Home » J.F.K. Assassination Witness Breaks His Silence and Raises New Questions

J.F.K. Assassination Witness Breaks His Silence and Raises New Questions

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He nonetheless remembers the primary gunshot. For an immediate, standing on the operating board of the motorcade automotive, he entertained the useless hope that perhaps it was only a firecracker or a blown tire. However he knew weapons and he knew higher. Then got here one other shot. And one other. And the president slumped down.

For therefore many nights afterward, he relived that grisly second in his desires. Now, 60 years later, Paul Landis, one of many Secret Service brokers simply ft away from President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas, is telling his story in full for the primary time. And in not less than one key respect, his account differs from the official model in a approach which will change the understanding of what occurred in Dealey Plaza.

Mr. Landis has spent many of the intervening years fleeing historical past, attempting to overlook that unforgettable second etched within the consciousness of a grieving nation. The reminiscence of the explosion of violence and the determined race to the hospital and the devastating flight dwelling and the wrenching funeral with John Jr. saluting his fallen father — it was all an excessive amount of, too torturous, a lot in order that Mr. Landis left the service and Washington behind.

Till lastly, after the nightmares had handed eventually, he might give it some thought once more. And he might examine it. And he realized that what he learn was not fairly proper, not as he remembered it. Because it seems, if his recollections are appropriate, the much-discussed “magic bullet” could not have been so magic in any case.

His reminiscence challenges the speculation superior by the Warren Fee that has been the topic of a lot hypothesis and debate through the years — that one of many bullets fired on the president’s limousine hit not solely Kennedy however Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was driving with him, in a number of locations.

Mr. Landis’s account, included in a forthcoming memoir, would rewrite the narrative of one in all fashionable American historical past’s most earth-shattering days in an necessary approach. It might not imply any greater than that. But it surely might additionally encourage those that have lengthy suspected that there was multiple gunman in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, including new grist to one of many nation’s enduring mysteries.

As with all issues associated to the assassination, after all, his account raises questions of its personal. Mr. Landis remained silent for 60 years, which has fueled doubts even for his former Secret Service companion, and recollections are difficult even for these sincerely sure of their recollections. A pair components of his account contradict the official statements he filed with authorities instantly after the taking pictures, and a few of the implications of his model can’t be simply reconciled to the present document.

However he was there, a firsthand witness, and it’s uncommon for brand new testimony to emerge six a long time after the very fact. He has by no means subscribed to the conspiracy theories and stresses that he’s not selling one now. At age 88, he stated, all he desires is to inform what he noticed and what he did. He’ll depart it to everybody else to attract conclusions.

“There’s no aim at this level,” he stated in an interview final month in Cleveland, the primary time he has talked about this with a reporter prematurely of his e book, “The Ultimate Witness,” which might be printed by Chicago Overview Press on Oct. 10. “I simply suppose it had been lengthy sufficient that I wanted to inform my story.”

What it comes right down to is a copper-jacketed 6.5-millimeter projectile. The Warren Fee determined that one of many bullets fired that day struck the president from behind, exited from the entrance of his throat and continued on to hit Mr. Connally, someway managing to injure his again, chest, wrist and thigh. It appeared unbelievable {that a} single bullet might do all that, so skeptics referred to as it the magic bullet principle.

Investigators got here to that conclusion partly as a result of the bullet was discovered on a stretcher believed to have held Mr. Connally at Parkland Memorial Hospital, so that they assumed it had exited his physique throughout efforts to save lots of his life. However Mr. Landis, who was by no means interviewed by the Warren Fee, stated that’s not what occurred.

In reality, he stated, he was the one who discovered the bullet — and he discovered it not within the hospital close to Mr. Connally however within the presidential limousine lodged behind the seat behind the place Kennedy was sitting.

When he noticed the bullet after the motorcade arrived on the hospital, he stated he grabbed it to thwart memento hunters. Then, for causes that also appear fuzzy even to him, he stated he entered the hospital and positioned it subsequent to Kennedy on the president’s stretcher, assuming it might someway assist medical doctors determine what occurred. Sooner or later, he now guesses, the stretchers will need to have been pushed collectively and the bullet was shaken from one to a different.

“There was no one there to safe the scene, and that was a giant, large hassle to me,” Mr. Landis stated. “All of the brokers that have been there have been centered on the president.” A crowd was gathering. “This was all happening so rapidly. And I used to be simply afraid that — it was a bit of proof, that I spotted straight away. Crucial. And I didn’t need it to vanish or get misplaced. So it was, ‘Paul, you’ve received to decide,’ and I grabbed it.’”

Mr. Landis theorizes that the bullet struck Kennedy within the again however for some motive was undercharged and didn’t penetrate deeply, due to this fact popping again out earlier than the president’s physique was faraway from the limousine.

Mr. Landis has been reluctant to invest on the bigger implications. He all the time believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

However now? “At this level, I’m starting to doubt myself,” he stated. “Now I start to marvel.” That’s so far as he’s keen to go.

