The Guns of Dealey Plaza

by John S. Craig

The Warren Commission's report on the assassination of JFK officially states that the alleged murder weapon, an Italian-made 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, purchased through mail order by A.J. Hidell, was found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository on the day of the assassination, November 22, 1963 at 1:22 p.m. The Dallas police quickly established that A.J. Hidell was a cover name for Oswald. Though Oswald denied owning a rifle, the Commission believed that Oswald did all of the shooting that day with the Italian rifle.

There is, hoever, a variety of evidence suggesting more than one weapon was involved in the shooting. This article explores the issue of gunrunning by numerous individuals associated with the assassination. Additionally, the article investigates the numerous sightings and sounds of weapons in Dealey Plaza that include a 7.65 Mauser, a Johnson 30.06 rifle, an unknown rifle on the roof of the Depository, a revolver found in a paper bag, rifles on the triple overpass, the "double bang" sound heard by numerous eyewitnesses, a rifle behind the fence on the grassy knoll, the possibility of 7.35 Mannlichers involved in a plot, and a man claiming he was a FBI agent who had a gun under an overcoat on the grassy knoll.

The Mannlicher-Carcano

The controversy surrounding Oswald's rifle is renowned. The Model 91/38, 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano, declared to be the murder weapon by the Warren Commission, and seemingly owned by Oswald, was 40.2 inches long and weighed eight pounds. [1] The Warren Commission also reported that Oswald purchased the rifle through mail-order from Klein's Sporting Goods of Chicago by sending in a coupon from American Rifleman magazine. [2] However, the magazine advertised a 36 inch, 5.5 pound Mannlicher-Carcano, not the same 40 inch rifle that Oswald was alleged to have owned. [3]

In 1963, a gun could be purchased in the state of Texas without a permit or any record of the purchase. However, the rifle the Warren Commission claimed was the murder weapon was purchased by an A. Hidell and shipped to a post office box owned by Lee H. Oswald. When apprehended by Dallas police on November 22, 1963, Oswald carried a fake Selective Service card with the name of A.J. Hidell and an expired U.S. Department of Defense card. [4] Though he could have purchased a rifle without any paper trail, we are led to believe the following:

  1. Oswald purchased a mail order rifle under an alias of A.J. Hidell.

  2. Oswald's alias was used on a fake Selective Service card that he kept in his wallet.

  3. The Mannlicher-Carcano he purchased by mail order was sent to a post office box that was linked to his real name.

  4. When he was questioned by the Dallas police, he claimed he didn't own a rifle.

The Mannlicher-Carcano, Model 91, is a multi-loading weapon with a fixed and central wmagazine. The bolt is of a rotating and sliding type with the barrel a steel tube with a slightly truncated cone shape. The loading and firing mechanism of Model 91 consists of the bolt, receiver, ejector and trigger device, and magazine. [5] The maximum range is 2800 meters. It is considered unreliable over 300 meters.

The Warren Commission claimed that Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano was the only weapon involved in the assassination. Ammunition for the rifle was known to be faulty and rarely shot straight. Gun experts that testified in front of the Warren Commission characterized the Carcano as a cheap, old weapon that was poorly constructed; a rifle that could be purchased for three dollars each in lots of 25. On the day the rifle was found, the firing pin was found to be defective or worn-out, [6] the telescopic sight was not accurately sighted, and no ammunition clip was officially reported. An ammunition clip would require a shooter to hand-load cartridges. Without an ammunition clip, rapid fire would be impossible. No reference was ever made to the clip in the original inventories of evidence. Only when the Warren Report was released was there any report that an ammunition clip was found. The rifle was found tightly wedged within a stack of books, a task that would seem to require more than a few seconds. It was so deeply hidden in the boxes that one of the Dallas sheriffs claimed that searchers could have walked right by it and not noticed it. The police photographed the rifle where it was found tightly wedged in boxes. During a search of the building, a 16-millimeter motion picture was taken by Thomas Alyea of television station WFAA. [7] According to the HSCA, the motion picture film depicts the rifle at the time that it was discovered by the police. [8] The HSCA investigated the dimensions of the alleged murder weapon that is stored in the National Archives in comparison to the dimensions of the rifle Oswald is holding in the backyard photos, as well as the rifle photographed outside the Depository and in the Dallas Police Department headquarters on November 22, 1963. Theinvestigation concluded that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in the National Archives is the same rifle seen in the photos taken outside the Depository and in the backyard photos taken of Oswald by Marina Oswald. [9]

When Oswald was given a paraffin test to see if he had fired a rifle that day, the test showed that there was no trace of nitrates on his cheek. Nitrates produced from a discharged rifle could possibly be found on the cheek of anyone who had fired a rifle, but the Dallas police couldn't find any. Lt. Day claimed he lifted prints located around the trigger housing of the Mannlicher-Carcano but was not able to identify them as Oswald's. He was able to lift a palm print under the stock and identify it as Oswald's. Day claims he told FBI agent Vince Drain of the palm print. Drain said he was never told of the print and Day responded in a 1993 interview with "I guess he didn't hear me, but I told him." [10] The FBI never identified the palm print but was able to find several prints of one of its FBI agents, who was subsequently suspended from duty for mishandling the evidence. The HSCA confirmed the palm print that Day found was lifted from the Mannlicher-Carcano, as Lt. Day had claimed. PBS's Frontline documentary on Oswald reinvestigated the prints Day lifted around the trigger housing. Three investigators reviewed the prints; two investigators were unable to confirm an identification and one investigator claiming that the prints were definitely Oswald's.

Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano was officially linked by government investigators to shots fired into the presidential limousine. The HSCA confirmed these findings, as well as the fact that the three expended cartridge cases found on the sixth floor of the depository were fired from Oswald's rifle. [11] Marina Oswald stated that Lee had confessed to her that he had shot at retired General Edwin Walker only weeks before the Kennedy assassination. The Walker bullet was compared microscopically with bullets test fired by the FBI from Oswald's rifle, though "no gross differences were noted ... the panel concluded that the Walker bullet was too damaged to allow conclusive identification of the bullet with a particular firearm." [12] Some critics have questioned whether the mounting of the telescopic sight on the left side of the rifle was really a mounting designed for a left-handed person. Oswald was right-handed, but the HSCA found that the mounting on the left side "was done as a matter of necessity because the bolt action is on the right side." [13]

An additional twist to the ordering of the Mannlicher-Carcano is being investigated by Assassination Chronicles senior editor George Michael Evica. In January of 1963, Senator Thomas Dodd held committee hearings on the unrestricted delivery of weapons through the U.S. mail. Dodd was interested in the unregulated traffic of Italian Mannlicher-Carcanos as well as the company that Oswald supposedly purchased his rifle, Klein's of Chicago. Evia writes that he has learned from two unimpeachable sources that Dodd "caused at least one Mannlicher-Carcano to be ordered in the name of Lee Harvey Oswald ... " or in the name of Hidell sometime in 1963. "Whether that rifle was ordered before November 22nd, 1963, ... a left-wing former Marine defector buying mail-order weapons to support concretely Senator Dodd's gun control position, or ordered immediately after the JFK assassination to make the same point (but even more chillingly), the same post-assassination effect was apparently achieved." [14] In the summer of 1963, Dodd had presided over a Senate Internal Securitysubcommittee investigation of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Oswald was the only member of the New Orleans branch. In 1963, Dodd called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee a chief public relations instrument for Castro.

