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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 11: Dealey Plaza (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 23

So far, we’ve talked about the possibility of a secret service agent being impersonated on the grassy knoll after the shots were fired. We also covered the eyewitnesses who were on the railroad overpass and claim the shots came from the grassy knoll.

In this episode, we focus on the people who were closest to the president in the motorcade to see what we can learn from their statements. Then, we’ll look at the Umbrella Man and alleged radio communications man, Jim Hicks.

Motorcade Witnesses

Some of the most important witnesses to the events of November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza are the people who were closest to the president in the motorcade. Let’s look at what they had to say.

First, we’ll start inside of the presidential limo.

Secret Service agent William Greer was driving. Greer told the Warren Commission that there were large crowds immediately before Dealey Plaza, but the crowd thinned out as they turned onto Elm and into Dealey Plaza.[1] He said that he heard three shots and that there were three or four seconds between the first and second shots, but the time between the last two shots “just seemed to be simultaneously, one behind the other.”[2] Agent Greer was unequivocal that the three shots he heard all were fired from behind him.[3]

Roy Kellerman was the senior Secret Service agent responsible for presidential security in Dallas.[4] He also believed that the shots came from his right rear, which would be consistent with the School Book Depository. Agent Kellerman, who was sitting shotgun in the presidential limousine, said that the second two shots “were almost instantaneous.”[5]

Governor John Connally was riding in front of President Kennedy in the limo and suffered multiple gunshot wounds (which we will discuss more when we get to the medical evidence). Connally told the Warren Commission that he only heard the first shot and the last shot that hit the President’s head. He thought the shots came from behind him.[6] Nellie Connally, the governor’s wife said the same thing.[7]

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy said she heard two shots, but as you can imagine, she didn’t have much of a memory of the event. She wasn’t asked which direction the shots came from.[8]

Let’s move on to the staggered 4 motorcycle V formation of Dallas Police immediately behind the presidential limo.

Officer BJ Martin was the closest motorcycle officer on the back left side of the presidential limo.[9] He couldn’t tell which direction the shots came from. He said he had blood and brain all over the left side of his helmet and his uniform.[10]

Officer Bobby Hargis was also on a motorcycle that was just to the left and behind BJ Martin. Hargis wasn’t sure how many shots were fired. Hargis told the Warren Commission QUOTE “At the time, it sounded like the shots were right next to me. There wasn’t any way I could tell where they were coming from, but at the time there was something in my head that said that they probably could have been coming from the Railroad Overpass, because I thought since I had gotten splattered with blood, but I didn’t know.”[11] He then said that the shots could have come from the School Book Depository too.

Officer Jim Chaney was the closest motorcycle to President Kennedy, near the right rear of the limo. Unbelievably, the Warren Commission never called Chaney to testify. He gave a statement on the day of the assassination to ABC news where he said that the shots came from behind him, but he also said that he saw the president get struck in the face. So, it’s unclear exactly what Chaney meant.[12]

Officer Doug Jackson was staggered behind Officer Chaney. And, like Chaney, Officer Jackson was never called to testify before the Warren Commission. I couldn’t find any statements from Jackson. So, we don’t know what he saw.


Behind the first wave of motorcycle police was the secret service follow up car, which had 6 people inside of it and 4 secret service agents standing on the running boards. Agent Sam Kinney was driving. In his written report, Kinney says that after the first shot, “there was a second of pause and then two more shots were heard.”[13] He said QUOTE “I saw one shot strike the president in the right side of the head.”[14]

Agent Emory Roberts who was sitting shotgun in the follow up car reported “I saw what appeared to be a small explosion on the right side of the president’s head. I saw blood, at which time the president fell further to his left.”[15]

Agent Clint Hill was on the left side running board of the follow up car. He’s the famous agent who immediately ran to the presidential limo and jumped on the back of it - basically saving Jackie Kennedy from falling off of the back of the limo as she was reaching for pieces of her husband’s head. Hill said in his written report QUOTE “As I lay over the top of the back seat, I noticed a portion of the president’s head on the right rear was missing and he was bleeding profusely. Part of his brain was gone.”

