Secret Service Report 491

Secret Service Report 491


A few months ago I first noticed about this so called report, and was wondering what was going on. Well Google was not of much help, until I started to chat with Vince Palamara who kindly pointed me to Barry Krush’s book Impossible The Case Against Lee Harvey Oswald Appendices. This book had Patricia Lambert’s article in full. So to make this valuable piece a bit more search friendly I decided to repost this.  In due time I will add some personal notes, I am too busy trying to finish the 2nd floor lunch room encounter essay, which just keeps getting delayed as I am finding little bits that need to be added. The constant search for additional material got me to ‘find’ this again, and it is a good read.

By Patricia Lambert.

On December 2, 1963, three agents from the Dallas field office of the U.S. Secret Service, Arthur Blake, William Carter and Elmer Moore, began a series of interviews with the employees of the Texas School Book Depository which ultimately influenced the Warren Commission’s reconstruction of events on November 22, 1963. The interviews were conducted over a four-day period and are summarized in a Secret Service Report designated “491.”[1]

Three of the witnesses interviewed, Harold Norman, Bonnie Ray Williams and Charles Givens gave totally new evidence to the Secret Service during these December interviews, evidence which conflicted dramatically with earlier statements made by each of them to the FBI. Harold Norman, who was directly beneath the alleged sniper’s nest during the shooting, claimed he heard the gunman working the bolt action of this rifle and that he also heard the ejected shells as they hit the floor overhead; Bonnie Ray Williams provided an explanation for the presence of chicken bones found on the sixth floor; and Charles Givens’ testimony linked “Oswald with the point from which the shots were fired.” These three stories, first garnered by the Secret Service, were later quoted in the Warren Report to support the Commission’s version of what occurred that Friday in Dallas. Some of the testimony has been challenged in the past by critics of the Warren Commission but no one has demonstrated how much these stories have in common, nor examined the implications of the extraordinary parallels. In each instance these witnesses first gave totally different testimony to the FBI; in each instance their testimony changed the first week in December; in each instance the new story surfaced during interviews conducted by the same three Secret Service agents; in each instance the story influenced the Warren Commission’s interpretation of the events of November 22; and finally, all three stories were important enough to be included in the Commission’s one-volume Report. And the parallels do not end there. None of these stories holds up under close scrutiny. A review of the evidence casts serious doubt on their credibility and suggests that all of them evolved days after the assassination in order to support a particular interpretation of certain evidence, an interpretation which is inconsistent with the real facts. If this view is correct, the fact that all these stories originated in Secret Service Report 491 casts doubt on the integrity of the investigation conducted by that agency’s Dallas field office. For if these stories are fabrications, the witnesses who supplied them had guidance from someone. Someone in a position to screen out and coordinate information at its source. The testimony of these three witnesses is important then not only because it supplies certain details about the events of that day, but because it suggests that basic evidence was falsified at a very early stage, evidence which influenced the direction of the investigation and, in time, affected the conclusions reached by the Warren Commission. HAROLD NORMAN — The Man Beneath the Sniper’s Nest On the day of the assassination, Harold Norman and two other employees of the Depository, Bonnie Ray Williams and James Jarman, watched the motorcade from windows on the fifth floor of their building, one floor below the alleged sniper’s nest. The three men positioned themselves at the pair of double windows in the southeast corner, each man at a different window, with Harold Norman directly beneath the window allegedly used by Oswald to kill the President. Harold Norman made no statement to anyone on the Friday the President was shot. He made no statement to anyone on the following Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Finally, on Tuesday, November 26, four days after the President was assassinated, Norman was interviewed by the FBI. (Both of his companions were interviewed much earlier. By Sunday, November 24, both Jarman and Williams had been interviewed twice, once by the Dallas Police and once by the FBI. This four-day gap between the shooting and Norman’s first interview has never been explained. It is difficult to understand Norman’s silence on the day of the assassination and the days immediately following, difficult to understand why he failed to tell anyone what he had heard. But even more inexplicable was his failure to tell the FBI about it when he was questioned by that agency on November 26. During that interview, Norman made no mention of hearing the shells and the bolt action of the rifle. He told the FBI that after the first shot: … he stuck his head from the window and looked upward toward the roof but could see nothing because small particles of dirt were falling from above him. He stated two additional shots were fired after he had pulled his head back in from the window.[2]

This is Norman’s earliest, most credible statement and there are no falling shells here only falling “particles of dirt” which struck Norman when he stuck his head out the window. This original version is buttressed by testimony from two other sources: Witnesses on the street below saw Norman with his head out the window. Four people present at Dealey Plaza during the shooting later testified that they saw two Negro men at windows on the fifth floor of the Depository below the alleged sniper’s nest who were looking up toward the top of the building.[3]

Two of these witnesses described the Negroes as “leaning out” of the windows at the time.[4]

(Norman was one of these men and the other was Bonnie Ray Williams, as indicated by his statement to the FBI on November 23.[5])

