Ep 20: Oswald as a Shooter and Dealey Plaza Limo Issues
So far on Solving JFK, we’ve covered the evidence at the Texas Schoolbook Depository, the witness statements from Dealey Plaza, the records related to Oswald’s alleged purchase of the rifle, and the medical evidence from Parkland Hospital in Dallas and the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
Today, we’ll cover a variety of topics - including the feasibility of Oswald firing the shots attributed to him. Could anyone have made those shots? What is the likelihood that Oswald specifically could’ve made those shots? What was the timing of the shots in Dealey Plaza? Did it sound like they were bunched too close together to be fired by one person?
We’ll also look at the presidential limo. Is it true that there was a bullet hole in the front windshield? And did the limo come to a stop in Dealey Plaza while it was under attack?
Even if you think that the Single Bullet Theory best captures what actually happened to President Kennedy and Governor Connally, we still need to ask ourselves whether anyone could’ve accurately fired three shots from a Carcano rifle in the period of time required. And then, we need to look at what the likelihood is that Oswald could’ve done that.
Could Anyone Have Made the Shot?
The Warren Report says that Oswald fired three shots in “4.8 to in excess of 7 seconds”. The Commission conducted tests using three master riflemen for the purpose of QUOTE “determining the possibility of scoring hits with this weapon on a given target at a given distance under rapid-fire conditions.” The Commission did these tests because they wanted to make sure that it was possible for Oswald to have pulled off the feat with which he was credited.
The three master riflemen - who did the shooting during the firing tests - were all world class experts who had scored high enough to qualify for the Olympics. The riflemen each fired two series of three rapid-fire shots – a total of 6 tests. They used the rifle found in the schoolbook depository. They even used the same telescopic sight. But the circumstances of the tests conducted by the experts didn’t exactly mirror what Oswald supposedly did.
The sniper’s nest is 60 feet up - on the 6th floor – so the shooter would be firing down at a limousine that was moving away from him. In the master riflemen tests, the shots were fired from a height of 30 feet up off the ground and at stilltargets – as opposed to targets moving away from them from 60 feet up. During the tests, the shooter’s first shot started the clock to time the shots - which allowed the riflemen to take as much time as they wanted on that first shot – a luxury that the assassin didn’t have.
The riflemens’ goal was to hit three targets of a person’s upper body that was backed by two foot boards. Since the rifle tests were conducted on March 27, 1964 - before the Warren Commission finalized the Single Bullet Theory - the definition of success at that time was hitting three specific targets: one for Kennedy’s back, one for Connally’s wounds, and one for Kennedy’s head.
So how did the tests go? Did three of the best riflemen in the world succeed at doing what the Warren Report says Oswald did? Not really. Of the three master riflemen, they all hit 2 out of 3 shots in each of their two tries, except for Riflemen Staley, who hit all 3 shots once, and hit 2 out of 3 the other time.
So, the three master riflemen did not achieve their goal of hitting all 3 shots. But, if the Single Bullet Theory is true and only 2 shots had to hit the limo, the riflemen did hit 2 out of 3. Still – the tests tend to show that the shots attributed to Oswald couldn’t have been that easy if 5 of the 6 shooting tests by some of the best shooters in the world failed to hit all the targets in the given time period. The bottom line of the rifle tests is that Oswald would have to be a very good shot if in fact he did it. But was Oswald a good shooter?
Before we get to Oswald’s marksmanship, let’s look closer at the accuracy of the Carcano weapon that Oswald allegedly used. Could that rifle have pulled off the shots as accurately and rapidly as the Warren Report says?
Warren Report critics note that in WW2, Italian soldiers called the Carcano “the humanitarian rifle” because it couldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. Warren Commission Army Sniper Expert, Ronald Simmons, who testified regarding the results of the master riflemen said that the shooter must have had great proficiency with the weapon because QUOTE “the pressure to open the bolt was so great that we tended to move the rifle off target.”
