Roy Kellerman

Roy Kellerman

Roy Kellerman was born in 1916. After graduating from High School in 1933 he found work with the Dodge Corporation. He left in 1937 to join the Michigan State Police. He served in the force for the next four years.

Kellerman joined the Secret Service in Detroit in December 1941. The following year he was transferred to the office in Washington. In March 1942, he was assigned to the White House. For the next three years Kellerman helped protect President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family. Later he worked for Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. In October 1962 Kellerman was promoted and given the title of assistant special agent in charge of security.

On 4th November Kellerman was asked to prepare for the presidential trip to Dallas, Texas. This involved discussions with Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to Kennedy), Winston G. Lawson (secret service agent in charge of the trip) and Jesse Curry (chief of police in Dallas).

On the 22nd November, 1963, Kellerman accompanied John F. Kennedy in the presidential car in the motorcade through Dallas. The car was driven by William Greer. Kellerman later told the Warren Commission that Kenneth O'Donnell made the decision to remove the bubbletop on the President's car on the way to the Trade Mart.

Several witnesses said that William Greer stopped the car after the first shot was fired. This included Jean Hill, who was the closest witness to the car when Kennedy was hot: According to Hill "the motorcade came to almost a halt at the time the shots rang out". James Chaney (one of the four Presidential motorcyclists) - stated that the limousine "after the shooting, from the time the first shot rang out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped." Mary Woodward, a journalist with the Dallas Morning News wrote: "Instead of speeding up the car, the car came to a halt... after the first shot".

Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to Kennedy), who was riding in the motorcade, later wrote: "If the Secret Service men in the front had reacted quicker to the first two shots at the President's car, if the driver had stepped on the gas before instead of after the fatal third shot was fired, would President Kennedy be alive today? He added "Greer had been remorseful all day, feeling that he could have saved President Kennedy's life by swerving the car or speeding suddenly after the first shots."

Senator Ralph Yarborough, who was riding with Lyndon B. Johnson, was highly critical of the actions of William Greer: "When the noise of the shot was heard, the motorcade slowed to what seemed to me a complete stop... After the third shot was fired, but only after the third shot was fired, the cavalcade speeded up, gained speed rapidly, and roared away to the Parkland Hospital... The cars all stopped... 'I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but for the protection of future Presidents, they (the Secret Service) should be trained to take off when a shot is fired."

It has been estimated that 59 witnesses and the Zapruder Film indicated that Greer stopped after the first shot was fired. However, when interviewed by the Warren Commission, Greer claimed: "I heard this noise. And I thought that is what it was. And then I heard it again. And I glanced over my shoulder. And I saw Governor Connally like he was starting to fall. Then I realized there was something wrong. I tramped on the accelerator, and at the same time Mr. Kellerman said to me, "Get out of here fast." And I cannot remember even the other shots or noises that was. I cannot quite remember any more. I did not see anything happen behind me any more, because I was occupied with getting away."

William Greer, Winston G. Lawson and Kellerman denied that the presidential car stopped. In his evidence to the Warren Commission Kellerman claimed that after hearing the first shot he said to Greer, "Let's get out of here; we are hit." He went on to say in a reply to a question by Gerald Ford that Greer's response was immediate: "I have driven that car many times, and I never cease to be amazed even to this day with the weight of the automobile plus the power that is under the hood; we just literally jumped out of the God - damn road."

However, Kellerman did provided evidence that suggested that more than three shots were fired at President John F. Kennedy. He told the Warren Commission that after the first shot was fired "a flurry of shells come into the car". He also claimed that he had seen film that argued against the idea of a lone gunman. However, it appeared that members of the Warren Commission did not want to hear about this and the questioning quickly moved on to another topic.

Later it emerged that both Kellerman and Greer believed that Kennedy had been a victim of a conspiracy. Kellerman's daughter told Harold Weisberg in the 1970's that "I hope the day will come when these men (Kellerman and Greer) will be able to say what they've told their families". After Roy Kellerman's death, his widow reported that her husband was convinced that there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

Primary Sources

(1) William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967)

There was a sudden, sharp, shattering sound. Various individuals heard it differently. Jacqueline Kennedy believed it was a motorcycle noise. Curry was under the impression that someone had fired a railroad torpedo. Ronald Fischer and Bob Edwards, assuming that it was a backfire, chuckled. Most of the hunters in the motorcade - Sorrels, Connally, Yarborough, Gonzalez, Albert Thomas - instinctively identified it as rifle fire.

