The Case of the Impossible Shots
arriving at Dealey Plaza, I parked the car and walked up the steps of the Texas
School Book Depository building, casually glancing back over my shoulder at the
open grassy area of the Plaza as I neared the front door. There was nothing
remarkable about the grassy area; it was simply an open triangular-shaped park
that was bordered by east-west streets the north and south sides. At the east
end a pair of white masonry monuments straddled a third east-west street that
bisected the park, and at the west was a concrete overpass that arched over the
three streets that funneled together at that point. I knew from some of the news
reels I had seen in the past that the infamous Grassy Knoll and the monument
retaining wall on which
Abraham Zapruder stood to take his famous
film were on the north side, just beyond some trees that blocked my vision. I
entered the building.
The 5th, 6th, and 7th floors
were no longer used as a warehouse. It had become a commercialized tourist
attraction that weakly impersonated a museum. The main floor was a gift shop
where tickets were sold to those who wished to ascend to the 6th floor. And for
some unexplained reason, cameras were forbidden.
I surrendered my camera, paid
my money and entered the elevator. A few minutes later I knew that my government
had taken great pains to lie to the American people for the previous
1963, the 6th floor was an open warehouse-type storage loft stacked with rows of
brown cardboard boxes filled with books. Now it was a large, fairly open room
interspersed with various displays, diagrams and enlarged photographs that
focused on that tragic event that had occurred so many years before. I studied
the diagrams and photos and read the descriptions with mild interest. I already
knew the story;
Lee Harvey Oswald, a known communist with
mental problems, had shot President John F. Kennedy. He was later apprehended by
the Dallas police, but before he could go to trial, he was shot by
Jack Ruby. Every American school kid knew
this version of the events of that day. We had been taught it as part of our
history classes, and even the encyclopedias recorded the Oswald/lone gunman
scenario as gospel truth.
As I wandered around the
exhibits, I thought back to the day that altered history. It was the 22nd of
November, 1963. I was a senior in high school, sitting in drafting class waiting
for the teacher to call roll after returning from lunch. All of a sudden the PA
system crackled with an announcement: President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,
and he had just been rushed to a hospital. We looked at each other, wondering
who had sneaked into the school office during lunch and gained access to the
public address system. Surely it was some type of practical joke.
But then the announcement was
followed by radio news reporters describing the events that were unfolding in
Dallas in excited voices. It was no joke.
I leaned over to my best friend
and whispered, "Well, they finally got him."
"Yeah, too bad it wasn't
before the invasion."
Those were common sentiments
throughout the south and midwest, neither my friend or I had any love for JFK.
He was the guy who had called off the air support for the Bay of Pigs invasion,
dooming it to failure, then almost plunged us into a nuclear war with Russia
Cuban Missile Crisis. Now, he was actively
talking about getting us out of Vietnam, which meant that another of
Eisenhower's dominos would fall to communism.
This man, our president, was gutless. And for a conservative generation that had
been born at the end of World War II, to parents who had fought valiantly in
that war, and who had grown up on a steady diet of patriotic war movies and
documentaries, we could not imagine an America that would bow down to anyoneCespecially
those evil Reds that we had learned about
every year in Social Studies.
Because of our apprehension of having an east coast liberal in the White House,
many of us had actively campaigned for Nixon, and were shocked when Kennedy and
Johnson "won" the election by a mere 100,000 votes. Even though LBJ
sent me to Vietnam eighteen months later as part of the first Marine Battalion
Landing Team to see combat in that Asian country, I felt that fate had dictated
a favorable turn of events for American international policy when Oswald shot
Kennedy. Unlike the media's portrayal of national shock and grief over Kennedy's
death, many people actually felt relieved.
But this hot day in Dallas
would alter that for me. Not because of any change in personal politics or
loyalties, but of another, entirely different factor: a gut-wrenching,
instantaneous realization that I, along with every other patriotic American, had
After wandering around the
floor for a few minutes, I turned my attention to the window in the southeast
infamous Sniper's Nest. The actual window where Oswald had supposedly fired the
shots had been enclosed within a small glass partition which made it
inaccessible to direct scrutiny. But the window to its right was outside the
glass wall. I walked up to it and looked down.