On November 25, 1963, Harry L. Power, an Army veteran and one-time resident of San Antonio, inexplicably left a 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano in the Terre Haute House Hotel in Terre Haute, Indiana. When Terre Haute officials investigated the matter they found no fingerprints on the rifle and no explanation as to why it was abandoned. They also thought that the name of "Harry Power" may have been an alias. Terre Haute Police Chief Frank Riddle told an AP reporter that all the information that his office had collected was turned over to the Warren Commission when Secret Service Agents confiscated the rifle. Riddle also claimed that Power had no criminal record and was believed to be a member of the Young Communist League. A National Archives document about the affair was declassified in 1970. Research Dick Russell reported that the file reports that Power had been investigated in connection with the shooting attempt on General Walker in Dallas, a shooting that has been linked to Oswald and his Mannlicher-Carcano. Other files associated with the Power rifle claim that it was a 7.65 Mauser. [15] CIA agent Richard Nagell told Garrison investigators in 1967 that Power was a Maoist or Trotskyite and "had known Lee Harvey Oswald and had been seen with him ..." [16]

Action on the Roof

Oswald's 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano was not the only weapon seen in Dealey Plaza that day. At1 p.m. Dallas police officers were filmed by Ernest Charles Mentesana removing a rifle from the roof of the Depository. Unlike the Oswald rifle, the rifle Mentesana filmed had no sling, no scope, and protruded at least 7-8 inches past the stock, where Oswald's extended only 4-5 inches. [17] In the film two police officers are standing on a fire escape at the seventh floor of the Depository gesturing to the roof. In the next sequence the rifle is being examined.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Thayer Waldo watched a group of high-ranking Dallas police officers huddle together for a conference just a few minutes after 1 p.m. on the day of the shooting. When he spoke to a secretary who was privy to the officers' conversations, she told Waldo that police officers had found a rifle on the "roof of the School Book Depository." [18]

W. Anthony Marsh believes the rifle shown in the film is very likely a Dallas Police Department Remington 870 shotgun. Marsh notes that the Dallas Police Department used Remington 870 shotguns. One of the officers escorting three men in the railyards after the shooting was carrying a Remington 870 shotgun. [19]

The Mauser

The Warren Commission says that the only weapon involved in the shooting that day was found by Deputy Sheriff E.L. Boone on the sixth floor by the staircase. [20] After Boone found the rifle, Captain Fritz, Deputy Roger Craig, and Deputy Sheriff Weitzman also examined the rifle.

After Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig viewed the sniper's nest, where he saw three spent 6.5 millimeter cartridges, he began to search for a weapon with Boone. "We started toward the northeast corner of the building. There was a stack of boxes at the head of the stairwell and Boone looked into it and said, 'Here it is. Here's the rifle.' We didn't touch it until Captain Fritz and Lt. Day of the Dallas police got there. They took some pictures of the rifle and Day pulled out the rifle and handed it to Captain Fritz, who held it up by the strap and asked if anyone knew what kind of rifle it was. Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman had joined us and Weitzman was a gun buff, and he was very good with weapons. He said, 'It looks like a Mauser.' He walked over to Fritz, and Captain Fritz was holding the rifle up in the air, and I was standing next to Weitzman, who was standing next to Fritz, and we weren't more than 6-8 inches from the rifle, and stamped right on the barrel of the rifle was '7.65 Mauser,' and that's when Weitzman said, 'It is a Mauser,' and pointed to the '7.65 Mauser' on the barrel." [21]

Boone later testified that Captain Fritz also thought that the gun was a Mauser. [22] Boone testified in two written reports that the gun was a Mauser. Weitzman signed an affidavit the next day stating that the rifle he and Boone had found was a "7.65 Mauser bolt action equipped with a 4/18 scope, a thick leather brownish-black sling on it." [23] Fritz would eventually testify to the Warren Commission that the gun found on the sixth floor was Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano. Weitzman also recanted his belief that the gun was a Mauser, though he was never shown the Mannlicher-Carcano by the Warren Commission to confirm the fact that it was the rifle that he had seen on the sixth floor. An FBI envelope (FBI Field Office Dallas 89-43-1A-122) dated 12/2/1963 that was released in 1995 by the AssassinationsRecord Review Board ARRB had a cover that detailed the contents of the envelope as being a 7.65 mm rifle shell. The shell was allegedly found in Dealey Plaza after the shooting, though nothing was known about this envelope or rifle shell until the release of the 1995 records. The whereabouts of the 7.65 mm rifle shell is unknown. Researcher Anna Marie Kuhns-Walko first reported the envelope. The envelope had the following label: "7.65 shell found in Dealey Plaza on 12/02/1963 ... determined of no value and destroyed."

Arthur Pineda's analysis of photos showing the rifle in Lt. Day's possession seems to heighten the controversy concerning the ammunition clip and the identification of the rifle. Dallas Police Department pictures show Lt. Day dusting a rifle for prints while in the Texas School Book Depository. The photograph shows that the rifle has no ammunition clip. However, another picture of Lt. Day carrying the rifle from the Depository shows a rifle with an ammunition clip "clearly visible protruding from the bottom of the magazine of the rifle." This photo also shows a rifle with sling swivels mounted on the left side of the weapon, "while CE 746 B (a Warren Commission enlargement of CE 133A, which is a photo of Oswald with rifle) clearly shows that Oswald's rifle had the sling swivels on the bottom. The rifle that Lt. Day is carrying simply is not Oswald's rifle." [24]

On the afternoon of the shooting, KBOX, a Dallas television station, broadcast that "a rifle has been found in a staircase on the fifth floor ... Sheriff's deputies identify the weapon as a 7.65 Mauser ... " [25] To add to the confusion WBAP-TV reported that a British Enfield 303 had been found in the Depository. [26]

Dallas police officer Lt. Day took the rifle to police headquarters on Friday afternoon and dictated a detailed report of the weapon's description to his secretary, but the report was never included in the Commission's exhibits. [27] Later that night at a televised press conference, Dallas District Attorney Wade declared that the rifle found in the Depository was a 7.65 German Mauser. [28] Lt. Day released the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to the FBI at 11:45 p.m., November 22, 1963.

The CIA produced a document on the 25th of November 1963 that created more confusion by declaring " ... employed in this criminal attack is a Model 91 rifle, 7.35 caliber, 1938 modification ... the description of a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in the Italian and foreign press is in error. It was a Mauser." [29] Oswald told his inquisitors that he had seen a Mauser in the Texas School Book Depository. On November 20th, Warren Carter, an employee of Southwestern Publishing Company that occupied part of the second floor in the Depository, brought a Mauser rifle and a .22 calibre rifle for his fellow employees to look at, a fact that was verified by numerous Depository employees. [30]

Curiously, Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano clearly has "MADE ITALY" and "CAL 6.5" stamped on the side of the barrel. Though Oswald's rifle was clearly marked, Boone, Weitzman, Craig, and Fritz at one time stated they thought the gun was a Mauser, and Lt. Day's report is not available. Weitzman's description includes the exact calibration of the scope and the color of the sling. Though it is very clear that what the officers thought they had found was a Mauser, the Warren Commission explained away this problem by stating"Weitzman did not handle the rifle and did not examine it at close range... thought it was a Mauser ... [and eventually] police laboratory technicians subsequently arrived and correctly identified the weapon as a 6.5 Italian rifle." [31]

But what the officers found may very well have been a Mauser considering what Frank Ellsworth saw in the Depository that day. Ellsworth was an agent of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency and was in his office not far from the Depository when he was told of the shooting. He ran to the Depository and entered the building with Captain Will Fritz. Ellsworth claims he found the sniper's nest on the sixth floor, but the "gun was not found on the same floor as the cartridges, but on a lower floor by a couple of city detectives... I think the rifle was found on the fourth floor." [32] Ellsworth participated in a second search of the Depository after 1:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963. The gun that was found was an Italian Mannlicher-Carcano hidden behind boxes near the "stairwell back in the northwest corner ... I have the recollection that the position it was in, and where it was found, led to conjecture that as Oswald came down the stairs he probably pitched it over behind these books." [33] Ellsworth has stood by his original assessment of where the Mannlicher-Carcano was found in a 1993 interview with authors Ray and Mary LaFontaine.

