What Was Lee Harvey Oswald’s Alibi?
Oswald seems to have claimed to have been on the first floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Two colleagues, James Jarman and Harold Norman, place him there no more than seven minutes before the shooting.
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Accounts of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Alibi
“On the First Floor”
The only accounts of Lee Harvey Oswald’s alibi are brief, vague and second–hand:
- The earliest account was by two FBI agents, James Hosty and James Bookhout, who wrote that “OSWALD claimed to be on the first floor when President JOHN F. KENNEDY passed this building” (Warren Report, p.613).
- Captain J.W. Fritz of the Dallas police later added an extra piece of information: “he said that he was having his lunch about that time on the first floor” (WR, p.600).
None of the surviving documents contains an account by the accused assassin of his precise location at the precise time of the shooting.
Oswald’s Precise Alibi Has Not Survived
It is inconceivable that even the Dallas police would have been satisfied with an account of what their only suspect was doing at “about” the time of the assassination. Because no mention is made of Oswald refusing to provide a precise alibi, one might reasonably suspect that a precise alibi was given, and that it contained information that could have been, and perhaps was, checked for corroboration.
The Official Record
During the two days between his arrest and his murder while in police custody, Oswald was questioned for a total of about twelve hours by officials from the Dallas police, the FBI, the Secret Service and even the Post Office. Some, but not all, of those who questioned Oswald later put down their memories on paper. The existing notes and memos, which can be found in WR, pp.598–636, cover only a small part of Oswald’s questioning.
Where Are the Recordings or Transcripts?
In 1963, the Dallas Police Department was not in the habit of using a tape recorder when questioning suspects, a policy unlikely to have been motivated purely by budgetary constraints. In recent years, DNA analysis has brought to light a spate of wrongful convictions in Dallas County. Most of them were perpetrated by the regime that was in office at the time of the JFK assassination, as a Dallas Morning News article points out: “Police officers used suggestive lineup procedures, sometimes pressured victims to pick their suspect and then cleared the case once an identification was made. … All but five of the wrongful convictions occurred under the late District Attorney Henry Wade.” (Steve McGonigle and Jennifer Emily, ‘18 Dallas County Cases Overturned by DNA Relied Heavily on Eyewitness Testimony,’ Dallas Morning News, 12 October 2008.)
Neither the gravity of the crime nor the attention of the world’s press appear to have provided the Dallas police with sufficient motivation to change their policy of not recording interviews. Several shorthand secretaries worked in the Dallas police headquarters, but none seems to have been called upon to transcribe the defendant’s replies to his questioning. It is unlikely that any recordings or transcripts were made of Oswald’s twelve hours of interrogation.
Captain Will Fritz’s Version of Oswald’s Alibi
The least vague account of Oswald’s alibi is in a report by Captain Fritz:
I asked him what part of the building he was in at the time the president was shot, and he said that he was having his lunch about that time on the first floor. Mr. Truly had told me that one of the police officers had stopped this man immediately after the shooting somewhere near the back stairway, so I asked Oswald where he was when the police officer stopped him. He said he was on the second floor drinking a coca cola when the officer came in.
Fritz’s report, which covers the whole of Oswald’s time in police custody, was written some time after Oswald’s death, and is undated. Fritz acknowledged that it may not be accurate: “Inasmuch as this report was made from rough notes and memory, it is entirely possible that one of these questions could be in a separate interview from the one indicated in this report” (WR, p.611). Fritz’s memory needed refreshing by the time he testified before the Warren Commission:
- Mr Ball :
- With reference to where he was at the time the President was shot, did he tell you what floor of the building he was on?
- Mr Fritz :
- I feel sure that he told me he was on the second floor.
- Mr Ball :
- Look at 136B.
- Mr Fritz :
- All right, sir.
- Mr Ball :
- The second paragraph down, 136B.
- Mr Fritz :
- Yes, sir; second floor; yes, sir. He said he usually worked on the first floor. I asked him what part of the building at the time the President was shot. He said he was having lunch at about this time on the first floor.
The Earliest Report of Oswald’s Alibi
Two FBI agents, James Hosty and James Bookhout, attended Fritz’s first interview with Oswald. They wrote a joint report on 23 November, from notes taken on the 22nd which no longer exist:
OSWALD stated that he went to lunch at approximately noon and he claimed he ate his lunch on the first floor in the lunch room; however he went to the second floor where the Coca–Cola machine was located and obtained a bottle of Coca–Cola for his lunch. OSWALD claimed to be on the first floor when President JOHN F. KENNEDY passed this building. … he then went home by bus and changed his clothes.
Hosty’s and Bookhout’s joint account of the first–day interview is the earliest surviving account of Oswald’s alibi. It implies this sequence of actions:
- At “approximately noon” Oswald ate his lunch in the domino room on the first floor.
- He then went up to the second floor, where he bought a Coke from the vending machine in the lunch room.
- Finally, he went downstairs and was on the first floor when JFK came past.
The Second FBI Version of Oswald’s Alibi
The earliest report contains no mention of Oswald being stopped by a police officer, as Fritz would later report. Once Oswald was dead, however, Bookhout alone wrote a new account of the first–day interview, which did include an encounter with a policeman:
OSWALD stated that on November 22, 1963, at the time of the search of the Texas School Book Depository building by Dallas police officers, he was on the second floor of said building, having just purchased a Coca–cola from the soft-drink machine, at which time a police officer came into the room with pistol drawn and asked him if he worked there. MR. TRULY was present and verified that he was an employee and the police officer thereafter left the room and continued through the building. OSWALD stated that he took this Coke down to the first floor and stood around and had lunch in the employees’ lunch room. He thereafter went outside and stood around for five or ten minutes with foreman BILL SHELLEY, and thereafter went home.
