgery, and Dr. Malcolm Perry, 34, described the President's wounds. Dr. Clark, asked how long the President lived in the hospital, replied, "I would guess 40 minutes but I was too busy to look at my watch."
Dr. Clark said the President's principal wound was on the right rear side of his head.
"As to the exact time of death we elected to make it - we pronounced it at 1300. I was busy with the head wound."
Dr. Perry was busy with the wound in the President's neck.
"It was a midline in the lower portion of his neck in front."
Asked if it was just below the Adam's apple, he said, "Yes. Below the Adam's apple.'
"There were two wounds. Whether they were directly related I do not know. It was an entrance wound in the neck."
The doctors were asked whether one bullet could have made both wounds or whether there were two bullets.
Dr. Clark replied. "The head wound could have been either an exit or a tangential entrance wound."
The neurosurgeon described the back of the head wound as:
"A large gaping wound with considerable loss of tissue."
Dr. Perry added, "It is conceivable it was one wound, but there was no way for me to tell. It did however appear to be the entrance wound at the front of the throat."
"There was considerable bleeding. The services of the blood bank were sent for and obtained. Blood was used."
The last rites were performed in "Emergency Operating Room No. 1."
There were at least eight or 10 physicians in attendance at the time the President succumbed. Dr. Clark said there was no possibility of saving the President's life.
The press pool man said that when he saw Mrs. Kennedy she still had on her pink suit and that the hose of her left leg was saturated with blood. In the emergency room, Mrs. Kennedy, Vice President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson grasped hands in deep emotion.
In attempting to clear up confusion, Clark and Perry had only stirred the pot.
Still, the nature of Kennedy's wounds was not the only part of the story muddled up by the press. An 11-22-63 UPI article by Merriman Smith, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, claimed Governor "Connally was hit in the head and back," at the same time CBS was telling its viewers Connally had multiple chest wounds. Neither report was accurate, of course. An 11-22 article rushed out for the Dallas Times-Herald, moreover, reported both that "Bullets apparently came from a high-powered rifle in a building at Houston and Elm" and that a witness said: "the motorcade had just turned onto Houston Street from Main Street when a shot rang out. Pigeons flew up from the street. Then, two more shots rang out and Mr. Kennedy fell to the floor of the car. The shots seemed to come from the extension of Elm Street from just beyond the Texas School Book Depository Building..."
Hmmm... Someone reading this article would quite possibly have concluded the President was shot by more than one assassin while riding on Houston Street.
Let's check back in with CBS. Around 3:40 PM EST (2:40 CST), more than two hours after the shooting, Dan Rather reported "There have been a number of suspects arrested by Dallas police, Dallas County Sheriff's Officers. One of the suspects was a 25-year old white youth. He was the first one arrested. He was in the vicinity of a multi-storied building, near the scene where President Kennedy and Texas Governor Connally were shot. On the fourth or fifth floor--it has never been completely determined on which floor of that building--four empty cartridges were found."
Ahem... This was, according to what the public would soon be told, the wrong number of cartridges...on the wrong floor. The arrested man, moreover, (Larry Florer) was quickly released.
And NBC was no better... NBC anchorman Frank McGee, after showing his viewers a photo of a sniper rifle being removed from the book depository, reported "The best we can make out now the President's motorcade had really traveled perhaps a few yards beyond this point and that the fatal shots that were fired were fired from behind and struck him in the back of the head." He then added "and then incongruously some way another bullet struck him in the front of the neck."
Incongruously, the possibility there was more than one shooter was not to be discussed.
Now, let's take a break. Study this photo. (FWIW, I believe it originated with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.) It's Dealey Plaza, the assassination site of President John F. Kennedy. Within an hour or so of the assassination the American news media knew Kennedy's limousine was in the location marked by an X when he first got shot, and that a rifle was found in one of the circled windows in the building back behind him.
And within an hour after that, they knew an employee of that building had been arrested.
And yet they kept saying things to suggest a shot came in from the front...for days and days afterwards.
With all due respect, they were grasping at straws, and feeding the public crap... They should have openly discussed the possibility Dr. Perry was wrong when he'd said the throat wound looked like an entrance wound, and openly discussed the possibility that, if he was not wrong, there might be a second shooter still on the loose.
But, strangely, no one was willing to go there...
Apparently, it was perfectly okay to say "shots came from the front," and then follow that up with "but a rifle was found behind," but it was not okay to connect the dots and say maybe just maybe there'd been more than one shooter.
The early reporting was awful...an embarrassment of riches--well, not exactly riches but blithering nonsense. The Contents section of U.S. News and World Report in 1963 claimed that each issue reached the streets the Monday before its street date, after having gone to press the Friday before that. Its first articles on the assassination were in its 12-2-63 issue. This, then, suggests that these articles were written on the 22nd, just after the shooting and just as the magazine was going to press.
And they show it... U.S. News' initial article on the shooting was seriously short on facts, or at least the facts as most have come to know them. It declared "The assassin killed President Kennedy with a single shot from a powerful .30 caliber rifle. The bullet struck in the neck and emerged from the back of the head."
Yep, in light of what would rapidly become the accepted version of events, that's the wrong number of shots...coming in from the wrong direction...and fired from the wrong kind of rifle. Yes, this is what one of the top magazines in the country was telling its readers as long as 10 days after the shooting.