The HSCA investigated the misidentification of the rifle and concluded that "many bolt-action rifles are so similar in profile that misidentification may occur." [34]

Jim Garrison investigators interviewed David Kroman, a prisoner of Leavenworth Penitentiaryand an acquaintance of Richard Case Nagell, the ex-C.I.A. agent who has been linked to the assassination through researcher Dick Russell. According to the Garrison investigators, Nagell told Kroman that a right-wing extremist group financed by H.L. Hunt and some Bastista sympathizers had plotted to assassinate Kennedy in Miami in December 1962. As Nagell had told author Dick Russell, the intent of the assassination would be to rationalize an attack on Cuba. Kroman claimed Nagell told him that the plot moved to Dallas where seven men were involved. Oswald was told to bring a Mauser to the Texas School Book Depository on November 21st and leave it at the site of the shooting. To complicate the plot, Oswald was to hand the dismantled Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to a contact on the third floor and leave the building. [35]

The Johnson Semi-Automatic

For some reason the FBI took a very serious interest in a particular Johnson semi-automatic rifle immediately after the assassination. The Johnson semi-automatic rifle, 30.06, is a self-loading shoulder weapon equipped with a rotary feed magazine and has a capacity of eleven shots, ten rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. It is loaded from standard Springfield-type clips, or single cartridges. The rifle can be fired as slowly or rapidly as the trigger can be pulled. The theoretical cyclic rate of fire of the Johnson semi-automatic is 600 rounds per minute.

The FBI traced a Johnson semi-automatic rifle to CIA-connected, anti-Castro raids in Cuba and to four men: Jerry Patrick Hemming, Loran Hall, Richard Hathcock, and Roy Payne. The day after the assassination, an FBI agent questioned private detective Richard Hathcock, who had kept the rifle in his California office. Hathcock was asked whether he knew a man named Roy Payne. Hathcock knew Payne and stated that the FBI wanted to question Payne " ... because Payne's fingerprints undoubtedly were all over that rifle from his having handled it many times." [36] Payne vouched for the accuracy of the weapon and stated that Loran Hall and an unidentified Hispanic man took the weapon from him about a week before the assassination. [37]

In HSCA testimony Hathcock, owner of Allied International Detective Agency, said that Jerry Patrick Hemming and Lorenzo "Skip" Hall visited Hathcock claiming that they were raising money to buy medicines and military hardware for a planned invasion of Cuba. They were broke. From Hathcock they borrowed one hundred dollars and gave Hathcock a set of golf clubs and a Johnson semi-automatic rifle with a 30 power Bushnell variable scope as collateral. Eventually Hall repayed $50, retrieved the rifle and told Hathcock to keep the clubs. Hathcock never saw the rifle again but was asked about it by Jim Garrison, who showed Hathcock an enlarged photo depicting a Dallas detective holding a rifle "which was picked up on Dealey Plaza. The rifle looked to me exactly like the one I'd had in my office. I have combed the Warren Report stem to stern. I find no mention of that rifle, which was picked up on Dealey Plaza." [38] Hathcock claimed that Hall told him he had turned the rifle over to a doctor friend of his in Miami, Florida. Hemming told Hatchcock that Hall's story was false. On November 23, 1963 Hathcock was questioned by FBI agent Jerry Crow about the rifle. Crow wanted to question Hathcock's associate Roy Payne. Hathcock ended hisHSCA statement with "unless that particular rifle had been found or in some way involved in this whole thing, that the FBI would have no interest in it."

Payne's statement was full of details concerning the Johnson rifle. Payne believed the rifle had been involved in numerous Cuban raids. He examined to see if it had been modified, but it had not. He confirmed that it had a 30 power Bushnell scope. He stated that the rifle was extremely accurate. Hall and "a fat, Mexican fellow came in and redeemed the rifle" ten to fifteen days before the assassination. The next day Hall and the Mexican left for Miami. On November 18, 1963 Payne saw Hall again and asked him about the Cuban operations that he and Hemming had planned, but Hall merely said that the CIA had stopped the operation in Miami, and he did not have the time to talk about the matter since he had to make a plane to Dallas. Agent Crow questioned Payne on the 23rd of November. "We discussed the situation about what had occurred and what has gone on with Hemming and Hall ..." Payne told the HSCA. Payne believed the FBI was following him for several months after his conversation with Crow. In the subsequent months after the assassination Payne claimed that the FBI secretly searched his vehicle as well as Hathcock's offices. He talked to Hall about ten to fourteen days after the assassination. Hall told him he was "right in the middle of the lobby of the [Dallas] Hilton, Hotel" during the assassination. Author Dick Russell's interview with Hall told a different story of where Hall was on November 22, " ... I was in Monterey Park, California ... I'd just taken my wife to her job." [39] Payne later read that Hall claimed he was never in Texas. In his last conversation with Hall, Payne was told that Hall had several attempts made against his life, one being a car bomb. Hemming eventually told Payne thathe "didn't like the idea that the rifle went down there, since he felt it was his rifle and the golf clubs that were also hocked." [40]

Jerry Patrick Hemming, according to a Miami Police Intelligence Unit report of November 1, 1963, stated that Hall had stolen two rifles from his apartment the night of October 31, 1963 (a jungle carbine and a Savage .22). He also claimed that Hall was responsible for stealing a third rifle from California --- a Johnson 30.06. [41]

Loran Eugene Hall, an anti-Castro activist Alpha 66 exile group, told author Dick Russell that in 1968 he had been offered $50,000 to assassinate JFK. The meeting occurred on October 17, 1963 when he was seeking funds for guerilla raids into Cuba. He was approached by "right wing radicals who also had RFK and MLK on their kill lists ... they were lunatic fanatical right wingers -- Klansmen and Fascists -- who had the means, the men, and their own twisted reasons for wanting to kill our leaders."

Hall claimed the group included ex-military men. He said he turned down the offer that was presented to him in a wealthy Dallas trucking executive's office. Hall also knew mafia boss Santos Trafficante, whom he shared a jail cell in Havana in 1959. In the spring of 1963, Hall claims he met in Miami Beach with Trafficante and others who were planning an exile raid of Cuba. Hall and Trafficante shared a jail cell in Havana in 1959, a fact he told the House Select Committee. Hall was implicated by the FBI as one of the men who met with Sylvia Odio, the Cuban woman who claimed she saw Oswald in September 1963 with two anti-Cuban activists.

In discussing a plot to kill the president, Hall told author Dick Russell "I'd go so far as to say I probably sat as close as I'm sitting to you now, to some people who had a part in it." FBI Director Hoover told the Warren Commission that Hall admitted to his agents that he was one of the three people that met with Sylvia Odio. FBI Agent James Hosty wrote in his 1996 book, Assignment Oswald, that a fellow security agent Wally Heitman discovered that Loran Hall, Larry Howard, and Willliam Seymour were the visitors at Odio's home. Seymour supposedly looked like Oswald and had a propensity for speaking harshly of Kennedy. Hall claims he never told the FBI that he met Odio. He claims that he was being setup as a "fall guy," another patsy in the rich cast of nefarious characters that surround the case. "I'm sure someone was out to implicate us." [42]

Hemming claimed, in a 1967 interview, he had met Oswald. Hemming stated "I ran into Oswald in Los Angeles in 1959, when he showed up at the Cuban Consulate. The coordinator of the 26th of July Movement [an anti-Castro organization] called me aside and said a Marine officer had showed up ... he told me he was a noncommissioned officer ... a radar operator ... helping the Cubans out with everything he knew. He turned out to be Oswald ... I thought he was a penetrator of pro-Castro forces... I thought he was on the Naval Intelligence payroll at the time." [43]

Bullet Fragments

A gunshot in Dealey Plaza was reported to the Dallas Police approximately one week before the assassination. [44] Mrs. Joe Baily Blackwell, of Dallas, and her sister were approaching the Triple Underpass when they were shot at and a bullet lodged in their car. The police were unable to determine the source of the shot.

