Best Witness: JFK's Limousine
Anthony Marsh
2nd Annual COPA Conference
Omni Shoreham, Washington, DC
October 22, 1995

The best witness to the JFK assassination was the Presidential limousine. As other researchers have pointed out, eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. Witnesses can be confused, lie, misremember events, or can be susceptible to suggestion. The damage to the limousine tells a story of its own, an accurate and truthful account of the events in Dealey Plaza.

One of the most important points of damage to the limousine was the dent of the chrome topping above the windshield. Was it caused by a direct hit of a bullet or a bullet fragment? In Six Seconds in Dallas, footnote 16 of chapter 5 quotes a letter from Chief of the Secret Service James Rowley, who claimed that the dent was caused way back on November 1, 1961 by routine maintenance. The Warren Report was ambiguous about the dent. It appears that the Warren Commission did not attempt to examine any photographs to determine if the chrome topping was undented before the assassination. There may have been several photographs they could have examined which would have resolved the issue. There were many photographs and films taken in Dealey Plaza before the shooting started. There were several photos and films taken at Love Field which showed the limousine in its pristine condition, such as this one by Tom Dillard (Figure 1). Unfortunately, the hand hold bar blocks our view of the chrome topping in this Dillard photo, but there must be other such photos which do show it clearly. There may also be other photographs and films from the motorcade which have not yet been made public. Just this August, LIFE magazine published one photograph taken by Presidential aide Dave Powers, who is believed to have taken several photos and a film of the motorcade at Love Field and before the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza ( Figure 2 ). Dave Powers' vantage point was especially privileged, as he rode in the Secret Service follow-up car, where the official White House photographer would normally ride, but didn't that day.

Cecil Stoughton, the official White House photgrapher, was stuck that day riding several cars back, in one of the camera cars. In fact, Stoughton was not even scheduled to go on the Texas trip, but had to fill in for Robert Knudsen, who had some slivers in his eye which needed to be removed [1]. Supposedly, Stoughton took only a couple of photos near Dealey Plaza, one just before the motorcade reached the plaza, and one of the grassy knoll about 30 seconds after he shooting. But, he did take photos of the limousine the day before when the President visited Kelly Air Force base in San Antonio. We can see in this photo that he did occupy the normal position in the Secret Service follow-up car (Figure 3). In the next photo we can see that the chrome topping was undented (Figure 4). The HSCA was seemingly unaware of, or ignored, the Stoughton photos, and did not address the issue of the dent of the chrome topping. However, HSCA photographic consultant Robert Groden did state at a conference at Emerson College a few years ago that he and a HSCA staff member had examined the chrome topping at the National Archives and that the nose of a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet like CE 399 fit perfectly into the indentation in the chrome topping. And here is a photograph taken by Robert Knudsen of an earlier motorcade in 1963 which shows that the chrome topping was undented (Figure 5).

Incidentally, while looking through hundreds of photos at the JFK Library, I found some which show the condition of the limousine during previous motorcades. One bizarre theory which those photos disprove is the notion that the rear seat was raised as the limousine went through Dealey Plaza in order to make JFK an easier target. Those non-researchers who have proposed those bizarre theories have obviously never seen what the limousine looked like when the rear seat was actually raised. Here is one example from another motorcade which shows the rear seat raised about 5 inches (Figure 6). It is quite obvious from all angles, but especially from the rear. Compare that to another motorcade when the rear seat was not raised (Figure 7). In Mark North's book, Act of Treason, is an even more dramatic example showing former Chief of the Secret Service Baughman sitting on the fully raised rear seat (Figure 8).

Update summer 2000: I recently found a photo of the limousine taken when it was delivered to the White House in 1961 showing off the rear seat raised to its highest position. This is Knudsen's KN-C18066 from the Kennedy Library.

The most well-known point of damage to the limousine was the crack of the windshield. We can see in the Altgens 1-6 photo, which equals approximately Zapruder frame 255, that the windshield is undamaged, yet in his next photo we can see that the windshield is cracked. Frazier's CE 350 shows the condition of the windshield taken about 14 hours after the assassination (Figure 9). Contrary to the opinion of a couple of people, there was no hole in the windshield, only a crack. As we can see in this blow-up of CE 350, it is a crack (Figure 10). I believe CE 350 depicts the same windshield which was on the limousine during the assassination. The location and pattern of the crack, and presence of blood spatters looks consistent from Dealey Plaza to CE 350.

Some people point to conflicting testimony about the roughness of the area of the crack as an indication that there was a windshield switch or that the windshield was struck on the outside. Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman testified ( 2H89 ) that when he first felt the windshield a few days after the assassination, the inside felt rough and that when he examined it on the day of his testimony that it felt smooth. I believe that the reason for the difference in roughness is that when the windshield was first examined on November 23, 1963 the roughness on the inside was due to the presence of minute bullet fragments ( CE 841) which were completely removed for testing, so that any later examination would feel only the smooth glass.

Some might also argue that the theory of how glass fractures on the opposite side of the point of impact would seem to indicate that the shot came from the front and caused a fracture on the inside. Then, supposedly, the conspirators realized this mistake and switched windshields so that the corrected windshield would exhibit fractures on the outside to indicate that it was hit from the inside. But there are a couple of problems with the theory. That is a fine theory in other cases, with ordinary plate glass, but the windshield was composed of laminated automobile glass, which consists of two layers of glass with a layer of plastic between them. Thus it is quiote common that there may be damage to the inside layer of the glass which does not extend to the outside layer of the glass and vice versa. That is its design purpose. I also doubt that anyone had the opportunity and capability to switch windshields before it was examined and photographed by Frazier, and certainly trying to resolve conflicting testimony by switching windshields would require several switches.

