In 2013, the 50th anniversary year of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination, two books were published by reputable authors, Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard’s Killing Kennedy, and Colin McLaren’s The Smoking Gun.
After reading both, I felt an honest comparison had to be made, thus “The Tale of Two Books—Plus.” Killing Kennedy covers Kennedy’s and Oswald’s lives, activities, and assassinations. The Smoking Gun focuses only on Kennedy’s assassination, as will this comparative book review.
Being one of the 62% of Americans who do not believe Oswald acted alone, I purchased Killing Kennedy to understand why the authors deduced that Oswald alone killed Kennedy. Regarding McLaren’s book, when I first saw it advertised that a Secret Service Agent accidently killed Kennedy, I thought, Here they come out of the woodwork.’
Killing Kennedy’s premise is based on Oswald’s Marine Corps sharpshooter qualifications for being a crack shot. “He knows how to clean, maintain, load, aim, and accurately fire the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.” At one point, they stated, “Oswald can shoot extremely well, ‘when he wants to.’” This most likely refers to Oswald’s reputation among his fellow Marines for not caring about his numerous “Maggie’s Drawers”—the waving of a red flag indicating a complete miss. Oswald was later observed by 13-year-old Sterling Woods at a firing range, “… ensuring his rifle and the scope were accurate.” Woods recalled, “Oswald fired eight to ten shots, retrieving the empty shells, truly great, firing several shots through the silhouette of a man’s head.”
The Smoking Gun has a different take. McLaren contends Oswald was mediocre in the serious world of military weaponry. He noted that Oswald practiced at Love Field, nursed his rifle, peered through the telescope viewfinder for hours, toyed with the bolt-action, cleaned it regularly, and would lovingly drape it with a coat.
According to Killing Kennedy, “Oswald has a well concealed shooting nest. Stacks of Books near the window will form a natural hiding place allowing Oswald to poke his rifle outside and sight the motorcade as it makes the deliberate turn at Elm and Houston. Oswald knows he’ll have time for two shots maybe even three. …with the butt of the Carcano against his right shoulder, the scratched wooden stock of the butt is against his cheek, just as it was for so many hours at the rifle range with the M-1 rifle from his Marine Corps days. Oswald peers into his 4-power telescopic sight, the one that makes Kennedy’s head look as if it is 2-feet away. … At approximately 8.4 seconds after firing his first shot, Oswald pulls the trigger on the third. …drops his now-unnecessary carbine and steps from the tower of book boxes behind which he’s been hiding.”
Killing Kennedy quotes four witnesses who observed Oswald positioned to fire, and that “Eye Witnesses will later confirm that three shots were fired from the Depository.”
The Smoking Gun relies on the observations of 26-eyewitnesses, including the four referred to in Killing Kennedy. Some heard three and even four shots. Secret Service Agent Kellerman used the phrase, “… a flurry of shells came in altogether….”
Most noteworthy, however, were those having seen Oswald withdraw his rifle from the window after firing the second shot. In photographs of the Depository taken by Tom Dillard, traveling in the open press car, neither Oswald nor his rifle was protruding at the time of the third shot. Dillard’s negatives were destroyed in an effort to enhance them.
O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy tells of Abraham Lincoln’s police protection drinking beer in a nearby tavern when Lincoln was assassinated, but it does not mention a similar situation involving Agents protecting Kennedy. McLaren has Secret Service agents socializing and drinking with Fort Worth reporters. Some of the 11-agents stayed out until 5:10 A.M.on the morning Kennedy was assassinated.
Nor did Killing Kennedy discuss the possibility of different type bullets. McLaren’s The Smoking Gun stated, “…the Warren Commission believed Oswald fired three rounds of full metal jacket copper castings, the type of rounds designed to stay intact and pass cleanly through the body of the victim. …in compliance with the 19-Century Hague Convention and the 1923 Geneva Convention.” “… the last and fatal round to hit the President, clearly evident when viewing the Zapruder and Nix films, had resulted in the right side of JFK’s skull being blown violently into the air, an impossible outcome with a full metal jacket round.”
McLaren’s Smoking Gun cited 15-witnesses who saw or smelled gunpowder residue. These included patrolmen, a Secret Service agent, a Senator, and the Mayor of Dallas. To quote McLaren, “If the gunpowder from Oswald’s weapon was able to waft or drift it would either have been contained within the building or, if it drifted through Oswald’s window, would have dissipated in the opposite direction to the traveling motorcade into the atmosphere. According to motorcycle Officer Martin, ‘Gunshot residue will linger within a two-three meter radius of the weapon. Wafting’s known as a plume of residue. A gusty and noticeable breeze was blowing from southwest to northeast at 13 knots.’ This can only mean a weapon was discharged in the immediate vicinity of the motorcade.”
