Interview: Gerald Posner
November 19, 2013, 5:21 pm ET
A former litigator, Posner is a fulltime investigative writer. Among his nine books is the bestseller, Case Closed (1993), which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In this interview, Posner talks about the forensic evidence over the years that points to Oswald as the lone assassin and the lack of credible evidence to support the various conspiracy theories. Posner also discusses the actions, motivations and mob connections of Jack Ruby, who murdered Oswald.
This interview was conducted in 1993 in conjunction with the original broadcast of FRONTLINE’s Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? The only section of it which has been updated is Mr. Posner’s response to the question concerning possible ties between Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie. This part of the interview was conducted in conjunction with the November 2003 updated rebroadcast of the film.
Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?
He was an extremely disturbed sociopath — a man whose life was careening out of control, who had never had any success at almost anything that he had done, who felt at the end of his life that he had no option but to break out of it with a dramatic act. The only thing he was successful at in the 24 years he was here was, unfortunately, the assassination of President Kennedy.
Did Oswald hate Kennedy? How can we explain the assassination?
Lee Harvey Oswald did not hate President Kennedy. What he did hate was the system and what Kennedy stood for. He despised America. He despised capitalism. When he eventually had the opportunity to strike against Kennedy, it was that symbol of the system that he was going after.
Let’s get right to the bottom line on this. How many shots were fired, how many hit the motorcade, and is there any evidence of another rifle?
Three shots were fired, all from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. The first missed. The second hit its target, both Kennedy and Connally. The third hit just Kennedy in a fatal shot. There is no physical evidence at Dealey Plaza of another bullet or another gun ever being used that day. …
All four government investigations came to the same conclusion — that there were only two shots that struck President Kennedy, both from the rear — the Warren Commission in the 1960s; in 1968, the Clark Panel set by Attorney General Ramsey Clark; in the 1970s, the Rockefeller Commission; and finally in the late 1970s, the House Select Committee, with the largest forensics panel re-examining the evidence.
With all the years of writings and movies about the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination, what’s happened to our understanding of Lee Harvey Oswald?
Increasingly, in the last 30 years, Oswald has become a footnote to the story. He is lost under a deluge of details about trajectory angles and ballistics and forensics and possible plotters. But we have no understanding of his real character and what motivates him in these small sterile presentations of him.
In your book, you use a moment when the Dallas police confront him, after the assassination, about his two identification cards as a metaphor for where we still are in this case. Can you describe that incident when Gus Rose walks in there and what meaning you derive from that?
Lee Harvey Oswald had just been taken to the Dallas police jail after being arrested for having killed Officer Tippit. Gus Rose, a Dallas detective, walks in with his billfold and two pieces of identification and says, “One says Alek Hidell, one says Lee Harvey Oswald. Which one are you?” Oswald looks at him with a smirk that crosses his face and says, “You figure it out.”
In a broader sense, that’s the challenge Oswald has posed to all of us, to unmask the enigma and to find out who he really was.
Will you explain what your instincts are concerning the moment when Lee supposedly discovers the presidential motorcade route in Dallas?
I think it’s hard to overestimate the impact for Oswald of reading in a newspaper that the president’s motorcade would pass directly in front of his place of employment. Here is a man whose contribution to his revolutionary politics was going to be the death of an American army general, Edwin Walker, and suddenly he’s faced with a whole different possibility.
He hates Russia. He hates the United States. He’s unsatisfied in both lives. He has a terrible marriage with Marina. The FBI is hounding him. He’s just been rejected by the Cubans. He’s been pushed down by all those people that know him over his life. He’s always thought he was better and smarter than the rest, and finally on a silver platter, history presents itself. He has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand up and to say to all those who had rejected him in the past and had abused him that he was somebody special. And he took advantage of it.
Describe Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting ability.
Just three weeks after joining the Marines, he’s trained in the use of an M-l rifle. He shoots on a rifle range [a score of] 212, which means he qualified for the second-highest position in the Marine Corps, that of a sharpshooter.
