You are getting a free preview of a TIME Magazine article from our archive. Many of our articles are reserved for subscribers only. Want access to more subscriber-only content, click here to subscribe.
On Nov. 29, 1963, just seven days after he became President of the U.S. because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order No. 11,130, setting up a blue-ribbon commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate each and every aspect of the national tragedy.
The Warren Commission took ten months before finally submitting its report to the President last week. In the agonizing interim, there were complaints that the Commission was being deliberately desultory—perhaps trying to delay until past the November elections.
In its final form, the Commission’s report was amazing in its detail, remarkable in its judicious caution and restraint, yet utterly convincing in its major conclusions. The wonder was not that the Commission took such a long time to complete its report but that it did so much so swiftly.
There could be no question that the Commission lived up to the responsibility outlined to it in its instructions from President Johnson: “To satisfy itself that the truth is known as far as it can be discovered.” Backed and bulwarked by an astonishing array of facts, figures, investigative reports, interviews, minute-by-minute timetables, and a vast amount of common sense, the Commission concluded that:
>There is “no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy . . . Because of the difficulty of proving negatives to a certainty, the possibility of others being involved with either Oswald or Ruby cannot be established categorically, but if there is any such evidence it has been beyond the reach of all the investigative agencies and resources of the United States and has not come to the attention of this Commission.”
> “The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor John Connally were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald . . . The Commission has found no evidence that anyone assisted Oswald in planning or carrying out the assassination . . . The Commission has found no evidence to show that Oswald was employed, persuaded, or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate Kennedy or that he was an agent of any foreign government.”
> “No direct or indirect relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby has been discovered by the Commission, nor has it been able to find any credible evidence that either knew the other . . . The Commission has found no evidence that Jack Ruby acted with any other person in the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.”
> There is “no evidence that the extreme views expressed toward President Kennedy by some right-wing groups centered in Dallas or any other general atmosphere of hate or right-wing extremism which may have existed in the city of Dallas had any connection with Oswald’s actions on Nov. 22.”
The report contains no sensational revelations or unorthodox conclusions. In its sum and substance, it reaffirms almost everything that was already known and understood by most knowledgeable people. Its great value comes from the thoroughness with which the Commission carried out its investigation, from its laying to rest many malignant rumors and speculations, and from its fascinating wealth of detail by which future historians can abide.
In Fort Worth on the morning of the day he died, John F. Kennedy and his wife discussed the risks that a President inevitably faces when he makes public appearances. What Kennedy said was mentally recorded by his special assistant, Kenneth O’Donnell, who repeated it to the Warren Commission: “If anybody really wanted to shoot the President of the U.S., it was not a very difficult job—all one had to do was get a high building some day with a telescopic rifle, and there was nothing anybody could do to defend against such an attempt.” A few minutes later, Kennedy departed for Dallas.
Maximum Exposure. As the Warren Commission observes, Kennedy’s trip to Texas had three purposes: to smooth over splits among state Democrats, to make fund-raising appearances for the party, and to see—and be seen by—the people. Everyone at the White House agreed that a motorcade through Dallas would be the way to win maximum exposure. A lone dissenter, Texas Governor John Connally, argued that it would take too much time away from other appearances; he withdrew his objection when Kennedy decided to extend his Texas tour from one day, as originally planned, to two.
The chief of the Dallas office of the Secret Service, Forrest V. Sorrels, proposed the route for the motorcade, bearing in mind that the Secret Service was expected to send the President, in Kenny O’Donnell’s words, “through an area which exposes him to the greatest number of people.” By the most direct route, only four miles separate Love Field, where the President’s jet landed at 11:40 a.m., and the Trade Mart, where he was scheduled to speak. But the motorcade meandered ten miles through suburbs and city. There were plenty of high buildings along the way.
In the 15-car motorcade, the Kennedys and the Connallys rode in the third car, a 1961 Lincoln convertible equipped with a clear plastic bubble top. But on O’Donnell’s instructions, the bubble top was down; it was a clear, sunny day. Moreover, the President had ordered that no Secret Service agents were to ride on the small running boards at the rear of the car.
“That Is Very Obvious.” On the drive into Dallas, Kennedy twice called his car to a halt, once to respond to a sign asking him to shake hands, the second time to talk to a Catholic nun and a group of small children. The welcome, said the Warren Commission, was “tumultuous.” For days, the city’s officials and editorialists had exhorted the people to give a hearty, nonpartisan welcome to their President. They were still smarting from the bad publicity that Dallas had received a month earlier when a band of right-wingers jostled and spat at Adlai Stevenson.
The crowd was thick at the triangular Dealey Plaza, on the western end of downtown Dallas. There the motorcade slowed down to turn right into Houston Street for one block; then it turned left onto Elm—and, traveling at precisely 11.2 m.p.h., headed down a slight slope past the seven-story, orange brick headquarters of the Texas School Book Depository Co., a private firm that distributes textbooks. Inside the Lincoln, Mrs. Connally turned and smiled: “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” Replied Kennedy, smiling: “That is very obvious.”
“I Love You, Jack.” At 12:30 o’clock, reports the Warren Commission, Jacqueline Kennedy “heard a sound similar to a motorcycle noise and a cry from Governor Connally, which caused her to look to her right. On turning, she saw a quizzical look on her husband’s face as he raised his left hand to his throat. Mrs. Kennedy then heard a second shot and saw the President’s skull torn open under the impact of this bullet. As she cradled her mortally wounded husband, Mrs. Kennedy cried, ‘Oh, my God, they have shot my husband. I love you, Jack.’
