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Bugliosi's First Shot Miss Myth

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Bugliosi and the First Shot Miss Myth

On page 468 of his book Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi cites six witnesses to support his contention that the first shot fired at Kennedy was fired around frame 160 of the Zapruder film. He claims there is “overwhelming evidence” in support of a shot at this time. It is my intention here to show that he cherry-picked words from the statements of these witnesses in order to misrepresent what they were actually saying, and to hide that most of their statements suggested a far different scenario than the one he has proposed. This “first shot miss at frame 160” is a myth first proposed by the House Select Committee on Assassination, in order to support its flawed analysis of the dictabelt evidence. In subsequent years, even as they rejected the dictabelt evidence, Dr. John Lattimer writer Gerald Posner, and animator Dale Myers, have used this proposed miss to stretch out the timeline for the three shots fired at Kennedy, so that Lee Harvey Oswald, their proposed culprit, would have more time to accomplish his task. The problem with this scenario is that it has virtually no eyewitness support. (From hereon, we will refer to their scenario of a first shot miss at frame 160, a second shot hit on Kennedy and Connally at frame 224, and a third shot hit on Kennedy at frame 313, as the LPM scenario.)

The first witness used by Bugliosi to support this myth is Governor John Connally. In the Jigsaw Puzzle chapter at patspeer.com I go over Connally’s statements in excruciating detail, and show how his statements are incompatible with a first shot miss at frame 160. Anyone disbelieving that Connally’s statements contradict the LPM scenario should go there and take a look.

The statements of Bugliosi’s other five witnesses relevant to how the shots occurred follow.

Lady Bird Johnson sat next to her husband in the middle of the back seat of the Vice-Presidential limousine. (Transcription from 12-2-63 tape recording, 5H564-567) “we were rounding a curve, going down a hill and suddenly there was a sharp loud report—a shot. It seemed to me to come from the right, above my shoulder, from a building. Then a moment and then two more shots in rapid succession. There had been such a gala air that I thought it must be firecrackers or some sort of celebration. Then, in the lead car, the Secret Service men were suddenly down. I heard over the radio system “Let’s get out of here,” and our Secret service man who was with us, Rufus Youngblood I believe it was, vaulted over the front seat on top of Lyndon, threw him to the floor and said “Get down.”

Analysis: Mrs. Johnson’s recollections are similar to those of two other passengers of her car, Hurchel Jacks and Rufus Youngblood. Her statements that they were “rounding a curve”—not “making a turn”--and “going down a hill” place the limousine further down the street than it was at frame 160. As to her statement that the shot came from her right (which Bugliosi takes to mean the sniper's nest), it should be pointed out that Senator Ralph Yarbrough, riding right beside her, specified that the shots came from their right rear. As they were directly in front of the sniper's nest at frame 160, his hearing a shot from the right rear suggests they were further down the street than at frame 160 when the shots rang out. Ladybird's assertion that the last two shots came in rapid succession, moreover, means she heard only shot in the first half of the time span between the first shot of the LPM scenario at frame 160 and the last shot at frame 313. As Kennedy was undoubtedly wounded by a shot in the first half of this time span, this is an argument against the first shot miss proposed by Bugliosi.