In addition, James Jarman told the FBI on November 24 that, when the shots were fired, Harold Norman said “something had fallen from above his head and that a piece of debris … had hit him in his face.[6]

This is entirely consistent with Norman’s own statement to the FBI. What Jarman called “debris,” Norman called “particles of dirt” but both statements obviously referred to the same thing. In his first interview, Norman did not mention the sounds which the gunman supposedly generated as he killed the President. Instead he gave the FBI an entirely different account of what happened when the shots were fired. Later before the Warren Commission, Norman repudiated this statement. And that body, anxious to accept his valuable testimony, did not pursue the matter. If they had, they would have been confronted with the unsettling fact that the testimony which Norman repudiated in March of 1964 had been corroborated four months earlier by the initial testimony of one of the men who was with him on the fifth floor during the shooting, and by the testimony of four witnesses who were present on the street below. Secret Service Interview (SS491) Norman’s allegation that he heard the shells hit the floor and the bolt action of the rifle surfaced in toto in SS491. Twelve days after the assassination and eight days after his interview by the FBI, Norman’s startling disclosure made its belated appearance. Norman’s sworn affidavit to the Secret Service states: I knew that the shots had come from directly above me, and I could hear the expended cartridges fall to the floor. I could also hear the bolt action of the rifle. I also saw some dust fall from the ceiling of the fifth floor and I felt sure that whoever had fired the shots was directly above me.[7]

Missing entirely from this new version is the description of Norman putting his head out the window and looking up toward the roof, a gesture which was witnessed by at least four people. Norman permanently eliminated this event from this testimony at this point. Also, the particles of dirt, which he told the FBI fell outside the building and prevented him from seeing anything when he looked up, are changed in this version to “some dust.” This dust fell “from the ceiling” inside the building and the intended implication appears to be that it was dislodged by the shells hitting the floor of the sniper’s nest. This then is Norman’s new story. Not only are the sounds of the gunman added for the first time, but one part of his earlier statement to the FBI is excised and another part altered to accommodate the new information. This new story transformed Norman from an inconsequential witness to one of major importance who provided first hand evidence linking the shots that were fired at 12:30 to the hulls that were found on the sixth floor 40 minutes later. This important information became the focus of his interview three months later before the Warren Commission. Warren Commission Interview On March 24, 1964, Norman told the Warren Commission what he heard on the fifth floor during the shooting: Well, I couldn’t see at all during the time, but I know I heard a third shot fired, and I could also hear something sounded like the shell hulls hitting the floor and the ejecting of the rifle. … I remember saying that I thought I could hear the shell hulls and the ejection of the rifle.[8]

The essential part of this statement, the description of what Norman heard, is the same as that first recounted in SS491. In other respects, certain changes appeared. The particles of dirt which fell outside the window in his original story to the FBI and which were converted to “some dust” which fell from the ceiling in his statement to the Secret Service, assumed still another form in this interview. In response to a question from Commission attorney George [sic – Joseph] Ball, Norman stated, “I didn’t see any falling [dust or dirt] but I saw some in Bonnie Ray Williams’ hair.” [9] Later, when Ball asked Norman about the head-out-the-window story in the FBI report and the falling dirt, Norman said that he did not “recall” telling that to the FBI, and he also said: “I don’t remember ever putting my head out the window.”[10]

In essence, Norman simply denied making his earlier statements to the FBI and which were converted to “some dust” which fell from the ceiling in his statement to the Secret Service version, except for the falling dust which he handed off to Bonnie Ray Williams. He also introduced one new item. He told the Commission, at the time he heard the shots overhead, he told his companions what he heard. This new fact enabled Jarman and Williams to corroborate Norman’s story insofar as what he said at the time. Unfortunately, for Norman’s credibility, this corroboration suffers from the same problems afflicting the story it is intended to support. It surfaced late, even later than Norman’s story, appearing for the first time during their Warren Commission interviews in March. Also, while Williams’ testimony supports Norman’s version, Jarman’s account of when and where Norman made his statement is substantially different.[11]

The net result of this late-blooming, conflicting “corroboration” is the creation of additional suspicious testimony. The Re-Enactment The Warren Commission gave Norman’s story great weight and went to some lengths in their efforts to verify the fact that Norman could have heard what he claimed he did. These efforts were only partially successful, but that fact is carefully disguised in the Warren Report. First, the Commission’s legal staff arranged a re-enactment of the audio effects allegedly heard by Norman on November 22. On March 20, 1964, Norman, Jarman and Williams took their places at the windows on the fifth floor and, the Report states: A Secret Service agent operated the bolt of a rifle directly above them at the southeast corner window of the sixth floor. At the same time, three cartridge shells were dropped to the floor at intervals of about 3 seconds.[12]

