- Matt Crumpton
Episode 3: Where Was Oswald When The Shots Were Fired (Part 1)
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Lee Harvey Oswald is one of the most infamous names in American history. But, is that fair? Did he really kill president John F Kennedy and Officer JD Tippit? In today’s episode, we’ll look at the eyewitness statements from the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building to find out whether the evidence supports the idea that Oswald could have been in place to fire the shots.
Where was Lee Harvey Oswald when the shots were fired on November 22, 1963?
Solving JFK is a podcast about attempting to definitively solve one of the most infamous murders in American History. This podcast is committed to following the evidence where it leads – as opposed to reinforcing a pre-determined conclusion. All factual assertions are cited – with the majority of the assertions coming from the Warren Commission volumes. You can view the citations and original materials at solvingjfkpodcast.com.
One more thing, the JFK assassination provides an overwhelming amount of information to digest. As we work through the case, some evidence will appear to make Oswald look innocent and some evidence makes him look guilty. This podcast will synthesize all of the information and make conclusions at the end about whether the Warren Report got it right, and, if not, we’ll determine the open questions in the case.
If you hear anything during this podcast that you disagree with, or that you think lacks context, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a detailed explanation of what we missed or got wrong and a citation to support your claims and we may include it in a rebuttal episode.
According to the Warren Report, around 12:30pm on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from the sniper’s nest he constructed out of cardboard boxes in the Southeast Corner window of the Sixth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building.
The School Book Depository, now known as the Dallas County Administration Building, is a 7 story brick building that looks out on Dealey Plaza – a large open parklike area where several roads come together. The purpose of the School Book Depository was to act as a multi-floor warehouse for storing school textbooks and fulfilling orders for those books.
Oswald applied for a job at the School Book Depository on October 15, 1963 and began working as a temporary employee the next day. He was an order filler, which meant that he reviewed orders of textbooks and then obtained those textbooks from wherever they were located within the School Book Depository.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh floors of the building housed the overflow stock of books. The orders that Oswald filled were mostly on behalf of publisher Scott, Foresman. The Scott, Foresman books were all on the first floor and the sixth floor. So, it would not have been out of the ordinary for Oswald to be seen on the sixth floor.
If Oswald was firing shots on the sixth floor at 12:30pm, then there should be some witnesses that put Oswald in that position around the same time. On the other hand, if there are witnesses who say that Oswald was somewhere else around 12:30, the evidence would tend to support Oswald’s innocence.
We’ll start with the key witnesses the Warren Report relies upon to place Lee Harvey Oswald on the 6th floor at 12:30.
The first of these is pipefitter, Howard Brennan. Brennan was leaning against a 4 foot high retaining wall on the corner of Houston and Elm, directly across the street from the Schoolbook Depository Building. He checked his watch and it was 12:18 when he arrived at that street corner.
Several minutes later, Brennan noticed a man in the window of the Southeast corner of the Sixth floor. According to Brennan, when he looked up at the window from the street corner, he thought that the man was 5’10”, white, slender, with dark brown hair, and between 25-35 years old. When Brennan looked up after the first shot was fired, he says he saw the same man with a rifle.
“I looked directly across and up at a 45 degree angle. And this man, same man I had saw prior to the president’s arrival was in the window and taking aim for his last shot. After he fired the last, or the third shot, he didn’t seem to be in a great rush or hurry. He seemed to pause for a moment to see if for sure he accomplished his purpose. And he brought the gun back to the upright position as though he was satisfied.”
On the night of the assassination, at a lineup of suspects, Brennan said about Oswald, “He looks like the man, but I can’t say for sure,” failing to identify Oswald when given the chance. So Brennan had a good look at a man in the window, who he says took his time and fired the rifle. But when he was asked that night at the police station to identify the man, he could not identify Oswald as being the man he saw.
According to Warren Report defenders, like Gerald Posner, Brennan failed to identify Oswald that night because he was afraid for his life since he didn’t know if there were others involved, and if word leaked that he was the only one who could identify the trigger man, then his life might be in danger. Further, Brennan DID tell the Warren Commission when they interviewed him later that he could have identified Oswald that night. He even adds, “I knew I could never forget the face I had seen in the window on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository.”
Now, there are no obvious credibility issues with Brennan – other than his failure to identify Oswald the night of the assassination (which he says was due to fear that then went away after Oswald was killed). On the other hand, Brennan – who is the only witness who puts Oswald specifically with a gun in his hands and on the sixth floor – was standing on the ground looking up at a face he had never seen before on the 6th floor (though he was close to the building.) To me, it seems like it would be hard to identify someone in a lineup who I saw from six stories below. But, then again, I could be wrong.
