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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 10: Dealey Plaza (Part 2)



In the last episode we reviewed some of the witness statements from Dealey Plaza, including five witnesses who claim to have seen Secret Service agents – four who saw a man at the top of the grassy knoll (Officer Joe Smith, Gordon Arnold, Malcolm Summers, and Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman) and one who saw multiple agents behind the School Book Depository (Sargeant DV Harkness).


Now, you would think that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that five people interacted with Secret Service agents – the president of the United States was coming through the area. We would expect there to be Secret Service agents throughout Dealey Plaza.


Of course, the problem is that the record shows that there were not any Secret Service agents stationed in Dealey Plaza. They were all with the motorcade. This means that the five people I just mentioned were either all mistaken OR they actually saw someone impersonating Secret Service, which has serious implications if true.


We’ll keep this open question of the potential mysterious secret service imposter in mind today, as we continue to go over the witness statements from Dealey Plaza.


ED HOFFMAN


There is a fifth witness who appears to further corroborate the story of the mysterious Grassy Knoll Secret Service agent – a deaf and mute man named Ed Hoffman.


It’s worth noting at the outset that Hoffman’s claims are vociferously disputed and ridiculed by Warren Report defenders, which makes sense – because if what Hoffman said is true, his testimony would single-handedly destroy the notion that Oswald acted alone.


On the afternoon of the assassination, Hoffman parked his car on the shoulder of the Stemmons Freeway just west of Dealey Plaza and walked to a point where he could look down-in to the presidents car as it passed below him. Hoffman had a panoramic view of Dealey Plaza and the area behind the grassy knoll fence for 45 minutes before the motorcade arrived.[1]


As he was looking out over the Plaza, Hoffman says he saw a stocky man in a dark blue business suit and black hat standing near the fence. He refers to this person as “Suit man”. There was another man who was tall, thin, and dressed like a railroad worker. Hoffman refers to this person as “Railroad Man.” According to Hoffman, he saw Railroad man standing by the switch box for the railroad in the area behind the fence. Suit man kept walking back and forth between the fence and the switch box and stopping to talk to Railroad man.[2]


Hoffman then saw two cars drive into the parking lot behind the fence: first a white 4 door sedan, then a light green Rambler station wagon. The Rambler parked near the railroad switching tower. Suit man walked over to the Railroad Man one final time and spoke briefly, then returned to the fence. Hoffman then saw Suit Man crouch down pick something up, and stand up. Immediately after that, he saw a puff of smoke by the Suit Man, which Hoffman assumed was from a cigarette, but then realized was from a rifle.[3]


Then, Hoffman says he saw Suit Man turn suddenly with a long gun in his hands and run to Railroad man, tossing the gun to him. Railroad man caught the gun and broke it down by twisting it. He then put the gun pieces in a brown tool bag and walked north along the tracks.


Next, Hoffman saw Suit Man turn back towards Dealey Plaza and begin strolling along the fence. Hoffman saw a uniformed police officer run up the hill and confront Suit Man with a gun. Suit Man held out his empty hands and took an ID out of his pocket and showed it to the police officer, who then put his gun away.


Hoffman then observed Suit Man mingling with the crowd, before he walked over to the Rambler station wagon and got in on the passenger side. The Rambler drove out of the parking lot along the north side of the Schoolbook Depository. Hoffman last saw the Rambler as it made a right turn onto Houston Street.[4]


Wow! Ed Hoffman’s story is a showstopper! If true, Hoffman’s testimony supports the idea that 1) there were shots fired from the grassy knoll, 2) the man who was encountered by Officer Smith, Deputy Constable Weitzman, (and possibly Gordon Arnold), was the grassy knoll shooter, and 3) the shooter got into a Rambler station wagon. Was it the same Rambler that multiple witnesses saw the Oswald lookalike get into after the shooting? Was it the same Rambler that Richard Carr saw the man in the tan sports coat from the sniper’s nest window get into on Record Street? These are questions that need answers.


Hoffman says he tried to tell the authorities immediately about what he saw. He went to the Dallas Police Department and the FBI but they could not interact with him or understand him because they did not have an interprerter and could not understand sign language.