The owner of Irving Sports Shop, Charles Greene, supported the findings of the Warren Commission that the scope on the rifle had issues. Irving Sports Shop was the place where Oswald may have had work done to install his rifle scope. Greene said QUOTE “with this frail mount … the possibility of it being real accurate would be pretty small, I think.”Greene’s employee, Dial Ryder (cool name by the way), told the Warren Commission QUOTE “The scope would be easily knocked out of adjustment and would be easily jarred-off on a high powered rifle making it inaccurate.”
Even the Warren Report acknowledges that a defect in the scope on the rifle caused the shots fired by all three master riflemen to land QUOTE “a few inches high and to the right of the target.” But, the Warren Report concludes that this scope mounting defect would actually have assisted Oswald in shooting at the limo because it would help him lead the moving target. Whether that is true or not is debated.
Now, the counter argument about the rifle’s accuracy is that the Warren Report concluded that QUOTE “the assassination rifle was an accurate weapon… in fact as accurate as current military rifles.” And all of the expert riflemen were able to at least hit two out of three targets in the time allotted and they were using the same Carcano rifle with the same “frail mount”.
At the time of the shooting tests, the FBI and Warren Commission thought the goal was to hit all 3 shots because they were assuming Connally was hit by an independent bullet. And, while even though 2 out of 3 shots would’ve been a failure at the time they did the tests –– ultimately, the Single Bullet Theory that the Commission went with called for only 2 shots hitting. So, if you believe the Single Bullet Theory, then the expert riflemen hitting 2 out of 3 is all that would’ve been needed to recreate Oswald’s task. And they did that.
Could Oswald Have Made the Shot?
The master riflemen tests resulted in uncertainty about whether some of the most highly skilled marksmen in the world could’ve made the shots. But what about Oswald? He would have to be an excellent shot if, as we just heard, some of the best shooters in the world had trouble hitting the targets in time. So how was Oswald as a marksman?
During Oswald’s time in the Marine Corps, rifle accuracy was scored on a scale of 190 to 250. The record is mixed in terms of where Oswald fell on that scale. In 1956, according to Major Eugene Anderson, Oswald scored a 212 out of 250 on the range with his M1 rifle, which would give Oswald the designation of sharpshooter. But, in 1959, Oswald obtained the minimum score and rating for the Marines – Marksman, scoring 191, only 1 point higher than the bottom of the scale. Lt. Col. Allison G. Folsom testified to the Warren Commission to interpret Oswald’s Marine records. He said that Oswald’s score of 191 was a QUOTE “low marksmanship rating” and showed that he was a QUOTE “rather poor shot.”
So, Oswald’s Marine Corps rifle accuracy tests demonstrate that he was towards the lower end of the scale, though he didpass the test both times. But what did his Oswald’s fellow marines think of him as a shooter?
Neslon Delgado met Oswald in the Marines around Christmas of 1958. He considers himself to have been one of Oswald’s closest friends in the Marines. Delgado said that, at the range, Oswald would hit 2 out of 10 usually. Sometimes Oswald would miss completely, which is called a “Maggie’s Drawers” and is noted by a red flag in that shooter’s lane. Delgado described Oswald’s shooting skills in more detail when he talked to Mark Lane.
Lane: Do you have personal knowledge of Oswald’s ability with the rifle?
Delgado: At the range, he couldn’t prove by me that he was a good shot. As any person who has served in the armed forces can tell you, there is a qualification that is done with rapid firing. This is done with 10 shots. 8 in a clip and 2 that you load by hand. They give you maybe 30-45 seconds to fire these 10 rounds. When you fire these, you stand away from your firing position, and the targets are brought down and scored…the targets are run back up and there are discs with the number you have hit, 5s, 4s, 3s, or misses. Well, in Oswald’s particular case it was quite funny to look at because he would get a couple of discs, maybe out of a possible 10 he would get 2 or 3 Maggie’s Drawers. These are a red flag that’s on a long pole. This is running from left to right on the target. You don’t see this on a Marine firing line too often. You can’t help but notice it when you see discs going up and down and a flag waiving. A good shot will pull a 3, but he wouldn’t pull a Maggie’s Drawers. That’s a complete miss.
