Assassination of John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC) on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot by a sniper while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally`s wife Nellie, in a presidential motorcade. A ten-month investigation in 196364 by the Warren Commission concluded that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald before he could stand trial. Although the Commission`s conclusions were initially supported by a majority of the American public, polls conducted between 1966 and 2003 found that as many as 80 percent of Americans have suspected that there was a plot or cover-up. A 1998 CBS News poll showed that 76% of Americans believed the President had been killed as the result of a conspiracy. A 2013 AP poll showed, that although the percentage had fallen, more than 59% of those polled still believed that more than one person was involved in the President`s murder.
In contrast to the conclusions of the Warren Commission, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The HSCA found the original FBI investigation and the Warren Commission Report to be seriously flawed. While agreeing with the Commission that Oswald fired all the shots which caused the wounds to Kennedy and Connally, the HSCA stated that there were at least four shots fired (only three of which could be linked to Oswald) and that there was "...a high probability that two gunmen fired at [the] President." The HSCA did not identify any other person or group involved in the assassination besides Oswald, but they did specifically say the CIA, the Soviet Union, organized crime, and several other groups were not involved, although they could not rule out the involvement of individual members of those groups. Kennedy`s assassination is still the subject of widespread debate and has spawned numerous conspiracy theories and alternative scenarios.
Route to Dealey Plaza
President Kennedy`s motorcade route through Dallas was planned to give him maximum exposure to Dallas crowds before his arrival, along with Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally, at a luncheon with civic and business leaders in that city. The White House staff informed the Secret Service that the President would arrive in Dallas via a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to Dallas Love Field airport. The Dallas Trade Mart had been preliminarily selected for the luncheon and the final decision of the Trade Mart as the end of the motorcade journey was selected by President Kennedy`s friend and appointments secretary Kenneth O`Donnell. Leaving from Dallas` Love Field, 45 minutes had been allotted for the motorcade to reach the Dallas Trade Mart at a planned arrival time of 12:15 p.m. The actual route was chosen to be a meandering 10-mile route from Love Field to the Trade Mart which could be driven slowly in the allotted time.
Special Agent Winston G. Lawson, a member of the White House detail who acted as the advance Secret Service Agent, and Secret Service Agent Forrest V. Sorrels, Special Agent In Charge of the Dallas office, were most active in planning the actual route. On November 14, Lawson and Sorrels attended a meeting at Love Field and drove over the route which Sorrels believed best suited for the motorcade. From Love Field, the route passed through a portion of suburban Dallas, through the downtown area along Main Street, and finally to the Trade Mart via a short segment of the Stemmons Freeway. For the President`s return to Love Field, from which he planned to depart for a fund-raising dinner in Austin later in the day, the agents selected a more direct route, which was approximately 4 miles (some of this route would be used after the assassination). The planned route to the Trade Mart was widely reported in Dallas newspapers several days before the event, for the benefit of people who wished to view the motorcade.
To pass through downtown Dallas, a route west along Dallas` Main Street, rather than Elm Street (one block to the north) was chosen, because this was the traditional parade route, and provided the maximal building and crowd views. The Main Street route precluded a direct turn onto the Fort Worth Turnpike exit (which served also as the Stemmons Freeway exit), which was the route to the Trade Mart, because this exit was accessible only from Elm Street. The planned motorcade route thus included a short one-block turn at the end of the downtown segment of Main Street, onto Houston Street for one block northward, before turning again west onto Elm, in order to proceed through Dealey Plaza before exiting Elm onto the Stemmons Freeway. The Texas School Book Depository was situated at this corner of Houston and Elm.
Three vehicles were used for secret service and police protection in the Dallas motorcade. The first car, an unmarked white Ford (hardtop), consisted of Dallas police chief Jesse Curry, secret service agent Win Lawson, Sheriff Bill Decker and Dallas field agent Forrest Sorrels. The second car, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, consisted of driver agent Bill Greer, SAIC Roy Kellerman, governor John Connally, Nellie Connally, President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. The third car, a 1955 Cadillac convertible code-named "Halfback," contained driver agent Sam Kinney, ATSAIC Emory Roberts, presidential aides Ken O`Donnell and Dave Powers, driver agent George Hickey and PRS agent Glen Bennett. Secret service agents Clint Hill, Jack Ready, Tim McIntyre and Paul Landis rode on the running boards. There was an AR-15 rifle in the third vehicle.
