Lee Harvey Oswald's "Murder" of Policeman JD Tippit

. . . here is some material from "On The Trail of the Assassins", by Jim Garrison. There are a lot of references to the Warren Report, hearings and exhibits which I don't have, so I could not check it. In my opinion the whole Tippit-case IS ONE OF THE BEST EXAMPLES OF A FRAME-UP. OSWALD HAD TO HANG.

" ... the killer, who left the scene with an icy nonchalance, flicking away used shells from his gun, was Lee Oswald."

This was a useful conclusion. Among other things, it provided the government with a motivation for the assassination: Lee Oswald was a troubled and temperamental young man so violent that he was capable of shooting down a police officer in cold blood with no provocation; therefore such a savage madman was also capable of murdering the President for no reason. Or as one member of the Warren Commission's legal staff rhetorically posed the question and the answer: "How do we know that Lee Oswald killed President Kennedy? Because he killed Officer Tippit." Conveniently, the converse also worked: Only a man who had just killed the President and knew he was being hunted down would have any reason to shoot a police officer in a quiet suburb at mid-day.

The only problem with this scenario was that, as so often before, when I examined the evidence, the damning conclusions about Oswald just did not hold up.

First of all, given what was known about Oswald's movements, it was highly improbable that he could have been physically present at the time of Tippit's murder. According to several eyewitnesses at the scene, Tippit was shot anywhere from 1:06 p. m . to 1:10 p. m . Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig, who was at the Book Depository at the time, confirmed this. When he heard the report of Tippit's death on the radio, he looked at his watch; it was 1:06 p. m .

And yet Oswald, it was generally acknowledged, had returned to his rooming house at around 1:00 p.m. He left quickly and Earline Roberts, the housekeeper, observed him standing by the northbound Beckley Avenue bus stop at 1: 04 . The area where Tippit was killed was in the opposite direction, a mile to the south. Using the broadest interpretation of the time element, even if Oswald had changed his mind about the bus and run southward, it was virtually impossible for him to have arrived at the scene before the shooting of the police officer.

The Warren Commission simply ignored these time anomalies and presented various eyewitnesses whose testimony quickly fell apart. Domingo Benevides, who had been the closest of all the witnesses to the shooting (a few yards), would not identify Oswald as having been there.

Warren Reynolds, who had seen a gunman running on Jefferson Street a block from the shooting, did testify that the man he had seen was Oswald. But the circumstances of his testimony were highly suspicious. Reynolds initially had told the F.B.I. that he would "hesitate" to identify Oswald as the running man. Shortly afterwards, Reynolds had been shot in the head in the dark of a car lot basement. After a miraculous recovery in the hospital, Reynolds had second thoughts about what he had seen and decided the running man actually was Oswald.

The inconsequential testimony of these and several other witnesses left Helen Markham as the centerpiece of the government's case against Oswald. As I read Markham's testimony, it occurred to me that few prosecutors had ever found themselves with a witness at once so eager to serve their cause and simultaneously so destructive to it.

While the other witnesses at the scene unanimously agreed that Tippit died instantly, Markham explicitly recalled trying to talk with him for 20 minutes before the ambulance arrived. Despite the Warren Commission's lawyers' excruciating attempt to lead her to an identification of Lee Oswald (a fairly tall and skinny young man with thinning, light brown hair), she informed Mark Lane, a well-known critic of the government's investigation, that Tippit's killer was stocky and had "bushy hair." Thereafter, under oath, she denied having done so and only admitted it after hearing a tape recording of the conversation. Then, making matters even more confusing for the government, Markham described the killer she saw as having "black hair."

Before her testimony was completed, Markham had raised doubts in the minds of some observers that she even was at the scene of Tippit's murder. At least two witnesses did not recall seeing her there.

Yet, with all that, Markham was the government's best witness, the only one who identified Lee Oswald as the killer of Officer Tippit. And here is how that identification went before the Warren Commission:

MR . BALL: Now when you went into the room you looked these people over, these four men?

MRS. MARKHAM: Yes, sir.

MR. BALL: Did you recognize anyone in the line-up?

MRS. MARKHAM: No, sir.

MR BALL: You did not? Did you see anybody- I have asked you that question before -did you recognize anybody from their face?

MRS. MARKHAM: From their face, no.

MR. HALL: Did you identify anybody in these four people?

MRS. MARKHAM: I didn't know nobody.

MR . BALL: I know you didn't know anybody, but did anybody in that lineup look like anybody you had seen before?

MRS. MARKHAM: No. I had never seen none of them before.

MR. BALL: No one of the four?

MRS. MARKHAM: No one of them.

MR . BALL: No one of all four?

MRS. MARKHAM: No, sir.

Ultimately, out of desperation the Commission's attorney had to resort to putting a leading question to his own witness absolutely inadmissible in any real court in order to telegraph to the witness what he wanted to hear:

MR. BALL: You recognized him from his appearance?

MRS. MARKHAM: I asked-I looked at him. When I saw this man I wasn't sure, but I had cold chills just run over me.