And yet, confused as these early accounts were, they were consistent on one thing--there was only one shooter. Yes, not only did U.S. News declare there was but one "assassin" before the writers of the article could possibly know anything about Lee Harvey Oswald (soon to be the sole suspect, who was never even mentioned in the magazine), but a companion piece on the motorcade announced in its title "A Thousand Well-Wishers--And One Assassin."
The Suspect Suspect
Oswald's arrest gave the media someone new to pester in the hallways of the Dallas Police Department.
Here is Oswald as first put on display for reporters... (Note that Oswald's showing the press his handcuffs was widely reported as his performing a "Communist salute," whatever that is...)
And here's Oswald a bit later, where he actually took some questions...
And here's Oswald with a camera in his face...
Oswald denied everything, of course. He did not shoot a cop. He did not shoot the President. He did not have an attorney. He had simply gotten into a scuffle with some cops who'd harassed him in a theatre. In the halls of the Dallas Police Dept., if not in the halls of justice, Oswald thereby planted a seed in the American subconscious--that he was just what he said he was: nothing but a patsy.
His case for patsy status would be fortified, moreover, by the negligence of those investigating Kennedy's murder. The numerous interrogations of Oswald over the next two days were not recorded, transcribed verbatim, or even recorded in detailed notes. They were reconstructed by the surviving participants--members of the DPD, FBI, Secret Service, and Post Office--from their memories, with the possible assistance of some skeletal notes...that they failed to provide the Warren Commission.
But that's a bit down the road...
So what was President Johnson doing all this time?
Funny I should ask...
"Sinister" and "Obscene"
While the rest of the world was worried about Mrs. Kennedy, or her children, or themselves, seeing as they no longer knew what kind of country they were living in, President Johnson (he became President upon Kennedy's death), was chiefly worried about himself.
Now I know that sounds unfair, but that's what the record shows. Johnson was afraid how it would look if he flew back to Washington without Kennedy's remains and widow. So he waited in their plane--his plane, identical in tactical ability, but lacking a private bedroom, was packed up and ready to go--on the Love Field tarmac, and refused to leave until 1) his luggage could be brought over from his plane, and 2) the Secret Service brought his predecessor's body and Mrs. aboard. He also worried about Robert Kennedy--and if he (RFK) would somehow try to block his (Johnson's) constitutionally-mandated ascent to the throne. So he arranged to be sworn into office on the plane before take-off, and then dictated a memo falsely claiming it had been RFK's idea that he do so. (He would also falsely claim he'd set aside the private bedroom for Mrs. Kennedy's use, when, in fact, she arrived to find him sprawled out on the bed, with the door shut, and only his personal secretary for company--and then let his wife use the room for the bulk of the flight.) He then asked the still-in-shock Mrs. Kennedy to stand beside him during the swearing-in--and said nothing when the media reported that she (Mrs. Kennedy) had delayed both his swearing-in and the take-off of his plane (when the truth was that it was he who had delayed Mrs. Kennedy's departure--by 20 minutes or more--by making her wait around till Judge Sarah Hughes--who'd Johnson tasked with performing the completely unnecessary swearing-in ceremony--could make her way to the plane.) And so on...
The rock bottom was reached at the moment captured above. There, in a photo taken by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton--that was subsequently disappeared from the archives, only to be found on a contact sheet at the Johnson Library--Johnson's long-time crony Albert Thomas was caught in the act of winking at Johnson, just after Johnson became President, around 2:38 P.M.
Now, this may have been innocent--an "I know you can do it" wink--but it may also have been more--an "I'm so glad you're finally on top" wink. Thomas had worked alongside Johnson for decades. He was terminally ill. A dinner in his honor was at the center of Kennedy's trip to Texas. Those prone to suspicion, then, may have seen Thomas' wink as something even more--an "I told you we could pull this off" wink.
But no matter the intention, Johnson's actions on the plane--and in the immediate aftermath of the shooting--rubbed some the wrong way. White House photographer Stoughton said he thought Thomas' wink was "sinister." Kennedy military aide Godfrey McHugh said he thought Johnson's behavior on the plane was "obscene."
In any event, as Air Force One soared back to Washington, Mrs. Kennedy was offered the choice of having her husband's autopsy performed at Walter Reed Army Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital. She chose Bethesda as the place where the questions would be answered. This proved to be a mistake. The hospital at Bethesda proved as inadequate at performing forensic autopsies as America's newspapers proved at reporting accurate information regarding the President's wounds.
A look at what apparently wasn't seen
For reasons beyond my grasp, the first image in each chapter sometimes fails to appear. If there's nothing up above, don't despair; you can still see the image here
The Investigation That Never Was
Since the Warren Commission investigation was so closely framed around the FBI’s initial investigation, it’s important that we look at the FBI’s investigation in more detail, to see if the conclusions of Oswald’s sole guilt contained in the FBI’s report of December 9, 1963 had any basis in reality. Since the foundation of most murder investigations is the statements of eyewitnesses, we shall put ourselves in the shoes of an imaginary team of FBI agents given access to the earliest statements of the eyewitnesses and ordered to solve the case. For the sake of sanity, we will look at the witnesses in chronological order, with married couples grouped together, and with their pre-12-9 statements all in one batch. While we will eventually discuss the origin of the shots as interpreted by the witnesses, at this point we shall focus primarily on their placement of the head shot in the shooting sequence. (The citations printed before the statements refer to the volume and page where you can find the complete statements of these witnesses in the 26 volumes of the Warren Report. References to CD are references to Commission Documents, documents not released with the Warren Report, but now available on The Mary Ferrell Foundation website.) (Note: while quite extensive, this chronology is by no means complete.)
