Saturday, November 22, 2008

With Malice: The Tippit Murder 45 Years Later

by DALE K. MYERS / November 22, 2008

Forty-five years ago today, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit was gunned down on an Oak Cliff side street leaving a family and friends to grieve.

In 1998, I wrote With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit (Oak Cliff Press, 1998) in an effort to dispel the myths surrounding Tippit’s tragic death and create a factual resource that future generations could turn to in their quest for answers about this pivotal event in the JFK assassination story.

Today, the tool of choice for learning about this controversial subject is the Internet. Unfortunately, this technological marvel has made it easy to perpetuate many of the myths surrounding Tippit and his murder. Undocumented postings on conspiracy-oriented newsgroups, sensationalistic websites, and easy access to long outdated first generation conspiracy books have kept much of the misinformation alive and well.

Here are just two of the subjects covered in With Malice that have been twisted or misrepresented over the last ten years and the truth as I determined it:

The Wallet Story

The allegation that Oswald's wallet was found at the Tippit murder scene first appeared in Assignment Oswald (Arcade Publishing, 1997), a book by former Dallas FBI agent James P. Hosty, Jr. My interest in the tale was immediate because I knew that news film footage taken at the Tippit scene on the afternoon of November 22nd showed officers handling a wallet.

I published the results of my investigation into the wallet story in With Malice and true to my prediction (more on that in a moment) conspiracy theorists peddling the theory that Oswald was framed for the Tippit murder managed to mangled and distort the facts about the wallet allegation beyond recognition. Conspiracy fans ate it up.

While my work on this story is too detailed to repeat completely here (see With Malice, pp.287-304 for the full story), the essential elements are this:

FBI agent Robert M. Barrett observed Dallas police handling a wallet at the Tippit murder scene shortly before Oswald's arrest at the Texas Theater six blocks away. Television news footage shot at the scene supports this basic fact.

Fifteen years later, while having dinner with fellow agent James Hosty, Barrett recalled that Dallas police Captain W.R. Westbrook asked him at the Tippit scene whether he knew a “Lee Harvey Oswald” or an “Alek Hidell?” While Barrett assumed the names were taken from identification in the wallet, he never saw the identification or handled the wallet.

Despite Barrett's credibility on a wide variety of assassination related details, his recollection about what Westbrook asked him at the scene runs counter to the official (and well-documented) version of events which relates that Oswald's wallet was removed from his own pant’s pocket immediately after his arrest at the Texas Theater. Identification cards in the names “Oswald” and “Hidell” were subsequently found in Oswald’s arrest wallet.

A comparison of the wallet filmed at the Tippit murder scene by WFAA-TV cameraman Ron Reiland and the wallet removed from Oswald's pocket after his arrest, which I had examined and photographed at the National Archives, shows the two wallets to be similar in style, but not identical. When you boil it all down, the only thing connecting Oswald to the wallet filmed at the Tippit shooting scene is Barrett's recollection that Captain Westbrook asked him about the names “Oswald” and “Hidell” while Barrett was at the scene.

I concluded in With Malice that it is more likely that Barrett was asked the questions about the names Oswald and Hidell back at City Hall after Oswald's arrest, not at the scene of Tippit’s murder.

Conspiracy critics have since taken the facts I presented in my book and spun them into a series of distortions and half-truths that have transformed the wallet filmed by WFAA-TV as a "plant," left behind at the murder scene by Tippit’s “real killer” in order to frame Oswald.

The suggestion of an Oswald frame-up is preposterous and flies in the face of an avalanche of indisputable facts that prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Oswald murdered Tippit.

One of the principle reasons that the frame-up theory defies belief, is the fact that not one word – I repeat, not one word – about Oswald’s wallet being found at the Tippit murder scene was ever published in the newspapers or broadcast on radio or television at the time of the killing even though there were several radio and television reporters at the scene that afternoon.

Does anyone seriously believe that the discovery of Oswald’s wallet at the Tippit shooting scene would not have been front page news, broadcast around the world by late Friday afternoon, had his wallet actually been found there?

The only reason this story is worth one second of any serious attention is the reputation of the man making the allegation – former FBI agent Robert M. Barrett.

To get at the truth of this allegation, I sought out and interviewed Barrett at length about his activities on November 22nd and despite his help we were unable to substantiate his recollection. I know it perplexed Mr. Barrett and it bugged the hell out of me too because I found him to be honest, candid, and amazingly accurate when it came to recalling the details of an afternoon more than three decades earlier.

Despite my personal belief that the wallet story, as Mr. Barrett told it, was exactly the way he remembered it, I could not in good conscience conclude that a wallet with Oswald’s name was found at the Tippit shooting scene. There is simply too much eyewitness testimony as well as a very strong contemporary paper trail that weigh against Mr. Barrett’s memory.

On the other hand, it is relatively easy to see how the chaotic circumstances surrounding this episode might have led to the creation of a false memory. For instance, consider these four facts:
  1. There was a wallet in police hands at the shooting scene; the television news film is proof of that much. But whose wallet was it? More than likely it was Tippit’s wallet. Television news cameraman Ron Reiland, who filmed the wallet, reported it as such the day of the shooting.

  2. Barrett acknowledged that he never handled the wallet and never held or saw the identification in it. His belief that the wallet at the scene contained identification in the names “Lee Harvey Oswald” and “Alek Hidell” is based entirely on his recollection that Captain Westbrook asked him about those names while at the scene.