Lane: Do you feel that the agents of the FBI actually tried to get you to change your statement that Oswald was a poor shot.
Delgado: Yes sir, I definitely do.
The counter argument to why Oswald performed so poorly on the test where he got 1 point better than failing, was that it was Oswald’s last shooting test in the marines and that he didn’t really care that much. Even Delgado agreed with that statement during a mock trial in 1986 with actual witnesses from the case. The prosecutor in that mock trial was none other than Vincent Bugliosi himself.
But the fact remains that, according to Delgado, the FBI didn’t like his testimony. During this mock trial, Delgado said that the FBI tried to kill him. Here’s a recording of that exchange:
Mr. Delgado, you left the United States and hive lived in England and did live in England for three years because you were afraid to go back to the United States due to reprisal from the FBI for the testimony that you gave to the Warren Commission. “Yes”
“Someone tried to kill you and you believe it was the FBI, is that right? Yes.”
Sherman Cooley also met Oswald in the military. Cooley said, QUOTE “If I had to pick one man in the whole United States to shoot me, I’d pick Oswald. I saw the man shoot. There is no way he could have ever learned to shoot well enough to do what they accused him of doing in Dallas.” Another military cohort of Oswald’s was James Persons. Persons said, Oswald had below average coordination, which he thought was the “major factor in Oswald’s very poor marksmanship.”
So, it’s safe to say that at least some of Oswald’s military peers had doubts about his ability to pull off the assassination. Warren Commission assistant counsel Wesley Liebler didn’t have first hand knowledge of Oswald’s shooting ability. But, he did express concerns about how misleading the Warren Report was regarding Oswald’s shooting proficiency as compared to the proficiency of the master riflemen. He shared his concerns on the matter in a September 6, 1964 memo, where Liebler said, QUOTE
“The fact is that most of the experts were much more proficient with a rifle than Oswald could ever be expected to be, and the record indicates that fact. . .To put it bluntly, that sort of selection from the record could seriously affect the integrity and credibility of the entire report.”
Oswald’s Rifle Practice Or Lack Thereof
Another relevant question on the topic of whether Oswald could have pulled off the 3 shots is to look at whether Oswald had any rifle practice before the assassination. If Oswald had been regularly going to the shooting range, that really increases the probability that he could have made those shots. On the other hand, if the evidence points to no range visits, it’s less likely that Oswald could have done it.
The Warren Report says, QUOTE “Several witnesses believed that in the weeks preceding the assassination, they observed a man resembling Oswald practicing with a rifle in the fields and wooded areas surrounding Dallas, and at rifle ranges in that area…. In most instances, investigation has disclosed that there is no substantial basis for believing that the person reported by the various witnesses was Oswald.” So, according to the Warren Report, there were witnesses who say they saw Oswald at a shooting range, but the Commission did not believe them.
But what did the witnesses actually say?
13 year old Sterling Wood was with his father Dr. Homer Wood at the Sports Drome shooting range when they saw a man who they claimed was Oswald.
On November 16, 1963, the Saturday before the assassination, Dr. Wood said his son was shooting next to a man with an unusual rifle that shot a “ball of fire.” Dr. Wood then told his son jokingly, - referencing the gun shooting the balls of fire used by the man next to him, “Watch out for the 105 Howitzer” and his son, Sterling, said, “Don’t worry. It’s only an Italian carbine.” Most of this man’s shots were inside the target.
When Dr. Wood saw Oswald on TV after the assassination, he immediately told his wife that Oswald looked just like the man who was shooting next to their son at the range. Dr. Wood decided to not mention it to his son to see if his son would bring it up to him. 30 minutes later, Sterling said, “Daddy is that the fellow that was sitting next to me out on the rifle range?”
