Was Oswald in the Doorway of the Depository at the time of the JFK Assassination?

By Magen Knuth

For a brief while, it looked like an air-tight alibi for Oswald.

Just a few seconds after the first shot at President Kennedy was fired, James Altgens of the Associated Press snapped a photograph of the President on Elm Street with the Texas School Book Depository in the background. The photo shows a man who looks uncannily similar to Oswald standing in the doorway. The New York Herald Tribune on May 24, 1964, publicized the claim of researcher Jones Harris that the man indeed was Oswald.

The Herald Tribune was not some supermarket tabloid, but rather a widely respected newspaper. Further, the "Oswald figure" had been noticed and investigated even before the article appeared, so the Commission devoted considerable attention to the claim. They quickly identified Billy Nolan Lovelady as the man in the doorway, and questioned several people about the whereabouts of themselves and Lovelady as the motorcade passed. William Shelley (6H328, CE 1381 pp. 84), Sarah Stanton (CE 1381 pp. 89), Wesley Frazier (2H233-4, 22H 647), Billy Lovelady (6H338-9, CE 1381 pp. 62), and Danny Arce (6H365, 367) all testified and/or signed an affidavit stating Lovelady was standing outside the Depository doors as the motorcade passed (1). Harold Norman (3H189) and James Jarman, Jr. (3H202) testified they saw Lovelady in the doorway minutes before the motorcade passed and they left to watch from the fifth floor of the Depository. Frazier (2H242), Arce (3H367), and Mrs. Donald Baker (7H515) all identified Lovelady as the "Oswald" look-alike in the photograph. Lovelady, of course, identified himself (6H339, Commission Document 457 pp. 2, 4-5). Frazier states that he does not see himself in the photo because he was farther back than Lovelady and thus in the black area of the photograph (2H242). The other people with whom Lovelady was standing, Shelley and Stanton, were also farther back than him and so are also not shown in the picture. This is why Lovelady appears to be standing alone.

On the basis of all this evidence, the Commission concluded that the man was Lovelady, not Oswald (WCR, pp. 147-149). This should have settled the issue forever, but alas in this case issues are rarely ever "settled." The issue was revived, not due to some research done by conspiracists, but rather because of an FBI mistake.

In a report to the Warren Commission on the man in the doorway, the FBI stated:

On February 29, 1964, Billy Nolan Lovelady was photographed by Special Agents of the FBI at Dallas, Texas. On this occasion, Lovelady advised that on the day of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963, at the time of the assassination, and shortly before, he was standing in the doorway of the front entrance to the TSBD where he is employed. He stated he was wearing a red and white vertical striped shirt and blue-jeans (CD 457, pp. 4-5).
The FBI photos show Lovelady in a red and white vertical striped, short sleeved shirt, but the man in the doorway is clearly wearing a long-sleeved, checkered shirt. The Commission never checked the two photographs but simply believed Lovelady when he told the FBI he was in the doorway. This FBI report, along with the photographs of Lovelady, only fed the controversy.

Jerry Organ

The controversy shouldn't have lasted for long. In 1967 Josiah Thompson published the best-selling book Six Seconds in Dallas. He discussed the controversy over the man in the doorway, and took note of the Warren Commission testimony and the FBI report. On the issue of why Lovelady was photographed by the FBI on February 29, 1964 wearing a red-and-white vertical-striped shirt with short sleeves while the man in the doorway was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, Thompson noted that Lovelady told CBS News "Well, when the FBI took me in the shirt, I told them it wasn't the same shirt [worn on the day of the assassination]." Thompson added that "The shirt Lovelady now claims to have worn on November 22 is long-sleeved and patterned in large squares" (pp. 225-227).

At that point, the issue should have been solved, but in typical fashion, conspiracy authors simply ignored inconvenient evidence. Gary Shaw, in his 1976 book, Cover-Up, claimed that the question of who was in the doorway had not been adequately answered. He wrote, "we believe the identity of the man in the doorway is still open to question. There is as much, if not more, evidence to indicate that the accused assassin was exactly where he said he was — on the first floor of the Depository"(p. 42). Shaw also claimed that no one on the Commission ever saw Lovelady and there is no published photo of Lovelady in the Commission's exhibits or documents.