The HSCA investigated bullet fragments that were unavailable to the Warren Commission. [45] In 1974, near the triple overpass in Dealey Plaza, Richard Lester found a bullet fragment. The FBI determined that the Lester bullet fragment was of a 6.5 millimeter caliber but was not "jacketed, softpoint or jacketed, hollow-point sporting bullet, whereas the Mannlicher-Carcano bullet was to be a full metal-jacketed, military-type." [46] The laboratory concluded that the bullet had not been fired from Oswald's Mannlicher Carcano. The second item of evidence was a bullet found in 1967 on top of the Massey Roofing Co. building by Richard Haythorne. The HSCA investigation found that the jacketed, soft-point .30 calibre bullet was consistent with Remington-Peters ammunition. The bullet was not fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano. [47]

In 1975 a maintenance worker on the roof of the Dallas County Records Building, located diagonally from the Texas School Book Depository, found a 30.06 shell under a lip of roofing tar at the base of the roof's parapet on the side facing Dealey Plaza. [48] The shell casing was dated 1953. The condition of the shell indicated it had been on the roof for a long period of time. The HSCA made no mention of this shell.

The Sights and Sounds of the Grassy Knoll

One of the most discussed and written about incidents concerning a rifle in Dealey Plaza and its association with the grassy knoll involves what Julia Ann Mercer saw in a traffic jam at Dealey Plaza the morning of the 22nd. Mercer said she saw two men in a green Ford pickup. One of the men took a long paper bag with what appeared to be the outline of a rifle and walked toward the grassy knoll. This event has been detailed in Lane's Rush To Judgement, Marrs's Crossfire, and Stone's JFK, Garrison's On The Trail of the Assassins, and Dr. Crenshaw's Conspiracy of Silence. Gerald Posner has declared "the Mercer story was fully discredited by December 9, 1963 ... subsequent investigation revealed that the truck, which had stalled, belonged to a local construction company; it had three men inside, and they did take tools from the rear of the truck to fix it. [49] They were under constant surveillance by three Dallas policemen ... " [50]

Jim Marrs, in his book Crossfire, relates the story of Julius Hardee. Hardee told The Dallas Morning News that on the morning of November 22nd he saw three men on top of the Triple underpass carrying either shotguns or rifles. Whether these men were police officers or not is unknown. Hardee claimed he reported the incident to the FBI but no report about the incident has surfaced.

Jean Hill, a 32-year old school teacher, watched the motorcade with her friend Mary Moorman. They viewed the entourage from a normally restricted area, the triangle-shapedarea bound by Main, Elm, and Houston streets. Jean was close enough to the car that she heard Jackie scream, "My God, they've shot my husband!" Mary Moorman threw herself to the ground and tried to pull Jean down with her. But Jean stood still as she looked up the grassy knoll across the street and saw a shadowy figure of a man holding a rifle, partially hidden behind the wooden fence.

Malcolm Summers ran up the grassy knoll after the shots and found a man in a suit with an overcoat over his arm. He saw a "gun under that overcoat... his comment was 'Don't you all come up here any further, you could get shot, or killed.'" The FBI claimed they never stationed any of their agents on the grassy knoll that day.

Richard Randolph Carr testified at the Clay Shaw trial in New Orleans in February 1967 that he heard a shot and then three more shots in succession, the last three shots coming from behind the picket fence located at the top of the grassy knoll. One of the shots "knocked a bunch of grass up," and he could tell by the way the grass was "knocked up" that the bullet came from the grassy knoll area. Carr said that if the bullet had continued, it would have travelled from the fence toward the Criminal Courts building. [52] There are several accounts of witnesses seeing missed shots, and their detailed testimony is referenced in a variety of documents. [53]

Another witness who had a unique view behind the fence on the grassy knoll was Ed Hoffman. Hoffman stopped on a railroad bridge across the Stemmons freeway to view themotorcade with other spectators. He situated himself approximately 200 yards behind the knoll fence. He viewed this area from an elevation of about thirty feet above the parking lot level. Being deaf, Hoffman couldn't hear the clamor of the oncoming motorcade, but he did see a man run west, dressed in a dark suit and overcoat, along the back of the fence carrying a rifle. The man handed the rifle to another man dressed in coveralls. The second man walked behind a railroad switch box, disassembled the rifle, placed it in a soft brown bag, and walked into the railyards situated behind the grassy knoll. Hoffman told his story to the FBI on several occasions, but due to his communication problem or the FBI's lack of interest, nothing ever developed from Hoffman's version of what happened behind the fence. But why no one else saw this man disassemble the rifle remains a mystery, especially when many other witnesses of the motorcade passed the railroad switch box immediately after the shooting. The switch box is located close to where the fence and the railroad underpass is located. S.M. Holland and several other men ran past the switch box in their haste to get behind the fence on the grassy knoll just seconds after the shots rang out.

J.C. Price, a building engineer for a Dealey Plaza building called the Union Terminal Annex, signed an affidavit on November 22, 1963 that he witnessed a young man dressed in a white dress shirt and khaki pants running behind the wooden fence on the grassy knoll just after Price had heard shots. Price described hearing a volley of shots that seemed to originate at the point where the fence meets the underpass. Price said the man he saw ran "towards the passenger cars on the railroad siding ... " with something in his hand " ... it may have been a head piece." [54] Price would later tell author Mark Lane that he saw a man " ...running very fast ... behind that wooden fence ... " The man "was carrying something in his right hand ... could have been a gun." [55}

James T. Tague stood watching the motorcade at the bridge abutment of the triple underpass. One of the shots hit a concrete curb of the street and threw up debris that cut Tague' s face. A police officer noticed Tague's cut face and "attempted to go in the direction the mark on the curb seemed to indicate the shot had come from ... " telling Tague that he had "seen 'something' there." [56] The source of the shot was determined to have come from the area of the railroad yards with the grassy knoll area between Tague and the yards.

Along with the sound of gunshots, which some witnesses believed emanated from the infamous grassy knoll, several witnesses saw smoke in this area that coincided with the sounds of the shots. [57]

The Double Bang

The Warren Commission's official conclusion concerning the "Number of Shots" states that all the shots were fired from the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building. [58] The Commission stated that a consensus among witnesses at the scene was that three shots were fired, though some heard two shots and others heard four and perhaps as many as five or six shots. [59] It was the Commission's belief that (a) one shot passed through the President's neck and caused all of Governor Connally's wounds, (b) a subsequent shot hit the President's head, (c) no other shot struck any part of theautomobile, and (d) three shots were fired with one missing, though which one missed is unknown. [60] "Two bullets probably caused all the wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally. Since the preponderance of the evidence indicated that three shots were fired, the Commission concluded that one shot probably missed the Presidential limousine and its occupants, and that the three shots were fired in a time period ranging from approximately 4.8 to in excess of seven seconds." [61]

FBI tests for the Warren Commission found that a 6.5 Mannlicher Carcano, bolt-action rifle, Model 91/38 required a minimum of 2.3 seconds to fire two shots. [62] The HSCA made tests in which the telescopic sight was removed to see how fast the rifle could be fired without aiming. Its tests resulted in firings of 1.65, 1.75, and just over two seconds. [63] The only way that the rifle could be fired this quickly was to simply maneuver the bolt action as fast as possible and shoot. The tests were not done with Oswald's Mannlicher Carcano. Whether Oswald's rifle was in a condition where it could be tested is questionable since "the pressure to open the bolt was so great that we tended to move the rifle off the target," according to one of the Warren Commission testers. [64]

If Oswald were the only shooter there would have to be at least 2.3 seconds between shots, assuming he used the telescopic sight found on the Mannlicher Carcano. The three shots that the Warren Commission claimed were fired from Oswald's rifle could not have been shot faster than 6.9 seconds. Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman described the shots as a "flurry." Two of the shots were often described by witnesses as so closely spaced that theyseemed "simultaneous" and had "practically no time element between them." Additionally, there is a substantial amount of testimony, presented in this article, that describes the later shots as sounding different from the first shot. Governor Connally's initial reaction to the gunfire was "that there were either two or three people involved or more in this or someone was shooting with an automatic rifle." [65]

A double sound, or bang, is described by three Secret Service agents. Two of these agents sat within feet of Kennedy as occupants of the limousine. A double shot was reported by one of the witnesses standing on the overpass.