This version omits Oswald’s claim to have been on the first floor at the time of the assassination. Two events which had originally been reported to have occurred before the shooting, Oswald’s purchase of a drink and his eating his lunch, now occur after the shooting:
- Oswald bought a Coke in the second–floor lunch room.
- Moments later, he encountered Roy Truly, the TSBD’s building supervisor, and Marrion Baker, the motorcycle policeman who ran into the TSBD within half a minute of the shooting.
- Oswald then went downstairs and ate his lunch in the first–floor domino room.
- Finally, Oswald chatted with his foreman for a few minutes before going home.
The official account of Oswald’s activities has him leaving the TSBD at 12:33, just three minutes after the shooting (WR, p.156), which implies that at least one element of Bookhout’s revised account is incorrect. Oswald must have eaten his lunch before, not after, the assassination. Many accounts by TSBD employees mention that they stopped work and began their lunch break at about 11:45 or 11:50. Two of Oswald’s colleagues make it clear that Oswald did indeed eat his lunch before the assassination:
- Eddie Piper claimed that Oswald told him that he was going to eat his lunch at about mid–day (WCHE, vol.19, p.499).
- In an affidavit on the day after the assassination, Charles Givens claimed that he saw Oswald “in the domino room where the employees eat lunch about 11:50 A.M.” (Commission Document 5, p.329). A few weeks before Givens was due to appear in front of the Warren Commission, an FBI memo noted that a Dallas police inspector “stated that GIVENS had been previously handled by the Special Services Bureau on a marijuana charge and he believes that GIVENS would change his story for money” (CD 735, p.295). By a strange coincidence, Givens did indeed change his story, testifying that his sighting of Oswald had happened on the sixth floor (WCHE, vol.6, p.352). His original story is surely true; no other employees contradicted it, and it is consistent with the accounts of William Shelley and Bonnie Ray Williams. Shelley was on the first floor at around the same time, and saw Oswald there (WCHE, vol.6, p.328); Williams was on the sixth floor, and did not see Oswald or Givens (WCHE, vol.3, p.170). The FBI and the police were clearly looking for a TSBD employee who could be persuaded to place Oswald on the sixth floor during the lunch break, and Givens turned out to be the most malleable. For more about this incident, see Sylvia Meagher, ‘The Curious Testimony of Mr Givens’, The Texas Observer, 13 August 1971.
One of Oswald’s colleagues, James Jarman, testified that on the day of the assassination he did exactly what Oswald claimed to have done; he went up to the second floor at lunch time to buy a Coke, and then went down to the first floor (WCHE, vol.3, p.201).
The Postal Inspector’s Account
Harry Holmes, an inspector for the US Postal Service, attended Oswald’s interview on Sunday 24 November, which finished a few minutes before Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby. More than three weeks later, on 17 December, Holmes wrote a report entirely from memory in which he gives a confused account of Oswald’s actions at around the time of the assassination:
When asked as to his whereabouts at the time of the shooting, he stated that when lunch time came, and he didn’t say which floor he was on, he said one of the Negro employees invited him to eat lunch with him and he stated “You go on down and send the elevator back up and I will join you in a few minutes.” Before he could finish whatever he was doing, he stated, the commotion surrounding the assassination took place and when he went down stairs, a policeman questioned him as to his identification and his boss stated that “he is one of our employees” whereupon the policeman had him step aside momentarily. Following this, he simply walked out the front door of the building. I don’t recall that anyone asked why he left or where or how he went. I just presumed that this had been covered in an earlier questioning.
Billy Lovelady (WCHE, vol.6, p.337) and Charles Givens (CD 5, p.329) stated that the incident with the elevator occurred when the employees were finishing work for the morning, more than half an hour before the assassination. Holmes goes straight from this incident to “the commotion surrounding the assassination,” without specifying whether the “commotion” was generated by the arrival of the motorcade or the reaction to the sound of gunshots.
Oswald’s Domino Room Incident
Another interview report confirmed that Oswald ate his lunch before rather than after the assassination, and supported his claim to have been on the first floor when President Kennedy was shot.
Two Versions of the Domino Room Incident
The FBI agent, James Bookhout, wrote a report of a later interview, in which Oswald described an incident involving two other TSBD employees:
OSWALD stated that on November 22, 1963, he had eaten lunch in the lunch room at the Texas School Book Depository, alone, but recalled possibly two Negro employees walking through the room during this period. He stated possibly one of these employees was called ‘Junior’ and the other was a short individual whose name he could not recall but whom he would be able to recognize.
Thomas Kelley, a Secret Service agent who attended the same interview, gave a slightly different account of this incident:
He said he ate his lunch with the colored boys who worked with him. He described one of them as ‘Junior’, a colored boy, and the other was a little short negro boy.
A set of handwritten notes by Captain Fritz, which were made public by the Assassination Records Review Board in the late 1990s, and which were probably copied from Bookhout’s notes, echo Bookhout’s version of the encounter:
say[s] two negr. came in. One Jr. + short negro
James ‘Junior’ Jarman and Harold Norman
Oswald’s claim was corroborated by the accounts of two black employees who matched these descriptions: James Jarman was known as ‘Junior’, and Harold Norman was short (Jarman: WCHE, vol.3, pp.201–202; Norman: WCHE, vol.3, pp.189–190). Both men had been standing outside the TSBD, waiting to see the president. When they heard that the motorcade had reached Main Street, they decided to go back into the building to obtain a better view. Jarman stated that he was standing outside “until about 12:20, between 12:20 and 12:25”. Police logs report that the motorcade was crossing Live Oak Street, about one minute from Main Street, at 12:22 (Commission Exhibit 705, p.72 [WCHE, vol.17, p.461]), which indicates that Jarman and Norman entered the TSBD no earlier than 12:23.