Let’s start our examination by watching a little television. James Altgens. (11-22-63 WFAA announcement that the President had been shot) “An Associated Press photographer, James Altgens… reports he saw blood on the President’s head. The AP man said he heard two shots but that he thought someone was shooting fireworks until he saw blood on the President.” (11-22-63 AP dispatch, as reprinted in Cover-Up) “At first I thought the shots came from the opposite side of the street. I ran over there to see if I could get some pictures...I did not know until later where the shots came from." Heard two shots. (Despite his being one of the closest witnesses to the assassination, Altgens was not interviewed by the FBI prior to the distribution of its December 9 Summary Report.)
A short while later, a young man and his wife, the closest bystanders by the President at the moment of the fatal head shot, come on TV and describe what they’d witnessed. William Newman (11-22-63 interview on WFAA) “We were...we just come from Love Field after seeing the ...President and First Lady, and we were just in front of the triple underpass on Elm Street and we were at the edge of the curb, getting ready to wave at the President when we heard the first shot and the President...I don't know who was hit first but the President jumped up in his seat, and I thought it scared him, I thought it was a firecracker, cause he looked....you know, fear." (11-22-63 second interview on WFAA) “The president’s car was some fifty feet in front of us coming toward us when we heard the first shot and the President—I don’t know who was hit first—but the President jumped up in his seat…And then as the car got directly in front of us well a gunshot apparently from behind us hit the President in the side of the temple.” (11-22-63 third interview on WFAA) “We heard...uh..a blast...and the President looked like that he right jumped up in his seat.....and then he......we seen him....uh.....get shot in the side of the head and he fell back in the seat and Governor Connally was holding his stomach." (11-22-63statement to Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 24H219) “We were standing at the edge of the curb looking at the car as it was coming toward us and all of a sudden there was a noise, apparently gunshot. The President jumped up in his seat, and it looked like what I thought was firecracker had went off and I thought he had realized it. It was just like an explosion and he was standing up. By this time he was directly in front of us and I was looking directly at him when he was hit in the side of the head.” (11-24-63 FBI report, 22H842) “when the President’s car was approximately 50 feet from him proceeding in a westerly direction on Elm Street, he heard the first shots fired...the shots were fired in rapid succession which he thought at the time was a firecracker. The car was proceeding toward him and it seemed that the President’s arms went up and that he raised up in his seat and started to look around.The car proceeded to a point about even with him and he could see Governor John Connally was holding his stomach. About that time another shot was fired which he estimated was ten seconds after the first shot was fired. At that time he heard the bullet strike the president and saw flesh fly from the President’s head… Newman first thought the President and Governor were playing some kind of a game.” Only heard two bursts of gunfire.
Frances Gayle Newman: (11-22-63 interview on WFAA) "I thought it was a firecracker and I saw the blood and I.....I had the baby and I .....I just ran and we....I got on top of him and laid on the grass. I....I was....it scared me. It was terrible." (11-22-63 statement to Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 24H218) “When President Kennedy’s car was about ten feet from us, I heard a noise that sounded like a firecracker going off. President Kennedy kind of jumped like he was startled and then covered his head with his hands and then raised up. After I heard the first shot, another shot sounded and Governor Connally kind of grabbed his chest and lay back on the seat of the car. When I first saw and heard all this, I thought it was all of a joke…Just about the time President Kennedy was in front of us, I heard another shot ring out and the President put his hands up to his head, I saw blood all over the side of his head.” (11-24-63 FBI report, 22H842) “She estimated that when the limousine bearing the President was about 50 feet from them she heard 2 reports and the President seemed to rise up in his seat. A few seconds later she heard another shot and saw that the President had been hit in the head because she saw blood flowing from his body…She believed there were first two shots in succession, a pause, then another shot was fired which struck the President… After the shots were fired, she and her husband each grabbed a child and lay down on the grass fearing they might be hit by gunfire.” Final shot head shot.
