Warning: This article contains extremely graphic details and photographs of gunshot wounds.
Immediately after the shot, the President raises his right hand to his face and leans forward in his seat, his head tilted slightly to the left. He looks shocked. Jackie Kennedy glances across at her husband. Four seconds after the first shot there is no mistaking the sound of a second gunshot. The President grasps his throat and slumps forward in his seat.
Just 1.6 seconds later, captured with horrifying clarity in both sound and vision, a third shot blasts away the right side of President Kennedy's skull. Jackie Kennedy, in a state of abject panic, clambers out of her seat and scrambles across the trunk of the limousine towards Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who has jumped from one of the following cars and is now standing on the rear fender. He urges the first lady to get back in her seat, which she does.
The President's car speeds away and disappears through the triple underpass at the western perimeter of Dealey Plaza. Time appears to stand still. John F. Kennedy is fatally wounded and Texas Governor John Connally is seriously wounded. Half an hour later, at 1:00 pm, the Parkland Hospital issues a statement confirming President Kennedy's death.
Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested at 1:45 pm inside a movie theater and charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Dallas police officer, J.D.Tippet, who was shot four times while trying to question Oswald.
At 2:07 pm, in contravention of Texas law, the President's body is taken from Parkland Hospital by Secret Service agents and driven to Air Force One. The body is removed before a forensic examination can be conducted by the Dallas County Coroner, Earl Rose, who has jurisdiction. At 2:38 pm Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson takes the Presidential Oath of Office on board Air Force One just before it departs from Dallas Love Field airport.
Ruby is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. After his arrest Jack Ruby tells several witnesses that he shot Oswald to help the City of Dallas redeem itself.
But it is later revealed that he also wrote a note to his attorney, Joesph Tonahill, saying, "I was told to say that I shot Oswald so that Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy wouldn't have to come to Dallas to testify." After four years on death row, Jack Ruby is granted a retrial after an appeal. With impeccable timing, he suffers a pulmonary embolism and dies before he can be retried.
With the nation in mourning, President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963.
Four days later, on November 29, 1963, President Johnson sets up 'The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy', also known as 'The Warren Commission'.
The 889-page report is presented to President Johnson on September 24, 1964. It concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy and wounding Texas Governor John Connally and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald two days later.
The Commission's findings prove to be controversial.
Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. However, Gallup polls also find that 30% of the population believe that Oswald acted alone.
The truth is that many people do not know what to believe. In 2013, it was estimated that during the fifty years since that fateful November day in Dallas, a total of 42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people have been accused in John F. Kennedy conspiracy theories.
How can a crime witnessed by hundreds of people at the scene, filmed by at least thirty of them, watched by billions on television and more documented than any other assassination in history remain so unresolved?
Maybe because what happened was too obvious, and everybody missed it.
Has the answer to this mystery been staring us in the face all the time? Is the answer to who shot JFK so absurdly uncomplicated that it has just been overlooked in the rush to blame the CIA, the Russians, the Mafia and even Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro?
Like all Marines he was taught how to shoot. Despite being court-martialed twice he scored above average with a rifle and was eventually designated a marksman.
In March 1963, Oswald purchased a mail order 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 bolt action carbine with a 4 x scope. Introduced into the Italian army in 1891, the Carcano had a poor service record, being unreliable and inaccurate. It was not the weapon a would-be assassin would normally choose.
So, the only way to discover the truth is to ask questions. The first question is simple: Using an obsolete, bolt action army surplus rifle, could Oswald have fired three shots in 5.6 seconds?
The answer is yes, it is possible. In 1967 CBS recreated Dealey Plaza. They placed eleven marksmen in a tower. A target, positioned at the same distance and same height as the President's limousine, moved away from them at 11 mph. All the marksmen were able to fire three shots in 5.6 seconds, but only one of them hit the target, and that was on his third attempt.
Jackie Kennedy later stated that after the first shot the President raised his right arm and said, "I've been hit." If he was still able to speak at that time then it wasn't the first shot that went through his throat and severed his larynx and windpipe, it was the second. It has been suggested that the first shot hit the sidewalk causing a small piece of stone to fly up and hit the President. Witnesses said they saw sparks on the sidewalk and assumed it was a firecracker.
Virgie Rachley made the following statement:
Warren Commission Vol II, Page 509
July 22, 1964.
'I thought it was a firecracker. It looked just like it. You could see sparks from it.'
Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman, riding in the front seat of the Presidential limousine, made the following statement:
Warren Commission Vol II, Page 73
March 9, 1964
'There was a report like a firecracker. Pop. As I turned my head to the right to see whatever it was, I believe it was the President who said 'My God, I'm hit.' I turned around and he had his right hand up to his throat.'
That was the first shot.
