In Defense of Roger Craig


Roger Craig in 1969

In his 1975 book Forgive My Grief Vol. III, author Penn Jones wrote, "Roger Craig was a great American."

When Jones wrote those words, Craig, a former Deputy in the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, had recently died by his own hand. It was Jones' contention that "...the treatment Craig received after John F. Kennedy was assassinated...caused his death."

Roger Dean Craig was an important witness to the JFK assassination, and his testimony is highly indicative of conspiracy. By now his story has been told many times by many different writers. But it appears there are those still attempting to smear Roger Craig's name and discount what he reported seeing on November 22, 1963.

One of the most recent attacks on Roger Craig is The Rambler Man, a copyrighted article appearing on several computer bulletin board services in 1994. In it Texas writer Dave Perry asserts, "One can almost picture Roger Craig, trying to stir the assassination conspiracy pot." I submit this highly conjectural statement is at very least a debatable point.

The "Rambler" in Perry's title refers to a car Craig said he saw shortly after the President was shot. To his dying day, Craig insisted the vehicle was a Rambler station wagon, and there is strong evidence to support that identification. Perry and other detractors say the woman Craig believed owned the Rambler actually owned a Chevrolet wagon; therefore Roger Craig was wrong. The car may or may not have been a Chevy--but that clouds the real issue, which is what Craig said the vehicle was involved in.

Deputy Craig was one of many officers standing in front of the Dallas Sheriff's office at Main and Houston streets at the time of the assassination. When the shooting stopped there was great confusion in Dealey Plaza. Craig ran toward Elm Street where dozens of people surged up the grassy knoll, and followed a policeman to behind a fence, where, he told the Warren Commission, he "began moving people back out of the railroad yard." He detained a woman who was attempting to leave the area and handed her over to another officer for questioning. A short time later he encountered Arnold Rowland along Elm Street, who "said he saw two men on the--uh--sixth floor of the Book Depository Building over there; one of them had a rifle with a telescopic sight on it" --and turned Rowland and his wife over to another officer so that their statements could be taken.[1]

From here Craig went across and down Elm Street to investigate a report that a bullet had ricocheted off the sidewalk curb. It was at this point that Craig made his most critical observation.

Mr. Belin. You heard someone whistle?
Mr. Craig. Yes. So I turned and--uh--saw a man start to run down the hill on the north side of Elm Street, running down toward Elm Street.
Mr. Belin. And, about where was he with relation to the School Book Depository Building?
Mr. Craig. Uh--directly across that little side street that runs in front of it. He was on the south side of it.
[some material omitted][2]
Mr. Belin. All right. And then what did you see happen?
Mr. Craig. I saw a light-colored station wagon, driving real slow, coming west on Elm Street from Houston. Uh--actually, it was nearly in line with him. And the driver was leaning to his right looking up the hill at the man running down.
Mr. Belin. Uh-huh.
Mr. Craig. And the station wagon stopped almost directly across from me. And--uh--the man continued down the hill and got in the station wagon. And I attempted to cross the street. I wanted to talk to both of them. But the--uh--traffic was so heavy I couldn't get across the street. And--uh--they were gone before I could--
Mr. Belin. Where did the station wagon head?
Mr. Craig. West on Elm Street.
Mr. Belin. Under the triple underpass?
Mr. Craig. Yes.[3]

Deputy Craig immediately ran to the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD), where police attention had begun to focus, and reported what he had seen. Years later he wrote:

There was a man standing on the steps of the Book Depository Building and he turned to me and said, "I'm with the Secret Service." This man was about 40 years old, sandy-haired with a distinct cleft in his chin. He was well-dressed in a gray business suit. I was naive enough at the time to believe that the only people there were actually officers--after all, this was the command post. I gave him the information. He showed little interest in the persons leaving. However, he seemed extremely interested in the description of the Rambler. This was the only part of my statement which he wrote down in his little pad he was holding.

