The original article also had this dedication: "To Shirley Martin of Hominy, Oklahoma, who was paid homage by the attorneys of the Warren Commission in being called in scorn, 'a self-appointed investigator.'"
The human ear does not provide the best evidence in a murder case. But its perceptions are evidence not to be despised or dismissed, especially when the case is the murder of a President and more than half of all recorded witnesses agree.
What follows is the result of a survey of the 121 witnesses to the assassination of President Kennedy whose statements are registered in the twenty-six volumes appended to the Warren Report. On the question of where the shots that killed the President came from, 38 could give no clear opinion and 32 thought they came from the Texas School Book Depository Building (TSBDB). Fifty-one held the shots sounded as if the came from west of the Depository, the area of the grassy knoll on Elm Street, the area directly on the right of the President's car when the bullets struck.
For James Thomas Tague stopped on Commerce Street near the Triple Underpass and was standing about 270 feet to the left of the President's car when he felt a sharp sting on his cheek. A deputy sheriff nearby, seeing blood on Tague's cheek, searched the immediate area and found a fresh bullet mark on the south curb of Main Street a few feet away. Tague was hit during the very seconds that he witnessed the murder of the President.
It is difficult to conceive of a sharpshooter aiming at the President from the TSBDB on Elm Street and striking so far afield of his target. It is highly possible, though, that the bullet which hit Tague was fired from the area that Tague himself thought was the source of fire: the grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street. A marksman stationed there need not have taken faulty aim to miss the President and hit Tague.
James Tague was not called to Washington for questioning by the Commission. Instead, eight months after the assassination, his deposition was taken in Dallas by Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsel of the Commission. The interrogation about the source of the shot is worth quoting from at some length.
Mr. Liebeler. ... Did you have any idea where these shots came from, when you heard them ringing out?Area "C" and No. 7 with its concrete monument, is the grassy knoll. indicated as such on the Commission's map. Attorneys whom we asked to review the interrogation of Tague all agreed that the Commission's counsel asked leading questions, tried to steer Tague's answers, and even became argumentative. All in all, the motions of a badgering, suggestive prosecutor rather than an impartial inquirer.
Mr. Tague. Yes; I thought they were coming from my left.
Mr. Liebeler. Immediately to your left or toward the back? Of course now we have other evidence that would indicate that the shots did come from the Texas School Book Depository but see if we can disregard that and determine just what you heard when the shots were fired in the first place.
Mr. Tague. To recall everything is almost impossible. Just an impression is all I recall, is the fact that my first impression that up by the, whatever you call the monument or whatever it was ...
Mr. Liebeler. Your impression of where the shots came from was much the result of the activity near No. 7?
Mr. Tague. Not when I heard the shots.
Mr. Liebeler. You thought that they had come from the area between Nos. 7 and 6?
Mr. Tague. I believe they came from up in here.
Mr. Liebeler. Back in area "C"?
Mr. Tague. Right.
Mr. Liebeler. Behind the concrete monument here between Nos. 5 and 7 toward the general area of "C"?
Mr. Tague. Yes. (VII 556-7)
Mr. Liebeler. Do you think that it is consistent with what you heard and saw that day that the shots could have come from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository?Tague stuck to his guns. Admitting for all he knew that the shots could have come from the TSBDB, he insisted on his clear memory that they came from the vicinity of the concrete monument.
Mr. Tague. Yes.
Mr. Liebeler. There was in fact a considerable echo in that area?
Mr. Tague. There was no echo from where I stood. I was asked this question before and there was no echo. (VII, 557)
The reference to echoes is significant. To help reduce this great preponderance of witnesses who favored a murder source other than the one it wished to prove, the Commission frequently tried to bring witnesses to admit that it was not the sound of shots they heard but their echoes.
An echo of course is a reflected sound that reaches a hearer a very short time after the originating sound. But if echoes influenced the witnesses at the assassination scene, it is clear that those who thought the shots came from the TSBDB would be more likely to be misled than those who thought the sounds came from the grassy knoll. The Depository was the last tall building of the Dallas business district as the motorcade moved west. The surfaces of buildings like this produce stronger echoes than would a low, convex slope covered by a rug-like grassy surface.
On the basis of auditory testimony alone from 51 witnesses (and we grant that such testimony in a case like this can never be, by itself, convincing or conclusive) we must agree that the grassy knoll which approaches the famous Triple Underpass on the northwest side of Elm Street would be the most likely source of most of the bullets fired at the motorcade that day. Mr. Vincent J. Salandria has recently outlined the ballistic and medical probabilities of such a trajectory. However, we stress that the two sources of bullets are not mutually exclusive. The chief weakness of the Warren Report was its absolute refusal to consider seriously any other source of shots besides the TSBDB, even though such a source is indicated by the largest number of direct witnesses.
Let us review these witnesses.
Assuming a single rifleman firing from the TSBDB, let us ask again the question which Allen Dulles asked during a meeting of the Commission. Which participants in the motorcade had "the best view of the assassination"? Dulles suggested this answer:
It must have been the third or fourth or fifth car in the motorcade that was right opposite the window at the time the assassin put the rifle well out of the window and shot ... Whatever it was, the car that was right opposite the window and going in this direction at the time must have been the fourth or fifth car --- the car which had the best view of the assassination. (IV, 332)Yes, at the time the shots rang out, the third, fourth, and fifth cars of the motorcade had just turned or were turning left from Houston Street into Elm Street, at a speed of five to ten miles an hour, with the block-long TSBDB looming on their right. They were riding the center lane of a three-lane, one-way street. Nothing obstructed their view of its upper stories.
Twelve of the twenty persons in these three cars were Secret Service agents, and the Warren Report tells us that "Secret Service agents riding in the motorcade were trained to scan buildings as part of their general observation of the crowd of spectators." Moreover, the Report marks the TSBDB as one of "the most obvious points of possible ambush along the route in Dallas." (W, 448)
Now the most striking aspect of the individual reports made by the Secret Service drivers and passengers of these three cars is certainly this: that having a better view of the TSBDB at the time of the assassination than anyone else in the motorcade, not one, writing memoranda within hours or days of the event or testifying about it months afterward, not one pointed to the TSBDB as the source of the shots as they heard them.