The second shot passed through the base of the President neck, exited below his Adam's apple and struck Governor Connally below his right arm pit, shattering four inches of his right rib, exiting under the right nipple before passing through his right wrist and lodging two inches deep into his left thigh.
The only bullet capable of doing that is a full metal jacket. It is a bullet used in combat and it ensures that if a soldier is wounded it will pass through his body, giving him a higher survival rate.
Oswald's Carcano rifle was loaded with 6.5 mm full metal jacket bullets.
Governor John Connally made the following statement:
'I am convinced beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet. I know that I heard the first shot, that I turned to my right to see what was happening. Seeing nothing, I was in the process of turning to my left when I was struck by a second shot. The third shot struck the President but did not strike me. As I said earlier, this testimony was presented to the Warren Commission, but they chose to disagree with my interpretation and my memory of what had occurred.'
Question. Why did the third shot do so much damage? It hit the President in the back of his head, and instead of passing through as you might expect a full metal jacket bullet to do, it exploded outwards - something that particular bullet would not do.
Why did that third bullet behave so differently?
Was it because the first two were full metal jackets and the third a hollow-point that exploded on impact, leaving a gaping wound on the right side of the President's head? If so, who fired the third shot? It could not have come from the infamous 'Grassy Knoll' area to the right of the limousine because a shot from that direction would have shattered the left side of the President's head. It didn't come from the far side of Dealey Plaza because the First Lady was blocking that line of fire.
One possible answer is that the hollow point bullet which did so much damage was fired from a position behind the President.
There is also something interesting about the timing of each shot. The time between the first and second shot is four seconds. After the first shot Oswald has to pull the bolt back, reload, take aim and fire. Four seconds is probably about right for a man high on adrenalin and nervous energy. The anomaly is that the third shot follows just 1.6 seconds later, far too quickly for Oswald to have reloaded, aimed and fired - and, the third shot sounds different. Watch the piece of footage below and listen for the gunshots.
Question. How many shots did Oswald fire?
Three spent 6.5 mm Cacano shells were found at Oswald's sniper position in the book depository. One of the three casings was found away from the other two.
The single casing was dented which suggests that it may have been used as a chamber plug. This stops moisture and grit getting into the chamber, a trick that was often used by combat soldiers on the battlefield. Did Oswald eject this chamber plug before taking up his firing position?
If so, then he only fired two shots.
One piece of evidence that strengthens the suggestion that Lee Harvey Oswald did not fire the third shot comes from another page of the Warren Commission report.
Warren Commission Vol II, Page 352
March 16, 1964.
Bethesda Naval Hospital autopsy report: 'The bullet entrance wound is 6 mm. Bullet tunnels through President's head for 15 mm before fragmenting.'
If the shot came from Oswald's gun the entrance wound in the President's skull would have to be at least that diameter or bigger.
It is impossible for the bullet that created a 6 mm entrance wound to have come from Oswald's Cacano. So where did it come from?
Howard Donahue, a ballistics expert, spent twenty-five years researching the John F. Kennedy assassination, chronicled in Bonar Menninger's book, 'Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK.' Donahue discovered that the trajectory of the third shot did not emanate from the 6th floor of the book depository. The trajectory of the fatal shot led back to the Secret Service follow up car behind the Presidential limousine.
Donahue wrote to the Secret Service requesting the names of the agents riding in the follow up car, the weapons they were carrying and the calibers. The Secret Service replied that they didn't disclose such information, other than that agents carried .38 revolvers.
The letter also added that Secret Service agents fired no shots at that time. Donahue thought that final comment a strange response to a question he hadn't asked.
Question. Is it possible that the third shot was fired accidentally by a Secret Service agent riding in the follow up car?
Of course, anything is possible, but this is not just a stab in the dark. Ten different witnesses smelled gun powder shortly after the third shot. Dallas patrolman Earl Brown was standing at a railway bridge overlooking Dealey Plaza.
He made the following statement.
Warren Commission Vol VI page 233
April 7, 1964
'I heard the shots then I smelled this gun powder come on a couple of minutes later or so. At least, it smelled like it to me.'
Question. With a 15 mph wind blowing towards the book depository where did the smell of gunpowder come from?
Dallas Mayor, Earle Cabell and his wife Elizabeth were sitting in a convertible four cars back from the Presidential limousine. Elizabeth Cabell made the following statement:
Warren Commission Vol VII, Page 486
July 13, 1964
'Well, I turned around to say to Earle that was a shot. Just as soon as I got the words out two second shots rang out. I was acutely aware of an odor of gun powder.'
Senator Ralph W. Yarborough was traveling with Vice President Lydon B. Johnson in a car directly behind the Secret Service follow up car. Yarborough is a war veteran with over fifty years experience with firearms. He made the following statement in an interview with the Dallas Times Herald, March 28, 1975.
