As long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally.
—DR. WERNER BEST, Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man in the Gestapo
There is one small difference between the crime of actually killing the President and the crime of being named by the government as the killer. The latter may be regarded as the worse offense because of the difficult burden of proof which it places on the government. This considerable problem may require the execution of the defendant prior to trial in order to allow for a more orderly presentation of the evidence against him. In the case of Lee Oswald, for example, the subsequent secret hearing before the President’s commission was a model of order with neither interference by any defense counsel nor the obstruction of rules of evidence.
Most observers are in general agreement that the weekend of November 22, 1963, was not one of the better weekends for the Dallas police force. However, in fairness to that organization, it must be said that most of its members did not know that the assassination was going to occur.
Nevertheless, once it became clear that men in the federal government had designated Lee Oswald as the official assassin, the confusion of Dealey Plaza was left behind and the joint operation of the local and the federal agencies became a model of law enforcement coordination. Now the Dallas police force moved inexorably after the quarry, finally surrounding and then arresting him at the Texas Theatre. The luster of this achievement is dimmed a little when it is considered that there was at that time no evidence whatsoever that Oswald had shot anyone; nor, indeed, did any sound evidence to that effect ever develop.
However, possession is nine points of the law, and the execution and subsequent conviction of Oswald satisfactorily closed the Dallas file on the murder of the President, ending forever whatever curiosity Dallas law enforcement authorities had about the matter—if, indeed, they ever had any.
Appropriately enough, it was a complaint that Lee Oswald had entered the Texas Theatre without purchasing a ticket which, according to the record, aroused the Dallas officers to effective action. The eyes of veteran police officers must have bulged with disbelief at the audacity of such an act. Undoubtedly already made irritable by the murder of a fellow officer, not to mention the murder of the President, they seem to have been galvanized into action by the failure to buy a ticket at the Texas Theatre.
At least fifteen officers, mounted in a fleet of patrol cars, descended on the Oak Cliff area and surrounded the theater. The lights were switched on and, after some intensive searching activity upstairs and downstairs, Oswald was seized from his seat at the rear of the theater where he had been sitting all along.
Nevertheless, the prey was ensnared now and the apparent lack of reason for trapping him would be lost in the escalation which would follow. The signs pointing to hidden power would be ignored. No one wants to face the fact when terror arrives in their homeland. In Hitler Germany when the Jews heard the first rumors that the government was conducting mass murder in gas chambers, they were reassured by their own leaders who could not conceive that such a thing could happen in Germany.
The evidence really indicated, even up to the time of his autopsy, that Lee Oswald had killed no one, but it made no great difference. The world had been informed that he was the assassin, and that is, for governmental purposes, the same as being the assassin. In either case, there is no difference in the funeral ceremony.
Power structures have no compassion. Consequently, what a man has done or had not done is not of any great importance. It is what the government says he has done that is important. In Germany in the thirties, most of the men who were hauled away in the middle of the night to be converted into ashes had committed no crimes. Their captors knew this well enough but did not waste tears on the matter. The government had designated certain persons for removal. This meant that officially they were enemies of the state.
Distant orders from a distant city. The power flowed like electricity in a high-tension line. What did they say his name is? How tall is he? Where are we supposed to find him? Don’t forget the shotguns.
An inquiry into the facts of the Tippit shooting reveals the same kind of accumulation of implausibilities and the same bland official disinterest in reality as existed earlier in Dealey Plaza. Once again, law enforcement officials showed no serious concern about the question of who had committed the murder once they knew whom they were supposed to arrest for it.
Among the few worthwhile sources of information left available after the government’s assassination of the evidence are the radio logs of the Dallas police force. Apparently the existence of the recordings made it a risky enterprise to alter the typewritten transcripts, and as the result some gleanings of truth have escaped the technicians’ brooms. The first description of the Tippit killer, recorded at 1:22 P.M. on a radio log transcript, refers to the man’s black hair. Between 1:33 and 1:40 P.M. the description then came in on the radio that Tippit’s killer had black and wavy hair. Oswald had thin and receding brown hair.
At 1:40 P.M. it was reported that shells on the scene indicated that the subject was armed with an automatic .38. The gun purportedly removed from Oswald at the Texas Theatre was not an automatic but a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver, a weapon considerably different in operation and appearance as well as the effect made on the used shells. The shells at the scene indeed would have indicated, by the marks caused by the ejector which flips them out, if they had been fired from an automatic weapon.
Domingo Benavides, whose pickup truck was only a few yards away from Officer Tippit when Tippit was shot, persistently refused to identify Oswald as the killer, although he had seen his picture many times in the news media. Although he was by far the closest witness to the Tippit murder, Benavides was never taken to the police lineup to see Oswald.