Here Craig may have had an encounter with a conspirator. According to the Warren Report, "Secret Service Agents assigned to the motorcade remained at their posts during the race to the hospital. None stayed at the scene of the shooting..."[4]

Craig next participated in the search of TSBD, and testified that he was on the sixth floor when the alleged murder weapon was found. Although he did not mention it in the report he filed the next day, or even to the Warren Commission, Craig subsequently stated that the rifle discovered on the sixth floor was a Mauser--not a Mannlicher-Carcano, which the Commission decided was the murder weapon.

Fast forward several hours. Craig heard an arrest had been made in connection with the shooting of Officer J.D. Tippit. As he told the Warren Commission, "I kept thinking about this subject that had run and got in the car. So, I called Captain Fritz' office and talked to one of his officers and--uh--told him what I had saw and give him a description of the man, asked him how it fit the man they had picked up as a suspect. And--uh--they asked me to come up and look at him at Captain Fritz's office." Craig took one look at the Tippit shooting suspect and said it was the same man he had seen flee the TSBD.

That suspect, of course, was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mr. Craig. Captain Fritz then asked him about the--uh--he said, "What about this station wagon?" And the suspect interrupted him and said, "That station wagon belongs to Mrs. Paine"--I believe is what he said. "Don't try to tie her into this. She had nothing to do with it." And--uh--Captain Fritz then told him, as close as I can remember, that "All we're trying to do is find out what happened, and this man saw you leave from the scene." And the suspect again interrupted Captain Fritz and said, "I told you people I did." And--uh--yeah--then, he said--then he continued and he said, "Everybody will know who I am now."[5]

"Mrs. Paine" is Ruth Paine, the suburban Dallas woman with whom Oswald's estranged wife Marina was living. Mrs. Paine later told the Warren Commission she owned a Chevrolet station wagon. The Commission seems to have taken her at her word, and dropped the issue.

But this portion of testimony is a matter of dispute, because Roger Craig later claimed his words had been altered--one of at least twelve alterations he said were made over some fourteen pages of testimony. Craig insisted that neither he nor Fritz used the term station wagon. He wrote in 1971, "Fritz said car--station wagon was not mentioned by anyone but Oswald." That would seem to be an inadvertant admission by Oswald that the escape happened as Craig described it. Unfortunately for Roger Craig, Captain Fritz said the incident in his office never happened.

Mr. Ball. Did [Craig] ever come into your office and talk to you in the presence of Oswald?
Mr. Fritz. In the presence of Oswald?
Mr. Ball. Yes.
Mr. Fritz. No, sir; I am sure he did not.[6]

Whether Oswald made another statement Craig attributed to him--"Everybody will know who I am now"--has also become an issue unto itself. Craig later stated that what Oswald said was not a brag--it was the subdued statement of someone whose cover had been blown. The Warren Commission, however, simultaneously skewed its meaning, and dismissed it as having never happened: "...Neither Captain Fritz nor any other officer can remember that Oswald dramatically arose from his chair and said, `Everybody will know who I am now.' If Oswald had made such a statement, Captain Fritz would probably have remembered it."[7] Unless it was more convenient to forget.

The Warren Report states on page 160, "The Commission could not accept important elements of Craig's testimony." They could not accept that Roger Craig had seen Lee Oswald flee the TSBD fifteen minutes after the shooting, and escape with a second man in a Nash Rambler. Such an escape smacked of conspiracy--and the Commission was having none of that. Officially, Oswald left the TSBD on foot within two or three minutes of the last shot being fired--although the Commission does concede that no witness saw him leave the building[8]. They have him boarding a bus "seven short blocks east of" the TSBD, and use the identification of a former landlady, Mary Bledsoe, to support that.

But Oswald's presence on the bus is actually rather difficult to establish, a bus transfer being the only hard evidence that he might have been there. Cecil McWatters, the bus driver, was unable to identify him, and he had no memory of Bledsoe getting on the bus.[9]

Bledsoe's own testimony is also uncertain. There is no corroborating testimony that places Oswald on the bus. Bledsoe ID'd him in part by the shirt she said he wore; her description generally matches the brownish, heavy-textured shirt Oswald had on when he was arrested.[10]

But according to a report on Oswald's interrogation written by Captain Fritz, Oswald said he "changed both his shirt and trousers before going to the show," that is, to the Texas Theater where he was arrested.[11] Then how could Bledsoe have seen that heavy brown shirt?