This brief exchange constituted the totality of the witness testimony identifying Lee Oswald as Tippit's murderer.

There were other significant witnesses, of course. Among these were the ambulance driver and his helper, who could have clarified the time of Tippit's death and which witnesses were present at the scene; Mr. and Mrs. Donald Higgins, who lived directly across from the murder scene and observed some of what occurred; and T.F. Bowley, who used the dead officer's car microphone to inform the police radio dispatcher that Tippit had just been killed. But none of these was ever called by the Warren Commission.

There were also three important eyewitnesses to the murder who changed the whole face of the case for me. I discovered them in the rapidly burgeoning body of work by legitimate critics of the Commis- sion. Mark Lane, the critic who later came to New Orleans to work with our investigation, had tracked down and interviewed one of these witnesses-Acquilla Clemons. Before the first shot, she observed two men standing near Officer Tippit's police car. She saw one of the men with a pistol, waving away the other, as he trotted toward Jefferson Street on the far side of the block.

The running man, the one she recalled as having shot the police officer, was in her words "kind of short, kind of heavy." The second man she recalled as tall and thin, wearing a white shirt and khaki slacks clothing which no other witnesses recalled Oswald wearing that day. Clemons said Dallas police officers told her not to tell anyone what she had seen lest she be killed, a familiar piece of law enforcement advice in Dallas that day.

I also learned about Frank Wright from Lane.[1] Wright saw the last part of the scene that Clemons had described. It was Wright's wife who called the ambulance that carried Tippit's dead body away

Mr. Wright, who had been inside the house, came out in time to see Officer Tippit roll over on the ground, probably the last move of his life. Wright observed another man looking down on the fallen officer. Then the man circled around the police car and got into an old, gray car on the other side of it. He drove off rapidly.

It seemed to me quite probable that this was the second man Clemons had observed, the one who was waved off by the short, heavy one who ran away It began to dawn on me that these witnesses were saying something no one else had said: Officer Tippit was killed by two men, neither of whom was Lee Oswald. The implications, I realized, were staggering. If Oswald was innocent of the Tippit murder the foundation of the government's case against him collapsed.

Three years before, F B.l. Director J. Edgar Hoover must have come to the same conclusion I did, because he explicitly ordered the special agent in charge of the Dallas Bureau office not to permit his agents to question Acquilla Clemons or Mr. and Mrs. Wright. I did not know this until many years later when the F.B.I. memo from Hoover to Gordon Shanklin was revealed in a book by Michael Kurtz. But one thing I did know at the time was that I could not find a shred of testimony from Clemons or the Wrights in the Warren Commission materials.

As I continued my research, I discovered that beyond the eyewitnesses there was other evidence gathered and altered by the Dallas homicide unit showing that Lee Oswald had been framed in the Tippit murder. For instance, I read transcripts of the messages sent over the Dallas police radio shortly after the murder. These were recorded automatically on a log. Just minutes after a citizen first reported the murder on Tippit's radio. Patrolman H.W. Summers in Dallas police unit number 221 (the designation for the squad car) reported that an "eyeball witness to the getaway man" had been located. The suspect was described as having black wavy hair, wearing an Eisenhower jacket of light color, with dark trousers and a white shirt. He was "apparently armed with a .32, dark finish, automatic pistol," which he had in his right hand. Moments later, Sergeant G. Hill reported that "the shell at the scene indicates that the suspect is armed with an automatic .38 rather than a pistol." [2]

It seemed clear to me from this that the hand gun used to shoot Tippit was an automatic. But the gun allegedly taken from Lee Oswald when Dallas police later arrested him at the Texas Theatre was a revolver. Unless Oswald had stopped and changed guns, which no one had ever suggested, this fact alone put a severe hole in the government's case.

The bullets found in Officer Tippit's body and the cartridges found at the scene of his murder yielded further evidence of the frameup. The Dallas coroner had conducted an autopsy on Tippit's body and had removed four bullets from it. Three of them, it turned out, were copper-coated and had been manufactured by the Winchester Western company. The fourth, however, was a lead bullet made by the Remington-Peters company

This was awfully strange, I thought, because bullets were never sold in mixed lots. Gun users bought either a box of all Winchesters or one of all Remingtons, but not some of each. The discovery of two different makes of bullets in Tippit's body indicated to me and would indicate to most experienced police officers a likelihood that two different gunmen did the shooting. This was consistent with the eyewitness testimony of Acquilla Clemons and Mr. and Mrs. Wright.

When a homicide occurs, it is standard operating procedure for the police homicide division to send off the bullets and cartridges to the F.B.I. Iaboratory in Washington, D.C. for study and possible identi- fication of the gun that fired them. In this case, the Dallas homicide unit, understandably shy about advertising the coroner's discovery, sent only one bullet to the F.B.I. Iab, informing the Bureau that this was the only bullet found in Tippit's body.

