JAHS Chapter 15
Time Out: A Quick Glimpse of the Warren Commission at Work.
Elsewhere, on 3-30-64, Dr. Malcolm Perry testifies before the Warren Commission. Despite his stated objective of finding a transcript for Dr. Perry’s November 22nd press conference, Arlen Specter has failed to obtain one, and instead interviews Dr. Perry about his recollections of the press conference.Not surprisingly, Perry’s memory is that he made no solid statements about Kennedy’s wounds, and that the media misrepresented what he said. While it might sound overly-conspiratorial to suggest that Specter and the Warren Commission would deliberately mislead the public by using the flawed recollections of witnesses when concrete evidence was available, the fact is they have employed this technique before. On 3-16-64, when the autopsy doctors testified about Kennedy’s wounds, they were asked to do so without referring to the autopsy photos and x-rays taken for the express purpose of assisting them with their testimony. Even worse, Specter asked them to create drawings based purely upon their recollections of the President’s wounds, and then placed these drawings into evidence.
Here, then, is Dr. Perry’s testimony about the press conference:
Dr. Perry - Mr. Specter, I would preface this by saying that, as you know, I have been interviewed on numerous occasions subsequent to that time, and I cannot recall with accuracy the questions that were asked. They, in general, were similar to the questions that were asked here. The press were given essentially the same, but in no detail such as have been given here. I was asked, for example, what I felt caused the President's death, the nature of the wound, from whence they came, what measures were taken for resuscitation, who were the people in attendance, at what time was it determined that he was beyond our help.
Mr. Specter - What responses did you give to questions relating to the source of the bullets, if such questions were asked?
Dr. Perry - I could not. I pointed out that both Dr. Clark and I had no way of knowing from whence the bullets came.
Mr. Specter - Were you asked how many bullets there were?
Dr. Perry - We were, and our reply was it was impossible with the knowledge we had at hand to ascertain if there were 1 or 2 bullets, or more. We were given, similarly to the discussion here today, hypothetical situations. "Is it possible that such would have been the case, or such and such?" If it was possible that there was one bullet. To this, I replied in the affirmative, it was possible and conceivable that it was only one bullet, but I did not know.
Mr. Specter - What would the trajectory, or conceivable course of one bullet have been, Dr. Perry, to account for the injuries which you observed in the President, as you stated it?
Dr. Perry - Since I observed only two wounds in my cursory examination, it would have necessitated the missile striking probably a bony structure and being deviated in its course in order to account for these two wounds.
Mr. Specter - What bony structure was it conceivably?
Dr. Perry - It required striking the spine.
Mr. Specter - Did you express a professional opinion that that did, in fact, happen or it was a matter of speculation that it could have happened?
Dr. Perry - I expressed it as a matter of speculation that this was conceivable. But, again, Dr. Clark and I emphasize that we had no way of knowing.
Mr. Specter - Have you now recounted as specifically as you can recollect what occurred at that first press conference or is it practical for you to give any further detail to the contents of that press conference?
Dr. Perry - I do not recall any specific details any further than that--
Representative Ford - Mr. Specter was there ever a recording kept of the questions and answers at that interview, Dr. Perry?
Dr. Perry - This was one of the things I was mad about, Mr. Ford. There were microphones, and cameras, and the whole bit, as you know, and during the course of it a lot of these hypothetical situations and questions that were asked to us would often be asked by someone on this side and recorded by some one on this, and I don't know who was recorded and whether they were broadcasting it directly. There were tape recorders there and there were television cameras with their microphones. I know there were recordings made but who made them I don't know and, of course, portions of it would be given to this group and questions answered here and, as a result, considerable questions were not answered in their entirety and even some of them that were asked, I am sure were misunderstood. It was bedlam.
Representative Ford - I was thinking, was there an official recording either made by the hospital officials or by the White House people or by any government agency?
Dr. Perry - Not to my knowledge.
Representative Ford - A true recording of everything that was said, the questions asked, and the answers given?
Dr. Perry - Not to my knowledge.
Mr. Dulles - Was there any reasonably good account in any of the press of this interview?
Dr. Perry - No, sir.
Representative Ford - May I ask--
Dr. Perry - I have failed to see one that was asked.
Representative Ford - In other words, you subsequently read or heard what was allegedly said by you and by Dr. Clark and Dr. Carrico. Were those reportings by the news media accurate or inaccurate as to what you and others said?
Dr. Perry - In general, they were inaccurate. There were some that were fairly close, but I, as you will probably surmise, was pretty full after both Friday and Sunday, and after the interviews again, following the operation of which I was a member on Sunday, I left town, and I did not read a lot of them, but of those which I saw I found none that portrayed it exactly as it happened. Nor did I find any that reported our statements exactly as they were given. They were frequently taken out of context. They were frequently mixed up as to who said what or identification as to which person was who.
Representative Ford - This interview took place on Sunday, the 24th, did you say?
Dr. Perry - No, there were several interviews, Mr. Ford. We had one in the afternoon, Friday afternoon, and then I spent almost the entire day Saturday in the administrative suite at the hospital answering questions to people of the press, and some medical people of the American Medical Association. And then, of course, Sunday, following the operation on Oswald, I again attended the press conference since I was the first in attendance with him. And, subsequently, there was another conference on Monday conducted by the American Medical Association, and a couple of more interviews with some people whom I don't even recall.
Representative Ford - Would you say that these errors that were reported were because of a lack of technical knowledge as to what you as a physician were saying, or others were saying?
Dr. Perry - Certainly that could be it in part, but it was not all. Certainly a part of it was lack of attention. A question would be asked and you would incompletely answer it and another question would be asked and they had gotten what they wanted without really understanding, and they would go on and it would go out of context. For example, on the speculation on the ultimate source of bullets, I obviously knew less about it than most people because I was in the hospital at the time and didn't know the circumstances surrounding it until it was over. I was much too busy and yet I was quoted as saying that the bullet, there was probably one bullet, which struck and deviated upward which came from the front, and what I had replied was to a question, was it conceivable that this could have happened, and I said yes, it is conceivable. I have subsequently learned that to use a straight affirmative word like "yes" is not good relations; that one should say it is conceivable and not give a straight yes or no answer. "It is conceivable" was dropped and the "yes" was used, and this was happening over and over again. Of course, Shires, for example, who was the professor and chairman of the department was identified in one press release as chief resident.
(NOTE: Dr. Perry’s insistence that his words were taken out of context at the press conference is self-serving and inaccurate. Nobody trapped him into saying anything that he didn’t suggest with his own statements. Many years later, a transcript to this press conference was located at the Johnson Library. This transcript was subsequently published as ARRB Medical Document 41. From this transcript: “DR. MALCOM PERRY…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. QUESTION- Where was the entrance wound? DR. MALCOLM PERRY- There was an entrance wound in the neck. As regards the one on the head, I cannot say. QUESTION- Which way was the bullet coming on the neck wound? At him? DR. MALCOLM PERRY- It appeared to be coming at him...")
Moments later, Arlen Specter returns to the topic of the November 22nd press conference:
Mr. Specter - “we have been trying diligently to get the tape records of the television interviews, and we were unsuccessful. I discussed this with Dr. Perry in Dallas last Wednesday, and he expressed an interest in seeing them, and I told him we would make them available to him prior to his appearance, before deposition or before the Commission, except our efforts at CBS and NBC, ABC and everywhere including New York, Dallas and other cities were to no avail. The problem is they have not yet cataloged all of the footage which they have, and I have been advised by the Secret Service, by Agent John Howlett, that they have an excess of 200 hours of transcripts among all of the events and they just have not cataloged them and could not make them available.
(NOTE: Specter was not telling the whole story. On 3-18-64, J. Lee Rankin, Specter's boss, wrote James J. Rowley, the head of the Secret Service, to ask for his help in acquiring a recording or transcript of Dr. Perry's press conference. On 3-25-64, Rowley wrote back telling Rankin that that no video tape or transcript of Perry's comments could be located. This letter was published as CD 678. It seems possible, then, that Specter was only pretending that the problem was that the footage had not yet been catalogued, and that he was pretending this so Perry wouldn't be unnerved by the fact all the tapes of his press conference had miraculously vanished. There's also this. When eventually published by the ARRB as medical document 41, the transcript to the press conference had an interesting stamp on its final page. It read "Received U.S. Secret Service Office of the Chief" with the date of 11-26-63, 11:40 AM. Well, hell. This could mean a number of things. None of them good. Either Rowley was so incompetent that he failed to realize he had a transcript to the press conference when contacted by Rankin, or he was so forgetful that he failed to remember giving this transcript to Johnson for his Library, or he knew damn well he still had or used to have a copy of the transcript, and deliberately withheld this information from Rankin and the commission.)
Mr. Dulles - Do you intend to catalog them?
Mr. Specter - Yes, they do, Mr. Dulles. They intend to do that eventually in their normal process, and the Secret Service is trying to expedite the news media to give us those, and it was our thought as to the film clips, which would be the most direct or the recordings which would be the most direct, to make comparisons between the reports in the news media and what Dr. Perry said at that time, and the facts which we have from the doctors through our depositions and transcript today.