The Commission writes that "the evidence indicates that he continued wearing the same shirt which he was wearing all morning and which he was still wearing when arrested." That seems to support Bledsoe's testimony, but it doesn't square with a statement given on November 22 by Howard Brennan, who became a prized Warren Commission witness. He described the man he saw in the TSBD as wearing "light colored clothing."[12] I can only conclude that Bledsoe's testimony must be called into question, and the issue of whether Oswald ever got on a bus ten minutes after the assassination called into doubt.

Then what of Roger Craig's sighting of a man later identified as Oswald fleeing in a Rambler station wagon driven by a second man?

In Case Closed, Gerald Posner dismisses Craig's story as a "tale of a getaway car at Dealey Plaza," though he does not provide any information beyond this fleeting reference.[13] Readers who know little of the JFK case beyond Posner's book might be surprised to learn there is strong evidence to corroborate the former Deputy's "tale."

A photograph turned up a few years after the assassination showing the TSBD about ten minutes after the shooting. The Hertz clock on the roof reads 12:40. That photograph shows what appears to be a Rambler station wagon in the traffic on Elm--lending support Craig's story.

Much stronger, however, is Commission Document 5, which according to author Henry Hurt "was omitted from the twenty-six volumes of Warren Commission exhibits. It finally was discovered years later in documents housed in the National Archives."

Hurt's account of CD 5:

Soon after the shooting, Marvin C. Robinson was driving west along Elm Street in heavy traffic. According to an FBI report dated the next day, just as Robinson crossed the Elm and Houston intersection, he saw a "light-colored Nash station wagon" stop in front of the Book Depository. A white man walked down the grassy incline from the building, got into the Nash, and the car moved off in the direction of Oak Cliff. Robinson was unable to provide any additional information.[14]

There are also the statements of Richard Randolph Carr, a steelworker who also said he saw a Rambler in Dealey Plaza. Carr was on an upper floor of a building that was under construction on November 22. From his position he could see into the sixth floor of the TSBD, where just before the motorcade arrived he saw a stocky man wearing a hat, sportcoat, and glasses. When the shooting stopped Carr descended to ground level, where he again saw the man in the sportcoat. Carr said he followed him for about a block and saw him get into a Nash Rambler driven by a dark-complected man.

To this account, Henry Hurt adds:

It should be noted that over the years Carr's testimony has been somewhat inconsistent. And, for whatever reason, he has been seriously intimidated since originally offering his account to officials. He has been shot at and has found sticks of dynamite wired to his autobmobile's ignition switch. Still, Carr's earliest reports to officials are consistent on his sighting of the Nash Rambler.[15]

They are also consistent with the accounts of Marvin Robinson and Roger Craig.

Posner also attempts to discredit Craig's testimony of seeing Oswald in Captain Fritz' office after his arrest. Once again a photograph that surfaced a few years later seems to support Craig. It shows the Deputy at police headquarters, where he said he was, as Oswald was being interrogated in Fritz's office. Posner relegates the issue to a footnote, stating, "The picture does not show Craig in the inner office where Oswald was kept, but instead in a separate outer office."[16] This is an extremely weak argument, for that photograph without question places Craig in the vicinity of Oswald--just like he said he was. Like any photo, it shows us one split second in time. It is unlikely Craig sat around twiddling his thumbs. It is entirely possible that Craig was in the inner office, where he said he was, either sometime before or sometime after this photograph was taken.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that none of the interrogation of Oswald was tape recorded, or even written down by a stenographer. Considering the enormity of what had occurred and the enormity of its implications, and also considering the importance of whatever could be learned from Oswald, this is incomprehensible--unless what Oswald had to say was so explosive it was suppressed. I would speculate that if that were the case, Captain Fritz might have more reason to lie than Roger Craig.

What of Roger Craig's assertion that the weapon found on the sixth floor of the TSBD was not a Mannlicher-Carcano, but a Mauser? While there does not seem to be anything in the Commission's published record showing Craig made that claim in November 1963, or even to the Commission a few months later, others did make--and the Commission published, but then ignored, their statements.