There's two more witnesses on the radio. They will later appear on our all-seeing television. These women were standing on Elm Street directly across from the Newmans. Jean Hill (11-22-63 WBAP interview) “the shots came directly across the street from us, and just as the President’s car became directly even with us…he and Jackie were looking at a dog that was in the middle of the seat, and about that time two shots rang out just as he looked up—just as the President looked up and these two shots rang out and he grabbed his chest, looked like he was in pain, and fell over in his seat. And Jackie fell over on him and said “My God, he’s been shot!” After that more shots rang out and the car sped away…the shots came from the hill…it was just east of the underpass.” (11-22-63 WBAP interview, quoted in Pictures of the Pain) “Mary started to take the picture and the President came right even with us, two shot, we looked at him and he was looking at a dog in the middle of the seat—two shots rang out…And there was an interval and then three or four more shots…” (11-22-63 and he grabbed his chest and this real odd look came over his face and he pitched forward onto her lap…the motorcade momentarily halted and three or four more shots rang out and they sped away real quickly.” (11-22-63 statement to Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 19H479, 24H212) “The President’s car came around the corner and it was over on our side of the street. Just as Mary Moorman started to take a picture we were looking at the President and Jackie in the back seat… looking at a little dog between them…Just as the President looked up toward us two shots rang out and I saw the President grab his chest and fall forward across Jackie’s lap and she fell across his back and said “My God, he has been shot.” There was an instant pause between the first two shots and the motorcade seemingly halted for a second and three or four more shots rang out and the motorcade sped away.” Mary Moorman (11-22-63 WFAA interview, quoted in Pictures of the Pain) “My picture when I took it was at the same instant that the President was hit, and that does show in my picture…it shows the President, uh, he slumped…It all happened so suddenly, I don’t think anyone realized, you know, what had happened.” (About the shots) “There was three or four real close together, and it must have been the first one that shot him, ‘cause that was the time I took the picture, and during that time after I took the picture, and the shots were still being fired, I decided I better get on the ground.” (11-22-63 statement to Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 19H487, 24H217) “As President Kennedy was opposite me, I took a picture of him. As I snapped the picture of President Kennedy, I heard a shot ring out. President Kennedy kind of slumped over. Then I heard another shot ring out and Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and said “My God, he has been shot!” When I heard these shots ring out, I fell to the ground to keep from being hit myself. I heard three or four shots in all.” (11-23-63 FBI, report, 22H838) “She took a second photograph of the President as his automobile passed her, and just as she snapped the picture, she heard what she first thought was a firecracker and very shortly thereafter heard another similar sound which she later determined to have been gunfire. She knows that she heard two shots and possibly a third shot.” (When we look at Moorman’s second photograph in the paper on Sunday, and compare it to her position in the various films at our disposal, we realize that the shot in sync with her photo, and the first shot heard by both herself and Ms. Hill, was in fact the head shot.) Shot or shots after the head shot x 2. WFAA interview, quoted in Pictures of the Pain) “just as the car came right in line with us, the President looked up and just as he looked up two shots rang out
Only now does WFAA begin to talk of the Texas School Book Depository: “Secret Service man and policeman killed at different parts of the city from the Presidential assassination. The Texas School Book Depository has been evacuated. Man reported arrested in Oak Cliff.” (CD 962, p. 41) Minutes later WFAA begins broadcasting from in front of the building “Witnesses say they saw man with rifle in window. Shells found.”
We switch channels to CBS, and see Walter Cronkite inform the nation "The assassin took dead aim. He got the President, apparently, with the first shot in the head, and then Governor Connally with the next two shots." We wonder where he got this information. How does he know there was but one shooter? How does he know which shot struck first? We switch back to WFAA.
In between the various recaps and updates, there is another news bulletin: “Secret Service believes that an automatic weapon was fired from the top of the knoll.” (CD 962, p.37) After a second round of interviews with the Newmans, the President’s death is announced. There is a third round of interviews with the Newmans (CD 962, p.60) before Kennedy’s death is confirmed by Washington.
Other witnesses appear upon our screen. One man claims he filmed the whole thing. Abraham Zapruder (11-22-63 interview on WFAA) “as I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this. Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn't say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything, and I kept on shooting.” (12-4-63 FBI report, CD7 p.12) “He stated he had started taking pictures prior to the first shot being fired…Zapruder advised he could not recall but having heard only two shots.” Unsure. Possible shot after the head shot. (Marilyn Sitzman, Zapruder’s secretary, was standing beside him. She was never questioned by the FBI or Warren Commission.) Within a few hours of this interview Abraham Zapruder gives 2 copies of his film to the Secret Service. Within an hour after that the Secret Service gives one of them to the FBI to study. This film is flown back to Washington and copied the next day.
Charles Brehm (11-22-63 WFAA television interview as shown in Rush to Judgment) “Unfortunately I was probably 15-20 feet away from the President when it happened…He was coming down the Street. I asked Joe to wave to him and Joe waved and I waved to him…as he was waving back, the shot rang out and he slumped in his seat and his wife reached up toward him as he was slumping down and the second shot went off and it just knocked him down in the seat. I’m positive that it hit him.” (11-22-63radio interview (KLIF?) “the first shot rang out and I was positive when I saw the look on his face and saw him grab his chest and saw the reaction of his wife that he had been shot and just at that time, which was probably a few seconds later the second shot rang out and he just absolutely went down into the seat of the car. There was a third shot that went and by that time I had grabbed my little five year old boy who was with me and ran away from the scene of the thing…the first one hit the president—there was no doubt whatsoever, because his face winced and he grabbed himself and he slumped down. I do believe without any doubt that the second one hit him because he had an immediate reaction with that second shot. I do know there was third shot but as I said by that time I’d grabbed my boy and started to go. I did not witness Governor Connally’s being hit.” (11-25-63 FBI report, 22H837-838) ‘‘He and his son stood right at the curb on the grass and saw the President’s car take a wide swing as it turned left into Elm Street. When the President’s automobile was very close to him and he could see the President’s face very well, the President was seated, but was leaning forward when he stiffened perceptibly, at the same instant what appeared to be a rifle shot sounded. According to Brehm, the President seemed to stiffen and come to a pause when another shot sounded and the President appeared to be badly hit in the head. Brehm said when the President was hit by the second shot, he could notice the President’s hair fly up…Brehm said that a third shot followed and that all three shots were relatively close together…Immediately after the third shot rang out, Brehm pushed his son down.” Shot after the head shot.