After Howard Brennan, the second witness that is heavily relied upon by the Warren Report to put Oswald on the 6thfloor at the time of the shooting is Charles Givens – a coworker of Oswald’s. In Givens’ sworn affidavit from the day of the assassination, he says that he worked on the 6th floor until 11:30. He then went downstairs to go to the bathroom and to have lunch. There was no mention of Oswald at all in Givens’ original affidavit.
Then on February 13, 1964, in an FBI report written by Special Agent Robert Gemberling, additional information was provided that Givens didn’t mention in his affidavit on the day of the assassination. The report said QUOTE:
[Givens] was on the 6th floor until about 11:30am when he used the elevator to travel to the first floor. As he was going down on the elevator, he stated an individual known to him as Lee, yelled to him to close the gates on the elevator so Lee could have the elevator return to him to the sixth floor.
Givens initial testimony to the FBI did not support Oswald’s guilt because of Oswald asking for the elevator to be sent back up so that he could come down – which would mean that he wouldn’t be on the sixth floor at 12:30 as far as Givens knew.
When Givens was interviewed by the Warren Commission a few months later on April 8, 1964, he added that he forgot his cigarettes on the 6th floor and went back up around noon to get them. It was then that he saw Oswald near the southeast corner window of the 6th floor.
What was he doing there? Well, he was just standing there looking with his orders in his hand. And what did you say to him. “I just said fella, it’s lunch time, are you going downstairs? He said, “No. Close the gates on the elevator when you get down.” This would be about what time? “One or two minutes after twelve.”
The final testimony from Givens to the Warren Commission was, “I came downstairs, and I discovered that I left my cigarettes in my jacket pocket upstairs. When I got back upstairs, [Oswald] was on the sixth floor … in that vicinity… toward the window up front where the shots were fired from. I was getting ready to get on the elevator and asked Oswald if he was coming downstairs. He said, “No.”
Givens story to the Warren Commission is in conflict with what his co-worker, Bonnie Ray Williams, told the Warren Commission. Williams said that he heard Oswald ask Givens to send the elevator back up so Oswald could come down for lunch. This makes a big difference. If Oswald is asking Givens to send the elevator down around 11:45, then he could plausibly be on the 6th floor at noon. But, if Oswald is asking Givens to send the elevator back up – as Williams claims, that makes it less likely that Oswald could have gotten back into position on the 6th floor by 12:30.
One final, but important note on Givens: According to an FBI report of February 13, 1964, Lt. Jack Revill of the Dallas PD approached Robert Gemberling of the FBI and said that since he had dealt with Givens on a drug charge, he thought Givens may change his story for money. On May 13, 1964, Revill told the Warren Commission that he encountered Givens on the day of the assassination and Givens said he saw Oswald on the 6th floor. Lt. Revill named two corroborating witnesses Detective Brian and Captain Fritz of the Dallas PD – both of whom testified before the Warren Commission and were not asked about Givens seeing Oswald on 6th floor around noon.
Why did Lt. Revill not include this information in an initial report? It’s a pretty big fact for him to hold on to until the Spring of 1964 when it comes to light for the first time. He should have at least let the DPD detectives know Givens told him that since he was the one who sent Givens to the Dallas PD to talk to detectives in the first place.
To recap, we have two primary witnesses with testimony that puts Oswald on the 6th floor of the schoolbook depository. There’s Howard Brennan, the pipefitter who looked up from the street and saw Oswald and then a gun out of the same window (but failed to ID Oswald in a lineup that day, even though he told the Warren Commission that he could have). And then, there is Charles Givens, Oswald’s co-worker who told the Warren Commission he left Oswald alone on the 6thfloor at noon (and who may or may not have been influenced to change his story).
There are more witnesses from outside of the building who saw what happened that day. Starting with Bob Edwards and Ronald Fisher, who were standing on the street waiting for the presidential motorcade to drive by when they looked up at the Texas School Book Depository Building and saw on the 5th or 6th floor, a 22-24 year old white man who looked uncomfortable and wasn’t paying attention to the parade. Fischer, who testified before the Warren Commission, said that Lee Harvey Oswald “could have” been the man they saw. But he was non-committal.
James Worrel says he saw a rifle aimed at JFK out either the fifth or sixth floor in the southeast corner window and saw flame and smoke come out of the rifle, but could not identify the shooter since he was standing near the Schoolbook Depository Building looking straight up.
Finally, a 15 year old boy named Amos Euins, who says he saw what looked like a pipe in a high window of the schoolbook depository near the southeast side. He then realized it was a gun after shots were fired. He could not identify the race of the man or any other characteristics, except that the man had a bald spot on his head.
Fischer’s testimony about what he and Bob Edwards saw merely shows that there was a white guy in the window. They can’t identify Oswald positively and they didn’t see him with a gun. Euins and Worrel establish convincingly that there was a gun pointed out of a high window of the book depository. But, the problem is that neither can identify Oswald, and Euins puts a bald spot on the head of the shooter, which Oswald does not have.