Because of the crowd standing on the front steps of the TSBD, Jarman and Norman used one of the building’s rear entrances. Their most direct route took them right past the domino room, which was in the north–eastern corner of the first floor, with windows on both the northern and eastern sides. Jarman and Norman would have entered the building close to the door of the domino room. For a plan of the first floor, see CD 496, which also includes photographs of the domino room and of the external door which Jarman and Norman must have used.
Oswald’s claim was not that James Jarman and Harold Norman had been in the domino room at some point during their lunch break. If that was what he was claiming, he could easily have been bluffing; the domino room was where many of the warehouse employees usually ate their lunch. Oswald’s claim was much more specific: that those two particular employees were in the vicinity of the domino room at a time when Oswald was otherwise alone. Oswald could not have known of their presence unless he too was in or near the domino room at the exact time when Jarman and Norman entered the building. The testimony of James Jarman and Harold Norman proved that Lee Oswald was on the first floor of the TSBD just a few minutes before the assassination.
The Warren Report’s Interpretation
The Warren Commission decided that the account of Thomas Kelley, who claimed that Oswald had eaten lunch with Jarman and Norman, was more helpful to its purposes than that of James Bookhout, who merely claimed that Oswald had noted their presence:
- Mr Ball :
- After his arrest, he [Oswald] stated to a police officer that he had had lunch with you. Did you have lunch with him?
- Mr Jarman :
- No; I didn’t.
Kelley reported that Oswald had eaten with James Jarman, while Bookhout reported that Oswald had eaten alone. Jarman’s account of his own lunch arrangements showed that Kelley’s version was incorrect.
The Warren Report ignored Bookhout’s more plausible but less convenient version and assumed, without offering any evidence to support its case, that Kelley had accurately reported what Oswald had said. The Report seized on Jarman’s denial of Kelley’s account. It implied, perversely, not that Kelley was mistaken but that Oswald was lying:
[Oswald] stated that at the time the President was shot he was having lunch with “Junior” but he did not give Junior’s last name. The only employee at the Depository Building named “Junior” was James Jarman, Jr. Jarman testified that he ate his lunch on the first floor around 5 minutes to 12, and that he neither ate lunch with nor saw Oswald.
The Warren Report’s account of the incident failed to mention the more fundamental, and blatantly obvious, fact that both Kelley and Bookhout reported Oswald’s claim to have been on the first floor very shortly before the assassination, and that Oswald’s claim was corroborated by James Jarman and Harold Norman.
Oswald’s Movements at Lunch Time
The fact that Lee Oswald was on the first floor as close to the assassination as 12:23, and quite possibly later, has drastic consequences for the hypothesis that he was on the sixth floor at 12:30, firing a rifle at President Kennedy.
The Lone Assassin on the Sixth Floor
The Warren Commission never gave any serious thought to the possibility that Oswald either had associates or had played no part in the assassination. Its task was to make a plausible case that Oswald was the lone assassin, in order to help the media to restore public confidence in political institutions, which was dangerously low because of widespread suspicions that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy.
The Commission’s options were limited by the fact that the sixth floor was occupied on the morning of the assassination by order–fillers and by a number of employees who were laying new floorboards. The need for Oswald to have assembled his rifle and his sniper’s nest required him to have been alone on the sixth floor for several minutes. The only realistic opportunity for him to do this was during the lunch break.
Oswald on the First Floor
A lone assassin, even one whose rifle and sniper’s nest were already assembled on the sixth floor, could not plausibly have been hanging around on the first floor just a few minutes before the assassination:
- With no way of knowing in advance exactly when the motorcade was arriving, he risked missing his only opportunity for no good reason. Oswald was in the habit of reading the newspapers, and is likely to have seen an article in the Dallas Morning News on 20 November, which stated that the motorcade was scheduled to arrive at the Trade Mart, some five minutes’ drive beyond Elm Street, at 12:30 (CE 1364 [WCHE, vol.22, p.616]). Oswald was still on the first floor no more than two minutes before Kennedy was due to pass by the building. If the motorcade had been early rather than late, the dawdling assassin would have been stranded.
- None of the employees on the fourth or fifth floors reported seeing or hearing anyone dash up the stairs immediately before the shooting. James Jarman, Harold Norman and Bonnie Ray Williams used the elevators during this period but did not report anyone else doing so.
Sightings of Oswald and the Gunman
In the half hour or so immediately before the assassination, there were sightings by spectators in Dealey Plaza of a gunman on the sixth floor, and sightings by TSBD employees of Oswald on lower floors. Eye–witness evidence is, of course, almost always less than perfectly accurate. There were discrepancies in the precise descriptions of the gunman, which shows that at least some of the Dealey Plaza witnesses were mistaken about the details, but there was agreement that a man with a gun was present on an upper floor from around 12:15. All of the people who saw Oswald worked in the TSBD, and recognised him. Again, these witnesses could be mistaken about details such as the precise time or location, but surely not about the basic fact of Oswald’s presence on a lower floor. This leaves two possibilities:
- Oswald spent a large part of this period maniacally running up and down the stairs, unseen and unheard by anyone in the building,
- or Oswald was not the gunman who was observed on the sixth floor.