In the "Speculations and Rumors" section of the Warren Report (Appendix 12), the Commission states, "Speculation: the rifle found on the sixth floor of the TSBD was identified as a 7.65 Mauser by the man who found it, Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman."[17] This is not speculation but fact--the rifle was identified, at first, as a Mauser. Not only Weitzman, who signed a notarized affidavit to that effect on November 23, but Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone identified the weapon as a 7.65 Mauser--Boone in two written reports dated November 22.[18]

In its Report the Commission tried to downplay this identification. It states that Weitzman "only saw the rifle at a glance," although his notarized statement describes the weapon in some detail. As for Boone, while the Report acknowledges he was one of the men who found the hidden rifle, it does not disclose that he, like Weitzman, identified it as a Mauser.

In short, the weapon found on the sixth floor of the TSBD less than an hour after the assassination was reliably reported to be a Mauser--and that, in the final analysis, is the critical point.

The years following the assassination were difficult ones for Roger Craig. The man named Officer of the Year in 1960 was fired from the Sheriff's Department on July 4, 1967. Officially he was fired because he was not performing his job adequately. Others contend the real reason was his unyielding position on what he observed when President Kennedy was murdered.

After Craig left the Sheriff's Department several attempts were reportedly made on his life. One of these attempts left him with chronic back problems that may have contributed to his untimely death. He held a series of jobs and at one point worked for $1.60 an hour, "keeping...shopping carts out of the aisles," he wrote in his autobiography. For a time he served as a Municipal judge in Midlothian, Texas, and also assisted in the Garrison investigation.

On May 15, 1975, Roger Craig committed suicide at the age of 39. He left a note that said, "I am tired of all this pain," which was interpreted as a reference to his injured back. But many years later, a friend observed that Craig "was totally obsessed by the assassination. That obsession ended up destroying him."[19]

Roger Craig was a courageous man. In spite of everything, he never changed his story of seeing a man he later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald escape the assassination scene in a Rambler station wagon, or of seeing Oswald at Police headquarters on November 22, 1963.

Penn Jones was right. Roger Craig was, indeed, a great American.

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For interested readers, below is the restored excerpt from Roger Craig's Warren Commission testimony, a portion of which was omitted from In Defense of Roger Craig.

Mr. Belin. You heard someone whistle?
Mr. Craig. Yes. So I turned and--uh--saw a man start to run down the hill on the north side of Elm Street, running down toward Elm Street.
Mr. Belin. And, about where was he with relation to the School Book Depository Building?
Mr. Craig. Uh--directly across that little side street that runs in front of it. He was on the south side of it.
Mr. Belin. And he was on the south side of what would be an extension of Elm Street, if Elm Street didn't curve down into the underpass?
Mr. Craig. Right; right.
Mr. Belin. And where was he with relation to the west side of the School Book Depository Building?
Mr. Craig. Right by the--uh--well, actually, directly in line with the west corner--the southwest corner.
Mr. Belin. He was directly in line with the southwest corner of the building?
Mr. Craig. Yes.
Mr. Belin. And he was on the south curve of that street that runs right in front of the building there?
Mr. Craig. Yes.
Mr. Belin. And he started to run toward Elm Street as it curves under the underpass?
Mr. Craig. Yes; directly down the grassy portion of the park.
Mr. Belin. All right. And then what did you see happen?
Mr. Craig. I saw a light-colored station wagon, driving real slow, coming west on Elm Street from Houston. Uh--actually, it was nearly in line with him. And the driver was leaning to his right looking up the hill at the man running down.
Mr. Belin. Uh-huh.
Mr. Craig. And the station wagon stopped almost directly across from me. And--uh--the man continued down the hill and got in the station wagon. And I attempted to cross the street. I wanted to talk to both of them. But the--uh--traffic was so heavy I couldn't get across the street. And--uh--they were gone before I could--
Mr. Belin. Where did the station wagon head?
Mr. Craig. West on Elm Street.
Mr. Belin. Under the triple underpass?
Mr. Craig. Yes.

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