Saturday, February 21, 2009

Which Is the Real JFK 'Sniper Perch'?

by ANN ZIMMERMAN / Wall Street Journal

A decades-long dispute over who owns the authentic "sniper's perch" -- the window where Lee Harvey Oswald propped his rifle to take his fatal shots at President John F. Kennedy -- lands Monday in a Dallas court.

Figure 1. The window owned by Aubrey Mayhew. (Mick Mayhew)

The dispute centers on the origins of windows removed at separate times from the sixth floor of the Dallas's School Book Depository, where Mr. Oswald set up his ambush of the presidential motorcade. The two men who now own the windows each claim theirs is the genuine item.

Over the decades, both men have tried to sell their windows, but their attempts to profit have been spoiled by their competing claims. Experts at the Sixth Floor Museum have never given an independent verification.

Caruth Byrd, one of the owners, filed a 2007 suit in the Texas state District Court, leading to Monday's hearing. Neither Mr. Byrd nor his attorneys could be reached for comment Friday.

The defendant and owner of the second window, Aubrey Mayhew, 81 years old, of Nashville, Tenn., said he couldn't afford a lawyer, but would attend the hearing anyway. "I have the real window and I obtained it fairly," he said.

The history of the sniper's perch is as murky as the conspiracy theories that persist around Kennedy's assassination.

Mr. Byrd is the son of the late Col. D. Harold Byrd, a wealthy oilman who owned Dallas real estate, including the building he leased to the Texas School Book Depository. Six weeks after the assassination in November 1963, saying he feared vandalism from souvenir hunters, Col. Byrd instructed an employee to remove the eight-pane window where Mr. Oswald fired his shots. Col. Byrd framed the window and hung it in his Dallas mansion.

In 1970, Mr. Mayhew, a Nashville music producer and Kennedy memorabilia collector, bought the building from Mr. Byrd. But Mr. Mayhew's plans to turn it into a museum were thwarted by Dallas officials upset at the idea someone would profit from the assassination.

After three years, Mr. Mayhew defaulted on the mortgage and the building was returned to Mr. Byrd.

Before that happened, though, Mr. Mayhew said he had learned from the owner of the school book business that Mr. Byrd's handyman removed the wrong window. He pried the window frame from the southwest corner -- not the southeast corner, where Mr. Oswald fired his rifle. Mr. Mayhew claims he had his own carpenter remove the double-window casement from the southeast corner, giving him ownership of the historical item.

Caruth Byrd, an East Texas businessman and Hollywood producer, inherited the window after his father's death in 1986 and kept it in a Dallas vault. The building was eventually sold to Dallas County, which in 1987 leased out space for the Sixth Floor Museum, now one of the city's biggest tourist attractions.

In 1995, Caruth Byrd loaned his window to the Sixth Floor Museum, where it was displayed. Two years ago, Mr. Byrd put it up for sale on eBay, which drew offers as high as $3 million.

The sale, however, was thwarted by the competing claim -- and eBay offering -- of Mr. Mayhew. Mr. Byrd filed suit to settle the matter. The suit also asked the court to award Mr. Mayhew's window to Mr. Byrd, claiming Mr. Mayhew had no right to remove it.

Experts at the Sixth Floor Museum have admitted in the past to having doubts about the authenticity of Mr. Byrd's window. Historians who have studied it noted certain features, such as a glob of paint on the glass, don't match photos of the window taken moments after the assassination.

Mr. Mayhew has never allowed his window to be examined publicly.

Museum officials confirm only that the original windows are, indeed, missing from both corners of the building's sixth floor.

* * * * * *

Letters of Evidence

A 1992 letter from the owner of the Texas School Book Depository, which leased the building where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, states that the original owner of the building, Col. D. Harold Byrd, removed the wrong window from the sixth floor of the building and that Aubrey Mayhew, who later purchased the building, "removed the original, actual window from where Oswald shot the President."

A second handwritten note is from carpenters who attest they removed the original sniper's perch window from the sixth floor in 1971 after Mr. Mayhew bought the building.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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