Ep 12: Dealey Plaza (Part 4)
Today, on Solving JFK, we continue with the fourth episode reviewing Dealey Plaza witness statements.
Did someone see Jack Ruby just before the assassination? What did the HSCA conclude using dictabelt audio? What new information does Buell Wesley Frazier have to offer? What was a man with mafia ties doing in the building next door to the School Book Depository that day? Was there evidence of a 4th shot fired in Dealey Plaza that day? And who was the Babushka Lady?
Jack Ruby in Dealey Plaza
Just when you thought the events in Dealey Plaza that day couldn’t get any more action-packed, we have the statement of Julia Mercer to deal with. Mercer claims that she was there the morning of the assassination at 11am and saw a man driving a green pickup truck. A passenger in the truck then got out of the truck and walked up the grassy knoll carrying what looked like a rifle. Mercer pulled up parallel to the green truck, which was on her right. The driver turned his head and looked Mercer in the eyes so that she could get a good look at him.
Immediately after the incident, Mercer told friends about what she had seen at lunch. Mercer assumed the man she had seen was secret service and said, “The Secret Service is not very secret.” When she left the restaurant to go to work, she was pulled over by two officers who had overheard her in the restaurant and said she was needed for questioning because JFK had been shot in Dealey Plaza - where she said she saw the man with a rifle.
Mercer was questioned for several hours on the day of the assassination by the police and the FBI. Then, on the next day – Saturday - she was shown multiple photos by FBI agents to help identify the man she saw. Of those photos, she selected 4 pictures as looking like the truck driver of the green pickup truck. When the officers turned one of the photos over, the name on the back was “Jack Ruby.” Then, the next day, Mercer saw Ruby on TV after shooting Oswald and realized that Jack Ruby was the man she had seen. Remember, this Ruby sighting and Mercer then seeing his name on the back of the photo was BEFORE Ruby was famous. At the time Mercer says she saw him, Ruby had not killed Oswald yet.
Four years later, when Mercer was being questioned by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, he showed her the statements the FBI attributed to her. She said that she didn’t recognize the statements as her own. She said QUOTE, “These have all been altered. They have me saying just the opposite of what I really told them.”
The FBI’s version of Mercer’s statement was that she could not identify any of the photos. She was shown a photo of Ruby, but only said that the person had a large round face similar to Ruby – not that Ruby was who she saw.
The FBI also said that the truck had a sign on it that said Air Conditioning but Mercer said there was no signage on the truck at all. Mercer further said that the statement on the FBI report was a forgery and is not her signature. After meeting with Jim Garrison, he told her that she should use her maiden name for her own safety. The HSCA claimed that it had attempted to find Mercer to ask her questions, but it was unable to locate her. She has disappeared from public view since her last interview in 1983.
The thing I keep coming back to on Mercer is that her statement to the Dallas Sheriff Department on November 22 did mention air conditioning. For the FBI report to be wrong about the truck being labeled air conditioning, that would mean that the original statement would have to be wrong too. She would have to have both the FBI and Sheriff’s department in on it. This seems unlikely to me.
I don’t think we can just write off what Mercer said. She had no incentive to say it. She didn’t attempt to profit from it. And the statement itself resulted in her going into seclusion. But, we certainly have to consider that she may have been wrong about what she says she saw.
When Congress reopened the investigation in to the assassination in the late 70s with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (or HSCA), its ultimate conclusion was that a 4th shot was fired from the grassy knoll, but missed the motorcade. I’ll say that again, because it is shocking if you are hearing this for the first time. The most recent formal government investigation of the JFK Assassination found that there WAS a second shooter. The HSCA’s conclusion was based on acoustic analysis taken from a police dictabelt recording.
Let’s take a listen and you can see what you think. Personally, I was not able to pick out the shots just from listening to the recording.
But, there are a few significant problems with the HSCA’s finding. First, it’s based on a method of scientific analysis that is now in dispute. The HSCA said the analysis of the recording showed that a 4th shot was fired from the grassy knollwith 95% probability. But then, in 1988, the FBI said that the science the HSCA relied upon was no longer credible.
But the more persuasive reason to not put too much stock in to the HSCA investigation is that it was not an investigation at all. According to HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, the mission of the HSCA was not to solve the assassination. Fonzi says in his book The Last Investigation, that “The people thought we were investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. But we were just trying to get out a report.”