Sterling Wood and his father Dr. Homer Wood both testified before the Warren Commission. During that testimony, Sterling added that he “asked the man if his rifle was a “6.5 Italian carbine with a four power scope” and the man replied “yes.” Sterling also told the Commission that the man left the rifle range with another man in a newer model car. The boy identified a photo of Oswald and said that was the same man he saw. Sterling was also shown a photo of the rifle and confirmed that it was the same rifle, but Sterling said the site was different than the one he remembered seeing.
So, a boy and his father testified that they saw Oswald shooting at a rifle range with a Carcano the weekend before the assassination of President Kennedy. One would think that this would be a compelling piece of evidence to use against Oswald, because it would establish that 1) he possessed a Carcano rifle, 2) he was an excellent shot with it, and 3) he practiced shooting at a rifle range only 6 days before the assassination.
So, why does the Warren Report conclude that Oswald was not seen practicing his rifle and that the Woods and others must have seen someone else? There are two primary reasons why the Commission rejected all testimony regarding Oswald at shooting ranges.
First, Oswald didn’t have a car. So, he would have had to get a ride to a shooting range or take a bus. There’s no evidence that he was on a bus with a rifle. But, there is testimony that he departed in a car from Sterling Wood. If Oswald left in a car, then who was the person who drove him? That question no longer needs to be explored if the Commission determines that the man Sterling and Dr. Wood saw was not Oswald.
The second reason the Commission rejected the notion that Oswald was seen at shooting ranges has to do with timing. The days when Oswald was supposedly seen around Dallas at shooting ranges conflicts with the Warren Report’s timeline for what Oswald was supposed to have been doing. For example, there are some witnesses who say they saw Oswald at times when it is known that Oswald was in Irving with Ruth Paine, Marina, and his children. And one of the Oswald sightings occurred when Oswald was supposed to have been in Mexico City - according to the Warren Report.
One more thing on Dr. Homer and Sterling Wood’s Oswald sighting. The FBI collected 23 pounds of shells from the Sports Drome range to see if they could find any Carcano ammo. They did not find one single Carcano shell.
The idea that Oswald ever had any practice at all with a rifle in Dallas comes from the Warren Commission testimony of Oswald’s wife, Marina. In her first Commission interview in December 1963, Marina says that Oswald never left or returned to the home carrying a rifle. He never said that he was going to go shooting. He never went to shoot with the rifle to her knowledge. She did admit that it was possible that Oswald went shooting without her knowledge when he was supposed to be in typing class.
Two months later, Marina Oswald told the Warren Commission a different story about her husband’s rifle usage. She said that Oswald told her “he practiced in a field near Dallas” before the General Walker shooting, which Oswald is accused of (we’ll take a closer look at the General Walker shooting later). Marina also added that she once saw Oswald cleaning his rifle in January 1963 and that he was practicing with it that day. The problem with that testimony, other than being inconsistent with what she said 2 months earlier, is that according to the Warren Report, Oswald received the Carcano rifle on March 20, 1963. Oswald obviously could not have been cleaning the rifle or practicing with it in January if he didn’t possess it until March. This issue was resolved on the next day, February 18, 1964, when Marina clarified that she had been wrong about the date when she saw Oswald cleaning the rifle. It wasn’t January. It was really April 1963.
Marina Oswald is an enigma and her testimony in this case is all over the place. Conspiracy theorists say that the blatant discrepancy between the rifle cleaning date of January and the rifle possession date of March shows that Marina could not have been telling the truth. So, it’s convenient that Marina happened to remember that it was really in April that she saw Oswald clean the rifle, not in January, when she was asked the same question again by the Commission the next day.
Of course, Warren Report defenders point to Marina Oswald’s testimony as proof that Oswald did, in fact, clean the rifle and have possession of it in April. Still, there are no other facts in the record that point to Oswald having rifle practice – just the one instance in April 1964 which is supported only by testimony from Marina Oswald.
TIMING OF THE SHOTS
According to the Warren Report, QUOTE “a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together, although some believed that it was the first and second which were bunched.”