Some witnesses remembered hearing two loud noises fired close together but failed to discern which one struck Kennedy in the head. Charles Hester (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 19H478) “My wife Beatrice and I were sitting on the grass on the slope on Elm Street where the park is located. When the President Kennedy’s car got almost to the underpass, I heard two shots ring out…I grabbed my wife because I didn’t know where the next shot was coming from and dragged her up next to the concrete embankment and got on the ground with her.” (11-25-63 “Hester and his wife, Beatrice, were standing along the street at the point immediately preceding the underpass on Elm Street where President John F Kennedy was shot. Hester stated he saw the President slump in the seat of the car and that he heard two shots fired from what appeared to be a building located on the corner of Elm and Houston Street. He stated he and his wife were almost in a direct line of fire and that he immediately grabbed his wife and shoved her to the ground. Double head shot. (From hereon we will use the term ‘Double head shot” to indicate that the witness has described two closely-grouped shots at the end of the shooting sequence.) Mrs. Charles Hester (11-25-63 FBI report, 24H523) “Mrs. Hester advised she heard two loud noises which sounded like gunshots, and she saw President Kennedy slump in the car he was riding in. Her husband then grabbed her and shoved her to the ground. Shortly thereafter they then went across to the north side of the street on an embankment in an attempt to gain shelter.” Double head shot. FBI report, 22H841)
There were also several witnesses on the railroad bridge. S.M. Holland (11-22-63 statement to Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 19H480, 24H212) “the President’s car was coming down Elm Street and when they got just about to the Arcade I heard what I thought for the moment was a fire cracker and he slumped over and I looked over toward the arcade and trees and saw a puff of smoke come over from the trees and I heard three more shots after the first one but that was the only puff of smoke I saw…After the first shot the President slumped over and Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and tried to get over in the back seat to him and then the second shot rang out. After the first shot the secret service man raised up in the seat with a machine gun and then dropped back down in the seat. And they immediately sped off.” (The Zapruder film demonstrates that Mrs. Kennedy never jumped up until after her husband had received the fateful bullet to his head. And yet Holland claims he heard shots after he saw her "jump up.") Shot or shots after the head shot.
Austin Miller (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 19H485, 24H217) “I saw a Convertable automobile turn west on Elm off Houston Street. It had proceeded about halfway from Houston Street to the underpass when I heard what sounded like a shot a short second two more sharp reports. A man in the back seat slumped over and a woman in a bright colored dress (Orange or Yellow) grabbed the man and yelled. One shot apparently hit the street past the car. I saw something which I thought was smoke or steam coming from a group of trees north of Elm off the railroad tracks.” Double head shot.
Royce Skelton (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 16H496) “We saw the motorcade come around the corner and I heard something which I thought was fireworks. I saw something hit the pavement at the left rear of the car, then the car got in the right hand lane and I heard two more shots. I heard a woman say “Oh, no” or something and grab a man inside the car. I then heard another shot and saw the bullet hit the pavement. The concrete was knocked to the south away from the car. It hit the pavement in the left or middle lane.” (Our examination of the Zapruder film shows us that Mrs. Kennedy didn’t yell out until after the head shot.) Shot or shots after the head shot.
By now, we're beginning to feel confident that the last two shots rang out in rapid succession and that a shot followed the head shot. Since the rifle found on the sixth floor is a bolt action rifle and incapable of firing shots so rapidly we should be looking for a second shooter. Of course, if we can find concrete evidence that the 3 shots heard by most witnesses were all fired from the sniper’s nest, we might save ourselves some trouble. No such luck.
Howard Brennan (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 19H470) “I saw a man in this window…He was a white man in his early 30’s, slender, nice looking, and would weigh about 165 to 170 pounds. He had on light colored clothing but definitely not a suit. I proceeded to watch the President’s car as it turned left at the corner where I was and about 50 yards from the intersection of Elm and Houston and to a point where I would say the President’s back was in line with the last window I have previously described I heard what I thought was a back fire. It ran in my mind that it might be someone throwing firecrackers out the window of the building and I looked up at the building. I then saw this man I have described in the window and he was taking aim with a high powered rifle. I could see all of the barrel of the gun. I do not know if it had a scope on it or not. I was looking at this man in the window at the time of the last explosion.” (11-23-63 FBI report, CD5 p. 12-14) “He said the automobile had passed down Elm Street (going in a westerly direction) 30 yards from where he (Brennan) was seated, when he heard a loud report which he first thought to be the “backfire’ of an automobile. He said he does not distinctly remember a second shot but he remembers “more than one noise” as if someone was shooting fire crackers, and consequently he believes there must have been a second shot before he looked in the direction of the Texas School Book Depository Building.” As Brennan only remembers hearing two shots, and as the vast majority of witnesses so far have stated there were two shots fired closely together at the end of the shooting sequence, his statements suggest that he failed to hear one of the final shots. We need more proof.