Representative Ford - Can you give us any time estimate when this catalog and comparison might be made?
Mr. Specter - Only that they are working on it right now, have been for sometime, but it may be a matter of a couple of weeks until they can turn it over.
(NOTE: These last few exchanges are priceless. Dulles asks Specter if he plans on going through the transcripts and he responds by saying that the Secret Service is going to help him. He then estimates that it should only take a few weeks. As stated, Rowley had already told Rankin they'd looked but that no recording or transcript could be located. It seems possible then that Dulles and Specter were putting on a show. No one knows what became of the original recordings of the press conference. Certainly someone had a tape recorder running. But none has ever surfaced. It seems possible then that they were made to disappear.)
(Discussion off the record.) (God only knows what they talked about.)
Mr. McCloy - Mr. Chairman, I have some doubt as to the present propriety of making, of having the doctor make, comments in respect to a particular group of newspaper articles. There have been comments, as we all know, around the world, of great variety and great extent, and it would be practically impossible, I suppose, to check all of the accounts and in failing to check one would not wish to have it suggested that others, the accuracy of others was being endorsed. I would suggest that the staff make an examination of the files that we have of the comments, together with such tape recordings as may have been taken of the actual press conferences, and after that examination is made we can then determine, perhaps a little more effectively, what might be done to clarify this situation so that it would conform to the actual statements that the doctor has made.
Mr. Dulles - Well, Mr. McCloy, it is quite satisfactory with me and I agree with you we cannot run down all of the rumors in all of the press and it is quite satisfactory with me to wait and see whether we have adequate information to deal with this situation when we get in the complete tapes of the various television, radio and other appearances, so that we have a pretty complete record of what these two witnesses and others have said on the points we have been discussing here today. So I quite agree we will await this presentation to the doctors until we have had a further chance to review this situation. What I wanted to be sure was that when we are through with this we do have in our files and records adequate information to deal with a great many of the false rumors that have been spread on the basis of false interpretation of these appearances before television, radio, and so forth and so on.
And with that, Dr. Perry’s public and properly quoted description of Kennedy’s throat wound as an “entrance wound” is successfully disposed of as a “false rumor” spread by an over-zealous media...
High and to the Right
On 3-31-64, the testimony of two weapons experts casts grave doubt on the theory that Oswald fired all the shots. Under questioning by Melvin Eisenberg, FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier testifies that on 11-27-63 he and two other ballistics examiners fired the rifle found in the depository in order to judge both the speed at which three shots could be fired, and the accuracy of those shots. He relates that, when firing on targets but 15 yards away, agent “Killion fired in 9 seconds… (agent) Cunningham fired his three shots in 8 seconds and I fired my three shots in 5.9 seconds.” He testifies further that, after moving to a 25 yard range, he attempted to fire the rifle as rapidly as possible, and was able to fire three times in 4.6 seconds, and then 4.8 seconds. He then relates that on March 16, 1964, after adjusting the rifle to make it fire as accurately as possible while using the scope, he fired on outdoor targets at 100 yards, and was able to fire three shots in 5.9. 6.2, 5.6, and 6.5 seconds, respectively. When asked by counsel Eisenberg if firing at a moving target would have lengthened these times, he states “It would have lengthened the time to the extent of allowing the crosshairs to pass over the moving target.” When asked how long this would take, he answers “Approximately 1 second. It would depend on how fast the target was moving.” When asked if increased familiarity with the rifle would have helped him shorten his time, he replies “Oh yes” but then talks about how it would improve his accuracy. He eventually answers the question in the negative by replying “4.6 is firing this weapon as fast as the bolt can be operated, I think.”
(The date of this last test is intriguing. Let's recall that a January 9, 1964 column by Allen and Scott reported that the FBI had been asked to conduct more tests on the speed at which the rifle could be fired. Well, here are the tests, only two months later... Hmmm... This gives us something to think about. Let's reflect...should these March tests have proved that Oswald could not have acted alone, would Hoover have even allowed this information be given to the Commission? Would he have risked criticism that he'd dragged his feet while Oswald's accomplices escaped? One can only assume "No." Then what follows is that Hoover and the FBI knew that no matter what these tests showed, they were not to be used to suggest that more than one shooter was involved.)
But if Frazier's testimony raises questions about Oswald's ability to fire all the shots, and the FBI's honesty about this ability, it raises even more questions about the accuracy of the weapon purportedly used by Oswald. Frazier tells the Commission that the first six shots fired by the FBI on 11-27 hit 4 inches high and 1 inch to the right at only 15 yards. He says the next three hit 2 1/2 inches high and 1 to the right at 15 yards. He then discusses the next six shots fired with the weapon, fired from 25 yards in an effort to fire the rifle as rapidly and accurately as possible. He claims "The first series of three shots were approximately--from 4 to 5 inches high and from 1 to 2 inches to the right of the aiming point...The second series of shots landed--one was about 1 inch high, and the other two about 4 or 5 inches high..." A close look at the target used for these six shots, and a comparison of this target with the targets created from 15 yards, is most revealing, however. It shows that Frazier was way off, and that the shots he claimed landed 4 to 5 inches high in fact landed 6 to 8 inches high, and 2 1/2 to 5 inches to the right of the aiming point. This confirms that the shots from 15 yards were not an anomaly, and that the scope was, in fact, considerably misaligned.
So misaligned, apparently, that the FBI and Warren Commission felt the need to cover up. At one point in Frazier's testimony regarding the scope and scope mount, almost certainly to downplay that the rifle was so woefully inaccurate, Frazier interjects "apparently the scope had even been taken off of the rifle, in searching for fingerprints on the rifle. So that actually the way it was sighted-in when we got it does not necessarily mean it was sighted-in that way when it was abandoned."
Well, this is suspicious on three levels. The first is that the scope, while being removed from the rifle in Dallas, was almost certainly never taken off the barrel with which it is aligned. Lt. Day, who inspected the rifle in Dallas, never admitted removing the scope. No one ever claimed to see him remove the scope. No report exists, furthermore, in which his removal of the scope is described. (This, of course, failed to prevent Frazier from continuing to claim Day had removed the scope. As late as three decades later, in David Fisher's Hard Evidence, a 1995 defense of the FBI crime lab, Frazier would claim "The scope of the rifle had been taken off by the Dallas police to search for latents, and when we got it, it was loose; we had to tighten the screws down. I think there were shims under the scope when it was used and the Dallas police lost them when they took it off.")
What Frazier fails to say is a second cause for suspicion. While in his Warren Commission testimony Frazier sets up his claim the scope had been removed by offering that the mount holding the scope on the rifle "was loose on the rifle when we received it," he later admitted "The mount is not screwed to the rifle in such a fashion that it points the scope at the target closely enough to permit adjusting the crosshair to accurately sight-in the rifle." He then claimed that one could fix this problem "merely by putting shims under the front of the scope and over the back of the scope to tip the scope in the mount itself, to bring it into alignment." As the problem with the rifle was that it fired high and to the right...consistently...one can hardly claim this was caused by the looseness of the two mount screws. They are mount screws, after all; they either hold down the scope or do not. If they are loosened, the scope does not automatically point downward. If they are tightened, the scope does not suddenly rise back up and align with the aiming point of the rifle. Separate adjustment screws serve this purpose.
We should recall here that Frazier's co-worker Cunningham has already testified that the bag supposedly used to conceal the rifle was too small to conceal the rifle unless it was disassembled, and that no screwdrivers were found in Oswald's possessions, and that this had led the FBI to assume the rifle had been assembled with a dime. Well, if the simple loosening of a mount screw could lead the rifle to be as inaccurate as Frazier had found it on 11-27, how can Frazier simultaneously pretend that the rifle would fire accurately after being assembled with a dime? He can't. This should make us suspect then that Frazier's reference to "loose" screws was meant not as a suggestion the scope would have been aligned if not for these screws, but that the looseness of these screws had made him suspect someone had removed the scope in Dallas, and that this someone had, in the process, lost the shims needed for the rifle to fire accurately. That he failed to come out and say this, moreover, should make us wonder if he'd been coached not to do so. Perhaps we should recall here that the Warren Commission has cut a deal with Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr "to be fair to Texas," else risk a Texas-based investigation that might not be "fair" to the Federal Government, including the Secret Service, the CIA, the FBI, and the current President.