The conclusion reached by the HSCA was “yes, a 4th shot was fired, probably from the grassy knoll, which missed, but otherwise the Warren Report is accurate.” Some members of the committee wanted to pursue conspiracy more thoroughly, but they compromised with members who wanted to protect the Warren Report, particularly as it related to the CIA’s potential involvement in the assassination. In fact, the HSCA had prepared a version of its final report that did not include a finding of a 4th shot fired from the grassy knoll. While there was a lot of important information unearthed during the HSCA investigation, the final report of the HSCA should be seen for what it is – a political document. The bizarre conclusion of the HSCA that there was a second shooter is really just a product of political compromise – not the result of an investigation seeking truth.
New Information from Buell Wesley Frazier
On November 22, 2021, on the 58th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, star Warren Report star witness Buell Wesley Frazier gave an interview at the Sixth Floor Museum inside the Schoolbook Depository. Frazier is famous for being the person who gave Oswald a ride to the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building that Friday morning. Frazier and his sister both claimed that Oswald had a brown paper bag. Oswald told Frazier the bag had curtain rods in it. The Warren Report says that this paper bag carried the Carcano rifle murder weapon.
In this recent interview, which was in support of Frazier’s new book, Frazier shared some new information about what he saw immediately after the shooting in Dealey Plaza.
Frazier says that right after the shots were fired, he saw another man with a rifle in the parking lot near the Schoolbook Depository:
So I was somewhere down in the area of the angled parking there. And I was walking along and I looked up and there was a man with a rifle. I was terrified. Stop and think what actually happened there 58 years ago today. That’s the crime of the century. It’s never been solved. So, I saw this man. This man was not a policeman. He was not a detective. If you could’ve seen the type of clothing he was wearing that day, this guy was a professional, all the way down to his shoes. His shoes probably cost several hundred dollars back then, 1963, not many people wore shoes in that price range.”
“The attire this man wore, starting out with his fedora. Aint no telling what that hat cost. His clothing was immaculate. This guy was a pro. He looked at me and the look he had on his face was a cold look. He wasn’t’ scared. He knew exactly what he was doing. And I was so scared, he probably thought I couldn’t remember my name and at that time I probably couldn’t have. But he puts the rifle in the back seat of his car. He’s parked out at the angled parking. He closes the trunk and goes to open the door on his car. I turn around and I walk slowly back toward the front entrance of the Texas Schoolbook Depository.”
Wow. So, Frazier says that he saw someone wearing a super fancy fedora with a rifle in the angled parking that was near the Depository Building. Today, the parking spaces are perpendicular with the building. In an overhead photo of Dealey Plaza from 1963, you can see that the parking spaces in that lot – in between the Schoolbook Depository and the railroad yard – were on an angle before. It isn’t clear exactly where in the parking lot that Frazier saw this man.
The bigger question is whether Frazier saw this man at all. He didn’t mention anything about seeing a man with a gun in the parking lot to the Warren Commission. Here’s what Frazier says in response:
I was so scared. What I had witnessed that day and that time – I did see it, but if you were to ask me ten minutes later I would’ve told you I didn’t see anything. It was locked into my mind. I’ve read about this where people have witnessed things that were so frightening to them that it was locked in their mind. That’s exactly what happened to me.
I don’t know what to make of Frazier’s testimony. It’s true that people having recovered memories of past trauma is a real thing. And there is no reason to otherwise doubt Frazier’s credibility as far as I know. But I am not aware of anyone else who claims to have seen what Frazier saw. More importantly, Frazier raised this issue for the first time many years later when he had a book to sell. Those two facts somewhat undermine his claim.
Eugene Hale Brading, also known as Jim Braden, is often cited as one of the potential conspirators. And, while there isn’t any evidence that Brading fired any shots at the president that day, his presence in the Dal Tex building that day, across the street from the School Book Depository is often cited as proof of mafia involvement in a conspiracy. So, what’s the deal with Eugene Brading?
According to his affidavit, Brading happened to be in Dallas for some oil business and was walking down Elm Street trying to get a cab just after the president was shot. He noticed that the School Book Depository was surrounded by police with guns drawn. He asked a girl on the street outside of the Dal Tex building if there was a phone he could use. Brading says that he then got on the elevator to go to the third floor and the elevator attendant noticed that he was a stranger in the building and told the Sheriffs, which led to Brading being interrogated and having to sign a statement.