Near the end of his stay in the Marines in 1959, after being court-martialed twice and his morale was low, he went back to re-qualify himself in the range — still shot a 191, and still qualified as a marksman. That meant that he could hit a 10-inch target eight times out of ten from 200 yards away.
As time goes by with him in the Marines, a kind of deterioration takes place. Can you describe that?
Oswald entered the Marines with such high hopes, but it quickly unravels for him. Just a year after entering, he wounds himself with a pistol that he’s not suppose to have, and as a result, he’s court-martialed. Then he’s put on KP duty for a very long stint. He’s very dissatisfied with it.
Eventually, he attacks the sergeant that be believes is responsible for his long KP service in a bar and challenges him to a fight. Then he’s court-martialed a second time. This time, he’s put into the brig, and this has an effect on him. The brig is very hard, and when he comes out, he’s now an embittered person. He has failed at yet another thing in life. He’s failed at the Marines. Now he hates the Corps and he hates the government behind it.
What do we know about Oswald’s planning for his defection to Russia?
There is evidence of Oswald planning to defect to Russia for quite a considerable time before he leaves the Marines. He’s saving up his money. He makes an application for a passport near the end of his service. He applies to travel to a university in Finland, because it gives him an excuse to go up to Helsinki, where he will apply for a Soviet visa.
He’s been in contact with Japanese communists. … He’s talking to fellow Marines about doing something famous. He applies for a passport. He fills in applications for his travel and early exit from the Marines. Eventually he heads over to Helsinki, where he obtains a visa to the Soviet Union.
I believe that much of his travel plans were actually aided by Japanese communists, who he was in discussions with, and who gave him the best advice on how to get to Russia as smoothly as possible.
Did Oswald have enough money to go to the Soviet Union? How did he attempt to leave in December?
Oswald had more than enough money to travel to the Soviet Union. His fellow colleagues in the Marines remember him as extremely frugal. He told a reporter in Moscow that he had saved some $1,500, nearly 75 percent of his Marine salary over a two-year period.
What about the question of the visa and how quickly he got one to travel to Russia?
The KGB agent responsible for issuing tourist visas told me that, in a station like Helsinki, where there was very little tourist traffic, the average for issuing visas to the Soviet Union would be about two days — exactly the period that Oswald had to wait.
Oswald’s planning for the Walker shooting in 1963 — could you describe what we know about his plans and political statements?
Oswald had an entire book of operations for his Walker action, including photographs of Walker’s house, photographs of an area that he intended to stash the rifle, maps that he had drawn very carefully, statements of political purpose.
In the end, he wanted this to be an important historical feat, and this was to be the documentation left behind. He viewed General Walker as an up-and-coming Adolf Hitler, and that he would be the hero who stopped him on his rise to power.
There was someone who testified about seeing two cars parked right after the Walker shooting. Do records indicate Oswald had co-conspirators that night?
Walker Kirk Coleman was a 14-year-old youngster who thought he saw two cars leaving the scene immediately after the Walker shooting. A friend who was with him didn’t see the cars at all. Others in the neighborhood don’t recall seeing cars. Coleman said he just saw a car drive away at normal speed — not at high speed — leaving the scene of the crime.
It turns out that there was a church in the area whose services ended right around the time that Coleman saw the cars. People left the church, and they were leaving the scene at that very time. Oswald had intended to mix with that crowd after the shooting of Walker.
Turning to the assassination, President Kennedy’s throat wound — what’s the bottom-line evidence of where the throat wound came from?
The evidence that the shot came from the rear is both in Kennedy’s clothes — the threads are pushed inward on the back of the jacket and on the shirt, indicating the direction of the bullet — as well as in the residues of copper. That showed the bullet still had its jacket on it when it was going into him. The skin shows an abrasion around the wound, which is typical of that type of entrance wound. You can see also the skin part pushed in. Both Kennedy’s body and the clothes confirmed the direction of the bullet.
Why does the president seem to be grabbing for his throat?
Most people think the president is grabbing for his throat. His hands come up like this. But actually it’s an instinctive response called Thorburn’s Position, and his hands come up in front of his chin. They’re much higher than the throat. The elbows are flexed out. They’re locked in that position. He is not reaching for his throat.