This brings us to the third level on which Frazier's testimony is suspicious... When we study Frazier's testimony it becomes clear that he is trying to give the Commission reasons to believe the scope had been damaged after the shooting, even though he himself suspected that NOTHING had happened to knock it out of alignment. In his testimony, Frazier not only admits that when the FBI eventually tried to sight-in the rifle and make it fire as accurately as possible, he found that the scope was mounted in such a manner that accurate shooting was impossible (as the rifle still fired 4-5 inches high and an inch to the right at 100 yards) but that it took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize the crosshairs on the scope after an adjustment. This, of course, is problematic for the Warren Commission's belief Oswald used the scope. They suspect, after all, that Oswald had only decided to kill the president a few days before the shooting, and that he hadn't practiced with his rifle. Well, this problem with the crosshairs suggests then that he'd either adjusted his scope before the shooting, and fired his shots with an unstable scope, or fired his shots without making any adjustment whatsoever. Both situations require more than a bit of luck. This makes it unsurprising then that, after dropping this bombshell, Frazier quickly offers "on the back end of the scope tube there is a rather severe scrape which was on this weapon when we received it in the laboratory, in which some of the metal has been removed, and the scope tube could have been bent or damaged."
But there's a problem with this proffered explanation. A big problem. While Frazier no doubt understood that the bumping of the scope he'd suggested would destabilize the scope, he would later admit "When we fired on November 27th, the shots were landing high and slightly to the right. However, the scope was apparently fairly well stabilized at that time, because three shots would land in an area the size of a dime under rapid-fire conditions, which would not have occurred if the interior mechanism of the scope was shifting."
Hmmm... Let's try and sort this all out. While Frazier had fired two comparison bullets on the 23rd, he later found it took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize the crosshairs in the scope. It follows then that, absent Frazier's unstated and unfounded belief shims were removed from the rifle, the scope was at least somewhat misaligned at the time of the shooting, and that, absent both his speculation regarding the shims and the equally unstated and unfounded speculation that the Dallas Police had fired three or more shots with the rifle before sending it on to Washington, the scope was not only erratic and bound to cause the shooter problems, but was as woefully misaligned at the time of the shooting on 11-22 as it was on 11-27, when Frazier first tested its accuracy...
Questions about the scope dominate Frazier's testimony. Counsel Melvin Eisenberg eventually asks Frazier a series of questions about the sniper's having to lead his target, in order to hit his target. He gives some specifics, telling Frazier: "I would like you to make the following assumptions in answering these questions: First, that the assassin fired his shots from the window near which the cartridges were found--that is, the easternmost window on the south face of the sixth floor of the School Book Depository Building, which is 60 feet above the ground, and several more feet above the position at which the car was apparently located when the shots were fired. Second, that the length of the trajectory of the first shot was 175 feet, and that the length of the trajectory of the third shot was 265 feet. And third, that the elapsed time between the firing of the first and third shots was 5 1/2 seconds. Based on those assumptions, Mr. Frazier, approximately what lead would the assassin have had to give his target to compensate for its movement--and here I would disregard any possible defect in the scope."
Well, this is interesting. Eisenberg is telling Frazier that, in the opinion of the Commission, the limousine traveled but 90 feet between the first and third shots. This is in keeping with the findings of Secret Service Agent Howlett on 11-27, but is a total refutation of the FBI's later claim the limousine traveled 140 feet between the shots. Perhaps Eisenberg, then, is telling Frazier to play ball, or else the Commission will expose the FBI's scandalous deception regarding the distance the limo traveled.
If so, it worked. Well, sort of... Frazier at first testifies that the proper lead for the target at 175 feet would be 6 to 8 inches. But there's a problem with this. Frazier can't leave well enough alone. Dissatisfied with Eisenberg's asking him to disregard the misalignment of the scope in making his calculation, he offers: "the gun, when we first received it in the laboratory and fired these first targets, shot high and slightly to the right. If you were shooting at a moving target from a high elevation, relatively high elevation, moving away from you, it would be necessary for you to shoot over that object in order for the bullet to strike your intended target, because the object during the flight of the bullet would move a certain distance. The fact that the crosshairs are set high would actually compensate for any lead which had to be taken. So that if you aimed with this weapon as it actually was received at the laboratory, it would be necessary to take no lead whatsoever in order to hit the intended object. The scope would accomplish the lead for you."
Uhhh...there's a problem with this. It's nonsense! If the rifle was firing 4 inches high and 1 inch to the right at only 15 yards, as suggested by Frazier's own testimony, then it follows that it would fire 24 inches high and 6 inches to the right at 90 yards, the approximate location of Kennedy at the time of the head shot. If the proper lead for this shot was 6.1inches, as Frazier later specified, it follows that, in order to hit Kennedy in the head at frame 313 of the Zapruder film, the sniper would have to 1) know that the rifle was firing significantly high, and 2) aim almost 18 inches LOW, at the middle of Kennedy's back.
But there's a problem with this as well. The middle of Kennedy's back was obscured by the backseat of the limo. That's right. If one assumes that the rifle as fired on 11-22 was in the same condition it was on 11-27, one has to acknowledge that the sniper hitting Kennedy in the head was actually aiming at the backseat of the limo. This is counter-intuitive.
And it's actually understating the case. It is believed that Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was sighted-in to strike targets at 200 meters. The bullet of a rifle sighted in at 200 meters will start out low, gradually lift above its line of sight, and then slowly drop back to the line of sight, and hopefully the center of its target, at 200 meters. Frazier testified that a bullet sighted in such a manner at 200 yards would land about a half-inch high at 100 feet, two inches high at 200 feet, and three inches high at 300 feet. This suggests that a bullet fired from 265 feet, a la the fatal bullet if fired from the sniper's nest, would land about 2 1/2 inches high.
And Frazier was probably understating the case. Ballistics calculators (such as those found online at Hornady ammunition website) and charts (such as those found in the book American Ammunition and Ballistics) suggest that the bullet fired in Oswald's rifle would actually have been around 5 inches above the line of sight at 265 feet.
And even this is understating the case. If one accepts Frazier's testimony regarding the inaccuracy of the weapon on 11-27 and the stabilizing effect of shots on the scope, and then considers that the fatal bullet was heading on a downward path, and not be subject to the usual amount of gravity, it seems likely that the fatal bullet supposedly fired from Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano on 11-22-63 would have landed even greater than 23 inches higher than aimed (29 inches minus the 6 inches or so traveled by the limousine between the moment the rifle was fired and the moment the bullet struck) and that the only way for the sniper to have hit Kennedy in the head was for him to have aimed at the trunk of the car.
The confusion related to leading a moving target by firing below or behind the target becomes even more confusing when we consider Frazier's next statement. He added "I might also say that it also shot slightly to the right, which would tend to cause you to miss your target slightly to the right." Uhhh... he said the rifle shot but an inch to the right at 15 yards...which translates to 6 inches to the right at 90 yards. Although Frazier has supplied the Warren Commission with no information regarding the left-right lead necessary to hit the target, photos taken from the sniper's nest suggest that the left-right lead would be about the same as the vertical lead. This would be about 6 inches. This suggests that, while the rifle was firing high and to the right, the sniper would need to make a large adjustment for the former--an adjustment which Frazier denies--but no adjustment at all for the latter--which Frazier also denies.
Something is just askew with Frazier's testimony. First, he under-reports how badly the rifle performed during his 11-27 tests of the rifle from 25 yards. Then he conjures up imaginary incidents--the Dallas Police Department's removal of shims from under the scope, the scope's being damaged after the shooting--in an attempt to explain the problems with the scope. Then he under-reports the adjustment needed to overcome the problems with the scope, and actually suggests the misalignment of the scope was an advantage to the sniper. What is he doing? Is he deliberately trying to conceal that such a large adjustment for the rifle's shooting high would have been necessary? If so, then why did he turn around and make it sound like the rifle's shooting right was the bigger problem? Is he simultaneously trying to conceal that the limo was not heading straight away from the sniper, but moving left to right? Or is he just following orders to the best of his ability?
We suspect the latter. On 3-26-64, J. Edgar Hoover sent J. Lee Rankin a letter discussing the accuracy of the rifle. This letter was published as Commission Exhibit 2724. Most of the information contained in this letter was repeated in Frazier's testimony. But not all of it. While Frazier had accidentally indicated that the condition of the scope had probably not changed between 11-22 and 11-27, Hoover would have no part of it. He wrote "It is pointed out that the grouping of the shots in the targets shows an inherent capability of great accuracy under rapid fire conditions. No other significance whatever can be attached to these tests since there is no way of determining whether the present condition of the telescopic sight is the same as at the time of the assassination. It is to be noted that at the time of firing these tests, the telescopic sight could not be properly aligned with the target since the sight reached the limit of its adjustment before reaching accurate alignment." (Now here comes the spin.) "The present error in alignment, if it did exist at the time of the assassination, would be in favor of the shooter since the weapon is presently grouping slightly high and to the right with respect to the point of aim, and would have tended to reduce the need for "leading" a moving target in aiming the rifle."
Well, I'll be. Hoover said that the present error in alignment--which would mean the alignment demonstrated on 3-16 AFTER the scope had been sighted in as accurately as possible--would be an advantage, and Frazier testified that the misalignment of the rifle as received by the laboratory would be an advantage. There's a huge difference. And Hoover, for once, was right. The misalignment of the scope on 11-27, when Frazier first tested the accuracy of the rifle, was in no way an advantage. It is of no help at all to a sniper to have to aim at a car trunk to hit a man in the head. But the slight misalignment of the rifle on 3-16, after it was sighted in, would be a slight advantage to someone tracking an object moving left to right and away, provided the person is aware of this misalignment. This leads us to suspect that Frazier was given specific orders on how to testify, and screwed them up.