  3. Barrett did come into contact with Westbrook at Dallas Police Headquarters following Oswald’s arrest. By then, Oswald’s wallet had been removed from his pocket and the identification cards in the names “Lee Harvey Oswald” and “Alek Hidell” discovered by police. Westbrook was known to have seen the identification before running into Barrett in the hallway.

  4. Barrett, who had a reputation for writing highly detailed after-action reports, containing details other FBI agents wouldn’t bother to have included, didn’t mention anything about police finding Oswald’s wallet at the Tippit shooting scene in the report he filed that day, and again failed to mention it when he had the opportunity a decade later while testifying about his activities on November 22.
The only charitable explanation is that Barrett misremembered where he was when Westbrook asked him about the names Oswald and Hidell, and that’s what I wrote.

While working on the wallet story, I predicted that some theorists would hijack Barrett’s tale and turn it into yet another conspiracy theory – evidence that a wallet had been planted at the Tippit murder scene to frame the hapless Oswald. It didn’t take long for my prediction to come true.

Immediately after the publication of With Malice, conspiracy theorists seized on the wallet story, claiming that it was yet another example of the alteration of evidence. One theorist jumped to Barrett’s defense, claiming that I had recklessly besmirched the distinguished career of an outstanding FBI agent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is Mr. Barrett worked with me over the course of several months in an effort to establish the bonafides of his recollection. Despite considerable efforts we were unable to uncover any contemporary record that would support Barrett’s memory of the events surrounding the alleged recovery of Oswald’s wallet at the Tippit scene including – and this is key – Barrett’s own report and testimony.

Those who want to believe that Barrett’s recollection somehow trumps the considerable contemporary record on this issue, including his own reports and testimony, in order to fuel support for some kind of half-assed conspiracy theory of an Oswald frame-up do so at the peril of having to also acknowledge that Barrett himself believed that it was Oswald (not some unknown conspirator) who left his wallet behind after murdering Tippit in cold blood.

Typically, conspiracy theorists want to have it both ways with the wallet story – Barrett is right about the wallet, but wrong about Oswald’s guilt.

In addition to the charge that Mr. Barrett’s recollections hadn’t been given their due, conspiracy theorist and author John Armstrong claimed in his book Harvey and Lee (Quasar Ltd., 2003) that a trail of multiple Oswald wallets clutter the shelves at the National Archives and serve as even more evidence of the plot to frame Oswald for the Tippit shooting.

According to Armstrong there are no less than four Oswald wallets in the official record – one found at the Tippit scene, one taken from Oswald after his arrest, and two more found at the Paine residence.

“What man has four wallets?” Armstrong and his supporters mockingly ask.

In fact, there are three wallets in the official record – the wallet removed from Oswald’s pocket following his arrest, a red billfold that belonged to Marina Oswald, and a black wallet that Oswald’s mother Marguerite obtained from a bank promotion. None of this is as odd as Armstrong and others suggest as all three wallets were described and pictured in With Malice.

When it comes to the wallet story, conspiracy theorists have made a proverbial mountain out of a mole hill. Despite all their foot stomping over the last ten years, there is no believable evidence that a wallet with Oswald’s name in it was recovered from the Tippit murder scene.

If such a wallet had been found it would have been trumpeted by the world press that very afternoon, held up for the world to see by the Dallas police that weekend, and would have served as prima facie evidence in the Warren Commission’s case against Lee Harvey Oswald.

Why Tippit stopped Oswald

No one can be one hundred percent certain of the exact reason Tippit stopped Oswald on Tenth Street. The Warren Commission speculated that the description of the suspect wanted in connection with Kennedy's murder, which was put out over the police radio, led to Tippit stopping Oswald. Conspiracy theorists questioned whether such a meager description ("white male, approximately 30, slender build, height five feet, ten inches, weight 165 pounds") would have led Tippit to focus on Oswald as opposed to any one of hundreds of other white males who fit that description.

In With Malice, I suggested the possibility that Oswald had been walking west on Tenth Street and upon seeing Tippit's approaching police car spun around and began walking east. Such an overtly suspicious action might have caused Tippit to stop Oswald and investigate.

My thesis was the result of a close examination of the detailed accounts of eyewitnesses Jimmy Burt, William A. Smith, Jack R. Tatum, Helen Markham, and William Scoggins. A sixth witness to Oswald's direction of travel was discovered among FBI files after publication of my book.

This sixth witness was William Lawrence Smith, a brick mason and foreman working at an apartment complex one block east of the Tippit shooting scene. Smith told the FBI that while walking to a café on Marsalis for lunch he passed a man he believed was Oswald heading west on Tenth.

Jimmy Burt and friend William A. “Bill” Smith (no relation to the brick mason) were standing across the street from the apartment complex at about the same time. Burt later said that he too saw Oswald walking west on Tenth.

About one minute later, Jack R. Tatum was driving along Tenth Street when he saw Officer Tippit stopping Oswald as he walked east along the sidewalk. Helen Markham also said that Tippit stopped Oswald as he was walking east.

So here were two groups of eyewitnesses claiming that Oswald was walking in two different directions prior to the shooting – the first group said he was walking west; the second group said he was walking east.