The head wound. Everyone looks at the backward motion of the president’s head and says, “That’s got to mean the shot came from the front and shoved the head back.”
When I first saw the Zapruder film, I thought that it was evidence of a shot from the front. … I asked the experts, “What does that mean, that backwards head movement?” What they told me is, several things are happening. First, as the cortex of the brain is destroyed, a neuromuscular response shoots down the spine, sending a seizure through the body. The body’s muscles twitch, with the large muscles in the back predominating.
Remember, Kennedy’s wrapped into a back brace. It’s wrapped right underneath his breast all the way down and wrapped around his legs. You can’t tell from that seizure where he’s going to move in the car. But then something happens. Out the right side of his head, an explosion takes place. On the enhanced Zapruder film, you can see a cloud, a red mist of brain and blood tissue moving forward. It’s almost a jet effect. As that propels out his head, it has much more force than the force of the bullet moving in, and it shoots him in the opposite direction. It shoots out to the right front and left, violently.
Two things. As the president’s brain is destroyed, he goes into a neuromuscular seizure. His body starts to stiffen up. At the same time that the wound explodes out the right front side of his head and as that blood and brain tissue moves out, it forces him in the opposite direction, the jet effect, back and to the left, violently. …
In terms of photographs, X-rays, is it absolutely clear where the shots came from?
No question. The X-rays and the autopsy photographs are conclusive. Kennedy is only hit by two shots, fired from the rear.
What does computer analysis show about the alignment of the two men?
The computer analysis shows Kennedy and Connally in their exact positions in the Zapruder frame, in three-dimensional space. It lines up the seven wounds and shows that a single bullet went on a straight-line trajectory, right through both of them.
And their trajectory analysis, as they went backward from the wounds to where they discovered those shots came from?
The computer technicians used reverse projection to go from the wounds on Kennedy and Connally and determined where the assassin had to be located to inflict those wounds. A cone is splayed out from the wound, and shows that the only area almost centers on the southeast corner, sixth floor, Texas School Book Depository.
Can you give me the conventional conspiratorial descriptions of the “magic bullet’s” movement, and what the four commissions which investigated the assassination concluded?
Critics claim that the bullet came through President Kennedy, hesitated for a second and a half in mid-air, deciding where to go, then made a right turn, went over and hit Governor Connally in the right shoulder, came out of his right nipple, made another right turn to move over and hit Governor Connally’s wrist. Then when it came out of here, decided “Where should I go?” and made a left turn, a 90-degree turn, and went into his thigh. Four government commissions all concluded that’s absolutely false, that, in fact, it was a straight line right through the two men.
Could the magic bullet have created all those wounds and emerge pristine? What’s your analysis on how that could have happened?
The bullet on the stretcher at Parkland Hospital isn’t pristine. It’s slightly damaged. There’s no question that a single bullet could inflict all seven wounds on both the president and the governor and emerge in very good condition as it slowed, as it moved through the two men. It moved fast enough to break bone, but not fast enough to deform the bullet. …
There are two pieces of evidence that show when the governor is hit by one bullet. One, the right front of his jacket of his suit, his lapel, flies up as the bullet passes through him right at frame 224. Within a sixth of a second, by frame 226, his hat is flipping up in front of his face as he holds on to it, the bullet having passed through his wrist, and the wrist instinctively reacting to the bullet.
What did the neutron activation analysis show about the fragments in Governor Connally and the magic bullet?
The neutron activation settled the question of whether the fragments removed from Governor Connally’s wrist, on the day of the assassination attempt, came from the bullet found on the stretcher at Parkland Hospital. It concluded it absolutely came from the same bullet.
Can you explain to me what you see in the Zapruder film that indicates to you that Connally and Kennedy were actually reacting and hit at the same time?
Two conclusive pieces of evidence. One is that the governor’s right front of his jacket, his whole lapel, flaps up at the moment the bullet passes through him. The second is that, within a sixth of a second, three frames, the governor’s hat is flying up in front of his face as the wrist, which has been injured by a bullet, reacts to that injury, and then flips right down in front of him.