'I knew there were rifle shots and there were three of them. A second or two later I smelled gun powder. I always found that strange because being familiar with firearms I could never see how I could smell the powder from a rifle in that high building. You don't smell powder unless you are upwind of it and it blows in your face.'
Question. Did anybody see a Secret Service agent in the follow up car holding a gun? Remember the Secret Service response to Howard Donahue's letter? The Secret Service categorically stated that agents were armed with .38 revolvers. There was no mention of agents carrying rifles.
|The Secret Service follow up car behind the Presidential limousine|
The weapon being held by the Secret Service agent in this photograph is an AR-15 assault rifle. It was taken seconds after the third shot. The motorcade, still on Dealey Plaza, is now racing toward Parkland Hospital.
22-year-old Hugh Betsna was standing in Dealey Plaza taking photographs as the motorcade passed. He gave a statement to the Dallas Sheriff's department later that day, November 22, 1963. It was entered into the record of the Warren Commission.
Warren Commission Vol XXIV, Page 200
'I heard at least two shots fired. I also saw a man in either the President's car or the car behind his pull out what looked like a rifle.'
Senator Ralph Yarborough also testified that he saw a Secret Service agent in the follow up car pull out a rifle.
Warren Commission Vol VIII, Page 439
July 10, 1964
'I heard three shots, no more. All seemed to come from the right rear. Some of the Secret Service men looked backward and to the right in the general direction where the explosion seemed to come from. One of the Secret Service men sitting in the car in front of us pulled out an automatic rifle. He looked backward.'
|Secret Service agent George Hickey holding an AR-15 assault rifle|
Senator Ralph Yarborough asked one of the most telling questions of all. If a Secret Service agent was seen waving an assault rifle around at the the exact time of the shooting why did the Warren Commission never investigate this particular sequence of events?
Question. What might have happened?
Agent George Hickey hears the first shot, reaches down and picks up the AR-15 from the floor of the follow up car and flicks the safety off. As the the second shot hits the President and the car jerks forward, the gun accidentally discharges, tragically hitting the President in the back of the head.
What agent George Hickey said about the incident.
Warren Commission Vol. XVIII, Page 763
Nov 30, 1963
'I reached to the bottom of the car and picked up the AR-15 rifle. Cocked and loaded it, stood part way up in the car.'
What agent Roy Kellerman said.
Warren Commission Vol. II, Page 69
March 9, 1964
'We have an AR-15. It's out of the case, laying on the floor. She is ready to go.'
These two statements are contradictory. Either the gun was cocked and loaded and ready to go, or it wasn't. Which one is the truth?
What agent Winston Lawson said.
Warren Commission Vol. IV, Page 353
April 23, 1964
'I also noticed right after the reports an agent standing up with an automatic rifle in his hand. And the first thing that flashed through my mind was that he had fired, because this was the only weapon I had seen up to that point.'
Question. What happens next?
Question. Why did the Secret Service not want Earl Rose to conduct an autopsy?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to that. What is known is that the autopsy carried out at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland descends into farce. Representatives from the three armed forces and the FBI crowd into the small autopsy room. There are also reporters and photographers present. Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman appears to take charge.
Despite the fact that a President had been assassinated, this autopsy formed part of a homicide inquiry and a cause of death should have been established. Bullets should have been matched to the neck and head wounds. Blood stained clothing from the First Lady and Secret Service agents in the line of fire, particularly George Hickey, should have been sent for forensic examination. All exhibits should have been bagged and labeled. None of these normal forensic procedures happened.
Agent Roy Kellerman took possession of all photographs, x-rays and pathology slides and none of these items were ever seen again.
Unfortunately, if any forensic evidence was uncovered it was never revealed because John F. Kennedy's brain simply disappeared.
It has been suggested that Robert Kennedy asked for his brother's brain, but he never received it. Nobody, even to this day, appears to know where it is. An inquiry ordered by President Bill Clinton in the late 90's into John F. Kennedy's death revealed that all Secret Service records pertaining to the assassination had either been destroyed or misplaced.
Secret Service agent George Hickey was a dedicated man who served his country by putting himself in the line of fire. If the sequence of events described above is anywhere near the truth then it was a tragic accident. As Richard Nixon discovered, it's not the deed that shames the devil, it is the cover up that follows.
The American people deserve to know the truth, but it is unlikely they ever will. Secret Service agent George Hickey died in 2005.
|(May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963)|
Rest in Peace, Mister President.
Information and pictures courtesy of:
JFK: The Smoking Gun (Cordell Jigsaw Productions)
The Warren Report
United States National Archives and Records Administration
United States Government Documents - Internet Archive
Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK
JFK: The Smoking Gun