JFK’s Assassination: Do Official Reports Tell the Whole Story?

JFKIn Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Despite two official investigations concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed the President, doubts linger. This is due in no small part to the fact that neither Oswald, nor the official account, has ever been put on trial. Without the credibility that only comes from having survived a vigorous defense in a court of law, the government’s evidence remains, for some, under a shadow of skepticism.

So, do the official reports tell the whole story? You decide.

The Warren Commission of 1963

One week after the assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a commission under the chairmanship of then Chief Justice Earl Warren to investigate and report on the assassination. They found as follows:

In the Limousine

Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally were travelling with their wives (the Kennedy’s in the rear, the men on the passenger side) in an open-topped limousine when it approached Dealy Plaza in downtown Dallas. They were near the Triple Underpass and moving only at about 11 mph at 12:30 pm when shots rang out. According to the Commission’s report:

One bullet passed through the President’s neck; a subsequent bullet, which was lethal, shattered the right side of his skull. Governor Connally sustained bullet wounds in his back, the right side of his chest, right wrist, and left thigh.[1]

The time of the assassination is generally not disputed as a “large electronic sign clock atop the Texas School Book Depository Building showed the numerals ’12:30′ . . . a few seconds before shots were fired.”[2]

The speed of the car at the time of the shooting was established by analyzing amateur film taken by Abraham Zapruder.[3] This is the only video recording of the assassination.

According to the commission, only three shots were fired. The first was said to have hit President Kennedy in the neck. This was established in part by the testimony of his wife, who is said to have

Heard a sound similar to a motorcycle noise . . . on turning, she saw a quizzical look on her husband’s face as he raised a left hand to his throat . . .[4]

It is not clear if this first bullet hit Governor Connally (who was in the front passenger seat, directly in front of the president). According to the report, he heard and identified the first rifle shot and then

Instinctively turned to the right . . . Unable to see the President as he turned to the right, the Governor started to look back over his left shoulder, but he never completed the turn because he felt something strike him in the back. . . . Governor Connally was certain that he was hit by the second shot . . .[5]

Counter to the commission’s conclusion of three shots, Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman testified he heard a “flurry of shots,” after the second shot.[6] Kellerman stated that he had issued an order to “get out of here fast,” prior to the lethal shot to Kennedy’s head.

Contradicting this, Governor and Mrs. Connally claim Kellerman gave the order to accelerate after they had heard another shot hit President Kennedy and “observed brain tissue splattered over the interior of the car.”[7]

Upon return to Washington, D.C., an investigation of the limousine revealed “two bullet fragments in the front seat.” Lead residue and particles were also found. FBI analysis revealed that when

Compared with bullet fragments found at Parkland Hospital [in Texas where Kennedy had been taken shortly after the shooting] all three bullet fragments were found to be similar in metallic composition.[8]

The Parkland Hospital fragment, a “nearly whole bullet,” had been “found on Governor Connally’s stretcher . . . after the assassination.” It was discovered when “the hospital’s senior engineer . . . bumped one of the stretchers against the wall and a bullet rolled out.”[9] Expert analysis later determined that this bullet had “been fired in the C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found in the Depository.”[10]

The Number of Shots

The Commission found that the

Most convincing evidence relating to the number of shots was provided by the presence on the sixth floor of three spent cartridges which were demonstrated to have been fired by the same rifle that fired the bullets which caused the wounds.[11]

The Commission also concluded that: “one shot probably missed the car and its occupants.”[12] As a result, only two bullets caused all of the wounds suffered by Connally and Kennedy.

The Wounds

President Kennedy

Regarding the head wound, which killed him, the Commission concluded:

President Kennedy was . . . shot from the rear. The bullet entered in the back of the head and went out on the right side of the skull . . . he was shot from above and behind.[13]

Regarding his neck wound, the commission determined:

By projecting from a point of entry on the rear of the neck . . . the doctors concluded that the bullet exited from the front portion of the President’s neck that had been cut away by the tracheotomy.[14]

This bullet was not found in the automobile. Therefore, contrary to Connally’s claim, the Commission concluded that this first bullet was most likely the one that “struck Governor Connally.”[15] The circuitous path that this projectile would have had to take has caused many to call this explanation, the Magic Bullet Theory.

