Who killed the policeman?

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Murder scene: the Dallas suburb where JD Tippit was shot. But was it Lee Harvey Oswald?

Oswald slipped out of the building minutes after the assassination. That may have been suspicious. And within an hour he is alleged to have murdered a policeman, JD Tippit, who had tried to stop and question him. That was a very important incident that was held against him, adding to the impression of Oswald as a callous brutal killer. Not only had he assassinated the president but he had shot while on the run too: a desperate getaway of a man determined not to get caught for the crime of the century. The incident was never examined too closely after Oswald himself was shot. After Oswald died, he became the perfect scapegoat. He could not defend himself and, in the absence of a court case, statements about what he had done were not given proper scrutiny. The official Warren Commission version is that Tippit was killed by Oswald. I haven’t seen a poll, but the idea that Oswald killed a policeman that gave chase lingers on. Again, whether or not Oswald was involved in the assassination (and killed a policeman afterwards) is a curiosity. The main point to prove is that there was a conspiracy – of which he may or may not have been part, interesting but not crucial either way. I mean, if Oswald is innocent it is terrible that the authorities went into great effort to frame an innocent man; but even if he is one of the guilty men there was still the most important part of the coverup still remaining: the fact there was another assassin located on the grassy knoll. The fact that Warren commission lied about that gives rise to suspicions that the killing was politically dangerous to reveal.

Even so the whole Tippit affair is interesting. Yet another example of police cover-up and lies?

According to the Warren commission, Officer Tippit was gunned down at a quarter past one some distance away from Oswald’s lodgings. The official story is that Officer Tippit drove up behind a man matching the description of the suspect that had been broadcast over the police radio. Tippit drew up alongside the man, called him over as of to have a friendly chat. Oswald, the ex marine, pulled out the revolver he had on him and shot the officer, before continuing to flee.

Oswald had left the Book Depository minutes after the assassination. According to most accounts, Oswald walked north for one block, turned right and headed east on Pacific Street. He turned back into Elm Street and and stopped in front of the Blue Front Inn. He then hopped on a bus; when the bus got stalled in the traffic he got off and caught a cab to his boarding house. He arrived here at 1 pm.

Oswald’s landlady Earlene Roberts told the Warren commission she was watching TV coverage of the assassination when Oswald came in and went into his room. Oswald left his room a few minutes later and met Roberts in the hallway as he was zipping up his jacket.

Less than ten minutes later, about a mile from the Oswald’s lodgings, later Tippit was shot, officially while stopping to question a suspect he had heard about over the radio: A young white male, around 30.  However the early descriptions of the suspect were so vague they could have applied to a third of the male population of Dallas.  And the area where Tippit was cruising was not obviously on the escape route of the killer. So, assuming it was Oswald he saw, how likely is it that Tippit would have identified Oswald as a suspect. (The fact that Oswald had left the book depository and was the only  employee whose whereabouts were suspiciously unaccounted for was not yet known.)  Some witnesses say the man Tippit stopped to talk to appeared to be familiar to Tippit. Assailant and victim seemed to know one another. But Oswald was not an acquaintance.

Further, some – if not all – witnesses gave other stories, of men fitting other descriptions than Oswald. The FBI could not definitively link the bullets used in the Tippit killing with Oswald’s revolver, which he was carrying when he was arrested at the Texas Theatre. Some evidence has the murder of Tippit take place at around 1.06pm, which would have made Oswald’s role in it impossible, since he left the boarding house a mile away two minutes earlier. (The Warren Commission would have the Tippit murder at 1.16pm, but here is evidence that speaks against this.)

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Patrolman Tippit: killed on 22 November, same day as Kennedy. But was it coincidental?