On November 22, after a breakfast speech in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy had stayed overnight after arriving from San Antonio, Houston and Washington, D.C. the previous day, the president boarded Air Force One, which departed at 11:10 and arrived at Love Field 15 minutes later. At about 11:40, the presidential motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, which was running on a schedule about 10 minutes longer than the planned 45 minutes, due to enthusiastic crowds estimated at 150,000200,000 persons, and two unplanned stops directed by the president. By the time the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza they were only 5 minutes away from their planned destination.
Shooting in Dealey Plaza
At 12:29 p.m. CST, as President Kennedy`s uncovered limousine entered Dealey Plaza, Nellie Connally, then the First Lady of Texas, turned around to President Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and commented, "Mr. President, you can`t say Dallas doesn`t love you," which President Kennedy acknowledged.
From Houston Street, the presidential limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm Street, allowing it access to the Stemmons Freeway exit. As it turned on Elm, the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository. Shots were fired at President Kennedy as they continued down Elm Street. A clear majority of witnesses recalled hearing three shots. A minority of the witnesses did recognize the first gunshot blast they heard as a weapon blast, but there was hardly any reaction to the first shot from a majority of the people in the crowd or those riding in the motorcade itself. Many later said they heard what they first thought to be a firecracker or the exhaust backfire of a vehicle just after the President started waving.
Within one second of each other, President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and Mrs. Kennedy, all turned abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, between Zapruder film frames 155 and 169. Connally, a World War II military veteran like the President (and unlike the President, a longtime hunter), testified he immediately recognized the sound of a high-powered rifle, then he turned his head and torso rightward attempting to see President Kennedy behind him. Governor Connally testified he could not see the President, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right to his left). Connally testified that when his head was facing about 20 degrees left of center, he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet, fired in a gunshot from which Connally testified he did not hear the muzzle blast. When Governor Connally testified to this, the doctor who operated on him measured his head facing direction at 27 degrees left of center. After Connally was hit he then shouted, "Oh, no, no, no. My God. They`re going to kill us all!"
Mrs. Connally testified that just after hearing a first loud, frightening noise that came from somewhere behind her and to her right, she immediately turned towards President Kennedy and saw him with his arms and elbows already raised high, with his hands in front of his face and throat. She then heard another gunshot and John Connally started yelling. Mrs. Connally then turned away from President Kennedy towards her husband, then another gunshot sounded and she and the limousine`s rear interior were now covered with fragments of skull, blood, and brain matter.
According to the Warren Commission, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as President Kennedy waved to the crowds on his right with his right arm upraised on the side of the limo, a shot entered his upper back, penetrated his neck, slightly damaged a spinal vertebra and the top of his right lung, exited his throat nearly centerline just beneath his larynx, then nicked the left side of his suit tie knot. He then raised his elbows and clenched his fists in front of his face and neck, then leaned forward and towards his left. Mrs. Kennedy (already facing him) then put her arms around him in concern. Governor Connally also reacted after the same bullet penetrated his back just below his right armpit, creating an oval entry wound, impacted and destroyed four inches of his right fifth rib bone, exited his chest just below his right nipple creating a two-and-a-half inch oval sucking-air chest wound, then entered just above his right wrist, impacted and cleanly shattered his right radius bone into eight pieces, exited just below the wrist at the inner side of his right palm, and entered his left inner thigh. The Warren Commission theorized that the "single bullet" (see single bullet theory) struck sometime between Zapruder frames 210 to 225, while the House Select Committee theorized it occurred exactly at Zapruder frame 190.