However, there does seem to be one apparent discrepancy which is disturbing. When the windshield was photographed for the HSCA, it appears that there is a massive stain on the driver's side which does not appear in CE 350 (Figure 11). However, it is possible that this area was just out of frame on the photo of CE 350. Moreover, it is not clear that the stain seen in the HSCA photo has to be blood. I suppose that it could have been some other liquid which dripped onto the windshield while it was in storage at the National Archives. Maybe someone spilled coffee on it. You would think that in this age of sophisticated blood analysis that someone could determine if it is blood, and perhaps whose. We might also need Dr. Henry Lee to do a blood spatter analysis. Many of the blood spots are consistent with either JFK's or Connally's wounds, but sometimes it looks to me as though the massive stain was caused by someone pouring liquid from a cup. It might also tell us something important, such as from which angles the splatter could have come, or which angles could be ruled out by the possibility that Greer's head would block such a path from a particular wound.

Is there any other damage which would tell us from which direction the windshield was struck? I believe I am the first person to point out something which no one else has noticed before. If you look carefully at CE 350, you can see that the back of the rearview mirror was dented (Figure 12). This could only have been caused by a bullet ricocheting off the inside of the windshield, thus proving that that the glass was struck on the inside by a shot from behind the limousine, and that there was not a hole in the glass. If a bullet had gone through the windshield, there would be nothing to ricochet back and strike the back of the rearview mirror. What could a shot from behind have first struck to produce a bullet fragment which would hit the inside of the windshield and then ricochet to the right to hit the back of the rearview mirror?

I think the bullet which caused the damage to the windshield, and most likely also the chrome topping, was the last shot from the TSBD. It's highly unlikely that this shot struck JFK after Z-313. He had already been struck by a shot in the back from the TSBD at about Z-210. Connally had already been struck in the back by a shot at about Z-230. That is when Connally thought he was hit. But he did not remember being struck in the wrist. Not only was the alinement of the two men incorrect for a Single-Bullet Theory trajectory at either Z-190 or Z-210, Connally's wrist was too high to have been struck by a bullet exiting his chest just below his right nipple. I think the most likely scenario is that the last shot from the TSBD hit Connally's wrist after Z-313, either directly or indirectly, then broke up into many fragments which caused all the damage to the limousine, Tague's cut, and the fragments in Connally's thigh. I would suggest that a much more detailed examination of the photographic record might pinpoint the time at which the windshield, chrome topping and rearview mirror were struck.

We can determine a possible time for that last shot from the TSBD from the acoustical evidence. The HSCA acoustical studies give us the approximate spacing between shots. We then need to match up the timing with the Zapruder frames. Contrary to the theories of some researchers whose last names begin with the letter "L," the Zapruder film was not altered. There are no missing frames, except for the well-known splice of one LIFE copy at frames 208 to 211. It seems that whenever some piece of physical evidence disproves a bizarre theory, the first thing the bizarre theorist does is claim that the evidence must be fake. It is time that all serious researchers accept the fact that the physical evidence is genuine and authentic. The last two shots were separated by about .744 of a second, or about 13.6 Zapruder frames. So, if the last shot from the TSBD was after Z-313, we would expect to see no damage before Z-327 and see damage within a few frames after that. I would suggest that those who claim to have excellent copies of the photographic evidence concentrate their focus on frames Z-326 to Z-330 in looking for changes in the condition of the limousine.

During last year's COPA conference I visited the National Archives and in particular reviewed the newly released photos of the limousine. In the same folder were what appeared to be photocopies of the original worksheets by the agents who examined the limousine on November 23, 1963. I'm not sure who wrote the sheets and exactly when they were written (the three agent names appear to be Frazier, Killiam, and Cunningham), but the sheets record the observations of the examination team that night.[ * ] They mark the exact locations of the fragments recovered. Incidentally, these worksheets clear up one of the major controversies about the limousine. Some people have speculated that the white object seen in the photos was a white cloth hand puppet (which they have affectionately dubbed Lambchop), which was given to Jackie at Love Field. The worksheets note that the white object was actually a bunch of chrysanthemums. Both major bullet fragments were found on the right side of the limousine in the front compartment. It appears logical to me that a ricocheting fragment landing on the right side of the front seat must have come from the left side of the limousine. JFK was never to the left of the midline, nor was Connally's trunk when he was hit in the back. But Connally had slumped into his wife's lap after he was shot and his wrist was to the left of the midline after Z-313. Thus, I believe that the damage to the limousine suggests that Connally's wrist was struck by a different bullet than the one which went through his chest. And I believe that the photographic evidence will show that the limousine was not damaged by a shot from the TSBD at Z-313, which would prove by inference that the headshot at Z-313 must have been the grassy knoll shot. In conclusion, I would urge all serious researchers to continue to look for new evidence and strive to better understand the evidence we already have, instead of devising bizarre theories to counteract the evidence.

 

[1] John G. Morris, "Shooting the Presidents," Popular Photography, August 1977, Volume 81, Number 2, 81.

* On page 258 of David Fisher's 1995 book, Hard Evidence, the three men are identified as FBI agents Bob Frazier, Charles Killion and Cort Cunningham.