The testimony of William Scoggins, a cabdriver parked and eating lunch at the corner of Tenth and Patton, turned out to be the key to resolving the conflict.

According to Scoggins, Tippit drove across in front of his cab as he headed eastbound on Tenth Street. Scoggins watched as Tippit pulled to the curb 50 yards further down the street. It was then that Scoggins noticed Oswald standing on the sidewalk nearby, facing west.

Scoggins told the Warren Commission that he couldn't be certain of Oswald's direction of travel before Tippit stopped him because when he first saw him he was standing still on the sidewalk, facing west. This raises an interesting and very important question. If Oswald was walking east prior to the shooting, as the Warren Commission later claimed, why didn't Scoggins see him pass in front of his cab, just as he had seen Tippit do?

Scoggins' cab was parked at the corner of Tenth and Patton – 150 feet west of the shooting scene. The front bumper of the cab was nearly blocking the crosswalk along the path that Oswald would have taken had he been walking east. That means that Oswald's pant leg would have nearly brushed up against the front bumper of Scoggins’ cab as he passed in front of him.

How could Scoggins have missed such an event? By Scoggins own account, he was sitting in his cab eating lunch while observing the area. It seemed incredible that Scoggins could have missed seeing Oswald pass right in front of him if he were indeed walking east as early investigators believed.

It becomes abundantly clear why Scoggins didn’t see Oswald cross in front of his cab when you realize that the two witnesses who observed Oswald walking eastbound – Markham and Tatum – only did so after noticing Tippit's squad car pulling to the curb some 150 feet east of where Scoggins’ cab was parked.

Given Scoggins’ testimony, there seems to be only one explanation as to what happened on Tenth Street – Oswald was walking west just as brick mason William Lawrence Smith and eyewitness Jimmy Burt observed, but changed direction and began walking east before he reached Scoggins' cab.

Based upon the speed of Tippit's squad car (an estimated 10 mph, according to Scoggins) and the point at which Tippit stopped Oswald, we know that the change in direction would have occurred just east of the corner of Tenth and Patton, as Oswald and Tippit's approaching squad car would have become visible to one another.

Was Oswald’s change in direction the reason that Tippit stopped Oswald? As I said at the onset, no one can be one hundred percent certain of the reason why Tippit stopped Oswald. However, the idea that Oswald changed directions reconciles the conflicting testimony of two groups of eyewitnesses, explains why Scoggins didn't see Oswald pass his cab, and provides a reason for Tippit to stop Oswald.

Like everything else in the Kennedy case, my suspicion that Tippit stopped Oswald because he changed his direction of travel has been challenged over the last ten years.

In Vincent Bugliosi's book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (W.W. Norton, 2007), the former Los Angeles prosecutor discounted the idea that Oswald changed direction writing, “Myers may very well be right, but there isn’t too much evidentiary support for his position, his three sources being somewhat weak.”

Bugliosi went on to dismiss Jimmy Burt’s account of seeing Oswald walking west because he did not mention it in his 1963 FBI interview. Bugliosi wrote, “The new story the twenty-year-old Burt came up with five years later obviously cannot be given too much credence, though Myers speculates that Burt may not have told the truth to the FBI out of fear of becoming involved.”

In fact, what I reported in With Malice regarding Burt’s account of the shooting was not speculation at all. Bugliosi failed to tell his readers that Jimmy Burt was AWOL from the U.S. Army, that his friend William A. “Bill” Smith was on probation for grand theft auto at the time of Tippit shooting, and that both men withheld their eyewitness accounts from the Dallas police for those very reasons.

It turns out that Burt's conflicting accounts, given over a five year period, were a product of Burt's fear sprinkled with a liberal dose of imagination. My personal interviews with Bill Smith (Burt died in 1983) helped separate fantasy from fact. In the end, it was clear to me that Burt and Smith were on Tenth Street and witnessed the shooting.

Burt was not the only witness to claim Oswald was walking west prior to the shooting. Brick mason William Lawrence Smith also reported that he saw Oswald walking westbound on Tenth Street shortly before the murder.

And there remains that nagging problem about Scoggins not seeing an eastbound Oswald pass his cab. How does Mr. Bugliosi deal with Scoggins’ testimony?

While Bugliosi acknowledged that Scoggins testimony is the “only credible evidence” that Oswald may have been walking west on Tenth – a point he mistakenly attributes to assassination researcher Bill Drenas rather than my book – he suggests that Oswald probably crossed Patton at Tenth before Scoggins returned to his cab to eat lunch.

But Bugliosi’s suggestion must be wrong. Simple grade school math* shows that if Oswald had indeed been walking eastbound on Tenth, as Bugliosi contends, he would have passed Scoggins’ cab just fifteen seconds before Tippit’s squad car drove by.

Does Bugliosi really believe that Scoggins would have been able to return to his cab, climb inside, retrieved his lunch, take one or two bites out of his sandwich, and swallow a few gulps of Coca-Cola (as he testified he did) in less than fifteen seconds?

The timing issue alone is reason enough to discard Bugliosi’s scenario, but here’s another reason to reject the former prosecutor’s theory – Scoggins not only had a clear, uninterrupted view of the Tenth and Patton intersection after he returned to his cab, but he also had the area under observation during the few minutes before Tippit drove up on the scene and still, Scoggins never saw Oswald cross Patton on Tenth.

