With the release scheduled for 26 October 2017 of additional FBI and CIA documents pertaining to the case, and with November bringing the 54th anniversary of the incident, I decided I would talk about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Before I talk about it, I’d like to remind you that my “mysteries” series is not intended to provide absolutely comprehensive coverage of all possible information on a topic. It’s intended to provide a quick overview. There are literally thousands of books about the Kennedy assassination arguing many, many different things about it.
Okay, let’s do this. First, we present the generally accepted timeline of events. (We will mention events involving Lee Harvey Oswald, the “official” assassin, which are widely accepted, without for the moment pronouncing judgement on his involvement in other events.)
Friday, 22 November 1963
It is just after noon in Dallas, Texas. Six people are in the Presidential convertible driving through Dallas, cheered on by a mostly supportive crowd. In the front are two Secret Service agents: William R. Greer was driving and Roy H. Kellerman, Agent In Charge, was riding in the passenger seat. Kennedy is at the right rear, with his wife Jackie next to him at left rear; and in the middle, on jump seats, are Texas governor John Connally (in front of JFK) and his wife Nellie (in front of Jackie).
Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas businessman and self-identified Democrat and supporter of the President, has brought his home movie camera to film the passing of the motorcade.
About 12:20 PM CST: Howard Brennan, a man in the crowd, notices a man in a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, at the corner of Elm and Houston streets in Dealey Plaza, coming and going several times from the window over the next few minutes.
12:30 PM CST: As the motorcade passes through Dealey Plaza, shots ring out, severely wounding Gov. Connally and fatally wounding JFK. The car speeds to the nearby Parkland Hospital.
Abraham Zapruder (as well as several others) catches the event on camera.
Howard Brennan looks up after hearing the first shot and sees the man he saw a few minutes before, now with a rifle, fire a last shot and withdraw back into the building, away from the window.
Dallas police swarm the Book Depository. Within minutes, Brennan has described the man to a police officer.
12:33 PM CST: Lee Harvey Oswald, employed in the Book Depository, is seen passing through the second-floor lunchroom of the building.
12:36 PM CST: The Book Depository is sealed by police: no one gets in or out without police intervention.
About 12:44 PM CST: A Dallas bus driver gives a transfer ticket to a man getting off a bus a few blocks from the Depository. The man is presumably giving up on the bus because traffic is so badly backed up owing to the police activity. That transfer will turn up later in our story.
12:30-1:00 PM CST: In an attempt to help him breathe, Parkland doctors perform a tracheotomy on the unconscious President. In so doing, they have to excise the tissue around a bullet hole in his throat. The injury to his head is such that they do not consider it likely he will survive. Catholic priests are summoned to administer the last rites of the Church for Kennedy.
Governor Connally is treated, ultimately successfully, for a collapsed lung and wounds to his arm and leg.
12:44 PM CST: DPD orders all downtown squads to Elm and Houston (the corner of the Book Depository). Officer J. D. Tippit is told to patrol the residential area of Oak Cliff.
12:45 PM CST: DPD broadcasts the description of the suspect: “white male, approximately 30, slender build, height 5 foot 10 inches, weight 165 pounds.”
12:54 PM CST: Officer Tippit reports he is at Lancaster and Eighth, in Oak Cliff, and is told that he should be “at large for any emergency that comes in.”
1:00 PM CST: President Kennedy is pronounced dead.
About 1:15 PM CST: In Oak Cliff, Officer Tippit approaches a man matching the suspect’s description as broadcast. The man shoots him four times with a revolver and runs off through the neighborhood, ejecting his casings and reloading as he flees. Multiple people witnessed the shooting well enough to see the suspect’s general build, clothing, and overall appearance.
1:16-1:17 PM CST: Citizens who witnessed the shooting of Officer Tippit use the radio in his patrol car to report the shooting to the department.
1:22 PM CST: An Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano rifle (usually called simply a “Carcano”) is found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository by police. Around the same time, the police conclude that all of the Depository’s employees who were to be in the building that day are present and accounted for, except for Lee Harvey Oswald.
1:28 PM CST: Officer Tippit is pronounced dead on arrival at Methodist Hospital.