Can you explain what the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978-79) found out in the acoustic evidence, and what happened afterward concerning the issue of the reliability of the evidence?
The House Select Committee on Assassinations used sound experts to listen to a Dallas police Dictabelt. They concluded with a 95 percent certainty that there was a fourth shot fired at Dealey Plaza, and it came from the grassy knoll.
The National Academy of Sciences reviewed their work and found a multitude of errors and omissions. The most serious of which was that at the time that the Select Committee experts thought the shots were, [it] actually, [was] one minute after the assassination had actually taken place.
Dealey Plaza is a veritable echo chamber, and it makes it very difficult sometimes to analyze the acoustic testimony. However, by looking at the statements of a witness who gave an opinion as to the source of the shots, we can see certain trends.
Eighty-eight percent of the 179 witnesses who expressed an opinion said there were three shots and three shots only. The largest group that identified a location, 28 percent, said they came from the book depository. Only four witnesses, 2 percent of all the witnesses at Dealey, heard shots coming from more than one location.
Were there any eyewitnesses who might have seen Oswald?
The man with the best perspective in Dealey Plaza and the best vantage point turned out to be a construction worker, Howard Brennan, who was 93 feet away from the sixth floor of the depository, right across the street, leaning against a concrete divider.
He watched a young man who he later described as Oswald do the shooting. Shots one, two, and three; in horror, Brennan hit the ground after the third shot, still looking up. He saw the shooter with a smirk on his face slowly draw the rifle back into the window of the depository, and disappear from his line of sight.
But people have criticized Brennan’s failure to identify Oswald in a line-up, and there’s been a lot of criticism that he had lousy eyesight.
Brennan has been criticized for having lousy eyesight. As a matter of fact, some say that he was nearsighted, and couldn’t have seen Oswald. Absolutely false. His eyesight at the time was excellent, although he did use glasses afterwards and he was far-sighted — just the opposite. But he was able to see Oswald very clearly in the sixth floor.
He did not pick Oswald out of a line-up that night, Friday night, with the Dallas police, saying, “It looks like the same man, but I’m not sure.” We later found out the reason why: He told the Warren Commission, “I could have picked out Oswald without any question. That was the man I saw in the sixth-floor window. But I was afraid for my own life, because I thought there might be others involved in a plot to kill the president. I was the only one that could finger the shooter, and that they might come after me as a result.” And he stayed quiet that evening.
Then we go to the grassy knoll.
Regarding a purported shooter from the grassy knoll, there is not a single contemporaneous statement made by any witness identifying a gun, a flash of light or the sighting of another shooter on that knoll on the day of the assassination.
The witnesses who now described a second shooter have come forward years after the event to give this dramatic testimony. The only evidence given on the day of the assassination that looks suspicious was that four men described a puff of smoke from the knoll, which some critics say must have been gun smoke. However, when you go back to those witness statements, they didn’t describe it as gun smoke at all. They called it either exhaust fumes from a police motorcycle or smoke from a steam pipe that was nearby.
Some witnesses believe there was someone else on the sixth floor of the book depository.
In the minutes before the assassination, there were a number of witnesses in Dealey Plaza who later claimed to have seen more than one gunman, or another person on the same floor where Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to be.
Carolyn Walther said that she saw somebody hanging out of the building of the Texas School Book Depository with a submachine gun. Arnold Rowland said that he looked up and saw an elderly black man together on the same floor with Oswald. Johnny Powell said that he was an inmate in the sixth floor of the jail right across the street from the depository, and looked over and saw two men fiddling with the gun.
But all these stories have significant problems. Powell, in the jail, couldn’t even see out, the mesh was so dirty, and there’s questions as to whether he was even there. Rowland couldn’t even see up into the window from the angle that he was standing at in the street. In addition, he probably confused one of the black men who was on the fifth floor underneath Oswald. As for Carolyn Walther, her astounding story of somebody hanging out of the depository with a machine gun, which no one else saw — she returned to work within minutes of the assassination, and said she simply forgot about it, and told her story years later for the first time.
