Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza

On 22nd November, 1963, Jean Hill, a Dallas schoolteacher, watched the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy from the grassy knoll facing the Texas School Depository Building. Hill and her friend, Mary Moorman were only a few feet away from President John F. Kennedy when he was shot. Hill thought the shots had come from behind her on the grassy knoll and as soon as the firing stopped she ran towards the wooden fence in an attempt to find the gunman. However, Hill was arrested by two policemen and taken into custody.

Grassy Knoll in Dallas
Grassy Knoll in Dallas

The vast majority of witnesses in the Dealey Plaza on that day claimed that shots came from two directions: the Texas Book Depository and the Grassy Knoll. The behaviour of the police to the shooting is also very interesting. Film of the Dealey Plaza shows that within seconds of the shots being fired several police charged up the grassy knoll. A few minutes later there were over 50 policemen searching the grassy knoll area and the railroad parking lot that was situated just behind it. This was a far larger number than went into the Texas Book Depository.

In their book The Man on the Grassy Knoll, John R. Craig and Philip A. Rogers claimed that Charles Harrelson and Charles Rogers were the two gunman behind the picket fence on the Grassy Knoll. It was also claimed that Harrelson and Rogers were two of the tramps arrested in Dealey Plaza on 22nd November, 1963.

Photograph of the tramps arrested at the Dealey Plaza. It has been argued that Charles Rogers is on the left and Charles Harrelson is in the middle of the photograph.
Photograph of the tramps arrested at the Dealey Plaza. It has been argued that
Charles Rogers is on the left and Charles Harrelson is in the middle of the photograph.

In 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations ordered a fresh investigation of Dallas Police records. In March of that year they discovered a trunk that had been in the possession of the former intelligence director of the department. This included a dictabelt recording of transmissions by police on the day of the assassination. The House Select Committee on Assassinations commissioned two prominent acoustical experts (Dr. James Barger and Dr. Mark Weiss) to study the tape. They concluded that four shots were fired at President John F. Kennedy. The gap between the first and second shots was 1.66 seconds. The third shot took place 7.49 seconds later. The gap between this and the final shot was only 0.44 seconds. It was clear that the third and fourth shots could not have been fired from the same gun.

After establishing where the police motorcycle that made the recording was at the time of the shooting, Barger and Weiss concluded that "with a probability of 95% or better" the third shot was fired from the grassy knoll. They were even able to state that the firing position was behind the picket fence, eight feet west of the corner. This was the very spot where S. M. Holland had claimed he has seen a puff of smoke after he had heard shots on the day Kennedy was killed. It was also the same spot where Phillip Willis' photograph appeared to show, according to computer analysis, "an adult person" standing behind a fence.

Primary Sources

(1) Harold Feldman, Fifty-one Witnesses: The Grassy Knoll (1965)

The human ear does not provide the best evidence in a murder case. But its perceptions are evidence not to be despised or dismissed, especially when the case is the murder of a President and more than half of all recorded witnesses agree. What follows is the result of a survey of the 121 witnesses to the assassination of President Kennedy whose statements are registered in the twenty-six volumes appended to the Warren Report. On the question of where the shots that killed the President came from, 38 could give no clear opinion and 32 thought they came from the Texas School Book Depository Building (TSBDB). Fifty-one held the shots sounded as if the came from west of the Depository, the area of the grassy knoll on Elm Street, the area directly on the right of the President's car when the bullets struck...

The Commission, failing to change the memories of witnesses, dismisses them with a wave of the hand. "No credible evidence," says its Report, "suggests that the shots were fired from the railroad bridge over the Triple Underpass, the nearby railroad yards or any place other than the Texas School Book Depository".

No credible evidence! It is clear how the Commission reached this absurd conclusion. Once it was committed to the thesis that there could be only one assassin and no accomplices, it readily accepted the clues pointing to Lee Oswald in the TSBDB. Now that the assassin and his place were identified, it became "incredible" that any other assassin or any other source of shots could exist. Ergo, any evidence that there was another assassin and another shot source is not "credible."