Some of them say the shots came from the "right rear" with no suggestion of an elevation. In most cases, there is no more definite indication than that. William Greer, driving the President's car, for instance, thought the noise came from the right rear but felt they were the backfiring of motorcycles. Glen Bennett only says that, after hearing the shots, "we peered toward the rear and particularly the right side of the area" (XVIII, 760). John Ready noted:
At about 12:30 p.m. I heard what sounded like firecrackers going off from my post on the right front running board ... It appeared that the shots came from my right-rear side. (XVIII, 750)The driver of car #4, Texas Highway Patrolman Hurchel Jacks, was the only person in that car who had any opinion at all on the source of the shots, and he could say no more than that they sounded as if they came from the right and rear of the car. In car #5, Jerry Kivett says he looked "in the direction of the noise, which was to my right rear," but adds that although he reached for his gun, he did not draw it "for I could not tell where the shots were coming from." (XVIII, 778) Warren Taylor is the only other Secret Service agent in these three cars who describes the sound as "coming from my right rear" and he too is no more specific.
When we drew up a chart enumerating the witnesses and their perceptions we included anyone riding in these three cars who gave "right rear" as the source of the shots among those who thought the shots came from the vicinity of the TSBDB. Our final figures, therefore, give possible critics of our findings all benefit of the doubt.
Reviewing the same three cars, we see that George Hickey, Jr., offers no opinion on the question but observes that "the President was slumped to the left" after being hit, and later "it seemed as if the right side of his head was hit" (XVIII, 765). This suggests a source almost directly to the right; but is too inconclusive. Clinton Hill is just as vague. Noting that "I heard noise from my right rear," he goes on to contrast this first shot with the second which "was right, but I cannot say for sure that it rear" (II, 138, 144). Hill's remark reminds us of Salandria's view that the bullets probably came from both the knoll and the Depository.
Samuel Kinney, like Hickey, sees a shot strike Kennedy on the right side of the head, sees him fall to the left, but gives no opinion about where the shots came from (XVIII 731) . William McIntyre says "None of us [in car #3] could determine the origin of the shots" (XVIII, 747). Emory Roberts saw what looked like "a small explosion on the right side of the President's head." His conclusion: "I could not determine from what direction the shots came, but felt they had come from the right side" (XVIII, 734, 739) .
Riding the right front seat of the Vice-Presidential car, Rufus Youngblood had no opinion on the source of the shots (XVIII, 767-8). The driver of car #5, Texas Highway Patrolman Joe Rich, likewise had no opinion (XVIII, 800).
Of the Secret Service personnel in the three cars with "the best view," only two make any specific notes about the source of the shots, and what they say adds up to the grassy knoll. Paul E. Landis, Jr., riding the rear right running board of car #3, wrote:
My immediate thought was that the President could not possibly be alive after being hit like he was. I still am not certain from which direction the second shot came, but my reaction at the time was the shot came from somewhere towards the front right-hand side of the road.Thomas L Johns, in the right rear seat of car #5, only says that:
I did not notice anyone on the overpass, and I scanned the area to the right of and below the overpass where the terrain sloped toward the road on which we were traveling. (XVIII, 755)
On the right-hand side of the motorcade from the street, a grassy area sloped upward to a small 2 or 3-foot concrete wall with sidewalk area. When the shots sounded, I was looking to the right and saw a man standing and then being thrown or hit to the ground, and this together with the shots made the situation appear dangerous to me. (XVIII, 774)The other passengers of the cars, which Allen Dulles thought provided the best view of an assassin firing from the TSBDB, offer little more enlightenment. Lyndon Johnson wrote that it was impossible for him to tell the direction of the explosions (V 562).
Alone of all those in the three cars, Lady Bird Johnson suggests the Depository. Telling her story into a tape-recorder, she said, "It seemed to me to come from the right, above my shoulder, from a building" (V 565). Senator Yarborough's statement that all the shots "came from my right rear" (VII 440) made in July 1964 should be coupled with his comments, reported in the Texas Observer, that he smelled gunpowder as the car drove away through the underpass.
As for the aide to Kennedy and Johnson in the strategic cars, Ken O'Donnell pointed to the right rear but admitted that "my reaction in part is reconstruction" (VII 448), and Clifton Carter made no judgment on the question. Riding next to O'Donnell in car #5, David Powers remembered that:
My first impression was that the shots came from the right and overhead but I also had a fleeting impression that the noise appeared to come from the front in the area of the triple underpass. (VII 473)The most comfortable defender of the Warren Report will not fail to perceive the strange meaning of this roll call. Riding at a crawl alongside of the TSBDB, the last tall building on the motorcade route --- and most of the passengers aware of a duty to scan tall building on the way --- not one (with the possible exception of Mrs. Johnson) thought that the Depository was the assassin's firing nest or saw anything suspicious in that area. Not one mentioned the Depository as a possible or probable source of the shot. Three passengers indicated that the shots sounded as if they came from the vicinity of the grassy knoll.
Perhaps, for this point and also for future reference, we should recall the elementary principal of sound location. As a general rule one can locate a sound upward or downward, front or rear, only when the hearing is supported by other knowledge and experience. Right and left locations, on the other hand, are discriminated more reliably by the cars because sound in those directions will normally be stronger in one ear while the other ear is in an auditory shadow cast by the head.
It follows that the remarks of the drivers and passengers in the three strategic witness cars are, in general, inconclusive but more valid in their indication of shot sources to the right than in their perception of a source to the rear.
So much we can reconstruct from the testimony of nine witnesses (none of them officers of the law).
We are at once faced with many questions. For instance, why would a man, who intends to shoot a rifle westward toward the underpass, choose the window on Elm Street farthest from his target? Why didn't he take his place at the extreme southwest window where his view would not be blocked a crucial part of the way by an oak tree that was in full leaf that November? The onlookers at the heavy traffic corner of Elm and Houston, which he overlooked, were still numerous enough to be called a crowd while the bystanders west of the building were few and scattered. If he had chosen the western position he would have been more than a hundred feet closer to the stairway by which he is said to have escaped. At our present state of knowledge we can only ask and wonder about such questions. All that we can sat with any degree of certainty is that a man with a rifle was seen in the southeast window facing Elm Street.
