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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 22: The Murder of J.D. Tippit (Part 2)

Updated: Apr 23

According to Warren Commission counsel David Belin QUOTE “The Rosetta Stone to the solution of President Kennedy’s murder is the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit.” This is because the Tippit murder showed that Lee Harvey “Oswald had capacity to kill.”[1]

Now Belin may be right - but only if Oswald did, in fact, kill Officer Tippit. Let’s quickly recap what we covered last episode when it comes to what we know about the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit:

- It’s true, as the Warren Report says, that two eyewitnesses identified Oswald as the shooter. But, when we zoom in to the testimony, we find that one of those two witnesses, William Scoggins - the cab driver - couldn’t really see the shooting because of a bush, though he did see the man fleeing. And the other key witness - Helen Markham - was called an “utter screwball” by Warren Commission lawyer Joseph Ball.

- We know that it’s also true that 7 other eyewitnesses identified Oswald as the man running away from the crime scene with the gun. But the evidentiary value of the line ups at the Dallas Police Department is somewhat questionable given that Oswald had a black eye - and he identified his place of employment as the Texas Schoolbook Depository at a time when everyone knew that Kennedy was hit with at least some shots from the Schoolbook Depository.

- Still, even if the line-ups were tainted, nine witnesses identifying Oswald is a very strong fact for Warren Report defenders.

- But, we also had the stories of Acquilla Clemmons and Frank Wright that point to multiple people being involved together in the Tippit murder.

Today, we’ll continue to analyze the Tippit murder and look at the Warren Report’s timeline for it. Was it possible that Oswald could have done it in the available time?

Warren Reynolds

The next key witness Warren Report critics point to in defense of Oswald is Warren Reynolds. Reynolds owned a used car lot at 500 E Jefferson Boulevard.[2] He saw the gunman flee the scene of the crime just as he told a local news story shortly after the incident.

When he got to the corner there, he put the gun in his belt, like this. Then he walked up the street. I ran out to where I was even with him. And I walked on the opposite side of the street, even with him. When he got to the service station, he went behind it and I ran over and went behind it too. But, I couldn’t find him. I looked in the cars, under the cars, but I couldn’t find him.

[Were you trying to catch him or just keep up with him?]\Just keep up with him. Evidently, he got away and the police came. And I went on back to work.[3]

Reynolds was interviewed by the Warren Commission on January 21, 1964. During that interview , he said that he could not identify Oswald as the man he saw fleeing with the gun in his hand. Two days after the interview, Reynolds was shot in the head by someone who was lying in wait in the basement of his car dealership. Here is Reynolds talking about the incident to the same reporter.

When I walked in, I went to turn these lights off. I turned these first two switches before a man shot me that was hidden right behind me. Then, I ran out of the building.

[Did you get a look at the man?] Not a good look.[4]

After recovering from the gunshot wound to his head, Reynolds later said that he was able to identify Oswald as the gunman he had seen, both in a March affidavit[5] and later before the Warren Commission.

Of course, with the timing of Reynolds attempted murder so close after when he spoke to the Warren Commission, conspiracy theorists have always wondered why Reynolds changed his story. Decades later, Dallas researcher Michael Brownlow tracked down Warren Reynolds, who was still in the business of selling cars. Reynolds, after first denying who he was, eventually admitted his identity. When Brownlow asked him why he changed his identification of Oswald, Reynolds said, QUOTE “Because I wanted to live.”[6]

The Reynolds case is a doozie. We’ve already proven that Domingo Benavides brother was not killed to silence Benavides because his brother was killed in 1965, a year after Domingo testified to the Commission. But, the attempted murder of Warren Reynolds is more of a mystery.

According to a March 1964 FBI report, the prime suspect was Darrell Garner.[7] Garner was released by the Dallas police because a woman named Betty MacDonald provided an alibi for him.[8]

Here’s where the Reynolds story gets even crazier: shortly after providing the alibi for Garner, Betty MacDonald, was picked up on a disturbing the peace call for an argument with her roommate, Patsy Moore. She stayed at the Dallas jail overnight and the next morning she was dead. According to Dallas police, MacDonald hung herself by her trousers when she was in her cell, causing death by asphyxiation.[9]