According to the Warren Commission, a second shot struck the President at Zapruder film frame 313 (the Commission made no conclusion as to whether this was the second or third bullet fired) when the presidential limousine was passing in front of the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure (the House Select Committee concluded that a fourth shot was fired at almost the same time as this shot from a separate sniper, they concluded that this shot missed). Each group concluded that this shot entered the rear of President Kennedy`s head (the House Select Committee determined the entry wound to be four inches higher than the Warren Commission), then exploded out a roughly oval-shaped hole from his head`s rear and right side. Head matter, brain, blood, and skull fragments, originating from Kennedy, covered the interior of the car, the inner and outer surfaces of the front glass windshield and raised sun visors, the front engine hood, the rear trunk lid, the followup Secret Service car and its driver`s left arm, and motorcycle officers riding on both sides of the President behind him. Mrs. Kennedy then reached out onto the rear trunk lid. After she crawled back into her limousine seat, both Governor Connally and Mrs. Connally heard her say more than once, "They have killed my husband," and "I have his brains in my hand." In a long- redacted interview for LIFE magazine days later, Mrs. Kennedy herself recalled "All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him saying, `Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.` I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the..." The President`s widow could not finish her sentence.
United States Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill was riding on the left front running board of the followup car, immediately behind the Presidential limousine. Hill testified he heard one shot, then, as documented in other films and concurrent with Zapruder frame 308, he jumped off into Elm Street and ran forward to try to get on the limousine and protect the President. (Hill testified to the Warren Commission that after he jumped into Elm Street, he heard two more shots.) After the President had been shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began to climb out onto the back of the limousine, though she later had no recollection of doing so. Hill believed she was reaching for something, perhaps a piece of the President`s skull. He jumped onto the back of the limousine while at the same time Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat, and he clung to the car as it exited Dealey Plaza and accelerated, speeding to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Governor Connally, riding in the same limousine in a seat in front of the President and three inches more to the left than the President, was also critically injured but survived. Doctors later stated that after the Governor was shot, his wife pulled him onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound (which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung).
James Tague, a spectator and witness to the assassination, also received a minor wound to his right cheek while standing 531 feet (162 m) away from the Depository`s sixth floor, easternmost window, 270 feet (82 m) in front of and slightly to the right of President Kennedy`s head facing direction, and more than 16 feet (4.9 m) below the top of the President`s head. Tague`s injury occurred when a bullet or bullet fragment with no copper casing struck the nearby Main Street south curb. When Tague testified to the Warren Commission and was asked which of the three shots he remembered hearing struck him, he stated it was the second or third shot. When the Warren Commission attorney pressed him further, Tague stated he was struck concurrent with the second shot.
Aftermath in Dealey Plaza
The presidential limousine was passing a grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street at the moment of the fatal head shot. As the motorcade left the plaza, police officers and spectators ran up the knoll and from a railroad bridge over Elm Street (the triple underpass), to the area behind a five-foot (1.5 m) high stockade fence atop the knoll, separating it from a parking lot. No sniper was found. S. M. Holland, who had been watching the motorcade on the triple underpass, testified that "immediately" after the shots were fired, he went around the corner where the overpass joined the fence, but did not see anyone running from the area.
Lee Bowers, a railroad switchman sitting in a two-story tower, had an unobstructed view of the rear of the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll during the shooting. He saw a total of four men in the area between his tower and Elm Street: a middle-aged man and a younger man, standing 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) apart near the triple underpass, who did not seem to know each other, and one or two uniformed parking lot attendants. At the time of the shooting, he saw "something out of the ordinary, a sort of milling around," which he could not identify. Bowers testified that one or both of the men were still there when motorcycle officer Clyde Haygood ran up the grassy knoll to the back of the fence. In a 1966 interview, Bowers clarified that the two men he saw were standing in the opening between the pergola and the fence, and that "no one" was behind the fence at the time the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who was sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, notified police that as he watched the motorcade go by, he heard a shot come from above, and looked up to see a man with a rifle make another shot from a corner window on the sixth floor. He said he had seen the same man minutes earlier looking out the window. Brennan gave a description of the shooter, which was broadcast to all Dallas police at 12:45 p.m., 12:48 p.m., and 12:55 p.m. After the second shot was fired, Brennan recalled, "This man I saw previous was aiming for his last shot ... and maybe paused for another second as though to assure himself that he had hit his mark."
