Dealey Plaza has changed a bit since 1963. The famous Stemmons Freeway sign is gone, and the Hertz car rental sign is gone from atop the Depository. Some of the train tracks over the Triple Underpass have been replaced with electrified commuter rail tracks, and the parking lot behind the Stockade Fence is now paved. A plaque now defaces the grass between the Pergola and Elm Street. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same place, The Place.
This high resolution CAD rendering of Dealey Plaza shows the salient features of the Plaza, which was a WPA project at the edge of Dallas' downtown. Done by Paul Burke, it is included here by permission.
They don't look sinister in the photos: the three hobos arrested in a train yard near Dealey Plaza in the wake of the assassination. But if you have a very active imagination, and if you are quite convinced that there must have been sinister goings-on in and around Dealey Plaza, the tramps can look very suspicious indeed. But in reality, there is no longer any mystery surrounding the three men.
One of the ongoing mysteries of Dealey Plaza is the origin of the fragment that hit James Tague. Three graphics images, all rendered Autocad drawings, test two scenarios. First is Posner's theory that a shot at about Zapruder frame 160 was deflected off a branch of the Live Oak in front of the Depository and hit the curb in front of Tague. The other theory is that a fragment of the head shot hit Tague. TAGUE1.GIF, TAGUE2.GIF, and TAGUE3.GIF show the trajectories involved.
TAGUE4.GIF deals with the same issue, but this time the drawing is from conspiracy author Josiah Thompson. The diagram, drawn on a map of Dealey Plaza, shows the path a fragment from the head shot would have to have taken to hit Tague. Warning: this file is extremely large for screen viewing, and you may prefer to download it and print it.
Tague's own testimony is interesting — although not capable of resolving all the issues his wounding raises. Bill Goggins interviewed Tague in 1997, and discusses his recent testimony and Warren Commission statements in "James Tague: Unintended Victim in Dealey Plaza." Goggins debunks one minor, but widely cited, error regarding Tague's wounding.
A lead smear on the Main Street curb near where Tague was standing may — or may not — have something to do with the shooting.
Can a shot that hits someone in the head from behind cause the head to go backwards? Physicist Luis Alvarez suggested that a "jet effect" with brain matter ejected from the front of the skull might produce this result. He showed it was possible using melons to simulate human skulls. Dr. John Lattimer reproduced Alvarez' results with human skulls, and with a rifle and ammunition identical to those Oswald used. The video clip at the right is from the 1988 NOVA documentary, with Walter Cronkite narrating.
Experts in forensics and wound ballistics are not impressed with the idea that a bullet from the Grassy Knoll could have driven Kennedy's head back and to the left. That's just not the way it works. Here are two essays dealing with this issue from researcher Joel Grant:
Cyril Wecht is a forensic pathologist who believes that Kennedy's "back and to the left" motion indicates a shot from the Grassy Knoll. But when called as a expert witness in the Menendez retrial, he insisted that simple Newtonian physics isn't much use in determining how people will react to a shot.
It's supposed to prove that Kennedy was hit in the head by a shot from the Grassy Knoll. You know, the movement of his head back and to the left in the Zapruder film. But in fact, it's perfectly possible for an object hit by a bullet to move in the direction from which the bullet came. Richard Trott demonstrates this by shooting melons. This "jet effect" phenomenon was first suggested, and experimentally demonstrated by physicist Luis Alvarez. Trott shows that the average citizen with a rifle can recreate the effect.