In what other murder case would the testimony of 51 sworn and many other unheard witnesses be dismissed so cavalierly as "no credible evidence"?

We submit, on the contrary, that the earwitness evidence is quite credible. Taken together with the ballistic and medical evidence analyzed by Mr. Salandria, it is not only credible; it is convincing. There was at least one other assassin firing at President Kennedy from the vicinity of the grassy knoll.

(2) Jean Hill, statement made to the Dallas Police Department (22nd November, 1963)

Mary Moorman started to take a picture. We were looking at the president and Jackie in the back seat... Just as the president looked up two shots rang out and I saw the president grab his chest and fell forward across Jackie's lap... There was an instant pause between two shots and the motorcade seemingly halted for an instant. Three or four more shots rang out and the motorcade sped away. I saw some men in plain clothes shooting back but everything was a blur and Mary was pulling on my leg saying "Get down they're shooting".

(3) Jim Featherston worked for the Dallas Times Herald in November, 1963. He later wrote about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the book, Secrets from the Sixth Floor Window (1994)

I ran to Dealey Plaza, a few yards away, and this is where I first learned the president had been shot. I found two young women, Mary Moorman and Jean Lollis Hill, near the curb on Dealey Plaza. Both had been within a few feet of the spot where Kennedy was shot, and Mary Moorman had taken a Polaroid picture of Jackie Kennedy cradling the president's head in her arms. It was a poorly focused and snowy picture, but, as far as I knew then, it was the only such picture in existence. I wanted the picture and I also wanted the two women's eyewitness accounts of the shooting.

I told Mrs. Moorman I wanted the picture for the Times Herald and she agreed. I then told both of them I would like for them to come with me to the courthouse pressroom so I could get their stories and both agreed. . . . I called the city desk and told Tom LePere, an assistant city editor, that the president had been shot. "Really? Let me switch you to rewrite," LePere said, unruffled as if it were a routine story. I briefly told the rewrite man what had happened and then put Mary Moorman and Jean Lollis Hill on the phone so they could tell what they had seen in their own words. Mrs. Moorman, in effect, said was so busy taking the picture that she really didn't see anything. Mrs. Hill, however, gave a graphic account of seeing Kennedy shot a few feet in front of her eyes.

Before long, the pressroom became filled with other newsmen. Mrs. Hill told her story over and over again for television and radio. Each time, she would embellish it a bit until her version began to sound like Dodge City at high noon. She told of a man running up toward the now-famed grassy knoll pursued by other men she believed to be policemen. In the meantime, I had talked to other witnesses and at one point I told Mrs. Hill she shouldn't be saying some of the things she was telling television and radio reporters. I was merely trying to save her later embarrassment but she apparently attached intrigue to my warning.

As the afternoon wore on, a deputy sheriff found out that I had two eyewitnesses in the pressroom, and he told me to ask them not to leave the courthouse until they could be questioned by law enforcement people. I relayed the information to Mrs. Moorman and Mrs. Hill.

All this time, I was wearing a lapel card identifying myself as a member of the press. It was also evident we were in the pressroom and the room was so designated by a sign on the door.

I am mentioning all this because a few months later Mrs. Hill told the Warren Commission bad things about me. She told the commission that I had grabbed Mrs. Moorman and her camera down on Dealey Plaza and that I wouldn't let her go even though she was crying. She added that I "stole" the picture from Mrs. Moorman. Mrs. Hill then said I had forced them to come with me to a strange room and then wouldn't let them leave. She also said I had told her what she could and couldn't say. Her testimony defaming me is all in Vol. VI of the Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, the Warren Report.

Why Mrs. Hill said all this has never been clear to me -- I later theorized she got swept up in the excitement of having the cameras and lights on her and microphones shoved into her face. She was suffering from a sort of star-is-born syndrome, I later figured

(4) Jean Hill interviewed by Arlen Specter from the Warren Commission (24th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: Did you have any conscious impression of where the second shot came from?

Jean Hill: No.

Arlen Specter: Any conscious impression of where this third shot came from?

Jean Hill: Not any different from any of them. I thought it was just people shooting from the knoll - I did think there was more than one person shooting.