I immediately felt like I had
been hit with a sledge hammer. The word that came to mind at what I saw as I
looked down through the window to Elm Street and the kill zone was:
I knew instantly that Oswald
could not have done it. At least not alone. Oswald could not have possibly fired
three shots in rapid succession--5.6
seconds according to the museum displays--with a worn-out military surplus
Mannlicher-Carcano mounted with a cheap telescopic sight from
that particular location to the
kill zone I now examined in more detail on the street below. The reason I
knew that Oswald could not have
done it, was because I
could not have done it.
Unlike Oswald, who failed to
qualify on the rifle range in Boot Camp, and who barely qualified
lowest of three grades--on
a later try, I was a trained and combat-experienced Marine sniper. I had spent a
year in Vietnam, during which time I had numerous occasions to line up living,
breathing human beings in the crosshairs of my precision Unertl scope and
squeeze the trigger of my bolt-action Model 70 Winchester and send a .30 caliber
match-grade round zipping down range.
Here I was, a professional
police officer and writer, looking down at the most famous ambush site in
history through the eyes of a sniper. A strange feeling came over me. A feeling
of calm, dampening my anger. The trained investigator inside me surfaced and
took over my emotions. I began to scrutinize what my senses were absorbing.
First, I analyzed the scene as
a sniper. In the time allotted, and in the distance along the street in which
the rounds had impacted the target from first report to final shot, it would
take a minimum of two people shooting. There was little hope that I alone, even
if armed with the precision equipment I had used in Vietnam, would be able
duplicate the feat described by the Warren Commission. So if I couldn't, I
reasoned, Oswald couldn't.
Unless he had help.
I looked at the engagement
angle. It was entirely wrong. The wall of the building in which the windows
overlooked Dealey Plaza ran east and west. By looking directly down at the
best engagement angle--which was straight out the window facing south--I
could see Houston Street. Houston was perpendicular to the wall and ran directly
toward my window. This is the street on which the motorcade had approached and
would have been my second choice as a zone of engagement. My first choice was
directly below the window, at a drastic bend in the street that had to be
negotiated by Kennedy's limousine. It would have to slow appreciably, almost to
a stop, and when it did, the target would be presented moving at its slowest
pace. The last zone of engagement I would pick would be as the limo drove away
toward the west--and
the Grassy Knoll. Here, from what I could see, three problems arose that would
influence my shots. First, the target was moving away at a drastic angle to the
right from the window, meaning that I would have to position my body to compete
with the wall and a set of vertical water pipes on the left frame of the window
to get a shot. This would be extremely difficult for a right-handed shooter.
Second, I would have be ready to fire exactly when the target emerged past some
tree branches that obscured the kill zone. Finally, I would have to deal with
two factors at the same time: the curve of the street, and the high-to-low angle
formula--a law of physics Oswald would not have known.
Even if I waited for the target
to pass the primary and secondary engagement zones, and for some reason decided
to engage instead in the worst possible area, I still had to consider the fact
that Oswald made his farthest, and most difficult shot, last. I estimated the
range for this shot at between 80 and 90 yards. It was this final shot that,
according to the Warren Commission, struck Kennedy's head.
As an experienced sniper,
something else bothered me. Any sniper knows that the two most important things
to be considered in selecting a position are the fields of fire, and a route of
escape. You have to have both. It is of little value to take a shot, then not be
able to successfully get away to fight another day. Even if the window was a
spot that I would select for a hide, I had doubts about my ability to escape
afterwards. According to what little I had read, the elevator was stuck on a
floor below at the time in question, and only the stairway could have been used
as a means of withdrawal. And there were dozens of people--potential
witnessesC--below who would be able to identify anyone
rushing away from the scene. Not good.
But Oswald was not a trained or
experienced military sniper. He was supposed to be little more than some
odd-ball with a grudge. And for whatever reason, had decided to buy a rifle and
shoot the President of the United States. Or so the Warren Commission would have
It is important at this point
to demonstrate exactly what would have had to happen that warm November day in
1963 on this very floor. To do this, the reader must become Lee Harvey Oswald.