Mrs. Earle Cabell, wife of the then Mayor of Dallas, saw "something" in the window. Malcolm 0. Couch, Dallas news-cameraman, didn't see anyone there but saw about a foot of the rifle as it was being withdrawn into the window. Robert Hill Jackson, staff photographer for The Dallas Times-Herald, also saw the rifle, about half of it, as someone drew it back into the building after the last shot exploded. He too could not see the person who held it. (We will return presently to these three witnesses.)
Two schoolboys and a steamfitter saw and heard the Depository rifle in action. James Worrell, Jr., age 20, playing hooky from school that day, stood in front of the TSBDB and after the first shot looked up He then saw the rifle fire twice. He did not report what he saw to the police until the next day (II, 200).
Fifteen-year-old Amos Lee Euins happened to look up at the sixth floor window across the street from where he was standing and saw someone there fire a rifle. Amos ducked behind the little fountain at the peristyle nearby and peered upward in time to see a man fire again. "I could see his hand," he told the Warren Commission, "and I could see his other hand on the trigger and one hand was on the barrel thing." (V, 204) The police and FBI wrote an affidavit for him which he signed. It said that he saw a white man up there but Amos absolutely denied to the Commission that he ever could have described the man on the sixth floor in any way.
Star witness of the Commission was undoubtedly Howard Leslie Brennan who was working at the time fabricating pipe in the yards just behind the Depository. After lunch he went to Elm and Houston and perched himself on the retaining wall of the pool at the Dealey Plaza entrance, wearing the hard helmet that identifies him in photographs of the scene. He says he saw "this one man" come and leave the sixth floor window a couple of times before the shooting. After the second shot Brennan looked up again, "and this man that I saw previous was aiming for his last shot." The gunman then drew back "and maybe paused for another second as though to sure himself that he hit his mark, then he disappeared" (III, 143-4). Brennan went on to describe the rifleman in remarkable detail for a view at such a distance.
Two others saw the man in the window but did not see him fire. Ronald Fischer stood with a friend at the southwest corner of Elm and Houston and, minutes before the motorcade came by, pointed to the figure at the window. It surprised Fischer that a man looking out of a sixth floor window there should not be looking in the direction of the motorcade but towards the underpass. (VI, 193)
On the east side of Houston near Elm, waiting for the President to pass, were Arnold Rowland and his wife. They were talking about how the Secret Service protects the President of the United States when Arnold happened to see the man in the sixth floor window of the TSBDB. "He was standing and holding a rifle ... the thought came to us that it is a security agent," Arnold told the Commission in Washington. Mrs. Rowland looked up but could not see the man nor the rifle.
There are two remarkable elements in Arnold Rowland's testimony. At the same time he saw another man in the southwest window of the sixth floor, a post we have already suggested would have been a wiser sniping position. And ... on hearing the shots that killed Kennedy and wounded Connally, Rowland thought they came from the grassy knoll!
After the second explosion, "Well," he told the Commission almost apologetically, "I began looking, I didn't look at the building mainly, and a practically any of the police offices that were there then will tell you the echo effect was such that it sounded like it came from the railroad yards. That is where I looked, that is where all the policemen, everyone, converged on the railroads."
Arlen Specter, assistant counsel for the Commission, asked Rowland, "Why did you not look back at the Texas School Book Depository Building in view of the fact that you had seen a man with a rifle up there earlier in the day?" And the young man replied, "I don't remember. It was mostly due to the confusion, and then the fact that it sounded like it came from this area 'C' and that all the officers, enforcement officers were converging on that area and I just didn't pay any attention to it at that time." (II, 169-81)
Ronald Fischer, questioned in Dallas in April 1964 by David W. Belin, had a similar problem. His friend Robert Edwards thought the shots "seemed to come from that building there" (XIX, 473), but Fischer testified that "they appeared to be coming from just west of the School Book Depository Building" (VI, 193-6).
The words "railroad yards," used again and again in the testimony, require explanation. There are railroad terminals and yards running behind the TSBDB that extend along the north side of the grassy knoll and connect to the railroad overpass that crosses Elm, Main, and Commerce Streets. Mrs. Rowland, in her deposition, makes clear which railroad yard area was the center of witness attention that day. She and her husband ran, she says, to "the colonnade over on the north side of Elm Street" (VI, 184).
Mrs. Cabell, in motorcade car #7, thought the shots came from the TSBDB but "was acutely aware of the odor of gunpowder" (VII 486-7), which is not likely to have been perceptible from a source high up and inside a building. She noticed the odor after all the shots were fired and therefore possibly when car #7 was turning down hill into Elm Street, approaching the knoll where Senator Yarborough, too, began to smell gunpowder. Congressman Roberts and Mr. Donald Baker, too, noted the smell of gunpowder at about the same location. TV- newsman Couch did not associate the sound of the shot with the building where he had seen the rifle. He remembered seeing blood on the walkway that leads to the southwest corner of the TSBDB and people "pointing back around those shrubs around that west corner" (VI, 157-60) .
Couch's fellow-passenger in car #8 Jackson, was asked:
Mr. Specter. Mr. Jackson, at the time you heard the first shot, did you have any reaction or impression from the sound itself as to the source of the shot point of origin?The policeman at the TSBDB comer whom Howard Brennan accosted right after the shot, showed no sign that he suspected anything inside the building. Brennan told him that the 30 to 50 policemen and deputies swarming over the grassy knoll and into the railroad yards "were searching in the wrong direction for the man that did the shooting" (III, 145).
Mr. Jackson. No sir, I didn't. It did sound like it came from ahead of us or from that general vicinity but I could not tell whether it was high up or on the ground.
Mr. Specter. When you say that general vicinity, what vicinity did you mean?
