Warren Commission Report: The Witnesses

As reflected in the previous chapter, passengers in the first few cars of the motorcade had the impression that the shots came from the rear and from the right, the general direction of the Texas School Book Depository Building, although none of these passengers saw anyone fire the shots. Some spectators at Houston and Elm Streets, however, did see a rifle being fired in the direction of the President’s car from the easternmost window of the sixth floor on the south side of the building. Other witnesses saw a rifle in this window immediately after the assassination. Three employees of the Depository, observing the parade from the fifth floor, heard the shots fired from the floor immediately above them. No credible evidence suggests that the shots were fired from the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass, the nearby railroad yards or any place other than the Texas School Book Depository Building.

This page reproduces COMMISSION EXHIBIT No. 477: a photograph showing the Position of Howard L. Brennan on November 22, 1963. (Photograph taken on March 20, 1964, and marked by Brennan during his testimony to show the window (A) in which he saw a man with a rifle, and the window (B) on the fifth floor in which he saw people watching the motorcade.)

Near the Depository

Eyewitnesses testified that they saw a man fire a weapon from the sixth-floor window. Howard L. Brennan, a 45-year-old steamfitter, watched the motorcade from a concrete retaining wall at the southwest corner of Elm and Houston, where he had a clear view of the south side of the Depository Building.1 (See Commission Exhibit No. 477, p. 62.) He was approximately 107 feet from the Depository entrance and 120 feet from the southeast corner window of the sixth floor.2 Brennan’s presence and vantage point are corroborated by a motion picture of the motorcade taken by amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder, which shows Brennan, wearing gray khaki work clothes and a gray work helmet, seated on the retaining wall. 3 Brennan later identified himself in the Zapruder movie.4 While waiting about 7 minutes for the President to arrive, he observed the crowd on the street and the people at the windows of the Depository Building.5 He noticed a man at the southeast corner window of the sixth floor, and observed him leave the window “a couple of times.” 6

Brennan watched the President’s car as it turned the corner at Houston and Elm and moved down the incline toward the Triple Underpass. Soon after the President’s car passed, he heard an explosion like the backfire of a motorcycle. 7 Brennan recalled:

Well, then something, just right after this explosion, made me think that it was a firecracker being thrown from the Texas Book Store. And I glanced up. And this man that I saw previous was aiming for his last shot.
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Well, as it appeared to me he was standing up. and resting against the left window sill, with gun shouldered to his right shoulder, holding the gun with his left hand and taking positive aim and fired his last shot. As I calculate a couple of seconds. He 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 himself that he hit his mark, and then he disappeared.8

Brennan stated that he saw 70 to 85 percent of the gun when it was fired and the body of the man from the waist up. 9 The rifle was aimed southwesterly down Elm Street toward the underpass.10 Brennan saw the man fire one shot and he remembered hearing a total of only two shots. When questioned about the number of shots, Brennan testified:

I don’t know what made me think that there was firecrackers throwed out of the Book Store unless I did hear the second shot, because I positively thought the first shot was a backfire, and subconsciously I must have heard a second shot, but I do not recall it. I could not swear to it. 11

Brennan quickly reported his observations to police officers.12 Brennan’s description of the man he saw is discussed in the next chapter.

Amos Lee Euins, a 15-year-old ninth grade student, stated that he was facing the Depository as the motorcade turned the corner at Elm and Houston. He recalled:

Then I was standing here, and as the motorcade turned the corner, I was facing, looking dead at the building. And so I seen this pipe thing sticking out the window. I wasn’t paying too much attention to it. Then when the first shot was fired, I started looking around, thinking it was a backfire. Everybody else started looking around. Then I looked up at the window, and he shot again.13