Nov. 22, Ruby shows up at Dallas Police Headquarters. Can you describe that scene? How do we know he’s there? What’s he doing?
Late at night, District Attorney Henry Wade and Dallas Police Chief Curry decide to make Lee Harvey Oswald available to the international press. They take him downstairs to an auditorium where they make him available at midnight. After a couple of minutes, he leaves. The press is crowding up toward the front.
Wade stays to answer questions and, in response to one question, says that Oswald had been associated with the Free Play for Cuba Committee, Immediately several reporters pop up, including one in the back row, who says, “No, it’s the ‘Fair’ Play for Cuba Committee.” Film now shows that reporter not to be a reporter at all, but a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, who had snuck into the press conference.
Can you describe where Ruby was during the assassination, and then what happened at Parkland Hospital soon after that?
Ruby was at the Dallas Morning News building, filing an ad for his strip clubs that morning when the assassination took place. He was actually on the second floor at a desk. Then he became very distraught when the news came in, as did most of the newsroom at that point.
Between 1:30 and 2 in the afternoon — about an hour after Kennedy was killed — he was spotted at Parkland Hospital by a reporter, Seth Kantor. He was upset. He was talking about closing his clubs. He asked Kantor if he should do that. He was there for only a few minutes, and then he left Parkland on the way back to his club.
That evening at police headquarters — I think it’s between six and nine on Nov. 22 — can you describe Ruby’s activities before the press conference, including his attempt to get into the interrogation room?
The activities … to me, are typical of Jack Ruby. It’s a bit of putting himself at the center of attention. He’s passing out some business cards. But he’s also answering questions for the press. He’s telling them about Dallas, who the different policemen are, where the chief’s office is. At one point, he’s about to open up the door to the interrogation room where Lee Harvey Oswald is, and a couple of police say, “Hey, Jack, you can’t go in there.” He stops, and then he backs off from there and walks away. …
On the night of Nov. 22, where is Ruby emotionally?
I view Ruby as very agitated from the night of the assassination, Friday. It continues to build through Saturday. A number of events take place that sort of seem to propel him at even a faster rate into what I view as this emotional deterioration.
One of them is the belief that the Jewish community in Dallas is going to be blamed for the assassination, based upon an ad that had run the day the president arrived, signed by a Jewish name. Another is when he comes across a billboard that says, “Impeach Earl Warren.” [He believes] that it may be part of a right-wing plot connecting the billboard to the anti-Jewish campaign, furthering his excitability.
The third is that he runs into a stripper and a policeman together in a car on Saturday night. They talk to him for about an hour, and they carry on that Oswald should be taken and quartered; that if it was England, he would be carried through the streets, and he would be dead.
Ruby gets very worked up into this very anti-Oswald feeling. He is really at the edge of this emotional stability by the time Saturday rolls into Sunday.
What was Jack Ruby’s real relationship to the Mafia? Can you describe it?
Jack Ruby knew people who were members of the Mafia. He had acquaintances from his Chicago days, people that had long prison records. There’s no question that he knew as many people in organized crime, or who had criminal records, as he knew police on the other side.
Was Ruby connected to Santo Trafficante?
I see no credible evidence that Ruby was connected to Santo Trafficante. There are reports that he owned a sixth share of a club with Santo Trafficante in Florida — reports that have never been verified. There are reports also that he had taken Trafficante out of jail or that they had met when Trafficante was in jail in Cuba — all on the unverified word of a reporter. Never, I do believe, has it been established on the record that the two knew each other.
The other important connection is his connection to the Campisis, who have connections back to Marcello. Doesn’t the Campisi connection indicate a connection to Marcello?
Jack Ruby used to eat at a restaurant in Dallas called the Egyptian Lounge, owned by the Campisi brothers. He was friends with the Campisis, and they have an association with Carlos Marcello in New Orleans, the crime boss of that city. But all we have here is guilt by association. There’s no evidence to show that Marcello is part of an effort to eliminate Lee Harvey Oswald the weekend of the assassination. That has no credible evidence.