But the White House Detail was confused. Their experience in outdoor shooting was limited to two qualification courses a year on a range in Washington's National Arboretum. There they heard only their own weapons, and they were unaccustomed to the bizarre effects that are created when small-arms fire echoes among unfamiliar structures - in this case, the buildings of Dealey Plaza. Emory Roberts recognized Oswald's first shot as a shot. So did Youngblood, whose alert response may have saved Lyndon Johnson's life. They were exceptions. The men in Halfback were bewildered. They glanced around uncertainly. Lawson, Kellerman, Greer, Ready, and Hill all thought that a firecracker had been exploded. The fact that this was a common reaction is no mitigation. It was the responsibility of James J. Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service, and Jerry Behn, Head of the White House Detail, to see that their agents were trained to cope with precisely this sort of emergency. They were supposed to be picked men, honed to a matchless edge. It was comprehensible that Roy Truly should dismiss the first shot as a cherry bomb. It was even fathomable that Patrolman James M. Chaney, mounted on a motorcycle six feet from the Lincoln, should think that another machine had backfired. Chaney was an ordinary policeman, not a Presidential bodyguard. The protection of the Chief Executive, on the other hand, was the profession of Secret Service agents. They existed for no other reason. Apart from Clint Hill - and perhaps Jack Ready, who started to step off the right running board and was ordered back by Roberts - the behaviour of the men in the follow-up car was unresponsive. Even more tragic was the perplexity of Roy Kellerman, the ranking agent in Dallas, and Bill Greer, who was under Kellerman's supervision. Kellerman and Greer were in a position to take swift evasive action, and for five terrible seconds they were immobilized.

(2) Roy Kellerman interviewed by Arlen Specter on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: What car immediately followed the President's car?

Roy Kellerman: Our own Secret Service followup car.

Arlen Specter: What kind of a car was that?

Roy Kellerman: This is a 1956 Cadillac, four-door touring car with the top down.

Arlen Specter: And who were the occupants of that car, indicating their positions in the car?

Roy Kellerman: All during this ride in from Love Field Special Agent Sam Kinney was the driver of this automobile. The assistant to the Special Agent in Charge Emory Roberts was sitting in the front seat, the passenger side. This car has running boards. Standing on the front of the left running board was Special Agent Clinton Hill. In back of him on the rear of that same running board on that side was Special Agent William McIntyre. On the right running board standing forward was Special Agent John Ready, and standing in back of him on the rear of the right running board was Special Agent Paul Landis.

Arlen Specter: Did that automobile have jump seats?

Roy Kellerman: This automobile has jump seats.

Arlen Specter: And what people occupied the jump seats?

Roy Kellerman: It was occupied by Mr. Kenneth O'Donnell, who was the appointment secretary of President Kennedy, and Mr. Dave Powers.

Arlen Specter: Do you know which sat on which side?

Roy Kellerman: Mr. O'Donnell sat on the left; Mr. Powers sat on the right.

Arlen Specter: Who was in the back seat of that automobile?

Roy Kellerman: The back seat of that automobile on the right side was Special Agent George Hickey, and on the left side Special Agent Glen Bennett.

(3) Roy Kellerman interviewed by Arlen Specter, John S. Cooper and Gerald Ford on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Roy Kellerman: As we went down Elm Street, there was a smooth road and the terrain on each side was a grassy plotted area, a very cleared-off area, visibility tremendous.

Arlen Specter: And describe the composure of the crowds at that time.

Roy Kellerman: As we turned north on to Houston Street, this was primarily the end of the crowd in Dallas, Tex.; in the downtown section, there were still a few on the sidewalk until we got to Elm Street. As we turned in a northerly direction to Elm Street, which would be on our left, then the crowds just diminished. They were spotty, standing on the grassy plot. They were not on the side of the street. In fact, there were just a matter of a handful, that was all, and we were through it...

Arlen Specter: All right. Now, describe what occurred as you proceeded down Elm Street after turning off of Houston.

Roy Kellerman: As we turned off Houston onto Elm and made the short little dip to the left going down grade, as I said, we were away from buildings, and were there was a sign on the side of the road which I don't recall what it was or what it said, but we no more than passed that and you are out in the open, and there is a report like a firecracker, pop. And I turned my head to the right because whatever this noise was I was sure that it came from the right and perhaps into the rear, and as I turned my head to the right to view whatever it was or see whatever it was, I heard a voice from the back seat and I firmly believe it was the President's, "My God, I am hit," and I turned around and he has got his hands up here like this.

Arlen Specter: Indicating right hand up toward his neck?

Roy Kellerman: That is right, sir. In fact, both hands were up in that direction.

John S. Cooper: Which side of his neck?

Roy Kellerman: Both hands were up, sir; this one is like this here and here we are with the hands...

Arlen Specter: Indicating the left hand is up above the head.

Roy Kellerman: In the collar section.

Arlen Specter: As you are positioning yourself in the witness chair, your right hand is up with the finger at the ear level as if clutching from the right of the head; would that be an accurate description of the position you pictured there?

Roy Kellerman: Yes. Good. There was enough for me to verify that the man was hit. So, in the same motion I come right back and grabbed the speaker and said to the driver, "Let's get out of here; we are hit," and grabbed the mike and I said, "Lawson, this is Kellerman," - this is Lawson, who is in the front car. "We are hit; get us to the hospital immediately." Now, in the seconds that I talked just now, a flurry of shells come into the car. I then looked back and this time Mr. Hill, who was riding on the left front bumper of our followup car, was on the back trunk of that car; the President was sideways down into the back seat.

Arlen Specter: Indicating on his left side.

Roy Kellerman: Right; just like I am here.

Arlen Specter: You mean, correct, left side?

Roy Kellerman: Correct; yes, sir. Governor Connally by that time is lying flat backwards into her lap - Mrs. Connally - and she was lying flat over him.