Just before the shooting, Scoggins walked back to his cab to eat lunch after spending time at the Gentleman's Club, a popular domino parlor located a block south of Tenth and Patton. While walking back to his cab, the entire intersection of Tenth and Patton was visible to Scoggins. So was the area to his east on Tenth Street, where Oswald was later stopped.

Yet despite the clear field-of-view that Scoggins had of the entire intersection of Tenth and Patton on his return trip to his cab, he failed to notice Oswald as he crossed in front of him. Does that sound reasonable?

Another big problem with the suggestion that Oswald was originally walking west on Tenth Street, according to Bugliosi, is the distance he would had to have covered in order to be traveling westbound.

Bugliosi cites researcher Bill Drenas who claimed that the shortest route between Oswald's rooming house and the Tippit murder scene which would have allowed him to be traveling westbound on Tenth was one that took Oswald south on Beckley to Davis, east to Crawford, southeast on Crawford to Ninth, northeast on Ninth to Marsalis, south on Marsalis to Tenth, and finally west on Tenth to the scene of the murder.

Drenas told Bugliosi that it took sixteen minutes and thirty-five seconds to cover that route and assuming Oswald left his rooming house at 1:00 p.m. he couldn't have made it to the Tippit scene in time to commit the murder.

Many conspiracy theorists have used the timing argument in an effort to exonerate Oswald, claiming he couldn't have reached the murder scene in the allotted time and therefore couldn't have been Tippit's killer.

Of course, the physical evidence coupled with the eyewitness testimony shows Oswald to be the killer beyond all doubt. Hence, Bugliosi argues that since Oswald was obviously Tippit's murderer, the timing of the shooting is a strong reason to reject the notion that Oswald was traveling westbound on Tenth prior to the shooting.

However, Bugliosi and Drenas, as well as many other researchers who have rejected the notion that Oswald was traveling westbound immediately before the shooting, fail to realize that the shortest route between the Beckley rooming house and the Tippit murder scene is not one that has Oswald circling the area of the shooting scene (as the Drenas route does). The shortest route would be the one that has Oswald walk right passed the scene where he would kill Tippit, then, double-back on his route.

The shortest route, which ends with Oswald headed westbound on Tenth, would have Oswald leaving his rooming house headed south on Beckley to Davis, east to Patton, southeast on Patton to Tenth, and east on Tenth to a point near Marsalis Avenue. At that point, Oswald would double back on his route, heading back west on Tenth to the scene of the Tippit shooting at 404 E. Tenth. The total time for the trip would be about 13.5 minutes – which fits the time period available.

The primary reason that most researchers reject this most direct and shortest route between Oswald's rooming house and the killing scene is because the route takes Oswald right past the positions where several eyewitnesses – Helen Markham, William Scoggins, Jimmy Burt, William A. Smith, and brick mason William Lawrence Smith – were located at the time of the shooting. Surely, these eyewitnesses would have seen Oswald had he used this route, right?

Wrong. None of the Tippit eyewitnesses mentioned above would have been in their reported positions at the time that Oswald first passed those locations. For instance, when Oswald was traveling south on Patton he wouldn't have passed Helen Markham because she hadn't left her home at Ninth and Patton yet. Nor would Oswald have encountered cab driver William Scoggins, who was still at the Gentlemen's Club watching television. Likewise, Jimmy Burt and Bill Smith hadn't left Burt's brother's home at Ninth and Denver at the time Oswald was headed eastbound on Tenth. And brick mason William Lawrence Smith hadn't stopped work to go to lunch at a Marsalis Avenue cafe yet.

It was only on Oswald's return trip, back westbound on Tenth, that the Tippit eyewitnesses had moved to the locations reported in their testimony – William Lawrence Smith had started east on Tenth to go to lunch, Jimmy Burt and Bill Smith had walked from Ninth and Denver to Burt's home on Tenth Street, William Scoggins had walked back to his cab at Patton and Tenth, and Helen Markham had left her home and had walked south on Patton to the corner of Tenth.

So in fact, the route described above fits the timing available to Oswald, puts him westbound on Tenth, and matches the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses to the shooting.

Mr. Bugliosi’s final argument against my thesis has to do with the consistency of Oswald's actions after the assassination. Bugliosi writes “ would seem that Oswald’s seeing Tippit and suddenly turning around and walking in the opposite direction would be inconsistent with Oswald’s conduct that day. In the lunchroom of the Book Depository Building with Officer Baker just forty-five minutes earlier, we know that Oswald acted perfectly innocent. And even a child would know that turning around and walking in a different direction when seeing a police officer makes one look guilty of something. Though the possibility cannot be dismissed, it seems unlikely to me that Oswald would have changed directions...”

Bugliosi’s argument is more gut feeling than evidentiary. One could just as easily argue that criminals more often than not do and say stupid things that lead to their arrest. The police blotters are filled with thousands of examples.

Many conspiracy theorists have argued Bugliosi’s point over the years, rejecting the idea that Oswald would have been stupid enough to act so suspicious, especially in light of his calm demeanor in the Depository lunchroom ninety-seconds after the JFK assassination.

My argument is that Bugliosi and the conspiracy crowd hasn’t given enough consideration to the fluidity of Oswald's state-of-mind between his lunchroom encounter and his run-in with Tippit on Tenth Street.