Norman told the Commission that the sounds he heard during this re-enactment were the same sounds he heard on November 22. The Report does not relate what, if anything, Jarman and Williams heard. Later, this same re-enactment was conducted for all seven members of the Warren Commission: The experiment with the shells and rifle was repeated for members of the Commission on May 9, 1964, on June 7, 1964, and again on September 6, 1964. All seven of the Commissioners clearly heard the shells drop to the floor.[13; emphasis added]

Notice that while the “experiment” included both “the shells and rifle,” the Report says only that the Commissioners “heard the shells drop to the floor,” omitting any reference to the bolt action. This can only mean that the Commissioners were not able to hear the bolt action as it was “operated” by the Secret Service agent. If the Commissioners could not hear the bolt action during the re-enactment, why should we believe that Norman heard it on the day of the shooting? But that is not the most important question raised by this experiment. If all seven Commissioners heard the shells, why didn’t either Williams or Jarman hear them on the day of the shooting? Since Jarman was in the far side of the second set of double windows, it might be argued that he was too far away, but that reasoning cannot apply to Williams, who was at the window right next to Norman’s. A strip of wood less than a foot wide separated the two men, but Norman alone heard the shells. Williams was obviously troubled by this anomaly, and attempted to explain it by offering the following curious explanation to the Warren Commission: “… But I did not hear the shell being ejected from the gun, probably because I wasn’t paying attention.”[14]

During Norman’s testimony it was pointed out that there were spaces between the boards in the ceiling separating the fifth and sixth floors which were wide enough to permit “daylight” to pass through in at least two places. Considering the condition of the ceiling, it is understandable that the Commissioners heard the shells during the re-enactment, and quite remarkable that Williams did not hear them on November 22. By proving that the ejected shells hitting the floor of the sniper’s nest would have been audible on the fifth floor, the Warren Commission’s re-enactment underscored the importance of Norman’s testimony. If the shots came from the sixth floor sniper’s nest, anyone directly beneath it surely would have heard the shells as they hit the floor, just as the seven Commissioners heard them months later. Yet Williams and Jarman admit they did not hear them on November 22 and the evidence strongly indicates that Norman did not hear them either, and that his belated claim that he did is simply not true. All of which points to the possibility that the shots which killed the President were not fired from the so-called sniper’s nest but from some other location, and that the shells found on the sixth floor of the Depository were merely planted there. Long after the shooting, the Commission’s re-enactment demonstrated that these men should have heard the shells as they landed overhead. Much earlier, someone else identified the problem: anyone familiar with the condition of the floor at the sniper’s nest, and aware of the early statements made by Norman, Williams and Jarman to the FBI, needed no re-enactment to realize that a gap existed in their testimony. That gap was, in effect, closed on December 4, 1963, when Harold Norman signed the affidavit included in SS491. The Dropped Carton A reasonable assessment of Norman’s testimony leads to the conclusion that the original statement he gave to the FBI was truthful and his later testimony a fabrication. When the shots were fired on November 22, Norman did not hear the shells hit the floor above him, nor did he hear the bolt action of the rifle. Something prompted him to lean out the window and look up. While doing so “particles of dirt” fell on him. The question is, what prompted him to lean out the window and what caused the dirt to fall? One possible answer to these questions is found in the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Luke Mooney, who was the first to see the sniper’s nest when he discovered the spent shells on the floor in front of the window. Mooney told the Commission that the box in the windows with the crease on it appeared to have been “tilted.” He said it “looked like he might have knocked it off,” referring to the gunman.[15]

In the picture which Mooney identified, this box (which contained books) is resting partially on the brickwork in front of the window and partially on the wooden sill.[16]

If Mooney was correct, and the person who arranged the boxes at the sniper’s nest “knocked” this particular one off, or if he accidentally dropped it onto the window sill, the resulting jolt may have prompted Norman to lean out the window below and look upward. If this is the case, the falling dirt was dislodged by the same jolt. Evidence that someone, other than Oswald, arranged the boxes at the sniper’s nest is found in the testimony of Lillian Mooneyham, a District Court clerk in Dallas. On November 22, Lillian Mooneyham was in the court house on Main Street and she watched the motorcade from a window facing toward the Depository. On December 31, 1963, Dallas attorney S.L. Johnson told the FBI that Mooneyham told him that she saw “some boxes moving” in the window from which the shots allegedly came.[17]

Interviewed by the FBI on January 8, 1964, Mooneyham stated that: 4½ to 5 minutes following the shots … she looked up towards the sixth floor of the TSBD and observed the figure of a man standing in a sixth floor window behind some cardboard boxes.[18]