Arlen Specter: Who was lying flat over him?

Roy Kellerman: Mrs. Connally was lying flat over the Governor.

Arlen Specter: You say that you turned to your right immediately after you heard a shot?

Roy Kellerman: Yes, sir.

Arlen Specter: What was the reason for your reacting to your right?

Roy Kellerman: That was the direction that I heard this noise, pop.

Arlen Specter: Do you have a reaction as to the height from which the noise came?

Roy Kellerman: No; honestly, I do not.

Gerald Ford: Was there any reaction that you noticed on the part of Greer when the noise was noticed by you?

Roy Kellerman: You are referring, Mr. Congressman, to the reaction to get this car out of there?

Gerald Ford: Yes.

Roy Kellerman: Mr. Congressman, I have driven that car many times, and I never cease to be amazed even to this day with the weight of the automobile plus the power that is under the hood; we just literally jumped out of the God - damn road.

Gerald Ford: As soon as this noise was heard, or as soon as you transmitted this message to Lawson?

Roy Kellerman: As soon as I transmitted to the driver first as I went to Lawson. I just leaned sideways to, him and said, "Let's get out of here. We are hit."

Gerald Ford: That comment was made to Greer; not to Lawson?

Roy Kellerman: Yes, sir; that is right...

(4) Roy Kellerman interviewed by Arlen Specter, John S. Cooper and Gerald Ford on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Roy Kellerman: When I completed the delivery of those instructions to Lawson, I just hung up the receiver and looked back.

Arlen Specter: To your left...

Roy Kellerman: To my left; that is right. This is when I first viewed Mr. Hill, who was on the back of the car...

Arlen Specter: Precisely where was he in that instant?

Roy Kellerman: Lying right across the trunk of the car with Mrs. Kennedy on the left rear, Mr. Hill's head was right up in back of her.

Arlen Specter: When you describe the left rear you mean as the car was facing?

Roy Kellerman: As the car is traveling, sir; yes, sir. He was lying across the trunk of this car, feet on this side.

Arlen Specter: Was he flat across the trunk of the car?

Roy Kellerman: Flat; that is right.

Arlen Specter: Where did you look next; what did you observe following that?

Roy Kellerman: Then I observed how the President was lying, which was - he was - flat in the seat in this direction.

Arlen Specter: On his left-hand side?

Roy Kellerman: Yes, sir. Governor Connally was lying straight on his back with Mrs. Connally over him about halfway.

Arlen Specter: Did Governor Connally say anything up to this point?

Roy Kellerman: No.

Arlen Specter: Did Mrs. Connally say anything up to that point?

Roy Kellerman: No.

Arlen Specter: When was it that Mrs. Kennedy made the statement which you have described, "My God, what are they doing?"

Roy Kellerman: This occurred after the flurry of shots.

Arlen Specter: At that time you looked back and saw Special Agent Hill across the trunk of the car, had your automobile accelerated by that time?

Roy Kellerman: Tremendously so; yes.

(5) William Greer interviewed by Arlen Specter on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: Describe as best you can the types of sound of the second report, as distinguished from the first noise which you said was similar to a motorcycle backfire?

William Greer: The second one didn't sound any different much than the first one but I kind of got, by turning around, I don't know whether I got a little concussion of it, maybe when it hit something or not, I may have gotten a little concussion that made me think there was something different to it. But so far as the noise is concerned, I haven't got any memory of any difference in them at all...

Arlen Specter: Did you step on the accelerator before, simultaneously or after Mr. Kellerman instructed you to accelerate?

William Greer: It was about simultaneously.

Arlen Specter: So that it was your reaction to accelerate prior to the time...

William Greer: Yes, sir.

Arlen Specter: You had gotten that instruction?

William Greer: Yes, sir; it was my reaction that caused me to accelerate.

Arlen Specter: Do you recollect whether you accelerated before or at the same time or after the third shot?

William Greer: I couldn't really say. Just as soon as I turned my head back from the second shot, right away I accelerated right then. It was a matter of my reflexes to the accelerator.

Arlen Specter: Was it at about that time that you heard the third shot?

William Greer: Yes, sir; just as soon as I turned my head.

Arlen Specter: What is your best estimate of the speed of the car at the time of the first, second, or third shots?

William Greer: I would estimate my speed was between 12 and 15 miles per hour.

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

The Zapruder and other films and photographs of the assassination clearly reveal the utter lack of response by Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman and James Greer, who were in the front seat of the presidential limousine. After the first two shots, Greer actually slowed the vehicle to less than five miles an hour. Kellerman merely sat in the front seat, seemingly oblivious to the shooting. In contrast, Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood responded instantly to the first shot, and before the head shots were fired, had covered Vice-President Lyndon Johnson with his body.

Trained to react instantaneously, as in the attempted assassinations of President Gerald Ford by Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore and of President Ronald Reagan by JohnWarnock Hinckley, the Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Kennedy simply neglected their duty. The reason for their neglect remains one of the more intriguing mysteries of the assassination.

(7) House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979)

Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy....

Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President John F. Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.

The Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties.

The Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.