Okay, so what is so special about Brading? We do have some pretty strong documents to suggest that he was a nefarious character. For example, internal IRS documents say that Bunker Hunt, the son of oil tycoon HL Hunt, and the brother of former Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, had “connections with Brading.” The document goes on to state that Brading quote
“has a record of burglary, operating a gambling house, bookmaking, mail fraud conspiracy, and embezzlement dating back to 1934. Brading was allegedly in Dallas on the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, questioned and released. Also, he reportedly was in Hunt’s offices on the day before the assassination. He was said to be fifteen minutes away from Robert Kennedy shortly before his shooting.
Remember how Brading said he was in Dallas for some oil business? We learned through a Church Committee document that were released in 2018, that Brading was in town for a meeting with HL Hunt, the father of Lamar and Bunker. He met with Hunt at his office on the day before the assassination. According to this document, Jack Ruby also visited Hunt’s office that same day.
On top of that, Brading worked out of the office same floor of an office building in New Orleans with David Ferrie (who was working as a private investigator for mafia kingpin Carlos Marcello at the time) in the months immediately before the assassination. Brading was in suite 1701 and Ferrie was in Suite 1707. The same document goes on to say that Brading is suspected of being the personal courier for national crime syndicate boss Meyer Lansky.
The bottom line with Brading is that all signs point to him being an important mafia figure. Based on these documents, he was the personal courier of Meyer Lansky and was working in the same office just a few doors down from Carlos Marcella’s private investigator at the same time – David Ferrie – right before the assassination.
The conversation regarding Brading isn’t about whether he fired a shot from the Dal Tex building. The question is why was he there in Dealey Plaza as all of this happened? Sure, it could have been a fluke. Maybe he had some non-assassination related oil business with HL Hunt, just like he says.
We don’t have evidence to prove anything with Eugene Brading. But, you have to admit it’s pretty weird that Brading has all of these mafia ties, meets with HL Hunt on the same day as Jack Ruby, and gets arrested in the building across the street from the Schoolbook Depository shortly after the shots were fired.
THE SLUG IN THE GRASS?
There is a series of pictures that were shot by news photographers Jim Murray and William Allen shortly after the shots were fired. These pictures show Sheriff Buddy Walthers, who is easy to identify in his black suit, hat, and glasses, and Patrolman J.W. Foster standing on the grass near the curb on the south side of Elm Street. There’s a third man in the photos - a blonde haired man wearing a suit and kneeling down with his hand over the grass. When this man stands up, he has his hands cupped, as if something is in it.
The claim from Warren Report critics is that this agent may have picked up a bullet in the grass in Dealey Plaza. And if there is an extra bullet that is unaccounted for in the Warren Report, then that would prove conspiracy.
Sheriff Buddy Walthers does not mention finding this bullet in his same day affidavit. And Walthers flat out denies ever having found a spent bullet in Dealey Plaza after being asked about it by the Warren Commission.
In an article in the Waco News Tribune in December of 1967, Walther was asked about whether he found a bullet, in response to it being mentioned in Jim Garrison’s investigation. Walther responded, “if it was anything, it was a piece of skull. Nothing significant.” I mean, no, a skull is not a bullet. But, if that is what it was, it would probably be significant.
According to author Steve Cameron, who interviewed many people close to Roger Craig, Walthers investigated a 4th shot and an FBI agent picked up one of the bullets and walked away from the scene. And there is potentially some support for what Cameron is saying.
Author Eric Tagg claims that Sheriff Walthers told people that, contrary to what he had said publicly, he did find a bullet in the grass in Dealey Plaza. Tagg says that Walthers told his partner Alvin Maddox, Jr. Deputy Roger Craig, his wife Dorothy, Inspector Sawyer, and some reporters that a .45 caliber slug was found at that time.
There is an entire documentary by Mark Oakes called On the Trail of the Mystery FBI Men on the issue of whether Sheriff Walther found a 4th bullet in Dealey Plaza. Oakes interviewed Walther’s widow, Dorothy Walther who said that Buddy told her that QUOTE “an FBI man picked up the bullet that was lying in the grass next to the manhole cover.” Buddy’s former partner Alvin Maddox tells Oakes in the documentary that a bullet was picked up from Dealey Plaza.
