Helen Markham


Helen Markham, the daughter of a farmer, was born in Dallas. When she was six years old her mother died and went to with her aunt. She married young but the marriage was not a success. After her divorce she became a waitress in Dallas.

On 22nd November, 1963, Markham was in the Oak Cliff area when she saw Officer J. D. Tippit killed. She later described the killer as being short and somewhat on the heavy side, with slightly bushy hair." Later, Markham identified Lee Harvey Oswald in a police lineup, but this was after she had seen his photograph on television.

Although considered the star witness, her testimony was full of mistakes. She said he was alive when the ambulance arrived, but the other witnesses say he died immediately. She also falsely claimed that for the first twenty minutes she was the only person to attend the body. Once again, the other witnesses disagreed with her.

Primary Sources

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

The star witness to the shooting was Mrs. Helen Markham, a Dallas waitress. She was supposedly the only person to see the shooting in its entirety. The official version accepted her as "reliable" and credited her with watching the initial confrontation between Tippit and his murderer peeping fearfully through her fingers as the murderer loped away and thus being able to identify Oswald at a police lineup. Yet this "reliable" witness made more nonsensical statements than can reasonably be catalogued here. She said she talked to Tippit and he understood her until he was loaded into an ambulance. All the medical evidence, and other witnesses, say Tippit died instantly from the head wound. A witness who also saw the shooting - from his pickup truck - and then got out to help the policeman, put it graphically: "He was lying there and he had - looked like a big clot of blood coming out of his head, and his eyes were sunk back in his head.... The policeman, I believe, was dead when he hit the ground." Mrs. Markham said it was twenty minutes before others gathered at the scene of the crime. That is clearly nonsense. Within minutes men were in Tippit's car calling for help on the police radio, and a small crowd was there when the ambulance arrived three minutes later, at 1:10 p.m. Mrs. Markham is credited with recognizing Oswald within three hours at the police station. It turns out that she was so hysterical at the police station that only after ammonia was administered could she go into the lineup room. When she appeared before the Commission Mrs. Markham repeatedly said she had been unable to recognize anyone at the lineup and changed her tune only after pressure from counsel. The star witness in the Tippit shooting was best summed up by Joseph Ball senior counsel to the Warren Commission itself. In 1964 he referred in a public debate to her testimony as being "full of mistakes" and to Mrs Markham as an "utter screwball." He dismissed her as "utterly unreliable," the exact opposite of the Report's verdict.

(2) Ian Griggs, Fair Play Magazine, Did Howard Leslie Brennan Really Attend an Identification Lineup? (May, 1999)

The first lineup was convened less than three and a half hours after the murder of Patrolman J D Tippit. Its purpose was to give 47-year old Dallas waitress Mrs Helen Louise Markham the opportunity to pick out the man she claimed to have seen shoot the officer. I will point out here that there are problems establishing the exact times of all these lineups. In each case, I will use the time given in the official DPD investigation file 15. According to that document, this lineup was held at 4.35pm.

As on all three lineups on Friday 22nd, Oswald selected the no. 2 position in the four-man lineup and was handcuffed to the man on either side of him. His companions were Acting Detective Perry (no.1), Detective Clark (no. 3) and Jail Clerk Don Ables (no.4).

When Mrs Markham had been brought in and was in position on the other side of the one-way nylon screen, each man was asked to step forward and state his name and place of employment. Perhaps significantly, only Oswald was truthful here. The three DPD employees (by their own admission in their later sworn testimony), each gave fictitious answers. Oswald was the only one of the four with facial injuries; he had been named and shown on TV that afternoon and it had also been broadcast that his place of employment was believed to be the source of the attack on Kennedy. In view of those facts, it cannot be claimed that everything was being arranged with scrupulous fairness to the suspect!

