Lone gunman – or conspiracy?


Grassy knoll on the left, Book depository with Oswald’s line of fire blue building

The Kennedy assassination’ s official theory has been under attack from people who have interviewed witnesses and looked at technical evidence that suggest more than a lone gunman.

They question the likelihood that a single shooter with a second hand bolt-action rifle could have fired off three shots in short succession, two of which hit their targets, from that distance and angle.

In the official theory, Kennedy was hit from behind, by Lee Harvey Oswald, in the killshot that smashed his brain.

Lee Harvey was standing on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository some hundred metres away.

But the garment maker Abraham Zapruder made a silent film that has become legendary: who could forget those technicolor shots of Jackie in her pink dress scrambling to retrieve bits of skull from the back of the Lincoln limousine?

Anyone who watches the frames immediately before that show that Kennedy’s head jerks backwards under the impact of the killshot. Backwards and leftwards, into Jackie’s side – consistent with the killshot coming from a much better location from the point of view of the assassin.

That is, from Kennedy’s right, from the copse of trees up a slight incline, but basically level with Kennedy’s perspective, the area known as ‘the grassy knoll’ about 15 metres away. Indeed, that is where most witnesses, when questioned thought the shots came from. Obviously if the killer was shooting from the Grassy Knoll, then it wasn’t just Lee Harvey Oswald involved (if he was even involved at all). It was a team, it was a conspiracy. And given that, who organised the conspiracy?

The Kennedy assassination researcher Josiah Thompson, with over 40 years’ experience, points out that Clint Hill, the secret service agent who jumped onto the rear left hand side of Kennedy limousine, explains how he was spattered by brain and blood debris from the killshot.

Bob Hargis, one of the police motorcyclists riding along to Kennedy’s left – ie consistent with the idea of the shot coming from Kennedy’s right – says that when his helmet and cycle windshield were covered with brain debris he was immediately convinced the shots came from the right, from the trees around the grassy. Immediately after the killshot he parked his motorbike and ran up the grassy knoll. A second police motorcyclist, DJ Martin, riding at yet some further distance to the Kennedy cars rear left, was also covered in the brain debris. However, according to Thompson, who has investigated the murder for 50 years, the outrider to Kennedy’s right, Jim Chaney, was not hit by debris. Incidentally, in an interview with ABC news on 22 November, Chaney says he thought JFK was shot in the face, from the front.. The interview is available here.

One of the books I have been reading about the assassination – one of hundreds available, both for an against the official theory – is a man who you thought would be a good judge of whether Oswald could have picked off Kennedy from his sixth floor eyrie. Craig Roberts was one of America’s most experienced snipers, who then became a police investigator, and a published writer as well. Attending a conference in Dallas some years ago, he spent the day off touring the sixth floor museum in the former book depository. (The other floors by now having turned over to the local administration, for office work). The exhibition was very mainstream: a disaffected loner, a no hoper with Marxist leanings.

Finding the spot where Oswald allegedly fired his shots, Roberts stared out at the scene – though quickly as a sniper – and had a strong emotion that changed his life. He was shocked and angered. Oswald could not have done it. He wrote that he had “a gut-wrenching, instantaneous realisation that I, along with every other American, had been duped.” Looking at the Oswald window he said “I immediately felt as if I had been hit by a sledgehammer. The word that came to mind at what I saw as I looked down through the window to Elm Street and the Kill zone was: impossible! I knew instantly that Oswald could not have done it. At least not alone. Oswald could not possibly have fired three shots in rapid succession, 5..6 seconds according to the museum displays, with a worn-out military surplus Mannlicher-Carcano mounted with a cheap telescopic sight from that particular location to the kill zone I now examined in the street below. The reason I knew that Owald could not have done it was because I could not have done it.”

A much better place for the shooting – if Oswald was the lone shooter – to give the young discharged marine a little bit better chance of a hit would have been when the Kennedy limousine came towards Oswald or turned at the switchback down Elm Street just below the Book Depository. Instead Oswald fired just as the limousine was speeding away, heading towards the freeway, in a curving road at an extreme angle for Oswald forcing him to push up against the wall, down a route partly obscured by trees – so intermittently appearing in Oswald’s sights. But he did not do it, unless he was waiting for Kennedy to enter the kill-zone for another shooter, or set of shooters.

Don’t take just Roberts’s word for it: In his book, he talked to Carlos Hathcock, former senior instructor for the US marine corps sniper instructor school at Quantico, Virginia. Hathcock is apparently the most famous American military sniper in history. In Vietnam he was credited with 93 confirmed kills and a total of 300 actual kills counting unconfirmed ones. He now leads police sniper teams across the country. When Roberts called him about the Zapruder film, he interrupted. “Let me tell you what we did at Quantico. We reconstructed the whole thing. the angle, the range, the moving target, the time limit, the obstacles, everything.  I don’t know how many times we tried it, but we couldn’t duplicate what the Warren commission said Oswald did. Now if I can’t do it, how in the world could a guy who was non-qual on the rifle range and later only qualified ‘marksman’ do it.”

Interestingly, several public simulations have been carried out to see what expert marksmen could achieve Oswald’s feat of firing at a moving target from 60 feet up with an ancient bolt action rifle and hitting twice. In 1967, CBS conducted a simulation involving expert riflemen firing at a moving target from a tower using a Carcano rifle. (Not the same rifle.) None of the expert riflemen scored two hits on their first attempt, and seven of the 11 failed to do so on any attempt. If you took out  17 attempts that were thrown out because of mechanical failure, the surviving average was 1.2 hits out of three with an enlarged target compared to what Oswald faced.  Oswald, a worse shot, officially made two hits. .

And these were much higher scoring marksmen than Oswald. Another test, carried out by the Warren Commission, used three expert marksmen – known only by their last names, Miller, Hendrix and Staley – who used the exact same weapon that Oswald used, using both scope and iron sights. They missed the head of the target 18/18 times using the scope, and 2/3 times when using the iron sights.

The reason for the disparity could be simple. The killshot – the shot that hit the head – came a much nearer and better located place, the grassy knoll. You can see, on the map above.  It was much easier. So, in conclusion, there was more than one gunman. It was a conspiracy.


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