JFK Assassination: Bloody Witness Testimony

Photo credit: National Archives

There were literally hundreds of witnesses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 — some so far away that they only heard gunshots, and a few so close that their clothes were stained with his blood.

The Warren Commission — the governmental body formed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to reach a conclusion about who was behind the assassination — found that the president was assassinated by a lone gunman. And for over fifty years, establishment media and academia — with rare exceptions — have faithfully towed the line.

The Commission presented a scenario that explained how the pieces of evidence — not all but the relevant pieces — fit together to lead to that conclusion. But, in order to reach that conclusion, it had to ignore or explain away the eyewitness testimony that didn’t fit this carefully crafted picture.

If we simply listen to what those witnesses tell us, then try to fit the pieces together, the government’s picture is wrong.

Let’s examine just three of the witnesses that were most affected by this crime: the governor of Texas and his wife, John and Nellie Connally, who were seated in front of the president; and a bystander you may never have heard of, James Tague.

***

Ready, Aim

November 22, 1963, Dallas, TX.

One shooter, one Mannlicher–Carcano bolt-action rifle, three shots in 5.6 seconds, two injured men, one dead president — all caught on frames of 8mm film from bystander Abraham Zapruder’s Bell & Howell camera. These are the salient facts as rendered by the Warren Commission (WC).

Its conclusion was that a 24-year-old ex-Marine, Lee Harvey Oswald, took those three shots from the corner window of the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) building, located in Dealey Plaza, as the presidential motorcade was passing below after turning from Houston Street onto Elm Street, as suggested by the “sniper’s nest” label on this photograph:

Dealey Plaza in Dallas, TX. Photo credit: Warren Commission / Wikimedia

The third shot, seen at frame 313 of Zapruder’s film, was the headshot that killed the president, spraying material evidence on his wife and two Dallas cops on motorcycles at the left side of the limousine. One of the first two shots, allegedly taken by Oswald from the 6th floor of the TSBD, missed, possibly hitting a concrete curb that chipped and injured the cheek of a bystander, James Tague, who was standing near the triple underpass farther down the street (see above map). He was one of two other men injured.

The other was Gov. Connally (sitting with his wife, Nellie, in front of Kennedy) by a shot, described under the rubric of the “single-bullet theory” (or “magic bullet” by its detractors), that allegedly hit Kennedy in the back, exited his throat, entered Connally’s back, shattered four inches of his right rib, exited his chest, shattered his right wrist, and finally lodged in his left thigh, only to be found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital after the shooting, according to the Warren Commission’s report.

Case closed — right? Well, perhaps not quite.

The Connallys: First Shot Didn’t Hit the Governor

The Connallys, the closest witnesses to the president’s assassination besides his wife, Jackie, publicly accepted the conclusion of the WC that Oswald alone pulled a trigger.

Yet until his last day Governor Connally believed that the first shot did not injure him, only the second.

You can read his detailed testimony to the WC here, or watch below his first TV interview while still recovering from his wounds in Parkland Hospital, five days after the assassination:

The governor described what happened to a local TV station the following year:

And here is a video of an eyewitness — S.M. Holland, who watched from the overpass — who corroborates — in detail — what Connally told the Warren Commission:

In all of his testimony, Connally was adamant that he heard the first shot, knew that it was rifle shot, and turned to see if the president was alright. Then, in the process of turning back around, he was hit by the second shot.

To reconcile his testimony with the WC’s single-bullet theory, the governor said that it “might” be possible that the first shot missed entirely both Kennedy and himself, and then the second shot would have been the single-bullet that injured both men.

His wife, Nellie, however, was sure that the first shot did hit Kennedy, causing him to reach for his throat with both hands, and that it was only the second shot that injured her husband, who was seated next to her. Watch her description of what she saw:

Here’s the rub: if Nellie’s testimony is true, then the single-bullet theory is false, and if the single-bullet theory is false, then the lone-gunman theory is false, and if the lone-gunman theory is false, then there was a conspiracy to murder the president.

The problem is one of time: seconds as measured in frames of film.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to proceed at this point without examining Zapruder’s film. We’ll use this video (one of many you can find online), which includes frame numbers and is drastically slowed down and zoomed in, as our reference.

Notice that just before the presidential limousine goes behind the signpost at frame 210, everything looks fine: the president is waving to the exuberant crowd. However, as soon as he appears from the other side of the signpost at frame 225, he is clutching at his throat and begins to slump forward slightly — clearly responding to being hit.