As for the witness, she was hardly in a fit state to undertake the responsible task of identifying (or not identifying, as the case may be) the killer of Patrolman Tippit. Homicide Detective L. C. Graves, one of those organising the lineup, said that she was "quite hysterical" and "crying and upset" and there was even talk of her being sent to hospital. In his testimony, Captain Fritz stated: "We were trying to get that showup as soon as we could because she was beginning to faint and getting sick. In fact I had to leave the office and carry some ammonia across the hall, they were about to send her to the hospital or something and we needed that identification real quickly, and she got to feeling all right after using this ammonia."

According to the Warren Report, Mrs Markham "identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the man who shot the policeman" 18. The Report also stated that "in testimony before the Commission, Mrs Markham confirmed her positive identification of Lee Harvey Oswald as the man she saw kill Officer Tippit".

Sylvia Meagher, in Accessories After the Fact, argued that the testimony of this alleged eyewitness to the shooting of Tippit by Oswald, lacks any semblance of credibility 20. Several members of the Warren Commission staff have subsequently voiced their opinions of Mrs Markham's value as a witness. Assistant Counsel Liebeler has described her testimony as "contradictory and worthless" 21, whilst Assistant Counsel Ball described her as "an utter screwball".

Norman Redlich, another Warren Commission staff member, is quoted as saying "The Commission wants to believe Mrs Markham and that's all there is to it." 23. I think this remark is very important since Mrs Markham was the only witness who ever claimed to have actually seen Tippit being shot. Like it or not, the investigators were stuck with her! If she had announced that the Earth was flat, they would have been hard-pressed not to believe her!

What the Warren Report does not divulge about the testimony of its star Tippit witness is the fact that she required considerable prompting concerning her identification of Oswald. In her testimony, she initially stated six times that she recognised nobody in the lineup. Tiring of this, Assistant Counsel Ball unashamedly produced one of the most amazing leading questions ever asked: "Was there a number two man in there?" After a few similar questions, he managed to get her to say "I asked... I looked at him. When I saw this man I wasn't sure but I had cold chills run all over me ... when I saw the man. But I wasn't sure."

(3) Helen Markham interviewed by William Ball for the Warren Commission (26th March, 1964)

William Ball: What did you notice then?

Helen Markham: Well, I noticed a police car coming.

William Ball: Where was the police car when you first saw it?

Helen Markham: He was driving real slow, almost up to this man, well, say this man, and he kept, this man kept walking, you know, and the police car going real slow now, real slow, and they just kept coming into the curb, and finally they got way up there a little ways up, well, it stopped.

William Ball: The police car stopped?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir.

William Ball: What about the man? Was he still walking?

Helen Markham: The man stopped.

William Ball: Then what did you see the man do?

Helen Markham: I saw the man come over to the car very slow, leaned and put his arms just like this, he leaned over in this window and looked in this window.

William Ball: He put his arms on the window ledge?

Helen Markham: The window was down.

William Ball: It was?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir.

William Ball: Put his arms on the window ledge?

Helen Markham: On the ledge of the window.

William Ball: And the policeman was sitting where?

Helen Markham: On the driver's side.

William Ball: He was sitting behind the wheel?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir.

William Ball: Was he alone in the car?

Helen Markham: Yes.

William Ball: Then what happened?

Helen Markham: Well, I didn't think nothing about it; you know, the police are nice and friendly, and I thought friendly conversation. Well, I looked, and there were cars coming, so I had to wait. Well, in a few minutes this man made--

William Ball: What did you see the policeman do?

Helen Markham: See the policeman? Well, this man, like I told you, put his arms up, leaned over, he just a minute, and he drew back and he stepped back about two steps. Mr. Tippit..

William Ball: The policeman?

Helen Markham: The policeman calmly opened the car door, very slowly, wasn't angry or nothing, he calmly crawled out of this car, and I still just thought a friendly conversation, maybe disturbance in the house, I did not know; well, just as the policeman got

William Ball: Which way did he walk?

Helen Markham: Towards the front of the car. And just as he had gotten even with the wheel on the driver's side...

William Ball: You mean the left front wheel?

Helen Markham: Yes; this man shot the policeman.