After witnessing the first shots, Euins hid behind a fountain bench and saw the man shoot again from the window in the southeast corner of the Depository’s sixth floor.14 According to Euins, the man had one hand on the barrel and the other on the trigger. Euins believed that there were four shots.15 Immediately after the assassination, he reported his observations to Sgt. D. V. Harkness of the Dallas Police Department and also to James Underwood of station KRLD-TV of Dallas.16 Sergeant Harkness testified that Euins told him that the shots came from the last window of the floor “under the ledge” on the side of the building they were facing.17 Based on Euins’ statements, Harkness radioed to headquarters at 12:36 p.m. that “I have a witness that says that it came from the fifth floor of the Texas Book Depository Store.” 18 Euins accurately described the sixth floor as the floor “under the ledge.” Harkness testified that the error in the radio message was due to his own “hasty count of the floors.” 19

Other witnesses saw a rifle in the window after the shots were fired. Robert H. Jackson, staff photographer, Dallas Times Herald, was in a press car in the Presidential motorcade, eight or nine cars from the front. On Houston Street about halfway between Main and Elm, Jackson heard the first shot.20 As someone in the car commented that it sounded like a firecracker, Jackson heard two more shots.21 He testified:

Then we realized or we thought that it was gunfire, and then we could not at that point see the President’s car. We were still moving slowly, and after the third shot the second two shots seemed much closer together than the first shot, than they were to the first shot. Then after the last shot, I guess all of us were just looking all around and I just looked straight up ahead of me which would have been looking at the School Book Depository and I noticed two Negro men in a window straining to see directly above them, and my eyes followed right on up to the window above them and I saw the rifle or what looked like a rifle approximately half of the weapon, I guess I saw, and just as I looked at it, it was drawn fairly slowly back into the building, and I saw no one in the window with it. I didn’t even see a form in the window.22

In the car with Jackson were James Underwood, television station KRLD-TV; Thomas Dillard, chief photographer, Dallas Morning News; Malcolm O. Couch and James Darnell, television newsreel cameramen. Dillard, Underwood, and the driver were in the front seat, Couch and Darnell were sitting on top of the back seat of the convertible with Jackson. Dillard, Couch, and Underwood confirmed that Jackson spontaneously exclaimed that he saw a rifle in the window.23 According to Dillard, at the time the shots were fired he and his fellow passengers “had an absolutely perfect view of the School Depository from our position in the open car.” 24 Dillard immediately took two pictures of the building: one of the east two-thirds of the south side and the other of the southeast corner, particularly the fifth- and sixth-floor windows.25 These pictures show three Negro men in windows on the fifth floor and the partially open window on the sixth floor directly above them. (See Dillard Exhibits C and D, pp. 66-67.) ‘Couch also saw the rifle in the window, and testified :

And after the third shot, Bob Jackson, who was, as I recall, on my right, yelled something like, “Look up in the window! There’s the rifle!” And I remember glancing up to a window on the far right, which at the time impressed me as the sixth or seventh floor, and seeing about a foot of a rifle being–the barrel brought into the window.26

Couch testified he saw people standing in other windows on the third or fourth floor in the middle of the south side, one of them being a Negro in a white T-shirt leaning out to look up at the windows above him.27

Mayor and Mrs. Earle Cabell rode in the motorcade immediately behind the Vice-Presidential follow-up car.28 Mrs. Cabell was seated in the back seat behind the driver and was facing U.S. Representative Ray Roberts on her right as the car made the turn at Elm and Houston. In this position Mrs. Cabell “was actually facing” the seven-story Depository when the first shot rang out.29 She “jerked” her head up immediately and saw a “projection” in the first group of windows on a floor which she described both as the sixth floor and the top floor.30 According to Mrs. Cabell, the object was “rather long looking,” but she was unable to determine whether it was a mechanical object or a person’s arm.31 She turned away from the window to tell her husband that the noise was a shot, and “just as I got the words out … the second two shots rang out.” 32 Mrs. Cabell did not look at the sixth-floor window when the second and third shots were fired.33

This page (p.66) reproduces DILLARD EXHIBIT C: Enlargement of photograph taken by Thomas C. Dillard on November 22, 1963.