Mr. Jackson. We were sure it came from ahead of us which would be in a northerly direction, northwesterly direction. It did sound as though it came from somewhere around the head of the motorcade. (II, 162)
An uneasy fact: Brennan is said to have told a policeman what he saw at the 6th floor window of the TSBDB within three minutes of the assassination. A search-call for the assassin is supposed to have been issued on the basis of Brennan's description. But no control and concerted search of the Depository in general was begun for almost a half-hour, and even then the sixth floor got no special attention in the search orders.
Car #2 was the death car. About 100 feet ahead of it was the lead car of the motorcade. Not one of the drivers or passengers of these two cars indicated in any way that the TSBDB was the source of the shots.
Mrs. Kennedy offered no opinion at all on the shots and indeed the noise sounded to her like motorcycles backfiring on the left (V, 180). Governor Connally guessed that the shots came from back over his right shoulder at an elevation and declined to be more specific. At the first shot, he said, he turned right and saw "nothing of any significance except just people on the grass slope" (IV 12-S). His wife Nellie added, "Well, I had no thought of whether they were high or low or where. They just came from the right; sounded like they were to my right" (IV, 149).
VIP's and Secret Service agents gave their testimony months after the event, when every force of suggestion from officials and newspapers pointed to the TSBDB as the post of an unaided sniper. That they insisted on their original recollection under these conditions is a tribute to these men and women.
William Greer, the Special Agent driving the President's limousine, could give no opinion on the direction of the shots. Beside him rode Roy H. Kellerman, an agent with more than 20 years experience in the Secret Service. He told the Commission that he had no reaction about the height of the explosions. But he did turn immediately to his right after he heard one shot.
Mr. Specter. What was the reason for your reacting to your right?In the lead car rode two Secret Service men, Winston G. Lawson of the White House Detail, responsible for planning many details of the motorcade, and Forrest V. Sorrels, in charge of the Dallas office. Lawson looked back at the President's car continually in order to regulate the speed of the procession. When he heard the shots (car #1 was almost at the Triple Underpass when he heard them) he was positive that they came from the rear of his car, and when he saw an agent standing up with an automatic weapon in his hand in car #3, Lawson's first thought was that the shots came from that gun. (IV, 352-3)
Mr. Kellerman. That was the direction that I heard this noise, pop. (II, 74)
Sorrels remembered scanning the Depository as his car turned the corner, but he saw "no activity, no one moving around that I saw at all." As soon as he heard the shots, he "turned around to look up on this terrace part there, because the sound sounded like it came from the back and up in that direction." He had to repeat this for the Commission's assistant counsel, Samuel A. Stern.
And, as I said, the noise from the shots sounded like they may have come back up or the terrace there ... But the reports seemed to be so loud that it sounded like to me --- in other words, that my first thought, somebody up on the terrace, and that is the reason I looked there.Mr. Stern then drew him out of the area of evidence into the area of conforming opinion in order to evoke the right words from his witness:
Mr. Stern. Do you have any reason to believe that the shots could not have come from the Book Depository Building?There were two other major participants in the day's events who rode in the lead car: the chief of police of Dallas and the sheriff of Dallas County.
Mr. Sorrels. No, sir.
Mr. Stern. Would shots from the Book Depository Building have been consistent with your hearing of the shots?
Mr. Sorrels. Yes, they would have. (VII, 345-7)
Police Chief Jesse Curry was driving the lead car. In his deposition, taken 4/15/1964, he said:
I heard a sharp report. We were near the railroad yards at this time, and I didn't now --- I didn't know exactly where this report came from, whether it was above us or where, but this followed by two more reports (XII, 28).The week after this deposition, he was in Washington testifying at great length before the Commission --- but not a word more does he add and not a question is he asked about the way he heard the shots. What we do learn is that, before he ordered motorcycle officer Chaney to lead the car to Parkland Hospital:
"I said over the radio, I said: 'Get someone up in the railroad yard and check.'" (IV, 161)Bill Decker, also riding the lead car, had been sheriff of Dallas County since 1949. The first time any member of the Commission's staff interviewed him was on 4/16/1964, in Dallas. At that time he was not asked a thing about the assassination itself, even though he himself introduced the subject. In an undated memo, presumably written within day after Kennedy's death, Decker had no opinion on the direction of the shots or their origin. "When I heard the shots," he does remark, "I noted motorcycle officers coming off their cycles and running up the embankment on Dealey Plaza" (XIX, 458). Since Dealey Plaza proper has no embankment he can only have been referring to the grassy knoll on his right.
We moved out immediately at which time I took the microphone and requested the DPD Dispatcher 521 to advise my Station 5-Radioroom to notify all officers in my department to immediately get over to the area where shooting occurred and saturate the area of the park, railroad and all buildings ...The words "and all buildings" are either deceiving or decisive. For we have never found any record that any building beside the TSBDB was searched after the assassination, and the radio calls registered in the official log at the time show calls to order men up to the railroad yards but none ordering men to the TSBDB or any other building.
Who then ordered the TSBDB to be searched? And when?
All the newspapers carried the story of how a motorcycle policeman, Marrion L. Baker, parked his vehicle on Houston Street near Elm, charged into the TSBDB just 15 seconds after the last shot, and drew his gun on Lee Oswald on the second floor before proceeding to the roof with TSBDB superintendent Roy Truly. But the stories did not say (1) that Mr. Baker made his determination that shots were coming from the Depository while he was riding at the end of the motorcade, that is, before entering Houston Street from Main Street, that is, from distance greater than any other witness; and (2) that after checking the roof with Mr. Truly, they descended to the ground floor by elevator and, passing the fourth floor, saw Inspector J. Herbert Sawyer of the Dallas Police (III, 261).
Now, mind you, neither Baker nor Sawyer had spoken with Brennan, Euins, Worrell or any other eyewitness before entering the TSBDB. Baker was there because that is where he thought the shot were coming from, and Sawyer was there because, he says, a message came over his radio ordering him there.