Special Agent William Greer, the limousine driver, testified that "the last two shots seemed to be just simultaneously, one behind the other." [66]

The other Secret Serviceman in the limousine was Roy Kellerman. Agent Kellerman sat next to Greer and was intimately familiar with the sound of weapons. He described the first shot like many others had, as sounding like a firecracker. But the other two shots, which he officially reported as a "flurry," sounded different than the first shot. Asked by Mr. Specter if Kellerman could describe the sound of the flurry of shots by way of distinction of the first shot, Kellerman replied " ... if I recall correctly these were two sharp reports, sir." Did they sound different from the first shot, asked Specter. "Yes. Definitely. Very much so." Kellerman added: " ... "Let me give you an illustration ... You have heard the sound barrier, of a plane breaking the sound barrier, bang, bang? That is it. It was like a doublebang --- bang, bang." [67]

In Warren Commission testimony Special Agent Hickey described "two reports which I thought were shots ... that there seemed to be practically no time element between them." [68]

Clint Hill, the agent who threw himself into the limousine after the shooting, told the Commission that the second noise he heard was different from the first shot " ... like the sound of shooting a revolver into something hard... almost a double sound." [69]

S.M. Holland carefully watched the motorcade from the railroad overpass. He heard four shots with the third and fourth sounding like a "double shot." He thought some of the shots came from behind the fence on the grassy knoll. "Well it would be like you're firing a .38 pistol right beside a shotgun, or a .45 right beside a shotgun... the third shot was not so loud ... the third and fourth shot hit the President." [70]

Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig. "The first shot ... sort of like it reverberated ... well, it was quite a pause between there [the first and second shots] ... It could have been a little longer [than two or three seconds]... " Between the second and third shots there was "no more than two seconds. It was--they were real rapid." [71]

Joe R. Molina. "... Of course, the first shot was fired then there was an interval between the first and second, longer than the second and third." [72]

Seymour Weitzman. "First one, then the second two seemed to be simultaneously." [73]

Ladybird Johnson. " ... suddenly there was a sharp loud report--a shot. It seemed to me to come from the right, above my shoulder, from a building. Then a moment and then two more shots in rapid succession." [74]

Special Agent Forrest V. Sorrels. "There was to me about twice as much time between the first and second shots as there was between the second and third shots." [75]

Congressman Ralph W. Yarborough. "... by my estimate--to me there seemed to be a longer time between the first and second shots, a much shorter time between the second and third shots... after the first shot about three seconds another shot boomed out, and after what I took to be one-half the time between the first and second shots ... the third shot about one and one-half seconds after the second shot ..." [76]

Mayor Earle Cabell. "There was a longer pause between the first and second shots than there was between the second and third shots. They were in rather rapid succession." [77]

Special Agent Sam A. Kinney. "I saw the President lean toward the left and appeared to have grabbed his chest with his right hand. There was a second of pause and then two more shots were heard ... " [78]

Special Agent William A. McIntyre. "The Presidential vehicle was approximately 200 feet from the underpass when the first shot was fired, followed in quick succession by two more. I would estimate that all three shots were fired within five seconds. After the second shot, I looked at the President and witnessed his being struck in the head by the third and last shot." [79]

Special Agent George Hickey (in reference to the second and third shots). "At the moment he was almost sitting erect I heard two reports, which I thought were shots and that appeared to me completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession that there seemed to be practically no time element between them." [80]

Special Agent Warren W. Taylor. "In the instant that my left foot touched the ground, I heard two more bangs and realized that they must be gun shots." [81]

Linda Willis. "Yes, I heard one. Then there was a little bit of time, and then there were two real fast bullets together. When the first one hit, well, the President turned from waving to the people, and he grabbed his throat, and he kind of slumped forward, and then I couldn't tell where the second shot went." [82]

Special Agent Rufus Youngblood. "There seemed to be a longer span of time between the first and the second shot than there was between the second and third shot." [83] " ... from the beginning at the sound of the first shot to the second or third shot, happened with a few seconds." [84]

Robert Jackson. "I would say to me it seemed like three or four seconds between the first and the second, and between the second and third, well, I guess two seconds, they were very close together ... " [85]

Arnold Rowland. "The actual time between the reports I would say now, after having had time to consider the six seconds between the first and second report and two between the second and third." [86]

Luke Mooney. "... The second and third shot was pretty close together, but there was a short lapse there between the first and second shot." [87]

Ms. Mitchell (Mary Ann Mitchell). "... there were three---the second and third being closer together than the first and second ... " [88]

Lee Bowers "I heard three shots. One, then a slight pause, then two very close together ... also reverberation from the shots." [89]

Jean Hill. "There were three shots -- one right after the other, and a distinct pause, or just a moment's pause, and I heard more ... " And concerning the shots that followed the first three Ms. Hill said they were "quicker -- more automatic." [90]

The Dallas Police Department's dictabelt recording became a focal point in the HSCA's conclusion that there was more than one gunman. The recording supposedly documented the sound of four gunshots in Dealey Plaza. [91] Closer analysis of this recording has seriously questioned whether the recording can be considered a valid representation of the sounds in Dealey Plaza during the shooting. [92] Without an audio recording of the shooting, we are left with only the witnesses' recollection of the sounds. Several witnesses testified to the sound of echoes [93]during the shooting, and others described all the shots as being evenly spaced. Recent studies have focused on the acoustical patterns of how gunshots and witness testimony coincide in respect to sniper rifles and silencers that were developed by the CIA. [94] However, the numerous descriptions of the last two shots by so many witnesses leaves doubt as to whether Oswald was physically capable of firing both of the shots that so many characterized as being shot almost simultaneously, if not "automatically."


Deputy Sheriff Craig claimed a .45 calibre slug was found in Dealey Plaza by government authorities. Some researchers believe that FBI agent Buddy Walthers was photographed picking up a .45 calibre shell on the opposite side of the grassy knoll just off Elm street. In August of 1978 the HSCA received a phone call from Charles Rodgers of Lake Dallas, Texas, who was present in Dealey Plaza during the assassination with a friend Mike Nally. Nally's uncle, who was a motorcycle policeman in the motorcade, told his nephew Mike that when the shots were fired he heard a clanging noise on the fender of his motorcycle. When he looked down he saw a .45 caliber slug roll off into the street. The policeman was unable tostop and investigate since he was part of the motorcade that began to speed toward the hospital. Rodgers said that Mike Nally told him that his uncle had instructed them not to mention the story about the .45 calibre slug. The HSCA was unable to locate Mike Nally or even identify the name of Nally's uncle. [95] Dallas policeman Starvis Ellis, who rode a motorcycle 100 to 125 feet in front of the presidential limousine, saw debris come up from the ground at a nearby curb when he looked back toward Kennedy's car. [96]