“Governor Connally testified that he recognized the first noise as a rifle shot, and the thought immediately crossed his mind that it was an assassination attempt. From his position in the right jump seat immediately in front of the President, he instinctively turned to his right because the shot appeared to come from over his right shoulder. Unable to see the President as he turned, the Governor started to look back over his left shoulder, but he never completed the turn because he felt something strike him in the back.
“Mrs. Connally, too, heard a frightening noise from her right. Looking back over her right shoulder, she saw that the President had both hands at his neck. She watched as he slumped down with an empty expression on his face. [Secret Service Agent] Roy Kellerman, in the right front seat of the limousine, heard a report like a firecracker. Turning to his right in the direction of the noise, Kellerman heard the President say, ‘My God, I am hit.’
“Mrs. Connally heard a second shot fired and pulled her husband down into her lap. Observing his blood-covered chest as he was pulled into his wife’s lap, Governor Connally believed himself mortally wounded. He cried out: ‘Oh, no, no, no. My God, they are going to kill us all.’ At first Mrs. Connally thought that her husband had been killed, but then she noticed an almost imperceptible movement and knew that he was still alive. She said, ‘It’s all right. Be still.’ The Governor was lying with his head on his wife’s lap when he heard a shot hit the President. At that point, both Governor and Mrs. Connally observed brain tissue splattered over the interior of the car.”
All evidence is that three shots were fired, but there is disagreement about which ones hit whom. Connally believes that the first one struck Kennedy in the neck, that Connally was hit by the second, that the third caused the massive wound in the President’s head.
But the Commission presents evidence that one shot went wild and two hit—with the one that pierced the President’s throat continuing on to hit Connally.
“Get Down!” Two cars to the rear, in the Lincoln carrying the Lyndon Johnsons and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, Secret Service Man Rufus W. Youngblood heard “an explosive noise.” He wheeled around from the front seat, hit Johnson on the shoulder and yelled, “Get down!” Reported Johnson: “Almost in the same moment in which Youngblood hit or pushed me, he vaulted over the back seat and sat on me. I was bent over under the weight of Agent Youngblood’s body, toward Mrs. Johnson and Senator Yarborough.”
In the second car behind Johnson, Mrs. Earle Cabell, wife of the mayor of Dallas, saw a “projection” sticking out of a window of the School Book Depository building. From a press car at the rear of the motorcade, Robert H. Jackson, a Dallas Times Herald photographer, saw a rifle being slowly drawn back through an open window. Directly across from the building, Amos Lee Euins, a 15-year-old ninth-grade student, saw a man shoot twice from a window; Euins hid behind a bench.
Steamfitter Howard L. Brennan, standing across from the School Book Depository building, had noticed a man at the sixth-floor corner window; while waiting for the motorcade to arrive, Brennan had watched him leave the window “a couple of times.” After Brennan heard a shot, he looked up again: “And this man that I saw previous was aiming for his last shot. Well, as it appeared to me, he was standing up and resting against the left window sill, taking positive aim, and fired his last shot. As I calculate, a couple of seconds. He drew the gun back from the window as though he was drawing it back to assure hisself that he hit his mark, and then he disappeared.” Brennan stopped a police officer, gave a description of the man: slender, about 5 ft. 10 in., in his early 30s. The description was flashed to all Dallas patrol cars. Brennan later picked Lee Harvey Oswald out of a police lineup.
“His Condition Was Hopeless.” Five minutes after the shooting, the presidential limousine screeched into the driveway of the Parkland Memorial Hospital. Vice President Johnson’s car and two cars loaded with Secret Service men arrived almost simultaneously. Agent Clinton Hill removed his suit jacket and covered the President’s head and chest to prevent photographs.
The braking of the car jolted Governor Connally back to consciousness. Despite his grave wounds, he bravely tried to stand up and get out so that the doctors could reach the President. But he collapsed again. Mrs. Kennedy held the President in her lap, and for a moment she refused to release him. Then three Secret Service men lifted him onto a stretcher and pushed it into Trauma Room One.
Twelve doctors had rushed into the emergency room. Surgeon Charles J. Carrico was the first to examine Kennedy. Says the Warren report: “He noted that the President was blue-white or ashen in color; had slow, spasmodic, agonal respiration without any coordination; made no voluntary movements; had his eyes open with the pupils dilated without any reaction to light; evidenced no palpable pulse; and had a few chest sounds that were thought to be heartbeats. On the basis of these findings, Dr. Carrico concluded that President Kennedy was still alive.” But, added the report, “his condition was hopeless, and the extraordinary efforts of the doctors to save him could not help but to have been unavailing.” One bullet had hit near the base of the back of the President’s neck slightly to the right of the spine, traveled slightly downward, ripped the windpipe, and shot out the front of his neck at almost the same speed at which it hit; it nicked a corner of the knot on his necktie. That wound, says the Warren Commission, lethal.” But the second bullet that hit bored into the right rear of his skull, “causing a massive and fatal wound” approximately five inches wide on the right side of his head. So extensive was the damage that the Parkland doctors were unsure whether the bullets had landed from back or front. They did not discover the wounds in the back of his neck or head, because they did not roll him over to examine him. Said Dr. Carrico: “I suppose nobody really had the heart to do it.”