Fortunately, sitting close to Brennan was another witness to the firing of the rifle. If he heard and saw three shots fired from the sniper’s nest, maybe we can save ourselves a lot of legwork. Amos Euins (11-22-63 statement to Dallas Sheriff’s Department, 16H963, 19H474) “I saw the President turn the corner in front of me and I waived at him and he waived back. I watched the car on down the street and about the time the car got near the black and white sign I heard a shot. I started looking around and then I looked up in the red brick building. I saw a man in the window with a gun and I saw him shoot twice…I could tell the gun was a rifle and it sounded like an automatic rifle the way he was shooting. This was a white man, he did not have on a hat. I just saw this man for a few seconds.” One line from Euins’ statement sticks out—“it sounded like an automatic rifle the way he was shooting.” This confirms the statements of the bulk of the eyewitnesses and Sheriff’s Deputies--that the third shot was fired immediately following the second shot. It also suggests that Euins saw the sniper in the window fire the last two shots without operating the bolt of the rifle in between, which is impossible. Could it be that one of the last two shots heard by Euins came from somewhere else?
We then read the statements of two witnesses from the school book depository. One of these men was sitting in the window right below the sniper’s nest, where three shells had reportedly been found. If he heard three shots fired from the window above him, then perhaps we can assume the man firing from this window acted alone, and simply fired the last shot as rapidly as possible, missing wildly. Bonnie Ray Williams (11-22-63 affidavit to Dallas County, 24H229) “Just after we got on the fifth floor we saw the President coming around the corner on Houston from Main Street. I heard 2 shots it sounded like they come from just above us. We ran to the west side of the building.” (11-23-63 FBI report, CD5 p. 330-333) “Then he joined two other men known to him as Hank and Junior. They were looking out windows on the south side of the building approximately at the middle of the building and saw the car of President John Kennedy come north on Houston Street and then make a turn going west on Elm Street down into the triple underpass directly in front of the Texas School Book Depository. While they were watching this car pass, Williams heard two shots which sounded like they came from right over his head…He stated he and the other two men ran to the west end of the building where they looked out and they did not realize the President had been shot.” Jack Dougherty (11-22-63 Affidavit to Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, CD81, p. 330) “I had already gone back to work and I gone down on the fifth to get some stock when I heard a shot. It sounded like it was coming from inside the building but I couldn’t tell from where. I went down on the first floor and asked a man named Eddie Piper if he had heard anything and he said yes, that he had heard three shots.” (11-23-63 statement to the FBI, CD5 p.366-367) “I was working on the fifth floor of the building at 411 Elm Street…when I heard a loud explosion which sounded like a rifle shot coming from the next floor above me.”
Yikes! Williams heard but two shots, and Dougherty, who had just gotten off an elevator coming down from the sixth floor, but one. We now have strong reason to suspect one of the last two shots was fired from someplace other than the school book depository.
BIG PROBLEM: The two closest witnesses to the supposed sniper's nest to give statements on the day of the assassination both failed to hear the three well-spaced shots presumed to have been fired by the bolt-action rifle found in the depository.
Who Moved Box A for the Press?
Now this might seem a bit trivial. But I think it's an important question. At least 4 photographers and a TV cameraman were allowed to photograph or film the view from the sniper's nest window on the afternoon of 11-22-63. (A sample from each is on the slide above.) In the images captured by 4 of these 5, Box A is positioned as it was when captured by the DPD in its second round of photos (that is, the photos of the sniper's nest after the boxes had been re-stacked).
But then someone moved the box for Flip Schulke's photos. Who did this? If it was Lt. Day or Det. Studebaker, well, that's an embarrassment for the Dallas Police. Since when do crime scene analysts not only pose for press photos in the middle of their investigation, but re-arrange the evidence for the press? Well, then, perhaps it was Schulke himself? Well, that would also be a huge embarrassment for the DPD. As we've seen, DPD muckety-mucks wrote a report in which they claimed the sniper's nest was roped off and not made available to the press. That this was not true is bad enough, but should it be that at least one member of the press was allowed to touch an important piece of evidence--and allowed to do so before this item was properly tested for fingerprints, mind you--well, that's just amateur hour. Really embarrassing stuff.
in any event, when all was said and done, there was an unidentified print on Box B. When this case gets re-opened--and it will get re-opened--the FBI should compare this print to Schulke's prints.
This brings us to our next question...
Above: Buell Frazier, Oswald's friend and co-worker, 19 years-old, is paraded before the press by the Dallas Police, 11-22-63.