This gives us plenty to think about. IF the scope was severely misaligned on 11-22, as suggested by Frazier's testimony, then the shooter was either 1) a marginally talented shooter, like Oswald, who was just firing in the President's general direction and got "lucky", 2) an expert marksman well acquainted with the rifle's tendency to fire high and to the right, and talented enough to compensate for this tendency, or 3) someone familiar enough with Oswald's rifle to know the scope was nearly worthless and yet talented enough to accomplish the shooting without the use of the scope. (Testimony of Robert Frazier, 3H390-441).
(FWIW: subsequent to my writing this section, I became aware of an old letter in the FBI's files addressing some of the problems with Frazier's testimony we've examined. This letter was written in March 1969 by a Richard Bernabei on the stationery of Queen's University, London, Ontario. Bernabei's conclusions were similar to my own, with the notable exception that while I presumed the rifle--should it have been in the condition Frazier received it when fired on 11-22-63--would have fired a bit more than 23 inches high at 90 yards, Bernabei--presumably not taking into account that the president was moving away from the shooter--concluded it would have fired about 29 inches high at 100 yards. He claimed, furthermore, that he'd actually tested this using a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifle, and had found that the bullets landed 28 1/2 inches high of the point of aim at 100 yards. FBI file 62-109060 Sec 170 p 45-55.)
In the Interests of Accuracy
After Frazier, Ronald Simmons, the Chief of the Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Laboratory of the Department of the Army, testifies, and things only get worse. He states that Oswald’s rifle was as accurate as the current standard issue rifle of the U.S. Army, the M-14, but acknowledges that his three test shooters “could not sight the weapon in using the telescope and no attempt was made to sight it in using the iron sight. We did adjust the telescopic sight by addition of two shims, one which tended to adjust the azimuth, and one which adjusted an elevation.” He was thereby acknowledging that the scope and rifle as discovered were fatally out of alignment, and that this misalignment was not the result of a Dallas police officer bumping the scope or some such thing.
Simmons also discusses a simulation of the shooting performed by these shooters. He relates that they made seven attempts to replicate the shooting by rapid firing on three stationary targets at the presumed distances of the shots in Dealey Plaza. Simmons details: "All firers hit the first target, which was emplaced at 175 feet...for the first four attempts, the firers missed the second target...there were only two rounds which did not hit the target at 270 feet..." He then gives the time it took for his shooters to fire these shots: "Mr. Hendrix fired twice. The time for the first exercise was 8.25 seconds; the time for the second exercise was 7.0 seconds. Mr. Staley, on the first exercise, fired in 6 3/4 seconds; the second attempt he used 6.45 seconds. Specialist Miller used 4.6 seconds on his first attempt, 5.15 seconds in his second attempt, and 4.45 seconds in his exercise using the iron sight..."
Simmons then discusses Mr. Miller's shots in more detail: "Mr. Miller succeeded in hitting the third target on both attempts with the telescope. He missed the second target on both attempts with the telescope but he hit the second target with the iron sight. And he emplaced all three rounds on the target, the first target...On the third target he missed the boards completely. And we have not checked this out. It appears that for the firing posture which Mr. Miller--Specialist Miller uses, the iron sight is not zeroed for him, since his impacts on the first and second targets were quite high, and against the third target we would assume that the projectile went over the top of the target, which extended only a few inches over the top of the silhouette."
When asked what preparation these shooters were allowed to undertake, before attempting these shots, Simmons then relates: "They had each attempted the exercise without the use of ammunition, and had worked the bolt as they tried the exercise. They had not pulled the trigger during the exercise, however, because we were a little concerned about breaking the firing pin."
So let us now try to put this in plain English. Seven attempts were made to replicate Oswald's purported feat of firing three shots and achieving two hits in less than six seconds. Only three of the seven attempts were fired in less than six seconds. The first shot was hit on all seven attempts. The second shot was hit on but three attempts. And the third shot was hit on five attempts. Since the shooters were given all the time in the world to fire the first shot, however, the results for that shot should not be included in our analysis. This means that these expert shooters were able to hit thetarget but 8 of 14 times while engaging in rapid-fire, while Oswald was purported to have hit 2 of 3 shots while engaging in rapid fire. This, even at a glance, seems a bit of a stretch.
And it's actually worse than that. Far worse. These expert shooters were firing at stationary targets. Even the slightest bit of movement of a target while a shooter is aiming and firing can negatively affect the accuracy of his shooting. When asked if these expert shooters made any comments as they fired Oswald's rifle, Simmons replies: "Yes; there were several comments made particularly with respect to the amount of effort required to open the bolt. As a matter of fact, Mr. Staley had, difficulty in opening the bolt in his first firing exercise. He thought it was completely up and it was not, and he had to retrace his steps as he attempted to open the bolt after the first round. There was also comment made about the trigger pull which is different as far as these firers are concerned. It is in effect a two-stage operation where the first--in the first stage the trigger is relatively free, and it suddenly required a greater pull to actually fire the weapon."
Hmm...we can only wonder then if this two stage jerky trigger pull would negatively affect the performance of the rifle when firing upon moving targets.
Actually, we can do more than that. When one reads the available literature, one finds it does just that.The Rifle Book, by Jack O'Connor (1950) tells us "No man ever learns to become a good rifleshot unless he develops his co-ordination to the point where he can let his shot off at the exact instant he wishes. This is as true of shooting running game as it is on the target range. The best trigger is one with a light, crisp pull. It can be a double-stage military pull or a single-stage spotting pull, but it must be crisp. If the last stage is draggy, rough, or creepy, no one can use it...If the motion that lets the trigger off is anything but a gentle squeeze, it will disturb the aim and the shot will not go where it is supposed to go."
It seems clear, moreover, that Simmons knew there was a problem for the proposition Oswald fired all the shots with the weapon in question, what with its misaligned scope, stiff bolt-action, and jerky two-stage trigger. In concluding his appraisal of the difficulty of the shooting, Simmons affirms that "in order to achieve three hits, it would not be required that a man be an exceptional shot. A proficient man with this weapon, yes." (Testimony of Ronald Simmons, 3H441-451)
Well, that's the problem, isn't it? There is no evidence--zero, zip, nada--that Oswald was proficient with his weapon. Prior to 11-22-63, the only time Oswald was purported to have fired his rifle at a living target was back in April, 1963. And that purported shot, fired at a right-wing fanatic named General Walker as he sat at a desk in his home, missed. There is no record of Oswald firing his rifle in the months leading up to the assassination. The rumors of his practicing at various shooting ranges around Dallas were all discredited by the FBI. Furthermore, there were no rifle-cleaning supplies or even extra ammunition found among his possessions. Thus, when Simmons testifies that Oswald’s rifle was substandard and that only someone with a lot of experience with the rifle could compensate for its shortcomings, he is unwittingly arguing for Oswald's innocence.
Particularly in that Simmons knew full well his test shooters did not fire nearly as well as claimed...
When one looks at the targets his men fired upon, Commission Exhibits 582-584, it's startlingly clear Simmons' definition of a hit is not what any reasonable person would consider a hit. Oswald was purported to have hit Kennedy once in the base of the neck and once in the head in 6 seconds or less. The targets the Army shooters fired upon were not only stationary targets, they were far larger than the small area on Kennedy hit by the sniper...twice. While one might claim the shooters were merely interested in hitting the targets, and not specific points on the targets, one cannot reasonably claim they would deliberately not hit this target in as central a location as possible. Thus, a re-examination of the Army's targets, counting as hits only those hits landing between the extended sides of the neck on the target, indicates that the Army's shooters hit the first shot 6 of 7 times, the second shot 3 of 7 times, and the third shot but 2 of 7 times, with both hits landing on the back.
When one looks even closer, and considers that the Army's shooters would also be trying to hit the center of the target vertically, and compares their hits between the neck lines on the targets to the purported location of the hits on Kennedy, it gets even worse. (Simmons, in fact, testified that he'd assumed the shooters were firing at the intersection of lines at the center of the target.) Only one or two of the hits on the first target, when the shooters had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, landed as close to the center of the target as the two hits purportedly rapid-fired by Oswald. Even worse (yes, even worse), NOT ONE of the 14 shots rapid fired on the last two targets landed anywhere near as close the center of the target as the two hits attributed to Oswald.
And no, I'm not being unreasonable. The United States Marine Corps' guidebook on sniping presents the following drawing.
Note the dotted line. The guidebook explains: "the portion of the target above the neckline is considered a 'hit' at all ranges up to 400 meters. At ranges beyond 400 meters, the entire target is used to score a hit."