Dr. Carrico inserted a tube in the throat wound, connecting it to a Bennett machine, which stimulates respiration. Dr. Malcolm O. Perry, the chief doctor, decided that a more radical procedure was necessary; he performed a tracheotomy, making an incision that cut away the wound in the front of the throat. Meanwhile, two doctors infused blood and fluids into the President’s right leg and left arm. Dr. Carrico gave him hydrocortisone. Two others inserted chest tubes to drain off blood and air from the chest cavity.
But nothing could revive the nerves, muscles or heart. At about 1 o’clock, Father Oscar L. Huber administered the last rites, and Dr. William Kemp Clark pronounced the President dead.
The Evidence Against Oswald
The Warren Commission’s evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald is over whelming beyond reasonable or even rational doubt.
Oswald’s Nov. 22 presence in the Texas School Book Depository Building, both before and until shortly after the assassination, is absolutely authenticated. Moreover, an eyewitness placed Oswald near the killer’s sixth-floor store room lair a scant 3 minutes before the fatal shots were fired. In that store room, the Commission says, Oswald’s palmprint was found on a carton that had been moved to make a nest for the assassin as he peered out the window.
The Rifle. Within minutes after the assassination, cops found hidden in the storeroom a cheap, Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5-mm. (about .26-cal.) rifle, serial number C2766. The FBI learned that the same rifle, already mounted with a Japanese-made, four-power telescopic sight, had been mailed in March 1963 from a Chicago firm to “A. Hidell, P.O. Box 2915” in Dallas. Handwriting experts told the Commission that the coupon ordering the weapon, the signature on a money order to pay for it and the address on the envelope all were written by Oswald’s hand. Oswald’s wallet contained fake identification cards for “Alek James Hidell”; one such card carried Oswald’s own photograph.
No identifiable fingerprints were found on the rifle after the assassination. According to the Commission, this was partly because the wooden stock was too rough to hold them. But the police did discover a palmprint from Oswald on a section of the barrel attached to the stock. Said the Commission: “Oswald’s palmprint on the underside of the barrel demonstrates that he handled the rifle when it was disassembled.” A tuft of cotton fibers — blue, grey-black and orange-yellow — was found clinging to the rifle butt. Under microscopic examination, the fibers matched those in a shirt that Oswald had worn the day of the assassination.
Oswald’s wife Marina identified the weapon in testimony to the Commission as the “fateful rifle of Lee Oswald.” In May 1963, she said, she had often seen Oswald holding the rifle while lounging on their screened porch, peering through the cross hairs in the telescopic sight, constantly practicing the use of the bolt mechanism.
Marina took a backyard photo in the spring of 1963 that showed her husband arrogantly posing with his rifle and a holstered pistol. In its investigation, the Warren Commission had the FBI photograph a man in an identical stance with Oswald’s rifle under identical lighting conditions. There could be no doubt that it was the assassination weapon. A photography expert tested the original negative of the photograph, testified that it had been “exposed in Oswald’s Imperial Reflex camera to the exclusion of all other cameras.”
Fibers & Prints. Oswald had kept his rifle, wrapped in an old brown-and-green blanket, in a garage at the Irving, Texas, home of Mrs. Ruth Paine, where Marina stayed the last eight weeks before Nov. 22. Oswald himself was living in a Dallas rooming house and rarely visited the Paine home on week nights. But, on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 21, he hitched a ride to Irving with a fellow Book Depository worker, Buell Wesley Frazier. Oswald’s explanation: he wanted to pick up “some curtain rods” to use in his rooming-house quarters (which were, says the Warren Commission, already supplied with curtains and curtain rods).
Oswald stayed overnight in the Paine home, never mentioned the curtain rods, departed in the morning with a bundle with brown-paper wrapping. He placed the package in Frazier’s car, casually explained that it contained the curtain rods. When Frazier and Oswald arrived at the Book Depository parking lot, Oswald hurried to the building some 50 feet ahead of Frazier. He carried with him the package.
After Kennedy’s assassination, police found a paper bag on the floor near the window from which the fatal shots were fired. It had been fashioned from brown wrapping paper and brown paper tape, identified by Commission experts as having come from the School Book Depository shipping department. Its size was perfect for accommodating Oswald’s rifle, if the weapon were disassembled. Oswald’s palmprint and a fingerprint were on the bag. Investigators also turned up several green fibers and a single brown one in the bag, tested them and testified to the Commission that they matched fibers on the blanket Oswald had used to wrap his rifle in the Paine garage.
Says the Commission: “The preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald 1) told the curtain-rod story to Frazier to explain both the return to Irving on a Thursday and the obvious bulk of the package which he intended to bring to work the next day; 2) took paper and tape from the wrapping bench of the Depository and fashioned a bag large enough to carry the disassembled rifle; 3) removed the rifle from the blanket in the Paine garage on Thursday evening; 4) carried the rifle into the Depository building, concealed in the bag; and 5) left the bag alongside the window from which the shots were fired.”
Assassin’s Eye View. Was Oswald’s rifle accurate enough to enable him to squeeze off three shots, of which at least two found their mark in something less than 7.9 seconds? After more than 100 test firings, FBI experts said that it was. One FBI agent testified that the cross hairs on the telescopic sight were off just enough to enable the assassin to hit his moving targets without having “to take any lead whatsoever.” The Commission’s conclusion: “The various tests showed that the Mannlicher-Carcano was an accurate rifle and that the use of a four-power scope was a substantial aid to rapid, accurate firing. Oswald’s Marine training in marksmanship, his other rifle experience and his established familiarity with this particular weapon show that he possessed ample capability to commit the assassination.”