Hoffman then told his father about the incident, but his dad didn’t want him telling authorities because he feared for his son’s safety. During Thanksgiving dinner on November 28, 1963, Ed Hoffman told his Uncle Lt. Robert Hoffman of the Dallas Police Department about what he had seen. His uncle said “Your father is right. You should keep quiet about this. You might be in danger.” When Hoffman protested by using sign language, his uncle said, “You stay down. Hush! You talk, you get shot.”[5]


Hoffman listened to the advice from his police officer Uncle and did not go back to the authorities for awhile. Finally, on June 28, 1967, Hoffman decided he had to tell authorities about what he had seen and went to the Dallas FBI office once again. Hoffman met with Agent Will Hayden Griffin without an interpreter present. Hoffman says Griffin then pointed at him and put his finger over his mouth motioning “You hush”. He then took out his wallet and mimed taking money out of it. He put out a 5 and closed his hand twice to show it was a $500 bribe he was offering. Hoffman refused and Agent Griffin again said “You Hush.” Agent Griffin then called Hoffman’s father and asked if Hoffman was telling the truth. Hoffman’s father said he did not know if his son was telling the truth.


The FBI report about Hoffman says that he provided information about seeing two men behind the fence on the grassy knoll, but that he then returned two hours later to tell the FBI that he was mistaken and that he could not have seen two men behind the grassy knoll fence because of another fence that would have prevented his view.[6] Hoffman says that the FBI distorted his words and that he did not tell Agent Griffin that he couldn’t have seen the men. He says his testimony to the FBI was the opposite - he did see the two men and nothing obstructed his view.


Hoffman’s brother and father told the FBI that Ed had “distorted facts of events observed by him in the past.”[7] But, his father and brother do corroborate Hoffman’s claim that he was standing on the freeway near the time of the shots.[8] The FBI’s final conclusion regarding Hoffman is that he had nothing of value to share on the subject of the assassination.[9]


Given the explosiveness of his testimony, Hoffman’s credibility becomes a huge issue. Warren Report defender John McAdams has written a thorough article that highlights inconsistencies in Hoffman’s testimony throughout the years. It’s true that what Hoffman is saying appears to be supported by Officer Smith’s testimony. But, the people who don’t believe Hoffman think that that he completely fabricated the story and added the part about seeing Officer Smith pull a gun on Suit Man after that fact was already public knowledge.


The problem is that, because Hoffman was a deaf mute, we don’t know if inconsistencies in his story are really just information that was lost in translation, especially during the conversations with the Dallas police and later the FBI where there were no translators available.


At any rate, we know that Hoffman was likely standing where he said he was at the time of the shooting because he told his family about it that night and he said he was standing near a police officer on the freeway – which was likely OfficerEarl Brown. Brown, for his part, says he was standing on the Freeway.[10] Since Hoffman had not come forward at the time Brown was questioned, we don’t know if Brown saw Hoffman because Brown wasn’t asked about him.


Hoffman is either the most important witness in the JFK assassination or a sad person who – after witnessing the murder of a president, realized that he had a unique opportunity for fame, told his family about it, then waited until he had enough public information to back up his tale before going back to the FBI again.


But, why would Hoffman lie? Warren Report defenders have the same answer for any witness who makes explosive claims that support conspiracy. They do it for fame, notoriety, and money. I think that can be true for some witnesses. But, there is no way it’s true for all witnesses whose testimony supports conspiracy. On balance, it seems like there is more to lose from coming forward, like the definite loss of credibility if you’re wrong and potentially death if you’re right, than there is to gain from possible notoriety and theoretical money.


Hoffman’s story about Railroad man fleeing the scene seems to be supported by Dallas Police Officer Tom Tilson, Jr.. Tilson told the HSCA that he was off-duty driving towards Dealey Plaza when he saw a man sliding down the steep bank on the north side of Elm Street immediately to the west of the railroad tracks. Tilson said the man threw something into a dark-colored car on the driver's side, then get on and immediately drive quickly away towards Industrial Boulevard several blocks west of the assassination site.”[11]


Officer Tilson’s story is as disputed as Hoffmans. The primary point raised by critics is that the area where Tilson would have seen the man slide down the hill is wide open and someone else would have seen the same person and come forward. Also, Tilson is seen by Warren Report critics as basking in a life of conspiracy mini-fame, dating Lyndon Johnson’s professed former-mistress Madeleine Brown, and attending JFK assassination conferences where he spoke in the early 90s.[12]


There is one more person who came forward with information that could be related to what Ed Hoffman and Officer Tilson saw – JC Price, who had a great view of Dealey Plaza from his position on the roof of the Terminal Annex Building. According to Price’s affidavit he QUOTE “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, khaki colored trousers. His hair appeared to be long and dark and his agility running could be about 25 years of age. He had something in his hands. I couldn’t be sure. But it may have been a head piece.”[13]


Aside from Price’s affidavit, the other mention of his story that I found was in an FBI report that says that Price QUOTE “saw nothing pertinent.” But Price never changed his story. So, it’s unclear as to why the FBI did not report the information that was in Price’s affidavit.[14]


JC Price’s story does not match up exactly with either Tilson or Hoffman. It could potentially support Hoffman, except for the part about the man carrying a head piece in his hands, which I take to mean some sort of walkie talkie device.


