Was Oswald on the TSBD Front Steps?
The first published photograph of the JFK assassination shows the presidential limousine from the front, with President Kennedy visible through the windscreen reacting to his throat wound. In the background, part of the Texas School Book Depository can be seen. Among the spectators in the doorway of the building, just above and to the right of President Kennedy, is a man who looks remarkably like Lee Harvey Oswald.
James W. Altgens’s Photograph Number 6
The photograph in question was the fifth of seven taken at the time of the assassination by James “Ike” Altgens, an Associated Press photographer. It is normally identified as Altgens no.6, after the pre–existing number under the image on the negative. Several versions of the photograph can be found at http://www.jfkassassinationgallery.com/thumbnails.php?album=2.
The positions of the cars in the road, and the posture of the individuals within the cars, show that the photograph was taken at a point approximating to frame 255 of the Zapruder film, about three seconds before President Kennedy was hit in the head. According to the Warren Commission’s case against Oswald, the only official suspect in the murder was elsewhere at this instant: 60 feet (18 metres) almost directly above the man in the photograph, aiming a rifle from the south–eastern window of the sixth floor of the TSBD.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s Whereabouts
One eye–witness, Carolyn Arnold, saw Oswald a few minutes before the assassination on either the first or second floor of the TSBD. Two other witnesses encountered him about one and a half minutes after the assassination on the second floor. There is, however, no definitive evidence for Oswald’s location during the few seconds of the shooting itself.
Despite interrogating the suspect for many hours, Oswald’s interviewers recorded no detailed information about where he claimed to have been at the time of the assassination. According to the least vague account, Oswald stated that “he was having his lunch about that time on the first floor”, presumably in the ‘domino room’ at the north–eastern corner of the building; for details, see Lee Harvey Oswald’s Alibi. If Oswald’s recorded alibi is truthful, it leaves open the possibility that he may have walked the short distance to the front steps to see the motorcade.
The Man in the Photograph Was Billy Lovelady
The FBI quickly became aware that the photograph appeared to contradict the official verdict. Three days after the assassination, the Bureau spoke to Roy Truly, the superintendant of the TSBD, who pointed out that the man in the photograph looked like Billy Nolan Lovelady, a colleague of Lee Oswald’s. Several other employees of the TSBD confirmed that Lovelady had been on the steps during or immediately before the assassination:
- William Shelley, Oswald’s manager: “as the Presidential Motorcade passed I was standing just outside the glass doors of the entrance … Billy N. Lovelady … was seated on the entrance steps just in front of me” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.22, p.673 [Commission Exhibit 1381, p.84]); “several people were out there waiting to watch the motorcade and I went to join them … Billy Lovelady joined us shortly afterwards … just outside the glass doors there” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, p.328).
- Sarah Stanton: “I was standing on the front steps of the Texas School Book Depository with Mr. William Shelley … and Billy Lovelady” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.22, p.675 [Commission Exhibit 1381, p.89]).
- Billy Lovelady himself: “I happened to look on the outside and Mr. Shelley was standing outside with Miss Sarah Stanton, I believe her name is, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll go out there and talk with them, sit down and eat my lunch out there, set on the steps,’ so I went out there” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, p.338).
- Buell Wesley Frazier: “I was standing on the steps there … I stayed around there pretty close to Mr. Shelley and this boy Billy Lovelady” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.2, p.233).
- Harold Norman: “Billy Lovelady … was sitting on the steps there” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.189).
- James Jarman: Lovelady was “standing on the stairway as you go out the front door” (ibid., p.202).
- Danny Garcia Arce stated that he went outside with Lovelady and Shelley: “I was standing in front of the Texas School Book Depository. I was on that grassy area part in front. … The other guys … were all in front of the building” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, pp.365f). He identified Lovelady as the man in the photograph (ibid., p.367).
- Virginia Rackley, who had become Mrs Donald Baker by the time of her Warren Commission deposition, pointed out Billy Lovelady on Commission Exhibit 203, a copy of Altgens’s photograph (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.7, p.515).
No–one claimed to have seen Oswald on the steps. The matter appeared to be settled: Billy Lovelady was the man in the photograph.
Doubts About the Evidence
Critics of the Warren Commission pointed out that the evidence collected by the FBI was not definitive, and that the Commission’s account of the issue was superficial. Most of the criticisms, however, were weak:
- Shelley and Norman claimed that Lovelady had been sitting on the steps, but the man in the photograph is standing. No doubt Lovelady sat on the steps to eat his lunch, and then stood up to watch the motorcade, as anyone surely must have done to see past the crowd in front of the TSBD.
- Although the facial features and hairline of the man in the photograph were consistent with both Oswald and Lovelady, the small size of the figure left ample room for ambiguity. The figure is less than half a millimetre wide on Altgens’s negative, and occupies one per cent of the width of the frame.
- Frazier (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.2, p.242) and Lovelady (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, p.338) were each asked to mark Commission Exhibit 369, a copy of the photograph, with an arrow to indicate their positions, but the exhibit contains only one arrow.
- Altgens’s photograph and other images and testimony suggest that there were at least ten people standing on or immediately in front of the steps during the assassination. Only three of them, Lovelady, Shelley and Frazier, were questioned by the Warren Commission about the identity of the man in the photograph.