The Commission had in its possession three movie films, taken by amateurs, of Kennedy’s car at the moment of the assassination. Using these films as its guide, the Commission staged a chilling re-enactment of the assassination. Oswald’s rifle, with scope, was pointed out of the sixth-floor window. A camera attachment took pictures, complete with cross hairs, of a car moving past on the street below.
In that car, sitting where Kennedy and Connally sat, were two FBI men, closely resembling Kennedy and Connally in physical proportions. Kennedy’s stand-in had a chalk-marked circle on the back of his suit jacket just at the point where the assassin’s first bullet struck the President; Connally’s double wore the actual jacket the Governor had worn on Nov. 22, and its torn fabric still showed a bullet hole. From its assassin’s eye view, the camera first showed the line of sight between the window and the car obscured by an oak tree (the Warren Commission was careful to note that the amount of foliage on the tree was about the same at the time of the experiment as it had been on Nov. 22). But once the car moved away from the oak tree, the test pictures, taken through the four-power rifle scope, clearly showed what an easy target Kennedy had been.
Into the Theater. The Commission also reconstructed Oswald’s movements after the assassination with near minute-by-minute precision. A Dallas motorcycle cop, M. L. Baker, who was in the presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, had heard the shots, dashed into the Depository building. The Commission had him re-enact his part, timed him at 90 seconds between the time he left his motorcycle and the time he encountered (but did not arrest) Oswald outside a second-floor lunchroom. Could Oswald have run that quickly from the sixth floor to the second? A Secret Service agent, testing, moved at a “fast walk” from the killer’s lair to the lunch room in 78 seconds—without being winded.
From the Depository, Oswald moved on foot, by bus and taxi cab back to his rooming house, changed to a grey zippered jacket, picked up his mailorder Smith & Wesson .38-cal. revolver and left about 1 p.m. Says the Commission: “Oswald was next seen about nine-tenths of a mile away at the southeast corner of 10th Street and Patton Avenue, moments before the [Officer J. D.] Tippit shooting.”
A description of the assassin had already been broadcast three times by police on the basis of a report from Eyewitness Howard Brennan. At 1:15 p.m., Officer Tippit saw Oswald and called him to his squad car. Oswald walked over to the window vent, spoke briefly. Tippit got out, started toward the front of the car. Oswald shot Tippit four times with his revolver. Tippit was dead before he hit the ground. Says the Commission: “At least 12 persons saw the man with the revolver in the vicinity of the Tippit crime scene at or immediately after the shooting. By the evening of Nov. 22, five of them had identified Lee Harvey Oswald in police lineups as the man they saw. A sixth did so the next day. Three others subsequently identified Oswald from a photograph. Two witnesses testified that Oswald resembled the man they had seen. One witness felt he was too distant from the gunman to make a positive identification.”
In his flight, Oswald ran within twelve feet of one witness, who heard him mutter either “poor damn cop” or “poor dumb cop.” Another witness reported the killing to headquarters on Tippit’s car radio, and almost immediately sirens whined through the neighborhood. Oswald paused in the doorway of a shoe store managed by one Johnny Calvin Brewer. Then, while Brewer watched, Oswald, disheveled and panting, ducked into the lobby of the Texas Theater. Cashier Julia Postal saw him, but when she heard the police sirens she stepped out of the box office. Brewer asked her if the man who had just entered the theater had bothered to pay for a ticket. “No, by golly, he didn’t,” said Mrs. Postal. She called the police. They came quickly, entered the theater, turned on the lights, and Brewer identified Oswald in a seat near the back. Patrolman M. N. McDonald approached him, heard him say: “Well, it’s all over now.” Oswald sprang up, slugged McDonald in the face. The assassin drew a pistol, tried to fire, but fell while grappling with police.
Once in custody, Oswald was belligerent and uncooperative. Summed up the Warren Commission: “Oswald provided little information during his questioning. Frequently, however, he was confronted with evidence which he could not explain, and he resorted to statements which are known to be lies. While Oswald’s untrue statements during interrogation were not considered items of positive proof by the Commission, they had probative value in deciding the weight to be given his denials that he assassinated President Kennedy and killed Patrolman Tippit. Since independent evidence revealed that Oswald repeatedly and blatantly lied to the police, the Commission gave little weight to his denials of guilt.”
The explanation of Oswald’s motive for killing President Kennedy was buried with him. But the Warren Commission, convinced that Oswald, and Oswald alone, was responsible for the assassination, dug deep into his personal background in its attempt to fathom the reasons why.
“While Oswald appeared to most of those who knew him as a meek and harmless person,” says the Commission, “he sometimes imagined himself as ‘the Commander’ and, apparently seriously, as a political prophet—a man who said that after 20 years he would be prime minister. His wife testified that he compared himself with great leaders of history. Such ideas of grandeur were apparently accompanied by notions of oppression. He had a great hostility toward his environment, whatever it happened to be, which he expressed in striking and sometimes violent acts long before the assassination.”
