Friday, July 29, 2016
For reasons that I can't explain, I recently got very interested in the JFK assassination. I have always known the basic story, but one day I was home from work, sick, in bed, and picked up my iPad and was watching random videos. The infamous Zapruder film showed up on the list of related videos at one point, and I watched it. Then, I started watching more videos. And more videos. And still more videos.
Over the course of several months, I've managed to watch literally tens of hours of interviews, documentaries, and accounts of the assassination. And I just wanted to share some thoughts about it all.
It's been 50 years, and people have all kinds of ideas, some crazy conspiracy theories, and if course there are some reasonable facts intertwined in all of it. In watching as much as I did, I came to realize there are some .... Shall we say oddities or inconsistencies that made it compelling. And I wanted to throw them out there.
The story of the assassination
But before I get to that let me remind you of the general story. Kennedy was in the 3rd year of his presidency, and was thinking about re-election; he visited Dallas and had several things planned for a visit, but one key thing was that he was trying to secure Texas' electoral votes, and to generally calm a feud among democrats that extended between many people, particularly in Texas. There's a side story here that his VP (Lyndon Johnson) was loved in Texas, but the two weren't exactly friends, and Kennedy was possibly angling to change VPs for a second term. Whether he was or not is debatable, but it's clear there were hard feelings between them. In short, Kennedy planned two stops in Texas to try and use his charisma to unify everyone in the party.
It's November 22nd, 1963, and Kennedy's motorcade heads through part of town, near the Dealy plaza. A couple of shots are fired, and Kennedy slumps over in his seat. The motorcade speeds off to a Dallas hospital where he is pronounced dead with a gunshot wound to the head. His body is flown back to DC, and the autopsy is performed by a navy Doctor.
Johnson is also in Dallas, in fact, he's riding in a car behind Kennedy. After Kennedy is pronounced dead, LBJ is quickly sworn in as president, right aboard Air Force one, just before leaving. It's surreal as Jackie Kennedy is standing there watching, still in her blood splattered outfit.
Shortly after the assassination, the Dallas police conclude that someone fired the shots from the 6th floor of the Dallas school book repository, using a rifle. The repository is along the route that Kennedy took, so the argument is reasonable.
Police find a man named Lee Harvey Oswald who they connect to having been in the building, but before he can be questioned, he is killed while being transferred to a jail, by a man named Jack Ruby. How he got near enough, and why he murdered Oswald remain mostly a mystery.
Back in DC, congress convenes a committee to look into the assassination of the president. It's a most unusual committee, consisting of senators, congressmen, staffers, lay people, lawyers, some members of the FBI, and Chief Justice Earl Warren. The group becomes known as the Warren commission, and the report is the Warren Commission Report.
After a very unique series of hearings - the president was assassinated and there isn't a protocol for such a thing - they conclude that Oswald was the lone gunman, and that he fired 3 shots at Kennedy. They have some rationale for why he did it, and include testimony, and autopsy reports that support the conclusion.
And that, as they say, is that.
There are just a handful of still photos, and one moving film - the aforementioned Zapruder film - which are available and generally support the conclusion.
This isn't 2016. Still photography was widely used in 1963, but you had a small number of shots available using a roll of film, so you used it sparingly. Moving picture cameras were much less common, and on the expensive side. You had a few minutes of film to capture something, and again only used it sparingly. For Both, you had to squint and look through a viewfinder to see what you were capturing. And of course, there weren't really high quality images.
So, it's not surprising there weren't many pictures. Except that seeing the president pass by would have been something you would have tried to capture, so it seems a little odd there are not more pictures and film readily available.
7 Oddities & Observations
And that's where watching the wealth of information on YouTube got me to thinking about this. Let me assert I am not a conspiracy theorist, and there is no evidence the Warren report is wrong, or even misleading. But there are some oddities about that day, and I thought would talk about them here.
It could certainly be that this was "the perfect storm" of various things - luck, timing, poor execution by the planners, etc - that allowed for this to happen. We'll never know for sure.
The route of the motorcade.
The limo winds through some city streets. The official report is that Kennedy wanted to be among the people, he wanted to show himself as approachable. But there are two key things that struck me: the windows on many buildings are not secured as you might expect they would be, as is standard among presidential motorcade routes. And the motorcade makes this awkward left turn into the plaza, which is also unusual. The routes are usually as straight-line as possible, leaving little chance of anything going awry.