11:50 — Oswald on the First Floor
At least three of Oswald’s colleagues saw him on the first floor shortly after they began their lunch break at about 11:50:
- Charles Givens: “On the morning of November 22, 1963, GIVENS observed LEE reading a newspaper in the domino room where the employees eat lunch about 11:50 A.M.” (CD 5, p.329).
- Eddie Piper saw Oswald “at 12 o’clock … on the first floor” (WCHE, vol.6, p.383); “at 12:00 Noon, this fellow Lee says to me, ‘I’m going up to eat’” (WCHE, vol.19, p.499).
- William Shelley: “I do remember seeing him when I came down to eat lunch about 10 to 12” (WCHE, vol.6, p.328); “It was 10 or 15 minutes before 12 … on the first floor over near the telephone” (WCHE, vol.7, p.390).
Bonnie Ray Williams claimed to have been on the sixth floor for several minutes from around mid–day, and that he was the only person there (WCHE, vol.3, p.169).
12:15 — Gunman and a Second Man on the Sixth Floor
Arnold Rowland, outside in Dealey Plaza, saw a gunman standing at the south–western window on the sixth floor at or shortly after 12:15 (CE 357 [WCHE, vol.16, p.953] and WCHE, vol.2, pp.169–175). Rowland claimed that “at the time I saw the man in the other window,” he also saw a second man, in the south–eastern window. For a plausible argument that the second man on the sixth floor, whom Rowland described as “a colored man, I think,” was in fact Bonnie Ray Williams, see this forum thread: http://www.jfkassassinationforum.com/index.php/topic,12154.0.html.
12:15 — Oswald on the First or Second Floor
Carolyn Arnold, a TSBD employee, saw Oswald on either the first or second floor at around 12:15 (see Carolyn Arnold’s FBI Statements).
12:23 — Oswald on the First Floor
As demonstrated above, Lee Oswald was on the first floor in or near the domino room at 12:23 or a few minutes later, when he saw James Jarman and Harold Norman enter the building.
12:25–12:30 — Gunman on the Sixth Floor
Several witnesses in Dealey Plaza saw a person, or a gun barrel, or both, in a window on an upper floor at the time President Kennedy was shot or a few minutes earlier:
- Caroline Walther saw two men, one of whom was holding a gun, “in the southeast corner window” on an upper floor shortly after an ambulance left Dealey Plaza at about 12:25 (CE 2086 [WCHE, vol.24, p.522]).
- Howard Brennan saw a gunman in the south–eastern window on the sixth floor both during the shooting and a few minutes earlier (WCHE, vol.19, p.470 and WCHE, vol.3, p.143).
- Ronald Fischer saw a man holding a rifle very shortly before the motorcade arrived (WCHE, vol.6, pp.193–194).
- Robert Edwards was alerted by Fischer; he saw the man but did not notice a gun (WCHE, vol.6, pp.203–204).
- Amos Euins saw a gunman during the shooting (CE 367 [WCHE, vol.16, p.963] and WCHE, vol.2, p.204).
- Mrs Earle Cabell, whose own first name is not given, saw the barrel of a gun immediately after the shooting (WCHE, vol.7, p.486).
- Bob Jackson noticed a gun barrel being withdrawn from an upper window just after the shooting (WCHE, vol.2, p.159).
- Malcolm Couch was alerted by Jackson; he too noticed the gun barrel (WCHE, vol.6, pp.156–157).
- James Worrell reported that he saw a rifle protruding from an upper window (CE 363 [WCHE, vol.16, p.959] and WCHE, vol.2, pp.193–194), although other elements of Worrell’s account cast doubt on his claim to have been in Dealey Plaza during the shooting.
Oswald’s Race Up and Down the Stairs
If Oswald had in fact shot President Kennedy, he must have had a busy time during the half–hour or so immediately before the assassination. After being seen on the first floor of the TSBD shortly before mid–day, Oswald must have:
- run up the stairs to the sixth floor to build his sniper’s nest and assemble the rifle he didn’t bring into the building inside a paper bag that was too small to hold the rifle, while evading the attention of Bonnie Ray Williams who was eating his lunch just a few feet away;
- run down to the second or first floor to be seen by Carolyn Arnold;
- run back up to the sixth floor to pose by the wrong window so that he could be seen by Arnold Rowland in the company of another, unidentified man;
- run back down to the first floor in time to see James Jarman and Harold Norman enter the building close to the domino room;
- run back up to the sixth floor to shoot the president with a bullet that was probably planted after the event;
- run back down to the second–floor lunch room to buy a Coke, no doubt having worked up quite a thirst after all that running;
- and then calmly walked down to the first floor and out of the building.
They have the window set up to look exactly like it did on that day. And it’s really accurate, you know. ’Cause Oswald’s not in it.
It is very likely that Oswald was not on the sixth floor at all from mid–day onwards.
The Second–Floor Lunch Room Encounter
Seeing Oswald Through the Window
The penultimate instalment in Lee Oswald’s furious race up and down the stairs has him buying a Coke in the second–floor lunch room, an incident which the FBI agents did not include in the earliest report of his activities but which quickly became part of the official narrative, although its precise details changed over time. This incident has Roy Truly and Marrion Baker, in their own dash up the stairs immediately after the assassination, accosting Oswald in the lunch room, where he was variously described drinking a Coke, or buying a Coke, or sitting at a table, or walking into the room. Truly vouched for Oswald as an employee, and Baker let Oswald go on his way.