Agent William McIntyre, who was on the running board position behind Clint Hill, said quote “The presidential vehicle was 200 feet from the overpass when the first shot was fired, followed in quick succession by two more.” I would estimate that all three shots were fired within five seconds.”[16] He couldn’t tell where the shots came from. Agent John Ready, who was on the right running board also was unable to determine where the shots came from.[17]

Agent Paul Landis, who was on the running board behind Agent Ready, said he thought that the first shot came from behind him, and that his immediate reaction was that the shot that hit the president’s head “came from somewhere towards the front, right-hand side of the road,” which would be the area known as the grassy knoll.[18]

Agent Glen Bennett, was in the back right seat of the follow up car. He said that the second shot hit the president “about four inches down from the right shoulder” and that the third shot hit the president “in the right rear of the president’s head.”[19]

Agent George Hickey, who was seated next to Agent Bennet, said that the first shot came from the right rear and seemed to be at the ground level. Then, a few seconds passed and Hickey reported QUOTE “I heard two reports which I thought were shots that appeared to me completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession that there seemed to be practically no time element between them.”[20] Hickey says the president was struck in the right upper rear of his head.

The two other men in the follow up car were presidential aides Dave Powers and Kenny O’Donnell. In Powers Warren Commission Affidavit, he says “My first impression was that the shots came from the right and overhead, but I also had a fleeting impression that the shots came from the front in the area of the triple overpass.”[21]

O’Donnell, who was seated next to Powers, told the Warren Commission that the first two shots “came almost simultaneously” and that the third shot was after a slight hesitation.[22] He said that the shots came from behind.[23]

But, according to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Kenny O’Donnell told him that his Warren Commission testimony was not the truth. O’Neill writes in his 1987 book, Man of the House, QUOTE: “I was surprised to hear O’Donnell say that he was sure he heard two shots that came from behind the fence.” O’Neill then asked O’Donnell why he didn’t say that to the Warren Commission. And he says O’Donnell responded QUOTE “I told the FBI what I heard, but they said it couldn’t have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn’t want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family.”[24]

To recap, we just touched on the highlights of what each person in the presidential limo, the motorcycle police, and the secret service follow up car had to say. As far as the direction of the shots, out of those who spoke on the topic, five say it was from behind, three were unsure, two said he was hit on the right side, two say that the shots came from both the back and the front, and one is unclear (Officer Jim Chaney).

I didn’t count Kenny O’Donnell in any category. He told the Warren Commission that the shots came from behind him. But, here we have the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, as Tip O’Neill was at the time, saying that O’Donnell – who had passed away 10 years earlier – told him that he lied to the Warren Commission under pressure from the FBI. And that two of the shots really came from the front. Why would Tip O’Neill lie about that interaction? To sell books? I mean, he was already the Speaker of the House and this anecdote was one page of the entire book.

Probably the most notable thing that kept coming up as I went over these statements is the idea that the spacing of the shots was not even. There was one shot, and then a pause and two shots almost at the same time. Five people close to the presidential limo said this. Kenny O’Donnell would be six, but he said the first two shots were almost simultaneous instead of the second two. Actually, some researchers have compiled the witness statements and counted them up. The idea of the shot, pause, shot shot pattern was mentioned by a total of 47 witnesses.[25]

The reason that this shot spacing matters is that Oswald would have had to operate the bolt action rifle in between shots, making it impossible for him to get off two shots that were almost simultaneous. This spacing of the shots tends to suggest that another shooter must have fired either the second or third shots.

The Umbrella Man and Dark Complected Man

One of the enduring characters of Dealey Plaza who is sometimes overlooked – and is other times the only witness that a person knows about in the Kennedy Assassination – is the Umbrella Man.

As the presidential motorcade made its way down Elm Street, there was a man standing along the street holding a large black umbrella. As Kennedy’s limo approached him, he had the open umbrella raised over his head.[26] You can also see part of his open umbrella in the Zapruder film as Kennedy emerges from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign.[27]

The weather in Dallas was nice that day.[28] There are no other people in any photographs in Dealey Plaza who had umbrellas. So, it is pretty weird that this guy along the curb had an umbrella that he only opened as Kennedy drove past. Warren Report critics have speculated that the Umbrella Man was using the umbrella as a signal to the assassins as to whether or not Kennedy had been fatally hit. The Umbrella Man would have been ideally situated to see into the limo as one of the closest witnesses to the president at the time of the shooting.