Paul Landis stood along the right side of the Presidential follow-up car behind John Ready. (11-27-63 report, 18H758-759) “At this point the President’s car and follow-up car had just completed its turn and both were straightening out. At this moment, I heard what sounded like the report of a high powered rifle behind me. My first glance was at the President, as my eyes were almost straight ahead at that time. I did not realize that the President was hit at that point. I saw him moving and thought he was turning in the direction of the sound. I immediately returned my gaze to the building which I had observed before, at a quick glance saw nothing and dropped my eyes to the crowd, scanning it quickly from right to left. . . .I think I recall Special Agent Jack Ready saying, “What was it? A firecracker?” I remarked “I don’t know. I don’t see any smoke.” All during this time I was returning my gaze to the President’s car. …I looked at the front right tire of the President’s car and saw it was alright…I glanced back towards the President, he still appeared upright in his seat, leaning slightly towards Mrs. Kennedy. It was at this moment that I heard a second report and saw the President’s head split open and pieces of flesh and blood flying through the air.” (11-30-63 report, 18H751-757) “As the President's car continued around the corner, I continued to survey the crowd along the righthand side of the road and noticed that it was fairly scattered, with hardly enough people to form a single line. I continued to look ahead to an overpass over the route we were traveling. At approximately this point, I would say, the President's car and the Follow-up car had just 'completed their turns and both were straightening out. At this moment I heard what sounded like the report of a high-powered rifle from behind me, over my right shoulder. When I heard the sound there was no question in my mind what it was. My first glance was at the President, as I was practically looking in his direction anyway. I saw him moving in a manner which I thought was to look in the direction of the sound. I did not realize that President Kennedy had been shot at this point. I immediately returned my gaze, over my right shoulder, toward the modernistic building I had observed before. With a quick glance I saw nothing and immediately started scanning the crowd at the intersection from my right to my leftI observed nothing unusual and began to think that the sound had been that of a fire cracker but I hadn't seen any smoke. In fact, I recall Special Agent Jack Ready saying, "Oh, what was it? A fire cracker?" I remarked, "I don't know; I don't see any smoke." So far the lapsed period of time could not have been over two or three seconds. All during this time I continued to scan the crowd, returning my gaze towards the President's car. It must have been another second or two before the next shot was fired because, as I recall having seen nothing out of the ordinary, I then thought that maybe one of the cars in the motorcade had had a blowout that had echoed off the buildings. I looked at the right front tire of the President’s car and saw it was all right. I then glanced to see the right rear tire, but could not because the Follow-up car was too close. I also thought of trying to run and jump on the President's car but did not think I could make it because of the speed at which we were traveling. I decided I had better stay where I was so that I would at least be near the First Lady, to whom I am assigned. I think that it was at this point that I thought, "Faster, Faster, Faster," thinking that we could not get out of the area soon enough . However, I don't have any idea as to how fast we were then moving. I had drawn my gun, but I am not sure exactly when I did this. I did leave my suit unbuttoned all during the motorcade movement, thinking at the time that I could get to my gun faster this way, if I had to. I glanced towards the President and he still appeared to be fairly upright in his seat, leaning slightly toward Mrs. Kennedy with his head tilted lightly back. I think Mrs. Kennedy had her right arm around the President's shoulders at this time. I also remember Special Agent Clinton Hill attempting to climb onto the back of the President's car. It was at this moment that I heard a second report and it appeared that the President's head split open with a muffled exploding sound. I can best describe the sound as I heard it, as the sound you would get by shooting a high powered bullet into a five gallon can of water or shooting into a melon. I saw pieces of flesh and blood flying through the air and the President slumped out of sight towards Mrs. Kennedy. The time lapse between the first and second report have been about four or five seconds. My immediate thought was that the President could not possibly be alive after being hit like he was. I still was not certain from which direction the second shot came, but my reaction at this time was that the shot came from somewhere towards the front, right-hand side of the road. I did not notice anyone on the overpass, and I scanned the area to the right of and below the overpass where the terrain sloped towards the road on which we were traveling.”

Analysis: Landis only heard two shots: one early shot striking the President, and the head shot, which he thought may have come from the grassy knoll. Along with fellow Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who also heard but two shots, he makes note of the unusual sound of the last shot. The statements of the other earwitnesses suggest they heard two shots fired closely together, only blurred together as one. Bugliosi’s use of Landis is undoubtedly deceptive. Landis is clear that the first shot which drew his attention hit Kennedy, and yet Bugliosi uses Landis’ vague language to imply this shot was a missed shot fired more than three seconds before Bugliosi claims Kennedy was hit.

Barbara Rowland (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 24H224) “the President passed…and turned left onto Elm Street and started down towards the underpass when I heard a report and thought it was a backfire then in a few seconds another report sounded and in another few seconds the third report.” (4-7-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 6H177-191) “as they turned the corner we heard a shot, and I didn’t recognize it as being a shot, I just heard a sound, and I thought it might be a firecracker. And the people started laughing at first, and then we heard two more shots…the second and third were closer than the first and second…the people generally ran towards the railroad tracks behind the school book depository building, and so I naturally assumed they came from there.”