The biggest problem with relying on Price is that he says in his affidavit, quote “there was a volley of shots, I think five, and then much later, maybe as much as five minutes later, another one.” No one else is on the record saying that there was a shot as much as five minutes later. It seems like at least a few other people would have recalled that. I agree that, based on what I know now, there is no way that there was a shot fired five minutes after the other shots. But, it’s also true that Price’s statement was a next day affidavit, which means that what he saw would be fresh in his mind.


At any rate, I don’t rely much on Price as a witness. But, he is one more piece in the headspinning mosaic of Dealey Plaza witnesses that day.


Nix, Tague, and Newman


Which direction did the other witnesses in Dealey Plaza say they heard the shots come from?


Orrville Nix was standing on the corner of Main and Houston where he was filming 8 millimeter video when the shots were fired.


Nix’s film was used by the Warren Commission to determine where the limo was when some of the shots were fired. Nix claimed that the film that was returned to him was altered because frames are missing in the video. The original version of the film, which shows a point of view from the opposite side of the street as the Zapruder film, has gone missing.[15]


Nix was interviewed by Mark Lane and asked where he thought the shots came from.


“Did you think at that time the shots came from the Book Depository Building? No, I thought it came from a fence, between the book depository and the railroad track. Did anyone else also believe the shots came from there? Most everyone thought it came from the fence behind the book depository.[16]


Three people were injured by gunshots fired in Dealey Plaza that day: President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and by-stander, James Tague. Tague was standing near the triple underpass at the West end of Dealey Plaza, where the streets converge. A bullet struck the curb near where Tague was standing, which caused a piece of concrete to break off the curb and hit Tague in the face.


“Right after the presidential car turned the corner, I heard these three loud noises and I jumped behind the concrete abutment, which is between Main and Commerce. There was a motorcycle policeman who stopped his motorcycle near the monument and had drawn his revolver and was racing up the hill to the left of it….At this time, I felt something sting me on the face and was told I had blood on my cheek. Sheriff said where were you standing? I said by the underpass. So, we started walking down there and 10 feet away, there was a very visible mark on the curb where the bullet had struck.[17]


So Tague sees an officer run up the grassy knoll and draw his revolver. (Although, this could not have been Officer Smith because Smith was not on a motorcycle.) Then, Tague realizes that he is bleeding and enlists the help of a nearby sheriff to figure out why. (The Tague bullet that struck the curb becomes very important as we get into the Warren Commission’s theory about how many shots were fired and which ones hit the motorcade – because the Tague bullet must be accounted for in that analysis. Don’t worry. We’ll get into that later.)


Where did Tague believe the shots had come from?


“At the time that you first heard the shots, what was your impression as to the origin of those shots? My first impression is that they had come from the left. Up in this area towards the hill, towards the wooden fence.”[18]


Another Dealey Plaza witness, Bill Newman was standing in front of the triple underpass on Elm Street, not far from where Tague was standing. Newman also says he thought the shots came from the grassy knoll.


“We were just in front of the triple underpass on Elm Street at the edge of the curb, getting ready to waive at the president… the president’s car was some 50 feet in front of us coming towards us and we heard the first shot, I don’t know who was hit first, but the president jumped up in his seat and then as the car got directly in front of us, a gun shot apparently from behind us hit the president in the side of the temple.


“Do you think the first gunshot came from behind you too? I think it came from the same location, apparently back up on the mall. You think the shot came from up on the viaduct towards the president? No, not on the viaduct itself, but on top of the hill on the little mound of ground, the garden.”[19]


The little mound of ground, or garden, as Newman puts it, is known today as the grassy knoll.


Railroad Witnesses


Next, we’ll hear from witnesses who were working on the railroad overpass or in the railroad yards behind the fence on top of the Grassy Knoll.


Lee Bowers worked for Union Terminal railroad as a tower operator. Bowers described to Mark Lane what he saw in the hours before the shooting from his vantage point at the south end of the terminal in a railroad tower looking out over the plaza.


“For some time that morning, since perhaps 10am, we had that area pretty well sealed off. The policemen had been stationed on the triple underpass as well as other strategic corners in the area so that there was very little traffic moving into this area at this time. This is a dead end area that was used primarily for parking after 11:30 there was no movement in the area whatsoever.