Certainly, in the ninety-seconds between the assassination and his lunchroom encounter with Officer Baker, Oswald had little time to think about the consequence of his actions. However, by the time of his encounter with Officer Tippit, Oswald had forty-five minutes to ponder his fate.

Had anyone seen him in the sixth floor window? (Howard Brennan had, and a description had been broadcast on the police radio based on Brennan's observation.) Had anyone noticed that he was missing from the building? (His supervisor Roy Truly had.) Were police aware of his room in Oak Cliff? (They weren't, but would be in a few hours.) Were police already looking for him? (Oswald couldn't be sure.)

Considering the amount of time that had elapsed and Oswald's own knowledge of what he had done, I don't believe anyone can safely assume that Oswald would have acted calm and cool in the presence of any Dallas police car. In fact, we know that in the wake of the Tippit shooting Oswald threw caution to the wind – ditching his jacket, acting suspicious in front of Hardy's Shoe store, and slipping into the Texas Theater without buying a ticket. To think that Oswald might have spun around when he spotted Tippit's approaching squad car hardly seems to be a stretch of logic under the circumstances.

While it should be emphasized that only Officer Tippit knows why he stopped Oswald, thirty-years of research and the preponderance of evidence suggests that Oswald was walking west on Tenth Street, spotted Tippit’s approaching squad car, spun around, and began walking east.

This act would have been more than enough to raise a suspicion in Officer Tippit's mind and lead to his confrontation with Oswald.

Forty-five years of controversy and sorrow

If Officer J.D. Tippit had died on any other day, Oswald’s conviction would have been swift and sure. The only reason we’re still talking about this senseless crime four and a half decades later is because of the other killing Oswald was involved in that day – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Keeping the controversy and myths alive has become a parlor game for many, a reason to get together, attend conferences, post messages on the Internet, and ponder the many ways the various puzzle pieces might fit together.

For the Tippit family, it is a raw, open wound that will never completely heal.

Allegations that J.D. Tippit was part of a conspiracy to murder the president or kill Oswald are false and malicious and in no way recall the man his friends and family knew and remember. I wish I could say that they are spared the pain that such thoughtless and irresponsible notions cause. They are not.

In the wake of the publication of With Malice, I worked closely with the Tippit family to create a website that we hoped would help debunk some of the misinformation available elsewhere on the Internet and provide a true portrait of the boy from Clarksville, Texas, whose fun-loving spirit was extinguished so abruptly in 1963.

While the reaction to the website has been overwhelmingly warm and positive, there are the inevitable reminders that myths die hard.

One such myth that sprung up around the Tippit name was the falsehood that Officer Tippit’s initials “J.D.” stood for “Jefferson Davis” and that the Texas native had been named after the former West Point graduate who became the President and inspirational leader of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Of course, those who hang this false moniker on J.D. Tippit don’t mean it as a compliment.

I was never able to pin down exactly how this began, but I did determine the truth of the matter and published it in With Malice. The family told me that Edgar Lee Tippit named his son after “J.D. of the Mountains,” a character in a book he had read once while on a hunting trip. The initials never stood for anything. In fact, it was rather common in the south and west, and has been for nearly 250 years, to name offspring using only initials.

One time, J.D. had trouble completing a credit application because the company insisted that a name, not initials, be used on the form. They ended up inserting “John” on J.D.’s behalf in order to fulfill their policy. At least one document in J.D.’s police file also uses this name. Neither document is evidence of his true name, which by all accounts was simply, J.D.

Despite the publication ten years ago of the truth about the origins of J.D.’s name, this silly myth continues to find an audience. Believe it or not, I spotted a website recently that treated the family’s explanation as just another unsubstantiated allegation.

It seems the myths and controversy will never end.

Last Friday, 80-year-old Marie Tippit, widow of the slain police officer, made a rare public appearance in Dallas at the unveiling of a keepsake medallion to honor her late husband and raise money for a fund used to aid the families of other police officers killed in the line of duty.

Her remarks to a television news crew remind us all of the real tragedy of November 22.

“Oh, there is so much to tell,” she said of her relationship with J.D. “How much I loved him, how much I miss him I guess is what comes to mind first. If it wasn’t for the Lord, my faith in God, I just wouldn’t make it.

“Just as Mrs. Kennedy told me when she lit the flame for Jack that she would considered that it would always burn for my husband too. Well, I consider that this [medallion] is in memory of all the Dallas police officers that have been killed as well.

“If he hadn’t been such a good husband, it wouldn’t be so hard to be without him, but he was and I was thankful for that. I have to be thankful for that.”

Today we share in her family’s sorrow and honor the memory of J.D. Tippit, who liked Clark Gable movies, the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, bushy Christmas trees, and clowning around with friends and family.

He was the funny brother, the favorite uncle, the lovable guy.

Lest we forget.

[*Walking at an average rate of four mph (5.9 feet-per-second), Oswald would have covered the 150 foot distance between Scoggins’ cab and the point at which he was stopped by Tippit in twenty-five seconds. Officer Tippit, driving at an estimated speed of 10 mph (14.7 feet-per-second) would have covered that same distance and overtaken Oswald in just ten seconds. Therefore, according to the Bugliosi scenario, an eastbound Oswald would have passed Scoggins’ cab just fifteen seconds before Tippit’s squad car passed the cab.]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Medallion honors Dallas officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald

by STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News

The anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is Saturday. It's been 45 years since he was shot and killed in downtown Dallas.