The significance of whether the shots were bunched together is that, if they were, then it is less likely that one person could have fired the shots. The Carcano rifle was bolt-action - not automatic. So, Oswald would’ve had to at least pull the bolt back on the rifle and aim before his next shot. It sounds like there is strong evidence that the shots were bunched together. But, exactly how close in time were they? The closer together the shots were, the more likely that there was another shooter who fired one of those shots.
Other than saying it was a substantial majority of the witnesses, the Warren Report doesn’t address exactly how many people heard shots bunched close together. According to researchers who have compiled witness statements, which you can go and look at yourself, there were 44 witnesses who claimed that there was a gap between the first shot and the second shot and that the second and third shots were very close together.Let’s hear from some of the witnesses in their own words.
Photographer Robert Jackson said, QUOTE “I would say to me it seemed like 3 or 4 seconds between the first and second [shots], and between the second and third, well, I guess 2 seconds, they were very close together. There could have been more time between the first and second. I really can’t be sure.”
Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell, who was three cars back in the motorcade said, QUOTE “There was a longer pause between the first and second shots than there was between the second and third shots. They were in rather rapid succession.”
Lady Bird Johnson, who was riding with the Vice President in a car behind the presidential limo said, QUOTE “We were rounding a curve, going down a hill, and suddenly there was a sharp loud report – a shot. It seemed to me to come from the right, above my shoulder, from a building. Then a moment, and then two more shots in rapid succession.”
Luke Mooney, the sheriff deputy who was one of the first on the scene at the Schoolbook Depository, said, QUOTE “The second and third shot was pretty close together, but there was a short lapse there between the first and second shot.”Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig said there was no more than 2 seconds between the second and third shots. And Senator Ralph Yarborough who was also riding in the motorcade that day said in a sworn affidavit that he believed there was about 1.5 seconds between the second and third shots.
There are dozens more witnesses who echo the same testimony: that the second and third shots were in close succession, as opposed to the timing between the first and second shot. The challenge is that we don’t know exactly how long the time was between the second and third shot. Warren Report defenders claim that, even if the second and third shots were bunched together, Oswald still could have gotten the shots off.
Is there any evidence of cracks in the limo front windshield?
Conspiracy researchers have argued that there was a hole that went all the way through the windshield and that the hole was the result of a shot from the front. And, yes, there is some evidence for that.
One of the places where lead particles were found was on the windshield. And the Warren Report says that QUOTE “The windshield in the Presidential limousine was struck by a bullet fragment on the inside surface of the glass. There was a minute particle of glass missing from the outside surface, but no penetration. The inside layer of glass was not broken.
According to ARRB member Doug Horne, Dallas motorcycle patrolmen Stavis Ellis and H. R. Freeman both observed a penetrating bullet hole in the limousine windshield at Parkland Hospital. Ellis told interviewer Gil Toff in 1971: “There was a hole in the left front windshield…You could put a pencil through it…you could take a regular standard writing pencil…and stick [it] through there.” Freeman corroborated this, saying: “[I was] right beside it. I could have touched it…it was a bullet hole. You could tell what it was.”
Dr. Evalia Glanges, who was a medical student working at Parkland hospital on the day of the assassination also believed there was a bullet hole in the windshield as she said in The Men Who Killed Kennedy.
“We ran around the side of the building to the emergency room exit. The presidential limousine was there. I had been standing there some time just watching the back of the emergency room when I realized that there was a bullet hole in the windshield. I talked to my friend next to me and said, look, there is a bullet hole and I pointed it out to them… It was a through and through bullet hole through the windshield of the car from the front to the back. I don’t believe there were even any cracks associated with the bullet hole.”
A few days after the assassination and 1200 miles away, George Whitaker, a Ford employee, claims that he worked on the windshield glass of the presidential limousine. Whitaker worked at the Rouge plant in Michigan and says the glass was replaced on Monday, November 25, 1963. Whitaker says he saw a bullet hole.
“It was a good clean bullet hole right through the screen from the front. This had a clean round hole in the front and fragmentation coming out of the back.