This page (p.67)  reproduces DILLARD EXHIBIT D: Photograph taken by Thomas C. Dillard on November 22, 1963

James N. Crawford and Mary Ann Mitchell, two deputy district clerks for Dallas County, watched the motorcade at the southeast corner of Elm and Houston. After the President’s car turned the corner, Crawford heard a loud report which he thought was backfire coming from the direction of the Triple Underpass.34 He heard a second shot seconds later, followed quickly by a third. At the third shot, he looked up and saw a “movement” in the far east corner of the sixth floor of the Depository, the only open window on that floor.35 He told Miss Mitchell “that if those were shots they came from that window.” When asked to describe the movement more exactly, he said,

…I would say that it was a profile, somewhat from the waist up, but it was a very quick movement. and rather indistinct and it was very light colored….
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When I saw it, I automatically in my mind came to the conclusion that it was a person having moved out of the window… 36

He could not state whether the person was a man or a woman.37 Miss Mitchell confirmed that after the third shot Crawford told her, “Those shots came from that building.” 38 She saw Crawford pointing at a window but was not sure at which window he was pointing.39

On the Fifth Floor

Three Depository employees shown in the picture taken by Dillard were on the fifth floor of the building when the shots were fired: James Jarman, Jr., age 34, a wrapper in the shipping department; Bonnie Ray Williams, age 20, a warehouseman temporarily assigned to laying a plywood floor on the sixth floor; and Harold Norman, age 26, an “order filler.” Norman and Jarman decided to watch the parade during the lunch hour from the fifth-floor windows.40 From the ground floor they took the west elevator, which operates with pushbutton controls, to the fifth floor.41 Meanwhile, Williams had gone up to the sixth floor where he had been working and ate his lunch on the south side of that floor. Since he saw no one around when he finished his lunch, he started down on the east elevator, looking for company. He left behind his paper lunch sack, chicken bones and an empty pop bottle.42 Williams went down to the fifth floor, where he joined Norman and Jarman at approximately 12:20 p.m.43

Harold Norman was in the fifth-floor window in the southeast corner, directly under the window where witnesses saw the rifle. (See Commission Exhibit No. 485, p. 69.) He could see light through the ceiling cracks between the fifth and sixth floors.44 As the motorcade went by, Norman thought that the President was saluting with his right arm,

This page (p. 69)  reproduces COMMISSION EXHIBIT No. 485: A photograph showing Positions occupied by Depository employees on fifth floor on November 22, 1963.

…and I can’t remember what the exact time was but I know I heard a shot, and then after I heard the shot, well, it seems as though the President, you know, slumped or something, and then another shot and I believe Jarman or someone told me, he said, “I believe someone is shooting at the President,” and I think I made a statement “It is someone shooting at the President, and I believe it came from up above us.”

Well, I couldn’t see at all during the time but I know I heard a third shot fired, and I could also hear something sounded like the shell hulls hitting the floor and the ejecting of the rifle… 45

Williams said that he “really did not pay any attention” to the first shot—

…because I did not know what was happening. The second shot, it sounded like it was right in the building, the second and third shot. And it sounded–it even shook the building, the side we were on. Cement fell on my head.Q. You say cement fell on your head?

A. Cement, gravel, dirt, or something, from the old building, because it shook the windows and everything. Harold was sitting next to me, and he said it came right from over our head.46

Williams testified Norman said “I can even hear the shell being ejected from the gun hitting the floor.” 47

When Jarman heard the first sound, he thought that it was either a backfire–

…or an officer giving a salute to the President. And then at that time I didn’t, you know, think too much about it…
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Well, after the third shot was fired, I think I got up and I run over to Harold Norman and Bonnie Ray Williams, and told them, I said, I told them that it wasn’t a backfire or anything, that somebody was shooting at the President.48