So...yikes. By the standards of the U.S. Marine Corps, of which Oswald had once been a member, Kennedy's assassin had scored one hit and one near miss...in what was purportedly three attempts with the rifle found in the depository, while three Army test shooters had scored but one hit with no near misses...in FOURTEEN shots with the identical rifle at a similar range, after it was sighted-in as much as possible, and shims were added to bring its scope into alignment.
The Army shooters' failure to replicate the purported shooting, even though the rifle had been re-aligned just for this purpose, and even though their targets were quite stationary, is incredibly problematic for the Commission, and should force them to re-evaluate Oswald's presumed ability with a rifle. They must know the public will not buy that such fantastic shots with such a mediocre rifle were fired by a man who hadn't practiced in months, and was never very good to begin with. They must know that the only way they can maintain any credibility is to stand by the incredible, and insist that, no matter how difficult the shots, Oswald somehow just got "lucky."
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 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.
Although Oswald's shooting scores while in the Marines were adequate at the beginning of his service, Allison Folsom, the Marine Corps officer contacted by the Warren Commission to discuss Oswald's training, said that Oswald's score on the last test he took in 1959 indicated he was a "poor shot". Folsom actually went further than this, moreover, and volunteered that, due to inactivity, there was reason to believe Oswald's skills had depreciated even further over the intervening years.
The inherent difficulty in rapid-firing a rifle like the presumed assassination rifle is made clear, moreover, by a 1946 copy of The Bluejackets Manual, a guide presented members of the U.S. Navy. When instructing on the proper use of the 1903A1, the American equivalent to the presumed assassination rifle, it reads: "In rapid fire keep the butt to the shoulder. To load, twist the rifle to the right, lower the muzzle, and work the bolt, being careful to draw it fully back so it will eject the empty cartridge case and not cause a jam. It will become easy after practice, and can be done in one motion. As the bolt is closed, the rifle is twisted to the left and the muzzle raised to its original position." Well, there it is. Although a trick shot artist on youtube has figured out a way to shoot the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle without having to re-acquire his target between shots, members of the Navy, and presumably the Marines, were trained to turn their rifle to the right when pulling back the bolt, which would necessitate their having to re-acquire their target after each shot. Now, was Oswald trained to do this? Uhh, we don't know. There is no record--none whatsoever--that Oswald received even one second of training--at any time in his life--on the most efficient way to fire a bolt-action rifle.
And that's not the only giant chasm between Oswald's documented training and his purported feat. Military Science and Tactics, a WWII-era textbook written "Conforming to the War Department Program", which would presumably be relevant to Oswald's training 14 years later, reflects that U.S. soldiers are trained to fire from the Prone, Sitting, Kneeling, and Standing positions. The drawing for the "Sitting" position is of a soldier sitting on the ground. This should make us suspect, then, that Oswald had never practiced shooting while sitting on a box.
The aforementioned copy of The Bluejackets Manual, and a 1987 copy of A Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks, a guide provided members of the Army, for that matter, support this suspicion. The Navy manual presents 4 shooting positions: prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing, and the Army manual presents 6: prone not supported, prone supported, kneeling not supported, kneeling supported, standing, and foxhole. In none of these positions is the shooter sitting on anything other than the ground.
Let us now address the elephant in the room--that Oswald was purported to be firing on a moving target. Oswald's Marine Corps scorebook, CE 239, reflects that he had only been trained to shoot on stationary targets, and never from elevation. It takes a bit of practice to learn how to lead a moving target, and a bit more practice to learn how firing from elevation has an effect on this lead. For one thing, there's less bullet drop. A military rifle fires slightly above its crosshairs, to account for the effects of gravity on the bullet. When firing downwards from elevation, however, the gravity effect is lessened, and an inexperienced sniper will probably overshoot his target. The difficulty of shooting a moving target is confirmed by the 2007 book, To Be a Military Sniper, which notes "engaging a moving target is a skill that can be developed and maintained only through constant practice." Not only had Oswald never received training as a sniper, the Warren Commission found no evidence Oswald had EVER fired his rifle on a moving target.
So what would his doing so entail, that is, how would his shooting at a moving target differ from his shooting at a stationary target? Let's start with his position. In a section entitled "General Rules for Positions," Military Science and Tactics asserts "(1) To assume any position first face the target and then face half right. In any position the rifle makes an angle of about 45 degrees with the front of the body or the spine." If Oswald was the shooter in the sniper's nest, then, his training would have dictated his body face the west side of the building, with his upper torso and rifle turned 45% to the left so he could fire out the window. In any event he wouldn't have been sitting on a box with his body facing out the window and his rifle in line with his body, as presented in most re-enactments of the shooting.
Now let's see how his firing on a moving target affects this position. In a section entitled "Marksmanship, Moving Targets", Military Science and Tactics asserts that "There is no unit of measure for leads that the rifleman can quickly apply except the target itself. That is all he sees. So the unit of measure for leads is the actual target...When the trigger is correctly squeezed the rifleman does not know when the piece will go off. Accordingly, when he has obtained the correct lead, the rifle must continue to be swung smoothly and uniformly to maintain the lead while squeezing the trigger. The tendency to stop swinging the piece when the lead has been obtained, and fire instantly by jerking the trigger, must be avoided. This is of utmost importance. The rifleman begins to squeeze the trigger as soon as he has his lead, and maintains his lead by swinging the piece while pressing the trigger." Well, this is interesting. Oswald's facing west would have made his tracking a target from directly to his left to 45 degrees to his left a bit awkward, particularly if he was using a box as a rifle rest. In fact, this passage should make us suspect that a military-trained sniper would not even use a rifle rest for such a shot, as it would only prohibit the "smooth and uniform" movement of his rifle as he tracked his target.
A 1970's era U.S. Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Data Book in my possession confirms this last point. Its section on "Leads" reads: "Moving targets are the most difficult to hit. When engaging a target which is moving laterally across his line of sight, the sniper must concentrate on moving his weapon with the target while aiming at a point some distance ahead. Holding this 'lead', the sniper fires and follows through with the movement after the shot. Using this method, the sniper reduces the possibility of missing..."
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 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, this is 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.
Now here's the view from the sniper's nest as presented on CBS in 1967.
And here's a subsequently released photo of the producers of this show filming this sequence.
Well, heck. In order to get the best angle down Elm, they had to poke their rifle right through the middle of where a box had been resting on 11-22-63. And not only that, they had to get right up by the window, and hug the pipes to the east of the window. Well, heck. 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.
Let's return to the Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Data Book. It proceeds: "Another method of leading a target, and one which is used extensively by snipers, is known as the 'point' lead. By 'point lead' we mean the sniper selects a point some distance in front of his target and holds the crosshairs on that point. As the target moves across the horizontal crosshair, it will eventually reach a point which is the proper lead distance from the center. At that instant the sniper must fire his shot. This is a very simple method of hitting a moving target, but a few basic marksmanship skills must not be forgotten: The sniper must not only estimate his target range, but also its speed and angle of travel relative to his line of sight in order to determine the correct lead. The sniper must continue to concentrate on his crosshairs and not on his target. The sniper must continue to squeeze the trigger and not jerk or flinch prior to the shot being fired." To Be a Military Sniper confirms this point, noting that shooting in this manner is "the preferred method of engaging moving targets."
So maybe the sniper used a "point" lead. Only this is a problem as well... First of all, when would Oswald have learned to fire in this manner? And second all, well...let's take a second look at the sniper's nest views above. The President would have been coming into view not from the left of the scope, but from below--out from under the rifle barrel. This would have given Oswald (or the sniper presumed to have been Oswald) very little time to react.
Well, hell, perhaps this explains why the first shot (at least presumably) missed. Perhaps, then, the sniper tried to shoot Kennedy when using the box and establishing a "point" lead, missed, and then fired two more shots without the use of the box.
Only...think about it. If the sniper did use a cardboard box for a rifle rest, and fire after acquiring a "point lead" and MISS, as supposedly happened in Dallas, wouldn't this cut into the likelihood of his successfully firing two rapid-fire shots in the next 8 seconds? Let's see. He hasn't been actively tracking the target. He has already guessed wrong. Are we to believe he then re-acquired his target, and fired successfully, not once but twice, the first time in 3 seconds, and the second time in 5 seconds?
There's also this. On the next page of the data book, when discussing the lead times given walking soldiers, based upon the angle they are walking in relation to the sniper, another problem becomes clear: "The leads previously mentioned hold true for a right-handed shooter firing on a target moving from his right to his left. If the target is moving from left to right, the lead must be doubled due to a natural hesitation to follow through when swinging against the shooting shoulder. This hesitation is extremely difficult to overcome even by the most experienced shooters."
This hesitation is confirmed, moreover, by The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Special Forces Skills, Tactics and Techniques (2011). When discussing shooting on moving targets, it notes "Double leads are sometimes necessary for a sniper who uses the swing-through method on a target that is moving toward his firing side. The double lead is necessary because of the difficulty that a person has in swinging his weapon smoothly toward his firing side. Practice on a known-distance range and meticulous record-keeping are required to hone a sniper's moving target engagement skill." Hmm... The target car was moving upward from the sniper's nest shooter's left to his right. Oswald was a right-handed shooter. Now...are we to believe he both had the practice necessary to "hone a sniper's moving target engagement skill," and that he somehow knew how to compensate for his "natural hesitation"? Or was it just dumb luck he hit Kennedy twice in three tries?