And we have a scholarly article in the International Journal of Legal Medicine (Volume 109, Number 23) titled "On the physics of momentum in ballistics: Can the human body be displaced or knocked down by a small arms projectile?" It says:
Shooting incidents are often portrayed as resulting in a sometimes violent backwards displacement of the victim. This opinion is also not infrequently held by expert witnesses. The physical force responsible for this would be momentum (mass x velocity). The physics of momentum in ballistic injury is explained in detail. The maximum momentum transferred from different small arms projectiles including large calibre rifles and a 12-gauge shotgun only results in a backwards motion of a 80 kg target body of 0.01–0.18 m/s, which is negligible compared to the velocity of a pedestrian (1–2 m/s). Furthermore, counterbalance is constantly maintained by neurophysiological reflexes. So the effect of the momentum transferred from the missile is virtually zero and there is no backwards motion of the person shot. Empirical evidence verifying these calculations can be obtained from hunting big game, from human gunshot victims and from a video documentary demonstrating the lack of any backwards motion of a person wearing body armour after hits from a centre fire rifle. So the alleged backwards hurling of a person shot is nothing but a myth which should be refuted not only because it is incorrect but also because it can result in miscarriages of justice.A more recent work on the issue comes from Nicholas R. Nalli, who outlines (with all the science in place) how a shot from behind hit Kennedy in his head, forcing it forward a bit, and then a slightly delayed neuromuscular reaction threw him back, and then to the left.
The TV show "Mythbusters" addressed this issue, not in the context of the assassination, but in the context of cheesy Hollywood stunts. Their finding: even a .50 caliber high-velocity bullet from a sniper's rifle cannot throw a human figure back more than a couple of inches.
Some basic data: a .50 caliber sniper's rifle fires BMG (Browning Machine Gun) rounds (right, above) that weigh over 600 grains with a muzzle velocity of around 3,000 feet per second. A typical hunting or sniper's rifle in 1963 fired a cartridge weighing between at most 220 grains, with a similar muzzle velocity.
You can see the segment "Blown Away" here.
Another explanation for Kennedy's backward jerk after the head shot is a neuromuscular spasm. The House Select Committee decided that this was the key factor after watching an experiment where a goat was shot in the head. The slow motion video they saw is to the left.
In this they followed the Rockefeller Commission, which reported:
Drs. Spitz, Lindenberg and Hodges reported that such a motion could be caused by violent straightening and stiffening of the entire body us a result of a seizure-like neuromuscular reaction to major damage inflicted to nerve centers in the brain.
Dr. Olivier reported that experiments which have been conducted at Edgewood Arsenal disclosed that goats shot through the brain evidenced just such a violent neuromuscular reaction. There was a convulsive stiffening and extension of their legs to front and rear commencing forty milliseconds (1/25 of a second) after the bullet entered the brain. In the past two decades Dr. 0livier and his associates have conducted extensive tests on the effects of high velocity bullets fired into live animals, using high speed photography to record the results.
Conspiracy buffs are keen to believe any story about extra shooters, extra bullets, or extra weapons around Dealey Plaza. Just where do you end up if you believe them all? An essay by Mike Griffith, from his web site, provides a nice compilation of all the "evidence" of additional shooters. Ask yourself: if all this evidence is valid, just how many assassins were blasting away at Kennedy from different directions using different weapons and different ammunition types? The question that follows is: if the vast majority of this stuff is necessarily bogus, isn't it quite possible that all of it is?
FBI weapons expert Robert Frazier got off three accurate shots with Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in 4.5 seconds — recycling the mechanism and reaiming the rifle twice. In this hilarious sequence — from the 1988 NOVA documentary — conspiracy author Josiah Thompson cites Frazier's results, and proceeds to cycle the mechanism of the rifle in 1.83 seconds, all the while explaining that it can't be done in under 2.3 seconds.
The "extra weapon" story that was all the rage in 1994/95 involved a revolver supposedly discovered "in the immediate vicinity" of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Anthony Summers used this in his December 1994 Vanity Fair article, for example. Researcher Bill Adams got to the bottom of this story in this article, from his Truth is Redacted web site. Adams laments:
It is amazing how fast a "new discovery" or the "re-discovery" of assassination information gets
spread through the researcher community. It is also very disappointing to see how a story "gets
better" each time it is told and passed on.
Abraham Zapruder took the most famous piece of amateur motion picture film in history. His film does not show the back of Kennedy's head exploding, but rather the top, right, and front. Of course, some conspiratorialists claim the Zapruder film has been tampered with. Below is a video frame, from WFAA-TV, of Zapruder's interview with Jay Watson. He here shows where he saw Kennedy's head explode.