The WC concluded that the earliest that the president could have been hit by a shot was frame 210, because at this point he became occluded by the sign, and the latest possible was frame 225, since at that point he had reemerged on the other side of the sign showing signs of injury.

So now we have a potential starting frame — 210 — and an ending frame with the headshot at 313 — a total of 103 frames from start to finish.

Now here’s where the time issue comes into play. From the manufacturer’s specifications of the camera, the Warren Commission determined that it took one second for 18.3 frames of film to pass across the lens before the eye of Zapruder: 18.3 frames was the equivalent of one second of time. With that information they concluded that the 103 frames — from the potential time of the first shot that hit Kennedy to the headshot — was approximately 5.6 seconds.

But the Commission also determined that the bare minimum time that Oswald would need to fire his bolt-action Mannlicher–Carcano rifle was 2.3 seconds (or approximately 42 frames) between shots. So, after his first shot, he would need 4.6 seconds to get off the other two shots. (The WC concluded that “the time span between the shot entering the back of the President’s neck and the bullet which shattered his skull was 4.8 to 5.6 seconds.”)

So by looking just at required time, if Oswald was either extremely skilled or extremely lucky, it’s possible that he could have hit Kennedy between frames 210–225, and then pulled off a second shot that hit Connally, before finally making the third shot — the headshot. This would fit Nellie’s description.

However, the time stipulation of 2.3 seconds between shots — measuring forward from the first and backwards from the third — would dictate that Connally’s wounding would have to have happened sometime between frames 252 and 271. Yet Connally does not display any physical sign of having been shot between those particular frames — in fact, that’s when he appears to be trying to turn around in his seat, and looking backwards over his right shoulder toward the wounded president after the first shot he heard.

If frames 210–225 are our starting point, and we believe Nellie Connally’s testimony that this was the first shot that hit Kennedy but didn’t hit her husband (as implied by John Connally when he said in his hospital interview that he saw the president “slumped”), then we need a second shot before the headshot, a shot that doesn’t appear on film when and where it’s supposed to.

Hitting the Angles

But the WC compounded this problem by stating that “At some point between frames 235 and 240, therefore, is the last occasion when Governor Connally could have received his injuries, since in the frames following 240 he remained turned too far to his right.”

In other words, after 240, Connally’s torso is turned too far to the right to have received the “magic bullet” shot penetrating his back below his right armpit and exiting below the right nipple — at least, too far to create a single bullet trajectory from a gunman in the 6th floor Depository window.

What choices, then, are left?

  1. Both John and Nellie Connally are wrong on everything — the shot between 210–225 was the first shot, and also was the single-bullet injuring the governor. This would require a second shot some time between frames 252 and 271 — a shot that missed but which does not appear on the Zapruder film.
  2. John Connally heard the first shot that missed sometime before the second shot — the single-bullet shot — which we already established hit Kennedy between 210–225. With our stipulation to a minimum 2.3 seconds between shots, we can conclude that the very latest that the first shot could have been fired was frame 183. For reasons described later, in this scenario the first shot would most likely have to be in the early 160s. Nellie Connally is simply wrong on two counts — that the first shot hit Kennedy, and there was a separate shot that injured her husband.
  3. Nellie is correct that the first shot hit Kennedy (between 210–225), and then a separate second shot hit her husband. But this shot occurred outside of the required frames for Oswald’s second shot (252–271), whether before or after. This by necessity would require a second gunman.

Before we try to decide which is the most reasonable choice, let’s look at our second major problem.

Matching Film with John Connally’s Testimony

In John Connally’s testimony to the Warren Commission, and in the TV interviews you watched, he says that when he heard the first shot, he immediately recognized it as a rifle shot and turned to look over his right shoulder.

(Note: There are two discrepancies between his Warren Commission testimony and his Parkland hospital TV interview — that he turned to his left and saw the president slumped. For more on this interesting puzzle, see the work of Milicent Cranor.)

Here is the relevant portion of his WC testimony reproduced:

We had just made the turn, well, when I heard what I thought was a shot. I heard this noise which I immediately took to be a rifle shot. I instinctively turned to my right because the sound appeared to come from over my right shoulder, so I turned to look back over my right shoulder, and I saw nothing unusual except just people in the crowd, but I did not catch the President in the corner of my eye, and I was interested, because once I heard the shot in my own mind I identified it as a rifle shot, and I immediately — the only thought that crossed my mind was that this is an assassination attempt.