Secret Service Agent Charles Taylor also initially said in a report that there was a hole in the windshield. But, he later said in a sworn affidavit that the windshield in the National Archives is the one that he saw – which contradicts his story.And, as pointed out by conspiracy researchers led by Josiah Thompson, it is unlikely that Dr. Glanges would have been able to get close enough to the bullet hole to see what she says she saw.
When it comes to the windshield, we know that there was a visible crack in it. Everyone, including the Warren Commission, agrees about that. The question is whether the crack was actually a hole. What is clear is that the windshield in the National Archives has a crack, but not a hole. So, if you believe it was a hole, then you must also believe that the windshield in the National Archives is a phony.
DID THE VEHICLE STOP?
A lot of people believe that the presidential limousine came to a stop after the shots were fired. If that’s true, it would tend to show that 1) the driver of the car had poor judgment or was in on the conspiracy and 2) that the Zapruder film must have been altered because the Zapruder film does not show the car coming to a stop. Warren Report defenders point to the Zapruder film as conclusive evidence that the limo did not come to a stop. But do any witnesses in Dealey Plaza actually say that the limo came to a stop?
The Warren Report says QUOTE “The Presidential car did not stop or almost come to a complete halt after the firing of the first shot or any other shots. The driver, Special Agent William Greer, has testified that he accelerated the car after what was probably the second shot. Motion pictures of the scene show that the car slowed down momentarily after the shot that struck the President in the head and then speeded up rapidly.”
Marion Baker, the officer who encountered Oswald in the Schoolbook Depository, told the Warren Commission that another officer, Jim Chaney, told him QUOTE “after the shooting, from the time the first shot rang out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped.” Officer Chaney himself was never asked to testify before the Warren Commission.
Schoolbook Depository Supervisor Roy Truly told the Commission, QUOTE “I saw the President’s car swerve to the left and stop somewhere down in this area…” After Commission attorney David Belin asked Truly how long the stop appeared for, Truly said “It would be hard to say. Over a second or two or something like that. I just saw it stop…I didn’t see it start up.”
Officer Earl Brown who was stationed on top of the triple underpass, had this exchange with Joseph Ball of the Warren Commission about the limo stopping:
Brown: Actually, the first I noticed the car was when it stopped…after it made the turn and when the shots were fired, it stopped.
Ball: Did it come to a complete stop?
Brown: That, I couldn’t swear to.
Ball: It appeared to be slowed down some?
Brown: Yes, slowed down.
Reporter Mary Woodward also said that the limo stopped in a story in the Dallas Morning News on the day after the assassination. Woodward said that “instead of speeding up … the car came to a halt.” Woodward was never asked to testify before the Commission, but she did confirm her newspaper account to attorney Mark Lane who mentioned it when he testified before the Commission.
According to conspiracy author Vincent Palamara, there are a total of 59 witnesses who said that the motorcade came to a complete stop or came close to a complete stop. Most of the witnesses describe this stop as occurring after the first shot was fired. Some of them describe it as happening as the head shot hit. The witness statements are a little all over the place. But, the record is clear that a very large number of witnesses, dozens at least if not 59, believe they saw the limo come to a stop, or at least slow down dramatically.
I keep going back to the Zapruder film to see if I can tell where a stop would have been. There’s no doubt that the vehicle accelerates quickly after the head shot. But, there is no stop that is seen in the film. You can try to find evidence of a doctored film in the form of the bodies of the people in the limo going forward suddenly, which would happen due to momentum if there was a stop. But, that could be explained by other things as well, and again, the film is pretty grainy, so it’s not that easy to tell what is happening.
So, what do we do with all of this eyewitness testimony that seems to counter the Zapruder film? How should we think about this? Our available options are: A) all the witnesses had a mass hallucination of a stop that never happened, B) the witnesses saw the increased speed after the last shot and mistook that increase in speed for the vehicle previously having been stopped, or C) the Zapruder film was altered and the vehicle came to a stop just like the witnesses say.
Next time on Solving JFK: We’ll look at what some people believe is the Rosetta Stone for solving the assassination, the murder of officer J.D. Tippit. Did Oswald kill Tippit? Or was he just a patsy?
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