ONLY THE FACTS?
EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY VS. THE LONE-GUNMAN THEORY
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
As Warren Commission (WC) supporter John McAdams and I were recently discussing Oswald's whereabouts during the shooting, it struck me that lone-gunman theorists must repeatedly simply dismiss contrary eyewitness testimony, no matter how credible or well corroborated it is. Yet, they claim the lone-gunman theory is virtually devoid of speculation, that it's based "only on the facts." They label all other positions, especially the conspiracy view, as wholly speculative. In their view "all the evidence" indicates Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot President Kennedy, and that there was no conspiracy of any kind. Of course, there is plenty of good evidence that President Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. But that is a subject for another article. For now, let's look at some of the issues on which lone-gunman theorists are forced to dismiss contrary testimony, no matter how credible or substantial.
THE TIPPIT SHOOTING
Lone-gunman theorists must ignore two eyewitness reports, which were uncontradicted at the time, that the gunman who shot Tippit was walking toward Tippit's car before Tippit stopped him. Indeed, not only must WC supporters dismiss these witnesses' accounts, but they must also ignore the fact that all of the initial official reports on the shooting matter of factly said the assailant was walking toward the car. The only witness who said otherwise was the unbelievable Helen Markham, and Mrs. Markham did not make this claim until many weeks after the shooting. Why do lone-gunman theorists claim the assailant was walking away from the car before Tippit was shot? Because otherwise the assailant could not have been Oswald, unless Oswald had a ride, which lone-gunman theorists are not willing to even consider since that would indicate conspiracy.
THE LARGE AND BULKY PACKAGE
WC supporters must dismiss the testimony of the only two people who saw the bag prior to the shooting! I refer to Buell Frazier and to his sister Linne Randle. Both of them, independently, said the package was 24-27 inches long, and both insisted the package in evidence, when unfolded, was much longer than the package they saw. Why do lone-gunman theorists assume Frazier and his sister were both mistaken, even though their testimony was mutually corroborating? Because if the package was no more than 27 inches long, it could not have contained a disassembled Carcano rifle, the alleged murder weapon.
HOW OSWALD CARRIED THE LONG AND BULKY PACKAGE INTO THE BUILDING
Frazier said Oswald carried the package with one end cupped in his hand and the other end tucked under his armpit. Frazier said he didn't focus on how Oswald carried the package (no one would expect him to have done so anyway), but that he was fairly certain that was how Oswald carried it. Frazier's account is lent further credence by the fact that Jack Dougherty saw Oswald enter the building but did not see anything in his hands. If Oswald carried the package the way Frazier described, this could explain why Dougherty didn't see it. However, lone-gunman theorists insist Frazier was in error on this point as well. Why? Because if Oswald carried the package the way Frazier said he did, the package could not have contained a disassembled Carcano rifle, the alleged murder weapon.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SHOTS
As Stewart Galanor proves in his superb recent book Cover-Up, a solid majority of the witnesses who commented on the origin of the shots said they came from in front of the limousine. Some of those witnesses said they were absolutely certain of this. One such witness was even asked if he might have heard echoes. He replied he was sure that from where he was standing he was not hearing echoes. Right after the shots were fired, dozens of people in the plaza rushed toward the grassy knoll, which was to the right front of the limousine during the shooting. Several people ran to tell policemen that shots were fired from the knoll. One witness saw a man running away from the back of the knoll and into the railroad yard after the shooting. Several other witnesses saw puffs of smoke or smelled the scent of gun powder on or near the knoll. One witness reported seeing a man carrying what looked like a rifle wrapped in a bag or case onto the knoll before the shooting. Another witness saw two cars that were apparently scouting the area behind the knoll prior to the shooting. I discuss this and other evidence in my JFK web page article "The Grassy Knoll and Shots from the Front." What do lone-gunman theorists say about all this eyewitness testimony? They say it is all either mistaken or deliberately false! They accuse some of the witnesses of outright lying. For the most part, though, they argue the witnesses were simply mistaken.
EXTRA MISSED SHOTS
As I show in my JFK web page article "Extra Bullets and Missed Shots in Dealey Plaza," there are credible reports of extra missed shots, of misses that the lone-gunman theory cannot possibly explain. One particularly compelling extra miss was reported by a noted journalist based on what he was told on the scene by a police official. This missed shot was matter of factly reported in the local press. This reporting even included an acknowledgment of the miss by Lt. J. C. Day, a crime-scene technician with the Dallas Police Department. But, according to lone-gunman theorists, it was all a huge mistake, a big misunderstanding. One WC supporter has even suggested the dug-out area of the grass that was initially reported to have been dug by a missed shot was actually dug by flying brain matter from Kennedy's skull! Of course, lone-gunman theorists dismiss all the reports of extra missed shots because they are bound by the WC's three-shot scenario.