So I looked, failing to see him, I was turning to look back over my left shoulder into the back seat, but I never got that far in my turn. I got about in the position I am in now facing you, looking a little bit to the left of center, and then I felt like someone had hit me in the back. [emphasis added.]

The question is this: Is there a part in the Zapruder film that most accurately matches up with the testimony of Governor Connally concerning his actions after he heard the first shot?

If we hold to scenario #1, that both Connallys were mistaken, and the first shot between 210–225 was the first and single-bullet shot, then his testimony doesn’t matter, except that perhaps he previously had mistaken an automobile or a firecracker for a rifle shot. Still, do we see evidence of the behaviour he described before frames 210–225?

The same issue would hold for scenario #2. If Connally in fact heard the first shot earlier than the single-bullet, making that the second shot at 210–225, then we must look before those frames to find visual evidence that matches his testimony of how he reacted to the first shot.

We know from our 2.3 second / 42-frame rule that the latest that the first shot could have been was frame 183 (by subtracting 42 frames from 225). What becomes clear upon examining the video evidence is this: At no time before frame 224 does Connally exhibit any of the behavior that he describes to us in his Warren Commission testimony. At no time does he look over his right shoulder to try to see the president. At no time does he display the fear, the recognition that this was a rifle shot, that “the only thought that crossed my mind was that this was an assassination attempt.”

In fact, if we compare frames 201–207, right before Connally disappears behind the sign, and frames 222–223 when he reappears on the other side of the sign, he appears to have kept the same relative gaze 45 degrees to his right. He looks calm. (Jackie, however, has turned to her right, toward JFK.)

Photo credit: ertGaming / YouTube

Now let’s assume the veracity of both John and Nellie Connally’s testimony. The first shot hits Kennedy, but not John between 210–225. It’s now at the exact point (arguably starting at 224) that John Connally begins to visually demonstrate what he described in his testimony: He appears to wince, his mouth opens, he begins to shift position in his seat and turns to look over his right shoulder.

The irony is this: at exactly the moment when the WC and single-bullet theory adherents would have us believe that John Connally is hit, only then does his behaviour on film start to match the description in his testimony.

Watch again starting from about frame 220:

We can see that by frame 281, John Connally is still turned backwards looking over his right shoulder to try and see anything. Then he begins his turn back towards the left.

Photo credit: ertGaming / YouTube

But in this scenario (#3) when is Connally actually hit? When we examine the frames it seems clear that he is showing signs of distress by 297. So most likely the shot occurred sometime between 285–297, while he was in the process of turning back towards the left.

Of course, with the headshot at 313, and our required 42 frames between gunshots, we are left with the necessity of a second gunmen.

Some researchers came to this conclusion very early on. In July, 1966, reporter Gaeton Fonzi (who would later become an investigator on the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, and would write the book The Last Investigation) interviewed Vincent Salandria, lawyer and early Warren Commission critic. Quoting Arlen Specter, assistant to the WC and co-creator of the single-bullet theory, Salandria said “You can’t tell on the films when Connally was hit. You just can’t tell.”

I would like to suggest to Mr. Specter that you indeed can tell. That Connally appears to be registering a hit at 292. He shows a great deal of contortion and grimacing when the reaction to this hit results to his falling backward into his wife’s arms at approximately 298 and 299. That is the only reaction Connally shows, the only evidence of any hit and it comes way back flush up against the Kennedy hit, roughly some 23 frames from the head hit. Therefore, too few frames to meet the 2.3 minimum shot time is covered and therefore that according to the Commission, requiring 2.3 seconds for two shots could not have registered a hit on Connally at that point and on the president’s head.

Fonzi himself came to a similar conclusion, writing in the Greater Philadelphia Magazine in August, 1966:

By frame 235, Connally has begun to turn to his right, against — according to the Commission — the force of the bullet which had already shattered his right fifth rib, smashed his right wrist and punctured his left thigh. … The Zapruder films also show that there is no evidence of Connally being hit before frame 292 and that by frame 297 he is clearly grimacing and falling back onto his wife’s lap. But, says the Commission Report, Connally couldn’t have been hit after frame 240 because “he remained turned too far to his right.” “Too far” for what? To have been hit by a bullet coming from the sixth-floor window of the Depository.

