The Great Man Speaks
Amidst all this chaos, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to do his job. He really did. Cognizant of the fact Robert Kennedy remained his boss, though his brother was dead, Hoover called Kennedy to keep him informed of the latest developments in the case...
And completely botched it up... Hoover's notes from this day reflect not only that he told Kennedy the suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had run into two police officers a block or two away from the assassination site and had killed one of them in a shoot-out, but that Oswald had visited Cuba multiple times. As a solo Dallas policeman had been killed a few miles away from the assassination site without ever firing his gun, and as Oswald had never been to Cuba, these statements were quite incorrect, and suggest that either Hoover's information or his ability to grasp such information was seriously flawed.
And Hoover wasn't the only senior having a senior moment...
As dusk descended in Washington, grandfatherly ex-President Dwight Eisenhower took to the airwaves and assured the masses huddled before their boob tubes that "Americans are loyal, and it's just this occasional psychopathic accident that occurs, and I don't know what we can do about it." It's unclear if Eisenhower had been following the developments in Dallas, and had already decided that Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the building from which shots were fired, and a suspect in the murder of a Dallas police officer, was a "psychopathic sort of accident." But he certainly prepared the American people to think as much.
In any event, by 4:58 PM (CST), the time of the Air Force One's arrival at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, the air of uncertainty when Air Force One took off from Dallas had been transformed into an air of certainty in Washington: there was a new Sheriff in town. And his name was Lyndon Johnson.
It should be noted, moreover, that RFK was one of those, shall we say, less-than-enamored with this development. It's been reported that when Air Force One arrived in Washington, Robert Kennedy raced onto the plane and dragged his sister-in-law off the back of the plane, lest she be forced into exiting the plane arm-in-arm with Johnson.
Wait. We have pictures.
Here's RFK sneaking his sister-in-law (the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy) out the back door of Air Force One with her husband's body. The plane is reported to have landed at 4:58 (CST). So this would be shortly after 5:00 (CST).
And here's the tarmac at Andrews but 10 minutes later as Lyndon Johnson made his first speech as President. Always eager to share responsibility, he asked for the help of the American people "and God's."
Alas, the train of misinfo rolled on. More than four hours after the Italian Mannlicher-Carcano rifle presumed to have been used in the assassination had been found in the school book depository, and nearly as long after Oswald had been arrested in a movie theater without firing a shot, the great Walter Cronkite told his viewers that the rifle found in the depository had been a German Mauser (a story that would not be corrected until the next day), and that Oswald was accused of killing a policeman in a shootout at a theater (This was not true--Officer J.D. Tippit had been killed on a suburban street).
Now, hmmm, it might not have been a coincidence, then, that, shortly after Cronkite's mis-identification of the rifle, Lt. J.C. Day of the Dallas Police crime lab just so happened to parade the presumed assassination rifle across a room full of reporters, and photographers. This is shown below. A clock in some of the alternate shots of this photo reads 6:15.
(While Day would later claim he didn't know the room was gonna be full of reporters, this seems doubtful, seeing as Day had previously chosen to 1) dust the rifle for prints at the school book depository in front of WFAA cameraman Tom Alyea, and 2) parade the rifle before the cameramen outside the depository upon exit. More on Day and his attention-seeking later...)
Yes, darkness had descended and the Johnson Administration had more on its mind than the mainstream news media's totally confusing the public (and the Dallas Police's parading evidence before the press). Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade had let it be known he suspected Oswald was but one actor in a larger conspiracy. (The next morning's Dallas Morning News, in fact, claimed that Wade had intimated that "preliminary reports indicated more than one person was involved in the shooting" and that he'd said "Everyone who participated in this crime--anyone who helped plan it or furnished a weapon, knowing the purposes for which it was intended--is guilty of murder under Texas law" and that they "should all go to the electric chair.")
Wade's comments, moreover, were bland as milk compared to those of his assistant, Bill Alexander, who was hinting to the press that Oswald would be charged with acting as part of a communist conspiracy.