In 1993, noted gun expert Massad Ayoob wrote an article for Handgunner Magazine in which he discussed his own impression of the shots attributed to Oswald. He noted that the two fastest shooters in a 1992 re-enactment of Oswald's purported shooting feat were both left-handed shooters firing from their left shoulder, and operating the bolt with their right hand.
Although the specifics of this re-enactment were not described, the Summer/Fall 1992 issue of the "Dateline: Dallas" newsletter mentioned that Richard Davis, the owner of Chance Body Armour, had sponsored a recent event in Central Lake, Michigan, in which 50 shooters tried to replicate Oswald's shooting by firing a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a wooden platform at a cardboard target traveling at 11 miles an hour. According to the article, "Some sharpshooters got off three shots in 5.6 seconds matching Oswald's purported action. A couple were able to squeeze off two shots in 1.66 seconds with the sluggish rifle. After two days of shooting, however, not one marksman was able to duplicate the speed and accuracy of the sixth floor assassin as outlined by the Warren Commission Report."
Irrespective of these results, moreover, Ayoob's observation on the two fastest shooters supports the data book's assertion left-handed shooters have a noticeable advantage when shooting at targets moving from left to right. But he goes way beyond that. While concluding that Oswald could indeed have made the shots, Ayoob does so in part because of speculation Oswald was a left-eye dominant shooter. There is no indication of this anywhere outside Oswald's mother's testimony, moreover, and this testimony was rejected by both Oswald's wife and his brothers. (Apparently, Oswald's mother had confused him with his brother Robert, who was, you guessed it, ding-ding-ding, left-handed.)
In addition, the photo below, the only known photo of Oswald firing a rifle while in the Marines, shows him shooting right-handed while aiming with his right eye. This makes little sense if he was left-eye dominant. (Information found online suggests both that the Marines keep an "eye" out for left-eye dominant shooters and that they train them to shoot left-handed when discovered.) As a result, Ayoob's speculation falls flat.
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.
Oswald's purported use of his scope only magnifies this problem. The Rifle Book, a 1950 Guide to rifles by Jack O'Connor, notes that "a 4-X scope will annoy the poor shot because his natural wobbles are magnified." It then proceeds to explain that 4-x scopes with a 30 foot field of view at 100 yards have been found to be "adequate" by hunters, and that hunters of anything bigger and more mobile than a prairie dog are likely to find inadequate a scope with greater magnification or a smaller field of view. The scope on the assassination rifle, it should be noted, had but an 18 foot field of view at 100 yards, and was presumably a scope designed for target shooting and small game hunting.
Guns of the Elite, a 1987 book on snipers and sniper weapons, explains: "optical sights suffer certain inherent problems. Not only are they complicated--and often too delicate to withstand the rigours of military service--but magnification of the target means that the firer's eyes see different images if both eyes remain open during the shooting. Thus, though the sights improve deliberate shooting, they can hinder target location and (particularly) engagement of moving targets." This book then notes that some armies have learned to account for this problem by using 1.5 power scopes on their sniper rifles, which permit "a wider field of view" than 4 power scopes. The scope on the assassination rifle was a 4 power scope. If Oswald was using this scope, with its limited field of view, it seems highly unlikely he could have accurately established a "point lead" on a target coming from below and to his left. If he missed this first shot, furthermore, it seems unlikely he could have adjusted rapidly enough to track the target through a tree and fire two accurate shots, the first one within a second of the target coming out from behind the tree, and the second less than 5 seconds later.
This last point is supported by the Army's tests of Oswald's rifle in March, 1964. The three Master rifleman chosen to test the rifle, after being allowed as much time as needed for the first shot, missed the second shot 4 of 6 times, even though they were aiming at a stationary target, and their target was approximately 3 times as large as the approximately 7 inch circle within which Oswald had purportedly placed two shots. The sudden switch from waiting to turning and rapid-firing at a target was apparently a difficult one, made even more difficult by the use of a scope.
Intriguingly, the HSCA came to agree that Oswald's use of the scope was unlikely. Their Firearms Panel concluded "that an individual could attain better accuracy using the iron sights than the scope under the circumstances involved in Dealey Plaza." In his testimony, the panel's spokesman, Monty Lutz, explained why. First he questioned the accuracy of the scope. He claimed "The accuracy is fairly undependable, as far as once getting the rifle sighted in, and it is very cheaply made. The scope itself has a crosshair reticle that is subject to movement or being capable of being dislodged from dropping, from impact, or a very sharp recoil. So the accuracy would be somewhat questionable for this particular type of a scope." Then he questioned if the scope would be of help even under optimal conditions. He explained: "This scope, I will apply the principle to it. We are dealing with a four-power or a magnification of 4. The field of view is 18, meaning an 18-foot circle at 100 yards. So it is a 4 x 18 scope, a relatively small circle to locate your target in when you are firing and recovering from the recoil in successive shots. So to align your target to get a sighting position, by placing the stock into the shoulder, the head has to be adjusted or moved slightly to the left to align the way that the scope is mounted on the left-hand side and get into position to fire. The scope itself is also designed so that the crosshair, the reticles, do not remain in the exact center position. When you adjust windage or elevation those crosshairs move, so that you are not looking dead center in the object itself. A more natural and easier form or position to fire is to put the rifle against the shoulder, the cheek on the stock, and look right down the center, straight ahead from where you are now positioned, and align the iron sights, the fixed iron sights that are presently on the rifle." He then testified that, for him, using the iron sights would be "considerably easier" than using the scope. None of his colleagues on the panel disagreed.
While the panel's conclusion was no doubt influenced by the fact they'd found the rifle could also be fired more rapidly when using the iron sights, and the HSCA was anxious to conclude the rifle had been fired more rapidly than previously believed possible, there were almost certainly other factors influencing their decision. Perhaps one of these factors was that, as acknowledged in the 1969 testimony of the FBI's Robert Frazier--the first man to test the weapon--one had to lift one's eye away from the scope between shots in order "To prevent the bolt of the rifle from striking (one) in the face as it came to the rear." Perhaps another of these factors was that, when first tested by Frazier on 11-27-1963, the rifle, when fired using the scope, fired 4 inches high and one to the right at only 15 yards. Assuming this was the condition of the rifle as found in the depository, this meant that the sniper, in order to lead the President and hit him in the head while he was moving away and to the right, would have to have fired behind the President, and aimed for low on his back, or perhaps even at the trunk of his limousine. This would have been quite a trick. Perhaps the HSCA Firearms Panel, unlike the Warren Commission, which concluded that the use of the apparently misaligned scope had been a "substantial aid" in the shooting, saw the unlikelihood of Oswald pulling off such a trick. Unfortunately for them, however, the only man known to rapid fire the assassination rifle while using the iron sights, a Mr. Miller, the best shooter in the Army's 1964 tests, only attempted one run using these sights... On this run, Mr. Miller not only missed the head and neck silhouette of his third and final target, he missed the target completely.
A not so quick aside...While some assume the rifle and scope were in alignment on 11-22-63, only to get misaligned in the aftermath of the shooting, there is little real support for this assumption. While Sebastian Latona, the FBI's fingerprint expert, testified before the Warren Commission that the rifle had been dismantled by the FBI's ballistics examiners and inspected for prints prior to the FBI's initial test of the rifle's accuracy, he did not mention the removal of the scope. When the FBI's chief ballistics examiner Robert Frazier testified just a few days prior to Latona, moreover, he indicated he'd been present when the rifle arrived at the laboratory, and also failed to mention that the scope had been removed. (While Frazier testified that "apparently the scope had even been taken off of the rifle, in searching for fingerprints on the rifle. So that actually the way it was sighted-in when we got it does not necessarily mean it was sighted-in that way when it was abandoned" this was just speculation--and unwarranted speculation at that--seeing as this very point was addressed and refuted by Dallas crime scene investigator, J.C. Day, in his statements and testimony.) In any event, Frazier then let on that he had reason to suspect the scope had not been removed in Dallas; he testified that, upon further examination of the rifle in March 1964, he found that the scope took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize after each adjustment, and that "When we fired on November 27th, the shots were landing high and slightly to the right. However, the scope was apparently fairly well stabilized at that time, because three shots would land in an area the size of a dime under rapid-fire conditions, which would not have occurred if the interior mechanism of the scope was shifting." If the scope was stabilized on 11-27, as claimed, and neither the Dallas Police nor FBI had before that time adjusted the scope and fired the rifle 5 or 6 times to stabilize the scope, as Frazier found was necessary, it follows then that the scope had not recently been removed, replaced, and re-adjusted before 11-27, and that the inaccuracies of the rifle on 11-27 were the inaccuracies on 11-22. (Frazier would later confirm that his suggestion the scope had been removed in Dallas was just speculation--and unwarranted speculation at that--by telling writer David Fisher that the Dallas Police had lost a wooden shim that had been placed beneath the scope to bring it into alignment. He, of course, offered no evidence that this shim had ever existed, let alone that the DPD had lost it after removing the scope. Apparently, he'd just made it up--to explain just how it was that a rifle he knew to be inaccurate had been fired with such accuracy.)