For the sake of argument, let
us assume that the Warren Commission was correct in their findings. Oswald, the
lone nut, was the only shooter to fire at the President. He managed to smuggle
his rifle up to the 6th floor, realizing well in advance that the motorcade
would pass through Dealey Plaza below on his lunch hour--which is the only open kill zone on the route--
and was well-prepared to take as many shots as he could at the open convertible
(which he didn't even know would be uncovered that day, nor did anyone know that
the motorcade would detour to Elm for a turn back to the west by the Book
Depository unless they caught a late issue of the newspaper).
To see what would have had to
transpire on the 22nd of November, 1963, to accomplish what the Warren
Commission stated "Oswald" did, we must return to the scene of the
crime and recreate the events. We must look at Dealey Plaza--through
a sniper's eyes. It is only this way, with the information presented here, that
one can begin to comprehend how false the Warren Commission's verdict was:
It's a warm, muggy November day. But only two
windows on the 6th Floor are opened in the un-airconditioned building. You are
sweating, both because of the heat and because of what you are getting ready to
do. Your plans are just about to culminate in your chance to change history (for
whatever motive). You look at your watch. It's almost time. You pick up your
rifle and kneel at the window overlooking Elm Street. Even though there is a
large crowd below, you are unconcerned about being seen--even
with the weapon.
For some unfathomable reason,
you have picked a confined area of Elm Street as your kill zone. You have
disregarded Houston Street, which is aligned perfectly with your corner of the
building, affording you a straight head-on shot for over a block where the
motorcade will move slowly toward you. But shooting Kennedy from the front,
where he is most vulnerable, is not what you intend to do. You have decided, for
some reason to shoot Kennedy in the back, through the trees, on a winding
street, at a relatively steep vertical angle, in a partially obscured, confined
area that is barely visible from the window on the Elm side.
Now it's time. The motorcade is
approaching. You work the bolt on the Carcano, chambering an unpredictable
round-nosed 6.5mm cartridge. You bring the short-barreled carbine to your
shoulder (it wasn't really a rifle), and sight through the misaligned, non-boresighted
scope with defective optics and loose mount, and study the thin crosshairs. Your
field of view is almost non-existent. You note that you can barely pick out one
or two people in the circular lens. To bring this weapon on target after the
recoil of a shot will be challenging, to say the least.
You wait. The motorcade turns
the corner onto Elm, each vehicle almost stopping as they negotiate the 120
degree turn. Then you see the President. He looks different in person, alive,
human. And there's Jackie. And Connally...
You are not looking though the
scope now. You are simply watching the cars move slowly down Elm. You wait for a
few seconds as they come into your kill zone, then raise the scope to your eye,
taking a second to establish the proper eye-relief between your eyeball and the
lens so that "half-moon shadows" don't appear on the edge of the sight
picture. After all, the crosshairs and scope have to be exactly aligned or you
will miss the target entirely. And this
has to be done after every shot.
But wait, you are not a trained
sniper. You have no idea of the "high-low" formula, or the
minute-of-angle rule. You don't realize that a sniper, shooting from high to low
angle, has to aim low. You don't realize that if you don't aim low at the range
you have selected, that you will miss the target by up to a foot. No one has
told you that because of the effects of gravity, the bullet will not drop an
it did on the rifle range which was a flat-trajectory shot.
Maybe sweat is not stinging
your eyes, and maybe your hands aren't shaking even though you have never killed
anyone before and are now about to do so. But more than likely, you find it hard
to hold the rifle on target. But you must. Seconds are ticking by and you will
miss your chance. Don't worry about the time, concentrate on the crosshairs. But
wait, no one ever told you to do that. Instead, you are watching the target,
which is clear in your scope, and your crosshairs are a blur--exactly
the opposite of what must occur for an accurate shot.
Never mind. You have other
problems to contend with. Your adrenalin is pumping and you find your arms
acting like they are detached from your body. Somehow you manage to regain
mental control of your limbs, and at the same time attempt to control your
breathing. What did they say on the rifle range in the Marines? Oh yes,
"BRASS." Breath, Relax, Aim, Slack, Squeeze. That's it.
