It’s been barely a month since the Las Vegas massacre took place, and nobody seems to have a clue what happened. The investigation rapidly descended into a farce, as the timeline of what happened when started changing. Last I heard, the Las Vegas police had stopped even holding press conferences about it.
And another assassination – the JFK assassination – has been back in the news. Because 54 years after the event, it seems that thousands of government files on it still haven’t been released. And the CIA and FBI have been fighting to hang on them for another 25 years. Or maybe another 100 years. Although Trump is now saying that they’ve all been released.
These kind of murders always make the world a darker place. They’re deeply dispiriting. I can still remember how, at school in England at age 15, the JFK assassination caused me not just to lose interest in the school telescope that I’d been using to see Jupiter’s moons, but also to pretty much lose interest in astronomy as well. It was another 30 years before I regained interest.
If the Las Vegas investigation descended into chaos within the space of a week or two, the JFK investigation took about 10 years to start unraveling, when the Zapruder film of the event was made public. Since then conspiracy theories about the event have been multiplying exponentially. There now seems to be a considerable literature surrounding it, much like 9/11. And probably Las Vegas in years to come. With each murder a new genre is born. And maybe a new Cluedo game as well.
I used to dismiss the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK. I continued to believe the official story which had emerged on Day 1 of the investigation, that it was all the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. The way I saw it, a successful assassination needed a) a sitting target to shoot at b) point blank range. Like Abraham Lincoln was sitting watching a play in the Ford theatre in Washington when John Wilkes Booth stepped into his box and fired a bullet into the back of his head (somehow or other not killing him instantly) from inches away. Riding in a car, JFK was going to always be a moving target, and most likely nobody was going to get within a few feet of him, never mind inches. What the assassins needed, to increase their likelihood of success, were rifles with telescopic sights firing along the target’s direction of motion. That way he’d look like a sitting target, seen from close up. And that’s exactly what Oswald had, in the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, looking pretty much straight down the path that the motorcade would be taking away from him, 250 feet away. It was the perfect spot. A gunman on the grassy knoll, behind the picket fence, might have been a lot nearer, but he would have been having to swing his gun rightwards to follow a car accelerating down Elm Street. And that, in my view, was no good.
But when, a few years ago, I first heard of the storm drain on Elm Street, I rapidly concluded that this was an even better place for an assassin than the Oswald’s 6th floor window. It was only about 80 feet from JFK, who would have been coming more or less directly towards it. Here’s a graphic showing the scene (click to enlarge), on which I’ve marked the rough position of the storm drain:
But last night, mulling over it all again, like I seem to do every few years, I came up with a new idea. I was asking myself: where was the very best place to have shot JFK, bearing in mind my rule that the shooter should be a) as close as possible to b) a sitting target? And the simple answer to that question was that it wasn’t on Houston Street or Elm Street, but was on the junction between the two roads where the open-top presidential limo would have to slow right down to turn some 120 degrees left. It would have almost come to a stop as it performed the turn. And for a gunman located in the the lower floors of any of the the three tall buildings next to this junction, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. JFK would have received a head shot drilled down through the top of his head. Nobody else in the car would have been hurt. And Oswald, on the 6th floor corner window, could have taken such a shot. So why didn’t he?
Two answers to that question came to mind. Firstly, there were simply far too many people in the field of fire. Dallas had given JFK a big welcome that day, and the streets were crowded on both sides right the way up to the School Book Depository. But the second answer was that instead of cutting the corner tightly onto Elm Street, the limo swung very wide around it, perhaps because the driver had overshot the unexpected turn (the deviation down Houston Street and Elm Street had been a last minute change to the planned route). And this wide turn by the limo unsighted any gunmen in the windows above. Oswald would have had to hang out of his window and fire almost vertically downwards. And he couldn’t do it. And neither could any other gunmen in other buildings.
So, as I saw it last night, it was actually a failed assassination that took place that day. The plan had gone wrong. The assassins had planned on shooting JFK as his car performed its slow left turn off Houston Street onto Elm Street. But the car took a much wider (and more fast-moving) turn than they expected. And there were also far more people around than they expected there to be.
JFK almost got away. And the shooters had to fall back on plan B, which was to get him while he drove away from them down Elm Street. But by then he was 200 – 300 feet away, and accelerating, instead of 50 feet away at almost a standstill. And that’s why they kept missing him (or only hit him once). And that’s why it was the very last man, in the storm drain, that finally nailed him.
It should be easy to check out this hypothesis. Standing on a plinth overlooking Elm Street, Abraham Zapruder started shooting his home movie when the first motorcycle outrider slowly came round the corner of Houston and Elm. If I’m right, the JFK limo would then be seen overshooting the corner and swinging very wide around it. All you need do is watch the Zapruder film to check:
But here’s a new mystery. The Zapruder film doesn’t show the JFK limo performing that turn. It shows the police motorcycle outriders performing the turn, but there’s no sign of the limo until it has already got quite far down Elm Street.
Did Zapruder start filming and then stop? Or was the footage of the limo making its turn excised?
Whatever happened, of the three police motorcycle outriders, one performs a tight turn around the corner, and another performs a very wide turn (and is completely lost from view for several frames). When the limo does appear in view, already on Elm Street, the blue and white cars behind it, still on Houston Street, look like they’re on the far side of the road, and about to make wide turns.
Anyway, that’s my addition to the ever-expanding JFK assassination literature: it was a failed assassination. It should have taken place 300 feet back up the road, but didn’t. It was plan B that (only just) succeeded. And it maybe only succeeded because Jackie Kennedy was holding JFK upright for all the shooters to see (while Nellie Connally had pulled wounded husband John down underneath her in the jump seats in front of them). If Jackie had done the same as Nellie, JFK would have been out of sight from Oswald, from a gunman behind the picket fence, and from a shooter in the storm drain. And he would have arrived in Parkland hospital with a single non-fatal wound. And history thereafter would have been very different.
Charles Brehm (on south side of Elm Street, close to the President at the
start of the shooting), November 24, 1963: “He and his son stood right at
the curb on the grass and saw the President’s car take a wide swing as it
turned left from Houston Street onto Elm Street.” [FBI report: CE1425:
Roy Truly ….And the driver of the Presidential car swung out too far to
the right, and he came almost within an inch of running into this little
abutment here, between Elm [the Elm Street ‘extension’ that runs in
front of the Texas School Book Depository to the railroad parking lot] and
the Parkway [Elm Street that goes under the triple underpass]. And he
slowed down perceptibly and pulled back to the left to get over into the
middle lane of the parkway. Not being familiar with the street, he came
too far out this way when he made his turn.”