While the Umbrella Man was not interviewed by the FBI or the Warren Commission, in 1978 during the HSCA hearings, a man named Steven Louie Witt came forward claiming that he was the Umbrella Man. He said that the reason he brought the umbrella and held it up was in protest. But, in protest of what? Here’s author Josiah Thompson explaining on behalf of the New York Times:

It wasn’t a protest of any of John Kennedy’s policies as president. It was a protest at the appeasement policies of Joseph P. Kennedy, John Kennedy’s father, when he was ambassador to the court of St. James in 1938-39. It was a reference to Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella.[29]

For those who aren’t hip to the reference, Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany. Chamberlain became notorious for his policy of appeasement to avoid war with Nazi Germany.

So, according to Witt, he was protesting the policies of Kennedy’s dad by holding an open umbrella for the president to see. If that’s the truth, it’s a fairly elaborate trolling move. Witt told the HSCA that his purpose for the umbrella was quote “to heckle the president” because he “knew [the umbrella] was a sore spot for the Kennedys.”[30]

Ok, so we have a plausible story for the Umbrella Man. But, critics are quick to point out that we don’t really know for sure if Steven Louie Witt was the Umbrella Man. He did work at the nearby Rio Grande building. That is a fact. But, as far as knowing for sure that Witt was the man holding the umbrella that day, we’re just taking his word for it. The pictures are not clear enough to prove that Witt is that man. But, why would Witt make all of this up if he wasn’t the Umbrella Man?

A person often discussed at the same time as the Umbrella Man who is of great interest, even if Witt’s story is true, is the tall thin dark complected man who is standing near the Umbrella Man and who later sits down next to him. This man raised his hand at the moment before the presidential limo passed. You can see his arm in the same frames of the Zapruder film where you see Umbrella Man.

After the shots were fired, the reaction of most of the bystanders in Dealey Plaza was to either fall to the ground and duck or to run up the grassy knoll. But the Umbrella Man and the Dark Complected Man reacted differently. They sat down next to one another alongside the street on the curb, immediately in front of the Stemmons Freeway sign.[31]

As they are seated, the Dark Complected Man then takes out what appears to be a walkie talkie and puts it to his face. You can see what appears to be a box like device with a long antenna coming off of it. I’ve heard some people say that the antenna is just a photographic anomaly and it isn’t really there. But, looking at the pictures, it does look like this man has a walkie talkie that is up to his face to me. And then he tucks it into the back of his pants. You can see some sort of rectangular device in his waistline as he is walking away. If it’s not a walkie talkie, it’s definitely something that looks like a walkie talkie.

At any rate, this man was never identified. During Witt’s HSCA testimony, he said that after the motorcade went past him, he recalled that a black man had sat next to him and kept repeating QUOTE “They done shot them folks.”[32] We still don’t know his identity to this day. Maybe he has a plausible explanation just like the Umbrella Man.

But when you look at the photos from that day, it looks to me like the two men knew one another, and it also looks like the tall dark complected man was talking on a walkie talkie. But, I suppose it is possible that Witt is telling the truth and that the walkie talkie is just an anomaly. This is one of those facts that conspiracy theory believers give a lot of weight and Warren Report defenders shrug off as being silly. It would be a lot easier to say it’s nothing if we knew who this man was and what he was doing.

Jim Hicks

We talked about Lee Bowers seeing someone in a car in the parking lot behind the grassy knoll with a walkie talkie. We also just mentioned how this dark complected man who sat with Umbrella Man potentially had a walkie talkie. There is a third potential guy with a walkie talkie in Dealey Plaza that day.

Another potential alleged radio man for a conspiracy in Dealey Plaza that day was Jim Hicks. Hicks can be seen in several photos from immediately after the assassination.[33] In those photos, it appears that Hicks has a square shaped bulge in his back left pocket. However, unlike the Dark Complected Man, Hicks never takes the item out in the photos, so you can’t really see what it is.