How is MacDonald’s death related to the Tippit murder? MacDonald told Dallas Police Detective Ramsey that she worked as a stripper at Jack Ruby’s club in the past. This was confirmed by MacDonald’s roommate, Patsy Moore.[10] To try to get to the bottom of whether MacDonald really worked at the Carousel Club, the Warren Commission questioned Carousel Club manager Andrew Armstrong and asked him whether he knew Betty MacDonald, who also went by the name Nancy Mooney. Armstrong said he didn’t remember a Betty MacDonald, but there was a stripper named Nancy who worked a few nights a week, but he couldn’t remember her last name.[11]

If the Warren Commission really wanted to know whether Betty MacDonald worked for Ruby, they could have asked Thomas Palmer of the American Guild of Variety Artists when he testified. Palmer was questioned by the Warren Commission about Ruby’s dancer employees - all of whom belonged to the guild. The Commission did not ask Palmer whether Betty MacDonald or Nancy Mooney was in the records, which would have cleared up the matter.

The conspiracy argument is that the link between Jack Ruby and Betty MacDonald means that Ruby or someone associated with him must have asked Betty MacDonald to provide the alibi for Darrel Garner. With MacDonald saying Garner was with her at the time, Garner couldn’t have been shooting Warren Reynolds. We don’t have enough evidence to prove or disprove that point. It’s purely speculative.

Now, there are some facts to support the idea that MacDonald’s death was genuinely a suicide and was not related to providing an alibi for Garner. One thing that is not disputed about MacDonald is that she told her roommate Patsy that she had four children who lived with her mother. And Patsy got the impression that those children were taken away from Betty, which Patsy says caused Betty to be depressed at times.

William Goode says that he had known MacDonald for 6 weeks and in that time, she had attempted suicide twice – the first time with gas in her bedroom and the second time by cutting her wrists.[12] But, Goode says that MacDonald lived at 319 Windomere when the first suicide attempt occurred, when the record shows that at the time MacDonald lived with her roommate Patsy Moore. And Goode didn’t say where he saw MacDonald cut her wrists. But, it’s interesting to note that Patsy Moore, MacDonald’s roommate and also her co-worker at the time at Mickey’s Bar, did not mention any suicide attempts or seeing any indications of previous cutting. It would be hard for MacDonald to hide that from her roommate and co-worker.

Conspiracy theorists point out the fact that the same Dallas police officer who happened to be responsible for the investigation of the Warren Reynolds shooting – Captain Jones - was also in charge of the MacDonald suicide investigation. And Captain Jones was also previously in charge of the investigation into the General Walker shooting, which was later tied to Oswald. (The General Walker shooting is a key event that is attributed to Oswald to show Oswald had the means and motive to shoot Kennedy. We’ll get to the General Walker incident eventually.) Betty MacDonald, Warren Reynolds, and General Walker - those are three cases that all tangentially touch on the assassination. Captain Jones testified before the Warren Commission. But he was not asked any questions about the Reynolds investigation, the MacDonald suicide, or the General Walker shooting.[13]

Oswald’s Revolver

As we will soon discuss in depth, Oswald is ultimately arrested at the Texas Theater. At the time of his arrest, he had a Smith & Wesson 38 Special revolver with the unique serial number V510210.[14]

The Warren Report says that Oswald ordered the revolver from Seaport Traders sometime after January 27, 1963.[15] The order was signed by A.J. Hidell. The office manager for Seaport Traders, Heinz Michaelis, identified that the 38 Special with serial number V510210 had been sent to the A.J. Hidell P.O. Box on March 20th. There is also evidence that the shipping payment was collected by Railway Express.[16]

The Warren Report lays out what I consider to be a rather strong prosecution of Oswald having ordered and received this revolver. It says, QUOTE:

Handwriting experts, Alwyn Cole of the Treasury Department and James Cadigan of the FBI, testified before the Commission that the writing on the coupon was Oswald's. Marina Oswald gave as her opinion that the mail-order coupon was in Oswald's handwriting. When shown the revolver, she stated that she recognized it as the one owned by her husband. She also testified that this appeared to be the revolver seen in Oswald's belt in the picture she took in late March or early April 1963 when the family was living on Neely Street in Dallas.[17]

So, that’s Oswald’s wife and two government handwriting experts who say that it looks like Oswald is the one who placed the order.