- The Commission dealt with the matter very briefly: Warren Report, pp.147–9 and p.644.
- The Commission published only poor quality versions of Altgens’s photograph (e.g. Commission Exhibit 900), and failed to publish comparison photographs of Oswald and Lovelady.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s Shirt
One of the early critics, Harold Weisberg, questioned the FBI’s identification on other grounds. He pointed out that certain features of the shirt in the photograph matched the shirt Oswald was wearing when he was arrested: both shirts were torn, the top two or three buttons were undone, and other buttons were missing; see Harold Weisberg, Whitewash II, self–published, 1966, p.250. For the distinguishing features of Oswald’s shirt, see Warren Commission Hearings, vol.21, pp.467–70.
Against Weisberg, it was pointed out Oswald’s shirt had a different pattern to the shirt in Altgens’s black–and–white photograph, which has a noticeable check pattern: medium–toned squares surrounded by distinct light and dark horizontal and vertical stripes. Oswald’s shirt did not have a check pattern, but was a solid mid–brown with thin horizontal and vertical gold flecks.
The question is complicated by the fact that Oswald may have changed his shirt between the assassination and his arrest; see Warren Report, p.622 and Handwritten notes of Captain J.W. Fritz’s interview of Oswald, p.7. Even if Oswald had changed his shirt, his original shirt would have been similar to the shirt he was wearing when arrested. Two witnesses mention a brown colour but no pattern (Linnie Mae Randle: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.2, p.250; Marrion Baker: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.257).
Billy Lovelady’s Shirt
Was Lovelady Wearing a Striped Shirt?
The matter was further confused by Lovelady himself. The FBI required a photographic record of Lovelady, and asked him to wear the shirt he had worn on the day of the assassination. Lovelady selected a shirt with short sleeves and wide vertical stripes (Warren Commission Document 457, addendum p.2), rather than long sleeves and a check pattern like the shirt in Altgens’s photograph. According to a journalist who had interviewed him, “Lovelady also said that on November 22 he was wearing a red–and–white striped sport shirt buttoned near the neck” (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.22, p.793f).
Or Was Lovelady Wearing a Check Shirt?
When Lovelady was informed of the discrepancy, he claimed that he had told the FBI that the short–sleeved shirt with the wide vertical stripes was not the shirt he had worn on 22 November 1963, and that the actual shirt had long sleeves and a check pattern. He told CBS News: “Well, when the FBI took me in the shirt, I told them it wasn’t the same shirt” (quoted in Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro–Study of the Kennedy Assassination, Bernard Geis Associates, 1967, p.227).
Lovelady’s Shirt Recorded on Film
Two films resolved the question of which shirt Billy Lovelady was wearing on the day of the assassination.
The Home Movie
A home movie, shot in colour by John Martin, was rediscovered in the 1970s. The film shows a crowd of people outside the main entrance of the TSBD a few minutes after the assassination. One of the people is unmistakeably Billy Lovelady. He is wearing a long–sleeved check shirt with red squares and white and blue horizontal and vertical stripes. The colour film matched Altgens’s black–and–white photograph. Billy Lovelady was clearly the man in the photograph.
One trivial inconsistency remained. In Altgens’s photograph, the top few buttons of Lovelady’s shirt are undone. In most of the published still frames from Martin’s film, taken just a few minutes later and showing Lovelady in profile, the shirt appears to be buttoned up almost to the collar. A viewing of the full film, however, shows that his check shirt was in fact open as Lovelady turned briefly to his left, revealing the white T–shirt that is visible in James Altgens’s photograph.
The News Film
Another previously unknown film, taken by a television news cameraman a few minutes after 2pm, showed Billy Lovelady in the police station just as the recently arrested Lee Oswald was led past him. This black–and–white film clearly shows that Lovelady was wearing a long–sleeved check shirt with the top few buttons undone, and a white T–shirt underneath. A still frame can be seen here: http://img580.imageshack.us/img580/7896/loveladydpd01.jpg.
Photographic evidence proves definitively that at the time of the JFK assassination Billy Lovelady was wearing a long–sleeved check shirt open at the neck, over a white T–shirt. To almost all observers, that shirt matched the one worn by the figure in James Altgens’s photograph.
It is now generally agreed that the man on the front steps of the TSBD was Billy Nolan Lovelady, not Lee Harvey Oswald.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations analysed the two men’s facial features and shirts, and included in its report a photograph of Lovelady in his check shirt; see HSCA Report, appendix vol.6, pp.286–293.
For a good reproduction of Altgens’s image, and for photographs of Oswald’s and Lovelady’s shirts, see Robert Groden, The Killing of a President, Viking Penguin, 1993, pp.186f.
For an online comparison of the figure in the photograph and Lovelady, see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKlovelady.htm.
For a recent version of Weisberg’s argument that the man in the doorway was in fact Oswald, see David Wrone, The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination, University Press of Kansas, 2003, pp.174–180.
For an account of James Altgens’s experiences in Dealey Plaza, and a clear reproduction of his famous photograph, see Richard Trask, Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the Assassination of President Kennedy, Yeoman Press, 1994, pp.307–324.