Anthony Summers, author of Conspiracy, analyzed an FBI report that detailed the finding of a snub-nose .38 calibre pistol in the Dealey Plaza area. "Just when you think the story holds no more factual surprises, it tends to produce one. We now have an FBI report revealing that, at 7:30 on the morning after the assassination, 'A SNUB NOSE THIRTY-EIGHT CALIBER SMITH AND WESSON, SERIAL NUMBER EIGHT NINE THREE TWO SIX FIVE, WITH THE WORD QUOTE ENGLAND UNQUOTE ON THE CYLINDER WAS FOUND...IN A BROWN PAPER SACK IN THE GENERAL AREA OF WHERE THE ASSASSINATION TOOK PLACE.' So a revolver was found near the Book Depository-- 'IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY,' according to other FBI reports. In spite of repeated Freedom of Information requests by California researcher Bill Adams, the FBI has not revealed how its

investigation of the gun was concluded. Whether or not the weapon has any significance, it is a scandal that the public had to wait 30 years to learn that a second gun was found at the scene of the crime." [97] An FBI report (62-109060-638) dated November 29, 1963, marked URGENT, sent to Director and SACS, Dallas, Springfield and Boston reads in part: "BOSTON ADVISED RECORDS OF SMITH AND WESSON INC., SPRINGFIELD, MASS.SHOW THIRTY EIGHT CALIBER REVOLVER, SN EIGHT NINE THREE TWO SIX FIVE WAS SHIPPED JANUARY THIRTEEN, NINETEEN FORTY TWO TO US GOVERNMENT, HARTFORD ORDNANCE ... FOR INFO SPRINGFIELD INSTANT WEAPON FOUND IN PAPER BAG IN IMMEDIATE VICINITY OF ASSASSINATION AREA ... SPRINGFIELD CONTACT ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL RE FURTHER TRACING OF WEAPON." Clearly some kind of investigation began at the end of November 1963 concerning this handgun. The next day, November 30, 1963, Springfield sent a FBI report (62-109060-858) to "Director and SAC, Dallas" that stated, in part, that "ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, ROCK ISLAND, ILLINOIS, ADVISED SA ELYON H. DAVIS THERE IS NO RECORD OF SMITH AND WESSON THIRTYEIGHT CALIBER REVOLVER SN 893265 ... COPIES MAILED BOSTON AND PHILADELPHIA." It is clear that the FBI was investigating the history of the revolver, but there is no record as to what the FBI finally concluded about this mysterious weapon.

Bill Adams has recently published information that the revolver may not have been found in the "immediate vicinity" afterall. An FBI document released in 1978 reported that on 11/23/63 "Patrolman J. Raz brought into the Homicide and Robbery bureau, Dallas PD, a brown paper sack which contained a snub-nosed .38 caliber Smith and Wesson. SN 893265 . . . had been found near the curb at the corner or Ross and Lamar Streets and was turned in by one Willie Flat ... " [98] This location is several blocks north of Dealey Plaza. However, Adams rightly notes that there are several questions still unanswered about this revolver: Who was Willie Flat and who interviewed him? Where is the revolver now? [99]

In 1992 Chauncey M. Holt, an ex-CIA agent and career criminal, claimed he was one of the mysterious tramps that was arrested in a railroad boxcar behind Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. He was in Dallas to deliver fake identification and handguns to unknown clients. The identity of the railroad yard tramps continues to be a source of controversy. Holt claims he is the older of the three tramps arrested the afternoon of the assassination in the railroad yard adjacent to Dealey Plaza. The other two tramps, says Holt, were Charles Harrelson and "Richard Montoya." Harrelson is presently in prison for murdering a judge. "Montoya" was a CIA agent whose real name Holt never knew. Holt's claim has been backed by a forensic artist with the Houston Police Department, Lois Gibson. She believes that the three tramps are indeed Holt, Harrelson, and Charles Rogers. Rogers has been a suspect in the 1965 murder of his parents in Houston. Rogers's possible role in the murder and the assassination was the source of an intense investigation by two Houston investigators. [100] Holt knew Rogers only as Montoya.

Holt claims in April of 1963 he helped set up CIA companies that included a Los Angeles firm, LASSCO, a manufacturer of police badges and security identification. In November of 1963 LASSCO received orders for a dozen identifications that included Secret Service IDs. Holt was told to rush the order to Dallas and deliver the material personally to a Homer Echevarria at the Cabana Motel on Thursday night, but he missed contacting Echevarria and was told (by an unknown source) to leave the identifications and some handguns in the front seat of a pickup truck parked in the railroad parking lot. [101]

A November 30, 1963 FBI memo made public in December of 1995 confirms some of Holt's story. The memo reported that a Secret Service informant knew that Homer Echevarria was involved in an illegal arms sale in Dallas on November 21, 1963, the same date Holt claimed in a 1992 interview that he was to meet Echevarria at the Cabana Motel. Echevarria had told a Secret Service informant that his group had plenty of money to mount an anti-Castro operation. The operation would go ahead "as soon as we take care of Kennedy." [102] The FBI did not pursue this lead.

While in the parking lot behind Dealey Plaza, Holt heard shots and immediately hid in a railroad boxcar where Harrelson and Montoya had sought refuge. They were found by the police around 2 p.m. carrying handguns. Holt claimed he carried a shorty .45 and an L-22, Harrelson an unusual caliber (.41) handgun, and Montoya a .25 automatic. They all carried federal undercover agent identifications and were eventually released from custody, according to Holt, by order of FBI agent Gordon Shanklin. [103] It should be noted that many serious researchers of the assassination remain skeptical of Holt's claims.


Investigative journalists Ray and Mary LaFontaine wrote in a copyrighted story in the Houston Post, February 1992, that they had definitively resolved the "Tramp" controversy. However, in solving this mystery they had uncovered another story concerning guns, Ruby, and Oswald.

Until February 1992 no investigators could find any official police record concerning the arrest of the celebrated tramps. Part of the reason may have been that the records were not released to the public by the Dallas police until 1989. Arrest records of the railyard vagrants went unnoticed until Mary LaFontaine found them in 1992. The arrest forms LaFontaine discovered documented the arrests of Gus W. Abrams, 53; Howard Doyle, 32; and John F. Gedney, 38. They were arrested in the railyards next to Dealey Plaza at 4 p.m., November 22, 1963 for vagrancy and robbery. These men, according to the LaFontaines, were nothing more than what they appeared to be: rail-riding vagabonds.

Along with the three arrest forms was another record of a similar arrest. John Elrod, 31, was arrested in the same railyards where Abrams, Doyle, and Gedney were found. Police had been alerted that a man was seen in the area carrying a rifle. Elrod was arrested and jailed on the fifth floor of the Dallas jail, though he seemed to have nothing to do with the assassination and was not carrying a rifle.

While John Elrod was in the Dallas jail he claims to have had a remarkable conversation with his cellmate concerning Jack Ruby and gun-running. Ruby's involvement in running guns to Cuba has been the subject of many investigators. [104] Though Ruby never admitted gun-running in an official statement, he supposedly told a lawyer and doctor that he worried that people would think he was unpatriotic if they found out about his trips to Cuba " ... and the guns and everything." [105]

According to research done by the LaFontaines, Elrod spent four hours in a cell with Oswald. When another inmate was led through the corridor, Oswald told Elrod that he recognized the man as one of two men in a Thunderbird that was used in a gun-running scheme only a few nights earlier. Oswald recognized the man as one of four men he met in a motel room. Another man in the motel Oswald knew as club-owner Jack Ruby. [106]

The man that Oswald claimed he had met at a motel turned out to be Lawrence R. Miller, who had crashed a car full of stolen weapons from the Texas National Guard armory in Terrell, Texas. The crash occurred on November 19, 1963. Miller's companion, and driver of the Thunderbird, was identified as Donnell D. Whitter, coincidentally Jack Ruby's mechanic.