Kennedys relative protection
The limo was designed to convey the president, but not really to protect the president. It's a custom built car that could be used as a convertible, could have a regular roof, or could have a plexiglass glass roof. On the day he was killed it was used as a convertible, which is a little odd, especially considering the route. But he wanted to be among the people, so it makes some amount of sense. And besides, to that point, there didn't seem to be a need to provide a bulletproof, armored vehicle to protect the president.
That said, in one of the videos a few blocks before he was killed, there is someone throwing something at the limo, and Kennedy appears to move in his seat to avoid it. So the danger apparently wasn't imaginary.
The second part of this is his secret service detail was riding on a car behind him. There was a place for two agents to stand on the back of the limo so they would be immediately nearby, but on this day, like many days, they were waved off, and returned to the chase car. The story goes that Kennedy himself didn't want them on the limo. Again not that unusual, but everything could be scrutinized when something goes wrong.
The agent who rushed onto the limo as it sped off was haunted by this for many years; he believes he should have been on the limo and would have thrown himself on the president in the moment.
In watching the videos, something caught my attention: along most of the route, there was a pretty good sized crowd. People lined both sides of the street and were close to shoulder-to-shoulder. But as the limo turned onto elm street into Dealy plaza, the crowd was much thinner. There were only a handful of people along the street. In fact, there were so few that they all were either identified or got clever nicknames based on their appearance.
Where did all the people go? And to add to that, the people in the area before the turn provided a lot of pictures and film, where the ones in the plaza did not. That strikes me as a little odd.
Watching the videos, the story that came up several times was that federal agents - or maybe people posing as agents - were intentionally trying to keep people out of this area. And after the assassination, these same agents approached anyone with a camera and asked for it "as evidence." More on that later.
The shooting and the infamous grassy knoll
The accounts from people that day vary, but some say that more than three shots were fired, and it's supported by police radios that captured what sounds like 6 shots.
Many of the people in the plaza think the shots came from the side of the car, rather than from behind. The area to the side was a grass mound with a concrete retaining wall, and a picket fence, which was referred to as the grassy knoll. The book repository, where Oswald was said to shoot from, was located behind the motorcade.
In the Zapruder film it's hard to make out the direction of the shots - especially the final shot - and where they came from. It certainly looks like it could have come from the side, as Kennedy moves left and back rather than forward, as you would expect. But because of the speed of the film and the direction, it's hard to tell, but while it seems illogical, they could have come from behind.
The Warren report says one bullet missed the president. The second went through his neck and then into the governors chest and arm, who was seated in front of him. People call this the magic bullet since it appears to change direction. Myth busters did a good analysis of this, and proved that it's at least *possible* that a bullet behaved this way. The third bullet was the one that went into Kennedys head.
There seemed to be at least one other bullet found in the grass (which was ignored), possibly several marks on the concrete road edges made from gunfire, and several bullet shots into the limo windshield that were never explained.
It's possible there were only 3 shots, but the facts just don't quite line up neatly.
The injuries, examinations and autopsies.
There are discrepancies in the reports from Dallas and back in DC. The locations of the wounds, the entry points, and exit points are all confusing. And there was a question about what happened to kennedys physical brain along the way. Several people reported it was there when he left Dallas, but was not there in DC. And also odd was that he was wrapped in sheets in Dallas, but they seem to have disappeared in transit.
And then there are the bullets. Two of them are stored in the national archives. The third was apparently destroyed, as it was the one that missed, and deemed irrelevant. Neither of the remaining two bullets seemed to show markings as though they entered a body and struck bone, which is peculiar.
There's a bit of an odd story that one bullet was missing in the early hours after the incident. Later, it was found sitting on a table in the hallway in the hospital. One of the secret service people says he had it, and just dropped it there when he realized it... Yes, things were challenging that day, but it's a head scratcher. Perhaps it was never really missing and just misplaced or dropped. But the evidence wasn't well maintained in any case.
Watch the Zapruder film. When the president is shot in the neck, governor Connelly does seem to react, but he slumps over around the same time the president suffers the fatal wound. Was this a delayed reaction? Or was he hit again? Or was he shot for the first time at that point?
Kennedy is shot in the head, and the First Lady climbs onto the back of the limo to retrieve something. The agent who climbs in says she was collecting parts of his head...but there is an object sitting on the trunk....what is it? Skull? Bullet? I don't know, but it's size makes me wonder. In any case, realizing some of the debris was behind him, a shot from the back seems unlikely. But again it's hard to tell in the grainy video what's going on there.