A local of Ohio and son of a faculty sports activities coach, Mr. Landis doesn’t come throughout as a swaggering safety agent. He needed to stretch to fulfill the 5-foot-8 peak requirement when he joined the service, and will not achieve this. “I’m too little now,” he stated, to make it in right this moment’s company. He’s quiet and unassuming, wearing a coat and tie for an interview, his grey hair neatly trimmed. He has just a little bother listening to and speaks softly, however his thoughts is evident and his recollections regular.

Lately, he confided his story with a number of key figures, together with Lewis C. Merletti, a former director of the Secret Service. James Robenalt, a Cleveland lawyer and creator of a number of books of historical past, has deeply researched the assassination and helped Mr. Landis course of his recollections.

“If what he says is true, which I are likely to imagine, it’s prone to reopen the query of a second shooter, if not much more,” Mr. Robenalt stated. “If the bullet we all know because the magic or pristine bullet stopped in President Kennedy’s again, it signifies that the central thesis of the Warren Report, the single-bullet principle, is incorrect.” And if Mr. Connally was hit by a separate bullet, he added, then it appeared doable it was not from Oswald, who he argued couldn’t have reloaded that quick.

Mr. Merletti, who has been pleasant with Mr. Landis for a decade, was unsure what to consider his account. “I don’t know if that story’s true or not, however I do know that the brokers that have been there that day, they have been tormented for years by what occurred,” he stated in an interview.

Mr. Merletti referred Mr. Landis to Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne College and a distinguished presidential historian, who helped him discover an agent for his e book. In an interview, Mr. Gormley stated he was not stunned {that a} traumatized agent would come ahead all these years later, evaluating it to a dying declaration in authorized circumstances.

“It’s quite common as folks get to the tip of their lives,” Mr. Gormley stated. “They need to make peace with issues. They need to get on the desk issues they’ve been holding again, particularly if it’s a bit of historical past and so they need the document corrected. This doesn’t seem like a play by somebody attempting to get consideration for himself or cash. I don’t learn it that approach in any respect. I feel he firmly believes this. Whether or not it matches collectively, I don’t know. However folks can ultimately determine that out.”

Mr. Landis’s account varies in a few respects from two written statements he filed within the week after the taking pictures. Except for not mentioning discovering the bullet, he reported listening to solely two pictures. “I don’t recall listening to a 3rd shot,” he wrote. Likewise, he didn’t point out going into the trauma room the place Kennedy was taken, writing that he “remained exterior by the door” when the primary woman went in.

Gerald Posner, creator of “Case Closed,” a 1993 e book that concluded that Oswald certainly killed Kennedy on his personal, stated he was doubtful. Whereas he didn’t query Mr. Landis’s sincerity, Mr. Posner stated the story didn’t add up.

“Folks’s recollections typically don’t enhance over time, and it’s a flashing warning signal to me, about skepticism I’ve over his story, that on some essential particulars of the assassination, together with the variety of pictures, his reminiscence has gotten higher as an alternative of worse,” he stated.

“Even assuming that he’s precisely describing what occurred with the bullet,” Mr. Posner added, “it would imply nothing greater than we now know that the bullet that got here out of Governor Connally did so within the limousine, not on a stretcher in Parkland the place it was discovered.”

Mr. Landis stated the experiences he filed after the assassination included errors; he was in shock and had barely slept for 5 days as he centered on serving to the primary woman by way of the ordeal, he stated, and never paying sufficient consideration to what he submitted. He didn’t suppose to say the bullet, he stated.

It was not till 2014 that he realized that the official account of the bullet differed from his reminiscence, he stated, however he didn’t come ahead then out of a sense that he had made a mistake in placing it on the stretcher with out telling anybody in that pre-C.S.I., secure-the-crime-scene period.

“I didn’t need to speak about it,” Mr. Landis stated. “I used to be afraid. I began to suppose, did I do one thing incorrect? There was a concern that I might need executed one thing incorrect and I shouldn’t speak about it.”

Certainly, his companion, Clint Hill, the legendary Secret Service agent who clambered onto the again of the rushing limousine in a futile effort to save lots of Kennedy, discouraged Mr. Landis from talking out. “Many ramifications,” Mr. Hill warned in a 2014 e mail that Mr. Landis saved and shared final month.

Mr. Hill, who has set out his personal account of what occurred in a number of books and interviews, forged doubt on Mr. Landis’s model on Friday. “I imagine it raises issues when the story he’s telling now, 60 years after the very fact, is completely different than the statements he wrote within the days following the tragedy” and advised in subsequent years, Mr. Hill stated in an e mail. “In my thoughts, there are critical inconsistencies in his numerous statements/tales.”

Mr. Landis’s rendezvous with historical past started within the small city of Worthington, Ohio, north of Columbus. After faculty and a stint within the Ohio Air Nationwide Guard, he was working in a clothes retailer when a household good friend described his job within the Secret Service. Intrigued, Mr. Landis joined in 1959 within the Cincinnati workplace, the place he chased thieves who swiped Social Safety checks out of mailboxes.