Jarman testified that Norman said “that he thought the shots had come from above us, and I noticed that Bonnie Ray had a few debris in his head. It was sort of white stuff, or something.” 49 Jarman stated that Norman said “that he was sure that the shot came from inside the building because he had been used to guns and all that, and he said it didn’t sound like it was too far off anyway.”50 The three men ran to the west side of the building, where they could look toward the Triple Underpass to see what had happened to the motorcade.51

After the men had gone to the window on the west side of the building, Jarman “got to thinking about all the debris on Bonnie Ray’s head” and said, “That shot probably did come from upstairs, up over us.”52 He testified that Norman said, “I know it did, because I could hear the action of the bolt, and I could hear the cartridges drop on the floor.”53 After pausing for a few minutes, the three men ran downstairs. Norman and Jarman ran out of the front entrance of the building, where they saw Brennan, the construction worker who had seen the man in the window firing the gun, talking to a police officer, and they then reported their own experience.54

On March 20, 1964, preceding their appearance before the Commission, these witnesses were interviewed in Dallas. At that time members of the Commission’s legal staff conducted an experiment. Norman, Williams, and Jarman placed themselves at the windows of the fifth floor as they had been on November 22. A Secret Service agent operated the bolt of a rifle directly above them at the southeast corner window of the sixth floor. At the same time, three cartridge shells were dropped to the floor at intervals of about 3 seconds. According to Norman, the noise outside was less on the day of the assassination than on the day of the test.55 He testified, “Well, I heard the same sound, the sound similar. I heard three something that he dropped on the floor and then I could hear the rifle or whatever he had up there.”56 The experiment with the shells and rifle was repeated for members of the Commission on May 9, 1964, on June 7, 1964, and again on September 6, 1964. All seven of the Commissioners clearly heard the shells drop to the floor.

At the Triple Underpass

In contrast to the testimony of the witnesses who heard and observed shots fired from the Depository, the Commission’s investigation has disclosed no credible evidence that any shots were fired from anywhere else. When the shots were fired, many people near the Depository believed that the shots came from the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass or from the area to the west of the Depository.57 In the hectic moments after the assassination, many spectators ran in the general direction of the Triple Underpass or the railroad yards northwest of the building. Some were running toward the place from which the sound of the rifle fire appeared to come, others were fleeing the scene of the shooting.58 None of these people saw anyone with a rifle, and the Commission’s inquiry has yielded no evidence that shots were fired from the bridge over the Triple Underpass or from the railroad yards.

On the day of the motorcade, Patrolman J. W. Foster stood on the east side of the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass and Patrolman J. C. White stood on the west side.59 Patrolman Joe E. Murphy was standing over Elm Street on the Stemmons Freeway overpass, west of the railroad bridge farther away from the Depository.60 Two other officers were stationed on Stemmons Freeway to control traffic as the motorcade entered the Freeway.61 Under the advance preparations worked out between the Secret Service and the Dallas Police Department, the policemen were under instructions to keep “unauthorized” people away from these locations.62 When the motorcade reached the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets, there were no spectators on Stemmons Freeway where Patrolman Murphy was stationed.63 Patrolman Foster estimated that there were 10 or 11 people on the railroad bridge where he was assigned;64 another witness testified that there were between 14 and 18 people there as the motorcade came into view.65 Investigation has disclosed 15 persons who were on the railroad bridge at this time, including 2 police men, 2 employees of the Texas-Louisiana Freight Bureau and 11 employees of the Union Terminal Co.66 In the absence of any explicit definition of “unauthorized” persons, the policemen permitted these employees to remain on the railroad bridge to watch the motorcade. (See chapter VIII, pp. 446-447.) At the request of the policemen, S. M. Holland, signal supervisor for Union Terminal Co., came to the railroad bridge at about 11:45 a.m. and remained to identify those persons who were railroad employees.67 In addition, Patrolman Foster checked credentials to determine if persons seeking access to the bridge were railroad employees.68 Persons who were not railroad employees were ordered away, including one news photographer who wished only to take a picture of the motorcade.69