Carolyn Walther says she saw a man in a white shirt leaning out the southeast corner window with a rifle in his hands pointed down. The man had blonde or light brown hair and was looking down the street where the motorcade was about to come around the corner. She also gives the showstopping testimony that she saw a second man behind the shooter in a brown suit coat. (We’ll look closer at that allegation next time.)
But, Walther said she was certain that the man she saw with a gun and the man behind him with the brown suit coat were NOT on the 6th floor and instead were on the 4th or 5th floors. Because we know that James Jarman, Bonnie Ray Williams and Harold Norman were on the 5th floor and said they thought the shots came from above, it would be surprising if Walther was correct about the floor.
Arnold Rowland also saw a light skinned man with dark hair with a rifle on the sixth floor at 12:15. But, he saw the man in the Southwest corner (the other side of the building from the sniper’s nest). He also saw another man who Rowland identified as being black and about 55 years old in the southeast corner of the 6th floor (where the sniper’s nest was) who was there from 12:15 until about 12:25. Rowland described the man as “practically bald.”
The counterpoint to Rowland’s testimony of seeing two men on the 6th floor at the same time - and the shooter on the opposite side of the building from the sniper’s nest - is that Rowland must have been mistaken. And likely, the mistake that he made was seeing the three Black men on the 5th floor: Jarman, Williams, and Norman. But, Rowland is saying he saw a 55 year old bald black man. He also acknowledged that he had separately seen the group of black men sitting in the window on the 5th floor. That is very specific. It’s hard to believe someone could mistake three men in their thirties for one older man in his fifties.
When you combine the testimony of Walther and Rowland with that of Fischer, Brennan, and Worrel, it establishes that there was a rifle on the 6th floor in a window. And that shots were fired from the 6th floor.
But, Walther, Rowland, and Lillian Mooneyham provided additional details that do not fit the official story. Walther saying that she saw another man behind the shooter supports a finding of conspiracy (because of multiple people being in on it – even if all from the school book depository). As does Rowland’s testimony that he saw two men in different corners of the sixth floor and the one with the rifle in his hands was in the Southwest corner window – the opposite corner from where Oswald’s sniper’s nest allegedly was located. Rowland also potentially corroborates the bald spot on the shooter seen by Amos Euins.
Bonnie Ray Williams finished his fried chicken lunch on the 6th floor minutes before the assassination. Williams said Oswald asked for an elevator to be sent back up when he saw Oswald on the 5th floor at 11:45 because Oswald was coming down for lunch (as Givens had also initially told the FBI). Williams had his lunch on the 6th floor in front of the 4thwindow, about 40 feet away from Oswald’s alleged “sniper’s nest”. He says he could not see anything in the southeast corner because the books were stacked so high.
The big question about Bonnie Ray Williams is “what time did his chicken lunch really end?” According to his FBI interview, he was done with lunch at 12:05. Williams tells the Warren Commission (and they accept) that the time was actually 12:20 when he was done with lunch.
What we know from Williams testimony is that he did not see or hear anyone else on the 6th floor while he was eating. Assuming the Warren Report time of 12:20 for the end of Williams lunch is correct, that means that if there was an assassin on the 6th floor, they must have arrived after Williams left – or the assassin must have been very sneaky and hiding behind boxes. But, if Oswald arrived on the 6th floor after Williams left, he would not have had much time to get set up for the shot.
One other thing to add here, the shots were fired from the southeast window. But, the only way to enter or exit the 6thfloor was the stairs or the service elevator, both of which are in the Northwest corner of the building. Having been to the building, I can tell you that it is bigger than you would imagine. Also, the layout of the boxes on the day of the assassination is such that Williams could have gone to the right around the boxes and an assassin (or assassins) could have gone to the left around the boxes.
The motorcade schedule called for the president to be at the Trade Mart by 12:15, which would have put him in Dealey Plaza around 12:10. If Oswald came up after Williams lunch, that already makes him 3 minutes late to take the shots if the motorcade is on time. If Oswald was really intent on killing JFK, would he have risked the chance to miss his only shot at killing the president? The counterargument is that Oswald is crazy and could have missed his chance to kill the president.
And remember, Arnold Rowland first sees the rifle in the window at 12:15. So, if the Warren Report time of 12:20 is when Williams finished his lunch, then the shooter, whoever it was, was there with Williams on the 6th floor at the same time.
Harold Norman and James Jarman were co-workers of Oswalds who witnessed the assassination from inside the Schoolbook Depository. Both Norman and Jarman gave television interviews after the assassination highlighting their interactions with Oswald that day. Here’s Harold Norman:
That particular morning, three or four of us were standing by the window and Oswald came over and said what’s everybody looking at? What’s everybody excited about? We told him we were waiting for the president. So, he just stood up and walked away.”