Just before the murder of Officer Tippit, Acquilla Clemons saw the killer with another man. After the shooting, the second man headed off in a direction different from that taken by the murderer. The killer was described by her as heavy and short. Lee Oswald was of average height and very thin. Mrs. Clemons was never taken to the police lineup, never questioned by the FBI and never called as a witness before the Warren Commission. Mrs. Clemons later informed a nongovernment investigator that the Dallas police had told her she should not tell the Warren Commission what she knew because she might be killed.
The ambulance for Tippit was called by Mrs. Frank Wright, whose husband heard the shooting and saw the killer run away. Mr. Wright was uncompromising in stating that the killer did not resemble the Lee Oswald later shown on television and in the press. Mr. Wright was never brought to the police lineup to see whether the man arrested was the man he had seen running away with the gun in his hand. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Wright was ever called before the Warren Commission.
The government’s avoidance of the major eyewitnesses to Officer Tippit’s murder promoted Mrs. Helen Markham, a Dallas waitress who observed the Tippit shooting on her way to work, to the position of the state’s star witness against Lee Oswald even though she failed to pick him out of a lineup without police assistance. Mrs. Markham’s observations do not appear to help the state’s case, but what she lacked in observation, she made up in her effort to cooperate with the commission. Nevertheless, as late as spring, 1964, just prior to her Warren Commission testimony, she described the killer of Tippit as a short man, somewhat heavy, with somewhat bushy hair, thus corroborating Mrs. Clemons’ description. This further exoneration of Oswald subsequently was presented, in the form of a tape recording of her making this statement, to the commission. The commission swept it aside with dignity and returned to the weighty problem of saddling Lee Oswald with the officer’s murder as well as that of the President.
Had the prosecution of Oswald occurred before a jury rather than a committee protecting the government’s interests, the government’s star witness would have blown the case out of court, and a new investigation would have been required to locate the real killer of Officer Tippit. Following is the dialogue which ensued when Mrs. Markham was asked to corroborate her identification of Oswald at the police line-up.Q. Now when you went into the room you looked these people over, these four men?
In the superstate a witness offering substantive evidence is not a necessity but merely a convenience. Consequently the quality of the testimony of a witness is of no great importance. That can be taken care of later by a press release or a government announcement that the witness gave convincing testimony. In this case, the Warren Commission Report later would announce blandly that witness Markham confirmed her positive identification of Lee Harvey Oswald as the man who shot Officer Tippit. Since neither a defense counsel nor a live defendant existed, the government officials comprising the Warren Commission were free to resort to such imaginative pronouncements wherever gaping holes in the government’s case had to be filled in.
Even though the more important eyewitnesses were not invited to the lineup to look at the quarry, the lineup itself was not likely to cause any viewer to be using only his recollection of the murder in picking out a man. As one of the observers stated, it would have been difficult not to recognize that Oswald was the man who was placed there to be picked out. Oswald, with a black eye from his arrest, was standing with three other silent and unmarked men and was protesting in a loud voice. Witnesses were located who said that the man in the lineup who was yelling could be the man they saw running. None saw the shooting of the officer. The other eight witnesses to the flight, including those who actually observed the murder, were not brought to the lineup, nor were they ever brought to any subsequent proceeding or forum.
One witness who observed the man running from the Tippit murder was Warren Reynolds, an employee of the Reynolds Motor Company (used car lot) at 500 East Jefferson, approximately one block from the Tippit murder site. Reynolds, after hearing the shots and seeing the gun in the man’s hand, followed him on Jefferson Boulevard until he lost him in the parking lot behind a large church.
Strangely enough, this man who chased Tippit’s killer for a block was not interviewed by the FBI until January, 1964, two months after Tippit’s murder. He informed them that he could not identify Oswald as the man running with the gun, a fact which may account for the delay of his first recorded questioning. Two days later he was shot in the head by an unknown assailant but somehow survived. After the shooting, Reynolds reflected that it must have been Oswald after all. He so testified before the commission.
In the ordinary course of events, Lee Oswald would have come up to trial for the Tippit murder and Reynolds would have been a witness. However, gunfire removed Oswald and changed Reynolds’ recollection. The shootings of Oswald and Reynolds were treated by the government as meaningless, just as it found the shootings of the President and of Officer Tippit to be meaningless.
As for the man who really shot Tippit, he appears to have circled back around the block which Tippit had just passed and to have made his way into the huge evangelistic church on 10th Street and Crawford. He was last seen running toward the church in the parking lot behind it Gaining access to its side entrance would have brought him once more within view of some person on 10th Street. It was at the point of emergence from this parking lot that the white jacket was found, apparently thrown there by the man who killed Tippit.
The radio logs indicate that one patrol car was about to search the church when a radio transmission on the same frequency distracted this effort and sent the patrol car to the library on Marsalis, five blocks away. Any transmitter set on the proper frequency, whether in a patrol car or in a building, can broadcast misleading messages to police engaged in a search. This technique appears to have been used in 1968 in the Martin Luther King assassination, which was shortly afterward followed by misleading radio messages sent out on the police frequency.