But remember, most of the Warren Report skeptics arguments against Oswald ordering the rifle are also relevant here with the revolver. Both weapons were allegedly ordered to the same PO Box under an alias. Oswald denied ordering and receiving both weapons. (fair enough – of course he is going to deny it).

Moreover, critics such as Fred Newcomb and Perry Adams claim that a chart from a committee that was investigating mail order firearms demonstrates that the revolver in evidence was never sent to Dallas in 1963.[18] Warren Report defender Dale Myers counters that the records that were received by that Committee were incomplete. So, the absence of a record does not necessarily mean that it didn’t happen.[19]

One key difference between the rifle and the revolver is that Oswald had a revolver on him when he was arrested. And the revolver in evidence has the matching V510210 serial number.[20]

So, we’re back to the idea that if you believe Oswald didn’t do it, then you have to believe that he was actively framed and that someone substituted Oswald’s actual revolver - that Oswald says he purchased elsewhere – for the V510210 revolver that’s now in evidence at the National Archives.


One of the strongest arguments for why Oswald could not have been the Tippit killer is that the timing doesn’t work out based on Oswald’s documented movements. The issues to look at here are: What time did Oswald leave his rooming house? What time was Tippit shot? And how long would it have taken for Oswald to walk from his rooming house to the Tippit crime scene?

The Warren Report says that, after Oswald got off the bus that left the Schoolbook Depository, he was dropped off by cab driver William Whaley near his rooming house at 1026 North Beckley Avenue.

Oswald arrived around 1pm, and according to Earlene Roberts, the housekeeper, he stayed no longer than 3 or 4 minutes. Roberts said that, although Oswald entered the house in a hurry, he was still nearby moments later when she looked out the window. Roberts says in her affidavit, QUOTE:

Oswald went out the front door. A moment later I looked out the window. I saw Lee Oswald standing on the curb at the bus stop…I just glanced out the window that once. I don’t know how long Lee Oswald stood at the curb nor did I see which direction he went when he left there.[21]

So, Oswald is waiting for a bus according to Earlene Roberts. But he is supposed to be walking towards the Tippit murder scene at this time. What’s strange is that the bus stop Roberts saw Oswald standing near is one house north of Oswald’s rooming house. That means Oswald would have to walk in the opposite direction of the Tippit crime scene, which was to the South, and he would be waiting to board a bus headed North – which again, is the opposite direction of the Tippit crime scene. But maybe Oswald changed his mind about riding the bus and decided to go for a walk the opposite direction instead. Or maybe he was waiting to be picked up by someone. That’s also possible.

We know that, based on the testimony of William Whaley and Earlene Roberts, the earliest that Oswald could have left the rooming house would be around 1:05pm. [22] But what time was Tippit shot? The Warren Report says that Tippit was shot at approximately 1:15.[23] Warren Report critics, on the other hand, point to witness testimony to show that the shooting was actually earlier than 1:15.

Witness Helen Markham says the shooting took place at 1:06 or 1:07.[24] And Markham was on the way to catch her bus, which she told the Warren Commission came at 1:15, but according to FBI reports, actually arrived at 1:12pm everyday.[25] It’s only a three minute difference, but clearly, if Markham was going to the 1:12 bus, she would’nt have been able to witness a murder a block away at 1:15 because she would already be on the bus – assuming it was running on time.

Margie Higgins, who lived at 417 E. 10th Street told reporters, that after she heard the gunshots, QUOTE “I just looked up at the clock on my television to verify the time and it said 1:06.”[26] Another witness, TF Bowley was driving in his car when he saw Tippit’s body lying on the street. He got out of the car and looked at his watch, which said 1:10.[27] (But, remember, 1:10 is when Bowley sees Tippit lying on the street – not when the shooting happened.) Bowley and Higgins are the only eyewitness who checked the time after seeing Tippit. Neither Mr. Bowley nor Ms. Higgins were ever interviewed by the Warren Commission.