And here’s what James Jarman had to say:
`“I was talking to him around about 10 o’clock. On the outside of the building some people had gathered. He asked me what they were gathered around there for. And I told him that the president was supposed to come by there that morning. And he asked me what time. I said I didn’t know what time it would be. But some of the people had started gathering around. And he asked me which way would the president be coming. And I told him and he said “Oh, yeah?” and I said Yeah. Then he turned around and walked off.”
Next, we have Billy Lovelady, another one of Oswald’s coworkers who said that Oswald asked for the elevator to be sent back up when he saw him on 5th floor at 11:45 because Oswald was coming down for lunch.
William Shelly, the supervisor at the school book depository building, says he saw Oswald on the first floor at 11:50 when Oswald came down to eat his lunch.
These are good markers to establish a timeline. Still, other than Brennan, the only witness who puts Oswald specifically on the 6th floor is Charles Givens, who puts him there around noon, still thirty minutes before the shooting.
The goal for this episode is to figure out where Oswald was when the shots were fired. We are looking for evidence that puts Oswald on the 6th floor around 12:30, which was the time of the shooting.
So far, the strongest witnesses for the idea that Oswald could have been in place to fire the shots is Howard Brennan – who was outside of the building and across the street looking six stories up. And while Brennan told the Warren Commission that Oswald was the shooter, he did not identify Oswald on the night of the assassination at a police line up.
The other witness who potentially makes it look like Oswald could have been on the 6th floor at the time of the shooting is Charles Givens. But Givens testimony merely puts Oswald on the 6th floor at Noon – not 12:30. And there’s evidence that Givens may have changed his story for money according to Lt. Jack Revill.
All of the other witnesses we’ve heard from so far do support the idea of there being shots fired from the 6th floor. But we don’t have any other witnesses that say Oswald was near the 6th floor at 12:30. And Bonnie Ray Williams, who ate his lunch on the 6th floor some time between 11:45 and 12:20 didn’t see Oswald on the 6th floor at that time. Williams says Oswald was coming downstairs for lunch around 11:45.
On the next episode of Solving JFK, we’ll continue looking at witness testimony from inside the School Book depository, including Officer Marion Baker (who confronted Oswald), Carolyn Arnold (who saw Oswald downstairs around 12:15), Victoria Adams and Sandra Styles (who went down the stairs Oswald would’ve gone down right after the shooting), and Military Intelligence officer James Powell (who was arrested inside the School Book Depository Building and later released). Where was Oswald when the shots were fired? We’ll continue to try to answer that question next time on Solving JFK.
 Wikipedia Article on Texas Schoolbook Depository Building https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_School_Book_Depos6th floor] Lee Harvey Oswald’s Job Application - https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth190981/m1/3/  Roy Truly Warren Commission Testimony, https://www.jfk-assassination.net/russ/testimony/truly1.htm  Id.  Id.  Gerald Posner, Case Closed at 248.  Id.  Howard Brennan Interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJw3bohdIdY  Posner at 248.  Id.  CE 2003, p27  Agent Gemberling FBI Report - https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=11133#relPageId=305  Interview with Harold Norman and James Jarman. and Charles Givens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN_GG2rIbp4 at 1:49  Charles Givens Warren Commission Testimony - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh6/pdf/WH6_Givens.pdf  Sylvia Meagher at 65, Bonnie Ray Williams, 3H 168  Agent Gemberling, 2/10/64 FBI Report - https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=11133#relPageId=304  Sylvia Meagher, The Texas Observer, 13 August 1971  James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland at 98. Ronald Fischer Warren Commission Testimony - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh6/pdf/WH6_Fischer.pdf  James Worrell Warren Commission Testimony - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh2/pdf/WH2_Worrell.pdf  Amos Euins Warren Commission Testimony - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh2/pdf/WH2_Euins.pdf  James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, at 276.  James Jarman Warren Commission Testimony - https://history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh3/pdf/WH3_Jarman.pdf  Arnold Rowland Warren Commission Testimony - https://www.jfk-assassination.net/russ/testimony/rowland_a.htm  Id.  Id.  Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, at 35.  DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, at 97.  https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth49453/m1/1/  https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth338691/m1/1/  Wikipedia Article About Timeline of Assassination - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_John_F._Kennedy_assassination#President_Kennedy's_Texas_trip_schedule  Interview with Harold Norman and James Jarman. and Charles Givens -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN_GG2rIbp4  Interview with Harold Norman and James Jarman. and Charles Givens - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN_GG2rIbp4  Meagher at 65.  Id. At 68.