Arlen Specter: You did think there was more than one person shooting?

Jean Hill: Yes, sir.

Arlen Specter: What made you think that?

Jean Hill: The way the 'gun report sounded and the difference in the way they were fired-the timing.

Arlen Specter: What was your impression as to the source of the second group of shots which you have described as the fourth, perhaps the fifth, and perhaps the sixth shot?

Jean Hill: Well, nothing, except that I thought that they were fired by someone else.

Arlen Specter: And did you have any idea where they were coming from?

Jean Hill: No; as I said, I thought they were coming from the general direction of that knoll.

(5) Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966)

Mary Ann Moorman, an eyewitness to the assassination equipped with a Polaroid camera, was positioned in a strategic location in Dealey Plaza. She was standing with her friend, Jean Hill, across the street from and southwest of the Depository. Consequently, as she took a picture of the approaching motorcade the Book Depository formed the backdrop. Her camera was aimed, providentially, a trifle higher than the occasion demanded, and her photograph therefore contained a view of the sixth-floor of the building, including the alleged assassination window.

Mrs Moorman thus became a most important witness and her photograph an essential part of the evidence. Her presence at the scene and the fact that she did take the picture were vouched for by Mrs Hill when she testified before a Commission attorney. An FBI report filed by two agents discloses that they both interviewed Mrs Moorman on November 22.15 On that same day she signed an affidavit for the Dallas Sheriff's office. Deputy Sheriff John Wiseman submitted a report in which he said that he talked with Mrs Moorman that afternoon and that he took the picture from her. Wiseman stated that in examining the picture he could see the sixth-floor window from which the shots purportedly were fired."I took this picture to Chief Criminal Deputy Sheriff, Allan Sweatt, who later turned it over to Secret Service Officer Patterson," Wiseman said. A report submitted by Sweatt reveals that he also questioned Mrs Moorman and Mrs Hill on November 22 and that he received and examined the photograph. Sweatt said that "this picture was turned over to Secret Service Agent Patterson".

Since Mrs Moorman had used a Polaroid camera, the consequences were twofold: she was able to see the picture before it was taken from her by the police; she was not able to retain a negative. She told the FBI that the picture showed the Book Depository in the background, a fact confirmed by the two deputy sheriffs who also saw it.

Mrs Moorman was a witness with inordinately pertinent evidence to offer. Pictures of her in the act of photographing the motorcade appear in the volumes of evidence published by the Commission and in the Warren Commission Report itself. Yet the Report makes no mention of her or of her photograph; her name does not appear in the index to the Report. Although the Commission published many photographs, some of doubtful petinency it refused to publish the picture that possibility constituted the single most important item of evidence in establishing Oswald's innocence or guilt.

(6) Jean Hill, speech (November, 1991)

That area (of the Dealey Plaza) is sloping so when Mary reached up to take the picture, we did get a picture of the School Book Depository. We knew that, because we had a Polaroid camera, we were going to have to be quick if we wanted to take more than one picture. So what we planned was, Mary would take the picture, I would pull it out of the camera, coat it with fixative and put it in my pocket. That way we could keep shooting. When the head shot came, Mary fell down and the film (i.e., the famous photograph) was still in the camera. When the motorcade came around, there were so many voters on the other side (of Elm Street) that I knew the President was never going to look at me, so I yelled, "Hey Mr. President, I want to take your picture!" Just then his hands came up and the shots started ringing out. Then, in half the time it takes for me to tell it, I looked across the street and I saw them shooting from the knoll. I did get the impression that day that there was more than one shooter, but I had the idea that the good guys and the bad guys were shooting at each other. I guess I was a victim of too much television, because I assumed that the good guys always shot at the bad guys. Mary was on the grass shouting, "Get down! Get down! They're shooting! They're shooting!" Nobody was moving and I looked up and saw this man, moving rather quickly in front of the School Book Depository toward the railroad tracks, heading west, toward the area where I had seen the man shooting on the knoll. So, I thought to myself, "This man is getting away. I've got to do something. I've got to catch him." I jumped out into the street. One of the motorcyclists was turning his motor, looking up and all around for the shooter, and he almost ran me over. It scared me so bad, I went back to get Mary to go with me. She was still down on the ground. I couldn't get her to go, so I left her. I ran across and went up the hill. When I got there a hand came down on my shoulder, and it was a firm grip. This man said, "You're coming with me." And I said, "No, I can't come with you, I have to get this man." I'm not very good at doing what I'm told. He showed me I.D. It said Secret Service. It looked official to me. I tried to turn away from him and he said a second time, "You're going with me." At this point, a second man came and grabbed me from the other side, and they ran their hands through my pockets. They didn't say, "Do you have the picture? Which pocket?" They just ran their hands