Well, this just wouldn't do. Wade was interviewed for a November 1988 article in American History Illustrated by Edward Oxford. There, he revealed: “Cliff Carter, President Johnson’s aide, called me three times from the White House Friday night. He said that President Johnson felt any word of a conspiracy—some plot by foreign nations—to kill President Kennedy would shake our nation to its foundation. President Johnson was worried about some conspiracy on the part of the Russians. Oswald had all sorts of connections and affections toward Castro’s Cuba. It might be possible to prove a conspiracy with Cuba. But it would be very hard to prove a conspiracy with Russia. Washington’s word to me was that it would hurt foreign relations if I alleged a conspiracy—whether I could prove it or not. I would just charge Oswald with plain murder and go for the death penalty. So I went down to the Police Department at City Hall to see Captain Fritz—to make sure the Dallas Police didn’t involve any foreign country in the assassination.”
Yowza. Notice how Wade stopped himself and clarified that the conspiracy Johnson was so worried about was one involving “foreign nations.” Well, who was he kidding? As District Attorney of Dallas County, Wade would be powerless to bring a case against a foreign nation. He would be perfectly situated, however, to bring charges against Kennedy’s enemies in Texas, many of whom supported Johnson. And, besides, which kind of conspiracy would be more likely to shake the nation to its foundation? A foreign conspiracy? Nope, not hardly. A domestic conspiracy. It seems clear, then, that Johnson asked Wade to focus Fritz’s gaze on Lee Harvey Oswald, and that Wade complied, and felt dirty enough about it that he was still lying about it 25 years later.
Even so, Wade's promise of cooperation was apparently not enough. An 11-14-93 article in the Washington Post revealed that, at roughly the same time Johnson was having Carter contact Wade, he was having another close associate, Homer Busby, contact Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, and ask Carr to convene a state "court of inquiry" that would supersede the authority of the Dallas Police and the Dallas County District Attorney's office.
Above: Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry (wearing glasses, at right), has a talk with some unseen person, while Dallas Police Capt. Will Fritz (white hat) listens in, and Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (stroking chin) starts to worry.
But these were not the last of Johnson's power grabs. Shortly after landing in Washington, President Johnson had his own talk with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. According to a Hoover memo, Johnson told him to ignore the inconvenient problem that he had no jurisdiction, and to simply take charge of the investigation. According to Cartha DeLoach, the FBI's liaison with the media, LBJ told Hoover to have a report on his desk in two days, and to use whatever powers the executive branch had to offer to accomplish this task. The substance of these recollections is supported, moreover, by Dallas Special-Agent-in-Charge (SAC) J. Gordon Shanklin's statement to the House Committee on the Judiciary in the 1970's. Shanklin told the Committee: "Late in the day, on November 22nd, I was ordered, confirmed by teletype, to conduct an investigation to determine who was responsible for killing the President."
Now, coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, this was around the same time the case against Oswald began falling apart. While a number of witnesses had come forward and said they saw a sniper fire from the sixth floor of the depository, only one--Howard Brennan--had claimed he could identify this assassin if he saw him again. Well, Brennan was shown Oswald in a four-man line-up at 7:55 P.M.--and he refused to ID Oswald as the assassin. Now, to be clear, Brennan said Oswald looked most like the assassin of the four men in the line-up. But this wasn't saying much, seeing as Oswald was clearly the suspect and the man Brennan knew he was supposed to identify (Hmmm...maybe it was the black eye, or maybe it was the torn shirt, or maybe it was the scowl on his face). But he refused to ID him anyhow.
BIG PROBLEM: the only witness to see the shooter in the sniper's nest to claim he could identify this shooter has been shown Oswald and has claimed he can't identify Oswald as the shooter.
Now here's where things get sticky. The Dallas Police failed to write a report acknowledging they'd had a witness who'd claimed he could ID the shooter, who'd been shown Oswald, and had failed to do so. This smells to high heaven. Oswald was yet to have an attorney. With no report in his file, whoever lucked into being Oswald's attorney would have no way of knowing that a prominent witness had said he could identify the shooter but had refused to ID Oswald.