A 12 months later, he was despatched to Washington the place he joined the protecting element for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren. After Kennedy was elected, Mr. Landis, code named Debut due to his youth, was assigned to protect the brand new president’s youngsters and later the primary woman, Jacqueline Kennedy, alongside Mr. Hill. As a result of the primary woman accompanied her husband to Dallas that fall day in 1963, Mr. Landis, then 28, was a part of the motorcade, driving the rear of the correct operating board on the black Cadillac convertible, code named Halfback, simply ft behind the presidential limousine.

On the first shot, Mr. Landis turned to look over his proper shoulder within the course of the sound however noticed nothing. Then he turned to the limousine and noticed Kennedy elevating his arms, evidently hit. Instantly, Mr. Landis observed that Mr. Hill had leapt off their follow-up automotive and was sprinting towards the limousine. Mr. Landis thought of doing the identical however didn’t have an angle.

He stated he heard a second shot that sounded louder and eventually the deadly third shot that hit Kennedy within the head. Mr. Landis needed to duck to keep away from being splattered by flesh and mind matter. He knew immediately that the president was lifeless. Mr. Hill, now on the again of the limousine, turned again and confirmed it with a thumbs down.

As soon as they reached the hospital, Mr. Hill and Mr. Landis coaxed the distraught first woman to let go of her husband so he could possibly be taken inside. After they exited the automotive, Mr. Landis observed two bullet fragments in a pool of shiny crimson blood. He fingered one in all them however put it again.

That’s when he stated he observed the intact bullet within the seam of the tufted darkish leather-based cushioning. He stated he slipped it into his coat pocket and headed into the hospital, the place he deliberate to provide it to a supervisor, however within the confusion instinctively put it on Kennedy’s stretcher as an alternative.

The hospital’s senior engineer later discovered it when he was transferring Mr. Connally’s stretcher, by then empty, and bumped it in opposition to one other stretcher within the corridor, ensuing within the bullet falling out.

The Warren Commission report stated that it “eradicated President Kennedy’s stretcher as a supply of the bullet” as a result of the president remained on his stretcher whereas medical doctors tried to save lots of his life and was not eliminated till his physique was positioned in a coffin.

Investigators decided that the bullet, designated Fee Exhibit 399, was fired by the identical C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle discovered within the sixth ground of the Texas Faculty E book Depository. They concluded that the bullet handed by way of Kennedy, then entered Mr. Connally’s proper shoulder, struck his rib, exited below his proper nipple, continued by way of his proper wrist and into his left thigh.

Docs concurred that the one bullet might have precipitated all of the harm. However the bullet was described as practically pristine and had misplaced just one or two grains of its authentic 160 or 161 grains in weight, inflicting skeptics to doubt that it might have executed all that the fee stated it had. Nonetheless, ballistic specialists using modern forensic techniques concluded on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination that the single-bullet principle was completely believable.

Mr. Landis stated he was stunned that the Warren Fee by no means interviewed him, however assumed that his supervisors have been defending the brokers, who had been out late the evening earlier than socializing (Mr. Landis till 5 a.m., though he insisted they weren’t drunk). “No person actually requested me,” he stated.

Many footage of these days of mourning present Mr. Landis at Jacqueline Kennedy’s facet as she endured the rituals of a presidential farewell. Evening after evening, these seconds of violence in Dallas saved replaying in his head, his personal private Zapruder movie on an limitless loop. “The president’s head exploding — I couldn’t shake that imaginative and prescient,” he stated. “No matter I used to be doing, that’s all I used to be eager about.”

With Mr. Landis and Mr. Hill nonetheless defending her, the previous first woman was in fixed movement within the months afterward. “She’d be within the again seat sobbing and also you’d need to say one thing but it surely wasn’t actually our place to say something,” Mr. Landis recalled.

After six months, he couldn’t take it anymore and left the Secret Service. Haunted, he moved to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, then New York, then Ohio close to Cleveland. For many years, he made a dwelling in actual property and machine merchandise and home portray, something so long as it had nothing to do with defending presidents.

He was typically conscious of the conspiracy theories, but by no means learn a e book about them, or the Warren Fee report for that matter. “I simply paid no consideration to that,” he stated. “I simply eliminated myself. I simply felt I had been there. I had seen it, and I knew what I noticed and what I did. And that’s all.”

He did a number of interviews in 2010 and thereafter, however by no means talked about discovering the bullet. Then, in 2014, a neighborhood police chief he knew gave him a duplicate of “Six Seconds in Dallas,” a 1967 e book by Josiah Thompson arguing that there have been a number of shooters. Mr. Landis learn it and believed the official account of the bullet was incorrect.

That led to conversations with Mr. Merletti and Mr. Gormley and ultimately, after a few years, to his e book.

It was not straightforward. As he completed the manuscript, he stared on the pc display screen, broke down and cried uncontrollably. “I didn’t understand that I had so many suppressed feelings and emotions,” he stated. “I simply couldn’t cease. And that was simply an enormous emotional aid.”

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