Even more important than the aural and olfactory evidence – smoke and gunfire from the grassy knoll – was the eyewitness testimonies of people on the grassy knoll. There are far fewer of these testimonies: if the gunman or gunmen were behind a picket fence they were hard to see from people on the ground.
They could just poke their rifle through, take the shot and then disappear over the railroad tracks. Even so, there were some people who managed to catch a glimpse of supposed gunmen, and some witnesses experienced even more dramatic incidents.
The FBI minimised or ignored these testimonies, and of course the Warren Commission didn’t take them seriously either. But, if true, they are almost the most important ‘smoking gun’ in the whole Kennedy murder case: visual proof that it was a conspiracy.
Jesse C Price was a building engineer for a construction project on the south side of Dealey Plaza, the Union Terminal Annex, which was the southern architectural counterpart to the Texas School Depository. On 22 November 1963, he was standing on top of the roof of the building to watch the motorcade.
Film footage taken from the position Price was at shows excellent birds’ eye views not only of the whole bowl of Dealey Plaza and also of the area beyond the plaza.
Price was interviewed by TV documentarian Mark Lane in 1966. Price signed an affadavit to the Dallas Sheriff’s office that he heard five shots and that they seemed to come from behind the picket fence.
In an affidavit signed that day, Price stated, “There was a volley of shots, I think five and then much later . . . another one.” He said the shots seemed to come from “just behind the picket fence where it joins the underpass.”
According to Jim Marrs, in the book Crossfire:
“Price also said he saw a man, described as young, wearing a white dress shirt, no tie, and khaki-colored pants, running behind the wooden picket fence ‘towards the passenger cars on the railroad siding’ with something in his hand that ‘could have been a gun.’ “
Price was never called by the Warren commission and his testimony was not even taken seriously by the FBI. An FBI interview with him on 24 November, two days after the murder, quotes the fact Price was staring at the overpass at the time of the shots but saw ‘nothing pertinent’. Sadly Jesse Price was dead by the time of the 1979 hearings, which were flawed but perhaps less flawed than Warren Commission.
Here are the exact words of the Dallas Sheriff’s statement compared to what the FBI reported that he said:
Price’s statement to the Dallas Sheriff:
“I saw one man run towards the passenger cars on the railroad siding after the volley of shots. This man had a white dress shirt, no tie and khaki colored trousers. His hair appeared to be long and dark and his agility running could be about 25 years of age… There was a volley of shots, I think five and then much later maybe as much as five minutes later another one. [Statement does not reveal where Price thought the shots came from.”
This is Price’s statement as recorded by the FBI, 24 November 1963:
“He was on the roof watching the parade, heard the shot, and saw President Kennedy slump over. He assumed the shot had come from the overpass and looked in that direction, but saw nothing pertinent.”
Notice the difference between the two statements that suggests the FBI is concealing stuff. He saw nothing pertinent. What about the man in the khaki trousers running away from the scene? Was that not pertinent?
Here was Price’s interview with TV researcher Mark Lane on 27 March 1966. Wearing a hard hat, standing at the exact rooftop position where he was at the time of the murder, he said:
LANE. Where did you think you heard the shots come from?
PRICE. From behind the overpass over there, triple overpass, that’s where I thought the shots were coming from.
LANE. And where did you see the man run?
PRICE. Over behind that wooden fence pass the cars and over behind the Texas Depository Building.
LANE. Did you give that information to the Dallas Sheriff’s department on the very day of the assassination.
PRICE. Yes, I did. I’d say about 30 minutes after the assassination.
LANE. Were you ever called as a witness by the Warren Commission.
PRICE. No sir. No sir.
LANE. I show you this map published by the Warren Commission of the Dealey Plaza area, and ask you if you would mark on it where you thought the shots came from?
PRICE. Yes sir.
LANE. That’s just behind the wooden fence where it joins the overpass. Is that correct?
PRICE. That is correct.
The first and third statements don’t seem to be entirely consistent. One talks about running towards the passenger cars and the other says past the cars and towards the building.
And one would have liked a bit more detail in the Mark Lane interview. Was the description of the clothes the same? Was the man carrying a gun? Any further descriptions? Anyhow, it is clear he saw something. A man in a hurry.
A more spectacular case if a person who saw someone behind the wooden fence was Ed Hoffman, sadly deaf since birth and also mute. He still tried to tell everyone what happened behind the fence. He told the FBI and various assassination researchers the same story at different stories; the FBI though never took him seriously. Hoffman was driving along the freeway when he saw crowds; realising it was the day of Kennedy’s visit he parked the car and joined the throng.
He decided to walk along the freeway in order to get a vantage point of the motorcade in Dealey plaza. He was about 200 metres west of the car park behind the picket fence when he saw movement. He saw a man running westwards along the back side of the picket fence; the man was wearing a tie and a dark suit. He was also carrying a rifle in his bands. At the end of the fence – at the position where a metal pipe railing, near the railway underpass – he tossed the rifle to another man.
The second man was wearing an overall and a railway workers hat. The second man ducked behind am electrical box and disassembled the rifle, putting it into a tool box and walking away calmly.
The man in the suit walked back in the other direction towards the picket fence and then Hoffman lost sight of him behind some tree branches.
He realised that a murder had taken place when he see the limousine with Kennedy’s fatally wounded body speed past under the free underpass nearby him. How unfortunate for the truth that Hoffman was deaf mute. (He was also had high intelligence: held down a real job for an electronics company.)
Being deaf-mute, he spoke only sign language. The secret service agents couldn’t understand what he was saying. Same with a Dallas cop walking along the freeway. Hoffman drove to a police station but it was sealed off and he was unable to enter. Hoffman went home and met his parents, who advised him not to get involved. However, Hoffman had a relative in the Dallas police. When they met at thanksgiving his uncle took him seriously. Lt. Robert Hoffman told journalists later:
“I know that Eddie’s a very bright person and always has been, and can’t think of any reason why he would make up something like this. . . . His father was very, very concerned that Eddie knew anything about the assassination at all. It was time when suspicions were running high and he was worried about Eddie getting involved in any way. . . . It just wasn’t a time for loose statements that couldn’t be proved or backed up with any evidence.”
Hoffman, satisfied that he had done his duty, let it lie.
However, as the years went by, Hoffman became more and more aware of the official version of the assassination and knew that the theory that one man had fired from the sixth floor of the Depository did not agree with what he had seen. He went to the FBI in 1967 and filed a report, but the FBI went to the family and heard from the father that Ed sometimes made things up. Perhaps they wanted to protect him from being involved over his head.
Hoffman later stated that the FBI had told him to shut up about his version or “you might get killed.” He continued telling his story at his place of work, however. In 1977 he once again went to the police, telling the same story as in 1967. In 1985 he told the story again – this time to television documentary maker – except both men ran into the railyards. With 20 years since the murder, perhaps he could be forgiven for misremembering a few details. Many regard Hoffmanm as a reliable witness – a law abiding man with a clean record, and no vested interests – but he retired in the 1990s and died in 2010.