THE TAGUE INCIDENT
During the shooting James Tague was struck by a piece of concrete in the face (or possibly by a bullet fragment). The initial reports said a bullet struck the curb near Tague (and it was assumed this had sent concrete flying toward him). Tague himself said this. So did a policeman on the scene. So did press reports about the incident. In fact, the mark on the curb was even photographed with captions relating that the mark was caused by a missed shot. But, according to lone-gunman theorists, Tague was wrong, the policeman was wrong, and the press got it wrong.
The history of the pro-WC camp's handling of the Tague incident would be comical were the subject not so serious. At first the curb mark had supposedly disappeared--the Dallas FBI claimed it couldn't find the mark and suggested it had been erased by street cleaners! (Weeks later the mark was still visible and was readily found by an FBI agent from Washington, D.C.) Then, when private researchers were litigating to have the spectrographic plate (which was quite small) from the curb mark tested, the FBI destroyed it, claiming a "lack of space."
And what caused the mark? WC supporters have advanced various theories on this point. One theory is that a fragment from the head shot made it. Another theory says a fragment from an early miss bounded beneath the limo and struck the curb. Another theory holds that the "first" shot struck a limb of the oak tree in the plaza, which supposedly separated the lead core from the shell and sent the lead core streaking toward the curb. These theories are untenable, obviously. Lately a few lone-gunman theorists have resorted to suggesting the curb mark wasn't even made during the shooting!
WHICH SHOT CAUSED THE TAGUE CURB MARK?
Tague said it was the second shot. But, lone-gunman theorists say he was mistaken. Why? Because lone-gunman theorists now argue that the "first" shot must have been the miss. So, the man who was struck in the face says it was the second shot, but WC supporters dismiss his account as mistaken because they now believe the "first" shot must have missed, and they can't allow for any other misses. (By the way, in order to assume the sixth-floor shooter fired this "first-shot miss," lone-gunman theorists must assume this gunman completely missed, not just Kennedy, but the entire huge limousine, and this with his first and closest shot! Even the WC said this scenario was improbable. But for now it is thoroughly in vogue among lone-gunman theorists.)
THE MAN WHO WAS SEEN LEAVING THE REAR OF THE TSBD
Two witnesses reported they saw a man flee from the rear of the TSBD. Two other witnesses reported seeing a man who appeared to be in flight from the TSBD (12 HSCA 8-9). What few responses I have been able to elicit from lone-gunman theorists on this subject have all been to the effect that all these witnesses were mistaken, that the man really wasn't fleeing.
THE MAN WHO JUMPED INTO THE NASH RAMBLER STATION WAGON
Credible witnesses, including a decorated deputy sheriff, said they saw a man hurriedly leave the TSBD and jump into a waiting Nash Rambler station wagon. We even have photos that show the station wagon in the plaza at the right time. So what do WC supporters say about this? They accuse the deputy sheriff of lying. What about the other witnesses? Well, I don't recall ever being able to get an LGT to explain these other witnesses' testimony. What about the photos of the station wagon? Just a coincidence, say lone-gunman theorists. Why do lone-gunman theorists accuse the deputy sheriff of lying? Because he said the man who jumped into the station wagon was a dead ringer for Oswald; in fact, the deputy was convinced the man was Oswald. But, even though the deputy had an excellent reputation, even though he had been promoted rapidly and recognized for outstanding achievement, WC supporters claim he was lying about the man and the Nash Rambler.
MOVEMENT IN THE SIXTH-FLOOR WINDOW AFTER THE SHOOTING
Two credible witnesses, one of whom was a law clerk in a nearby building, reported they saw movement in the sixth-floor window within a few minutes after the shooting. The law clerk, Lillian Mooneyham, told the FBI she saw a man in the sniper's window a few minutes after the shots were fired. Of course, this poses a problem for WC supporters, because Oswald could not have been the person moving around in the window (since they must assume Oswald exited the sniper's nest in a matter of seconds in order to have any hope of getting him to the second-floor lunchroom where he was seen by a police officer about 90 seconds after the shooting). So, lone-gunman theorists simply dismiss the two witnesses' accounts as "mistaken."
WHERE WAS THE REAR HEAD ENTRY WOUND?
The autopsy doctors, all three of them, along with three witnesses at the autopsy, said the rear head entry wound was just a fraction of an inch above the external occipital protuberance (EOP). But, since a wound in that location could not have been made by a bullet fired from the sixth-floor window, lone-gunman theorists opine that the autopsy pathologists "mislocated" the wound by a staggering 4 inches, even though the entire area of the back of the head is only about 5 to 6 inches high. They claim the wound was actually 4 inches higher than where the autopsy doctors said it was, which places the wound in the area of the cowlick. To be fair, lone-gunman theorists cite the autopsy x-rays and photos. But, those items are no longer the seemingly iron-clad evidence they once seemed to be. The photo of the rear head entry wound has come under strong attack, and a government medical panel's own measurements of the wound place the wound near the EOP when measured against the ruler in the photo! (In all seriousness, one WC supporter has argued this is an optical illusion!) As for the x-rays, private expert examination of the radiographs has determined there is no entry wound in the proposed higher location, and it turns out that even one of the HSCA's own radiologic consultants told the committee the x-rays did not establish the existence of the alleged higher location.