Roger Craig is the guy featured in lots of conspiracy books. You remember: he saw Oswald run from the School Book Depository and get in a Rambler on Elm Street, supposedly belonging to Mrs. Paine, a few minutes after the assassination. He saw lots of other suspicious stuff too. Was it really a Rambler? Was it really Mrs. Paine's? Did a photo really show up years later to vindicate Craig? Check out this detailed analysis of his testimony.
Seymour Weitzman, the officer who first saw Oswald's rifle behind some boxes on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, said it was a Mauser, and several other officers repeated this statement. Before the Warren Commission, Weitzman said that "in a glance" the gun looked like a Mauser. This photo, taken from Six Seconds in Dallas, shows Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano beside a Mauser. So you be the judge: could someone "in a glance" mistake one rifle for the other? (Warning: this is a very large image. You may wish to download and print, rather than view it.)
Regardless of what any witness said, WFAA-TV cameraman Tom Alyea was on the sixth floor of the Depository photographing the recovery of the rifle. Here is one frame from his 16 mm. film, and here is another. The rifle in the film is not merely a Mannlicher-Carcano, a distinctive mark on the gun identifies it as Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano. The same gun in the backyard photos, and the same gun that sits to this day in the National Archives.
Among the Dealey Plaza witnesses, Marilyn Sitzman was superbly positioned to see what was going on. Standing on the same pedestal with Abraham Zapruder (and helping steady him), she was only a few yards from the supposed position of the Grassy Knoll shooter. She saw Kennedy hit in the head, and she turned to look in the direction of the Stockade Fence after the head shot. Although she did not testify before the Warren Commission, author Josiah Thompson interviewed her. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Mercer's story, featured in the movie "JFK" involves seeing Jack Ruby at the wheel of a pickup truck near the Triple Underpass just a couple of hours before the assassination. She claimed another man took a gun case from the back of the pickup and walked up a grassy incline toward the Grassy Knoll. Did that really happened?
Jean Hill is the woman in the red raincoat, plainly visible in the movies and still photos of Dealey Plaza. She has always had interesting stories to tell, from seeing a little dog in the limo between Jack and Jackie Kennedy, to her current claim to have seen a Grassy Knoll shooter in the act of shooting. How consistent has her testimony been? How does it accord with other evidence?
Tom Tilson tells of seeing a man scrambling down the bank behind the Grassy Knoll on the west side of the Triple Underpass immediately following the assassination, putting an object (a rifle?) in a car, and driving off. Might this be the Grassy Knoll shooter? Or might Tom Tilson be telling tall tales? Peter Whitmey examines the credibility of Tilson in this article, reprinted from Back Channels.
You can see Phil Willis in the conspiracy videos claiming that the back of Kennedy's head was blown out. He even puts his hand on the back of his head to show where he supposedly saw Kennedy's head explode. His Warren Commission testimony is a bit different.
Jackie Kennedy is widely quoted in assassination books as a witness who claimed to have seen a wound on the back of Kennedy's head. Here is her account of the terror of Dealey Plaza, as told to Theodore White. It provides an interesting supplement to her Warren Commission testimony.
Secret Service Agent Rufus W. Youngblood was in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination, protecting Vice President Johnson. In 1992 Gary Goettling, a writer for the alumni magazine of Georgia Tech, interviewed him. The assassination related portions of the resulting article, "Eyewitness to the Death of a President", are now available.
On the 35th Anniversary of the assassination, the Texas Monthly interviewed several key witnesses, and published the unedited transcripts on their web site. The witnesses are Bill and Gayle Newman, Pierce Allman, Bobby Hargis, Rosemary Willis Roach, James Leavelle, Waggoner Carr, Nellie Connally, and Red Duke. Interesting material indeed, although 35 year old testimony can't be as reliable as contemporaneous testimony.