As Brennan spoke to the police in front of the building, they were joined by Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr., two employees of the Texas School Book Depository who had watched the motorcade from windows at the southeast corner of the fifth floor. Norman reported that he heard three gunshots come from directly over their heads. Norman also heard the sounds of a bolt action rifle and cartridges dropping on the floor above them.
Estimates of when Dallas police sealed off the entrances to the Texas School Book Depository range from 12:33 to after 12:50 p.m.
Of the 104 earwitnesses in Dealey Plaza who are on record with an opinion as to the direction from which the shots came, 54 (51.9%) thought that all shots came from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository, 33 (31.7%) thought that all shots came from the area of the grassy knoll or the triple underpass, 9 (8.7%) thought all shots came from a location entirely distinct from the knoll or the Depository, 5 (4.8%) thought they heard shots from two locations, and 3 (2.9%) thought the shots came from a direction consistent with both the knoll and the Depository.
Additionally, the Warren Commission said of the three shots they concluded were fired that "a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald, reported missing to the Dallas police by Roy Truly, his supervisor at the Depository, was arrested approximately 70 minutes after the assassination for the murder of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. According to witness Helen Markam, Tippit had spotted Oswald walking along a sidewalk in the residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff, three miles from Dealey Plaza. Officer Tippit had earlier received a radio message which gave a description of the suspect being sought in the assassination and called Oswald over to the patrol car. Helen Markam testified that after an exchange of words, Tippit got out of his car and Oswald shot him four times. Oswald was next seen by shoe store manager Johnny Brewer "ducking into" the entrance alcove of his store. Suspicious of this activity, Brewer watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the nearby Texas Theatre without paying. Brewer alerted the theater`s ticket clerk, who telephoned police at about 1:40 p.m.
According to one of the arresting officers, M.N. McDonald, Oswald resisted arrest and was attempting to draw his pistol when he was struck and forcibly restrained by the police. He was charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Officer Tippit later that night. Oswald denied shooting anyone and claimed he was a patsy who was arrested because he had lived in the Soviet Union. Oswald`s case never came to trial because two days later, while being escorted to a car for transfer from Dallas Police Headquarters to the Dallas County Jail, he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, live on American television. Arrested immediately after the shooting, Ruby later said that he had been distraught over the Kennedy assassination and that killing Oswald would spare "...Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial.
Authorities first declared that they found a German Mauser rifle, according to British philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his "Sixteen Questions" essay about the JFK Assassination. A 6.5 × 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone soon after the assassination of President Kennedy. The recovery was filmed by Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV. This footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano, and it was later verified by photographic analysis commissioned by the HSCA that the rifle filmed was the same one later identified as the assassination weapon. Compared to photographs taken of Oswald holding the rifle in his backyard, "one notch in the stock at [a] point that appears very faintly in the photograph" matched, as well as the rifle`s dimensions.
The previous March, the Carcano rifle had been bought by Oswald under the name "A. Hidell" and delivered to a post-office box Oswald rented in Dallas. According to the Warren Commission Report, a partial palm print of Oswald was also found on the barrel of the gun, and a tuft of fibers found in a crevice of the rifle was consistent with the fibers and colors of the shirt Oswald was wearing at the time of his arrest.
A bullet found on Governor Connally`s hospital gurney, and two bullet fragments found in the Presidential limousine, were ballistically matched to this rifle.
President Kennedy declared dead in the emergency room
he staff at Parkland Hospital`s Trauma Room 1 who treated President Kennedy observed that his condition was "moribund" (a mortal wound), meaning that he had no chance of survival upon arriving at the hospital. Dr. George Burkley, the President`s personal physician, stated that a gunshot wound to the skull was the cause of death. Dr. Burkley signed President Kennedy`s death certificate.
At 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC), after all heart activity had ceased and after Father Oscar Huber had administered the last rites, the President was pronounced dead. "We never had any hope of saving his life," one doctor said. Father Huber told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President`s face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. President Kennedy`s death was officially announced by White House Acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff at 1:33 p.m. CST (19:33 UTC). Kilduff was acting press secretary on the trip because Pierre Salinger was traveling to Japan with half the Cabinet, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was taken to emergency surgery, where he underwent two operations that day.