The bedside story Connelly told while in the hospital gives an order of events that was different than what was in the official report, in terms of the sequence and number of bullets. But later he tells a different story that matches the Warren report findings, yet misses on some key details that are evident in the film.
Lee Harvey Oswald
The rifle Oswald supposedly used was a single action weapon, so he would have to reload, aim, and shoot quickly. Not impossible, but a little unlikely, given the moving target and perhaps his inexperience.
The rifle was found, hidden under some boxes in the repository and misidentified at first. And there's some question about the caliber of shells found around the limo, the two that were recovered by doctors, and the size the gun took; depending on the type of gun they actually found. It seems the caliber might not have matched. As you might surmise, there are a few concerns you could raise on this topic.
In some ways the crime scene and handling of evidence might remind you of the OJ Simpson case. And had this gone to trial, it's possible there could have been a reasonable doubt, as there was with OJ. That is, the evidence collected was mishandled along the way, casting some doubts over what we believe to be the facts of the case.
Oswalds whereabouts at the time of the shooting, his timing and actions are all debatable, and figure into this as well. We have a report about him, and his activity, but eyewitness accounts are different on some points.
And don't miss the fact that his prints were not found on the gun at first, as reported by both the police and FBI. But after his death, there's a report of the gun being taken to the morgue and "someone" putting prints on the gun. I take this account with a grain of salt, because it could very well be just a story, but it does further muddle the facts; they did initially report there were no prints and then there was a good hand print, somewhat unexpectedly.
There's another part to the story which is odd and makes you wonder what he was up to: just after the shooting, Oswald left the repository and went miles away, to a boarding house, and then encountered a Dallas policeman. For some unknown reason, Oswald killed that policeman with a handgun, which he apparently got at the boarding house.
After this shooting, he ran into a movie theater, where the police found him. He had the gun that was connected to the police officers death. And for that reason, he was taken in for questioning.
There's an important footnote here: he was arrested for killing the police officer, nothing more. He was only connected to the presidents death after the fact. He hadn't been charged in the assassination at that point, but there were questions about him being in the building where the police found the rifle that they believe was used in the assassination.
Much of the case appears to be circumstantial. As far as we know, he did kill the officer, but beyond that is mostly speculation.
So you have to ask: had Jack Ruby not killed him, would this have turned out differently? If he had been charged with the assassination, could they have made a strong enough case to convict him?
About the photos and films
Much of the film was collected by agents and taken away. Some of it was returned to the owner. Some wasn't. A few pictures made it out of the plaza and into the news. There was another film that turned up a few years later, taken from across the street. It didn't add much, but did provide a few minor details.
The Zapruder film has an interesting story. A news reporter had seen Zapruder filming, and approached him after the shooting and suggested they get it processed so the news could air the film. He and Zapruder tried to find a place to have it developed, and by the time they found one, the FBI caught up to them. The story goes that Zapruder had three copies made, and agreed to give up one to the FBI. He kept one. And, the reporter got the other one. Apparently, several media members including Dan rather watched the copy, but they didn't air it, and there's some confusion about what happened to it. At least one account said the FBI came and asked for it, because it just wouldn't be right to allow something like that to air. Zapruders copy was reported destroyed but there's another story that it was hidden away...
The FBI later released their copy, but according to those who had seen the original or were there it seemed to have been altered. Hard to tell. But maybe it was.
I found a copy on YouTube that is supposedly the original copy Zapruder hid. There are some differences. And it's less choppy in a way. Is it authentic? I Dunno. Does it lead to more questions? Yes. About the timing. About how many shots were fired. About who was hit when.
One minor detail that seems relevant: The driver hit the brakes at some point for an unknown reason. At least one explanation was that he did it when shots were fired and hit the front of the limo, accounting for damage to the limo itself. Both the windshield and the chrome near the top of the windshield showed signs of damage in the photos taken as part of the investigation. The secret service said these had been there previously, but pictures from earlier in the day don't support that. But who's to say how they got there and when?
Another explanation is that as the driver turned to see what was going on in the back he inadvertently tapped the brakes. Or perhaps he never really tapped them at all, and it speculation based on things you think you see.
IMHO, given the things I mention, it casts doubt on the events. Perhaps nothing is as it seems, and it's much more complicated.