The man she saw was standing back from the window and “looking out.” Since a Dallas policeman, M.L. Baker, encountered Oswald in the lunchroom on the second floor of the Depository only 90 seconds after the shots were fired, the man seen by Mooneyham “4½ to 5 minutes” after the shooting could not have been Oswald. He could, however, have been the person who arranged the boxes at the sniper’s nest and in the process dropped the carton, described by Deputy Mooney, onto the window ledge. He could also have planted the shells on the floor. Lillian Mooneyham was not called to testify before the commission, and her statement to the FBI was not pursued. Bonnie Ray Williams — The Chicken Bone Story Forty minutes after the shots were fired, Deputy Sheriff Luke Mooney discovered the so-called sniper’s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Several tall stacks of boxes were arranged around the southeast corner window concealing it from view on three sides. Inside this enclosure, other boxes were stacked directly in front of the window. Presumably the gunman rested his rifle on this smaller pile of boxes. On the floor in front of the window, Mooney found three spent shell casings. And at the west end of the enclosure, on top of one of the tall stacks of boxes, Mooney saw a partially-eaten chicken bone and a lunch sack.[19]

Four other men were on the sixth floor when Mooney found the sniper’s nest: Police officers E.D. Brewer, G. Hill and CA.A. Haygood, and Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig. When Mooney saw the shell casings he yelled out, and the other men responded immediately by going to his location.[20]

All of them – Brewer, Hill, Haygood and Craig – later testified that they too saw some portion of the chicken lunch at the same window where the shells were found.[21]

In addition, Officer L.A. Montgomery, who arrived on the sixth floor after the shells were found and was one of the two men assigned to guard the scene, testified to seeing the lunch remnants at the sniper’s nest.[22]

There is a remarkable unanimity in the statements of these six men. The lunch remnants consisted of at least two chicken bones, an ordinary lunch sack, and a Dr. Pepper bottle. Not all six men saw all of these items, some saw more than others, but no one saw anything differently. They all described what they saw and where they saw it in similar terms. The similarity of language used to describe the bones is particularly striking. Three of these men gave almost identical descriptions. Mooney said he saw “one partially eaten piece of fried chicken,” while Brewer saw “a partially eaten piece of chicken,” and Montgomery saw “one piece … I believe it was partially eaten.”[23]

Obviously, these men were describing the same chicken bone. This is further supported by the fact that they all saw the bone at the same location: on top of a box. Mooney indicated that the bone and sack were on top of one of the larger stacks of boxes at the west side of the window. This corresponds with the testimony of Gerald Hill, who said the “chicken leg bone” and the sack were “on top of the larger stack of boxes that would have been used for concealment.” Montgomery, too, saw a piece of chicken “on a box” (he also noticed another piece on the floor). And Roger Craig, who remembered only the sack, saw it “on top of a box.”[24]

Three of these men – Haygood, Brewer and Montgomery – saw the Dr. Pepper bottle, but only Montgomery described its location in any detail. (Montgomery’s testimony regarding the location of the bottle as well as the second piece of chicken on the floor deserves great weight since he guarded the scene after the others left, and had greater opportunity to observe the area.) He said that the bottle was “over a little more to the west of that window … sitting over there by itself.”[25]

This means that the bottle was separated from the stack of boxes on which the bone and sack rested, that it was on the floor somewhat farther west of the sniper’s nest. This may explain why Mooney, Hill and Craig did not see the bottle. A precise and consistent picture emerges from the testimony of these six witnesses. On top of one of the tall stacks of cartons which formed the west end of the enclosure encircling the sniper’s nest was a partially eaten chicken bone and a paper sack; on the floor nearby was another bone; and outside the enclosure and farther to the west was a Dr. Pepper bottle. Exactly one hour after Deputy Sheriff Mooney discovered the sniper’s nest and saw the chicken bone and lunch sack there, Dallas Police Inspector J.H. Sawyer told the Associated Press about the chicken lunch and that wire service, quoting Sawyer, carried the story: Police found the remains of fried chicken and paper on the fifth floor. Apparently the person had been there quite a while.[26]

This first public reference to the chicken lunch (which incorrectly identified the sniper’s nest as being on the fifth floor) occurred one hour and 42 minutes after the assassination. In it, Inspector Sawyer linked the “fried chicken” to the assassin and word flashed around the world that the gunman had eaten fried chicken shortly before killing President Kennedy. United Press International actually photographed the “Dallas police technician” as he removed part of the lunch from the building. This photograph shows the “police technician” holding two sticks, one protruding into the mouth of a Dr. Pepper bottle and the other attached to a small lunch sack. The caption reads: A lunch bag and a pop bottle, held here by a Dallas police technician, and three spent shell casings were found by the sixth floor window. The sniper had dined on fried chicken and pop while waiting patiently to shoot the President.[27]