By Texas law, the President`s body could not legally be removed from the hospital before an autopsy had been performed. This caused a brief scuffle between Dallas officials and members of the President`s security detail. The impasse ended when Secret Service agents put the officials against the wall at gunpoint. A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. CST (20:00 UTC), President Kennedy`s body was taken from Parkland Hospital and driven to Air Force One. The casket was then loaded aboard the airplane through the rear door, where it remained at the rear of the passenger compartment, in place of a removed row of seats. The body was removed before a forensic examination could be conducted by the Dallas County Coroner Earl Rose, who had jurisdiction. At that time, it was not a federal offense to kill the President of the United States, although it was a federal crime to conspire to injure a federal officer while he was acting in the line of duty. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who became President upon President Kennedy`s death, and had been riding two cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, refused to leave for Washington without President Kennedy and his widow.
At 2:38 p.m. CST (20:38 UTC), Vice-President Johnson took the oath of office on board Air Force One just before it departed from Love Field, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side.
The autopsy was performed, beginning at about 8 p.m. and ending at about midnight EST at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The choice of autopsy hospital in the Washington, D.C. area was made at the request of Mrs. Kennedy, on the basis that John F. Kennedy had been a naval officer.
The state funeral took place in Washington, DC during the three days that followed the assassination.
The body of President Kennedy was brought back to Washington, D.C. and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew`s Cathedral, the late President was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Recordings of the assassination
No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live because the area through which the motorcade was traveling was not considered important enough for a live broadcast. Most media crews were not even with the motorcade but were waiting instead at the Dallas Trade Mart in anticipation of President Kennedy`s arrival. Those members of the media who were with the motorcade were riding at the rear of the procession.
The Dallas police were recording their radio transmissions over two channels. A frequency designated as Channel One was used for routine police communications. A second channel, designated Channel Two, was an auxiliary channel, which was dedicated to the President`s motorcade. Up until the time of the assassination, most of the broadcasts on this channel consisted of Police Chief Jesse Curry`s announcements of the location of the motorcade as it wound through the streets of Dallas.
President Kennedy`s last seconds traveling through Dealey Plaza were recorded on silent 8 mm film for the 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination. This famous film footage was taken by garment manufacturer and amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, in what became known as the Zapruder film. Frame enlargements from the Zapruder film were published by Life magazine shortly after the assassination. The footage was first shown publicly as a film at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, and on television in 1975. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, an arbitration panel ordered the U.S. government to pay $615,384 per second of film to Zapruder`s heirs for giving the film to the National Archives. The complete film, which lasts for 26 seconds, was valued at $16 million.
Zapruder was not the only person who photographed at least part of the assassination; a total of 32 photographers were in Dealey Plaza. Amateur movies taken by Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore (shown on television in New York on November 26, 1963), and photographer Charles Bronson captured the fatal shot, although at a greater distance than Zapruder. Other motion picture films were taken in Dealey Plaza at or around the time of the shooting by Robert Hughes, F. Mark Bell, Elsie Dorman, John Martin Jr., Patsy Paschall, Tina Towner, James Underwood, Dave Wiegman, Mal Couch, Thomas Atkins, and an unknown woman in a blue dress on the south side of Elm Street. Still photos were taken by Phillip Willis, Mary Moorman, Hugh W. Betzner Jr., Wilma Bond, Robert Croft, and many others. The lone professional photographer in Dealey Plaza who was not in the press cars was Ike Altgens, photo editor for the Associated Press in Dallas.
An unidentified woman, nicknamed the Babushka Lady by researchers, might have been filming the Presidential motorcade during the assassination. She was seen apparently doing so on film and in photographs taken by the others.
Previously unknown color footage filmed on the assassination day by George Jefferies was released on February 19, 2007 by the Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas. The film does not include depiction of the actual shooting, having been taken roughly 90 seconds beforehand and a couple of blocks away. The only detail relevant to the investigation of the assassination is a clear view of President Kennedy`s bunched suit jacket, just below the collar, which has led to different calculations about how low in the back President Kennedy was first shot.
Approx 3.4 kg (7.5 lb.)
Approx 1015 mm (3 ft 4 in)
Approx 540mm (21.3 in)