Inspector Sawyer was in his car parked on Ervay and Main Streets during the assassination. Too far away to hear the shots, he naturally saw nothing of the area's reaction to them. This is what he told assistant Counsel D. W. Belin on 4/8/1964 in Dallas:
Mr. Sawyer. ... I heard Sheriff Decker come on the radio and tell the dispatcher to put all of his men over to, and I thought he said Texas School Book Depository but at least that was the overall gist of the conversation. That is what I gathered. He may not have said Texas School Book Depository but the Texas School Book Depository was mentioned in the broadcasts that were made at the time.Summed up, this means that the inspector hurried down to the TSBDB on an order issued by an unidentified source at an uncertain location, an order which was not directed to him nor made by his superior officer but by a voice which he only supposed to be the sheriff coming over the wrong radio channel; an order, finally, which evidently did not mention the TSBDB.
Mr. Belin. Was this on Channel 1 or Channel 2, if you remember?
Mr. Sawyer. Channel 2, I am sure.
Mr. Belin. Did Sheriff Decker have any particular call number at all, or not, in your police number system?
Mr. Sawyer. No, I was wondering why he come on our radio but then I think that he was with Chief Curry and probably using that radio.
Mr. Belin. All right, in any event, a call was made from Chief Curry's car?
Mr. Sawyer. Well this I don't know either. I don't know what car it was made from, but I think it was Sheriff Decker talking. I could recognize his voice, yes.
Mr. Belin. What did you do then?
Mr. Sawyer. Then I went on down to the Texas Book Depository. (VI, 316-7)
A mystery certainly, but one not scrutinized too closely by the Commission. The only orders issued on the radio by Curry ant Decker at the time were calls to get men over to the Triple Underpass and the railroad yards (I, 319). At least that is what the log shows.
We must assume then that neither Curry nor Decker were responsible for Sawyer's presence on the fourth floor of the TSBDB as Baker and Truly were descending in the elevator. In fact, Curry was asked by Allen Dulles whether he had ever told the newspapers that he had been the one who sent out the radio order to surround the Depository.
Mr. Curry. I didn't do that, sir. That was one of my inspectors, I believe, that gave that order. I was riding in the Presidential parade and approximately a hundred feet, I guess, ahead of the President's car, and when we heard this first report I couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from ... I thought at first that perhaps this was a railroad torpedo, it was a sharp crack." (IV, 160-1)What Curry implies here is that some other inspector made an unauthorized radio order that was never logged, or that Sawyer acted on his own responsibility and covered his action by referring to an alleged radio order.
The situation proves even trickier. Because, if The New York Times of 11/24/1963 is to be believed, it is Curry who is not telling the truth. Reporting a November 23 press conference with the Chief of Police the Times had this to say:
Moments after the fatal shot was fired at President Kennedy at 12:30 PM yesterday, Chief Curry said he radioed in instructions that the Texas School Book Depository Building be surrounded and searched ... Chief Curry said he could tell from the sound of the three shots that they had come from the book company's building.We must note that the records of the Chief's press conference do not show such a statement. Furthermore, this is a report about a man who, in his deposition and testimony, had denied that he had any opinion about the direction of the shots except for a general suspicion about the railroad yards to his right. If the Times report is true, then (1) Curry lied to the Commission, and (2) the official log of radio dispatches has been expurgated, or censored.
In this connection Forrest Sorrels, riding in the lead car with Decker ant Curry, has a significant recollection:
... the chief [Curry] took his microphone and told them to alert the hospital and said 'Surround the building'. He didn't say what building. He just said, 'Surround the building'. And by that time we had gotten almost in under the underpass, and the President's car had come up and was almost abreast of us. (VII, 345)
The Warren Report faces this difficulty in its typical manner, a style which led Murray Kempton, a friendly critic, to observe that it presented no more than "the case for the prosecution."
The Report says:
When the shots were fired, many people near the Depository believed that the shots came from the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass or from the area to the west of the Depository. In the hectic moments after the assassination many spectators ran in the general direction of the Triple Underpass or the railroad yards northwest of the building. Some were running toward the place from which the sound of the rifle fire appeared to come, others were fleeing the scene of the shooting. (W, 71)It require a patient culling of the 26 volumes appended to the Report to learn that here and elsewhere the Report is a not unskillful deception. We would not learn from the Report itself, for example, that the "many people" were in fact most people, the overwhelming majority. We are drawn to a picture of bystanders rushing westward of the TSBDB, "some" to find the assassin, "others" to escape him. But we are not told that practically none of the witnesses belonged to the second category, and that the "some" who looked for the assassin in the vicinity of the grassy knoll included almost every deputy sheriff on duty in the area that day and most of the policemen.
The list of witnesses for the grassy knoll as a sniper's post is decreased because the Warren Report and its appendices contain no evidence from many persons who are mentioned and quoted in the reports of other witnesses and in newspaper accounts. We have found ten deputies of the sheriff's office who were on assignment at the assassination scene who were not called on for evidence. Most of them would, probably, have felt and reacted like the twenty recorded deputies. Of these twenty, only one decided the shots came from the TSBDB, three gave no opinion, and sixteen thought this assassin had fired from the area of the grassy knoll.
The only deputy sheriff who pointed to the TSBDB did not say where he thought the shots came from. John Wiseman merely told us in his memo of 11/23/63 that he talked to Marilyn Sitzman and an unnamed man who thought the shots came from the Depository (XIX, 535-6).
Eugene Boone's testimony is doubly interesting. He not only ran towards the knoll and then the freight yards as soon as he heard the shots; he is also the deputy who found a rifle on the sixth floor of the TSBDB almost an hour later, and identified it as a 7.65 Mauser. (XIX, 507; VII, 105-9). This rifle, which soon became a 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano, was also identified by deputy constable Seymour Weitzman as a Mauser.