Many other stories appeared in the new media that day describing the gunman’s chicken lunch. On November 22, it was generally believed that the chicken lunch belonged to the assassin. The first five witnesses to see the sniper’s nest thought so, as did Inspector Sawyer, who first relayed the information to the press. Furthermore, the photograph of the “technician” carefully removing the sack and bottle from the building indicates that the Dallas Police regarded them as significant evidence. Nevertheless, when the Warren Report was published ten months later, the chicken lunch was dismissed as inconsequential. It was not found at the sniper’s nest, the commission decided, but 20 or 30 feet west at the third or fourth set of double windows. Furthermore, according to the Commission, it was left there not by the assassin, but by Bonnie Ray Williams, the same witness who later watched the motorcade from a windows on the fifth floor next to Harold Norman. Part II In arriving at its conclusions, the Warren Commission relied on two pieces of evidence: (1) the Dallas Police photographs of the sixth floor taken by R.L. Studebaker which show no sack, no bones, and no bottle at the sniper’s nest, but do show a sack and a bottle on the floor at the third set of double windows; and (2) the testimony of Bonnie Ray Williams, who claimed he left the sack and bottle on the floor as shown in the Studebaker picture. The Studebaker Picture Detective Studebaker testified before the Warren Commission that he took the picture of the chicken lunch “before anything was touched and before it was dusted.” The picture shows a Dr. Pepper bottle and a lunch sack on the floor near a two-wheel cart in front of the third set of windows.[28]

There are no chicken bones visible in this picture nor in any other picture taken that day. Studebaker explained why. The chicken bones, he told the Commission, “were all inside the sack, wrapped up and put right back in.”[29]

By the time Studebaker took this picture, the chicken bones seen at the sniper’s nest by Deputy Sheriff Mooney and police officers Brewer, Hill and Montgomery were no longer visible because they were “inside the sack.” Also, the sack and bones were no longer atop a box in the southeast corner, but now were on the floor in front of the third set of windows. Studebaker may have taken this picture “before [anything] was dusted,” but he certainly did not take it “before anything was touched.” The fact is, no one who saw the chicken lunch that day saw what Studebaker photographed. In addition to the six men who saw the lunch at the sniper’s nest, other witnesses arrived on the sixth floor later that afternoon. These later witnesses saw the lunch at various locations, but none of them saw the sack and bottle as photographed. Like Mooney and the others, these men also saw the chicken bones. But unlike the first group of witnesses, each of these men saw the lunch at a different place. Officer Marvin Johnson saw the sack, “remnants of fried chicken” and the bottle at the second set of double windows; Detective E.L. Boyd saw “some chicken bones” and a “lunch sack” on “top of some boxes” at the third set of double windows; and FBI agents Nat Pinkston and J. Doyle Williams, accompanied by an employee of the Depository, William Shelley, viewed the scene after the sack and bottle were removed from the building, and saw the bones along with some wax paper on the floor near the center (i.e., third) window.[30]

The wide variety of these later sightings and their chronology (that is the fact that they all occurred after the initial group saw the lunch at the sniper’s nest) suggest that the lunch was removed from its original position and moved about on the sixth floor before it was finally placed on the floor in front of the third set of double windows where it was photographed. Clearly, the Studebaker picture, supposedly taken before anything was touched on the sixth floor, suffers from a severe credibility problem. During his Warren Commission interview, Studebaker was asked if he saw any chicken bones at the sniper’s nest, and he replied that he did not recall any, and if there had been, “it ought to be in one of these pictures ….”[31]

There, Studebaker defined the problem. Not only did the deputies and officers who saw the lunch on November 22 fail to provide testimony that supported the picture, but the two of them who saw the picture unequivocally rejected it. When Deputy Sheriff Mooney and Officer Montgomery were shown the Studebaker picture, both of them told the Warren Commission that they did not remember the scene it depicted. And Montgomery, after looking at the picture, continued to insist that there were chicken bones “over here around where the hulls were found … I know there was one piece laying up on top of the box there.”[32]

[Dallas Police] Lieutenant J.C. Day, who also took photographs of the sixth floor that afternoon, arrived on the scene with Studebaker and was his immediate superior. Day is the only one of these later witnesses who provided any support for Studebaker’s picture. He is the only one of this group, except Studebaker, who did not see the chicken bones outside the sack. Also, he recalled seeing the lunch sack and pop bottle at the third set of windows. However, when he was shown the picture, he was unable to locate th sack and commented that it didn’t show in the picture. He then stated that he didn’t remember where the sack was located.[33]

Day’s failure to see the sack in the picture is understandable. As shown, the sack is practically hidden from sight. It is on the floor at the east end of of a two-wheel cart between the cart and a stack of boxes. A sack in that position would have been difficult to spot on November 22. Certainly no sack in that location could have been confused with one on top of a box in the southeast corner, 20 or 30 feet to the east. If the chicken bones were inside the sack as Studebaker claims and as his picture indicates, none of the people on the sixth floor that day would have seen them. But six of them did: three from the first group at the scene, and three who arrived later.[34]

The only explanation for this contradiction is that the bones were outside initially and were put inside the sack before the picture was taken. Since the bones were obviously moved from outside the sack to inside, it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that the entire lunch was then moved from one location to another, from the sniper’s nest to the third set of double windows before being photographed. The question that remains is why this was done. A police affidavit contained in the 26 volumes of Commission Hearings and Exhibits provides the motive. Sometime on November 22, Wesley Frazier, the man who drove Oswald to work that Friday morning, signed a sworn statement which included the following information: Lee (Oswald) did not carry his lunch today. He told me this morning he was going to buy his lunch today.[35]

