Lt. Col. USA, Ret., Author and Publisher.
The Case of the Impossible Shots

Ambush in Dallas                                   


After 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 twenty-three years.


In 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 over the 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 been duped.

      After wandering around the floor for a few minutes, I turned my attention to the window in the southeast cornerCthe 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: Impossible!

      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 "Marksman"--the 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 us believe.

      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 appreciable amount--like 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 fire again--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 feat).

        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.


Twenty-three 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 high-powered rifle.

      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 drawbacks--it 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 Knoll?

      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."

      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