Now this is kind of alarming. Even though the man described by Worrell wasn't Oswald, who'd calmly walked out the front of the building, there is reason to believe Worrell's story, and reason to suspect that someone other than Oswald had actually fired the shots. While a hand-taped brown paper bag large enough to have concealed Oswald's rifle was reportedly recovered from the sniper's nest, and was found to have Oswald's prints on it, there is nothing in the bag or on the bag to indicate it had ever contained a rifle. Even worse, Buell Wesley Frazier, a co-worker of Oswald's who'd given him a ride to work on the 22nd, has said Oswald had a much different kind of bag with him that morning. The 11-22-63 Statement signed by Frazier reads: "Before I got in the car, I glanced in the back seat, and saw a big sack. It must have been about 2' long, and the top of the sack was sort of folded up, and the rest of the sack had been kind of folded under. I asked Lee what was in the sack, and he said 'curtain rods', and I remembered that he had told me the day before that he was going to bring some curtain rods."Frazier's statement later returns to this package: "I got out of the car and started walking toward the building where I work. I noticed that Lee had the package in his right hand under his arm, and the package was straight up and down, and he had his arm down, and you could not see much of the package." (11-22-63 Statement to Dallas County, 24H209).
The FBI writes its own report on Frazier. It reads: "As he got into the vehicle, he glanced at the rear seat behind Oswald, at which time he saw what appeared to him to be bulky brown paper sack sitting on the back seat which he described as the kind of sacks that one obtains in a 5 and 10 cent store. After glancing at the sack, he inquired of Oswald as to what was in the sack, to which Oswald replied 'curtain rods.'" Frazier got a second look at the bag when they got out of the car. This description was even less helpful. The report continues "Oswald got out of the front seat...and opened the rear door behind the passenger seat and obtained the brown package which was sitting on the seat...Oswald walked around the rear of the car...Oswald was carrying this package in a straight up position under his right arm and appeared to be holding the end of whatever was in the package and proceeded then to the Texas School Book Depository. Frazier stated he would estimate the length of the package under Oswald's arm at approximately two feet in length, however, he paid very little attention to the package." (11-23-63 FBI report on an 11-22-63 interview, CD5, p316-319).
And this wasn't the only FBI document to describe Frazier's feeling about the bag. An 11-23-63 teletype from Dallas Special Agent-in-Charge J. Gordon Shanklin to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reciting the eyewitness evidence against Oswald relates: "Oswald asked for ride to Irving on Thursday night, Nov. twenty one, last. Oswald told Frazier wanted to pick up some curtain rods for his apartment on Beckley which he said was going to obtain for Mrs. Payne. On Morning of Nov. twenty-two, last, Oswald rode to work with Frazier. Oswald had with him a package in large department store paper sack which he placed on back seat and said were the curtain rods. Frazier states this package large enough to have accomodated a "broken down" rifle." (11-23--63 Shanklin to Hoover teletype found in the Weisberg Archives)
The bag purported to have been found in the sniper's nest is an irregular and obviously hand-made bag comprised of brown shipping paper and brown shipping tape--materials Frazier would associate with his workplace and not a 5 and 10 cent store or department store. It was over 3 feet long, not 2 feet long. Frazier has, seemingly, described a different bag.
Frazier's sister, Linnie Mae Randle, is the only other person to see Oswald with this bag, and her description isn't any more helpful. The FBI report on her reads: "Randle...observed Lee Harvey Oswald walking up her driveway and saw him put a long brown package, approximately 3 feet by 6 inches, in the back seat area of Wesley Frazier's 1954 black Chevrolet...while at the Dallas Police Department on the evening of November 22, 1963, officers of the Dallas Police Department had exhibited to her some brown package paper, however she had not been able to positively identify it as being identical with the above-mentioned brown package, due to the fact she had only observed the brown package from her residence window at a distance." (11-23-63 FBI report on an 11-22-63 interview, CD5, p320-321).
The Smudge on the Trigger Guard
Now this brings us to the other mystery: the rifle. While much has been made of the fact several Deputy Sheriffs thought the rifle found on the sixth floor was a Mauser, the fact remains that they were wrong. Period. Tom Alyea filmed the discovery of the rifle on the sixth floor, and the subsequent dusting of this rifle by Lt. Day. And the rifle in this footage is a Mannlicher-Carcano. No other rifle was discovered. No other rifle was filmed. And the news footage of Lt. Day carrying a rifle from the building shows this same rifle.
So let's move on, shall we? On to something more solid...
But first, let's establish that recovering prints from a firearm is no mean trick, and not the expected outcome of finding a weapon at a crime scene most assume it would be. While some of those researching the Kennedy case assume prints should have been found on the rifle found in the building, and take the supposedly smudged nature of the supposedly recovered prints as an indication Oswald, or whomever, tried to wipe his prints off the rifle, this just isn't true, as prints are rarely found on weapons.
And no, I'm not kidding. Really.
Let's begin by summarizing Factors Affecting the Recovery of Latent Prints on Firearms, an article by ATF crime lab scientists Clive Barnum and Darell Klasey published in the Mar/April 1997 Journal of Forensic Identification. Barnum and Klasey begin by claiming they had examined 1,000 recovered firearms from Feb 92 to August 95, and had found but 114 identifiable prints on just 93 firearms. Of these 114 prints, moreover, only 25 were subsequently identified, with 24 being linked to an offender and one to a law enforcement employee. The article then reveals that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. had examined 1,400 recovered firearms from Jan 92 to July 96 and had found identifiable prints on but 109 of these firearms. When one combines the two studies, then, one finds that but 8.5% of recovered firearms have an identifiable fingerprint upon them. Barnum and Klasey then proceed to explain why this is so, and offer that “Firearms can be difficult to process due to various reasons such as the condition of the metal and the limited smooth area available for processing (most firearms have few smooth surfaces, although an auto loading pistol generally has more processing area for latent prints than a revolver)." They then reveal “The type of finish applied to the metal surface of firearms by the manufacturer, gunsmith, or home repair person can have a detrimental affect upon the development of latent prints. For example, latent prints are particularly difficult to develop on the Parkerized finish found on many military firearms. This type of finish is used on firearms to prevent rust. The metal surface is usually sandblasted prior to the Parkerizing process to produce a nonreflective surface." And that, accordingly, "Weapons with chrome, smooth nickel, or stainless steel finishes are better for the recovery of latent prints" than military weapons.
