In spite of Kennedy and Johnson having barely won Texas in 1960, and, in fact, having lost Dallas, throngs of Lone Star citizens lined the 35 to 40 minute route from Dallas Love Field airport through downtown Dealey Plaza to the Dallas Business and Trade Mart.
The roar of the crowd intensified as the first glimpse of the motorcade appeared at DealeyPlaza, turned right off Main Street onto Houston Street and nosed its way toward the Houston Book Depository building tucked in the corner of Houston and Elm Streets.
The lead car was an unmarked late model white Ford four-door containing Dallas police chief, Dallas county sheriff, and two secret service agents.
Of course, all eyes focused on the second vehicle, a 1961 Black Lincoln Continental, code named SS-100-X. Waving and smiling from the rear right seat of the open convertible was President John F. Kennedy, with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on his left wearing a fashionable pink suit and matching pill-box hat. Texas Governor John Connally occupied the right middle seat, with his wife Nellie Connally seated to his left. Secret Service agents drove and occupied the front passenger seats.
Following Kennedy’s limousine was the presidential follow-up car, code named “Halfback”, containing four secret service agents and two presidential aides, with a pair of agents on each side of the convertible’s custom running boards.
Next in line was the vice presidential limousine, with Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, his wife Lady Bird Johnson, Senator Ralph Yarborough, a single agent, and driven by a Houston police officer.
Next in line was, of course, the Vice Presidential follow-up car, with three agents, one vice-presidential aide, driven by a State police officer.
The last cars in the motorcade, numbers six and seven, contained the traveling press core. As the last car turned right onto Houston Street, the lead car was passing the Texas Book Depository as it turned left onto ill-fated Elm Street. As the presidential limo turned onto Elm Street a sniper placed Kennedy’s head into the crosshairs of his scope, knowing his first shot must be his best over the hurried shots that were to follow.
As the last two cars began their turn past the Book Depository, the sniper took a slow deep breath, paused and squeezed off his first round. With the frenzy driven noise echoing about DealeyPlaza, few heard the non distinguished muffled pops, until those closest to the presidential limousine clearly associated the pops with what was being indelibly etched into their minds. One moment the president was smiling and waving. Then, suddenly his mouth opened widely in shocked expression and his hands momentarily clenched into fists, before he raised his hands upward towards his head as he turned leftward towards his wife. As the president recoiled back into his seat the spatter of blood droplets boldly appeared on Jackie’s pink pill-box hat and the padded shoulders of her matching jacket.
With amazing speed and agility, secret service agent Clint Hill jumped from his running board perch and onto the trunk of the accelerating presidential limo as the volley of shots played out; one of the final shots blew away part of the president’s skull. The crowd instantly transformed from one of jubilance to that of horror, as they watched the gore spattered limousine speed up with multiple police sirens echoing throughout the plaza.
Several of the spectators standing on the grassy knoll to the right of the presidential caravan turned their attention to a block wall located on the top of the knoll, and behind the John Neely Bryan (founder of the city of Dallas) concrete pergola. One gentleman screamed, “There, he’s behind the wall with a gun.” The gunman had not fled more than fifty-yards before a pair of Dallas foot patrol police officers took pursuit as the president’s limo sped across town to ParklandMemorialHospital, all the while sirens continued to echo about the plaza.
As the two officers gained ground on the flight-footed gunman, he cut down an alley and shed ballast by discarding a rifle in an open dumpster. At that point he accelerated and opened some distance between he and the officers who were loaded down with gun, club, and cuffs, all within a bulky equipment belt.
At the same time, two people near the book depository building signaled a nearby police officer and pointed upward to an open window on the seventh floor of the depository. Within moments the lone officer entered the building, secured the lobby and called for back-up. Within moments a half dozen officers arrived and began to clear the upper floors, while two officers concentrated on the first floor and its cafeteria. In the cafeteria they found a pair of canteen workers and a dozen or so Depository employees, including Lee Harvey Oswald, who was identified by the building manager as a Depository employee. Although Oswald, just moments earlier, had allegedly partook in the assassination of the President of the United States, had stashed his weapon, and scrambled down five flights of stairs (due to the elevator needing repair), to the officers he appeared calm, unruffled, breathing normal, and showing no signs of perspiration.
As the officers moved up toward the fourth floor, Oswald casually strolled from the building, walked two blocks to a bus stop, and within moments was aboard a Dallas City Bus heading toward his boarding house.
Within a couple of long minutes from the last of the undefined number of shots being fired, the president arrived at ParklandHospital. As the president’s gurney was quickly wheeled into emergency surgery, several units of B+ blood were ushered in before the door could be closed. All faces within the surgery, including two stone faced secret service agents, reflected the gray, ashen, blood spattered face of their president….grim.