Ed Hoffman is a deaf mute who was on the Stemmons Freeway onramp at the time of the shooting. He now claims to have seen two men behind the Stockade Fence, one firing a shot at Kennedy and another disassembling the gun. FBI documents from the 1960s don't show him mentioning any shooter. Is this an FBI "coverup," miscommunication, or yet another witness who has changed his story? See Ed Hoffman: Did He See a Grassy Knoll Shooter?
Gordon Arnold, a key figure in the often broadcast documentary "The Men Who Killed Kennedy," claimed to have been on the Grassy Knoll during the shooting, to have heard a shot whiz past his left ear, and to have been confronted by a man who confiscated his camera. Is he credible, or just another teller of tall tales?
Another "new view" of the Zapruder film is made possible of a new video version, made from high-resolution scans and including the area between the sprocket holes. Now, the Zapruder film is history's greatest Rorschach test. People see all kinds of things in it, many of them downright wacky. But careful study really does yield insights about the assassination, as this essay by Steve Barber shows.
The history of the Zapruder film, as well as a discussion of what it shows about John Kennedy's wounds and reactions, can be found in this essay by Jerry Organ.
But watch this segment closely, and you'll see something interesting:
Recent media attention has been focused on a film shot in Dealey Plaza, at the time of the assassination, by Patsy Paschall. Does the film show evidence of a shooter on the Grassy Knoll? Dallas researcher Greg Jaynes, in this essay, gives a thorough rundown of the film's content.
The standard conspiracy position — that the "Secret Service man" was a conspirator — is expressed in this essay by Michael T. Griffith. Written in response to Mills essay (above), it's on the JFK Lancer web site.
A less conspiratorial view of Officer Smith's encounter with the "Secret Service man" is given by the House Select Committee, and by author Gerald Posner. There was, it seems, plenty of room for simple mistaken identity.
That's what the House Select Committee on Assassinations claimed, based on impulses on a Dallas Police Dictabelt tape. Supposedly, one set of "impulses" showed a shot from the Grassy Knoll.
But this supposedly "scientific" evidence of conspiracy didn't survive the scrutiny of the best scientists, who gathered under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, and declared the acoustic analysis to be bad science. And it also didn't survive the scrutiny of an amateur but highly perceptive researcher named Steve Barber, who discovered something about the Dictabelt that the House Committee's high-priced consultants had not noticed. It's a story about the misuse of science, and of the taxpayers' money.
It's a staple of conspiracy books: the story of a .45 caliber slug that was supposedly recovered by a mysterious government agent from the grass on the south side of Elm Street. Supposedly, this discovery and suppression of evidence is recorded in photos of the scene. As usual, the reality is a lot less sinister.
Was this fellow, standing in Dealey Plaza with an open umbrella and no rain in sight part of some conspiracy? The House Select Committee on Assassinations located the Umbrella Man — a fellow named Louis Witt who was engaged in a somewhat obscure form of political protest. Here are two graphics, one showing Louis Witt's umbrella being opened before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, to the general merriment of all assembled. The second shows the Umbrella Man's umbrella in the Zapruder film in Dealey Plaza. Both of these images are video captures from the NOVA documentary. Here is the first one, and here is the second. Some conspiratorialists claim that the umbrellas are different, having a different number of spokes. Decide for yourself.
What was the point of the umbrella in Dealey Plaza? Apparently it was an attempt to heckle Kennedy with a reminder of the appeasement policies of British Prime Minister Nevill Chamberlain, whose weak posture toward Hitler was supported by Kennedy's father. Sounds pretty obscure to us today. But this 1930s British cartoon links the umbrella (Chamberlain's trademark) with weakness toward Nazism.
One of the more bizarre theories about The Umbrella man comes from Robert Cutler. Cutler claimed that the umbrella was a weapon firing a flechette (poisoned dart) that hit Kennedy in the throat, paralyzing Kennedy to set him up for the head shot. Here is Cutler's drawing of this concept.
Conspiracy-oriented author Vince Palamara provides an extensive list of sources that show that Kennedy's limo slowed or stopped after the shooting started on Elm Street. Does this indicate Zapruder film fakery, Secret Service involvement in a plot, or poor performance on the part of driver William Greer? Read it, and decide.