through my pockets and took it. They both held me up here (at the shoulder near the neck) someplace, where you could hurt somebody badly - and they told me, "Smile. Act like you're with your boyfriends." But I couldn't smile because it hurt too badly. And they said, "Here we go," each one holding me by a shoulder. They took me to the Records Building and we went up to a room on the fourth floor. There were two guys sitting there on the other side of a table looking out a window that overlooked "the killing zone," where you could see all of the goings on. You got the impression that they had been sitting there for a long time. They asked me what I had seen, and it became clear that they knew what I had seen. They asked me how many shots I had heard and I told them four to six. And they said, "No, you didn't. There were three shots. We have three bullets and that's all we're going to commit to now." I said, "Well, I know what I heard," and they told me, "What you heard were echoes. You would be very wise to keep your mouth shut." Well, I guess I've never been that wise. I know the difference between firecrackers, echoes, and gunshots. I'm the daughter of a game ranger, and my father took me shooting all my life.

(7) Washington Post (11th November, 2000)

"She loved the fact that she was a witness to history," Mrs. Hill's daughter Jeanne Poorman told the Reuters news service.

"With the inordinate number of people connected with witnessing the assassination who died in suspicious circumstances, she was proud that she was a survivor," Poorman said of her mother.

Poorman said her mother thought the shots came from the grassy knoll nearby, not the book depository across the street, and ran to the area thinking she would be able to spot the gunman.

Instead of catching up with the gunman, Mrs. Hill said, she was seized by two men in police uniforms and briefly taken into custody despite telling them she thought the assassin was running from the knoll.

(8) Eddie Barker interviewed Abraham Zapruder for the documentary The Warren Report: Part 2, CBS Television (26th June, 1967)

Eddie Barker: Abraham Zapruder, whose film of the assassination was studied at length on last night's program, was standing up on this little wall right at the edge of the grassy knoll. Now, shots from behind that picket fence over there would have almost had to whistle by his ear. Mr. Zapruder, when we interviewed him here, tended to agree that the knoll was not involved.

Abraham Zapruder: I'm not a ballistics expert, but I believe that if there were shots that come from my right ear, I would hear a different sound. I heard shots coming from - I wouldn't know which direction to say - but they was driven from the Texas Book Depository and they all sounded alike. There was no difference in sound at all.

(9) S. M. Holland, The Warren Report: Part 2, CBS Television (26th June, 1967)

Just about the time that the parade turned on Elm Street, about where that truck is - that bus is now, there was a shot came from up-the upper end of the street. I couldn't say then, at that time, that it came from the Book Depository book

store. But I knew that it came from the other end of the street, and the President slumped over forward like that and tried to raise his hand up. And Governor Connally, sitting in front of him on the right side of the car, tried to turn to his right and he was sitting so close to the door that he couldn't make it that-a-way, and he turned back like that with his arm out to the left. And about that time, the second shot was fired and it knocked him over forward and he slumped to the right, and I guess his wife pulled him over in her lap because he fell over in her lap.

And about that time, there was a third report that wasn't nearly as loud as the two previous reports. It came from that picket fence, and then there was a fourth report. The third and the fourth reports was almost simultaneously. But, the third report wasn't nearly as loud as the two previous reports or the fourth report. And I glanced over underneath that green tree and you see a - a little puff of smoke. It looked like a puff of steam or cigarette smoke. And the smoke was about - oh, eight or ten feet off the ground, and about fifteen feet this side of that tree.