I think the mob theory is the most credible of the group. … But there’s no doubt in my mind that the basis for all this is speculation … because of [Ruby's] associations.
What did your investigation show about a possible link between David Ferrie and Oswald?
I used to believe it was unlikely that Oswald and Ferrie ever had any contact at all. But when FRONTLINE discovered a photo of the two in the same group at a Civil Air Patrol gathering in 1955, the evidence shows the two were briefly acquainted with each other. The key question then becomes whether they revived any relationship when, in the summer of 1963, Oswald returned to New Orleans. This is the critical period, because it is only months before JFK’s assassination.
But there is no credible evidence that the two encountered each other again during that 1963 summer.
Now people have given a lot of weight to this evidence and this association. If there were associations, is it something we ought to be concerned about?
I would think that if there’s an association, it doesn’t mean that there is conspiracy. Most importantly, that is, because when Lee Harvey Oswald returns to Dallas in October and November 1963 — two months before the assassination — he certainly has no contact with either Ferrie or Bannister in terms of letters, telephone records or anything else. So if he did know them, it had been in New Orleans, and he had no contact with them when Kennedy was coming to Dallas.
I think what many conspiracy critics do is try to take the chain of connections too far back. They say Oswald knew Ferrie, and Ferrie did some investigative work for Marcello, and Bannister did some investigative work for Marcello. Marcello hated Kennedy, and therefore it must have been Marcello deciding to kill Kennedy, down to Ferrie and Bannister, who then gave the order to Oswald, who went off and did it. It’s wonderful speculation. There is just no evidence to back it up.
Jack Ruby shows an interest in Oswald’s transfer. Could you describe it?
Dallas police had originally announced that Oswald would be transferred on Saturday. Ruby was excited about that transfer and called up a local radio station, KLIF, and said, “Oswald’s going to be transferred. Do you want me to cover it for you?”
They were rather surprised, but they talked to each other, and they said, “Go ahead, Jack, and do it.” So he went down. He was present at the police station. A crowd had formed, and then the police didn’t transfer Oswald. The announcement was made Saturday night, “We will transfer Oswald at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.” It looked like Ruby had missed that by an hour and a half, when he had gone to Western Union.
Now, to Sunday morning. Can you give me a good description of how Ruby goes to Western Union? …
On Sunday, when Jack Ruby wakes up and takes over an hour and a half to leave his apartment, he very leisurely goes to downtown Dallas to send a moneygram to a stripper in Fort Worth. He goes to the Western Union office in the downtown area. He waits patiently in line behind another customer. He never uses a telephone that’s inside the Western Union office. He doesn’t appear to be rushed, says the clerk behind the counter, and he sends his $25 moneygram. He takes his change. It’s time-stamped at 11:17.
Four minutes later, Oswald is shot by Ruby, at 11:21.
Oswald should have been transferred an hour and twenty minutes earlier, but was delayed because the interrogation ran long. Oswald himself had asked for a change of clothes near the end, which delayed him for another five minutes. Ruby walks down the ramp into police headquarters. A policeman is distracted as a car pulls out. Witnesses recall [Ruby] arriving at the back of the crowd, from where he breaks through only 15 to 20 seconds before he shoots Oswald.
Ruby’s very provocative statement suggests that there’s more to this.
In Ruby’s televised statement and in other statements, he did believe there was more to the case than just his simple shooting of Oswald. He thought there was a massive conspiracy by the district attorney and by right-wing elements to frame him, and to further embarrass the Jewish community in Dallas. That is what Jack Ruby is talking about time and time again when he talks about what he should know and could reveal in this case.
In general terms — not just that weekend — how would you describe Jack Ruby emotionally?
Ruby was somebody always on the edge; a very volatile temper. He chased his former partner in his business with a gun down an alley, beat up customers constantly in his own club. He was arrested more than 10 times while he was in Dallas. But then could turn around in a split second and, all of a sudden, be very nice to somebody.