You hold your breath, try your
best to relax, aim the weapon--centering
on the head of the President of the United States in your scope, take up the
slack from the trigger and squeeze...
The first shot jolts you back
to reality. You've done it! But did
you hit anything? Now your adrenalin is
really pumping as your curiosity makes you glance quickly at the street below
while you take the weapon away from your line of vision to work the bolt,
chambering a fresh round.
You realign, sight in again as
the dark blue Lincoln begins to disappear around the bend behind that damned
tree. Screw it. Shoot. This time you manage to get the shot off a little faster.
"Buck Fever" has subsided a bit. Still, you aren't sure if you hit
anything because in your haste you jerked the trigger--you
didn't have time for a proper squeeze. You work the bolt again, ejecting the
spent casing to the right and across the room into the cardboard boxes--or
at least that's where it should have gone.
Your last shot. The car is now
at maximum range--actually
almost out of view--but miraculously, for some reason, the car slows almost to a
complete stop. You even see the brake lights come on. You shoot. Unknown to you
this round hits Connally. All of a sudden the car speeds up and dashes away
under the triple overpass.
Elapsed time so far since the
first shot, 5.6 seconds! Not bad,
considering that it takes a minimum of 3.3 seconds to fire, work the bolt, and
then only if you don't take time to accurately realign the rifle on the target
before the next shot.
It's time to get away. You pull
back from the window and sprint to the opposite end of the 6th floor, noting
that there still is not a single person who has come up from the floor below to
investigate the noise of the shots. You find a place between some boxes to hide
the carbine. You didn't note, in your haste, that you left your lunch sack and a
pop bottle that would undoubtedly contain your finger prints behind at the
window, and nearby, only a few inches from the wall, just to the right of the
window, are the three expended 6.5mm casings--neatly
grouped as if they'd been placed there on purpose. Mysteriously, there
is no stripper clip which should have fallen to the floor through the magazine
floor plate--and the weapon could not have functioned without it!
You race down the stairs to the
second floor (the elevator is stuck on a floor below) and enter the coffee room.
You have time to fish some change out of your pocket, buy a coke, and drink half
of it in the few seconds it took for a policeman to rush into the Depository,
charge up one flight of stairs and charge up to the door of the room. He notes
that you are standing casually by the Coke machine, haven't broken a sweat, and
that you seem calm, breathing normally. This feat in itself is quite remarkable
considering that you had to run completely across the 6th floor after taking
your last shot, maneuvering around stacks of boxes as you raced away from your
"sniper's nest," to the opposite (northwest) corner of the warehouse
to the stair well. You then had to
race unseen down four flights of stairs, then across the building's second floor
to the coffee room where you had time to fish a dime from your pocket, buy the
Coke from the vending machine, and drink half of itCall
in one minute or less from the time the final shot was fired! (According the
Gerald Posner in his "Oswald-did-it-the-Warren-Commission- was-right"
book Case Closed,
this is what had to have happened for Oswald to have accomplished his single- sniper
The policeman, Dallas
motorcycle officer Marrion Baker, asks your boss if you are an employee. When
this is confirmed, he breaks away to search the floors above.
A few seconds later, after
Baker is out of sight, you make your getaway. But instead of taking some
pre-planned mode of transportation out of town, you simply walk out the front
door where you run into NBC reporter Robert McNeil who asks directions to the
nearest telephone. You deal with
him in a very calm, collected manner, then go home to your rented room. You know
that you will soon be missed at work, that the Dallas police will begin rounding
up anyone in the vicinity to question almost immediately, but you still don't
try to escape by leaving the city. Even
if you decided at the last moment to attempt such a move, you wouldn't be able
to get very far on the $17.00 you have in your pocket. Instead, you decide to
take a walk--outside,
in public view.
years after those shots were fired, I walked away from the window in disgust. I
had seen all I needed to know that Oswald could not have been the lone shooter.
As I walked toward the elevator I began to look at the scene as a police
officer. If one could forget that the victim was the President of the United
States and this was a political assassination, and simply worked the scene as a
standard homicide, perhaps it could be put into manageable perspective. The next
thing that would have to be done would be to examine the rest of Dealey Plaza.