Jim Garrison, who investigated the Kennedy assassination from the standpoint of alleged crimes committed in New Orleans in support of a conspiracy to kill the president, believed that one of the photos of Hicks showed an S-shaped antenna attached to the supposed walkie talkie. I tried, but I was not able to see that antenna when I looked at the photos.[34]

What’s interesting about Hicks is that he came forward voluntarily to shed light on the case. Garrison then subpoenaed him formally to appear. During the time Hicks was in New Orleans for the case, his room was broken into and he was beaten up by two men. This fact is often cited to argue that the men were sent to intimidate Hicks into changing his testimony. And, when you hear that a witness is beat up the night before testifying, it sounds fishy.

But the Hicks assault was cleared as not being related to the case. When I read the newspaper explanation, I was struck by how racist the logic was that the assault was not related to the grand jury testimony. Hicks says that earlier that night he met two black guys that he knew for drinks. He invited them to his hotel room for more drinks. Then, after they left and Hicks went to sleep, two other black guys who he didn’t know broke into his room and assaulted him. Reporters at the time apparently tied the fact that the intruders were black with the assumption that Hicks’ earlier visitors had set him up for a robbery – a fact that was never established.[35]

But, for what it’s worth, Hicks himself didn’t think the assault had any relationship to the reason he was in town to talk to Garrison. So, the sidebar story on the Hicks Assault may be a nothing burger after all.

Ultimately, we know from Jim Garrison’s records that Garrison believed that Hicks was the radio coordinator for the assassination.[36] But, the actual testimony that Hicks gave was that he saw a man shoot in Dealey Plaza from a short barreled gun out of the back of a car near the Arcade. No one else saw this person and Garrison said that Hicks would not have been in a position to see them.[37]

A few months after Hicks testified for Garrison’s Grand Jury, Hicks was committed to a mental institution after a recent arrest for public intoxication.[38]

Garrison concluded that Hicks was a radio man on behalf of a conspiracy in Dealey Plaza that day, but that Hicks was too afraid to tell the truth about what actually happened for fear of being killed, so he made up a nonsense story that wasn’t true to save his life.[39]

I think the bulge in Hicks pocket and him getting beat up the night before are fishy. But, since I can’t see the supposed S-shaped antenna that Garrison was focused on, and Jim Hicks never provided any actionable information related to him being a radio communications man, I do not think we have evidence that Jim Hicks is a credible radio man for the conspiracy. It’s possible. It’s just not established at all.

But, I do think there is evidence that other people had walkie talkies that day, including the dark complected man sitting next to Umbrella Man on the sidewalk and the person who Lee Bowers said had a walkie talkie driving around in the parking lot behind the grassy knoll.

Next Time on Solving JFK: We continue looking at Dealey Plaza. Did someone see Jack Ruby that day? What did the HSCA conclude using dictabelt audio? What new information does Buell Wesley Frazier have to offer? And what was a man with mafia ties doing in the building next door to the School Book Depository that day?

[1] Warren Commission testimony of William Greer - [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] Commission Document 7, page 3 - [5] Id at page 7. [6] Warren Commission Testimony of John Connally - [7] Mrs. Nellie Connally Warren Commission Testimony - [8] [9] [10] Warren Commission Testimony of BJ Martin - [11] Bobby Hargis Warren Commission Testimony - [12] [13] CE 1024, p 731 - [14] Id. [15] CE 1024, p 734 - [16] CE 1024, p 747 - [17] CE 1024, p 749 - [18] CE 1024, p 755 - [19] CE 1024, p 760 - [20] CE 1024, p 762 - [21] Warren Commission Affidavit of Dave Powers [22] Kenneth O’Donnell Warren Commission Testimony -, at 448 [23] Id. [24] Tip O’Neill, Man of the House (1987), page 178 [25] , page 7 [26] New York Times Umbrella Man Video at 2:56 - [27] Zapruder Film [28] New York Times Umbrella Man Video at 1:52 - [29] Id at 4:30. [30] Steven Louie Witt HSCA Testimony - [31] [32] Id. [33] Phil Willis, Slide 7, [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] [39]

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