The Warren Report relates the final version of this story, which has Officer Baker dashing up the stairs from the first floor and, as he set foot on the second floor landing, spotting someone through the window of an internal door. This door was at the north–western side of a small, roughly triangular vestibule which contained two other doors, one on the southern side leading to offices and a hallway, and one on the eastern side leading to the second–floor lunch room. For a plan of the second floor, see CD 496, which also includes photographs of the area in question. The Report states:
As Baker reached the second floor, he was about 20 feet from the vestibule door. He intended to continue around to his left toward the stairway going up but through the window in the door he caught a fleeting glimpse of a man walking in the vestibule toward the lunchroom.
The Lunch Room Encounter and Oswald’s Alibi
Critics of the Warren Commission’s interpretation noted that the incident not only failed to implicate Oswald in the assassination, but that two aspects of it showed that he had almost certainly not been on the sixth floor during the shooting:
- The timing of the incident shows that a gunman descending from the sixth floor could not have reached the second floor in time to meet Baker and Truly, who only had to climb one floor.
- The location of the incident shows that Oswald had entered the vestibule not, as Baker and Truly did, from the landing next to the stairway but from the offices or the hallway on the southern side of the vestibule.
The second–floor lunch room incident, if it actually happened, demonstrates that Oswald had not used the stairs from the sixth floor. His alibi was correct: he had been on the first floor, not the sixth, during the assassination.
The most comprehensive account of the incident is in Howard Roffman, Presumed Guilty, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1975, pp.201–222, from which the following analysis is taken. The book is currently out of print, but the relevant chapter can be read online at http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/PG/PGchp8.html.
Timing Marrion Baker’s Journey
On behalf of the Warren Commission, the Secret Service recreated and timed the journeys apparently taken to the second–floor lunch room by Marrion Baker and the sixth–floor gunman. There were several inaccuracies in the reconstruction of Baker’s journey:
- Baker’s reconstructed journey began from his position on Houston Street at the time of the first shot (WCHE, vol.3, p.252). Baker himself testified that his real journey, like that of the alleged gunman, had actually begun just after the final shot, when he was much closer to the TSBD (WCHE, vol.3, p.247). The official account claims that the shooting took at least five seconds, and possibly eight or more (WR, p.117). Baker’s timing needs to be reduced by this amount.
- Baker performed two reconstructions of his journey. He testified that “we walked the first time and then we kind of run the second time” into the TSBD (WCHE, vol.3, p.253). Jimmy Darnell’s news film (see Who Is Prayer Man?) shows Baker properly running to the building. Two witnesses claimed that Baker had run: Roy Truly (WCHE, vol.3, p.221) and Billy Lovelady (WCHE, vol.6, p.339). Truly pointed out that, as the Darnell film shows, the spectators did not slow Baker down (WCHE, vol.3, p.228), contrary to the speculation in the Warren Report’s account (WR, pp.152–153). The reconstruction of their journey from the main entrance to the stairs at the rear of the first floor may also have been too slow. In the reconstructions, Baker crossed the first floor “at a kind of trot … it wasn’t a real fast run” (WCHE, vol.3, p.253), but Eddie Piper emphasised their speed on the day of the assassination: “I looked up and it was the boss–man and a policeman or someone … He ran in and yelled, ‘Where is the elevator?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, sir, Mr. Truly.’ They taken off and went on up the stairway …” (WCHE, vol.6, p.385).
In the first reconstruction, Baker took 90 seconds to reach the second–floor lunch room; on the second occasion, he took 75 seconds (WCHE, vol.3, p.252). The first reconstruction, at walking pace, can be discarded, since it was obviously done at a much slower speed that the actual event. The timing of the second reconstruction needs to be reduced by at least five seconds. Baker would have arrived at the second–floor lunch room no more than 70 seconds after the final shot.
Timing the Assassin’s Journey
There were problems also with the reconstruction of the alleged assassin’s journey:
- The Secret Service agent who stood in for the assassin stated that he began his timed journey as he walked away from the south–eastern corner of the sixth floor. He failed to perform three actions which occurred before the assassin would have walked away. Firstly, the agent failed to linger at the window, as two witnesses claimed the assassin did. According to Bob Jackson, “[the rifle] was drawn fairly slowly back into the building” (WCHE, vol.2, p.159), while Howard Brennan testified that “[the gunman] drew the gun back from the window as though he was drawing it back to his side and maybe paused for another second as though to assure hisself that he hit his mark” (WCHE, vol.3, p.144). Secondly, the agent failed to operate the bolt of the rifle to eject the third empty bullet shell and to insert the next bullet, which would have taken around two seconds. Finally, he failed to take the time to squeeze himself and his rifle through the narrow gap in the boxes which formed the alleged sniper’s nest, as seen in CE 723 (WCHE, vol.17, p.504).
- When he got near the stairway in the north–western corner of the sixth floor, the agent “leaned over as if he were putting a rifle there”, in the words of David Belin (WCHE, vol.3, p.253), and, in his own words, “placed the rifle on the floor” (WCHE, vol.7, p.592). Two of the officers who had eventually discovered the rifle pointed out that the assassin, or a co–conspirator, had not just placed the rifle on the floor, but had taken the time to hide it carefully among piles of heavy boxes. Eugene Boone stated that the rifle was “stuffed down between two rows of boxes with another box or so pulled over the top of it” (WCHE, vol.3, p.293). According to Seymour Weitzman, the rifle was “covered with boxes. It was very well protected as far as the naked eye because I would venture to say eight or nine of us stumbled over that gun a couple times before we thoroughly searched the building” (WCHE, vol.7, p.107). For photographs of the boxes around the rifle, see CE 517 (WCHE, vol.17, p.226) and CE 719 (WCHE, vol.17, p.502).