In the Fort Worth Star Telegraph on the day after the assassination, there was a picture of the ground in Dealey Plaza with the caption “Assassin’s Bullet: one of the rifle bullets fired by the murderer of President Kennedy lies in the grass across Elm Street.”
Dallas Police Officer JW Foster, who is seen in the famous photos with Walthers and the unknown agent, said in his Warren Commission Testimony that he saw where a bullet had hit a manhole and then went in to the turf. He said that he did not recover the bullet because it QUOTE “ricocheted on out.” This doesn’t support the idea that a bullet was recovered, but - unless this bullet somehow hit the manhole cover, then went through the grass, then hit the curb where James Tague was standing – it does support the idea of a 4th shot that is not accounted for in the Warren Report.
Two more witnesses who support the idea of the extra bullet being found in the Dealey Plaza grass that day are Wayne and Edna Hartman. After hearing on the radio that the FBI was conducting additional investigations of the grass at Dealey Plaza, the Hartmans came forward and said they saw gouged out holes in the grass near the manhole cover minutes after the shooting had ended. The hole was one and a half inches in diameter and 18 to 24 inches long. The FBI Report noted that hole in the grass observed by the Hartmans is not in line with the mark on the curb from James Tague.
The FBI later sent agents Pinkston and Barret back to Dealey Plaza to conduct a metal detector search of the area – 9 months later. They did not find any bullets.
To recap, we have a photo showing law enforcement officers at a minimum looking closely at the ground and, possibly, one of them picking up a bullet. But, when we look at what Officer JW Foster, one of the men in that photo, told the Warren Commission, he says that they did not pick up a bullet, but there was a bullet that hit the man cover and ricocheted out. Then, we have an FBI report about the gouged out hole that Wayne and Edna Hartman saw, which seems like the same one that Officer Foster was talking about. And the FBI says that this hole is not lined up with the mark on the curb, which I believe is a reference to where James Tague was hit. Putting this together, it sounds like they did not recover a bullet, but there is evidence of a bullet potentially having been there.
So, who was the mystery FBI agent? The prime suspect among Warren Report critics is Bob Barrett. Retired FBI Agent Robert Gemberling told Oakes on camera for his documentary QUOTE: “I know Bob Barrett very well. Of all the agents who worked on the case, it resembles Bob Barrett.” Barrett signed a sworn statement on October 18, 1967 in connection with photos related to the assassination that he obtained from Patsy Paschall. In that statement, Barrett says he was in Dealey Plaza shortly after the assassination.
In Oakes documentary, he calls Agent Barrett on the phone and asks him if he would autograph some photos that Oakes had of him. He then sends them to Barrett. Barrett doesn’t sign the photos, but he sends back a note that says “Mark, this is a photo of me. Sorry. Yours Truly, Bob Barrett.” Oakes then calls Barrett and he explains that he should have said “not a photo of me.” So, there you have it. Barrett did not accidentally admit to being the mysterious FBI agent. He said it is not him.
To me, it doesn’t really matter who the man in the suit reaching down in the photos was. I think the testimony from Officer Foster and Wayne and Edna Hartman about the bullet that went through the grass leaving marks that are not consistent with the fragment that hit James Tague is the real headline.
The Babushka lady is another witness in Dealey Plaza who is shrouded in mystery. Her name comes from the Russian style head scarf that she was seen wearing that day. Most of the witnesses who were documented on film in Dealey Plaza were known and accounted for. But, like Umbrella Man and the Dark Complected Man, the identity of the Babushka Lady was not immediately known.
The Babushka Lady can be seen standing to the right of Mary Moorman and Jean Hill in a film taken by Mary Muchmore. She has a camera in her hands. The film from this camera was never discovered. This begs the questions: Whatwas on that film and Who was the Babushka Lady?
In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver told conspiracy researcher and author Gary Shaw that she was the Babushka Lady. She says she filmed the assassination with a Super 8 Yashica camera and had to turn it over to 2 FBI agents immediately after the assassination. She says the FBI agents told her that they would give the film back in 10 days, but they did not. Shaw wanted to confirm that Oliver was telling the truth.