Traumatic Effect. Born Oct. 18, 1939, two months after the death of his father, Oswald was raised under the domineering influence of his eccentric mother. The relationship had an obvious traumatic effect on the boy. Young Oswald once told a probation officer: “Well, I’ve got to live with her. I guess I love her.” Says the Warren Commission: “It may also be significant that, as reported by John Pic [Oswald’s half brother], ‘Lee slept with my mother until I joined the service in 1950. This would make him approximately 10, well, almost 11 years old.’ ”
After Oswald himself joined the Marines in 1956, he was nicknamed “Ozzie Rabbit” because of his baby face and his reticence in making friends—which was mistaken for shyness. Yet he was twice court-martialed, once for unauthorized possession of a pistol and once for abusive language to a sergeant. And he was unpopular among his barracks mates for his open advocacy of Marxism.
Discharged from the Marine Corps in 1959, Oswald went to the Soviet Union and demanded U.S.S.R. citizenship. He expressed his feelings about the U.S. in a letter to Robert Pic: “In the event of war, I would kill any American who put a uniform on in defense of the American Government— any American.” At one point, when the Russian government was threatening to kick Oswald out of the country, he slashed a wrist in an abortive suicide attempt. The Soviet government purportedly took pity, allowed Oswald to stay on, got him a job as a metal worker in Minsk, where he met and married Marina Prusakova, then a 19-year-old pharmacist.
Open Hostility. But Oswald was not satisfied with his menial state in life, and 18 months after his defection he decided he wanted to go home. Says the Warren Commission: “His attempt to renounce his citizenship had been an open expression of hostility against the U.S. and a profound rejection of his early life. The dramatic break with society in America now had to be undone. His return to the U.S. publicly testified to the utter failure of what had been the most important act of his life.”
Taking up family-life in Dallas, Oswald found that things were tough there too. Through the Texas Employment Commission he got a job with an advertising photography firm in Dallas, but on April 6, 1963, he lost it.
Flopped Miserably. Four days later, Oswald, the Warren Commission states flatly, tried unsuccessfully to assassinate right-wing former Army Major General Edwin Walker in his Dallas home. Says the Commission: “Oswald had been planning his attack on General Walker for at least 1 and perhaps as much as 2 months. He outlined his plans in a notebook and studied them at considerable length before his attack.” Before he left home on the night of April 10, Oswald left a lengthy note in Russian for Marina. It told her what to do if he didn’t return, wound up saying, “If I am alive and taken prisoner, the city jail is located at the end of the bridge through which we always passed on going to the city.” (Actually, Oswald had mistaken the location of the city jail for that of the county jail.)
As had happened so often before, Oswald was a failure. A rifle shot crashed through the window of Walker’s study —just at the moment that Walker lowered his head to take a closer look at a book he was reading. The bullet missed. Said Marina to the Warren Commission: “When he came back, I asked him what had happened. He was very pale. He only told me he had shot at General Walker.” Moreover, in Oswald’s effects after the Kennedy assassination, officials found a map of Walker’s neighborhood and three photographs—two showing the rear of Walker’s home, the other an entrance to his driveway from a back alley.
Soon after he shot at Walker, Oswald took an abortive fling at organizing a Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans, but his deepest drive then was to get to Cuba himself. He actually talked to Marina about hijacking a plane and flying there.
On Sept. 27, Oswald went to Mexico City himself, headed straight for the Cuban embassy. He tried to get a visa to Cuba but flopped miserably. He was in Mexico seven days, and Commission investigators have traced enough of his activities there to be persuaded that he made no conspiratorial contacts about killing Kennedy at the time.
“Not a Man.” Back in the U.S. with Marina, Oswald once more suffered frustrations. “The relations between Lee and Marina Oswald,” says the Warren Commission, “are of great importance in any attempt to understand Oswald’s possible motivation.” Oswald was a wife-beating tyrant, laid down orders that Marina must not smoke, drink or wear cosmetics. But, says the Commission, “although she denied it in some of her testimony before the Commission, it appears that Marina Oswald also complained that her husband was not able to provide more material things for her.” Neighbors also recall that Marina complained to them in his presence about Oswald’s sexual inadequacies, that she had said he was “not a man.”
On Nov. 18, Marina and Lee Oswald quarreled bitterly over the telephone. Marina was staying with Mrs. Ruth Paine, Oswald had been living in a Dallas boarding house. But now Marina discovered that he was there under a phony name. She furiously scolded him. Still, said Marina to the Warren Commission, “he called several times, but after I hung up on him and didn’t want to talk to him, he did not call again.”
“Perpetually Discontented.” Surprisingly, Oswald arrived at the Paine home on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 21. Marina told the Commission: “He tried to talk to me, but I would not answer him and he was very upset.” Oswald left the house for nearly an hour—during which time he was presumably out in the garage, disassembling his rifle and placing it in the brown paper bag he had brought with him to carry “curtain rods” back to his boardinghouse. Next morning he left for his job in Dallas, the “curtain rod” bag in hand.
Concludes the Warren Commission: “Many factors were undoubtedly involved in Oswald’s motivation for the assassination, and the Commission, does not believe that it can ascribe to him any one motive or group of motives. It is apparent, however, that Oswald was moved by an overriding hostility to his environment. He does not appear to have been able to establish meaningful relationships with other people. He was perpetually discontented with the world around him. Long before the assassination he expressed his hatred for American society and acted in protest against it. Oswald’s search for what he conceived to be the perfect society was doomed from the start. He sought for himself a place in history—a role as the ‘great man’ who would be recognized as having been in advance of his times. His commitment to Marxism and communism appears to have been another important factor in his motivation. He also had demonstrated [through the attempt to kill General Walker] a capacity to act decisively and without regard to the consequences when such action would further his aims of the moment. Out of these and the many other factors which may have molded the character of Lee Harvey Oswald there emerged a man capable of assassinating President Kennedy.”