The reconstruction of the sixth–floor assassin’s journey to the second–floor lunch room took 78 seconds at a “normal walk” and 74 seconds at a more reasonable “fast walk” (WCHE, vol.3, p.254). To this must be added around two seconds for operating the rifle’s bolt, perhaps the same again for lingering at the window and squeezing out of the sniper’s nest, and an undetermined but surely much longer time spent hiding the rifle. It is clear that any gunman on the sixth floor, even one who had an accomplice to hide the rifle for him, would have taken much more than 70 seconds to reach the second–floor lunch room, by which time he would already have met Marrion Baker and Roy Truly somewhere well above the second floor.
Which Door Did Oswald Use?
Not only does the timing of the encounter in the second–floor lunch room rule out Lee Oswald as the sixth–floor gunman, but Officer Baker’s final account of the incident has Oswald entering the vestibule not from the stairway to the north–west but from the offices or hallway to the south.
Baker stated that “I was just stepping out on to the second floor when I caught a glimpse of this man through this doorway” (WCHE, vol.3, p.256). Roy Truly, ahead of Baker, had left the landing and was on the stairs heading toward the third floor when Baker observed the suspect. Truly did not see anyone enter the vestibule from the stairway. If, as the official account maintained, Oswald had entered the vestibule from the stairway, he must have done so before Roy Truly had emerged from the stairs onto the second–floor landing, and then stayed in the vestibule for several seconds until he was spotted by Baker. All of Baker’s varying accounts make it clear that the man he saw had not slipped into the vestibule to hide. The man was either in the lunch room or on his way there, in order to purchase a drink.
The man’s location in the vestibule demonstrates that he must have entered from the door to the south, which led to offices and a hallway. If Oswald had entered the vestibule from the landing by the stairs, he would have followed a short line close to the northern edge of the vestibule to reach the lunch room. Unfortunately, this line would have made him invisible to Baker, who was standing at the top of the stairway leading up from the first floor. To have been seen by Baker, the suspect must have been standing further south, on a line linking the southern doorway to the lunch room. For a diagram showing Baker’s location and his line of sight, see Roffman, op.cit., p.220. Oswald’s alibi, that he had been on the first floor at the time of the assassination, is corroborated by Officer Baker’s testimony.
Did the Second–Floor Encounter Happen?
Critics of the Warren Commission’s case against Lee Oswald have generally accepted that Marrion Baker and Roy Truly did encounter Oswald inside or close to the second–floor lunch room, since the incident implies that Oswald almost certainly had not been on the sixth floor during the shooting.
‘Prayer Man’ and Lee Oswald’s Alibi
More recently, discussions about the identity of the Prayer Man figure have led many researchers to question whether the lunch room encounter actually happened. If Oswald was in fact the figure standing in the shadows near the top of the Texas School Book Depository’s front steps as Marrion Baker ran into the building, it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that he could or would have raced ahead of Baker and Truly to buy a Coke a little more than one minute after the shooting.
This racing ahead to the second–floor lunch room to buy a Coke would seem even less likely if, as the earliest report of Oswald’s alibi implies, Oswald had already bought a Coke before the assassination. There is no good reason to doubt this element of Oswald’s alibi:
- He certainly began eating his lunch before, not after, the shooting.
- On several previous occasions he had bought a drink from a vending machine to go with his lunch.
- It is consistent with Carolyn Arnold’s report of her own indirect encounter with Oswald, which most likely occurred in the second–floor lunch room at around 12:15, some fifteen minutes before the assassination.
Oswald’s visit to the second–floor lunch room during the time he was eating his lunch, before the assassination, implies that he did not need to go there again immediately after the assassination. If Oswald was indeed on the first floor during the assassination, as he claimed and as the balance of the evidence suggests, it is conceivable that no encounter involving a policeman and Oswald took place on the second floor. An alternative explanation suggests itself:
- Oswald encountered a policeman on the first floor, either as Baker ran into the building or several minutes later as Oswald was leaving the building, or perhaps on both occasions;
- and this encounter was transplanted to the second floor in later accounts as a hastily improvised attempt to negate Oswald’s alibi.
The official second–floor lunch room story was not conjured out of thin air. It is comprised of three elements which may have been taken from three real, but separate, events:
- Oswald buying a Coke in the second–floor lunch room: an event that almost certainly happened, but probably some time before it was officially supposed to have happened.
- The policeman challenging a man inside the TSBD: Marrion Baker claimed to have encountered a man, who was much stockier than Lee Oswald, on the third or fourth floor.
- The policeman questioning Oswald and being assured that Oswald worked in the building: in the minutes after the assassination, TSBD employees were asked to identify themselves on entering and leaving the building.
The various reports of Oswald being accosted while drinking a Coke, buying a Coke, sitting at a table, leaning against a counter, and finally entering the lunch room, represent the gradual refinement of the story as one option after another was found to be incompatible with the timing of the Secret Service recreations.
Questioning the Second–Floor Encounter
- The most detailed argument against the existence of the second–floor lunch room encounter was put forward by Sean Murphy, on the famous Prayer Man thread: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=20354.
- Greg Parker may have been the first researcher to systematically question the evidence for a second–floor encounter: http://reopenkennedycase.forumotion.net/t42–oswald–s–two–cop–encounters.
The current article incorporates the work of these and several other excellent researchers. Since this article was written, a very comprehensive account of the second–floor encounter has appeared at: http://www.prayer-man.com/anatomy-of-the-second-floor-lunch-room-encounter/.