The police claimed there were two witnesses who saw the shooting but these witnesses did not actually manage to point out Oswald in a lineup until prompted. Helen Markham, the chief witness, saw the shooting and was the key witness for the Warren commission. But there were problems with her credibility, according to Jim Marrs in the book Crossfire. She initially said the shooter was short and stocky with bushy hair. She later retracted her testimony and claimed she had never said it.  Even some of the Warren commission lawyers thought she was a weak witness. Joseph Ball, senior counsel for the commission, was later to describe her as an “utter screwball”.

She claimed to have talked to the dying Tippit but the medical authorities determined that he had died straight away. She said that gunman and Tippit talked to each other through the right hand window, even if this window was found shut after the murder. In her Warren commission testimony she said six times that she did not recognise anyone in the police lineup that evening, until finally guided to do so by her lawyer.

Other witnesses did point out Oswald with less prompting, Kennedy assassination researchers have been critical of the way the lineup interviews were conducted. Oswald, who had suffered bruises in the scuffles at his arrest stood out as a man with a black eye and bruises among the teenagers that completed the lineup. He was also loud and obnoxious, insistent on seeing his lawyer. Some of the testimonies, carried out on the Saturday, were done after Oswald had been mentioned in television, so contamination of witnesses was a real risk.

A couple of witnesses claimed to have seen different things altogether. Witness Frank Wright heard shots and ran outside. He told assassination researchers he saw a man with a long coat run into a gray old coupe. Another witness, Warren Reynolds, who ran after Tippit’s killer, did not recognise Oswald in a lineup until he himself was shot in the head in his home two months later. He survived; it was a .22 bullet. Reynolds then identified Oswald to the Warren commission, as if he had got the hint. Another eyewitness, Acquilla Clemons, said Tippit was shot by a man who bore no resemblance at all to Oswald: short and heavy and wearing a khaki and white shirt. (Similar to Markham’s testimony before she retracted it.)  He got into what looked like a 1951 Plymouth and drove off. This man then motioned another man with him to “go on.”  But Clemons was never asked to testify before the Warren Commission.

The Warren commission claimed that Oswald’s jacket had been found along the route and that the killer of Tippit had been wearing a light-coloured jacket. However, Helen Markham did not recognise this jacket when she was shown it by the FBI. And this dumped jacket was never conclusively shown to be Oswald’s.  There were no Oswald fingerprints on Tippit’s car. Witness Barbara Davis said the killer was wearing a woollen fabric jacket.

If Oswald did not kill Tippit, who did? It could have been related to personal issues, Tippit had love affairs. It is also said he had some contacts with the underworld. There is an interesting alternative account of the Tippit murder, related in the book Murder in Dealey Plaza by James Fetzer and also Anthony Summers’s Conspiracy.  Tippit was having an affair with the waitress in the diner where he moonlighted at weekends. The waitress was also married. Two Kennedy researchers, Larry Harris and Ken Holmes, chased down the married couple. She confessed she was having an affair with Tippit when he died. And that his death brought about the couple’s reconciliation. The two of them had in fact visited Tippit’s body in the funeral home. The mistress also said she was pregnant with Tippit’s child.  A neighbour of Tippit’s had said that Tippit’s wife had said to the neighbour that that morning Tippit had asked for a divorce because he was going to marry someone else. So – was it a suburban drama where, say, the wronged husband had arranged a hit on Tippit in order to get back ?

Some witnesses do point out Oswald.  But it requires a lot of research to weigh the relative credibility of these testimonies (and to try and determine whether they are doctored, compared to the ones ignored by the commission that failed to identify him and said one or two men who escaped in a car were responsible.  While Tippit’s death is important to lone nut theorists as it established Oswlad as a brutal killer who won’t stop at anything, in the greater scheme of things it is better to spend one’s energies on more important lines of inquiry. As said, Oswald was either involved or he wasn’t.. (If he was involved it is surely unlikely he was one of the sixth floor gunmen – more likely to be an accomplice).  But Oswald’s guilt for a potential second assassination of that Dallas day is less important than who was behind the conspiracy of which he may or may not have been a part.

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