Another employee of the Union Terminal Co., Lee E. Bowers, Jr., was at work in a railroad tower about 14 feet above the tracks to the north of the railroad bridge and northwest of the corner of Elm and Houston, approximately 50 yards from the back of the Depository.70 (See Commission Exhibit No. 2218, p. 73.) From the tower he could view people moving in the railroad yards and at the rear of the Depository. According to Bowers, “Since approximately 10 o’clock in the morning traffic had been cut off into the area so that anyone moving around could actually be observed.”71 During the 20 minutes prior to the arrival of the motorcade, Bowers noticed three automobiles which entered his immediate. area; two left without discharging any passengers and the third was apparently on its way out when last observed by Bowers.72 Bowers observed only three or four people in the general area, as well as a few bystanders on the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass.73

As the motorcade proceeded toward the Triple Underpass, the spectators were clustered together along the east concrete wall of the railroad bridge facing the oncoming procession.74 (See Commission Exhibit No. 2215, p. 75.) Patrolman Foster stood immediately behind them and could observe all of them.75 Secret Service agents in the lead car of the motorcade observed the bystanders and the police officer on the bridge.76 Special Agent Winston G. Lawson motioned through the windshield in an unsuccessful attempt to instruct Patrolman Foster to move the people away from their position directly over the path of the motorcade.77 Some distance away, on the Stemmons Freeway overpass above Elm Street, Patrolman Murphy also had the group on the railroad bridge within view.78 When he heard the shots, Foster rushed to the wall of the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass and looked toward the street.79 After the third shot, Foster ran toward the Depository and shortly thereafter informed

This page (p. 73)  reproduces COMMISSION EXHIBIT No. 2118: the view from North Tower of Union Terminal Company, Dallas, Texas

This page (p. 74) reproduces COMMISSION EXHIBIT No. 2214: View from Triple Underpass, Dallas, Texas

This page (p. 75) reproduces COMMISSION EXHIBIT No. 2215: View from Triple Underpass from Location on Elm Street

Inspector Herbert J. Sawyer of the Dallas Police Department that he thought the shots came from the vicinity of Elm and Houston.80

Other witnesses on the railroad bridge had varying views concerning the source and number of the shots. Austin L. Miller, employed by the Texas-Louisiana Freight Bureau, heard three shots and thought that they came from the area of the Presidential limousine itself.81 One of his coworkers, Royce G. Skelton, thought he heard four shots, but could not tell their exact source.82 Frank E. Reilly, an electrician at Union Terminal, heard three shots which seemed to come from the trees “On the north side of Elm Street at the corner up there.”83 According to S. M. Holland, there were four shots which sounded as though they came from the trees on the north side of Elm Street where he saw a puff of smoke.84 Thomas J. Murphy, a mail foreman at Union Terminal Co., heard two shots and said that they came from a spot just west of the Depository.85 In the railroad tower, Bowers heard three shots, which sounded as though they came either from the Depository Building or near the mouth of the Triple Underpass. Prior to November 22, 1963, Bowers had noted the similarity of the sounds coming from the vicinity of the Depository and those from the Triple Underpass, which he attributed to “a reverberation which takes place from either location.”86

Immediately after the shots were fired, neither the policemen the spectators on the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass saw anything suspicious on the bridge in their vicinity. (See Commission Exhibit No. 2214, p. 74.) No one saw anyone with a rifle. As he ran around through the railroad yards to the Depository, Patrolman Foster saw no suspicious activity.87 The same was true of the other bystanders, many of whom made an effort after the shooting to observe any unusual activity. Holland, for example, immediately after the shots, ran off the overpass to see if there was anyone behind the picket fence on the north side of Elm Street, but he did not see anyone among the parked cars.88 Miller did not see anyone running across the railroad tracks or on the plaza west of the Depository.89 Bowers and others saw a motorcycle officer dismount hurriedly and come running up the incline on the north side of Elm Street.90 The motorcycle officer, Clyde A. Haygood, saw no one running from the railroad yards.91

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