Meanwhile, back in Dallas, here is how the search of the church ended.531—19: Do you have any information for us?
After the police cars converged on the library to find nothing there, the transcript then has this dialogue.550—19: There is nothing to this Marsalis here. Let’s get back up to the place and work to North Jefferson, we got a witness that saw him shed his jacket and check towards Tyler.
During the diversion to the library, the trail of Tippit’s killer disappeared. There was no more mention of the church at 10th and Crawford.
Approximately five minutes after the last transmission, the message came which indicated that it was time to catch the patsy.531: Have information the suspect just went into the Texas Theatre on West Jefferson, supposed to be hiding in the balcony.
Thus the complaint that a man failed to buy a ticket at the theater became a radio message that he was the suspect in the officer’s shooting, and eighteen police cars converged on the theater. This had to be the most remarkable example of police intuition since the Reichstag fire.
If we suppose for a moment that the same force which executed the President also killed Officer Tippit, it is perceivable that immediate dividends were produced by the new murder. The murder of Tippit provided an early reason for arresting and charging Oswald. At such an early juncture the harlequin evidence against him for the President’s murder could not have been produced so quickly, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, without creating questions. Yet a reason for Oswald’s prompt detention was needed so that the subsequent escalation of discoveries about his culpability would appear credible. His having been arrested for one murder would encourage the public to imagine it quite likely that he had committed another.
The officer’s murder, near to where Oswald would be arrested, also created the picture of a trail leading from Dealey Plaza through the 10th Street murder scene to the theater. It also justified the concentration of many police cars in the Oak Cliff area, a few blocks from the theater.
By creating the early inference that the President’s killer was now in the Oak Cliff area, attention was diverted away from Dealey Plaza and away from the shooting from multiple directions heard by the witnesses there. The arrest at the Texas Theatre of a lonely individual predictably would appear to be the logical culmination of a search for him which somehow had begun at Dealey Plaza.
The murder of Tippit laid the predicate for Oswald’s own early execution. This added demonstration of apparently remorseless brutality would create an emotional climate of acceptance when the time came to remove Oswald.
Above all, the Tippit killing tended to provide a basis for creating an ineradicable picture of Oswald as a madman. In time it would have the effect of serving as a substitute for evidence that he had shot Kennedy. It would be easy to believe that a madman who had shot the officer for no reason had shot the President shortly before. It extracted Oswald from the category of an ordinary warehouse worker, so that when the time came to put the spotlight on him for the President’s murder he already would possess the qualifications for a villain in the eyes of the world.
It would be possible now for the old carnival shell game to be played with the public. If the pea were missing under the first shell, it would be assumed that necessarily it was under the second. If it were not under the second, then it must be under the first. If Oswald had not committed one murder, the thinking would go, he must have committed the other. Consequently, it would not matter too much which justified his informal execution. Justice would have come full turn.
Even up to the time of his own murder there was no eyewitness evidence that Lee Oswald had killed either the President or the police officer. On the contrary, all evidence of any substance indicated that he had killed neither one. Yet, because of the confusing welter of facts, it was possible to infer that he had clearly committed one murder and, therefore, logically, also had committed the second. One news bulletin escalated to another, firmly imprinting the view that he was the arch-criminal of the century, caught early by alert police. No replies by him to the tacit conviction would ever be heard outside of a closed room.
He was treated as guilty of murder A because manifestly he had committed murder B. What was the ultimate evidence that he had murdered B? That he had manifestly murdered A. The game was played so expertly that, despite the lack of evidence against him for the actual shooting of anyone, he would have to be buried under an assumed name to keep patriotic citizens from desecrating his grave.
While apparent gains from Tippit’s death can be recognized for the involvement of a force other than Lee Oswald, a force using him to great advantage, no gains on Oswald’s part are perceivable in Tippit’s murder. Oswald was not yet a suspect in the President’s murder when the Texas Theatre was surrounded by police cars. At every stage the police actions with regard to Oswald occurred prior to the surfacing of a cause for these actions.
There was no description broadcast to cause Tippit to attempt to arrest Oswald, nor do the statements of the eyewitnesses to the murder in any way support the idea, later interpolated into the scenario by the government, that Tippit was in the process of arresting his killer. The problem of a believable motive attributable to Oswald is as thorny for Tippit’s murder as it is for the President’s murder. Even if we were to accept his spelling problem, as one government expert inferentially suggested, as the cause of the removal of the President of the United States, it is hard to accept the proposition that he still felt he had not done enough about it after stunning the world with parricide and that he needed one other victim in order to be at peace with himself.