The Assassin’s Assassin
Was Jack Ruby in any way involved with Lee Harvey Oswald in President Kennedy’s assassination? And did he therefore kill Oswald to “shut him up”?
To find the answers, the Warren Commission threw harsh light on every aspect of Ruby’s life. It accounted for almost every second of Ruby’s activities from Nov. 21 to Nov. 24 “on the premise that if Jack Ruby were involved in a conspiracy, his activities and associations during this period would, in some way, have reflected the conspiratorial relationship.” Concludes the Commission: “Examination of Ruby’s activities immediately preceding and following the death of President Kennedy revealed no sign of any conduct which suggests that he was involved in the assassination.”
The Smudgy Details. In its investigation, the Commission seemed to dig up every smudgy detail of Ruby’s shabby life. On Nov. 21, the Commission says, Ruby “visited with a young lady who was job-hunting in Dallas, paid his rent for his Carousel nightclub premises, conferred about a peace bond he had been obliged to post as a result of a fight with one of his striptease dancers, consulted with an attorney about problems he was having with federal tax authorities [who said he owed the U.S. $40,000], distributed membership cards for the Carousel Club, talked with Dallas County Assistant District Attorney William F. Alexander about insufficient-fund checks which a friend had passed, and submitted advertising copy for his nightclubs to the Dallas Morning News.” That night he took a turn as the Carousel’s M.C., and “as late as 2:30 a.m.” was seen having a snack near his other dive, the Vegas Club.
On Nov. 22, Ruby was again in the advertising department of the Morning News, bragging about how he handled tough guys in his clubs—and also complaining about how bad business was. After the assassination, Ruby recalled, “I left the building and I went down and I got in my car and I couldn’t stop crying.”
He went to the Carousel, made a flood of phone calls to family, friends and business cronies in which he babbled about the assassination, got sick after eating dinner at his sister’s apartment, went to a synagogue service, stopped at a delicatessen about 10:30 and bought eight kosher sandwiches and ten soft drinks.
On the Twistboard. At about 11:30 p.m., Ruby was on the third floor of the Dallas Police Department, saying that he was a translator for the Israeli press. Amid the appallingly lax security, he was present at a frenzied midnight press conference with Oswald, finally left for radio station KLIF, where he parceled out his sandwiches and pop among staffers.
At about 2:30 a.m., he stopped at a garage to gab for an hour with one of his strippers and her boy friend, a Dallas cop, and about 4 he turned up in the composing room of the Dallas Times Herald, where he performed on a “twist-board,” a swiveling exercise apparatus, which he was trying to promote.
Mumbling & Pacing. On Sunday, Nov. 24, Jack Ruby arose in a nervous state, mumbling to himself and pacing the floor. He later told the Commission that he had seen in the paper a “heartbreaking letter” to Caroline Kennedy and that “alongside that letter on the same sheet of paper was a small comment in the newspaper that, I don’t know how it was stated, that Mrs. Kennedy may have to come back for the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.” He left his apartment about 11 a.m., a revolver in his pocket, drove to the point where Kennedy was shot and looked at wreaths scattered along the street.
Then he drove to the Western Union office. He paid for a telegram, got a receipt that was stamped 11:17 a.m. He left hurriedly, walked in the direction of the police department building where Oswald was being held. At 11:21 a.m. he lunged from a crowd of newsmen and cops to murder Lee Oswald.
Into the Past. Peering further into Ruby’s background, the Warren Commission asked the FBI, the Muncie, Ind., Police Department, and the Indiana State Police to check a report that Ruby had been connected with Communist Party activities in Muncie in the 1940s. The Commission drew a blank. When Ruby was arrested in Dallas after he shot Oswald, he had in his possession radio scripts from ultraconservative Texas Billionaire H. L. Hunt’s Life Line radio program. This of course led to reports that Ruby had been involved in a rightist plot against Kennedy; the Warren Commission found no grounds whatever for such a notion. There were reports that Oswald had been seen in Ruby’s clubs. The Commission patiently chased down and canceled out each story. In answer to another rumor came this Commission statement: “The Commission has investigated rumors that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were both homosexuals and, thus, might have known each other in that respect. However, no evidence has been uncovered to support the rumors, the closest acquaintances of both men emphatically deny them and Ruby’s nightclubs were not known to have been frequented by homosexuals.”
Among the Commission’s conclusions: “Ruby was regarded by most persons who knew him as moody and unstable—hardly one to have encouraged the confidence of persons involved in a sensitive conspiracy.”
“Speculations & Rumors”
“Myths have traditionally surrounded the dramatic assassinations of history,” writes the Warren Commission in its Appendix XII, titled “Speculations and Rumors.” The report continues: “The rumors and theories about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln that are still being publicized were for the most part bruited within months of his death. Wherever there is any element of mystery in such dramatic events, misconceptions often result from sensational speculations.”
In its probe into the assassination of President Kennedy, the Commission found that “many questions have been raised about the facts out of genuine puzzlement or because of misinformation which attended the early reporting of the fast-crowding events.” The Commission says: “Throughout the country people reported overheard remarks, conversations, threats, prophecies, and opinions that seemed to them to have a possible bearing on the assassination. More than a few informants initially told their speculations or professed firsthand information to newspaper and television reporters. Later, many of them changed or retracted their stories in telling them to official investigators.”