William Ball: You heard the shots, did you?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir.

William Ball: How many shots did you hear?

Helen Markham: Three.

William Ball: What did you see the policeman do?

Helen Markham: He fell to the ground, and his cap went a little ways out on the street.

William Ball: What did the man do?

Helen Markham: The man, he just walked calmly, fooling with his gun.

William Ball: Toward what direction did he walk?

Helen Markham: Come back towards me, turned around, and went back.

William Ball: Toward Patton?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir; towards Patton. He didn't run. It just didn't scare him to death. He didn't run. When he saw me he looked at me, stared at me. I put my hands over my face like this, closed my eyes. I gradually opened my fingers like this, and I opened my eyes, and when I did he started off in kind of a little trot.

William Ball: Did anybody tell you that the man you were looking for would be in a certain position in the lineup, or anything like that?

Helen Markham: No, sir.

William Ball: Now when you went into the room you looked these people over, these four men?

Helen Markham: Yes, sir.

William Ball: Did you recognize anyone in the lineup?

Helen Markham: No, sir.

William Ball: You did not? Did you see anybody - I have asked you that question before did you recognize anybody from their face?

Helen Markham: From their face, no.

William Ball: Did you identify anybody in these four people?

Helen Markham: I didn't know nobody.

William Ball: I know you didn't know anybody, but did anybody in that lineup look like anybody you had seen before?

Helen Markham: No. I had never seen none of them, none of these men.

William Ball: No one of the four?

Helen Markham: No one of them.

William Ball: No one of all four?

Helen Markham: No, sir.

William Ball: Was there a number two man in there?

Helen Markham: Number two is the one I picked.

William Ball: Well, I thought you just told me that you hadn't...

Helen Markham: I thought you wanted me to describe their clothing.

William Ball: No. I wanted to know if that day when you were in there if you saw anyone in there...

Helen Markham: Number two.

William Ball: What did you say when you saw number two?

Helen Markham: Well, let me tell you. I said the second man, and they kept asking me which one, which one. I said, number two. When I said number two, I just got weak.

William Ball: What about number two, what did you mean when you said number two?

Helen Markham: Number two was the man I saw shoot the policeman.

William Ball: You recognized him from his appearance?

Helen Markham: I asked - I looked at him. When I saw this man I wasn't sure, but I had cold chills just run all over me.

William Ball: When you saw him?

Helen Markham: When I saw the man. But I wasn't sure, so, you see, I told them I wanted to be sure, and looked, at his face is what I was looking at, mostly is what I looked at, on account of his eyes, the way he looked at me. So I asked them if they would turn him sideways. They did, and then they turned him back around, and I said the second, and they said, which one, and I said number two. So when I said that, well, I just kind of fell over. Everybody in there, you know, was beginning to talk, and I don't know, just...

William Ball: Did you recognize him from his clothing?

Helen Markham: He had on a light short jacket, dark trousers. I looked at his clothing, but I looked at his face, too.

William Ball: Did he have the same clothing on that the man had that you saw shoot the officer?

Helen Markham: He had, these dark trousers on.

William Ball: Did he have a jacket or a shirt? The man that you saw shoot Officer Tippit and run away, did you notice if he had a jacket on?

Helen Markham: He had a jacket on when he done it.

William Ball: What kind of a jacket, what general color of jacket?

Helen Markham: It was a short jacket open in the front, kind of a grayish tan.

William Ball: Did you tell the police that?

Helen Markham: Yes, I did.

William Ball: Did any man in the lineup have a jacket on?

Helen Markham: I can't remember that.

William Ball: Did this number two man that you mentioned to the police have any jacket on when he was in the lineup?

Helen Markham: No, sir.

William Ball: What did he have on?

Helen Markham: He had on a light shirt and dark trousers.

William Ball: Did you recognize the man from his clothing or from his face?

Helen Markham: Mostly from his face.

William Ball: Were you sure it was the same man you had seen before?

Helen Markham: I am sure.