Weitzman, like most of the other deputies, was standing at the corner of Main and Houston when he heard the shots. He ran toward the President's car and climbed over a wall in "the monument section," looking for the assassin (VII, 106). Roger Craig, too, on hearing the first shot, ran until he reached "the terrace on Elm Street" and then the railroad yards (XIX, 524.). Harold Elkins was more explicit:
I immediately ran to the area from which it sounded like the shots had been fired. This is an area between the railroad and the Texas School Book Depository which is east of the railroad. (XIX, 540)"Lummie" Lewis, A. D. McCurley, Luke Mooney, and W. W. Mabra all heard the shots the same way and ran to search the grassy knoll and the freight yard. (XIX, 526, 514, 541, 528)
"Why did you go over to the railroad yard?" the Commission's assistant counsel, Joseph Ball, asked Mooney. "Well," said Mr. Mooney a bit hesitantly, "that was --- from the echo of the shots, we thought they came from that direction." Then he added a note to the Decker-Curry mystery. After "a few seconds" of search, Mooney said, "we had orders to cover the Texas Depository Building" --- and the orders "were referred to us by the sheriff Mr. Bill Decker." (III, 283)
The shots sent Deputy Sheriff J. L. Oxford running toward the underpass (XIX, 530). L. C. Smith's reaction to the shots was to climb the fence behind the knoll and search the parking lot (XIX, 516). Deputy I. C. Todd ran to the railroad tracks, as did Ralph Walters and radio officer Jack Watson (XIX, 543, 505-6, 522). Harry Weatherford tells much the same story: "I thought to myself that this was a rifle and I started towards the corner when I heard the third report ... By this time I was running toward the railroad yards where the sound seemed to come from." (XIX, 502)
Deputy Sheriff Eddy Raymond Walthers (known as "Buddy") took an active part in many phases of the investigation and gave evidence in Dallas and Washington. The story of his initial reactions to Kennedy's murder as told in July 1964 is much the same as his memorandum written on November 22. He heard three shots, ran across Dealey Plaza until he reached the parking are behind the now-familiar "concrete structure on the knoll (VII, 544-6). It was later, while looking for bullet traces, that he came across James Tague, the man with the bloody cheek, whose slight wound was to give the Commission as much trouble as any other inflicted that day.
Among the policemen near the scene, we find wider variety of opinion and reaction, perhaps because they were distributed all along the route of the motorcade and not concentrated near one corner as were the deputy sheriffs. Four policemen indicated the Depository as the source, four could make no definite opinion, four indicated the gray knoll area.
The evidence of Patrolman Baker has already been noted. The officer to whom Brennan spoke, Welcome Eugene Barnett, was stopping traffic for the motorcade at Elm and Houston. He thought the second shot sounded high and looked up at the TSBDB across the street. When the third shot exploded, "I decided it had to be on top of that building. To me it is the only place the sound could be coming from." He also remarked that he was the only officer around who seemed to react to the shots as he did (VII, 541-2). It is noteworthy that neither Baker, Sawyer nor Barnett took any decisive action to seal off the building.
J. W. Foster, assigned to the Triple Overpass, thought the shots "came from back in toward the corner of Elm and Houston Street." He ran to the Depository where he bumped into Inspector Sawyer (VI, 251-2). Earle Brown, on duty at the Stemmons Freeway overpass, also believed the shots came from the TSBDB, but he was struck by the smell of gunpowder near the overpass (VI, 233-4).
Three motorcycle policemen in the motorcade provided excellent directional evidence. B. J. Martin, riding at the left rear side of the death car, heard shots but "couldn't tell just where they were coming from." When he arrived at Parkland Hospital, however, he noticed blood and flesh particles on his motorcycle windshield, the left side of his helmet, and the left shoulder of his uniform (VI, 291).
Besides Martin and just alongside of Mrs. Kennedy rode Bobby Hargiss. "At the time," he testified, "there was something in my head that said that they probably could have been coming from the railroad overpass, because I thought since I had got splattered with blood --- I was just a little back and left of --- a little back and left of Mrs. Kennedy but I didn't know." His second choice was the TSBDB (VI, 294-5).
Clyde Haygood was described in the world press that Friday and Saturday because, after the shots were fired, he tried to jump the north curb of Elm Street with his motorcycle and, failing, parked it on the street and ran to the knoll looking for any sign of the assassin (VI, 297-9). Joe Marshall Smith had his back to the Depository on Elm Street when the shots rang out. "I didn't know where the shots came from," he said, but ran "to an area immediately behind the concrete structure" and checked the bushes and all the cars in the parking lot behind the knoll. (VII, 533-6)
Another Patrolman Smith, Edgar Leon Smith, Jr., stood on the east curb of Houston Street about 150 feet from the TSBDB. He guessed the first two shots were firecrackers but, after the third shot, he drew his pistol and ran down Elm Street.
Mr. Liebeler. You thought the shot came from this little concrete structure up behind No. 7?But experience leads us to expect that the Commission's counsel will not be content with such direct reply.
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
Mr. Liebeler. Is what you heard that day consistent with the proposition that the shots came from the School Book Depository Building?
Mr. Smith. They could have come from there and they could not --- I just don't know. (VII, 568-9)
As for the grassy knoll, Patrolman Smith humbly insisted, "It just looked like a good place for them to come from and I guess that's the reason I ran down there."
Smith shows how close to unanimous that impression was among law enforcement officers on the spot. The job of examining people and things around and behind the knoll became difficult, he says, because there were so many police and deputies milling around there.
We may never know who these office girls were. There is no other record of what they heard and saw, and the Commission found no time for following such leads. A police report of the same day mentions interviews of TSBDB employees Shearion Simmons, Jeanie Holt and Stella Jacobs, but doesn't tell what they said. (XIX, 526) Perhaps they are the ones who indicated the grassy knoll to Deputy Faulkner. As it is, we cannot include them in our reckoning of witnesses.
Another eyewitness whom we must exclude from our poll calculation for the same reason is perhaps one of the most important. He is Ochus V. Campbell, vice-president of the TSBDB.
We know that he was watching when President Kennedy was killed. We know he ran toward the grassy knoll afterward. The Dallas Times-Herald of 11/22/1963 quotes him as saying he raced back into the building and saw Oswald in a small storage area on the ground floor. But he prepared no affidavit, gave no deposition, and was never interrogated by the Commission as far as the record shows.