Most everybody knows the story of his death. But people don't always remember that a Dallas police officer also died that day in an encounter with the president's killer.

Officer J.D. Tippit’s comrades don't forget it, though some of them weren’t born yet when he died in November 1963. This morning, they lined up at police headquarters to buy medallions commemorating the fallen patrolman's service.

His widow, Marie Tippit, was there to greet them.

"Mrs. Kennedy said that the flame would always burn for my husband as well as hers," said Mrs. Tippit, 80. "And I consider that this medallion represents all of the Dallas officers killed in the line of duty. I'm just so thankful and so honored."

Officer Tippit was patrolling Oak Cliff shortly after 1 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, less than an hour after Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president. The officer pulled up alongside Oswald, apparently exchanged words with him, and got out of the squad car.

Oswald fired four shots at the officer, the last striking him in the temple.

The medallion shows Officer Tippit's squad car, No. 10, alongside an American flag. A replica of his badge, No. 848, is etched on the back. The price was $20.

Also on sale were posters featuring a collection of Dallas police guns and badges glinting against a blue background.

With Mrs. Tippit to sign them was another figure from Dallas history: retired Dallas police homicide Detective Jim Leavelle.

Detective Leavelle was the first to interview Oswald after the president’s death. And the detective was handcuffed to Oswald when the assassin was shot by Jack Ruby.

A famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph shows Mr. Leavelle in a light-colored suit and Stetson hat walking next to Oswald as Mr. Ruby steps forward from a crowd to fire his pistol.

"I was carrying these two pistols that day," he said this morning, pointing to one of the guns on the poster he was signing. "I normally just carried one, but I put the other one in my belt just in case I needed extra fire that day."

Mr. Leavelle, 88, said it all happened too fast.

"I saw Ruby standing in front of the reporters as I came out of the building into the parking garage, and he had the pistol by his leg in his hand at that time," Mr. Leavelle said. "I could see that out of the corner of my eye, and I knew immediately what was happening."

But Mr. Ruby fired the gun and made history before the detective could react.

Along with Mr. Leavelle's gun, the poster displayed the gun Officer Tippit was carrying when he was killed and both officers' badges.

The proceeds from the event are to go to a planned Dallas Police Museum. To purchase a medallion or poster, contact Dallas police Senior Cpl. Rick Janich at

Source: Dallas Morning News

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oswald co-worker no longer silent about JFK assassination role

by HUGH AYNESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News

Buell Frazier wants to tell it like it is – or was – on a very important day in U.S. history 45 years ago in Dallas.

The quiet, thoughtful man of 64 is not as well-known as some of the others who skyrocketed to fame or infamy in November 1963. But Mr. Frazier played a defining, if unintentional, role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

He drove Lee Harvey Oswald to work that fateful Nov. 22.

And the Warren Commission, the investigative committee appointed to explain all aspects of Mr. Kennedy's death, claimed that Oswald carried his cheap mail-order rifle to work with him in Mr. Frazier's car.

That put Mr. Frazier in the spotlight immediately after Oswald was captured – and long afterward as a mourning nation sought to find an explanation to the tragedy. With but a few exceptions, he has kept almost 4 ½ decades of angst, frustration, fear and occasionally even fury bottled up.

All Mr. Frazier did was offer a friendly gesture to a man he hardly knew.

Offering a ride

In mid-September 1963, Mr. Frazier, 19, moved to Irving to live with his sister, Linnie Mae Randle, her husband and three children.

He slept on his sister's couch, drove a clunker Chevy and was pleased to be earning $1.25 an hour, then the minimum wage, at the Texas School Book Depository.

As a teenager in Huntsville, Mr. Frazier had deftly balanced high school and several part-time jobs while trying to stay out of the way of an abusive, alcoholic stepfather.

But things seemed to be looking up.

On Nov. 22, Ms. Randle and Mr. Frazier were finishing breakfast about 7:15 a.m. when she looked out her window and saw a man standing close to her brother's car with a package under his arm. She had never met Oswald, but she knew who he was because Mr. Frazier had driven him to Irving on three or four occasions to visit his wife, Marina, and their two small daughters.

Oswald had ridden home with him the previous afternoon. A few minutes later, Mr. Frazier and Oswald headed for the book depository, where they were to report at 8 a.m.

They talked a bit about children – Oswald always seemed pleased to relate stories about his girls, Mr. Frazier said – but drove much of the 15-mile trip in silence.

Even though the area was inundated with news reports about the president's visit to Dallas later that morning, Mr. Frazier said they never discussed it during the ride.

"Lee didn't talk much, ever," he said. "Some people talk a lot. He just didn't."

Less than four hours later, Kennedy was shot to death riding through Dealey Plaza. And Mr. Frazier's life was turned upside down.

Brown paper package

Mr. Frazier was questioned vigorously by police – accused of being involved in the plot to kill Kennedy – and even told falsely by police officers that Oswald had named him as a co-conspirator. After 12 intense hours at the Police Department, he was allowed to take a polygraph test, passed it impressively and was released.

The fact that Mr. Frazier helped train Oswald at his new job (Oswald was hired at the book depository Oct. 16) and had driven him to Irving several times soon faded from most people's memories. But another factor remained noteworthy.

Officials assumed that the package Oswald carried to work that morning was the Italian-made rifle he used to kill Kennedy. Mr. Frazier still doesn't believe it.