When murder occurs, we cannot ignore the question of who gains from it. From a rational viewpoint, the application of various possible models to see where gains occurred in the Tippit murder leaves as the only reasonable likelihood: an organized, clandestine force. The agents serving this force, having assassinated the President, were then in the process of establishing a trail to a decoy and establishing a basis for his quick arrest and elimination. Thereby, the door would be closed to any intensive inquiry into such questions as how the President happened to be killed by a shot from the front.
After his rapid escalation to the status of assassin of the President, Oswald was questioned for a total of twelve hours by federal and local law enforcement agents. At an early stage in the proceedings, Chief Jesse E. Curry announced that he was uncooperative and would not confess to the President’s assassination. It may be that such a surly and arrogant refusal to cooperate with the government was, like his spelling difficulty, indeed an indication that he was diabolical enough to have been the assassin. However, if this is a valid application of logic, then it can be applied with equal validity to the testimony of high government officials indicating that the CIA was not involved in any way with Oswald’s activities. Chief Curry might then have made a memorable contribution to law enforcement by observing that these high government officials were being uncooperative and would not admit that the CIA was involved in the assassination. However, Chief Curry chose to confine his insight to a more modest objective.
Even though a transcript of the questioning of a prisoner is customary for much lesser offenses, no transcripts whatsoever of the questions and answers were made during the long sessions with Oswald. Had Oswald once admitted committing either of the murders, it is safe to assume it would have been trumpeted to the world and later printed boldly on the covers of the Warren Commission volumes.
Why were not the questions and his answers, relating to one of the most sensational murders of all time, transcribed as they occurred? One explanation given, although it was never adopted by authorities as official, was that the room was too small for anyone else to be in it. Even if we assume that the public offices in Dallas are unusually small and the stenographers unusually large, it does not explain why a compact tape recorder was not used.
Again and again it was to become all too apparent that some guiding authority did not want the truth to be made public. In this instance it was apparent that it did not want his verbatim answers during the twelve hours of questioning to be made known to the public. The questioning of a prisoner for twelve hours, without his having had access to a lawyer, predictably would have made any lasting conviction at a trial difficult, if not impossible. Since all the law enforcement officers present were very experienced, this is an early indication of the fact that no one was worried about a trial ever occurring.
Furthermore, the authorities seemed to be aware that no one was going to insist on seeing a transcript of the questioning any more than anyone would insist that real evidence be produced that Oswald was guilty. Oswald had been found guilty at the outset by unseen power. His questioning was a prologue not to trial but to execution.
In Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Rubashow sits in his cell waiting for agents of the party to come and get him. Under constant questioning, with a spotlight in his eyes, he confesses that he had been plotting to kill the leader of the party. This was not true, as all parties to the questioning well knew. No matter. The sound of drums is heard, and the guards come to take him to his execution.
In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Joseph K. is arrested but never told the reason for his arrest. He has committed no offense, but that is of no importance. After his release from arrest, he receives a notice to go to court. Even there he is unable to learn the nature of the charge against him. When he encounters the chaplain of the court, he is informed that he probably will be convicted. However, the chaplain also does not know what the charge is. Finally, two men in formal attire arrive at his room and take him to an abandoned quarry. One of the men holds him by the throat, while the other one stabs him in the heart.
An individual cannot cope with the unseen forces of the superstate. His perception is limited by his assumption that things are as they appear to be and by his belief that he is living in a world in which evil is easily recognized and in which inhumanity is not tolerated by the law.
In Kafka’s courtroom, Joseph K. excoriated the judge for not being told the charges against him, unaware that his complaints were only brief noises and would change nothing. In the Dallas police lineup, Lee Oswald also yelled his outrage.
However, the superstate is deaf to human noises, remote and unreachable; its lethal machinery is hidden behind a masque of officials uttering reassuring phrases.
Oswald was about to be converted into an illusory villain, which would make it almost impossible to see the realities of the assassination. By the time he was brought out of the theater for failing to buy a ticket, a large crowd was waiting to scream at him. By the time he reached police headquarters, he was being booked for murdering Officer Tippit. By the time the sun rose the next morning, he was booked for murdering the President. By early Sunday afternoon, the autopsy had been completed on him.
As an enemy of the people, safely disposed of by a patriotic nightclub owner, Oswald was to be immensely useful. He would serve to explain not only the President’s assassination but also the assassinations which would follow.
The time would come, after the third assassination of a national leader opposed to the Vietnam War, when a high government official would explain what was happening. Speaking before President Johnson’s Commission on Violence he would explain that the unusual number of assassinations in the United States were being caused by “crazed and lonely men like Lee Harvey Oswald who wanted attention and got it by killing someone famous.” The Commission on Violence would agree with this observation, making it unnecessary to inquire into the activities of any government agencies. Congress would pass a law requiring the registration of all persons possessing machine guns.