This statement, made the day of the assassination, established that the remnants of a chicken lunch found at the sniper’s nest were not Oswald’s. This meant someone else ate his lunch there, and the bones, sack and bottle were evidence of that fact. Once it was known that Oswald did not bring his lunch to work that day, the chicken lunch became an impediment to the theory that Oswald, acting alone, fired the fatal shots from the southeast corner window of the sixth floor. Consequently, the chicken bones, lunch sack and Dr. Pepper bottle were moved away from the alleged sniper’s nest in order to disassociate them from the gunman. The Chicken “Sandwich” Two weeks after the assassination, the Secret Service found a witness to support the Studebaker picture. Bonnie Ray Williams was interviewed on November 23 by the FBI, but not until he was interviewed by the Secret Service in December did he lay claim to the chicken lunch found on the sixth floor. The day after the assassination, Williams was interviewed by the FBI and gave a detailed account of his movements on November 22: At approximately 12 noon, Williams went back upstairs … to the 6th floor with his lunch. He stayed on that floor only about three minutes, and seeing no one there, descended to the fifth floor ….[36]

Here Williams described a brief three-minute trip to the sixth floor. There is no suggestion in this FBI report (1) that he at his lunch on the sixth floor; (2) that his lunch contained chicken bones; or (3) that he left anything behind on the sixth floor. Williams’ entire chicken bone story materialized in December when he was interviewed by the Secret Service. SS491 summarizes Williams’ statement in part as follows: After Williams picked up his lunch on the first floor he returned to the sixth floor and sat near the windows in the centre of the building overlooking Elm Street and ate his lunch. Included in his lunch was a chicken sandwich and Williams’ claims that there were some chicken bones in the sandwich and he left them on the floor at the time he ate. He also left an empty Dr. Pepper bottle at the same location. He drank the Dr. Pepper with his lunch. Williams … went to the fifth floor … prior to 12:15 p.m.[37]

Williams’ three-minute trip to the sixth floor, which he described to the FBI the day after the assassination, expended here to 15 minutes during which he at his curious “chicken sandwich” and left the bones behind. Williams’ Secret Service story is not only late-blooming but, like Norman’s, it conflicts with his earlier statement to the FBI. This December testimony is the final solution to the problem posed by the chicken bones. It is an important solution, however, one that fails to explain the most credible evidence, the testimony of those who saw the chicken bones at the sniper’s nest. On the contrary, it is a story that corroborates the Studebaker picture, the only testimony to do so, and that alone is cause for skepticism. Three months later, when Williams testified before the Warren Commission, he improved his story somewhat. He included the two-wheel cart (shown in the Studebaker picture), claiming he sat on it while eating his “sandwich.” And he added a sack, saying he put the bones back inside before he “threw the sack down.” To his credit, Williams’ reluctance to associate himself with the chicken bones is apparent in his refusal to call his lunch “fried chicken.” He repeatedly referred to it as a “chicken sandwich.” This “sandwich” prompted the following exchange between Williams and Commission attorney

Ball: WILLIAMS: I had a chicken sandwich.

BALL: Describe the sandwich. What did it have in it besides chicken?

WILLIAMS: Well, it just had chicken in it. Chicken on the bone.

BALL: Chicken on the bone?


BALL: The chicken was not boned?

WILLIAMS: It was just chicken on the bone. Just plain old chicken.

BALL: Did it have bread around it?

WILLIAMS: Yes it did.[38]

Understandably, Ball had difficulty visualizing a chicken sandwich with bones in it. That was Williams’ story, however, and Ball resolved the problem by suggesting that Williams’ “chicken on the bone” had bread around it. This conjured up a strange culinary image but it permitted Williams to have his “sandwich” and the Commission to have an explanation for the bones found on the sixth floor. There is no doubt about the function of Williams’ testimony. As first outlined in the December report, the message imparted was clear: the bones found on the sixth floor which received so much early publicity were not found at the sniper’s nest as first reported, but at a totally different windows, well removed from the southeast corner, and they were not left there by the assassin, but by Bonnie Ray Williams. This story, secured by the Secret Service ten days after the assassination and passed on to the staff of the Warren Commission, determined the course of the inquiry regarding the chicken lunch. By providing this innocent explanation early in the investigation, the Secret Service precluded the exploration of other possibilities which might have yielded quite a different story. Certainly if someone other than Oswald ate his lunch at the sniper’s nest, and that person was there when the shots were fired or shortly before, that information would have had an impact on the Commission’s investigation. There is evidence that such a person was seen at the sniper’s nest. A witness outside the building, Arnold Rowland, testified that he saw an elderly Negro at the window of the sniper’s nest five or six minutes before the shooting. In addition, there is other evidence that another witness, Amos Euins, moments after the shooting, said the man at the sniper’s nest was black. (Euins later said he could not say whether the man was black or white.) The Warren Report explains that while Rowland was not regarded as a credible witness, his assertion about the elderly Negro at the sniper’s nest was investigated. This investigation consisted of interviews with certain employees of the Depository which determined that the only two men who might fit Rowland’s description were on the first floor “before and during the assassination.[39]