Now let me address the gunman on the grassy knoll. I was always dubious about this story. It just seemed that came from foil-wearing crazy person land. But given everything I've seen, I'll agree it's at least possible there's truth to it.
There's one specific reason I've changed some of my thinking. There was one story I saw about a soldier who was shipping off a day or two later. He was behind the plaza and wanted to go over to the bridge to see Kennedy pass under him. He was stopped by a federal agent, and instead went onto the knoll. He had a video camera and filmed the president go by.
His story was that the shots were fired close to his position, and immediately afterward, an agent approached him and confiscated his film.
Several conspiracy theorists enhanced the area around the knoll from a couple of photos that point that way, and from the film made on the other side of the street. What they claim to see are three figures: a soldier with an optic up to his eye (which could very well be the guy in the story; in the interview with him they show him the enhanced photo and he thinks that could be him in uniform and holding his camera), the "badge man" (a figure who appears to be wearing a police uniform) and may be holding a rifle, and what appears to be a construction worker who takes on the peculiar moniker of “black dog man”
Now it could have been an early version of the village people. Or perhaps there is some truth here. Perhaps we can account for the soldier as the guy in the story above. The construction worker appears to be wearing a helmet, and in the Zapruder film, as the car speeds away, you can see what appears to be a helmet on a person among the trees, which would be that same location. There is another photo that shows what appears to be a man with a hat near that position.
So suddenly it all comes into focus a little. That's not to say any of them had a weapon or took a shot. But it would appear that there were people on the knoll. As far as I can tell, the Warren commission didn't interview anyone on the knoll, including the soldier - who did talk to the police. In fact, the final report said there was no one in that position.
And if the soldier is to be believed about being there and filming, what did happen to his film?
Curiouser and curiouser.
It's all really compelling stuff. But of course, it could be people looking at old grainy films, and enhancing them to serve their purpose of finding something. So it could literally be nothing. Maybe there were a couple there, but they were not of consequence because of where they were standing, or couldn't be located.
After thinking about this for a while, I think Warren report used the axiom "once we've eliminated the impossible, all that's left, no matter how unlikely, is the truth."
Sure, they could have gone down the rabbit hole to look for connections, conspiracies, or something in the shadows. Or you could simply accept the evidence and close the case somewhat neatly.
Without building a conspiracy, why would someone kill the president? If it was a coordinated effort, how could they keep it a secret for this long? Logic says the lone gunman with his own anti-government agenda makes sense, and not everything is perfect because the president was shot, gosh darn it, and there was a lot of confusion and chaos. Everything can be explained away, I suppose.
And as for keeping people out of Dealy plaza, that could have been a slight coincidence; maybe they were mostly out of view of the pictures we see, or went get a better look away from the train tracks and highway. And the agents collecting film also makes sense - they'd want evidence to help figure out who killed the president.
Film may have been exposed to light. Some pictures simply may not have come out. And some of it may have been simply lost in the confusion. You have to consider that kind of thing with a 1960s mindset. Unlike today where people would have been live streaming, back then people would have had to have pictures developed. And they heard gunshots and realized the president had been killed. And of course it's possible there wasn't much photo evidence available anyway.
As I stared earlier, there's no reason to doubt the official report. But the number of shots, the sequence of who was hit when, the location of the shooter (or perhaps shooters), and whether Oswald was involved all can be questioned. So, I'm going to say I'm stumped. Perhaps the final report was designed to tie everything in a neat little bow, and even though the facts don't quite work, its still close enough to the truth.
I have to admit it was interesting to watch as much as I did. And though there are many more to watch, I'm calling it quits. I'm satisfied that there are no easy answers and lots of things that will NEVER be answered thoroughly and completely (and probably can't be).
We'll always have the doubt about how and why he was killed. And in a way, it doesn't matter. He was assassinated regardless, and time marched on. It became history. A history that was filled with confusion and doubt. And a number of people thought there was a conspiracy … At the very least to deceive, at most to assassinate.
And the only way it might matter is if there did turn out to be some kind of inside job. That would be significant and pretty scary, and would be worth looking into further.
But...that still seems an extremely remote possibility. Especially because broad conspiracies that involve a large number of people would be tough to keep quiet, especially after 50 years.
Watch the wealth of videos and decide for yourself.
November 22, 1963 we lost a president through a series of events. He was charismatic and embodied some very good qualities. It was a sad day and the country mourned, as well it should.
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