Analysis: while Rowland was asked to testify in order to discredit her husband’s testimony that there were two men on the sixth floor just before the shooting, and she obliged, testifying that her husband had lied about his high-school grades, she nevertheless confirmed his contention that the last two shots were bunched together. As the time differential between the purported first shot miss at frame 160 and the purported single bullet theory shot at frame 224 is far shorter than the time differential between the shot at 224 and the head shot at frame 313, her contention that the last two shots were closer together is at odds with the first shot miss proposed in the LPM scenario. Bugliosi’s use of the statement by Rowland that supports his contention while neglecting her contradictory statement is a typical lawyer trick. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Kenneth O’Donnell rode in the back-up car behind the driver. (5-18-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H440-457) “We turned—I remember the overpass. And then the shots occurred--which, at that time, I did not know were shots. My first impression was it was a firecracker. And then either somebody said “He has been hit,” or I noticed the slump—he had been waving out the right side of the car and I noticed him slump over toward Mrs. Kennedy, and I realized then that they had been shots. But as fast as that realization occurred, I saw the third shot hit.” (When asked how close the back-up car was to the limousine) “My guess would be 5 to 8 feet…I would presume they were just about turning to step up the speed a little bit, because there would be no crowds from there. (When asked if the Secret Service car had completed its turn onto Elm Street) “My recollection is they had, just about. I don’t recollect a separation of this nature. It was a slight sloping turn, as I remember, and I thought we were right together.” (When asked what Kennedy was doing with his hands prior to the time of the shooting) “He was waving. We had just left the mass of crowds. But as we turned on the grass plot, there were four or five people there, and I believe he waved to them.” (When asked how many shots he heard) “Three” (When asked the time span of the shots) “I would say 5-6 seconds.” (When asked if the shots came in a pattern) “Yes. The first 2 came almost simultaneously, came one right after the other. There was a slight hesitation, then the third one.” (Asked his reaction) “My reaction is in part a reconstruction and is that they came from the right rear. That would be my best judgment.” (When asked how others reacted) “The agents all turned to the rear…I would think watching the President when the shot—the firsts shot hit—that it would be automatic it would have to have come from the rear. (When asked again about the agents’ reactions) “The reaction I note would be right rear. And again, looking at the manner of the President’s movement I would think you would have to feel the thrust of the shot was from the right rear…He was leaning out waving. He may have just been withdrawing his hand. And the shot him, and threw him to the left. He slumped on Mrs. Kennedy. (When asked which shot this was) “It was not the third shot. Whether it was the first or second, I would not know…If I had to pick one of the two, I think it might have been the second shot.” (A 1968 conversation between O’Donnell and Tip O’Neill as recounted in O’Neill’s memoirs Man of the House, 1987) “I was surprised to hear O’Donnell say that he was sure he had heard two shots that came from behind the fence. (O’Donnell explained) “I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family…The family--everybody wanted this thing behind them.”

Analysis: from his jumping to the third shot in his testimony, it seems likely that O’Donnell decided that the “firecracker” he’d heard was instead two separate shots. If he’d heard a shot at frame 160 followed by a second shot more than 3 seconds later, as in the LPM scenario, this would hardly seem likely. More concretely, his recollection that Kennedy was waving to a small group of people at the time he was hit suggests these first shots were heard around frame 190, where the crowd began to thin and where Kennedy suddenly stops waving and jerks to his left. His statement that Kennedy may have been hit by the second shot can not be interpreted to support the LPM scenario, as he said the shots rang out “simultaneously.”. Bugliosi’s use of O’Donnell is undoubtedly disturbing, as O’Donnell’s statements to O’Neill are well known and Bugliosi would have to know that using O’Donnell’s testimony to support that the shots came from the right rear, without mentioning O’Neill, would upset many. Bugliosi also inserts words into O”Donnell’s statements to get him to say what he wants him to say. Bugliosi inserts the word s “through” and “and had started” into O’Donnell’s statements, so that it reads “just about (through) turning (and had started) to step up the speed a little.” This insertion deceives his readers into thinking that the car was just turning onto Elm, and not winding down Elm, as implied by O’Donnell’s subsequent description of a “grass plot.”

Geneva Hine was manning the phones in the second floor offices of the Texas School Book Depository Building. (4-7-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 6H393-397) “I could see it from the east window of our office…I saw him turn the corner and after he turned the corner I looked and I saw the next car coming just at that instant…was when I heard the shots…Three…they came from inside the building…the building vibrated from the result of the explosion coming in.”

Analysis: Ms. Hine’s testimony, if taken at face value, would indicate a first shot miss somewhere back before the beginning of the Zapruder film sequence with the Presidential limousine, at a time when Tina Towner was still filming the turn onto Elm. Perhaps, by the “next car”, she simply meant the next limousine, the Lincoln holding Vice-President Johnson. If so, then her words are more compatible with the LPM scenario than with a first shot 190 scenario. Her statement that she could tell the shots were from inside the building is refuted by nearly every other witness in the building. Bugliosi’s use of Hine is reasonable in that she was one of only two witnesses whose overall statements were found by this writer to be vaguely suggestive of the LPM scenario.

In sum, the best support for the LPM scenario Buglios offers his readers are the vague statements of a secretary months after the shooting. Bugliosi cherry-picks his way through the rest of his witnesses and is guilty of deception (intentional or not) on numerous occasions. Beware this book.

Edited by Pat Speer
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