In short, the Warren Commission saw it as its duty not only to report what did happen relating to the Kennedy assassination, but also what did not. Appendix XII goes on for 32 pages, first citing phony rumors and bad speculations, then citing the Commission’s findings that knock down the rumors and speculations.
THE SOURCE OF THE SHOTS
Gossip has persisted that one or all of the shots were fired not from the Texas School Book Depository building, where the fact of Oswald’s presence is undisputed, but from the railroad overpass that the presidential cavalcade was approaching. This would tend to prove either that 1) Oswald, in the School Book Depository building, was innocent, since the shots had come from the overpass; or 2) Oswald, in the School Book Depository building, had an accomplice on the overpass. If the shots had come from the School Book Depository building, they would have hit the President and Governor Connally from behind (which they did). If any of the shots had come from the overpass, the victims would have been hit from in front. Excerpts from the Commission report:
“Speculation—The shots that killed the President came from the railroad overpass.
“Commission finding—The shots that entered the neck and head of the President and wounded Governor Connally came from behind and above. There is no evidence that any shots were fired at the President from anywhere other than the Texas School Book Depository building.
“Speculation—The railroad overpass was left unguarded on Nov. 22.
“Commission finding—On Nov. 22, the railroad overpass was guarded by two Dallas policemen, Patrolmen J. W. Foster and J. C. White, who have testified that they permitted only railroad personnel on the overpass.
“Speculation—The presidential car had a small round bullet hole in the front windshield. This is evidence that a shot or shots were fired at the President from the front of the car.
“Commission finding—The windshield was not penetrated by any bullet. A small residue of lead was found on the inside surface of the windshield; on the outside of the windshield was a very small pattern of cracks immediately in front of the lead residue on the inside.
The bullet from which this lead residue came was probably one of those that struck the President and therefore came from overhead and to the rear. Experts established that the abrasion in the wind shield came from impact on the inside of the glass.”
COULD HE OR COULDN’T HE?
Says the Commission: “Speculations tending to support the theory that Oswald could not have assassinated President Kennedy are based on a wide variety of assertions.”
“Speculation—Oswald could not have known the motorcade route before he arrived at work on Nov. 22.
“Commission finding—The motorcade route was published in both Dallas papers on Nov. 19.
“Speculation—Oswald spent the morning of Nov. 22 in the company of other workers in the building and remained with them until they went downstairs to watch the President go by, no later probably than 12:15.
“Commission finding—Oswald did not spend the morning in the company of other workers in the building, and before the assassination he was last seen in the building on the sixth floor at about 11:55 a.m. by Charles Givens, another employee.
“Speculation—It is probable that the chicken lunch, remains of which were found on the sixth floor, was eaten by an accomplice of Oswald who had hidden on the sixth floor overnight.
“Commission finding—The chicken lunch had been eaten shortly after noon on Nov. 22 by Bonnie Ray Williams, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository, who after eating his lunch went to the fifth floor where he was when the shots were fired.
“Speculation—A picture published widely in newspapers and magazines after the assassination showed Lee Harvey Oswald standing on the front steps of the Texas School Book Depository shortly before the President’s motorcade passed by.
“Commission finding—The man on the front steps of the building, thought or alleged by some to be Lee Harvey Oswald, is actually Billy Lovelady, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository, who somewhat resembles Oswald. Lovelady has identified himself in the picture, and other employees of the Depository standing with him, as shown in the picture, have verified that he was the man in the picture and that Oswald was not there.”
OSWALD IN RUSSIA
Says the Commission: “Oswald’s residence in the Soviet Union for more than 2½ years aroused speculation after his arrest that he was an agent of the Soviet Union or in some way affiliated with it. This speculation was supported by assertions that he had received exceptionally favored treatment from the Soviet Government in securing permission to enter and leave the country, especially the latter, because his Russian wife and child were permitted to leave with him.”
“Speculation—It is probable that Oswald had prior contacts with Soviet agents before he entered Russia in 1959 because his application for a visa was processed and approved immediately on receipt.
“Commission finding—There is no evidence that Oswald was in touch with Soviet agents before his visit to Russia. Had Oswald been recruited as a Russian agent while he was still in the Marines, it is most improbable that he would have been encouraged to defect. He would have been of greater value to Russian intelligence as a Marine radar operator than as a defector.
“Speculation—Oswald was trained by the Russians in a special school for assassins at Minsk.
“Commission finding—Commission investigations revealed no evidence to support this claim or the existence of such a school in Minsk during the time Oswald was there.” (In an earlier section of its report, the Commission says: “The CIA has informed the Commission that it is in possession of considerable information on the location of secret Soviet training institutions, and it knows of no such institution in or near Minsk during the time Oswald was there.”)
Lessons to Be Learned
Pondering how tragedy could have been avoided, the Warren Commission found serious lapses in security and sense.
The report faults the FBI for failure to issue warnings about Oswald after his return from Russia. It charges the Dallas Police Department with several ineptitudes, including “the security breakdown which led to Oswald’s death.” It accuses the horde of “news media” people who descended on Dallas after Kennedy’s assassination of helping create the chaos that made Oswald’s death possible.
But the Commission saves its sharpest criticism for the federal agency whose specific duty it is to protect the life of the President: the U.S. Secret Service.