Conclusion: if we take John Connally’s WC testimony at face value, and then examine the video evidence, his reactions to what he perceived to be the first bullet match the visual evidence we observe when the shot fired is fired between 210–225, and that all the way up to at least 281 he is clearly still looking backwards over his right shoulder — and if we believe his testimony, he has not been struck yet. Ergo two gunman.

Nellie’s Gaze

In Nellie Connally’s testimony to the WC, she says the following:

[In reference to her husband John Connally] No he turned away from me…I never again looked into the back seat of the car after my husband was shot. My concern was for him, and I remember that he turned to the right and then just slumped down into the seat, so that I reached over to pull him toward me.

If we take Nellie Connally at her word, that she never looked into the back seat after her husband was hit, then we should be able to verify the last time she can be seen looking into the back seat. And indeed we can.

You can view an image of each individual Zapruder frame in toto here. Notice that at frame 288 she is still looking backwards at a slumped over President Kennedy, as is Gov. Connally.

In fact, it appears that from about frame 282 to 289 her gaze is fixed on Kennedy. If we are to believe her testimony, her husband has not been shot yet. Again, the headshot is at 313, so if we subtract 289 from 313 we have 24 frames — not enough time to get off both shots.

Of course those who believe the single-bullet theory will argue that Nellie was simply mistaken, and that her husband was already shot at this point but she just didn’t realize it.

It’s their word against hers.

Delayed Reaction?

But let’s take the WC at their word and assume the validity of the single-bullet theory. How does the film evidence match up?

It’s clear that by 224–225 John Connally is beginning to “react.” The trouble is, what is he reacting to? It’s the WC’s contention that he is reacting to being shot by the magic bullet. On the other hand, it’s possible that he is reacting to hearing the sound of the first rifle shot, out of surprise and fear exactly as he testified.

Let’s begin by looking closely at frames 222–225 as the presidential limousine reappears on the other side of the signpost:

Photo credits: ertGaming / YouTube

While it’s impossible to see Kennedy’s hands in frame 223, we can clearly see that in 224 they are both moving towards clutching at his throat. He is reacting to having been shot. By 225 both men are clearly reacting.

The WC determined that the bullet exited his throat at a velocity of 1,772 to 1,779 feet per second, or roughly 2 to 3 times the speed of sound. If Kennedy is already reacting to a shot at 224, that means that Connally has already been shot, according the single-bullet theory.

If we compare frames 222–224, you could argue that Connally’s facial expression changes at 224. But his body posture — his head, shoulders, and torso — remain basically the same in all three frames.

Let’s remind ourselves of the severity of Connally’s wounds: at this point, if the WC is correct, his chest has been perforated, four inches of his right fifth rib have been shattered, his right wrist bone has been shattered, and the bullet has finally lodged in his left thigh.

Why the delayed reaction on Connally’s part, when Kennedy is already reaching for his throat? For a bullet traveling that velocity and causing that kind of damage, the laws of motion imply that we should see some kind of change in Connally’s sitting posture.

The Mystery of James Tague and the Missing Shot

James Tague was a bystander standing near the triple underpass on Main street, which was one street over from Elm where the motorcade was traveling. He had parked his car underneath the underpass, and had walked out just past it. The presidential limousine was headed in his direction.

Here’s an overhead shot of Dealey Plaza from the WC for reference. The shooter allegedly perched at the circled number eight in the Depository’s 6th-floor window. Tague was located at the circled number “6” near the bottom:

Photo credit: Warren Commission / History Matters

Recall that during the assassination sequence, Tague was facing in the direction of the approaching limousine. A part of the concrete curb about 12–15 feet to Tague’s right chipped and his right cheek was injured and started to bleed — presumably from either a concrete chip or a small bullet fragment. But when did it occur?

Here’s part of his testimony to the Warren Commission:

Mr. Liebeler: Do you have any idea which bullet might have made that mark?

Mr. Tague: I would guess it was either the second or third. I wouldn’t say definitely on which one.

Mr. Liebeler: Did you hear any more shots after you felt yourself get hit in the face?

Mr. Tague: I believe I did.

Mr. Liebeler: How many?

Mr. Tague: I believe that it was the second shot, so I heard the third shot afterwards.

Mr. Liebeler: Did you hear three shots?

Mr. Tague: I heard three shots; yes sir. And I did notice the time on the Hertz clock. It was 12:29.

So Tague heard three shots, and while not completely confident, believes it was the second shot, possibly the third, that led to his injury.