Evidence Against a Second–Floor Encounter
Marrion Baker’s Affidavit
Marrion Baker’s earliest account of his actions immediately after the assassination, written by hand on the afternoon of 22 November, mentions neither Oswald nor an encounter in the second–floor lunch room:
I jumped off my motor and ran inside the Building. as I entered the door I saw several people standing around. I asked these people where the stairs were. a man stepped forward and stated he was the building mgr. and that he would show me where the stairs were. … as we reached the third or fourth floor I saw a man walking away from the stairway. I called to the man and he turned around and came back toward me. The manager said I know that man he works here. I then turned the man loose and went on up to the top floor. The man I saw was a white man approx 30 years old — 5–9–165 [5′ 9″, 165 lb.] — dk hair and wearing a lt brown jacket.
(City of Dallas Archives, JFK Collection, Box 1, Folder 6, item 13:
Even though he was unfamiliar with the building, Baker was unlikely to have mistaken the second floor, which he would have reached via an enclosed staircase, for the third floor, let alone the fourth. The man he described was substantially stockier than Lee Oswald, who weighed 131 pounds, not 165, according to his fingerprint card (CE 630 [WCHE, vol.17, p.285]).
Baker and Oswald
Baker’s failure to mention Oswald in his earliest statement is particularly significant, since Oswald was in the room with him when Baker wrote his statement, as he told the Warren Commission:
As I was in the homicide office there writing this, giving this affidavit, I got hung in one of those little small offices back there, while the Secret Service took Mr. Oswald in there and questioned him and I couldn’t get out by him while they were questioning him, and I did get to see him at that time.
Baker could be expected to have recognised Oswald in the office if he had previously confronted him as a suspect on the second floor, or indeed on the third or the fourth, but perhaps not if Baker had merely asked him for directions on the first floor.
Evidence for a First–Floor Encounter
There are several witness statements which can be interpreted to suggest that Lee Oswald did encounter a policeman on the first floor. The encounter may have been with Marrion Baker as Baker and Truly entered the building, or it may have involved another policeman as Oswald was leaving the building several minutes later. This interpretation is speculative, but it is at least as credible as some elements of the Warren Report’s flawed story of an encounter on the second floor little more than one minute after the shooting.
“Out With Bill Shelley In Front”
Captain J.W. Fritz’s handwritten notes of Oswald’s interrogations may record a claim by Oswald that he encountered a police officer while he was “out with Bill Shelley in front” of the TSBD:
claims 2nd Floor coke when
off came in
to 1st fl had lunch
out with Bill Shelley in
Sean Murphy (http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=20354&page=46) cites two examples of incongruous line breaks elsewhere in Fritz’s notes:
don’t own rifle saw
one at bldg Mr. True & 2 others
Here, Oswald is claiming that he does not own a rifle, but that he saw one in the building with Roy Truly and two other men. Truly replied to Oswald’s accusation in his Warren Commission testimony (WCHE, vol.7, pp.381–382).
Oswald A.C.L.U. member he says says
Mrs Payne was too.
In this example, Oswald says that he is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and says that Ruth Paine is too.
Murphy suggests that this:
claims 2nd Floor coke when
off came in
to 1st fl had lunch
out with Bill Shelley in
should be interpreted as:
claims 2nd Floor coke
when off came in to 1st fl had lunch out with Bill Shelley in front
In other words, Oswald is claiming that he got a Coke from the second floor, and that when the officer entered the first floor of the building Oswald was having his lunch outside, at the front of the building, and that Bill Shelley was there too. This interpretation is consistent with the earliest version of Oswald’s alibi, from the Hosty and Bookhout account of Oswald’s first interrogation.
Incidentally, Murphy makes a strong case that Fritz copied his notes from James Bookhout’s notes, which are now lost; see http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=20354&page=40#entry277440.
Harry Holmes and the First–Floor Vestibule
The postal inspector, Harry Holmes, reported that Oswald mentioned an encounter with a policeman by the main entrance as he was leaving the building. After some helpful prodding by David Belin, Holmes combined the incident on the first floor incongruously with the story of Oswald drinking a Coke in the second–floor lunch room:
- Mr Holmes :
- Then he said when all this commotion started, “I just went on downstairs.” And he didn’t say whether he took the elevator or not. He said, “I went down, and as I started to go out and see what it was all about, a police officer stopped me just before I got to the front door, and started to ask me some questions, and my superintendent of the place stepped up and told the officers that I am one of the employees of the building, so he told me to step aside for a little bit and we will get to you later. Then I just went on out in the crowd to see what it was all about.”
- Mr Belin :
- Where did this policeman stop him when he was coming down the stairs at the Book Depository on the day of the shooting?
- Mr Holmes :
- He said it was in the vestibule.
- Mr Belin :
- He said it was in the vestibule?
- Mr Holmes :
- Or approaching the door to the vestibule. He was just coming, apparently, and I have never been in there myself. Apparently there is two sets of doors, and he had come out to this front part.
- Mr Belin :
- Did he state it was on what floor?
- Mr Holmes :
- First floor. The front entrance to the first floor.
- Mr Belin :
- Did he say anything about a Coca Cola or anything like that, if you remember?
- Mr Holmes :
- Seems like he said he was drinking a Coca Cola, standing there by the Coca Cola machine drinking a Coca Cola.
There was indeed a vestibule not only on the second floor between the landing and the lunch room, but also in the lobby on the first floor between the glass doors and a swinging door. CD 496 includes a plan of the first floor and a photograph of the main entrance from inside the building.