Shaw had seen the Zapruder film, which was not public at that time. He knew the location of the Babushka Lady from the film and knew that Oliver hadn’t seen the film. So he asked her to show him where she was standing when the shots were fired. He was surprised when Oliver went to the exact location where the Babushka Lady would have been.
Oliver also made some shocking claims in her book, Nightmare in Dallas, including that she frequently visited the carousel club and personally knew its owner, Jack Ruby. She said that two weeks before the assassination, Ruby introduced her to his friend Lee Oswald of the CIA. She also said that she frequently saw, New Orleans Mafia figure, and possible CIA asset, David Ferrie at the Carousel Club. Oliver said Ferrie was at the Carousel Club so often that she thought he was a manager there.
But, there are reasons to think that Beverly Oliver may not be the Bubushka Lady. She doesn’t look much like the Babushka Lady (which is subjective, but the Babushka Lady looks much older to me than 17 years old, which was Oliver’s age at the time.) She claims that a dancer named Jada witnessed her with Ruby and Oswald, but Jada had quit the Carousel Club earlier and the dates didn’t match up.
After Oliver came forward as the Babushka Lady, it was later discovered that the Super 8 Yashica camera was not made until 1969. Now, Oliver responded to this criticism by telling the Assassination Records Review Board that she never said it was a Super 8 Yashica. She just said it was an 8 millimeter camera and was misquoted by researchers. And she also confirmed that her testimony to the HSCA said the she just had a movie camera – not the Super 8 one that didn’t exist yet.
So was Beverly Oliver the Babushka Lady? I do not believe so. It’s possible. But, in my opinion, the more details you learn, the less her story holds up.
Next Time On Solving JFK: We’ll have a Dealey Plaza Recap and Rebuttals Episode going over all of the key issues we covered over these last 4 episodes. Then, we’ll be off for a week before starting a multipart series on the medical evidence.
 James Douglass, JFK & the Unspeakable at 255.  Id.  Id.  Id.  Id.  Id. At 256  Id.  FBI Report on Julia Ann Mercer, November 25, 1963; https://www.onthetrailofdelusion.com/post/why-do-conspiracy-theorists-still-believe-julia-ann-mercer  Douglass at 257.  Id.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_Select_Committee_on_Assassinations  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_Select_Committee_on_Assassinations  Gaeton Fonzi at Chapter 30.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B-U9WlKwik at 27:15  Id. at 29:15  Id. at 30.  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=1136#relPageId=487  https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/2018/docid-32246622.pdf  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=148916#relPageId=43  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=148916#relPageId=45  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=148916#relPageId=50  https://www.jfk-assassination.net/slug.htm  Decker Exhibit 5323, at 518-522, https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh19/pdf/WH19_Decker_Ex_5323.pdf  https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh7/pdf/WH7_Walthers.pdf  Waco News Tribune, December 14, 1967  Steve Cameron, The Deputy Interviews, page 47-48  Eric Tagg, Brush With History: A Day In the Life of Buddy Walthers, p 10-11  Id. This was verified by Maddox’s wife and Walther’s wife and daughter in interviews with Mark Oakes.  Cameron at 164 citing Mark Oakes On the Trail of the Mystery FBI Man  Fort Worth Star Telegraph, November 23, 1963; Cameron at 165.  JW Foster Warren Commission Testimony - https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh6/pdf/WH6_Foster.pdf, 252  FBI Report, August 10, 1964  FBI Report, September 16, 1964 - https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=96737#relPageId=8&search=wayne_hartman  Id.  Cameron at 166.  October 18, 1967 Sworn Statement of Robert Barrett; Cameron at 167  Cameron at 171  https://web.archive.org/web/20120309154447/http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/muchmore.jpg  Appendix to Hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives. Vol. VI Photographic Evidence. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1979. p. 13.  Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p 1405.  https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKoliver.htm citing Ian Griggs, Where Were You When the President Was Shot, Beverly? (May, 1999)  Beverly Oliver with Coke Buchanan, Nightmare in Dallas  Id. See https://web.archive.org/web/20090220112143/http:/mcadams.posc.mu.edu/oliver.htm  Bugliosi, p 1405.  Beverly Oliver Massegee Assassination Records Review Board Testimony, https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=145536#relPageId=43