A more vigorous inquiry might have been conducted if the Commission, in addition to investigating Rowland’s clam, had been actively seeking an explanation for the presence of chicken bones found at the sniper’s nest. The chicken lunch would have given Rowland’s allegation more substance and additional steps might have been taken. For instance, the Commission could have made an effort for Rowland to identify the Negro he saw from among the employees of the building. Also, fingerprints on both the lunch sack and the bottle could have been checked against those of the employees. Since the chicken lunch was dismissed early in the Commission’s investigation, it was not associated with Rowland’s testimony, and only a superficial effort was made to identify the man Rowland claimed he saw at the sniper’s nest only minutes before the shooting. The Warren Commission’s attitude toward the lunch remnants was determined early in December when the Commission’s inquiry was just beginning. The testimony in SS491 indicated to the Commission staff that the lunch was totally unrelated to both the sniper’s nest and to the assassin. This position is challenged by the testimony of the Deputy Sheriff who found the shells, and four other law enforcement officers present on the sixth floor at the time, as well as by the testimony of the officer who guarded the sniper’s nest. Unfortunately, these men all testified late in the investigation, long after the Secret Service interview with Williams had steered the Commission’s inquiry away from the chicken lunch. Charles Givens – Oswald at the Crime Scene The day of the assassination, Givens told the FBI he saw Oswald three times that morning: 1. Working on the fifth floor during the morning filling orders; 2. Standing by the elevator in the building at 11:50 AM when givens went to the first floor; and 3. Reading a newspaper in the domino room where the employees eat lunch about 11:50 A.M.[40] The original version of when and where Givens saw Oswald during that day is totally different from his later statement to the Secret Service. In this first account given to the FBI on November 22, Givens last saw Oswald on the first floor in the room where the employees, including Oswald, normally ate lunch. At that time, roughly 40 minutes before he allegedly committed the crime of the century, Oswald was behaving quite normally, doing what he did at lunchtime: reading a newspaper. To some extent, this testimony by Givens corroborates Oswald’s own statement made that afternoon after his arrest. During his interrogation at Police headquarters, Oswald claimed he was on the first floor when the President’s motorcade passed the building. Two FBI agents heard Oswald make this statement: Oswald stated that he went to lunch at approximately noon and he claimed he ate his lunch on the first floor in the lunchroom…. Oswald claimed to be on the first floor when President John F. Kennedy passed this building.[41]

Oswald claimed he was in the first floor lunchroom “at approximately noon.” Givens’ statement to the FBI placed him there at 11:50, indicating that Oswald was telling the truth about his whereabouts at that time. Oswald also claimed he was still on the first floor when the motorcade passed the building, but it does not make Oswald’s assertion plausible. Givens’ November 22 statement lent credibility to Oswald’s alibi and this presented a problem for those intent on establishing Oswald’s guilt. This problem was solved two weeks later when Givens withdrew his original testimony and converted to a witness for the prosecution. Secret Service Interview (SS491) Sometime between December 2 and 5, 1963, Givens was interviewed by the Secret Service, and according to SS491: Givens stated that he saw Oswald on the sixth floor at about 11:45 A.M. … and that Oswald was carrying a clipboard that appeared to have some orders on it. Givens felt that Oswald was looking for some books to fill an order, which is his job, and did not give the matter further thought. Shortly thereafter, Givens and the other employees working on the floor-laying project quit for lunch and they took both elevators. They were racing the elevators to the first floor and Givens heard Oswald call to them to send one of the elevators back up.[42]

This account describes only one sighting of Oswald and it took place on the sixth floor at about 11:45. At this point, the picture of Oswald last seen reading a newspaper in the domino room is replaced by a totally new image. Now he is last seen on the sixth floor. The purpose of this new version is obvious: to incriminate Oswald. The Clipboard A new and important item was added to Givens’ story during this December interview: Oswald’s clipboard. SS491 contains the first mention of the clipboard Oswald was supposedly carrying when last seen on the sixth floor: “Oswald was carrying a clipboard that appeared to have some orders on it,” the report states. The Warren Report explains the importance of this item: The significance of Given’s observation that Oswald was carrying his clipboard became apparent on December 2, 1963, when an employee, Frankie Kaiser, found a clipboard hidden by book cartons in the northwest corner of the sixth floor at the west wall a few feet from where the rifle had been found … Kaiser identified it as the clipboard which Oswald had appropriated from him when Oswald came to work at the Depository.[43]