Even if the scope had been removed and haphazardly screwed back on, however, as some presume, it does nothing to suggest the rifle had been accurate on 11-22. All indications are, in fact, that it was not. In March 1964, after Frazier's discovery of the scope's instability, the FBI tried to sight-in the rifle and bring the scope and rifle into alignment. They found, however, that this was impossible, and that the rifle still fired an average of over 4 inches high and 2 1/2 inches to the right at 100 yards when using the scope, even after it had been stabilized. While some, apparently including the FBI and Warren Commission, have chosen to assume this misalignment was the misalignment of the rifle on 11-22, and would have worked to Oswald's advantage, they miss entirely that having the rifle fire high and to the right at a distant target moving up and to the right in the scope would only have been an advantage if Oswald knew exactly how misaligned his scope was--and that he only could have known this had he had extensive practice with his rifle...extensive practice for which the FBI and Warren Commission found no evidence...
In any event, when, subsequent to the FBI, the Army tested the rifle, they found it necessary to add shims beneath the scope mount to bring it into alignment. This was acknowledged in the 3-31-64 testimony of Ronald Simmons, Chief of the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory of the Department of the Army. The gunsmith who'd worked on the rifle made an interesting observation, moreover, which he passed on to Warren Commission counsel Melvin Eisenberg on April 6, 1964. Eisenberg's Memo for the Record on this conversation was published in the commission's volumes as CE 2560. It reads "There were three pieces in the scope examined by the BRL gunsmith. Two pieces were .015 inches thick, so placed as to elevate the scope with respect to the gun. One piece was .020 inches thick so placed as to point the scope leftward with respect to the gun. The gunsmith observed that the scope as we received it was installed as if for a left-handed man." Well, this is fairly confusing, as it suggests the shims were already on the rifle when received by the BRL, when Simmons testified to the opposite. We can only assume, then, that Eisenberg's words are misleading, and that he should have written "three pieces in the scope added in by the BRL gunsmith," and not "examined by the gunsmith." But that's kinda beside the point. More telling is the gunsmith's observation that "the scope as we received it was installed as if for a left-handed man." This feeds back into the sniper data book's observation that right-eye dominant shooters have trouble with targets moving left to right, and Ayoob's observation that the best shooters during the re-enactment he'd witnessed had both been left-handed, and presumably left-eye dominant. Was the sniper in the sniper's nest a left-eye dominant shooter firing right-handed to simulate Oswald? Hmmm...
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...
In 1969, Dr. John Lattimer gave a presentation to the New York Academy of Medicine on his own attempts to replicate Oswald's supposed feat. While claiming his tests showed that Oswald could have performed the shooting, he made some interesting observations that failed to support this conclusion. After discussing his acquisition of four rifles like Oswald's, fitting them with scopes like the one found on Oswald's rifle, and picking out the rifle which most closely resembled its overall condition, he admitted: "To align the sight perfectly, it was necessary to place thin metal wafers (shims) under the front ring of the mount of the telescope, just as had been found necessary with Oswald's rifle, in order to correct the faulty alignment of the telescope." This point, moreover, was confirmed by writer Stephen Hunter in his 2013 book The Third Bullet. In an appendix to his novel in which an alternate scenario to the shooting was presented, Hunter claimed he'd bought a rifle like the one used in the shooting, and scope like the one found on the rifle, and discovered they were hopelessly out of alignment without the addition of shims. So yeah, it's true. The shims added to Oswald's rifle were added after it was found in the depository, not before. This suggests, then, that on the day of the shooting Oswald's rifle was inaccurate, at least when using the scope, and that this was an inherent defect of that rifle and scope combination, not a problem created afterward as presumed by so many for so long.
Lattimer continued: "It was found that with the sling binding the rifle tightly to the experimenter's arm, and by resting both forearms flat against the legs, above the knees (as was possible from Oswald's high perch), three cartridges could be worked through the action in six or seven seconds, still allowing a short period for aiming, before each simulated shot. If the interval between each shot was increased to five seconds (10 seconds total) aiming became quite easy."Lattimer failed to explain that he was firing at stationary targets, and that tracking or leading a moving target would be more difficult, and take more time. But I digress...
Lattimer then wrote something quite interesting. He noted: "It was found necessary not only to push the bolt vigorously forward but to pull it vigorously back, each time, with more force than is usually required with bolt-action rifles. Facility with these motions was acquired with many, many workings of the action over a period of two weeks of both simulated and actual firing. It became obvious to us that the ability to fire this rapidly and dexterously required a prolonged period of practice." Lattimer then proceeded to speculate that Oswald's failed attempt on General Walker "might have persuaded him to sharpen his skill at rapid fire (as he did all too well) by further practice, before November 22..." Well, I'll be. Lattimer's belief Oswald fired the shots is related to his belief Oswald had extensive practice with his rifle...something both the FBI and Warren Commission specifically ruled out!
Lattimer then drove this point home: a "prolonged period of practice and familiarization was found to be essential for the achievement of any kind of accuracy during rapid firing of this rifle. In general, we were surprised and interested to observe how effectively proficiency with this rifle could be acquired, if plenty of time was allowed." Well this suggests as well that a prolonged period of defamiliarization with this rifle would lead to a degeneration of one's skills, does it not? The Warren Commission found no evidence that Oswald had even touched, let alone fired, his rifle for at least six weeks prior to the shooting. They found no evidence he'd ever used it to fire on a moving target. They found no cleaning equipment or spare ammunition among his possessions.
This last point should not be over-looked, moreover. The following quote comes from The Bluejackets Manual--the previously mentioned guide provided members of the U.S. Navy that describes the proper care of the 1903A1, the American equivalent to the bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle purportedly used in the assassination. Here it goes: "The rifle is a weapon of precision and demands proper care and cleaning. A lack of care soon ruins its accuracy. After a day's shooting, the bore demands special attention. as the residuum from smokeless powder soon corrodes it and should be removed as soon as practicable..." The manual then proceeds to describe three different kinds of fouling that can be found in a barrel, and the tools required to properly clean the rifle, i.e. a cleaning rod, a piece of cloth, an oiled rag, and a dry rag. Although Oswald is purported to have fired his rifle on at least one occasion in the months leading up to the assassination, none of these items were found among his possessions.
This should make us suspect then, that, if one man fired all the shots on Kennedy, he was 1) a much better shot than Oswald was presumed to have been in 1963, 2) someone who had been practicing with Oswald's rifle prior to 11-22-63, and 3) someone who kept his cleaning supplies in a place not known to have been frequented by Oswald.
That the shooter had skills far superior to those presumed for Oswald has received support from surprising sources, moreover. On August 27, 1972, Governor John Connally, at that time a former Secretary of the Navy and a soon-to-be Secretary of the Treasury, was asked about the possibility of two assassins on the ABC news program Issues and Answers. He replied: "if one man did it--and I really think one man did it from all that I know about it--he was an expert at handling that rifle, no question about it, because he got off three shots in a remarkably short period of time."
Having established that prominent members of the Oswald-did-it crowd believed Oswald must have been an expert with his rifle to pull off the shooting attributed to him, we can now turn to the observations of the person most familiar with Oswald's shooting capabilities, his older brother, fellow Marine, and frequent shooting partner, Robert. In 1967, Robert Oswald published Lee, a book on his brother, in which he confirmed his belief in his brother's guilt. But he included a proviso. He wrote: "Someone who is accustomed to using rifles without scopes does not find it easy to adjust to the use of a scope. Riflemen making the change often fail to allow for the recoil...That is why I find it hard to understand the Commission's refusal to take seriously the testimony of the witnesses" who said they saw Oswald practice-firing his rifle at a number of ranges around Dallas. He then proclaimed "If Lee did not spend a considerable amount of time practicing with that rifle in the weeks and months before the assassination, then I would say that Lee did not fire the shots that killed the President and wounded Governor Connally." And this wasn't a momentary flight of fancy. In the pages that followed, Robert offered: "I believe I know more about Lee's ability as a rifleman than anyone else, since I did have a chance to observe him over a number of years, from the moment he first learned to handle a rifle." He doubled-down: "Without considerable amount of practice with that weapon, I do not understand how Lee could have fired it with an accuracy that some of the best riflemen in the United States found difficult to match..."