It turns out, however, that regardless of which shot caused the injury, it presents serious problems to the lone-gunman theory.

If it was the first shot that caused Tague’s injury, where did it come from? We run into multiple issues trying to establish when and where the shot was fired in relation to the presidential limousine.

If the first shot was the magic-bullet, then this scenario is automatically contradicted since, according to the WC, the bullet appeared almost intact on a stretcher in Parkland hospital, after it fell out of Connally’s body.

What if the first shot came earlier and missed Kennedy? This is the most common interpretation. But that too presents great difficulty. For one, the farther back in time the first shot occurred, the greater the distance between Tague and the president: A rifle in the hands of a shooter on the 6th floor would have to be fired at a more exaggerated downward angle, since the limousine was closer to the Depository Building.

In fact, most researchers who believe that there was a first shot before the magic bullet of the 210–225 frame place it somewhere in the early 160s. The reason is that there was a tall oak tree in front of building that, according to the Warren Commission, would have obscured Oswald’s view of the limousine from 166–210.

The Warren Commission goes so far as to say:

It is probable that the president was not shot before frame 210, since it is unlikely that the assassin would have deliberately have shot at him with a view obstructed by the oak tree when he was about to have a clear opportunity.

And [in reference to the possibility of a missed shot before frame 166] even further:

The greatest cause for doubt is the improbability that the same marksman who twice hit a moving target would be so inaccurate on the first and closest of his shots as to miss completely, not only the target but the large automobile.

Vincent Bugliosi, in his book Reclaiming History which argues the lone-gunman case, thinks the missed first shot came at frame 160 — in agreement with the later HSCA. (To explain how Oswald could have possibly missed hitting the car at such close range he argues that he was nervous and that the limousine was a laterally moving target and thus much more difficult to hit.)

Here is his explanation of how James Tague was likely injured:

The probability is that a fragment of the bullet [fired at 160] that hit the pavement went on to strike the south curb on Main Street at the base of the Triple Underpass, propelling a bit of the concrete (or a bullet fragment) into the right cheek of James Tague…

Gerald Posner, in his lone-gunman apologetic Case Closed, has an even more audacious solution than Bugliosi’s ricochet:

What is likely is that after the bullet fragmented against a tree branch, the stable lead core remained in a straight line from the Depository and struck the curb, over five hundred feet away.

Regardless, whether you find their explanations convincing or implausible, any who argue the case for a lone gunman must discount the testimony of the eyewitness who was actually injured, who was the closest to the event.

James Tague is clear that he believed it was the second shot, not the first that injured him.

But what if the missed shot was the second shot? That’s entirely possible, but again, in this scenario we are left having to completely discount the testimony of both John and Nellie Connally, who testified that the first shot either missed entirely — meaning then that the second bullet had to be the magic bullet, or alternatively, that the first hit Kennedy and the second John Connally, as the filmed evidence suggests.

The remaining possibility is that the third shot, the headshot, somehow fragmented and hit the curb near Tauge, a possibility mentioned by the Warren Commission:

The mark on the south curb of Main Street cannot be identified conclusively with any of the three shots fired. Under the circumstances it might have come from the bullet which hit the President’s head, or it might have been a product of fragmentation of the missed shot upon hitting some other object in the area.

Yet even Posner argues that “The Commission’s guess that a fragment from the head wound might have caused the curb damage is not realistic. … It is highly unlikely that any fragment from the headshot would have enough energy left to travel another 260 feet and knock a chip off of a concrete curb.”

***

The assassination of John F. Kennedy took place at 12:30 PM in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses. Unlike other murders done in the dead of night behind closed doors, this one could hardly have been more public.

That had the consequence of producing many eyes and ears to consult in finding the truth of what happened. Although many important witnesses were never called to testify, many were — including the three discussed here.

Those testimonies are pieces of a large puzzle that have to be put together. Each piece is a reference point that has to be consulted, weighed, and tested against other pieces, as well as the narratives formed to explain what happened on November 22, 1963.

And what we consistently find is that again and again, to maintain the narrative formed by the Warren Commission — that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone — we must paper over crucial testimony of the closest witnesses.

As the mainstream media refuses to examine critically the foundation of this case, perhaps for fear of finding a house built on sand, it’s the responsibility of citizens to inform themselves of the facts of this assassination, to draw their own conclusions, and inform others.

I’m interested in history, politics, science, philosophy, religion, power, propaganda. A sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

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