Mrs. Robert Reid was standing beside him and Superintendent Roy Truly as the motorcade passed right by them and the shots rang out. "And I turned to Mr. Campbell," she testified in Washington, "and I said, 'Oh, my goodness, I am afraid those came from our building.' But Mr. Campbell, he said, "Oh, Mrs. Reid, no, it came from the grassy area down this way.'" (III, 273-4)
Confining our list of witnesses to those whose evidence was published by the Commission itself, we find a total of 19 TSBDB employees, of whom we classify five as having no opinion on the direction of shots, six feeling they came from the building, and eight in favor of the grassy knoll as the firing site.
Of signal importance are Bonnie Ray Williams, Harold Norman, and James Jarman Jr. Bonnie Ray says it seemed at first like everyone was going to watch the motorcade from the sixth floor. He heard Billy Lovelady and Danny Arce say they would watch from there, so that is where he went to eat his lunch. His were the famous chicken bones that appeared in every newspaper in the United States as evidence that the assassin had lain in wait for his prey for hours.
Nobody came up to join Williams, though, so he went down to the fifth floor and squatted at the southeast windows between Harold Norman and James Jarmen, Jr., to watch. Down below, from car #8, Tom Dillard of The Dallas Morning News took their pictures.
Jarman had no opinion about the source of the shots. He did notice some debris that had presumably fallen on Bonnie Ray's head from the ceiling above (III, 204). Williams is clear: the rifle report "shook the building --- the side we were on. Cement fell on my head" (III, 175). Norman too thought the shots came from above them. "I could also hear something sounded like the shell hulls hitting the floor and the ejecting of the rifle, it sounded as though it was two to me" (III, 191). But his two friends did not hear that.
None of them said anything about going to the sixth floor to look or about notifying anyone. Instead they all ran down to the west side of the fifth floor and looked out from there. Why? "Since everyone was running, you know, to the west side of the building, towards the railroad tracks, we assumed maybe somebody was down there," Williams said. (III, 175)
Jack E. Dougherty also says he was on the fifth floor when he heard the shots and "it sounded like it came from overhead somewhere" (VI, 379). In other important respects, however, his testimony is very confusing. He says, for instance, that he ate lunch and went back to work on the sixth floor at about 12:40 p.m. and then went down to the fifth floor "to get some stock" when he heard the shots.
On the second floor, Geneva Hine was taking care of the phone for the girls who had gone out to see the President. When she heard the shots, she felt the building vibrate so much, she was sure "they came from inside the building" (VI, 395). On the other hand, Victoria Adams, watching from a fourth floor window with three friends, reported that the shots "sounded like a firecracker or a cannon at a football game, it seemed as if it came from right below rather than from the left above." She also noted that a tree blocked her view of the President for a while, the same tree which we are convinced must have blocked the assassin's view of his target for some crucial seconds. (VI, 388-90)
Eddie Piper, the janitor, stood at a first floor window as the President passed and, the day after, swore that "the shots seemed to me like they came from up inside the building" (XIX, 499). Three months later he told the Commission's counsel that he could not tell where they had come from (VI, 385). The mail wrapper, Troy West, was also on the first floor, but he did not hear any shots (VI, 361).
The only other witness who was in the building at the time was Doris Burns, who followed the motorcade from several places on the third floor. She heard only one shot, while she was facing east, and "it sounded to me as if it came toward my back" (VI, 399). We have classified this statement as too vague.
Let us repeat, we believe that a rifleman was posted on the TSBDB sixth floor and that he fired at least one shot, perhaps more. But who can fail to be impressed with the indication from every group of witnesses that some shots were fired from the vicinity of the grassy knoll? This is not the impression of panicky onlookers but of trained policemen, deputy sheriffs, Secret Service agents, and most of the bystanders. Most of Lee Oswald's fellow-workers of the TSBDB who saw the motorcade thought the shots came from the knoll.
"I thought they came from the railroad tracks to the west of the Texas School Book Depository," said Danny Arce (VI, 365). Near Arce in front of the building stood Wesley Frazier, who testified with a touch of shame:
Well, to be frank with you, I thought it come from down there, you know, where that underpass is. There is a series, quite a few number, of them railroad tracks running together and from where I was standing it sounded like it was coming from down the railroad tracks there. (II, 234)Billy Lovelady, whose resemblance to Lee Oswald gave rise to some not altogether solved problem of photo identification, was sure the shots sounded "right there around that concrete little deal on the knoll" (VI, 338). His foreman, Bill Shelley, also standing on the Depository steps, agreed. The sound "came from the west," he said repeatedly (VI, 329). Joe R. Molina (who lost his job as credit manager at the TSBDB, apparently because he was falsely suspected of Communist connections, and was even pilloried in the press as a possible accomplice of the assassin), too, was on the front steps when the tragedy occurred and he too heard the bullets as coming from the west (VI, 371).
The Depository Superintendent, Roy Truly, also heard the explosions "from west of the building" (III, 221). His bookkeeper, Virgie Rachley (now Mrs. Donald Baker), was given quite a grilling eight months later because her opinion on the source of the shots had not changed. After several tries to elicit the proper answer from this spunky young woman who swore she heard the shots coming from somewhere near the Triple Underpass, Assistant Counsel Liebeler tried a new tack:
Mr. Liebeler. Now, you have subsequently heard, I'm sure, and from reading in the newspapers and one thing and another, that it appears that the shots actually came from the Texas School Book Depository Building; is that right?
Mrs. Baker. Yes.
Mr. Liebeler. Does that seem possible to you in view of what you heard at the time?
Mrs. Baker. Well, I guess it might have been the wind, but to me it didn't.
Mr. Liebeler. The sounds you heard at the time did not appear to come from the Texas School Book Depository Building?
Mrs. Baker. No, sir. (VII, 509-11).
Phillip Willis screamed when he heard the shots, hoping a policeman would hear him and order the Depository surrounded, but the officers he saw were running towards the knoll, "evidently thinking it came from that direction" (VII, 496-7). James Crawford looked up after the third report and saw a movement in the "only window that was open" on the sixth floor. "If those were shots," he told his neighbor, "they came from that window." (VI, 173) Charles Hester too turned at once towards the TSBDB after the shots, and it was he who got office Wiseman to go there. Another witness speaking for the TSBDB as the source was an experienced elk hunter, James E. Romack, and he testified to the assassin's prowess:
Mr. Belin. You heard those rifle shots, and you think you could shoot your rifle accurately as fast as you heard those shots.Unmentioned and unquestioned by the Commission was Charles Brehm who declared that the shots seemed to come from in front of or beside the President (Dallas Times-Herald, 11/22/63). Brehm noted that the President did not slump forward as he would have if the shots had come from the rear.