1:45 PM CST: DPD broadcast that the suspect in the Tippit shooting has been seen running into the Texas Theater and converge upon the building.
1:51 PM CST: Police radio in that they have taken the suspect into custody at the Texas Theater. The man allegedly resisted arrest, during which he sustained some minor bruises. He is Lee Harvey Oswald, the employee missing from the Book Depository. He will be questioned for much of the next day and a half. The rifle found in the Book Depository will be connected to him; the revolver he has on his person will be linked to the shooting of Officer Tippitt. He has seen his last day as a free man.
Among other items in Oswald’s pockets is found a bus transfer indicating that he was on a bus near the Book Depository, but got off at about 12:44.
About 2:00 PM CST: The President’s body is put in a casket — over the protest of Dallas officials who say that it cannot be removed from the city until an autopsy is performed — and taken to Air Force One, waiting at Love Field. The casket is loaded onto the plane at 2:15.
2:38 PM CST: Vice-President Johnson takes the oath of office, confirming him as the new President. Nine minutes later, the plane departs for Washington DC, carrying President Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, Mrs. Kennedy, and President Kennedy’s body.
5:58 PM EST: Air Force One arrives at Andrews AFB. The Johnsons are taken by helicopter to the White House. Mrs. Kennedy is given the choice between the Army’s Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital for President Kennedy’s autopsy. Since JFK was a navy man, she chooses Bethesda.
7:35 PM EST: JFK’s body is received at the hospital.
7:10 PM CST: Lee Harvey Oswald is formally charged with the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit.
About 11:00 PM EST: The autopsy is completed, and the body is prepared for burial, which lasts until about 4 in the morning.
11:28 PM CST: Lee Harvey Oswald is formally charged with the assassination of President Kennedy.
Saturday, 23 November 1963
The events of this day can be summarized in brief: Oswald is interrogated further, while the nation and much of the world mourns the President’s death.
Sunday, 24 November 1963
About 11:00 AM CST: In the basement of the DPD building, Oswald is to be transferred to an armored car for transport to the county jail. While there are many police officers present, the transfer is also open to the press corps, and the entry ramp for the armored car is not heavily guarded.
Officer Jim Leavelle is handcuffed to Oswald. He jokes with Oswald before the transfer: “Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they’re as good a shot as you are.” Oswald smiled and replied, “You’re being melodramatic. Nobody’s going to shoot at me.”
11:21 AM CST: As Oswald walks out of the basement office toward the armored car, local nightclub owner and police “hanger-on” named Jack Ruby jumps out of the assembled onlookers, lunges forward with his handgun, and shoots Oswald point-blank in the abdomen. Oswald crumples and loses consciousness almost immediately. Ruby is quickly apprehended by the police present. The armored car is removed from the entry ramp and an ambulance is brought in.
1:09 PM CST: Oswald is pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital.
Monday, 25 November 1963
At Arlington National Cemetery, John F. Kennedy was laid to rest. Numerous world leaders and representatives were in attendance, and thousands upon thousands of leaders and ordinary citizens had filed past his coffin to pay their respects over the weekend.
At Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth, Texas, Lee Harvey Oswald was laid to rest. A few reporters showed up to cover the event. So few other people were present that officials asked the reporters to help out as pallbearers, which they did.
Thus ended perhaps the most remarkable four days in American history.
Friday, 29 November 1963
President Johnson creates The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy by executive order. Since the commission will be led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the commission is generally known simply as the “Warren Commission.”
24 September 1964
The Commission’s findings are presented to the President.
27 September 1964
The Commission’s findings are made public.
The U. S. House of Representatives creates the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to investigate the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. in greater depth.
The HSCA issues its report. It concluded that JFK was probably killed as the result of a conspiracy, but that Lee Harvey Oswald was the gunman who killed Kennedy as the Warren Commission concluded.
The chief evidence HSCA found for a conspiracy is a tape recording from the Dallas police made during the assassination, which HSCA concluded had the sound of four gunshots, not the three believed to have come from Oswald. The analysis of this recording has been furiously debated in the years since.