To everyone's surprise, the Bureau lab found that the bullet did not match Oswald's revolver. When it discovered this oddity, the Warren Commission was inspired to look for other bullets that might match up better. Although the Commission never received a copy of Tippit's autopsy report, somehow it found out that four bullets rather than merely one had been found in Tippit's body. The ordinarily incurious Commission asked the F.B.I. to inquire about the three missing bullets, and they were found after four months gathering dust in the files of the Dallas homicide division.

These bullets were sent to the F.B.I. Iab. But Special Agent Courtlandt Cunningham, the ballistics expert from the lab, testified before the Commission that the lab was unable to conclude that any of the four bullets found in Tippit's body had been fired by the revolver taken from Lee Oswald.

The cartridges allegedly found at the scene proved even more problematic. While the bullets had initially been under the control of the coroner who found them in Tippit's body, the cartridges, the metal casings which provide propulsion power to the bullets, were Dallas homicide's responsibility from the outset.

On the very day of Officer Tippit's murder, Dallas homicide had made a summary of all the evidence it had in the case, a most important standard police procedure. Although a number of witnesses mentioned that they had seen cartridges strewn around after the shooting and the early recorded radio messages had described the murder weapon as an automatic because of the ejector marks on cartridges found at the scene, this summary did not include cartridges of any kind.

It was not until six days after it had sent the single bullet to the F.B.I. Iab in Washington that the Dallas homicide division finally added four cartridges allegedly found at the scene to the Tippit evidence summary. The cartridges were then sent off to Washington, and the Bureau lab promptly reported back that they indeed had been fired by the same revolver that Oswald allegedly purchased through the mail under the alias of A. Hidell.

The Dallas police force may have been relieved to hear this result, but to me the late appearance of the cartridges only focused more attention on the Dallas homicide unit's unconscionable manipulation of evidence. I knew that if the cartridges had actually been fired by Oswald before his arrest, they routinely would have been included in the summary of evidence and sent off to the F. B.l. Iab on the evening of the murder. But these cartridges were not sent until well *after* Dallas homicide had learned that the lab could not find positive markings from Oswald's gun on the single bullet. (This evaluation would have come from the Washington lab to the Dallas Bureau office by telex within 24 hours.)

It seemed clear to me what had happened. Having failed to get a positive identification with Oswald's revolver from the bullet, Dallas homicide was not about to send off cartridges with an automatic hand gun's ejector marks on them, even if these were the actual cartridges found at the scene. Instead, someone in the homicide division or cooperating with it had fired the confiscated revolver *after* Oswald's arrest, thereby obtaining the needed cartridges bearing its imprint. Then those cartridges were sent to Washington.

However, competence was not the Dallas homicide unit's strong suit, even in fabricating evidence. The F.B.I. Iab found that *two* of the cartridge cases had been manufactured by Western and *two* by Remington. Since the lab had already concluded that *three* of the bullets found in Tippit's body were copper-coated Westerns and *one* was a lead Remington, these numbers simply did not add up.

Worse yet, at the Warren Commission hearings it became embarrassingly apparent that the used cartridges that the Dallas homicide team had sent to the F. B.l. Iab were not the cartridges actually found at the scene of Tippit's murder. One witness, Domingo Benavides, found two used cartridge shells not far from the shooting and handed them to Officer J.M. Poe. Dallas Police Sergeant Gerald Hill instructed Poe to mark them i.e., to scratch his initials on them in order to maintain the chain of evidence. This is standard operating procedure for all homicide officers everywhere.

Poe informed the Warren Commission that he believed he had marked them, but he could not swear to it. At the Commission hearing Poe examined four cartridges that were shown to him but was unable to identify his marks on them. Sergeant W.E. Barnes informed the Commission that he had received two cartridges from Officer Poe back at police headquarters and had added his own initials to them. However, he too was unable to positively identify the two shells.

[1] Mark Lane's locating and interviewing of key witnesses to Officer Tippits shooting probably was the earliest and most outstanding work done by all the critics of the official conclusion concerning the assassination.

[2] To appreciate the injustice described here, it is necessary to understand the difference between an automatic hand gun and a revolver. An automatic contains the bullets in a clip, which fits inside its handle. Each time the gun is fired, the empty cartidge remaining in the chamber is automatically flipped out by the ejector mechanism as the new cartridge and bullet are pushed up into place by a spring at the bottom of the clip. A revolver, typified in American tradition by the long-barreled hand weapon of the Old West, holds its cartridges and bullets in a circular, revolving chamber and does not automatically eject each cartridge as fired. One of the major differences between the two weapons is that each time the automatic flips out a used cartridge it leaves on it an ineradicable mark of the ejector mechanism. A revolver does not do this, it leaves only the mark of the firing pin. Another difference is that revolvers are usually all metal and have a relatively small gripping handle, whereas an automatic has a large fat handle, which ordinarily has a dark blue metallic finish.

With respect to my second remark (about the lineup): I do not have references handy. In a posting of Dave Ratcliffe last week (the collected Oswald citations list), there was something about it, and there have been other postings. Somebody remembers them?