Governor Connally

After leaving the President’s neck, the bullet is said to have entered Connally through his back, “shattering his fifth rib, and exited below the right nipple.”[16]

From there, it “passed through the Governor’s wrist and penetrated his thigh.”[17]

Regarding the wrist wound, it was to have entered his arm from the back, “about 2 inches . . . above the wrist joint on the thumb side.”[18] Although one expert had initially said the point of entry for this wound was on the palm side, he later “deferred to the judgment” of another doctor.[19]

The Witnesses

Howard Brennan had a clear view of the Book Depository. Prior to the Presidential limousine arriving, “he noticed a man at the southeast corner window of the sixth floor.”[20] Then, as the limousine passed him, Brennan heard an explosion. He testified

Just right after this explosion, made me think that it was a firecracker being thrown from the Texas Book Store. . . . And this man that I saw was aiming for his last shot.[21] 

Brennan described this man as “in his early thirties, fair complexion, slender . . . possible 5 foot 10 . . . 160 to 170 pounds.”[22] In a lineup conducted on November 22, Brennan identified Oswald as having the “closest resemblance to the man in the window but he said he was unable to make a positive identification.”[23]

Other witnesses corroborate that shots were fired from that sixth floor window and gave general descriptions of the shooter that were not inconsistent with a description of Oswald.[24]

Witnesses in the book depository testified to hearing sounds of shooting coming from their building. Harold Norman on the fifth floor just beneath the infamous window testified he “could also hear something sounded like the shell hulls hitting the floor and the ejecting of the rifle.”[25] Also on the fifth floor, Ray Williams testified that

The second shot, it sounded like it was right in the building, the second and third shot. . . it even shook the building, the side we were on. Cement fell on my head.[26]

Witness accounts of the location and number of shots vary. Some heard three, others four. Some thought they came from the area of the limousine. Another testified that shots came from somewhere “west of the Depository.”[27] At least two witnesses, Frank E. Reilly and S.M. Holland, thought shots came from “the trees on the north side of Elm Street where [one] saw a puff of smoke.”[28]  Unable to discern if shots came from the Depository or the Triple Underpass, witness Lee E. Bowers, who worked in the area, testified that

Prior to November 22, 1963, [he] had noted the similarity of the sounds coming from the vicinity of the Depository and those from the Triple Underpass, which he attributed to a reverberation which takes place from either location.[29]

Oswald

At about 7:15 am on November 22, 1963, Linnie Mae Randle, whose brother drove to work at the Book Depository with Lee Harvey Oswald, observed Oswald carrying a “heavy brown bag” that “tapered . . . and was more bulky toward the bottom.”[30] A brown bag was found on the sixth floor near where the shots were fired.[31]

An employee of the Book Depository, Charles Givens, saw Oswald on the sixth floor at about 11:55 am. [32]

Shortly after the assassination, Patrolman M.L. Baker entered the Book Depository and soon encountered Oswald in the second floor lunchroom. The officer reported: “He didn’t seem to be excited or overly afraid or anything.”[33]  Oswald was allowed to leave the building.

At about 1:16 pm, Officer J.D. Tippit “was shot less than 1 mile from Oswald’s rooming house.”[34] A variety of evidence was used to tie Oswald to this shooting, including witness accounts from the driver and passengers of a bus, as well as a taxicab operator.[35]

Earlene Roberts, the housekeeper at the rooming house where Oswald stayed, testified that at about 1:00 pm, “he entered the house in unusual haste. . . . He hurried to his room and stayed no longer than 3 or 4 minutes.”[36] Fifteen minutes later, Officer Tippit was dead. Six witnesses identified Oswald as the murderer of Tippit in police lineups.[37]

At about 1:45 pm, as Oswald entered the Texas Theatre he was observed by Johnny Calvin Brewer, the manager of a neighboring store, who testified: “He just looked funny to me . . . like he had been running, and he looked scared . . . “[38] Brewer followed Oswald into the building, and when he and theater employee Julia Postal realized Oswald hadn’t bought a ticket, they called police.[39]

Oswald was arrested and spent the next 12 hours in interrogation. He “denied that he had anything to do either with the assassination of President Kennedy or the murder of Patrolman Tippit.”[40] While in police custody over the next two days, journalists, who had little access to Oswald, shouted questions at him. During one such incident, Oswald famously claimed: I’m just a patsy!

In addition to witness testimony, the Commission also tied Oswald to the rifle. Business records show it was mailed to a post office box, rented to Oswald, in Dallas, and FBI experts matched the handwriting on the rifle order to him as well.[41]

On November 22, 1963, a Dallas Police Lieutenant “lifted” Oswald’s palm print from the rifle barrel, although this evidence is undermined by the fact that the supervisor of the FBI’s Latent Fingerprint Section found only “latent prints which were there were of no value.”[42]

Nonetheless, Oswald’s finger and palm prints were taken from the bag and other materials that were found on the sixth floor of the Depository. [43] As an employee, he “had ready access to the sixth floor from the southeast corner window of which shots were fired.”[44]

On the morning of Sunday, November 24, 1963, at approximately 11:20 am, while being transferred to another facility, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, the owner of a Dallas hotspot called the Vegas Club.[45] Under polygraph examination, Ruby claimed that he had never met, nor had any prior knowledge of, Oswald. He stated that he did not “shoot Oswald” due to influence from Communists, the underworld, a foreign power or a labor union, but rather to “save Mrs. Kennedy the ordeal of a trial.”[46]

House Select Committee on Assassinations

Convened to investigate the assassinations of both JFK and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1976, this committee challenged the Warren Commission’s conclusion of a single assassin in the killing of President Kennedy.