(10) Woody Woodland interviewed Ricky White, the son of Roscoe White, for the Manchester Magazine (September, 1990)

That (fatal shot) was fired by the man behind the stockade fence... Then it (the diary) states that he hands the rifle to a man to the right of him. And he has to hurl over the fence. He hurled over it, so therefore he jumped over the fence. There was a man that was evidently standing just right in front of him that was filming the motorcade because he talks about a military man that he had to hurl over the fence and obtain his film.

(11) Anthony Summers, The Kennedy Conspiracy (1980)

One witness was in a better position than anyone else to observe suspicious activity by the fence at the top of the grassy knoll. This was railway worker Lee Bowers, perched in a signal box which commanded a unique view of the area behind the fence. Bowers said that, shortly before the shots were fired, he noticed two men standing near the fence.

One was "middle-aged" and "fairly heavyset," wearing a white shirt and dark trousers. The other was "mid-twenties in either a plaid shirt or plaid coat... these men were the only two strangers in the area. The others were workers that I knew." Bowers also said that when the shots were fired at the President "in the vicinity of where the two men I have described were, there was a flash of light, something I could not identify, but there was something which occurred which caught my eye in this immediate area on the embankment... a flash of light or smoke or something which caused me to feel that something out of the ordinary had occurred there." Lee Bowers was questioned by the Warren Commission but was cut off in mid-sentence when he began describing the "something out of the ordinary" he had seen. The interrogating lawyer changed the subject.

(12) Lee Bowers, interviewed by Mark Lane for his book Rush to Judgment (1966)

At the time of the shooting, in the vicinity of where the two men I have described were, there was a flash of light or, as far as I am concerned, something I could not identify, but there was something which occurred which caught my eye in this immediate area on the embankment. Now, what this was, I could not state at that time and at this time I could not identify it, other than there was some unusual occurrence - a flash of light or smoke or something which caused me to feel like something out of the ordinary had occurred there.

(13) Tosh Plumlee, interviewed on 6th April, 1992.

Q: Can you tell me exactly where you were standing in Dealey Plaza?

A: Yes, I can. We were standing approximately 150 feet east of the triple underpass on the south knoll up on the hill about 5 feet in line with the light posts.

Q: Could you tell how many shots were fired that day?

A: I recall myself, I'd say 4 or 5. That's what I recall. I've heard that there were more, I've heard that there were less.

Q: Could you tell the direction of those shots?

A: I couldn't tell the direction of the shots, but however, but my memory is that I feel a shot went over or head to the left of us. I'm familiar with gunfire. Also, when we left the area, we got a taste of gunpowder when we went over the railroad tracks which would have been south of the north grassy knoll.

(14) Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historians Perspective (1982)

The huge, gaping hole in the right front of President Kennedy's head was almost certainly caused by an exploding bullet fired from the knoll. The rapid backward and leftward movement of Kennedy's head, as well as the backward and left-ward spray of brain tissue, skull bone, and blood are very strong indicators of a shot from the right front. Assuming that it is authentic, the acoustical tape actually recorded the sound of a knoll shot.

Eye and earwitness testimony furnishes further evidence of a shot from the knoll. Almost three-quarters of the witnesses who testified heard shots from the knoll during the shooting, and three people saw a flash of light there. Five witnesses smelled gunpowder in the knoll area. A witness saw a man fleeing the knoll immediately after the shooting, and two law enforcement officials encountered phony "Secret Service" men in the parking lot behind the knoll within minutes after the gunfire.

An assassin with even the slightest concern with making a successful escape would hardly have selected the sixth floor of the Depository Building for his firing site. He would have been trapped on an upper floor of the building. His only means of escape would have been to descend six flights of stairs and then weave his way through the crowd of spectators and police to freedom.

The Grassy Knoll, on the other hand, provided a natural and ideal sniper's position. The six-foot-high wooden fence and the abundance of shrubbery concealed him from the crowd, yet gave him an undisturbed line of fire at the president. The parking lot right behind the knoll gave him quick access to a getaway vehicle.