At the time Miller and Whitter were involved in the gunrunning scheme, ATF agent Frank Ellsworth was committed to a sting operation with a young gun Dallas gunrunner, John T. Masen. Masen was modifying and selling illegal weapons, knew Jack Ruby, was a right-wing Minuteman and funnelled arms to anti-Castro Cubans. He also was one of two Dallas dealers who sold the rare Western Cartridge 6.5 M-C ammunition, the type that Oswald's rifle used. [107]

Masen's activity and associations were investigated by the Warren Commission and kept classified for twelve years. Recently released documents show that the ATF, FBI, and Army Intelligence were aware of Masen's gunrunning. Masen sold guns and information about a military operation involving Cuba during the last week of November 1963. Ellsworth believed that Dallas was the assembly point for the procurement of weapons for the Cubaninvasion. Researcher Carol Hewett speculates that Oswald may have been involved, alone or as a plotter, to protect Castro's Cuba, or he may have been a patsy or a participant of a right-wing domestic assassination plot that would insure success of a second Cuban invasion. [108]

Additional speculation concerning Masen casts him as a middleman for military weapons stolen from Fort Hood, Texas. The guns were then transferred to the anti-Castro Student Revolutionary Directorate (DRE), an operation that was controlled by paymaster Jack Ruby. [109] The Lafontaines assert that the DRE in conjunction with the right-wing Minutemen planned a second invasion of Cuba and JFK's rejection of the plan led to the assassination with the hopes that it would lead to an all-out invasion of Cuba. The DRE turned Oswald into a patsy and when Oswald found out about the assassination plot he notified the FBI, which resulted in the November 17th memo to all SAC from Hoover of "a threat to assassinate President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22 and 23." [110]

Peter Dale Scott believes that the DRE's role in the assassination may be overrated. He cites CIA records that show that the DRE was only sixteen men strong in November of 1963. The DRE purchaser told the FBI that the arms "were to be used for the outfitting of two PT boats, which would be used for hit and run attacks against Cuba." [111] Scott sees the gunrunning schemes the LaFontaines have exposed as a possible "Rosetta Stone for solving the case. As we have seen, the FBI has underlined the sensitivity of this material by withholding some of it on security grounds, even in 1994." [112]

Edward Julius Girnus told Assistant District Attorney James Alcock that he had met with Clay Shaw and Oswald in New Orleans during April 1963 to discuss the purchase of guns. Shaw told Girnus that he knew people who wanted to buy guns. After Shaw made a phone call Oswald and another unknown man entered the office to discuss the deal. [113]

Robert McKeown told the HSCA April 12, 1978 that he had some extraordinary contacts with Oswald and Ruby. At the end of January 1959 Ruby offered McKeown $25,000 for a letter of introduction to Castro, who had just taken power of Cuba only a few days earlier. McKeown told the committee that Ruby wanted " ... to sell Castro a lot of jeeps and slot machines. That is what he said, and he wanted to meet Castro, he wanted to go over there and meet him ... He said he had some friends over there that he would like to help get out if I could help him get them out." McKeown had a visit from Oswald and a man named Hernandez in September of 1963. Oswald offered McKeown $10,000 if he could provide him with four Savage automatic rifles with telescopic sights. Oswald told McKeown that they would be used in a revolution in El Salvador. McKeown had been involved in gun running in Cuba and was convicted in 1958. He told Oswald that he was on probation and was not going to get involved in providing rifles.

Robert Taylor of Irving, Texas told the Warren Commission that two men offered him a rifle in March or April of 1963. The two men were short of cash when they entered Taylor's automobile service station. The car they were driving was in need of repair. One of the men, who Taylor recognized as Oswald, sold Taylor a Springfield rifle, bolt-action 30.06 (s/n66091). Taylor never saw the two men again. [114]

Four 7.35 Mannlichers

CIA contract agent Robert Morrow claimed that while working at Permindex [115] in the early sixties he received a call from David Ferrie from Switzerland. Ferrie had been instructed by CIA contacts to tell Morrow to go to Paris and pick up a packet of papers from an American couple who had recently been traveling in the Soviet Union. They had been given the packet of papers by a CIA agent, a "Harvey of Minsk." Since Oswald was living in Minsk during this time, Morrow firmly believes it was Oswald who was providing information for the CIA. Morrow also recounts a story about Ferrie's associate Eladio del Valle. Del Valle had called Morrow in the early autumn of 1963 and requested four walkie-talkies, low-frequency transceivers that could not be traced. Morrow knew that del Valle had connections with the mafia and various anti-Castro groups. Morrow provided the equipment and believes that one of the radios he furnished can be seen in pictures taken of Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, hanging out of a man's back pocket.

In Morrow's 1992 book First Hand Knowledge, he details many CIA missions in which Ferrie acted as a pilot for several of Morrow's covert operations in Cuba. Ferrie, who had been under surveillance for gun smuggling by Miami custom agents in 1959, also served as an assistant to Morrow when he was instructed by the CIA to purchase weapons in Europe. Morrow claims that his CIA case officer, Tracy Barnes, spoke of many of the Ferrie's New Orleans colleagues as early as June 1961. In 1961 Morrow was instructed to fly to Greece tofacilitate the purchase of Schmeisser and Thompson machine guns stored in a Permindex warehouse. Barnes told Morrow that Clay Shaw, a contract consultant with the CIA, had helped the CIA organize the sale, and his right-hand man, Ferrie, had worked with del Valle and Jack Ruby in the arrangement.

In July of 1963, Morrow, upon instructions from case officer Barnes, purchased four 7.35 Mannlicher rifles from a surplus store in Baltimore. Before passing on the rifles Morrow was directed to alter the forepiece of each rifle so they could be easily dismantled and reassembled quickly. Morrow was then contacted by del Valle and told to deliver the rifles to Ferrie in Baltimore. On August 1, 1963 Morrow delivered the rifles to Ferrie. Ferrie told Morrow that they were to be used in the assassination of Juan Bosh of the Dominican Republic. Morrow believes the guns were involved in the assassination in some manner and told the Church Intelligence Committee of the Senate and the House Assassination Committee the complete story. Morrow writes in First Hand Knowledge that Barnes had described Oswald in 1961 as being a CIA contact who had penetrated Banister's right-wing enclave in New Orleans. Morrow candidly declares that Ferrie was the "brains" behind Shaw and Marcello's various operations, and that Ferrie was the central planner of the assassination.

The Sixth Floor

Howard Brennan told the Warren Commission of seeing a man at a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository with a "high-powered rifle ... resting against the left window sill, with gun shouldered to his right shoulder, holding the gun with his left hand and takingpositive aim and fired his last shot." Brennan's description of what he saw in the sixth-floor window led the Dallas Police Department to broadcast the search for "an unknown white male approximately 30, 165 pounds, slender build, armed with what is thought to be a 30-30 rifle." In a police lineup Brennan would identify Oswald as the man he saw in the window with the rifle. When questioned by the Dallas Police, Brennan was clearly reluctant to identify Oswald in the lineup at the police station; he feared for his family's safety. He told the Warren Commission that he believed the assassination was a "Communist activity." But in Warren Commission testimony when asked if he could identify the man in the window with the man he identified in the police station (Oswald), Brennan stated "I could at that time. I could, with all sincerity, identify him as being the same man." [116]

Fifteen minutes before the motorcade entered Dealey Plaza, Arnold Rowland and his wife witnessed a man and a rifle on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. "I noticed on the sixth floor of the building that there was a man back from the window, not hanging out the window. He was standing and holding a rifle. This appeared to me to be a fairly high-powered rifle because of the scope and the relative proportion of the scope to the rifle, you can tell about what type of rifle it is." [117] The man was holding the rifle in a "port arms" military position, with the barrel at a 45 degree angle downward across his body. [118]

Approximately the same time Mrs. Ruby Henderson saw two men with a rifle on the sixth floor, one with a dark complexion. [119] Seconds before the motorcade entered the plaza, Mrs.Carolyn Walther, standing on the east side of Houston Street, about 50 or 60 feet south of the south curb of Elm Street, noticed two men on an upper floor of the Depository, one of the men was holding a rifle in his hands. She described the rifle as having a short barrel. Neither Mrs. Henderson or Walther were called to testify before the Warren Commission. [120] Both Walters and Richard Carr said they saw a man in a brown or tan coat in one of the upper floors of the Depository just seconds before the shooting. A man matching this description was seen by two witnesses quickly walking out the back door of the Depository just after the shooting. Witnesses with another view of the sixth floor were inmates of the county jail. John Powell saw two men on the sixth floor "fooling with a scope" on a rifle. He noticed that one of the men on the sixth floor had a darker complexion than the other, and said that other inmates saw the same thing and believed that the men were security agents. Powell's story was not known in 1963; he was not interviewed by the Warren Commission. [121] Posner discredits this incident by citing a December 15, 1964 FBI memo that declared Powell unreliable, since he had been arrested on several occasions on lunacy charges. The memo reported that the only area of the jail that had a clear view of the Depository's sixth floor was a corner of the jail that had an iron-mesh grid with windows so dirty that any view would be distorted and almost impossible to see. [122]