The committee found that . . . President Kennedy was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy. The committee’s finding . . . was premised on four factors:(1) the Warren Commission’s and FBI’s investigation into the possibility of a conspiracy was seriously flawed . . .; (2) the Warren Commission was . . . incorrect in concluding that Oswald and Ruby had no significant associations . . .; (3) a more limited conspiracy cannot be ruled out; and (4) There was a high probability that a second gunman, in fact, fired at the President.[47]

In making this determination, the Committee specifically found that “the scientific acoustical evidence established a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy.”[48]

Although the House Committee agreed there was likely more than one gunman, it refused to exonerate Oswald, and rather concurred with the Warren Commission that he, in fact, shot and killed the President. The Committee relied on several points in making this conclusion.

First, “the shots that struck President Kennedy from behind were fired from the sixth floor window of the Southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository.”[49]

Second, “Lee Harvey Oswald owned the rifle from which the shots that killed President Kennedy were fired.”[50]

And, third, along with evidence that Oswald attempted to murder Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, the evidence was “supportive of the committee’s conclusion that Oswald assassinated President Kennedy.”[51]

Finally, although the House Committee agreed that a limited conspiracy was likely, it rejected claims that either the Soviets, the Cubans, anti-Castro Cuban groups, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service or even the Mob (as a monolithic entity) was behind the assassination.[52]

Kennedy Records Assassination Act of 1992

Thirty years after his death, many records relating to the assassination remained classified. In 1992, in response to the furor raised by Oliver Stone’s compelling 1991 classic JFK, Congress directed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to place all such records in a single collection. An Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) was charged with deciding how to release records to the public.

Although today five million pages are available, some records still remain secret from public scrutiny. According to reports, “thousands more pages primarily from the CIA remain off-limits” at the National Archives. Under the terms of the Act, documents may be withheld, if “military defense, intelligence operations, or conduct of foreign relations” would be compromised by disclosure.

The Whole Story?

If you think these official reports have left something out, you are not alone. Since shortly after the assassination, respectable citizens and dubious characters alike have insisted there’s more to the story. For them, three very simple questions remain to be answered: “Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who had the power to cover it up?

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Expand for References

JFK Assassination Records

Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations

The Warren Commission Report


[1] Warren Report, p. 48

[2] Warren Report, p. 49

[3] Warren Report, p. 49

[4] Warren Report, p. 49

[5] Warren Report, p. 49

[6] Warren Report, p. 49

[7] Warren Report, p. 50

[8] Warren Report, p. 77

[9] Warren Report, p. 81

[10] Warren Report, p. 85

[11] Warren Report, p. 110

[12] Warren Report, p. 111

[13] Warren Report, p. 86

[14] Warren Report, p. 88

[15] Warren Report, p. 105

[16] Warren Report, p. 93

[17] Warren Report, p. 94

[18] Warren Report, p. 93

[19] Warren Report, p. 93

[20] Warren Report, p. 63

[21] Warren Report, p. 63

[22] Warren Report, p. 144

[23] Warren Report, p. 145

[24] Warren Report, p. 64, 146-149

[25] Warren Report, p. 70

[26] Warren Report, p. 70

[27] Warren Report, p. 76

[28] Warren Report, p. 76

[29] Warren Report, p. 76

[30] Warren Report, pp. 131-133

[31] Warren Report, p. 134

[32] Warren Report, p. 143

[33] Warren Report, p. 152

[34] Warren Report, p. 157

[35] Warren Report, pp. 157-163

[36] Warren Report, p. 163

[37] Warren Report, p. 166

[38] Warren Report, p. 178

[39] Warren Report, p. 178

[40] Warren Report, p. 180

[41] Warren Report, pp. 118-120

[42] Warren Report, pp. 123

[43] Warren Report, p. 135

[44] Warren Report, p. 137

[45] Warren Report, p. 216-794

[46] Warren Report, pp. 809-812

[47] House Report, p. 97

[48] House Report, p. 93

[49] House Report, p. 47

[50] House Report, p. 56

[51] House Report, p. 61

[52] House Report, pp. 95-225

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