Those who knew him describe him as a real low-level loser, somebody who wanted to break out of this mold, be beyond strip clubs and be accepted into Dallas. He was a gladhander — would hang out at police stations and hang out at press offices, hoping to move up in life, but never did.
Bottom line — what’s your assessment of his motive to kill Oswald?
There’s the odor of a Mafia hit all around Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald until you examine both Ruby and his actions over that weekend. There is no credible evidence to show that Jack Ruby acted at the behest of anyone in organized crime. It was personally motivated from day one.
Isn’t there just too much coincidence? Two lone nuts, in this case?
What we have constantly is the interpretation in this assassination — especially because we do have two sociopathic personalities that crossed paths in Dallas on that fateful weekend — we have the interpretation of coincidence as conspiracy. But in the end, his sister, who knew him best, said, “Jack really doesn’t know why he killed Oswald, but he’s trying to come up with a reason.”
In part, I view it very much as a spur-of-the-moment action by a man who had that type of violent streak and thought he might even be a hero for having killed Oswald, and removing the stain from Dallas. When word spread onto the street that Oswald had been shot, the several hundred people who had gathered for his transfer broke spontaneously into cheers and applause. The reaction from the crowd that day in Dallas is that Ruby might have gambled right.
What about the story of Oswald in the car dealership prior to the assassination?
[Albert] Bogard, a car salesman at a Mercury dealership in downtown Dallas, said that on Nov. 9, a Saturday, a fellow walked in and said, “I want to buy a car. I’m coming into money soon,” and test drove a car at very high speeds along the roadways, scaring Bogard a great deal. Bogard wrote his name down on a business card. The name, he said, was Oswald. After the assassination, he looked at the television, and saw the very same man that had been in the car dealership.
The problem is that it’s impossible that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. He was with his wife Marina and her friend Ruth Paine the entire weekend on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10. He was nowhere near a dealership in downtown Dallas. After the assassination, Bogard’s story quickly fell apart. He said his manager had seen Oswald. He said he never remembered it. One other person recalled it at the dealership and said Oswald was about five feet tall. Bogard was fired soon after he first told the story.
There are several sightings of Oswald at firing ranges. Could you summarize the problems with those sightings?
The problem with the sightings of Lee Harvey Oswald at firing ranges in Dallas is that the number of witnesses who came forward are clearly confused when you go back and look at their statements. They describe a gun being used that is nothing like Oswald’s, a bright and newly polished gun. They describe a different sight, different types of ammunition, people that look nothing like Oswald. They describe him as arriving and leaving in everything from a 1941 Ford pickup to a Chevrolet to a hardtop car. Oswald didn’t even drive at the time. There is no sign-up ever in any of the sheets at the practice range with the name Lee Harvey Oswald — certainly something the conspirators would have done to have effectuated the frame. These stories are just mistaken identity, at the very best.
But don’t all these sightings really add up to the possibility that someone is impersonating Oswald?
There is no credible evidence that there is any impersonation of Lee Harvey Oswald at any of the locations in which witnesses later pop up and say, “I saw him.” “I saw him bowling.” “He was here with Jack Ruby.” “He was over at a firing range, shooting a weapon.”
As a matter of fact, as an attorney, I’m surprised there aren’t almost more of these sightings. After the type of saturation press coverage that you had on this case, people pop up constantly and confuse individuals they see on TV, day in and day out and read about, as somebody they saw a month or a week or two months earlier. So I think that these are quite normal for this type of case.
On the day of the assassination, Oswald gets a ride to work from Frazier. What indications are there that he was carrying the rifle?
When Lee Harvey Oswald went to get a ride to work that morning with Wesley Frazier from Irving, Texas, he had a package with him. He put it in the back seat of Frazier’s car. He told him it was curtain rods. The disassembled Carcano rifle is 36 inches long. The package itself, Wesley Frazier said, was only two feet long, which has made critics say it couldn’t have contained the rifle.
He also said that, when Oswald walked into the depository, it was held underneath Oswald’s armpit and extended down to his hand. Of course he could hold a package three feet long that way. But since that date, Frazier has admitted he only glanced at it. He didn’t really pay much attention, and it could have been longer than the two feet and even extended past Oswald’s armpit and he would not have seen that.