The chief surgeon, a retired naval officer, mumbled through his mask, “By the grace of God, we’ll do whatever it takes to save our commander-and-chief.” A quick assessment revealed a severely shattered right shoulder, a disfigured right ear, and, most frightening, a missing portion of skull above the right ear; miraculously, the skull had been violently blown away, and yet, as if by divine intervention, appeared to be skillfully peeled off up to the final membrane that contained and protected the brain. The membrane, being translucent, provided a window view of the president’s brain. The surgeon glanced at the two stone faced feds, “I hope that you mannequins are not above prayer.”
The two officers, in pursuit of the grassy knoll shooter, being familiar with the area, split up as the suspect turned down an alleyway. The alleged shooter paused, for the briefest of moments, and glanced over his shoulder, as he discovered the alley was a dead end. The athletic suspect then exploded forward, accelerating to full speed as he approached a brick wall at the end of the alley. The loaded-down pursuing officer realized he was no match for the suspect, who attacked the seven foot wall with the grace and agility of a trained gymnast. “Halt or I’ll shoot!” As the suspect crested the top of the wall, the officer fired his weapon in the air. The suspect, unfazed, disappeared over the wall, only to encounter the second officer within fifty feet of him. The olive complexioned suspect raised his handgun toward the officer who got off three quick shots; one shot shattered the man’s right knee cap, the second tore through his left thigh, with the third hitting low on the brick wall. The impact of the 45’s dropped him, causing him to twist ninety-degrees away from the officer, as he landed in a heap. The officer yelled from a crouched position with his weapon at the ready, “Toss your gun aside, now!” No sooner has the command left his lips, a final shot rang out…..self inflicted to the roof of his mouth.
In her studio, brush and palette in hand, humming along with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Mary paused and grumbled at a sudden new bulletin, cutting off Paul Desmond’s alto-sax solo.
“We’ve just received word that the President of the United States has been shot in Dallas…..” Mary’s mind went numb; she gasped, and dropped her brush and pallet to the floor.
Weak kneed and faint headed, she staggered across the studio through a maze of blank, completed, and partially filled canvases, and flicked on her small black and white television.
Chaos prevailed throughout Parkland Hospital, with focused medical professionalism working at its best within the emergency trauma surgical room, in spite of the desperateness of the situation………..with an undercurrent of reality that the life of the President of the United States of America was in their hands.
As the surgical team struggled, a police radio reported that the first alleged assassination suspect had been spotted, by Dallas officer J. D. Tippit, walking down the sidewalk in the residential area of Oak Cliff, about three miles from Dealey Plaza. As Tippit stepped from his car to question the suspect, he was immediately shot four times and killed. While officers convened on the area, another report came in that the suspect was seen ducking into a movie theater in the same neighborhood.
While officers responded to both reports, a team of Dallas Crime Scene officers busied themselves at the site where the second shooting suspect lay dead, while a second team searched the trash dumpster where the dead man reportedly discarded his rifle during the pursuit. To the investigating officer’s dismay, the rifle had been removed from the dumpster; a key piece of evidence was now missing, without a witness to be found.
Mary starred at the television through tear drenched eyes and sobbed while trying in vain to reach her insider contacts by phone. “No, Lord, I beg of you….I cannot lose one more person that I love….”
As the world waited in stunned disbelief in front of televisions and radios for news of the president’s condition, a team of Dallas officers entered a local movie theater with extreme caution. In the dim light of the theater, they spotted their suspect in the middle of an empty row of the sparsely occupied low class theater. When approached from both directions, the suspect was successfully apprehended following a brief scuffle in which he attempted to shoot the officer that first caught his attention. In the light of day they determined, through carried identification, that their suspect was one Lee Harvey Oswald. Within moments of the arrest, the suspect was in route to Dallas police headquarters where the feds were already asserting their authority over the locals.
The Dallas police chief slammed the phone down and pounded his fist of his desk. “We lost the fucking discarded weapon, and the son of a bitchn’ dead shooter has no identification…..surprise, fucking surprise.” He slammed the palm of his hand on his desk and barked at his assistant. “Lift a set of prints off the dead bastard and run em’ through the system…national and global.”
Before he could catch his breath, he grabbed his phone mid ring. “Yea…well, tell me some good news.” He half smiled. “You found the weapon? Great, where?” He furrowed his brow, as he reached for a half empty soft-pack of non-filtered Camels. “You’re shitn’ me….at the Book Depository? Surprise, surprise.” He flicked his Zippo and took a heavy drag on his cigarette, exhaling as he talked. “The eighth floor….between boxes of books”. He stood and turned toward the window overlooking Dallas. “Good work, you know the drill.”He dropped the receiver into its cradle, and turned toward stern faced Federal agent Forrest Sorrels dressed in all black. “Well, that half makes up for the rifle missing from the dumpster.”
The Fed spoke, as he looked the chief squarely in the eyes, “You’re wrong there, my friend, that’s precisely why you boys have to step aside.”
The red face chief exhaled a thick Camel cloud toward the clean cut Fed as he jabbed his finger at him across his desk. “You fuckn’ city boys had better never under estimate us cowboys.”