The Dallas police received a call over the police radio at 1:16pm from Domingo Benavides.[28] According to his Warren Commission testimony, Benavides, says that he was the first person who used the police radio to inform the police about the shooting. The transcript on the radio confirms what Benavides says.[29] But just because the time that Benavides reported the shooting was 1:16, doesn’t mean that the shooting actually happened at 1:16. Benavides said there was a delay between the time of the shooting and when he reported the shooting. When he was asked what happened after he heard the gunshots, Benavides said, QUOTE:

After that, I set there for just a few minutes to kind of, I thought he went in back of the house or something. At the time, I thought maybe he might have lived in there and I didn't want to get out and rush right up. He might start shooting again. That is when I got out of the truck and walked over to the Policeman, and he was lying there and he had, looked like a big clot of blood coming out of his head, and his eyes were sunk back in his head, and just kind of made me feel real funny. I guess I was really scared…..Then, I went in and pulled the radio and I mashed the button and told them that an officer had been shot.”[30]

We don’t know exactly how long Benavides waited. But, based on what he said, it would have to be long enough to wait in his car for the shooter to walk away, then walk over to the police officer to check on him. So, the absolute latest that Tippit could have been shot is 1:16pm minus however long Benavides waited in his car.

Combining the stories of Markham, Bowley, Higgins, and Benavides, I put the shooting at some time between 1:06 and 1:13.

The last big timing question is how long would it have taken Oswald to walk the nine tenths of a mile from his rooming house to the Tippit murder scene. The Warren Report says QUOTE “If Oswald left his rooming house shortly after 1 p.m. and walked at a brisk pace, he would have reached 10th and Patton shortly after 1:15 p.m.”[31] When Commission counsel David Bellin re-enacted the walk with a stopwatch, it took him 17 minutes and 45 seconds.[32]

Assuming, as the Warren Report does, that Oswald left his rooming house quote “shortly after 1pm” and that Tippit was shot quote “shortly after 1:15pm,” it would easily be possible for Oswald to have walked nine tenths of a mile in 15 minutes. That is a pace of about 4 miles per hour.

But, when we zoom in to the actual witness statements and evidence regarding the timeline, we find that Oswald left his rooming house no earlier than 1:05pm and that Tippit was shot at 1:13pm at the latest. So, using that timeline, Oswald would only have 8 minutes to get there instead of 15.

Oswald would have to be athletically sprinting at about 10 miles per hour to make that distance work in that time period. And, again, this is assuming Oswald only waited one minute at the bus stop before leaving and that Markham and Higgins were mistaken on the time of the shooting. If Markham and Higgins are correct that Tippit was shot at 1:06pm, then it is not possible that Oswald could have made it there in time. You would think someone would have seen Oswald on the sidewalk as he traveled from his rooming house to Patton Avenue. But there are no witnesses who saw Oswald walking from the rooming house to the Tippit crime scene.[33]

The timing issue ultimately comes down to what time you believe Tippit was shot. The only witnesses to look at the time when they heard the shots were Margie Higgins and Helen Markham. They both said it happened around 1:06. It would make sense for Markham to be a block south of her bus stop 6 minutes before the bus arrived if she wanted to catch her 1:12 bus on time. TF Bowley said that his watch said 1:10 when he saw Tippit on the ground. You would have to discount what all three of those witnesses said to believe that it’s possible for Oswald to have made it to the Tippit crime scene in time.

What does Warren Report defender Vincent Bugliosi have to say about this timing issue? Bugliosi says QUOTE ““Even if Bowley is correct and Tippit was killed at 1:10 or earlier, it would be irrelevant, since we know Oswald killed him.”[34] So, for Bugliosi at least, we already know Oswald is guilty. Why worry about a trivial detail like, for example, whether Oswald could have possibly done it?

The timing issue is the first real problem for the Warren Report in the Tippit murder. Are there any others?

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We continue looking at the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit, including the jacket, Oswald’s wallets, whether Tippit knew Oswald, and Officer Tippit’s behavior immediately before he was killed.

[1] David W. Belin, November 22, 1963: You Are the Jury (1973), p466 [2] Reynolds Testimony - [3] [4] Id. [5] [6] [7] [8] Id. [9] [10] [11] Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p 294. [12] [13] Meagher at 296. [14] See Commission Exhibit No. 143, p. 17; Warren Report, p 171 [15] See Commission Exhibit No. 790, p. 173;, Warren Report, p 588 [16] Id. At 588. [17] Id. At 590. [18] [19] [20] [21] Earlene Roberts Aff. [22] Warren Report at 163. [23] Warren Report at 165. [24] CE 2003, P 37; 3H 306. [25] [26] [27] CE 2003, p11 [28] [29] [30] [31] Warren Report at 165. [32] Warren Report at 6H 434. [33] Meagher at 255. [34] Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, End Notes, p 51.

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