Around 12:10, there was a car that entered the area and drove around for some time. It was a 59 oldsmobile station wagon with an out of state license with red sand. It had one male in it who left the entrance. Not too long after that, 5 or 6 minutes, a car of a different description entered the area. He probed to examine the exits and had a microphone device he would put up to his face. A few moments after that, the third car came in. The third car was a 61 or 62 chevrolet, it had an out of state license identical to the first car of the series and had mud on it. There were also political stickers on it. There was one male in this car. He spent more time there. He drove down to the side of the tower where I was located. I could not state that these cars left the area entirely because once they got back onto the extension of Elm Street, they were lost to my vision.”[20]


So Bowers says that he saw various (edit issue, needs fixed) cars driving around in the parking lot. One of them had a walkie talkie type device to communicate, which is a little weird. It is not clear whether any of these vehicles resembled a Rambler station wagon, although the 61 or 62 Chevrolet that Bowers says stopped near the switching tower is consistent with the Rambler Hoffman described stopping near the switching tower. Of course, Bowers said it was a Chevrolet and Hoffman said it was a Rambler. And those are not the same things.


Bowers, who was further away from the fence and at a different angle than Hoffman, did not see a rifle. But, Bowers did see two men near the [grassy knoll] fence at the time of the shooting. He described one as being “middle-aged, or slightly older, fairly heavy-set, in a white shirt, fairly dark trousers.” and the other as a “younger man, about midtwenties, in either a plaid shirt or plaid coat or jacket.”[21]


“At the time of the shooting, in the vicinity of where the two men I have described were, there was a flash of light, or something that occurred which caught my eye in this immediate area on the embankment. Now, what this was I could not state at that time and at this time I could not identify it other than there was some unusual occurrence, a flash of light or smoke or something, which caused me to feel like something out of the ordinary had occurred there.”


The counterpoint to Bowers flash of light claim is that Bowers didn’t describe it as a flash of light until Mark Lane interviewed him. He didn’t mention it at all in his same day affidavit.[22] And he described it during his Warren Commission testimony as “some commotion” in the area of the grassy knoll above Elm Street – which is not as dramatic or specific as a flash of light.[23]


There were also several railroad workers who had a good vantage point to see the Schoolbook Depository and the Grassy Knoll at the time of the shooting: SM Holland, Richard Dodd, and James Simmons. Their interviews from Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment raise questions about the Warren Report conclusions.


SM Holland was a railroad track supervisor for Union Terminal railroad. Holland and a few of his co-workers were standing on the railroad bridge that goes over the triple underpass at the time of the shooting.


“And where did you hear that third shot come from? Right over about 20 or 30 feet, near the end of that little picket fence. And where was the smoke that you saw? It drifted right out underneath those green trees, those two trees from behind the fence. It kind of hung there for a few seconds long enough that you could see a puff of smoke.”


“Immediately after the president’s car came underneath this overpass, the four of us broke a run around this fence to find out if we could see anybody leaving the area.”[24]


At this point in the documentary, Lane and Holland walk from the railroad bridge over to behind the fence at the top of the grassy knoll.


“Were there more cars on the 22nd than there are here today? It was bumper to bumper, just a sea of cars, you could hardly get through it. We were jumping over the bumpers, over the hood of the cars to work our way to the spot that we saw the smoke and heard the shot. Then we came up to the wooden fence….And this is where I saw the smoke from the third shot (right drifting out around here) just underneath these trees.”[25]


Holland testified before the Warren Commission and told them the same thing that he told Mark Lane. Though the Warren Commission was skeptical of his testimony, Holland refused to change what he said.


“There was a fourth shot fired. And one of those shots came from behind that picket fence. And there is no doubt in my mind and never will be because I was on the spot. I saw the smoke, heard the report, and saw the smoke from behind that fence.”[26]


One of SM Holland’s co-workers, Richard Dodd, says he saw the same thing that Holland saw.


“We all three, 4, seen about the same thing. The smoke came from behind the hedge on the North side of the plaza. A motorcycle policeman dropped his motorcycle with his gun in his hand and ran up the embankment to the hedge. And then I went North to look around the corner to see if there was anyone behind the hedge and met a special agent of the Katy railroad and he went down there and I walked along with him to see if there were any tracks there and which there were tracks and cigarette butts were laying where someone had been standing on the bumper looking over the fence or something.”[27]


Despite meeting with the FBI and Secret Service, Dodd was not interviewed by the Warren Commission or even mentioned in the Warren Report at all.


James Leon Simmons, another Union Terminal employee, was standing on the railroad bridge over Elm Street with Dodd and Holland at the time of the shooting. He also spoke with Mark Lane.