What about Carolyn Arnold?
Carolyn Arnold, a 20-year-old secretary in 1963 at the School Book Depository, told an astonishing story for the first time in 1978 — that she had seen Lee Harvey Oswald in the second-floor lunchroom as late as 12:25, only five minutes before the assassination — making it virtual impossible for him to have gotten upstairs, prepared the sniper’s nest, and assassinate the president.
But the problem is, not only did a number of co-workers — more than six of them — not see Oswald in any of the lunchrooms at the Book Depository, but in her original two statements to the FBI, she never saw him there, either.
Your take on the Delphine Roberts’ credibility in her statements that she saw Oswald in Bannister’s office?
Based on my own conversations with Delphine Roberts, I do not find her credible on the story that she saw Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly in Guy Bannister’s office. This is also a woman who thinks that there was a communist plot involved in the death of Bobby Kennedy and John Kennedy, who thinks that she is the last person alive who saw the sacred scrolls from the Ark of the Covenant, that she is related to the king and queen of Scotland, she says — although there is no such thing. There’re a lot of unusual facets to Mrs. Roberts’ testimonies, only one of them being her testimony about Oswald and Bannister.
Did you find a pattern of inconsistency in her testimony over the years?
I find Delphine Roberts very inconsistent. On one hand, she will tell a group of reporters that Oswald was with Bannister all the time. She told me that she had made the story up because she decided to at that moment. Now I understand she is back to telling the story that Oswald was with Bannister again. She seems to flip-flop a little bit, depending upon who’s talking to her. That type of inconsistency always worries me about somebody telling the truth and being credible.
Oscar Contreras — what’s your judgment about the reliability of his story?
Oscar Contreras is not a reliable source of information about Lee Harvey Oswald. He describes an Oswald much shorter than the real one, one who he supposedly communicated to him in Spanish, although Oswald spoke only a few words in Spanish and understood virtually nothing. In addition, he said the Oswald he saw came from California — Lee Harvey Oswald did not — and that he saw him in 1959, when [Oswald] was actually in Russia.
What’s the potential significance of Sylvia Odio’s story, if the story is true?
If the story is true, it has great significance, because it means that Lee Harvey Oswald is in the company of anti-Castro Cubans. We never have picked up any word of it, any sign of it, any evidence of it any other time in his life — meaning, to me, he had a secret life that evaded all the investigators over the years.
In terms of the discussion with Leopoldo about his marksmanship, about him saying they should have killed Kennedy — I mean, this is very sinister sounding, isn’t it?
The telephone conversation from Leopoldo the following day, described by Miss Odio, is one of the most sinister conversations from a witness in the case. Yet it is this key conversation that has no corroboration. Nobody heard it except Miss Odio, who later tells the story after the assassination takes place.
Can you describe the problems with the dating on that visit to Miss Odio?
Lee Harvey Oswald had left New Orleans on Sept. 25, and according to Sylvia Odio, she was preparing to move to a new apartment. She already had boxes in her living room. She was preparing with her sister to make the move. She said to the Warren Commission that “almost for sure,” in her words, Oswald visited on Sept. 26 or Sept. 27, Thursday or Friday night, when she had finished work.
The problem is that Oswald was on a bus on the way to Mexico City on Sept. 26. There is no way he physically could have been at the Odio residence. … Maybe at the very earliest Wednesday, Sept. 25. But on Sept. 25, he was in Houston, as we know from his contact with the national committeeman of the Socialist Labor Party. On Sept. 26, he was on a bus on the way to Mexico City to try to go to Cuba. He physically was not at the Odio residence.
[So] …there are problems of no corroboration with key parts of Sylvia Odio’s statements.
How do you reconcile your judgment about Odio against the House Committee’s judgment?
I think that the House Committee, the investigators who worked on Sylvia Odio’s story, were believers in a conspiracy. They wanted to believe her testimony, and it’s one of many mistakes the committee made that I criticized them for.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.