The commissioners compliment Secret Service agents for their courage under fire in Dallas, agree that some of the agency’s advance security precautions were “thorough and well executed.” But in the Secret Service’s most important job—that of identifying and thwarting potential assassins—the Commission declares the agency to be “seriously deficient.” Incredible as it may seem, the Secret Service did not inspect the Texas School Book Depository before President Kennedy’s visit, did not know that Oswald worked there, did not even know who Oswald was.
“Unduly Restrictive View.” The Secret Service has 50,000 cases on file, almost all involving persons who have by word or in writing over the last 20 years expressed direct threats against the life of a President. The White House mail room is a prime source for the file, and the list is loaded with harmless crackpots. The Service tries to keep surveillance over about 100 people who are considered to be “serious risks” to the President; of these, between twelve and 15 are especially dangerous because they have no fixed address.
When Kennedy was assassinated, no one from the Dallas-Fort Worth area was on the Secret Service’s “serious risk” list. The FBI had a bulky folder on Oswald, but it did not bother to tip off the Secret Service. Says the Commission: “The FBI had no official responsibility, under the Secret Service criteria existing at the time of the President’s trip, to refer to the Secret Service the information it had about Oswald. The Commission has concluded, however, that the FBI took an unduly restrictive view of its role in preventive intelligence work prior to the assassination.” Adds the Commission: “The Secret Service and the FBI differ as to whether Oswald fell within the category of ‘threats against the President’ which should be referred to the Service.”
Divided Responsibility. Liaison between the Secret Service and the Dallas police was also faulty. Says the Commission: “At the time of the trip to Dallas, the Secret Service as a matter of practice did not investigate, or cause to be checked, any building located along the motorcade route to be taken by the President. The responsibility for observing windows in these buildings during the motorcade was divided between local police stationed on the streets to regulate crowds and Secret Service agents riding in the motorcade. The Commission has concluded that these arrangements during the trip to Dallas were clearly not sufficient.”
In rebuttal, Secret Service Chief James J. Rowley testified that an inspection of many blocks of tall buildings is “not practical.” But the Commission contends that “an attempt to cover only the most obvious points of possible ambush along the route in Dallas might well have included the Texas School Book Depository Building.”
Liquor & Late Hours. In the early morning hours of the assassination day, nine of the 28 agents on the Kennedy tour committed what the Commission calls “a breach of discipline.” Secret
Service regulations specify that any agent working in connection with a presidential trip is considered on duty at all times. Such agents are forbidden to drink beer, wine or liquor. But the Commission says: “After the President had retired to his hotel, nine agents who were off duty went to the nearby Fort Worth Press Club at midnight or slightly thereafter, expecting to obtain food; they had had little opportunity to eat during the day. No food was available at the Press Club. All of the agents stayed for a drink of beer, or in several cases, a mixed drink. According to their affidavits, the drinking in no case amounted to more than three glasses of beer or 1½ mixed drinks, and others who were present say that no agent was inebriated or acted improperly.
“The last agent left the Press Club by 2 a.m. Two of the nine agents returned to their rooms. The seven others proceeded to an establishment called the Cellar Coffee House, described by some as a beatnik place. There is no indication that any of the agents had any intoxicating drink at that establishment. Most of the agents were there from about 1:30 or 1:45 a.m. to about 2:45 or 3 a.m.; one agent was there from 2 until 5 a.m.
“Each of the agents had duty assignments beginning no later than 8 a.m. that morning. In Dallas, one of the nine agents was assigned to assist in security measures at Love Field, and four had protective assignments at the Trade Mart. The remaining four had key responsibilities as members of the complement of the followup car in the motorcade [the car behind the President’s]. Three of these agents occupied positions on the running boards of the car, and the fourth was seated in the car.”
Under agency regulations, Chief Rowley could have fired the men.”However,” says the Commission, “he felt that any disciplinary action might have given rise to an inference that the violation of the regulation had contributed to the tragic events of November 22. Since he was convinced this was not the case, he believed that it would be unfair to the agents and their families to take explicit disciplinary measures.” To which the Commission commented: “It is conceivable that those men who had little sleep, and who had consumed alcoholic beverages, even in limited quantities, might have been more alert in the Dallas motorcade if they had retired promptly in Fort Worth. However, there is no evidence that these men failed to take any action in Dallas within their power that would have averted the tragedy.”
Experimenting with Risk. The Commission recommends a thorough overhaul of the Secret Service. It urges that the agency aggressively seek information about potential dangers to the President, instead of waiting for tips to dribble in. It suggests that the agency should make trade agreements to swap information with all other federal security agencies, and that it should work more closely with local police departments. It also urges Congress to pass a law making assassination of a President or Vice President a federal offense so that the FBI could bring its full forces to bear immediately and prevent any of the Texas-type “embarrassment and confusion” that can result when local police take charge.
Actually, the Secret Service has been streamlined somewhat since Nov. 22. It has taken on experts in such fields as psychiatry and data processing, is experimenting with methods of ascertaining which big buildings present the greatest risks along a proposed presidential motorcade route. It has equipped the presidential limousine with an optional bubble top that can deflect anything except a shot coming in at a 90° angle (the bubble top that Kennedy rejected was not bulletproof).
The Warren Commission also suggests that the Secret Service, which has been a stepchild of the Treasury Department ever since it began as an anti-counterfeiting force a century ago, be put under the general supervision of a committee of top Cabinet members or the National Security Council. Realizing that the Secret Service is overworked, undermanned, and paid less than the FBI, the Warren Commission endorses a plan to boost the agency’s budget and swell its force by more than 200 men.