I have asked WC supporters something like the following: Do you really think that three autopsy pathologists, who handled the wound with the scalp reflected, inside and out, could have so horrendously erred as to "misplace" it by a staggering 4 inches? Their answer: Yes. What about the other witnesses who said the wound was where the autopsy doctors located it in the autopsy report? According to lone-gunman theorists, they were all mistaken.
THE SHIRT OF THE SIXTH-FLOOR GUNMAN
All five of the witnesses who said they saw a gunman in the sixth-floor window during or right after the shooting said he was wearing a light-colored shirt. But this poses a problem, since Oswald wore a brown shirt to work that day. So, rather than suggesting that all of those witnesses were wrong about the shirt's color, lone-gunman theorists argue that "Oswald" took off his brown shirt prior to the shooting and thus was wearing his white T-shirt during the shooting. However, four of those five witnesses also said the light-colored shirt had a collar, and the fifth witness said it might have had a collar. What do lone-gunman theorists say about this? They say the witnesses, all of them, were simply mistaken about this detail. Otherwise, the gunman could not have been Oswald.
WHERE WAS THE LARGE HEAD WOUND?
Dozens of witnesses, in three different locations, said President Kennedy's large head wound was in the back of the skull. Some said it was in the right rear part of the skull, while others said it was squarely in the middle of the back of the head, which is really only a difference of about an inch or so. These witnesses definitely didn't describe a wound above and forward of the right ear, which is where it is seen to be in the autopsy photos (the x-rays are somewhat of a different matter). One of the witnesses who reported seeing a wound in the rear of the skull was Clint Hill, who saw the wound twice, once while he lay sprawled on the back of the limo on the way to the hospital in Dallas, and then again when he saw the body at the morgue at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Hill was taken to the morgue for the express purpose of viewing the President's wounds. His description of the large head wound matches that given by dozes of other witnesses and is sharply in conflict with the official location for the wound.
Another "back of the head" witness is Tom Robinson, who was the mortician who helped to reassemble Kennedy's skull after the autopsy. Robinson has told private and official investigators that the large defect was definitely in the rear of the head. He specifies he is certain of this because it made such an impression on him and because he handled it. He adds that there was a visible defect in the rear of the skull even after the inclusion of late-arriving fragments from Dallas.
Still another "back of the head" witness is the nurse who cleaned the wound and who packed it with cotton gauze squares, Diana Bowron. She told the WC the wound was in the back of the head, and in recent years she provided a diagram of the wound's location, placing it in nearly the same location as the other witnesses. Bowron dismisses the claim that the large wound was above and forward of the right ear.
Lone-gunman theorists cannot tolerate a large wound in the rear of JFK's skull because it would clearly indicate a shot from the front. So, they opine that all of these witnesses, many of whom were doctors and nurses, were and are mistaken.
Now, it should be pointed out that lone-gunman theorists cite the autopsy x-rays and photos to support their rejection of the eyewitness accounts of a large wound in the back of the head. But, here too, the tables have turned; the autopsy x-rays and photos can no longer be viewed as ironclad evidence.
The x-rays and photos don't even agree with the autopsy report's description of the large wound. The autopsy report specifies that part of the large wound extended into the occipital area, which is in the rear of the skull. But the autopsy photos don't show this. For that matter, the photos don't even agree with the x-rays on a number of important matters, as researchers have pointed out.
A professional photographer and a photo analyst have challenged the authenticity of the autopsy photos on technical grounds, noting numerous technical discrepancies. Also, one of the x-rays has been found to contain an object that could only have been added to the x-ray after the autopsy. Another one of the x-rays, the right lateral x-ray, contains light-to-dark contrasts that have yet to be found in any other x-rays of human skull, which suggests it has been tampered with. Lone-gunman theorists have yet to explain the drastic light-to-dark contrast in this x-ray.
Several of the "back of the head" witnesses who have seen the autopsy photos have denounced them as fakes. When the Assassination Records Review Board interviewed witnesses from the autopsy, witness after witness, though they declined to come out and say the photos were fake, noted that the photos did not show the large wound in the location in which they recalled seeing it. Furthermore, several witnesses who were at or connected with the autopsy have surfaced who report they either saw or were told about autopsy photos that showed a large wound in the back of the skull (two of the witnesses report they SAW such photos).