This narrative outlines the following sequence of events: once alone on the sixth floor, Oswald hid the clipboard near the spot where he later concealed his rifle; it went undetected for ten days; on or about December 2, Givens made his statement to the Secret Service, but the “significance” of his reference to the clipboard was not apparent until the clipboard was found by Kaiser on December 2. This interpretation raises numerous questions. First, why would Oswald bother to hide his clipboard? And if he did, why wasn’t it found during the search of the sixth floor on November 22? According to Kaiser’s description of its location, the clipboard wasn’t hidden at all, merely lying on the floor between some cartons and the wall. How then did it go unnoticed for ten days? The major question, however, relates to the timing of the clipboard’s discovery and Givens’ testimony about it. The Warren Report implies that Givens’ reference to the clipboard occurred prior to the clipboard’s discovery, but in fact, both arrived on the scene with the juxtaposition of Siamese twins. Givens’ statement to the Secret Service occurred between December 2 and December 5, which means his reference to the clipboard was made the same day it was “found” or within three days afterward. The true implication of this tardy, simultaneous appearance is ominous and far-reaching. It means that whoever was reshaping the testimony of witnesses also had access to certain items of physical evidence. The clipboard and Givens’ Secret Service testimony are virtually inseparable. They appeared at the same time, each supported the other, and together they provided the Warren Commission with evidence “linking Oswald with the point from which the shots were fired.” Yet in the first statement that Givens made on November 22, he stated that he last saw Oswald on the first floor, not the sixth, and that Oswald was reading a newspaper, not carrying a clipboard. Only one version can be true: Oswald was either in one place or the other, and the earliest most reliable evidence places him in the lunch room. There is no reason do doubt Givens’ first statement to the FBI, but there is abundant reason to doubt his later statement to the Secret Service. Givens had no motive to fabricate the first version. It served no purpose and helped no one, except Oswald, a fact Givens could not have known when he gave the statement on November 22. On the other hand, the later story served a valuable function. Coupled with the physical evidence provided by the clipboard, it contributed to the web of circumstantial evidence used to incriminate Oswald. Moreover, it effectively eliminated Givens’ earlier testimony which had raised the disquieting possibility that Oswald’s statements about his whereabouts during the assassination might be true. SS491 — What Does It Mean? In evaluating the significance of this document, it is useful to consider how different the record would be if the original statements made by Harold Norman, Bonnie Ray Williams and Charles Givens to the FBI had prevailed. There would be no audio evidence, raising the question of why the men below the sniper’s nest heard nothing overhead during the assassination. There would be no explanation for the remnants of a chicken lunch found on the sixth floor, necessitating further investigation in that area. And there would be no testimony placing Oswald on the sixth floor after everyone else went to lunch, instead there would be support for Oswald’s claim that he was on the first floor when the shots were fired. (It should be noted that the FBI reports detailing the initial statements of the three men were not published in the Commission’s 26 volumes but, instead, were placed in the Archives.) This report by the Secret Service suggests a certain pattern of activity. It is extremely unlikely that these three stories blossomed independently of each other and appeared for the first time in the same document either by accident or coincidence. On the contrary, a systematically coordinated effort appears to be be operating. One designed to steer the Warren Commission’s inquiry in a particular direction during its early stages and to prevent the Commission from pursuing certain areas where investigation might have yielded conclusions different from those finally reached. (It is possible, in fact likely, that similar efforts too place in other, more critical areas.) When viewed in this way, SS491 could be interpreted as circumstantial evidence implicating the Secret Service in an orchestrated effort to conceal the truth about the assassination. On the other hand, it could be argued that the Secret Service was merely an unwitting conduit for the new information supplied by these three witnesses.

That possibility prompts a number of questions:

* Who decided it was necessary to re-interview the employees of the TSBD en masse?

* Why was the Secret Service chosen to do the job, instead of the FBI?

* And what bureaucratic process was involved in these decisions; who set the process into motion; and why?

* Were these interviews really necessary, or were they only set up to allow Harold Norman, Bonnie Ray Williams and Charles Givens to revise their earlier testimony, and to put their new stories into the record?

The obvious implication of this line of thinking is that someone involved in manipulating the testimony of these three men was in a position to influence the actual mechanics of the Warren Commission’s field investigation. In the final analysis, the ultimate dimensions of SS491 cannot be adequately defined at this point; more information is needed. But what we know is grim enough: eyewitness testimony was falsified and physical evidence manipulated. Regardless of the role played by the Secret Service, whether that agency was the source of the revised testimony or merely a conduit for it, the implications are unpleasant in the extreme. For such a complex and calculated effort could not have succeeded without high level assistance from within the investigation itself.

For footnotes I refer to the original article. Scroll to the very bottom!


Add on Feb 6 2021.

I came across this document which is a letter by Patricia Lambert in Jan of 1979 to the HSCA. The document’s primary focus is the (non-)reaction of the Secret Service inside and behind the Presidential limo in the follow-up car. With thanks to Malcolm Blunt.