The Fed answered in calm, slow, normal tone. “Yee, hah!”
The phone cut off the chief’s defensive reply; he dropped his voice as he turned ninety degrees toward the window. “Great! Quick book him, and I’ll meet you in 2B for a little chat.” The chief slowly placed the receiver down and turned back toward the Fed., trying hard to hide a wry smile, “Now then,” as he stepped toward the door. “If you’ll excuse me I have a department to run.”
The stoned face Fed responded amiably, as he tapped his discrete ear piece with his index finger. “I understand, I too have business to attend to: the booking of Lee Harvey Oswald and his initial interrogation in IR 2B.”
The chief froze in his tracks and exploded, finger jabbing just short of the Fed’s stone face. “You ass holes had better tread lightly on my fucking turf.”
The Fed stepped calmly between the chief and the exit, and placed his hand on the door knob. “When the president of the United States is assassinated on your turf, you surrender said turf to the Feds.” The Fed cut off the chief’s attempted response. “In the future, us Feds, in all due respect, are anus orifices.”
With one wet, red eye on the television, Mary mumbled as she desperately continued to try and make contact with at least one of her insiders….all of which, no doubt, were tied up in the Dallas fiasco. “Please, please, Lord….please no.”
As the Chief and Fed approached the interrogation room, he took the chief’s arm and slowed to a stop, as he pointed to his ear piece. “The weapon from the Book Depository just arrived and is in route to the Federal lab.”
The chief forced a red faced smile and spoke through gritted teeth, “I appreciate being in the fucking loop.”
The Fed paused with his hand on the interrogation room door knob. “Let the government do all the talking….me and the two waiting inside.”
Sarcastically, “I wouldn’t dream of opening my mouth in my own house.”
“You learn quickly, it’s no wonder you’re the chief.”
They stepped into the interrogation room and quietly shut the door. The large two-way mirror on the far wall enlarged the relatively small pale green room, which contained a small rectangular metal table with four cushion free metal chairs. Two of the four corners contained matching chairs. The grey speckled asphalt tile floor was well worn, and the white acoustic drop ceiling and recessed fluorescent fixture were yellowed with nicotine. The Fed, with the chief at his elbow, was handed a manila folder by one of his two colleagues already present in the room. He quickly perused the file in the stone silence of the room, save for the shuffling of feet and the sound of circulating cool air. The suspect sat still, solemn, and quiet, staring blankly at the center of the green paint chipped table. The chief gave the appearance of wanting to speak but wisely remained silent, as the Fed casually placed the folder on the table and spoke clear and soft.
Oswald looked up, and the Fed continued as he paced slowly with his hands behind his back.
“Now then, what shall we call you?”
Oswald’s crooked smile, caused by being on the wrong end of a struggle with police in the Texas Theater, seemed forced and swollen.
“Just call me Lee….Mr. Lee.”
The Fed replied slowly and with no emotion.
“Well, Lee, you appear to have placed yourself squarely in a world of deep poop today.”
He choked off a smile. “If you say so.”
“Well, Lee, it’s not so much what I say, as much as what your own actions of today, that have spoken loud and clear.”
Silence, as the Fed continued his slow pace.
Finally Oswald shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “Which were what, besides carrying a concealed weapon into a movie theater?”
Agent Forrest answered Oswald without missing a beat. “For the record, the concealed weapon being a loaded gun, which you used, less than a half-hour earlier, to kill Dallas police officer Tippit. Of course, that’s after having shot and killed the president of the United States an hour earlier.”
Oswald stiffened upright in his chair, wincing at the discomfort of his arms being tightly manacled behind his back. “Whoa, hold it right there, you guys are fucking crazy….I did no such things.” Seemingly bewildered, he continued. “Listen here, guys, I have rights, and you are clearly violating them.”
More silence, with no reaction from the Feds.
“I want to call my attorney, a Mr. Abt in New York City. He is a staunch defender of civil liberties.”
Forrest raised his hand in a halting fashion, as he adjusted and listened intently to his ear piece for nearly a minute before speaking. OK, let’s hold it for no more than another minute.” He looked at the chief, “Join me in the hallway.”
They stepped into the hallway and closed the door. “What’s up?
“Just got word that our dead second shooter’s finger prints are not in the global system.”
The chief rubbed his chin, “Shit, we’re flying blind with a John Doe.”
“At your request, you’re now in a very exclusive loop, so do not, I repeat, do not leak this information to anyone…. especially the press. We need to keep our cards close to our chest for a while.”
Parkland Hospital’s chief surgeon, stepped and turned away from the operating table, pulled his mask down around his neck, shook his head , mopped his forehead, let go with an exacerbating sigh, and spoke to the two stone face agents.
“You can do what you wish with this information; it appears that our president is out of the woods….he has a rough road to recovery, but I’m quite sure he’ll make it.”
One of the agents smiled, “Praise God!”