A homicide scene is not simply
the place the body was found. It is the entire area of influence that might
contain clues. In this case, crime scene was anywhere within range of a
I walked out of the Book
Depository and crossed the street. I stopped for a moment and looked around.
There were several possible spots for a second shooter--which meant that more than two riflemen could have been positioned.
Exactly what positions were utilized depended upon the physical trajectories of
the bullets that had been fired. That would come later.
I walked all around Dealey
Plaza, exploring any spot that I felt might serve the purpose of a sniper.
Finally I arrived at the Grassy Knoll and the Picket Fence, which I had
purposely saved for last. I walked up the slope and around the fence, arriving
in a parking lot that was bordered on the northwest by train tracks. I walked
the length of the fence, stopping at a spot on the eastern end.
I looked over the fence at Elm
Street and froze. This is exactly where I would position myself if I wanted the
most accurate shot possible considering the terrain I had explored. It had some
was close to witnesses, and prone to pre-incident discovery--but
the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages for a determined assassin. The
target vehicle would be
approaching instead of moving
away, thereby continually decreasing the range; the shot would be almost flat
trajectory, making the down-angle formula a mute point; the deflection
(right/left angle) would change little until the car passed a freeway sign on
the north curbline; and finally, it offered numerous escape route possibilities.
Behind me, to the north and west, was a parking lot full of cars, a train yard
full of boxcars, and several physical terrain features to use as cover during
withdrawal. It was by far the best spot.
Looking almost due east, across
the grassy open park-like Plaza, I could see two multi-story office-type
buildings approximately the same height as the Depository. The roof tops of
either building would be excellent firing positions for a trained rifleman with
the proper equipment, and would be the places I would select if I wanted the
best possible chance of not being detected in advance. Without going to the
roofs of each, I could not determine the accessibility of escape routes. But for
firing platforms, they were ideal.
Then, considering the
possibility of multiple-snipers (which meant a conspiracy), I had to ask myself
how I would position the shooters to cover the kill zone in front of the Grassy
My military training once again
took over. I would use an area within the Plaza that would afford the best kill
zone for either a crossfire or triangulated fire. Simply put, I would position
my teams in such a way that their trajectory of fire converged on the most
advantageous point to assure a kill. In the military, single snipers are seldom
used. Normally, the smallest sniper team consists of two men, a sniper and his
spotter/security man. Even in police SWAT teams, a marksman has an observer who
is equipped with a spotting scope or binoculars to help pick and identify
targets and handle the radio communications.
In this case, I would position
at least one team behind the Picket Fence (more if I wanted to secure the rear
against intruders), another on one or both of the two office buildings (which I
later found to be the Dallas County Records Building and the County Criminal
Courts Building), and possibly a team on a building across the street north of
the Records Building known at the time as the Dal-Tex building. I would have
never put anyone in the School Book Depository with so many locations that were
much more advantageous--unless
I needed diversion. If I did, it would be a good place for red herrings to be
observed by witnesses.
By this time it was growing
late. The banquet started in an hour, and I still had to make my way through
Dallas traffic back to the hotel. It had been more than an interesting day. It
had been a day in which I had discovered that the United States Government had
lied to me all of my adult life. The same government that had sent me to
Vietnam, had sacrificed over 58,000 of my peers for no discernable gain, and had
withdrawn from Southeast Asia after supposedly securing Nixon's "Peace with
Honor? I had just discovered
what I later found so many others had discovered before. A
coup d' etat had occurred, and
then had successfully been covered up at the highest levels of government for
over a quarter of a century. I found it hard to sleep that night.
The assassination of John F.
Kennedy was not the issue. It was the fact that the government,
my government, had lied to me. As
a police officer sworn to uphold the law, there are no stratus levels in
criminals. A liar, a thief, or a murderer is exactly that. There is no one who
has the privilege to commit a crime without prosecution. Every rookie of every
police academy in the country learns one thing above all:
no one is above the law!
Not even the President of the United States--or those who control him.
Excerpt from Kill Zone: A Sniper Looks at Dealey Plaza