In discussing the AR-15, The Smoking Gun informs us that Agent Kellerman stated, “This is a rifle and it was on all movements … it is out of its case, she is ready to go.”
“The only person with a long rifle was Agent George Hickey seated high on the left rear seat, his backside elevated toward the rear head seat, on sniper duty with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.”
Hickey, normally a chauffeur and the newest member of the detail, was assigned a weapon used for the first time by the Secret Service. The AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon … stored easily and prepared for use without fuss with its simple rotating lock bolt. Rounds issued were .223 frangible bullets designed to fragment upon impact.
“Sam Hill, a railroad signalman, was on the Elm Street overpass. ‘After the first shot, saw a Secret Service Agent raise up from his seat waving a machinegun then drop back down in the seat when the car immediately sped off.’” Numerous others saw Hickey waving the rifle before falling backward, one is quoted as saying, ‘swinging wildly.’
Hickey had the perfect line of sight to the back of the President’s head.
Observations by James Francis Smith
When you have eliminated all which is impossible,then whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Writing in a narrative-history style, O’Reilly & Dugard included Oswald’s likely thoughts. The authors established the possibility that Oswald made use of the scope. Because Oswald’s rifle had deteriorated, marksmen utilized similar Mannlicher-Carcano rifles during ensuing tests. Those who fired accurately within the time limit used the rifle’s iron sight not the side mounted telescopic sight.
In the ’50s, Marines qualified once a year. In the Corps, you’re a rifleman first. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a general or a cook. During Oswald’s first test on the rifle line in 1956, he attained a “Sharpshooter” degree with a 212-score, two points over the minimum required. In 1959, Oswald shot a 191-score—one point over the minimum to qualify for the lower level of “Marksman”.
Facts cited by McLaren prove conclusively that Oswald could not have fired the Kill Shot:
1) The sight and smell of gunpowder at street level, which could not have come from the 6th floor; therefore, there had to have been another weapon fired.
2) Regarding the bullets, the Neck Shot exited clean whereas the Kill Shot fragmented into tiny pieces, collectively doing far more damage.
3) Eyewitnesses stated that Oswald’s rifle was withdrawn from the window following the second shot. Testimony by witnesses hearing multiple shots was shrugged off by the Warren Commission as sounds that reverberated from the tall buildings and the overpass.
4) Wounds by bullets expand slightly upon entry. Both Doctors Boswell and Humes concurred, “… that the entry wound in Kennedy’s skull was six millimeters wide.” Meaning it would have been more likely caused by a missile the size of a .223 bullet (5.56mm), not the 6.6mm used by Oswald.
5) It is common practice for hunters to leave a spent shell in their rifle after its use. The spent shell ejects when firing is resumed. This provides a reasonable explanation for the existence of three spent shells on the Depository’s 6th floor, one of which was separated from the other two.
6) In earlier testimony, Hickey stated, which he later retracted, “… that he retrieved and loaded the AR-15 as they went under the railroad overpass.” This is hundreds of yards distant from the testimony given by eyewitnesses.
7) I’m adding a seventh consideration. One neither author cited:
The Trajectory of the Bullets
The Neck and Kill Shot bullets struck Kennedy within approximately 5-seconds of each other. Therefore, the trajectories ought to have been the same—they weren’t.
According to the nurses at Parkland Hospital, the Neck Shot entered the rear of Kennedy’s neck above the collar line and exited cleanly above his tie.
According to the certified pathologist Doctor Humes: “The Kill Shot entered “the right posterior portion of the scalp…situated approximately 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance, which is a bony prominence situated in the posterior portion of everyone’s skull. The third obvious wound at the time of the examination was a huge defect over the right side of the skull…. However, the skull was intact completely past this defect…. …multiple minute fragments of radio opaque material transversing a line from the wound in the occiput to just above the right eye. …more likely moving in a direct line.”
Therefore, the kill shot acted more akin to a soft-nosed shell, which is designed to fragment following penetration. Perhaps it’s time we move on and forget about naming Oswald as Kennedy’s only assassin.
“A Tale of Two Books—Plus” will be added to James Francis Smith’s book, Rory O’Donnell and the Kennedys, available on Kindle and in softcover from Amazon’s Bookstore. James Francis Smith, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his blog www.theirish-americanstory.com.