Mr. Romack. I don't, wouldn't think that I would be that good a shot; no, sir. (VI, 280).
Unmentioned and unquestioned by the Commission were four newspaper women, Mary Woodward, Maggie Brown, Aurelia Lorenzo and Ann Donaldson, who were on the grassy knoll watching the motorcade and heard "a horrible, ear-shattering noise coming from behind us and a little to the right" (Dallas Morning News, 11/23/63). Perhaps there were many others in this category. Because the Commission took no official notice of them, we have not included such persons in our accounting.
Another witness, Garland G. Slack, was questioned by the Commission at length but not about what he saw as he watched the President's car ride by. His testimony, published in Vol. X, 378 ff., is exclusively concerned with his alleged encounters with Lee Oswald at the Sports Drome riflerange a short time before. Slack's brief affidavit does not say where he thought the assassin was firing from.
Abraham Zapruder took motion pictures of the assassination. He was standing on a concrete abutment on the grassy knoll when the shots exploded. "I also thought it came from back of me," he told the Commission (VII, 572). Another man looking on from the grassy knoll, William Newman, fell on the grass when he heard the shots, "as it seemed that we were in the direct path of fire ... I thought the shots had come from the garden directly behind me (XIX, 490). He swore to an affidavit but was never questioned by the Commission or its counsel.
Austin Miller was watching from the Triple Underpass when he heard shots. HE immediately looked "toward the --- there is a little plaza sitting on the hill. I looked over there to see if anything was there, who threw the firecracker or whatever it was ..." (VI, 225). In his affidavit of 11/22/1963, he also swore that "I saw something which I thought was smoke or steam coming from a group of trees north of Elm off the Railroad tracks" (XIX, 485).
Smoke on the grassy knoll was also reported by S.M. Holland, a signal supervisor for the Union Terminal Railroad, who thought the shots came from the same place:
A puff of smoke came out about 6 or 8 feet above the ground right out from under those trees. And at just about this location from where I was standing you could see that puff of smoke, like someone had thrown a firecracker, or something out, and that is just about the way it sounded ... I definitely saw the puff of smoke and heard the report from under those trees. (VI, 243-4)And as if to pinpoint his description, he added, "The puff of smoke I saw definitely came from behind the arcade to the trees."
Right after the assassination, a schoolteacher, Jean Hill, saw a man running from just west of the TSBDB toward the railroad tracks. "I just thought at the time --- that's the man who did it ... at that time I didn't realize that the shots were coming from the building. I frankly thought they were coming from the knoll" (VI, 211-2).
Space forbids our quoting from all the witnesses, but three more should suffice to fix in our minds the basic problems raised by our survey.
The 70-year-old electrician for Union Terminal, Frank Reilly, saw the assassination from the overpass between Main and Elm Streets:
Mr. Ball. Where did they seem to come from; what direction?In other words, the grassy knoll.
Mr. Reilly. It seemed to me like they come out of the tree.
Mr. Ball. What trees?
Mr. Reilly. On the north side of Elm Street at the corner up there ... Well, it's at that park where all the shrubs is up there --- it's to the north of Elm Street --- up the slope. (VI, 230)
A.J. Millican was on the knoll as the shots flew, and he heard eight shots that came in three flurries. This corresponds remarkably with the almost universal agreement of newspaper reports of November 22 that the shots seemed to come from an automatic weapon. Millican also supports our views in another important respect. He heard the shots as coming from two different directions, from the TSBDB and the grassy knoll. (XIX, 486) We take leave of our witnesses with a last look at how they were treated on this question by the Commission's staff. Emmet Hudson, employee of the Dallas Parks Department, was sitting halfway down the steps that climb the grassy knoll, when the motorcade passed. Right after the first shot, he lay down on the ground. "The shots that I heard definitely came from behind and above me," he swore in an affidavit made the same day. (XIX), 481.
He repeated this in July, 1964, to the unsatisfied assistant counsel for the Commission, Wesley Liebeler. And the questioning turned:
Mr. Liebeler. But are you quite sure in your own mind that the shots came from the rear of the President's car and above it, is that correct?The Commission, failing to change the memories of witnesses, dismisses them with a wave of the hand. "No credible evidence," says its Report, "suggests that the shots were fired from the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass, the nearby railroad yards or any place other than the Texas School Book Depository" (W, 61).
Mr. Hudson. Yes ...
Mr. Liebeler. Did you have any idea that they might have come from the Texas School Book Depository Building?
Mr. Hudson. Well, it sounded like it was high, you know, from above and kind of behind like ---- in other words, to the left.
Mr. Liebeler. And that would have fit in with the Texas School Book Depository, wouldn't it?
Mr. Hudson. Yes.
Mr. Liebeler. Did you look up there and see if you could see anybody?
Mr. Hudson. No, sir; I didn't. I never thought about look up that way, to tell you the truth about it. (VII, 564)
No credible evidence! It is clear how the Commission reached this absurd conclusion. Once it was committed to the thesis that there could be only one assassin and no accomplices, it readily accepted the clues pointing to Lee Oswald in the TSBDB. Now that the assassin and his place were identified, it became "incredible" that any other assassin or any other source of shots could exist. Ergo, any evidence that there was another assassin and another shot source is not "credible."
In what other murder case would the testimony of 51 sworn and many other unheard witnesses be dismissed so cavalierly as "no credible evidence"?
We submit, on the contrary, that the earwitness evidence is quite credible. Taken together with the ballistic and medical evidence analyzed by Mr. Salandria, it is not only credible; it is convincing. There was at least one other assassin firing at President Kennedy from the vicinity of the grassy knoll.
Return to Main Page
* * *