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? Because...now 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)
In 2013, I received an e-mail suggesting Lattimer, Connally (and myself) were far from alone in our (separately-reached) conclusions the sniper would have to have been well-practiced with the assassination rifle to perform the shooting claimed of it. A gentleman named Steve Schlah reported that in 1979 he was working as a "manager of the Jobs for Veterans Program of the National Alliance of Business, for the Tri-Counties of Central Coast of California." He then told me that "Each year, the 50 Managers (each from a different city or region across the U.S.) would meet twice in D.C. and once in a host city. In 1979, we 50 Vietnam Vets of various military branches met in the host city of Dallas Texas. After the various meetings, we ALL wanted to go to Dealey Plaza, to the site of the assassination and all 50 made the pilgrimage. It was there that all 50 came to the instant conclusion that none of us, whether having qualified as Marksman or Expert, could have fired that Italian Mannlicker-Carcano 91-38 6.5 mm Bolt-Action rifle 3 times in 6 seconds (note: he originally said 4 seconds but then corrected himself in a subsequent email) with any repeated accuracy, over the distance from the Book Depository to the moving target of the Presidential Continental. All 50 came to the same conclusion, that it was not humanly possible, without a dissenting vote."
Curiously, Massad Ayoob touched on this same point in his 1993 article when he wrote "There is reason to believe that Oswald in 1963 had become a far better shot than he was when he only made sharpshooter in the Marines." Apparently, Ayoob's "reason" (or lack thereof) was that he believes Oswald fired the shots, so he must have been able to fire the shots, which means he must have been a better shot than he was when he qualified as a sharpshooter, because a mere sharpshooter would not have been accomplished enough to have fired these shots... This totally neglects that Oswald, when last tested by the Marines in 1959, had suffered a noticeable decline in his skills and had barely qualified as a marksman, far below the level of sharpshooter he'd reached in 1956. This neglects as well that in the intervening years, 1959-1963, Oswald had scarcely fired any weapon, let alone the assassination weapon, a bolt-action rifle far more difficult to operate than the semi-automatic rifle he'd fired while in the Marines.
In 1994, former sniper Craig Roberts released his book Kill Zone: A Sniper Looks At Dealey Plaza. In the book, he not only expressed doubt that a right handed shooter could fire effectively from the crowded corner window of the depository, and hit a target just as it emerged from behind a tree, he recounted a discussion he had with legendary Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock. Hatchcock reportedly told him "Let me tell you what we did at Quantico. We reconstructed the whole thing: the angle, the range, the moving target, the time limit, the obstacles, everything. I don't know how many times we tried it, but we couldn't duplicate what the Warren Commission said Oswald did."
That the sniper shooting at Kennedy, should it have been but one sniper shooting at Kennedy, had a significant set of skills has been confirmed, moreover, in more recent years. In 2003 a Discovery Channel program entitled “The JFK Conspiracy Myths” attempted to show that Oswald had enough time to perform the shooting by having a sharpshooter on a scaffold shoot at watermelons riding in a remote-controlled limousine. That the sharp shooter hired by the program, Michael Yardley, was able to hit a moving target 3 times in 7.87 seconds (longer than the Warren Commission's favored scenario) was supposed to prove that Oswald, who hadn’t fired his rifle in months, if ever, and who had never been trained in shooting at a moving target from an elevated perch, would have been able to accomplish a similar feat. While the program mentioned that Yardley fired six other sets of three shots, and that four of these proved successful, with the other two marred by equipment failure (the rifle jammed 5 times in 21 tries), they failed to mention the timing of these other sets. This leads one to suspect the other sets took longer than the already too long 7.87 seconds quoted in the program. Even worse, when it came time to test the accuracy of Yardley’s shooting, they provided him with a rifle hooked up to a laser switch, which he then aimed at a pretend Kennedy, as the limo crossed the plaza at night. As a laser beam travels at the speed of light, making it dramatically easier to hit a moving target, and as a laser beam suffers no bullet drop or wind resistance, and as a laser rifle offers no recoil, making it easier to shoot and re-aim, this was akin to playing with a stacked deck.
As if the clear but unacknowledged point made by the program--that Oswald's shooting Kennedy all by his lonesome was possible, but not likely--needed any clarification, its sharpshooter Michael Yardley wrote a short article on his experience entitled "Who Shot John F. Kennedy? It was me"that was published in his native England. While claiming he believed Oswald had indeed "fired three shots from the depository," Yardley nevertheless expressed serious doubts that these were the shots striking Kennedy, as he also claimed the head shot, "if taken from the Grassy Knoll, Badgeman or Walkway positions (all positions forward of the presidential vehicle) would have been much easier" and that "practical experience of the second gunman positions leads me to suspect that there could well have been another shooter." He then closed his article with "Of what can one be certain? That Oswald was a patsy." Of course, none of this was mentioned in the program.
And Yardley is not the last expert to voice his concerns about the difficulty of Oswald's purported feat. In 2013, Matthew Melton, a former Navy Seal sniper and CIA contractor, was hired to replicate Oswald's purported feat for the History Channel program JFK: The Definitive Guide. The producers asked him to rapid fire a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a six-story tower to see if he could accomplish two hits in 5.6 seconds, as purported by the Warren Commission. Melton accomplished three hits in 5.53 seconds. Mission accomplished. Only not so fast. He was firing at a stationary target, 88 yards away. While admitting that their test "proved that the rifle definitely had the ability" to perform the shots proposed by the Warren Commission, moreover, Melton voiced his disagreement that the test suggested Oswald was the shooter. To Professor Tom Stone's suggestion that "common sense" indicated Oswald was the shooter, Melton interjected "I would totally disagree. So the rifle can make the shots." He then explained that shooting on a range and shooting at an actual person are two different things and that "You're gonna be scared. You're gonna have an Adrenalin rush. You're gonna have a lot of outside pieces that have to be considered when it comes to shooting." Ayoob, Hathcock, Yardley, and Melton's comments, then, should lead us to suspect that Oswald was not the super shooter necessitated by Lattimer's observations, and that more than one shooter fired the shots on the motorcade.
Should one accept the shooting scenario preferred by most single-assassin theorists--that the shots were fired just before frames 160, 224 and 313 of the Zapruder film--moreover, one should acknowledge that this gives us even more reason to doubt Oswald was the sole shooter. As demonstrated by Secret Service agent John Joe Howlett in the DVD to the National Geographic program JFK: The Lost Bullet (2011), and acknowledged by single-assassin theorists Dale Myers and Todd Vaughan in their article Mr. Holland's Opus, it would have been impossible for Oswald to have fired down upon the limousine at frame 160 or before from the crouched position presumably used to fire the last two shots. This means that he would have to have fired the first shot from a standing position before crouching down to fire the last two shots. This is not something Oswald was ever taught in the Marines. This movement between shots, moreover, is not something any live-fire reenactment of the shooting has ever dared to simulate. Here, see for yourself...
This problem was given a lone-nut spin, moreover, in a November 2018 article by Nicholas Nalli in the Journal of the Association of Crime Scene Reconstruction. There, Nalli argued that the alignment of the boxes proved that the sniper planned on beginning his assault as the limo drove out beyond the tree, and that the first shot miss (he wrongly believes was fired) before the limo even reached the tree was both "impulsive and unplanned" and "the most difficult of the three" shots attempted. He then argued that the sniper had more success once he crouched and used the boxes as a rifle rest. He ignored, of course, that the professional marksmen firing on stationary targets for the Warren Commission had far more trouble with the second and third shots than with the first, and that this increase in difficulty would have been magnified by their having to crouch down between shots and rest their rifle on a box.
The 1994 book Sniper, by military historian Adrian Gilbert, gives us even more food for thought. While reporting on many of the tactics previously discussed, Gilbert addresses something new as well. He reports: "Fighting in built-up areas offers good concealment and cover...Dummy positions are frequently used to draw enemy fire away from the sniper's position. The short ranges over which most combat in towns and cities is fought tends to negate the sniper's range advantage. The sniper can overcome this, however, by the application of his superior knowledge of fieldcraft and, where possible, by firing from positions to the rear of the...combat zone...When firing out of a window, he should stand well back in the room, muffling the blast and hiding the muzzle blast...Windows and doorways are obvious firing positions; it may be better if the sniper cuts a funnel-shaped hole through the wall. A hole of this nature is hard for the enemy to locate and hit, while giving the sniper a reasonable field of fire." Now, this is pretty interesting. This suggests two previously unexplored possibilities. First, that the so-called grassy knoll, where most ran after shots were fired at the motorcade, was a "dummy" position. And second, that a second sniper beyond the one seen in the depository building was totally concealed from view in one of the buildings at Houston and Elm.
Now, no dummies were found on the grassy knoll. But that's not the only way to create a "dummy" position. The August 27, 1942 issue of Tactical and Technical Trends, a publication of the U.S. War Department, in an article on Japanese Tactics in the Philippines, described the use of firecrackers to "confuse U.S. troops as to the actual Japanese position." More to the point, Combat Lessons #4, a 1942 publication of the U.S. Army, noted that German snipers, in order to confuse those under fire, used firecrackers with slow-burning fuses. Finaly, Combat Lessons #6, from 1944, noted that, in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II, "enemy troops have used firecrackers for diversionary purposes, especially when trying to deceive our troops as to the positions of snipers."
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?