When Oswald got in his car that morning, Mr. Frazier hardly noticed the bundle Oswald laid on the back seat.

"He told me he was taking some curtain rods for his room," Mr. Frazier said. "I didn't think much about it."

Mr. Frazier parked his car behind the depository building and revved his engine for a few moments, charging his low battery, and watched Oswald walk about 200 yards into the building with the package under his arm.

In his testimony before the Warren Commission, Mr. Frazier said the brown paper package Oswald carried that morning was too short to contain a rifle. Oswald cupped the package in his hand, he said, and it fit under his armpit.

In Washington, Mr. Frazier said, he was "pressured" to change his recollection. In the days afterward, he was badgered by the media, harassed by people who didn't understand his relationship to Oswald and even became fearful for his life.

His testimony was important because investigators had proved that Oswald bought the rifle used in the JFK slaying and had found a matching palm print on the stock, but they had no proof that he had it with him that day.

Ms. Randle, who was also a leading witness, said recently that when she and Mr. Frazier testified before the Warren Commission, "they tried to get us to say that package was much longer than we recalled, but that wasn't true."

The commission kept pushing, Mr. Frazier said. Could it be that he was traumatized by the horror of what happened or embarrassed that he hadn't been more observant?

"I know what I saw," he said, "and I've never changed one bit."

Size dispute

Hundreds of conspiracy theories have spawned thousands of books and articles since the tragedy, but the official investigation concluded that Oswald shot Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository and acted alone.

The Warren Commission cited eyewitnesses to the president's shooting and the later assault of Officer J.D. Tippit and knew that Oswald had bought the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle for $12.95 from a Chicago mail-order house.

A brown paper sack with an Oswald palm and fingerprint on it was found close to the sixth-floor window where Oswald sat perched in wait that day.

Oswald's claim that he was carrying curtain rods for his room carried little weight with investigators because no curtain rods were ever found in the depository, and Oswald's room on Beckley Street in Oak Cliff already had curtains.

In a book he's writing, Mr. Frazier describes how he and his sister assembled packages with wrapping paper for hours, trying to show Warren Commission lawyers the size of the package Oswald carried that day.

In its report, released in the fall of 1964, the commission said:

"The Warren Commission has weighed the visual recollection of Frazier and Mrs. Randle against the evidence here presented ... and has concluded that Frazier and Randle are mistaken as to the length of the bag."

The FBI lab reported that the disassembled rifle stock measured just under 35 inches long, and the homemade bag measured 38 inches.

"I wasn't surprised," Mr. Frazier said. "They seemed to have a prearranged agenda when they questioned Linnie and me. Our refusal to agree with their agenda simply caused them to state that we were mistaken."

Their testimony fostered early public doubt about the commission's investigation.

President Gerald Ford, who in 1963-64 was a Michigan congressman and a Warren Commission member, told reporters in Dallas in early 1964 that he thought Mr. Frazier had been mistaken.

"I don't believe for a moment that he was consciously lying," Mr. Ford said then. "This is a fine young man – I've talked to him – who recalls seeing an object a certain size. But if Oswald was carrying curtain rods, as Mr. Frazier claimed he told him, I am a bit confused as to what happened to them."

Mr. Ford told a Dallas Morning News reporter that day: "I have never believed Mr. Frazier was involved in anything more than being a good neighbor, a good friend. I don't think he even knew Oswald very well."

Actually, Mr. Frazier said, "I didn't know his last name until that day. We all just knew him as Lee. I thought that was his last name."

Years of reticence

For years, Mr. Frazier refrained from talking about his role that fateful Friday. He hasn't had a listed telephone number for years. Few people have visited his home. In recent years, he has spoken briefly to university classes and others studying the Kennedy assassination.

And when a British production company staged a mock Oswald trial in London in 1986, Mr. Frazier was a star witness. He still considers that trip one of his "greatest experiences ever."

As the years went by, he served two stints in the Army, worked in Denver and Portland, Ore., with banks and an airline, and studied at Southern Methodist University.

He married in 1969 and had a son, Robert, now 29, who graduated from Texas A&M and is in the Army, stationed in South Korea. Mr. Frazier divorced in 1987 and married his current wife, Betty, in 1988.

Since 2002, he has worked for the Lewisville school board as the receiving clerk, handling desks, chairs and other equipment to stock the district's schools.

Asked if co-workers know of his background, Mr. Frazier said: "Some do, on a limited basis." He has mixed emotions about conspiracy theorists.

"Conspiracy theories are like noses," he said. "Everybody has one. No one has ever sold me 100 percent that Lee did it. If he did, yes, but some other people were involved in some way."

He admits that the circumstances of that November decades ago helped mold his life and personality.

"I have had to be more careful and aware of what is going on around me at all times. Being able to trust someone is very hard for me. I simply do not trust people in general."

And though he is no longer physically afraid, he's more comfortable staying anonymous.

"Though I did nothing wrong," he said, "some of them think I am guilty, that I was involved with him.

"And there are people out there still today who think that I helped him, that he and I were in cahoots on that, and you just never know who you're talking to."

His sister, Ms. Randle, is a retired nurse in her 70s who lives "in the country" outside Sulphur Springs. She agrees that Mr. Frazier is super-careful and somewhat withdrawn but says she understands why.