What do lone-gunman theorists say about the remarkable agreement among so many witnesses, in different locations and times no less, that there was a large wound in the back of the head? They argue that all of these witnesses were and are mistaken. What about the witnesses who report seeing autopsy photos that showed a large wound in the back of the head? Lone-gunman theorists say they are either mistaken or lying. What about the mortician, who handled the skull and repaired it? Is he "mistaken" too? Yes, say lone-gunman theorists. How about the nurse who cleaned the wound and packed it with gauze squares? Is she "mistaken" as well? Yes, say lone-gunman theorists. And how about Clint Hill, a trained SS agent who was taken to the morgue for the express, specific purpose of viewing the wounds? Did he "get it wrong" too? Yes, say lone-gunman theorists. Otherwise, a shot struck Kennedy from the front, and the autopsy photos in evidence have been altered.
JACK RUBY AT PARKLAND HOSPITAL
Two people, one of whom KNEW Jack Ruby, saw Ruby at Parkland Hospital at around 1:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting, i.e., about an hour after the assassination. The witness who knew Ruby was Seth Kantor, a respected journalist. Kantor told the authorities he was absolutely certain he saw Ruby at Parkland Hospital. Kantor explained that he knew Ruby and that they chatted briefly at the hospital that afternoon. Since Ruby's presence at the hospital would have been suspicious, to say the least, and since Ruby vehemently denied having been at the hospital, the WC concluded Kantor and the other witness were mistaken. For years and years WC supporters followed the Commission's lead and opined that the two witnesses who insisted they saw Ruby at Parkland were simply mistaken. Why the denial in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary? Because, as mentioned, Ruby had no business being at the hospital, and because critics voiced the suspicion that Ruby may have planted the so-called "magic bullet" at the hospital.
In more recent years, many WC supporters have been willing to acknowledge that Ruby probably was at the hospital, but they argue that his presence there does not have sinister implications. Why, then, did Ruby so adamantly deny having been there? If he was there for innocent reasons, why did he lie about it?
HOW RUBY ENTERED THE BASEMENT TO SHOOT OSWALD
The WC claimed Ruby walked down the Main Street ramp to enter the basement of the Dallas Police Department, and that just a few minutes later he shot Oswald there in the basement as Oswald was about to be transferred to another jail facility. Lone-gunman theorists continue to defend this position. But several witnesses who were at or near the Main Street ramp prior to the shooting insisted Ruby did not go down it. Indeed, the policeman who was on duty at the top of the ramp vehemently denied Ruby had walked down it. The policeman said that no one walked down the ramp, and he volunteered for and then passed a lie-detector test to prove his veracity.
The HSCA reexamined the matter and concluded the evidence strongly indicated Ruby did not use the Main Street ramp, that he must have gotten into the basement through another entrance, and that he probably received help in doing so. The committee noted the several witnesses who were near or at the ramp who insisted Ruby did not use that entrance.
In fact, one of the witnesses was a UPI reporter, Terrance McGarry. McGarry said that at least five minutes before Oswald was shot, he had stationed himself at the middle of the basement end of the Main Street ramp and that no one came down the ramp during that time. Another one of the witnesses was taxi driver Harry Tasker, who knew Ruby. Tasker was standing at the ramp's entrance and kept the ramp under constant observation. Tasker told the FBI that not only did he not see Ruby walk down the ramp, but that he didn't see Ruby anywhere near the ramp.
Yet, to this day, lone-gunman theorists claim Ruby entered the basement by walking down the Main Street ramp. Why? Because they know that if they admit Ruby didn't use that ramp, they must then deal with the conspiratorial implications of his entering the basement by another means. In other words, if Ruby got into the heavily guarded basement by a different route, this would mean he lied about how he entered the basement and that someone on the inside probably let him in. This, of course, would strongly suggest Ruby's shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act resulting from Ruby's alleged grief at the prospect of Jackie having to testify at Oswald's trial, but rather that it was a premeditated killing and that it was part of a conspiracy to silence Oswald. In summary, even though every single witness who was at or near the Main Street ramp denied Ruby walked down it, lone-gunman theorists dismiss their testimony as "mistaken" and continue to insist Ruby used the ramp to gain entrance to the basement.
One thing is clear: The lone-gunman theory is not based on "just the facts." It is loaded with specious speculations and highly doubtful assumptions, and it is repeatedly contradicted by strong, credible evidence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew, and has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England. He is also a two-time graduate of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas, and holds an Occupational Instructor Certificate from the Community College of the Air Force. He is the author of the book Compelling Evidence: A New Look at the Assassination of President Kennedy (Grand Prairie, TX: JFK-Lancer Productions and Publications, 1996). His articles on the assassination have appeared in several journals that deal with the case. In addition, he is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts.
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