So that's another myth toppled. First, we explain that Fritz's picking up the rifle shells was no big deal, seeing as prints are almost never found on rifle shells. And now we explain that prints are rarely found on rifles as well.
Speaking of which...the studies cited to demonstrate the unlikelihood of a print being found on an expended cartridge also had some numbers for firearms. To wit, the 2006 study by the Minneapolis Police Dept. found prints on but 35 of 289 firearms (12.11%) and the 2008-10 study by the Denver Police Dept. found prints on but 7 of 189 recovered firearms (3.7%), for a whopping combined total of 42 of 478 (8.8%).
Well, heck, the studies in the 90's found identifiable prints on 8.5% of the recovered firearms, and the studies in the 00's found identifiable prints on 8.8% of the recovered firearms. That's quite an improvement in 15 years, wouldn't you say?
Just kidding. Really. But the point is that the Dallas Police should not have been too optimistic on 11-22-63 that, with the recovery of the rifle, they would find the prints of the shooter. It was not likely they would find any prints on the rifle. It was not reasonable to expect they'd do so. And yet their behavior suggests a quiet confidence that fingerprints will solve this case.
Read on and see if you agree.
Starting with Lt. Day's testimony regarding the dusting of the rifle...
Mr. McCLOY. When was the rifle as such dusted with fingerprint powder?
Mr. DAY. After ejecting the live round, then I gave my attention to the rifle. I put fingerprint powder on the side of the rifle over the magazine housing. I noticed it was rather rough. I also noticed there were traces of two prints visible. I told Captain Fritz it was too rough to do there, it should go to the office where I would have better facilities for trying to work with the fingerprints.
Mr. McCLOY. But you could note with your naked eye or with a magnifying glass the remnants of fingerprints on the stock?
Mr. DAY. Yes, sir; I could see traces of ridges, fingerprint ridges, on the side of the housing.
We are fortunate, moreover, that on this point--Day's claiming he found some prints on the rifle at the crime scene--we don't have to take him at his word. As shown in the Alyea film, and on the slide above, some prints became apparent on the side of the rifle after it was dusted.
Well, okay. This was a big break. Lt. Day has found prints on the rifle. He has decided, moreover, that these prints are of too much importance to fiddle with on the floor of a book depository. So he takes the rifle back over to the crime lab. (This is shown below. The man walking with Day is FBI Agent Bardwell Odum.)
Now this is well and good. There's a killer on the loose. Day should get to work on these prints as fast as possible, and then see if these prints match up to their suspect, as soon as one is identified.
But Day does no such thing. He drops the rifle off at the crime lab, and returns to the sixth floor.
Now, this could be excused should he have returned to complete an orderly search of the building.
But no, he had something else on his mind...
All in a Day's Work?
Lt. Day returned to the sixth floor to give the press a tour of the crime scene. As discussed, he showed them the sniper's nest boxes, and allowed them to take pictures from the sniper's nest window. But that wasn't all. As shown above, he also showed them where the rifle had been found. He even posed for pictures. And not just pictures. As shown below, he posed for TV cameraman Dan Owens as well.
Well, this says a lot about the man. He could have been over-seeing the work of the inexperienced Studebaker. Or he could have stayed at the crime lab, working on the rifle, or the bag, once it arrived. (In the official story, let's remember, the rifle had not been fully processed at this time, and the bag had not been exposed to chemicals.) But no, he decided his priority should be giving tours to the press, and posing for pictures.
Well, when this was over and done with, what did he do? Now this, in some ways, is even harder to fathom. As discussed, he may have re-dusted parts of the sniper's nest. But, sadly, it appears that he spent much of the next few hours taking largely unnecessary pictures of the crime scene, including pictures of the building from out on the street.
I mean, just think of it. In Day's account, he had three prime pieces of evidence by 3:00 or so--a rifle with prints on the side, a paper bag in the shape of a rifle case that had not yet been tested for prints, and a piece of cardboard bearing the palm print of the suspected assassin. And yet he opted to spend the next three hours taking largely unnecessary pictures of the building.
In any event, it appears that when Day did return to the crime lab, around 6:00, he did the right thing. He got the rifle out and worked on the prints on the trigger guard. It appears, moreover, that he had applied a piece of cellophane tape over these prints and was preparing to make a lift when he got interrupted. Marina Oswald was in Capt. Fritz's office. Lt. Day was instructed to show her the rifle, to see if she could identify it as her husband's rifle. As shown below, Lt. Day carried the rifle over the heads of the press en route to Fritz's office. As shown below, the taped-off prints on the right trigger-guard are readily visible on photos taken of the rifle parade.