There's an even stranger aspect to this, moreover. Here's the note on this "show-up" that turned up decades after the fact. To be clear, this comes from a small address book used by Capt. Fritz to list the evidence in this case--that was eventually scanned and put online by the University of North Texas.
So...why was Brennan, a key witness in the murder of the President, brought in by Agent Sorrels of the Secret Service? The excuse that Oswald had not yet been charged in Kennedy's murder and that the other witnesses at this line-up were all witnesses to the murder of Police Officer J.D. Tippit doesn't hold water. Not one drop. Brennan had made his initial statement to the Dallas County Sheriff's Dept. The investigation into Kennedy's murder was headed by the Dallas Police Dept. So how does the Secret Service take control of the man who might very well be the star witness for a case to be prosecuted by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office? It simply makes no sense...unless...the Secret Service, much as the FBI, had been ordered to actively investigate Kennedy's murder, and to pay no mind to the local authorities who actually had jurisdiction.
In any event, the witnesses at this show-up/line-up claiming to have received a good look at the shooter of Officer J.D. Tippit all ID'ed Oswald as that shooter, and this allowed the DPD to charge him with the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit.
Oswald's hands and cheek were then coated with paraffin, so that a nitrate test ( a primitive type of gunshot residue test) could be performed. He was then fingerprinted, and palm-printed.
Here is a photo taken by Jim Murray shortly thereafter. On the far right side Crime Lab employee Pete Barnes holds up a palm print. Fellow Crime Lab employee Johnny Hicks is in the background. .
And here is a second photo by Murray, this one a quick bit later. Barnes continues to discuss the palm print with the detectives. But Hicks is now on the phone. In Hicks' hand, moreover, is the kit he used to coat the paraffin on Oswald's hands and cheek. It appears, then, that he is on the phone with the Crime Lab specialists at Parkland Hospital, and is telling them some paraffin casts are on their way.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sprang into action. At 8:40 PM CST, the FBI distributed the following teletype to all its field offices: "All offices immediately contact all informants, security, racial and criminal, as well as other sources, for information bearing on assassination of President Kennedy. All offices immediately establish whereabouts of bombing suspects, all known Klan and hate group members, known racial extremists, and any other individuals who on the basis of information available in your files may possibly have been involved."
Around 10:00 PM CST, the FBI sent another teletype to its field offices, this one even more instructive: "The Bureau is conducting an investigation to determine who is responsible for the assassination. You are therefore instructed to follow and resolve all allegations pertaining to the assassination. This matter is of utmost urgency and should be handled accordingly keeping the Bureau and Dallas, the office of origin, apprised fully of all developments."
Around 11:00 PM, however, the already stumbling investigation in Dallas suffered another setback. Just three hours after Howard Brennan, the only witness to say he could identify the shooter seen firing from the sniper's nest, had said he couldn't identify Oswald as this shooter, Buell Frazier, realistically the only witness who could say if the paper bag supposedly found near the sniper's nest resembled the bag Oswald carried into work that morning, said nope, not remotely. The paper used to make the bag shown to Frazier was, according to Frazier, the wrong kind of paper, and the bag itself was too large, roughly twice the size of the bag Frazier saw in Oswald's possession.
BIG PROBLEM: the only one in a position to identify the bag supposedly found near the sniper's nest as the bag Oswald brought into work has flat-out denied it was the bag, and has said the bag supposedly found in the sniper's nest was both far larger and of a different kind of paper than the bag he'd observed in Oswald's possession.
Making matters worse, moreover, is this. The Dallas Police gave Frazier a polygraph examination in part to see if he was lying about the bag, and he passed with flying colors. This polygraph then disappeared. Its results were not reported in the media. Its results were not even provided the FBI. It was only when following up on Frazier's claim the bag he saw in Oswald's possession was not the bag later placed into evidence, on 11-29, for that matter, that the FBI found out about this polygraph.