“As the presidential limousine was rounding the curve on Elm Street, there was a loud explosion. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded like a loud firecracker or a gunshot. And it sounded like it came from the left and in front of us, towards the wooden fence. And there was a puff of smoke that came underneath the trees on the embankment. Where was the puff of smoke in relation to the wooden fence? It was right directly in front of the wooden fence. ”[28]


Simmons told the Dallas police what he saw and was questioned by the FBI about a month later. But, Simmons, just like Dodd, was never questioned by the Warren Commission or even mentioned in the Warren Report.


Warren Report defenders do not buy the testimony of any of the railroad witnesses. They note that officer JW Foster was stationed on the railroad bridge and reported that he did not see any smoke near the grassy knoll after shots were fired.[29] They further point out that there was a steam pipe near the fence in 1963 and, if there was “a puff of smoke” it was probably from the steam pipe.[30]


Ultimately, the Warren Report found that SM Holland’s testimony was not credible because when he “ran off the overpass to see if there was anyone behind the picket fence”, “he did not see anyone among the parked cars.”[31] In other words, the Warren Report argument to discredit eyewitness testimony of shots fired from the Grassy Knoll is that since the witnesses didn’t catch the shooter, there must not have been a shot fired from the grassy knoll.


CONCLUSION


To recap, we have Ed Hoffman – who says that he saw the men responsible for the grassy knoll shots and that one of them ran down the railroad track and the other posed as a Secret Service agent. We also have Officer Tom Tilson who sees someone sliding down the hill on the other side of the railroad tracks after the shots. JC Price also says he saw a man run towards the railroad after the shots were fired.


All three of those witnesses: Hoffman, Tilson, and Price are viewed as liars by Warren Report defenders. I agree that Price’s story is impossible regarding shots fired 5 minutes later. Tilson’s claim is easy to write off since he inserted himself into the conspiracy culture and even dated LBJ’s alleged mistress – Madeline Brown. I don’t know what to make of Ed Hoffman. There are reasons to believe him and reasons to not believe him. Personally, I think it would have been difficult for Hoffman to have seen what he says he saw from the position he was in. Difficult – but not impossible.


When you combine what Hoffman said with what Gordon Arnold, Officer Joe Smith, Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman, and Malcolm Summers said, it paints a picture of a grassy knoll assassin who was posing as a secret service agent immediately before and after firing the shots. Of course, Warren Report defenders would argue that Hoffman and Arnold are liars and Smith, Weitzman, and Summers were probably just mistaken about what they saw in good faith because it was a chaotic situation after the shots were fired.


Orville Nix, James Tague, and Bill Newman, among others in the crowd, thought that the shots came from the grassy knoll. Lee Bowers in the railroad tower described suspicious vehicles in the parking lot just before the assassination and saw something like a flash of light from the grassy knoll around the time of the shots. This sounds like shots were fired from the grassy knoll. (But then again, Bowers withheld that information until Mark Lane’s 1966 documentary.)


The railroad employees standing on the overpass all say that they saw smoke come from behind the picket fence at the top of the grassy knoll and linger under the trees. There are four of them. And they all have the same story. These witnesses are either mistaken or lying – or they are the prime witnesses to a conspiracy to assassinate the president.


Next time on Solving JFK: We’ll continue going over the Dealey Plaza witnesses, including the people in the motorcade, Umbrella Man, and an alleged citing of Jack Ruby in Dealey Plaza just before the assassination.

[1] James W. Douglass, JFK & the Unspeakable (2008), at 263-267. [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/hoffman1.htm [7] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/hoffman2.htm [8] Id. [9] Id. [10] https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh6/pdf/WH6_Brown.pdf [11] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/tilson.htm [12] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/tilson.htm [13] Affidavit of JC Price. https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh19/pdf/WH19_Decker_Ex_5323.pdf [14] JC Price FBI Report by Agents J. Calvin Rice and Alfred D. Neeley, November 25, 1963, File No. DL 89-43 [15] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/shortcuts/2015/nov/25/last-jfk-assassination-mystery-where-is-grassy-knoll-film-nix [16] Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane and Emile De Antonoio (1967) at 44:00. [17] Id. at 39:00 [18] Id. at 41:00. [19] Id. [20] Id. at 27:00 [21] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/testimony/bowers.htm [22] https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth337486/ [23] https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh6/pdf/WH6_Bowers.pdf [24] Id. at 56:30. [25] Id. at 57:35. [26] Id. at 59:30 [27] Id. at 32:26. [28] Id. at 35:13. [29] Gerald Posner, Case Closed (1993) at 256. [30] Id. [31] Warren Report at 76.

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