The 1996 book The Men on the Sixth Floor creates an interesting perspective to the testimony of the previously mentioned witnesses. [123] Loy Factor, a Chicasaw Indian from the American Midwest, told authors Glen Sample and Mark Collom that he was paid eight thousand dollars to be a part of a team of gunmen stationed on the sixth floor of the Depository. Factor'sfantastic story involves Oswald, a woman who coordinated the shooting with a hand-held radio, a dark-complected man known only as "Wallace," and Factor. Just prior to the shooting Factor claims he entered the back door of the depository and climbed the stairs with the woman to the sixth floor where they found Oswald and Wallace handling a 6.5 Mannlicher Carcano and a scopeless 30.06 rifle. Factor claimed he had a rifle but did no shooting, simply ejected a cartridge while Oswald and Wallace shot from different windows of the sixth floor. As soon as the shooting began Factor and the woman ran downstairs and escaped the area in a car. The authors believe that "Wallace" is the late Malcolm Wallace, an acquaintance of LBJ. The authors also believe that Wallace might be the man in the brown or tan jacket seen exiting the Depository. Madeleine Brown, LBJ's loquacious mistress, told Sample and Collom that she believes Wallace was part of the assassination plot with the full knowledge of Johnson. Wallace, a Dept. of Agriculture economist, had a very shadey past and had allegedly been involved two sensational murders in Texas. Ms. Brown has written in her unpublished book Texas in the Morning, which details her twenty year affair with LBJ, that she attended a party at Clint Murchison's home on November 21, 1963. The guest list included Nixon, H.L. Hunt, and LBJ. A group of these distinguished guests met privately for a short time. LBJ exited the meeting "anxious and red-faced," then whispered to Madeleine Brown in an angry voice, "After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again -- that's no threat -- that's a promise." Months later Ms. Brown claims that Johnson declared to her privately that he had nothing to do with the murder, that it was done by the CIA and "oil people."

Twenty-five year old Ronald B. Fischer had been employed by the Dallas County Auditor's Office as an auditor for five years in the County Records Building adjacent to Dealey Plaza. Approximately ten minutes before the motorcade enter Dealey Plaza Fischer and friend Robert E. Edwards stood on the curb on the southwest corner of Houston and Elm Street. Just seconds before the motorcade turned onto Houston Street Edwards noticed a man in the window of the east corner of the south side of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Fischer told the Warren Commission that the man "held my attention ... because he appeared uncomfortable ... and ... he didn't look like he was watching the parade. He looked like he was looking toward the Trinity River and the triple underpass ... toward the end of Elm Street. I could see from about the middle of his chest past the top of his head ... He seemed to be sitting a little forward ... he had on an open-neck shirt, but it could have been a sport shirt or a T-shirt. It was light in color, probably white, I couldn't tell whether it had long sleeves or whether it was a short-sleeved shirt but it was open-neck and light in color. He had a slender face and neck ... and he had a light complexion ... he was a white man. And he looked to be 22 or 24 years old ... His hair seemed to be neither light nor dark .. well, it was brown ... but as to whether it was light or dark, I can't say. He couldn't have had very long hair because his hair didn't seem to take up much space - of what I could see of his head. His hair must have been short and not long. There were boxes and cases stacked all the way from the bottom to the top and from the left to the right behind him." [124]

Fischer's companion Robert Edwin Edwards was employed by the Dallas County Auditor's Office as a utility clerk in the same office as Fischer. Facing the Book Depository hedescribed seeing "one individual who was up there in the corner of the sixth floor which was crowded in among boxes." His description of the man on the sixth floor was similar to Fischer's: a white man, neither tall nor short, wearing a light-colored, short-sleeved, open-neck shirt, average build (possibly thin), light brown hair. Like Fischer, Edwards did not observe the man's hands and could not say whether he was holding anything. [125]

Harold Norman, a worker in the Texas School Book Depository, watched the motorcade from the fifth floor window directly below the "sniper's nest." Norman's testimony clearly identifies at least one source of gunshots: the sixth floor sniper's nest. As he watched the motorcade drive toward the triple underpass, his head was less than ten feet from the window of the sniper's nest. " ... I heard three shots fired from, I believe, the floor above me ... [126] I heard a shot and several seconds later I heard two more shots. I knew that the shots had come from directly above me, and I could hear the expended cartridges fall to the floor. I could also hear the bolt-action rifle ... " [127]

Robert Jackson, a Dallas Times Herald photographer, rode in the motorcade with four other reporters. He saw Harold Norman jutting his head out the fifth floor window straining to see above him. Jackson looked above Norman to see half of a rifle slowly being drawn back into the building. [128] From in front of the Depository James Worrell looked into the sniper's window just after the first shot. He saw "the rifle, about six inches of it ... what you might call a little flash of fire and then smoke." [129] The rifle was pointing at the motorcade.


Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle has been reported to have been found on the sixth floor and a lower floor of the Depository.

A 7.65 Mauser was reported by several investigating authorities, including Dallas Police officers, to have been found on the sixth floor.

An FBI envelope dated 12/2/63 was released in 1995 with a label declaring the contents as a 7.65 rifle shell found in Dealey Plaza. The CIA produced a document stating that the rifle involved in the crime was a Mauser.

A Johnson 30.06 rifle may have been found in Dealey Plaza soon after the shooting and several people known to be associated with the weapon were questioned by the FBI. A man who declared he was part of the plot saw at least one 30.06, scopeless rifle on the sixth floor. Either a Mannlicher-Carcano or a Mauser was found abandoned in an Indiana hotel on November 25, 1963 by a man who may have had associations with Communist organizations and Oswald.

An unknown rifle with no scope, no sling, and considerably longer barrel than Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano was filmed being taken from the roof of the Depository.

Two eyewitnesses saw men with rifles behind the fence on the grassy knoll and oneeyewitness saw a man running behind the fence on the grassy knoll with what may have been a handgun. One witness saw men with rifles or shotguns on the Triple Overpass the morning of the 22nd. Two witnesses saw bullets hit the ground that appeared to have been fired from the area of the grassy knoll.

A .38 calibre pistol in a paper bag, initially believed to be found in Dealey Plaza, was actually found somewhere several blocks from Dealey Plaza on the morning of November 23, 1963. Though the FBI investigated this handgun, no report on the conclusion of the investigation has ever been made public. Handguns were allegedly deposited in a vehicle within a few hundred feet of the shooting just hours before the shooting. Several witnesses of the shooting thought they heard a pistol fired. A man who claims he was one of the "tramps" says that he and the other two tramps were in possession of handguns when they were apprehended by police in the railyard behind Dealey Plaza.

Numerous witnesses to the shooting heard gunshots that were spaced so closely, and sounded different from each other, that it is questionable whether all the shooting could have been done by Oswald's bolt-action rifle.

Another FBI report, released in December of 1995, describes a possible illegal arms sale that was planned in Dallas on November 21, 1963 by a Cuban activist whose organization wished to mount an anti-Castro operation, an operation that would go ahead "as soon as we take care of Kennedy."

Dallas jail inmate Jack Elrod claimed that Oswald told him of having knowledge of a gun-running scheme that involved Jack Ruby. Many men, with a direct or peripheral involvement in the assassination, were allegedly involved in gunrunning: Oswald, Ruby, Masen, Shaw, Ferrie.

A CIA contract employee believes that four 7.35 Mannlicher rifles, he purchased and altered for David Ferrie, were used in the assassination.

Several witnesses in Dealey Plaza saw a man, or men, with a rifle on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Converted by Andrew Scriven

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