By 11:18 PM Dallas Mayor Earl Cabell had had enough. While he'd mostly sat by as a parade of pundits criticized his city for its climate of intolerance and violence, he decided it was time to go on the defensive, and deflect the blame onto Lee Harvey Oswald. He told a national audience "I don't believe this event will hurt Dallas as a city. This was the act of a maniac who could have lived anywhere--a man who belonged to no city." The investigation into Oswald's possible guilt was only hours old, and already public figures were denouncing him as a homeless maniac.
At 11:49 PM CST it was announced that Lee Harvey Oswald had been officially charged with the murder of the President. That's right. Mayor Cabell had pronounced Oswald a "maniac" and guilty of killing Kennedy before Oswald had even been charged with the crime.
Above: Dallas Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander with the document charging Oswald with the murder of the President. Alexander would later say he was only joking when he'd told reporters he'd planned on charging Oswald with acting as part of a communist conspiracy. But something about his face says he wasn't the joking type...
Yes, welcome to the wild, wild west...
Here Come Cowboys
Around midnight, in order to show the world that Oswald, the Dallas Police's chief suspect in the case, had not been man-handled by the police, the Dallas Police allowed him a few minutes to talk to the media, in which he told them 1) he was innocent, and 2) he'd been hit by a policeman.
This could not have been what the DPD had in mind...
Here's the accused getting yanked out of the homicide bureau so he could be paraded before the press. (That's Dallas Chief of Police Jesse Curry on the left and Det. Marlin Hall on the right.)
And here's Oswald at the so-called midnight press conference, surrounded by, from L to R, Det. Marlin Hall, Det. Richard Sims, and Det. Elmer Boyd... Note how Oswald, a man of average height, is dwarfed by the men around him.
But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that this quick Q and A in which Oswald was surrounded by a wall of grim-faced detectives was broadcast live around the world on TV, and that the long-standing tradition within the Dallas Police was that its homicide detectives wore--you guessed it--cowboy hats. Well this was just bad optics. No, check that, really bad optics. Just awful. While novels and serials and movies had sold the world that cowboys were honorable and decent, they had also sold the world that cowboys live outside the law, and would go outside the law to achieve what was popularly known as "frontier justice."
Well, this was the LAST thing people around the world wanted to see. They wanted to see that law and order had been restored and that real justice would be achieved--not frontier justice in which local rednecks got to beat up the suspect and then parade around in Lone Ranger costumes.
In any event, all through the night the FBI and Dallas Police worked together in lockstep. The Dallas Police sent much of the physical evidence gathered to the FBI's crime lab. The FBI pursued a few leads of its own. By morning, the FBI had linked Oswald to the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found on the sixth floor of his work. They had also examined his background as a former resident of the Soviet Union.
And they weren't the only ones who worked all through the night. By midnight, the autopsy of the President had been completed, and the subsequent reconstruction of his body and preparation for burial had begun.
Around 2:00 AM, moreover, the FBI's Baltimore Office sent a teletype to FBI headquarters. This contained the first written description of the President's wounds...made by a Federal Agency. It revealed: ""Total body x-ray and autopsy revealed one bullet entered back of head and thereafter emerged through top of skull...One bullet hole located just below shoulders to right of spinal column and hand probing indicated trajectory angle of forty-five to sixty degrees downward and hole of short depth with no point of exit. No bullet located in body." (MD 149)
Well, that's just...strange. There was no mention of the throat wound discussed at the Parkland press conference.
In any event, after having been (mostly) reconstructed (by the staff of Gawler's Funeral Home), the President's body was placed in a casket and transported to the White House, where it would lay in state until Sunday afternoon.
Here's a photo of the arrival of the President's flag-draped coffin at the White House. This was sometime after 3:30 in the morning on November 23rd, fifteen hours after President Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. And, yes, Mrs. Kennedy was still wearing the same blood-stained dress she'd been wearing in the motorcade! (When asked throughout that dreadful day if she would like to change clothes, she'd repetitively refused, and had added "Let them see what they have done.")