R.I.P.: THE BLACK DOG MAN By Martin Shackelford One of the more persistent myths in Kennedy assassination research is the idea that someone was perched with a gun behind the concrete retaining wall on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza. This individual has long been dubbed "The Black Dog Man." It is a misnomer, as we shall see. Like many myths, this one has been exposed in whole or in part by a variety of independent researchers. The author owes a debt of gratitude for the work of Robert Cutler, Richard Trask, Bill O'Neil and Matthew Smith, who provided some of the elements which eventually came together to create this article. A little after noon on November 22, 1963, secretary Marilyn Sitzman went down into Dealey Plaza with her boss, Abraham Zapruder. As they prepared for the filming of the President's motorcade, Ms. Sitzman saw a young black couple eating their lunch on a bench in front of and below the pedestal on which she and Mr. Zapruder were standing1. The location of the bench is indicated in a detail from a chart (Figure 1) which appears in Richard Trask's comprehensive study of the photographic evidence2. The bench appears in a film frame3 and in a photo4 which also shows the paper lunch bags from which the couple had been eating. One was drinking an orange pop, and one a red pop5. When the shots began, the young woman was standing up, looking toward Elm Street. She appears, as the image long identified as "The Black Dog Man," in the Hugh Betzner and Phil Willis photos. An enlargement from the Betzner photo, published by Matthew Smith, definitely looks like a woman6 (Figure 2). The House Select Committee on Assassinations photo panel found flesh tones in the image7; and it is clear from good color copies of the 5th Willis photo8 that the flesh tones of the image are darker than those of most of the other people in the picture, including Zapruder and Sitzman, approximately the same distance from the photographer. When she stood up, she apparently set her orange pop bottle on the concrete wall, where it appears, orange tone visible in a good enlargement, in the third photograph by Jim Towner (Figure 3)9. Sitzman later recalled seeing the bottle10. Barbara Rowland mentioned police inspecting a pop bottle there11. After the last shot was fired, Sitzman heard the crash of breaking glass, which was "much louder than the shots were", and the young couple ran up the steps, last seen heading for the pergola area behind her12. The breaking glass was apparently the red pop bottle, which left a pool of red pop, later mistaken by some spectators for a red snow cone13 or a pool of blood14. An image often mistakenly cited to bolster the theory of an assassin in this location is frame 413 of the Zapruder film, which shows the back of a man's head and a straight image which somewhat resembles a rifle15 (Figure 4). Also in the image is a bush located just in front of Zapruder. The image of the "rifle" passes between Zapruder and the leaves of the bush, indicating it (probably a branch) was closer to Zapruder than the leaves (similar images, though not as long, appear elsewhere in the frame, also crossing leaves: Figure 5). On the other hand, leaves appear between Zapruder and the man's head, indicating the man was beyond the bush. Robert Cutler has established that the man is probably one of the three men standing on the knoll steps, visible in the Moorman photograph and Muchmore film, among others. The preponderance of the witness and photographic evidence, then, indicates that the figure long referred to as "The Black Dog Man" was in fact a young black woman, part of the couple having lunch on the knoll that day. Logic, too, tells us that an assassin is unlikely to have positioned himself in plain view of Zapruder and Sitzman. In addition, Sitzman clearly stated that no shots were fired from any location that close to her16. "Black Dog Man," rest in peace. 1 She reported this to Josiah Thompson, in an 11/29/66 interview; the tr anscript is cited by Richard Trask, Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the Assassination of President Kennedy (1994, Yeoman Press, Danvers MA), pp. 73 (hereafter cited as Trask); full citation is in footnote 4, p. 148. 2 Trask, p. 56. 3 Trask, p. 76. 4 Trask, p. 75; on p. 74, he identifies the photo as having been taken by Johnny Flynn of the Dallas Morning News. 5 Phone conversation 10/16/94 with Bill O'Neil, regarding his 10/25/92 conversation with Marilyn Sitzman in Dealey Plaza during the A.S.K. Conference (hereafter O'Neil phone). 6 Matthew Smith, JFK: The Second Plot (1992, Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh) 7 HSCA v. 4, p. 410. 8 See, for example, p. 24 of Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President (1993, Viking Studio, New York) (hereafter Groden). 9 An excellent enlargement appears on p. 194 of Groden. 10 10/24/94 letter from Bill O'Neil, summarizing his 10/25/92 conversation with Sitzman (hereafter O'Neil letter). 11 Warren Commission v. 6, p. 184, cited by Trask, p. 74. 12 Trask, pp. 73-74; O'Neil phone; O'Neil letter. 13 O'Neil letter. 14 This was photographer Malcolm Couch's assumption in his Warren Commission testimony; it is also featured prominently in a chapter in Unsolved Texas Mysteries by Wallace O Chariton, Charlie Eckhardt and Kevin R. Young (1991, Wordware Publishing, Texas). 15 For a high resolution color copy, see Groden, p. 195. 16 O'Neil letter: referring to the Badgeman location, about the same distance, Sitzman stated "the blast of a high-powered rifle would have blown me off that wall." She did allow, however, that a shot could have been fired from "farther down, closer to the overpass...or maybe they were using silencers."