Also in the 1970s, the LA Free Press and Argosy published the claim, using blown up photos to show the resemblance.

Jerry Organ

The House Select Committee on Assassinations felt that this issue needed more investigation. They took a two-pronged approach. The HSCA first had its photographic evidence panel examine CE 203 and 369, photos of Oswald, and of Lovelady. They used the tools of forensic anthropology, by which the metric and morphological characteristics of the human face can be analyzed. Going far beyond the causal and subjective "looks like" kind of analysis, they used the Penrose distance statistic to show that the man in the doorway had features very different from Oswald's. Based on the analysis of the photographic evidence panel, "the committee concluded that it was highly improbable that the man in the doorway was Oswald and highly probable that he was Lovelady" (The Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, pp. 58).

The other approach was that of Robert Groden, who had a good knowledge of all the photographic evidence in the case. Groden analyzed three films — the John Martin film, the Robert Hughes film, and the Mark Bell film. These films showed a man in the doorway, wearing a shirt identical in appearance to the shirt on the man in the Altgens photo. But these films showed that the man wasn't Oswald, but rather was Lovelady.

Indeed, Groden contacted Lovelady, asked him to don the shirt he had worn on November 22, 1963, and photographed him in it. The shirt, of course, was entirely consistent with all the photos from the day of the assassination (Robert Groden, The Killing of a President, pp. 186-187).

"The committee concluded that it was highly improbable that the man in the doorway was Oswald and highly probable that he was Lovelady."

Groden, a man responsible for many silly conspiracy factoids, had in fact scored a solid research coup.

As of today, most conspiracy theorists will admit that the man in the doorway was Billy Lovelady. Even Jim Marrs states in his book Crossfire that "most researchers today are ready to concede that the man may have been Lovelady" (p. 46).

May have been?

Yet, some conspiracy theorists still cling to this factoid. The web site Best of Kennedy Assassination Links shows the picture of "Oswald" in the doorway next to a photo of Oswald and asserts "the man in the doorway was in fact Lee Harvey Oswald."

Professor James Fetzer's edited book Murder in Dealey Plaza claims the following:

A man many people think strongly resembles Lee Harvey Oswald is pictured standing in the front entrance of the Book Depository Building. If it is, in fact, Oswald, he could not have been on the sixth floor of the building when the shots were fired. The Warren Commission will discount any possibility that the figure is Oswald, and instead identifies the man as Billy Nolan Lovelady, another building employee. The man in the photo is wearing a dark, heavy-textured shirt open halfway to the waist over a white undershirt. Lovelady later tells reporters that he was wearing a red-and-white-striped sport shirt that day. The identity of the man in the photo has never been clearly established. (pp. 34-35)
The most bizarre thing about all this is that Oswald himself admitted to being inside the building. He told the officers who interrogated him that he was in the first floor lunchroom eating his lunch at the time of the shooting. Then there is the following exchange with reporters in the hallway of the Dallas Police Department:
Reporter: Did you shoot the President?

Oswald: I work in that building.

Reporter: Were you in that building at the time?

Oswald: Naturally if I work in that building, yes sir.

(Source: Video "The Men Who Killed Kennedy," Reel 4, "The Patsy")

Thus we have conspiracists claiming an alibi for Oswald that flatly contradicts his own statements. Not to speak of contradicting all the evidence.

1. The site, the "Best of Kennedy Assassination Links," claims that Shelly testified that Lovelady was sitting on the steps. The page cites Shelley's Warren Commission testimony, in which, Shelley does not say Lovelady was sitting. Gary Shaw in his book Cover-Up also claims that Shelley said Lovelady was sitting. He sites the source Commission Document 1347 page 120. This source discusses a threat on the President's life that was not connected with the assassination. The real source for Shelley's statement is Commission Exhibit 1381 page 84. Shelley signed the affidavit which states, "At the time President John F. Kennedy was shot I was standing at this same place [in front of the depository]. Billy N. Lovelady who works under my supervision on the Texas School Book Depository was seated on the entrance steps just in front of me." It may well be that Shelley did not intend for it to sound as though Lovelady was sitting on the steps as the motorcade passed, but either way, his affidavit is reconciled by the testimony of other witnesses and the photograph.

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