Is Tom Tilson a Credible Witness?

By Peter R. Whitmey

Reprinted from the Fall/Winter 1993-94 issue of Back Channels by permission of the author.

You won't find any reference to Dallas Police patrolman Tom G. Tilson, Jr. in the Warren Commission volumes, despite the fact that he allegedly provided important information to the homicide squad of the Dallas Police on November 22, 1963. Tilson did come forward in August of 1978, however. and was interviewed by a staff member of the HSCA (House Select Committee on Assassinations). A brief summary of his account was included in the 1980 book Conspiracy by Anthony Summers (who mistakenly referred to him as "John Tilson") and a lengthier description of him appears in the 1989 book Crossfire by Jim Marrs. Tilson also appeared as a witness for the defense in the mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald originally broadcast on Spotlight, and later on A. & E. Tilson even made an appearance along with his friend Madeleine Brown at the "open bar" gathering that took place prior to the first annual Assassination Symposium on John F. Kennedy (ASK) held at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Dallas in November 1991 (looking amazingly like Lyndon Johnson).

Tilson has claimed for the last fourteen years (and possibly longer) that on November 22, 1963 he was driving towards Dealey Plaza on Commerce Street with one of his daughters seated beside him just as the motorcade came through the triple underpass. He had already heard on his police radio of the shooting and as he approached the area immediately to the west of the railroad tracks, Tilson spotted a man sliding down the steep bank on the north side of Elm Street. He noticed the man throw something into a dark-colored car on the driver's side, then get in and immediately drive quickly away towards Industrial Boulevard several blocks west of the assassination site.

Even though Tilson was not on duty that day, he instinctively turned around on Commerce and followed the man, who was heading in the direction of Ft. Worth. Although he managed to approach the car close enough to get a good look at the driver, whom he described as matching the physical features of Jack Ruby. He did not attempt to force the driver off the road, but instead he had his daughter, Dinah, write down the license number, make, and model on a slip of paper (to this day he can not recall what kind of car the man was driving, however). Once he reached his home, he gave the information to someone in the homicide department of the Dallas Police, which he described in his 1978 testimony as being elitist, resenting "...any encroachment on its authority." He never heard back from the Department again, and after holding onto the slip of paper for ten years, finally discarded it, around the time of his wife's death.

In order to possibly learn more about Tilson's alleged experience, I wrote to him in January of 1991, and after not receiving a reply, phoned several months later. Initially, I found him to be quite credible, learning, for instance, that he would have definitely forced the driver to pull over had his daughter not been in the car. He also mentioned that they were heading for Dealey Plaza to pick up another daughter who was watching the motorcade; he even recalled seeing LBJ's car go by as he approached the triple underpass. Although he could not remember what kind of car he had followed, he indicated that it was a middle-sized sedan and black in color, with no noticeable features such as fins. Naturally, I was interested in speaking to his daughter (whose married name is referred to by Jim Marrs), but was told by Tilson that she refused to discuss the subject. He also mentioned being advised not to answer any questions posed in writing, in that he had been "burned" by a writer from Chicago some years ago.

Unfortunately for Tilson's story, photographer Mel McIntire was on the west side of the Triple Underpass, photographing the motorcade as it passed. The first of his photos, taken just as the presidential limo emerged from under the Underpass, shows thirteen spectators on the north side of Elm Street, and three more on the south side. The figure Tilson claimed to see would have been in plain view of all of these witnesses. Even worse, McIntire's second photo, with the Secret Service followup car in the foreground, shows a broad expanse of grass north of Elm Street and west of the Underpass. The automobile that the supposed shooter got into would be visible in this photo -- if such an automobile actually existed.

In November of 1991, I finally visited Dallas for the first time, attending the symposium not far from Dealey Plaza. In the course of walking around the assassination site numerous times, I became aware of the fact that the area adjacent to the railroad tracks to the west is not paved as one might expect but, in fact, is a fairly large, flat lawn.

Given that film footage shows people on the sidewalk beside Elm Street west of the triple underpass, it seems hard to believe that only Tilson saw a car parked near the bank in the middle of the lawn. It Is also likely that the lawn would have been wet from the morning rain, and therefore, a car would leave tire tracks, especially if it sped away at a high rate of speed. Finally, it is very likely that those people standing on the sidewalk, still waving at the President, would be aware of a car driving over the lawn and onto the street.

While in Dallas I spoke to Tilson from my hotel room, indicating to him my surprise that he was not included on the panel of witnesses at the symposium. He seemed quite disappointed that he had not been invited, nor had he been contacted by Oliver Stone's research team headed by Jane Rusconi earlier that year. I also learned from Tilson that his daughter, Dinah, had not been as young as I had imagined in 1963, and, in fact, was 18 years old. For reasons he did not go into, I learned that she had not spoken to her father for many years. He mentioned that he had been going out with Madelene Brown (L.B.J.'s alleged mistress) since meeting her on a talk show, and seemed, in general, to be enjoying the media attention he was receiving.

When I arrived home I wrote a one-page letter to Tom dated Nov. 29, 1991, outlining the reasons why I had come to the conclusion that his allegations were nothing more than a hoax, and indicated in a postscript having sent a photocopy to Jim Marrs, who appears to have no doubts as to his credibility. As of this date (September 21, 1993), I have not heard back from either Tilson or Marrs.

I believe it is important that all allegations made regarding the assassination of President Kennedy be thoroughly checked out and scrutinized, particularly when it applies to individuals who did not visibly come forward immediately following the tragedy in Dallas.

Peter R. Whitmey is a teacher and freelance writer living in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada.

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