"Even my children, at the time, we just didn't talk about it because you just never know who you're talking to. There are a lot of kooks out there.

"We weren't ignorant, but we were very, very naive," she said.

Dave Perry of Grapevine, a friend of Mr. Frazier, said: "When we first met in 1990, he was very distrustful of me. After a very short period, we got off the subject of the assassination and into baseball.

"When we get together now," said Mr. Perry, a retired insurance executive and longtime JFK assassination researcher, "it's never about the assassination, but as close friends."

David Murph, director of church relations for Texas Christian University, and his wife, Jean, are also friends of the Fraziers. "He is an honest, gentle soul with a good heart who sees and believes in people," he said.

Mr. Murph says he hopes Mr. Frazier finds a publisher for his memoirs. "Buell's story is extremely important. It needs to be told."

Hugh Aynesworth is a freelance writer and author and was an eyewitness to the JFK assassination.

Source: The Dallas Morning News

Friday, November 14, 2008

TV: Discovery Channel Says JFK Shot from Depository

Sunday, November 16 - 9:00 PM (EST)- Discovery Channel

Using modern technology, a team of scientists have recreated the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, to determine that the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository was the most likely origin of the shot that killed him.

According to a report in Discovery News, the team of experts, which was assembled by the Discovery Channel, used modern blood splatter analysis, new artificial human body surrogates, and 3-D computer simulations, to recreate the assassination.

“The question we were trying to answer is, given the spatter evidence in a vehicle, and knowing an individual was sitting at a particular location, is there something we could use to determine where the shot originated?” said Steve Schliebe, a blood spatter and trace evidence specialist with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, who was part of the special investigation.

While blood spatter analysis existed in the 1960s, modern innovations have greatly improved its accuracy and the amount of information that can be gleaned from drops of blood.

According to Tom Bevel, an independent expert forensic investigator, Because of innovations like high-speed photography, we have a much better appreciation of what is actually taking place.

A mock-up of the Dallas, Texas crime scene was set up, including the depository, the grassy knoll, and other nearby landmarks. Artificial surrogates of Kennedy were placed in a car. Sharpshooters then shot the surrogates from the model depository, the grassy knoll, and four other plausible locations.

Schliebe, along with Bevel, were brought in to examine the simulated crime scene. The two experts found a simulated gunshot would to the head that closely matched the wound Kennedy suffered.

In addition to the physical environment, a virtual environment was also set up, in the form of a 3-D model of the crime scene. To animate it, the team looked at a video of the assassination filmed by Abraham Zapruder.

Computer graphics expert Doug Martin highlighted the red parts of the frames and the blood resulting from the wound, and plotted them onto the computer simulation to see where the fatal shot came from.

“We might never know if Oswald pulled the trigger, but when you look at the wind pattern, the spread of the debris, the angles and distances involved, it’s consistent with a shot from the sixth floor depository,” said Martin.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

White House Photographer Cecil Stoughton Dead at 88

by RICHARD PYLE / Associated Press

Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer who shot the iconic image of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, has died. He was 88.

Stoughton died Monday [11/03] evening at his at his home on Merritt Island, Fla., his son Jamie Stoughton said.

The photo he took of the swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One, Johnson with his hand raised and a stunned Jacqueline Kennedy looking on, became the most famous in his five years, 1961-65, as White House photographer.

"Cecil Stoughton's photos helped to create the aura that later came to be called Camelot," said Bobbi Baker Burrows, director of photography at Life magazine and co-author of the National Geographic Society's 2006 publication, "The Kennedy Mystique."

"In the confusion that followed the assassination, his (swearing-in) photograph told the world that there was a new president, and the country that it was safe," Burrows said.

Stoughton was an Army captain in 1961 when picked by Kennedy's military aide, Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton, to photograph daily events at the White House. He was the first official White House photographer, a position that has since become standard for presidents.

During those years he became close to the Kennedy family.

Accompanying Kennedy to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Stoughton was in the fifth car in the motorcade and heard the shots that fatally wounded the president. He was at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy died, when he learned he had to go photograph the swearing-in before Air Force One left for Washington D.C.

"He took about 20 pictures but the first one almost didn't happen because his Hasselblad — the Rolls-Royce of cameras — malfunctioned," his son said.

"He was under tremendous pressure. If his camera had failed, who knows what would have happened? It was the only proof that Johnson had been sworn in."

In all, he said, his father shot about 12,000 negatives during the Kennedy years, which are now archived at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. These include many lighter moments of the first family at the White House.

One of his father's favorites showed Kennedy standing in the Oval Office, clapping as his children played and danced, Jamie Stoughton said. When he showed it to the president, a delighted Kennedy signed it: "For Capt. Stoughton, who captured beautifully a happy moment at the White House."

Cecil Stoughton later worked as a National Park Service photographer, his son said. In 1973 he published a book, "The Memories — JFK, 1961-1963," with Clifton and Time magazine writer Hugh Sidey.

In June 2007, Stoughton discussed his White House work and the famous photo on the public television series "Antiques Roadshow," when the program was in Orlando, Fla. By coincidence, that taped segment was rebroadcast on Monday night — on a program on presidential antiques — about an hour after Stoughton died.

"The odd thing was that he didn't really want to go (to the TV show) but he kind of knew he would be chosen to show the picture," his son said. "And he was."

Source: Associated Press