Jesse Curry and a First–Floor Encounter
Jesse Curry, the chief of police, gave a statement to the press on the evening of the assassination which placed Oswald’s encounter at the main entrance on the first floor. The Washington Post the next day reported that
An officer rushed into the building as Oswald rushed out. The policeman permitted him to pass after the building manager told the policeman that Oswald was an employe[e].
Ochus Campbell and the First–Floor Storage Room
Two of the earliest newspaper accounts quote Ochus Campbell, the vice–president of the TSBD company, saying that Lee Oswald was seen in a storage room on the first floor shortly after the assassination.
Campbell had been standing just outside the TSBD entrance with Roy Truly and Jeraldean Reid. Truly went ahead of Campbell and Reid into the building, where he joined Marrion Baker. Campbell and Reid later went to their offices on the second floor, no doubt via the staircase close to the main entrance. In between the staircase and the entrance was a door to a small storage room, which is presumably the one referred to in the newspaper reports; see CD 496 for a photograph of the area.
One of the reports mentions that Baker accosted Oswald:
Campbell said he ran toward a grassy knoll west of the building where he thought the sniper had hidden. He said Truly and an officer ran into the building.
In a storage room on the first floor, the officer, gun drawn, spotted Oswald. “Does this man work here?” the officer reportedly asked Truly.
(Dallas Morning News, 23 November 1963)
The other report claims that Campbell and Reid noticed Oswald:
Mr. Campbell said, “Shortly after the shooting we raced back into the building. We had been outside watching the parade. We saw him [Oswald] in a small storage room on the ground floor.”
(New York Herald Tribune, 23 November 1963)
On the day after the assassination, Jeraldean Reid accompanied Roy Truly to the police station, where she gave a statement in which she claimed that she saw Oswald not on the first floor but in her office on the second floor, as he was making his way from the lunch room, holding a Coke. She implied that she was the only other person in the office at the time (CE 2003, p.54 [WCHE, vol.24, p.223]; see also WCHE, vol.3, pp.274–279). Reid’s account is contradicted, however, by that of Geneva Hine, who claimed that she was the only person in the second–floor office area during the assassination, and that she saw Reid and Campbell enter the second floor some time later, in the company of other office workers (WCHE, vol.6, pp.395–397). Neither Hine nor any of the other office workers claimed to have noticed Oswald in the office that day.
Geneva Hine had certainly been on the second floor during the shooting. Having seen President Kennedy on two earlier occasions, she had volunteered to stay behind to answer any phone calls while her colleagues, including Jeraldean Reid, went outside to watch the motorcade. Hine’s account of Reid’s movements is much more plausible than Reid’s implied account of Hine’s absence. Reid may have mistakenly and innocently recalled an earlier encounter with Oswald; she testified that he had been in the habit of coming into the office during his lunch break to ask for change for the vending machine. On the other hand, it may be significant that her statement supports the story that her superior, Roy Truly, was promoting by the time she accompanied him to the police station.
James Jarman’s Second–Hand Account
James Jarman provided further support for an encounter on the first floor between Oswald and Roy Truly and a policeman, although his account was given several years later, to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and reports the incident at second hand:
I heard that Oswald had came [sic] down through the office and came down the front stairs and he was stopped by the officer that had stopped us and sent us back in the building and Mr. Truddy [sic] told them that that was alright, that he worked here, so then, he proceeded own [sic] out the building and we wondered why he stopped us. … Oswald was coming out the door and he [Lovelady] said the police had stopped Oswald and sent him back in the building, billy love lady [sic] said that Mr. Trudy [sic] told the policeman that Oswald was alright, that he worked there, so Oswald walked on down the stairs.
(HSCA Interview, 25 September 1977; see http://www.reopenkennedycase.net/richard-gilbride-hsca-collection.html)
Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository
The current state of the evidence suggests four possible encounters involving Lee Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository shortly after the assassination:
- with Marrion Baker and Roy Truly on the first floor as they entered the building;
- with Baker and Truly at the second–floor lunch room less than a minute later;
- with Baker and Truly at the second–floor lunch room several minutes after that, as they descended after searching the upper floors;
- with another policeman and either Roy Truly or William Shelley as Oswald was leaving the building by the main entrance, an undetermined time after the assassination.
There is also Marrion Baker’s original account of accosting a man who was not Oswald, on the third or fourth floor. It is not clear which of these five encounters actually happened, although the consistency of the reports makes it very likely that at least one of them did. If Oswald is ever conclusively identified as the Prayer Man figure, of course, the question of exactly where he bumped into a police officer will become a trivial detail.
Where Is Oswald’s Alibi?
Although it is clear that Oswald claimed to have been somewhere on the first floor during the assassination, none of the surviving accounts of his interrogations tells us exactly where he claimed to have been and exactly what he claimed to have been doing. It is not credible that the person accused of perhaps the most momentous crime ever committed in Dallas was not asked by the police to give a detailed description of his whereabouts at the precise time of the incident.
The Dallas police in 1963 recognised the danger posed by the existence of accurate records of their suspects’ interrogation, and routinely took the precaution of providing neither a tape recorder nor a shorthand secretary. Oswald’s interviews were attended not just by police officers but also by note–taking FBI and Secret Service agents, who surely recorded his alibi in more detail than the surviving documents show. Their contemporaneous, handwritten notes were no doubt destroyed long ago, perhaps as part of normal procedure once fuller, typed reports had been prepared. The Warren Report’s Appendix XI includes only “the most important of these reports” (WR, p.598). It is possible that unpublished, typed reports, containing new information about Oswald’s replies to his questioning, may still exist.
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