Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shadow of a Doubt: James Files and the Richard Bothun Photograph PartTwo

Continuing where I left off in the previous entry, I posed the question: Could James E. Files be the unknown person seen in the Richard Bothun photograph, showing the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as claimed in a popular assassination publication and its corresponding website? Did Mr. Files, if he were indeed the much-storied Grassy Knoll gunman, have enough time to vacate his position at the stockade fence and compose himself enough to arrive just at the right moment for a very convenient assassination photo-op? Those are exactly the kind of questions I wished to resolve, among other related subjects (which will be touched on in future posts), upon my second visit to Dealey Plaza on June 13th and 14th of this year. With my feet firmly planted at the historic site, I would time how long it would have taken Files to reach the point seen in the photograph. With Phase II renovation having been completed on the North Pergola and its’ surrounding iconography free of orange roadblocks and chicken wire fences, the time trails that I wished to conduct would be unimpeded, unless I were to cross paths with an astute, but hopeful not unscrupulous, conspiracy theorist who may have realized exactly what I was up to.

The full area behind the fence taken from near the Triple Underpass, March 2013.
I first had to establish the point at which I would begin the time run and then finish the time run based on the Bothun #4 photograph. One starting point was chosen from the area behind the stockade fence at the top of the Grassy Knoll that approximate location being:

  • The House Select Committee on Assassination’s (HSCA) placement of a shooter based on the much debated acoustical evidence in 1978. A strange shape behind the stockade fence, appearing to be the top of a fedora-style hat or a human head, also appears in the Mary Moorman Polaroid (taken within a fraction of second after the head shot which killed President Kennedy) at this very same location pinpointed by the forensic scientists. This location is roughly eight (8) feet to the west from a turn in the fence northward. In his confession, Files also claims this is the point that he fired his weapon from.
Having firmly established the most likely candidate for a starting place, I then focused on the finish line. From studying both cropped and uncropped versions of Bothun #4, I was unfortunately not able to make an absolutely definitive placement of “shadowman” but did attempt to at least set an approximation of his location in the photograph. In Bothun #4, the figure (“shadowman”) appears either be on the walkway that leads from the North Pergola to the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets or to be on the Elm Street extension, a service road to the parking lot behind the Grassy Knoll, in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building. From studying several cropped and “blown-up” images of the possible fleeing assassin, it appears as if he/she (or should I say it?) is positioned between the two large trees which are closest to the white North Pergola monument. Further investigation yielded what appeared to be branches belonging to smaller plants and foliage knotting and snaking their way upward in between these two large trees (as of 2013, the two aforementioned trees are still standing in the Plaza but dwarf their former 1963 selves by a considerable margin). At least one of these branches appears to be behind the “shadowman”, an indication that the figure in the Bothun photograph is actually on the walkway or even perhaps the lawn between the walkway and the Elm Street extension. The area between these two trees, on the concrete sidewalk, was ultimately chosen as the end point, with equal distance between the towering oaks.
The walkway on which the Bothun figure appears, June 2013.
The rules of the time run were as follows: Two trials would be recorded from the possible Grassy Knoll shooter location. The subject (myself) would simply move from Point A (start) to Point B (end) and the data, down to a fraction of a second, would be recorded using stop watches (or as in our case cellphone apps emulating stop watches but still precise and effective). The runner would time themself. An observer (my wife), starting on the other side of the fence and then using the exterior walkways of the North Pergola facing Elm Street to reach the east retaining wall near the end point, would also keep time and to compare with the other watch after the runner reached the destination for maximum confirmation and assurance. The two tests conducted from the possible assassin location would be set at two different paces: leisurely and hurried. A leisurely pace would simply be defined as someone strolling away casually, while a hurried pace could be defined more as power-walking or quite simply as someone wanting to evade capture and escape the Plaza.
The Stockade Fence as viewed from the retaining wall.

The Time Trials:

In the published findings of their investigation, The House Select Committee on Assassinations made the shocking announcement that President John F. Kennedy died “probably” as the result of a conspiracy. The Committee was ready to rubber-stamp the initial Warren Commission conclusion, that Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone killed President Kennedy, until the discovery and subsequent scientific analysis of a dictabelt recording, captured from the open microphone of a police motorcycle during the motorcade, forced the congressional investigation to reassess its position. Scientists examined the recording and found impulses which were believed at that time to have been rifle report and resulting echoes. For comparison to the impulse patterns found on the dictabelt recording, live-fire tests using 6.5mm Carcano rifles (the model of firearm supposedly used by Oswald) were conducted from various locations in Dealey Plaza including the southeastern most window of the 6th Floor of the former Texas School Book Depository Building and, most notably, the Grassy Knoll. Following intensive analysis by experts of leading acoustics firm Bolt, Beranek, & Newman (BBN), the scientists confirmed that the dictabelt contained at least four impulse patterns which were interpreted as gunshots and established a “probability of 95% or better” that one of those impulses originated from eight feet west of the turn in stockade fence on the Grassy Knoll.
Although the controversial findings of the HSCA in 1978 would later be rebuked “officially” several years after the congressional investigation convened, the physical position of a second gunman at this location has remained a fixture amongst assassination researchers to this day. According to James Files own testimony and the jfkmurdersolved.com website, the HSCA Grassy Knoll shooter location is exactly were Mr. Files was at 12:30 PM CST on November 22nd, 1963. So for the first test, this location of a probable sniper was chosen.
 The HSCA Position to Bothun #4. Original Un-cropped Map of Dealey Plaza courtesy: Jerry Organ.
The map pictured above shows the physical geography of Dealey Plaza as it appeared in November 1963. The illustration contains two points for the timing trials: Point A (the starting location) and Point B (the finish location). Point A is represented by the color red and Point B is represented by the color yellow. The orange arrows connecting the two points depict the probable path taken by Mr. Files, the possible Grassy Knoll assassin, to his possible position in the Richard Bothun photograph extensively mentioned and described in Part One of this article. The test run only took into account the amount of time taken to get from Point A to Point B, leaving out Files claim that he had enough time to disassemble his firearm and place it inside a leather case before exiting.
The area behind the stockade fence on the Grassy Knoll of Dealey Plaza is much like it was on November 22nd 1963 but with subtle difference. The trees and plant life shadowing the knoll are now much larger than they were some fifty years ago. Much like 1963, there still exists a parking lot behind the fence, however, it is no longer gravel but now paved with what appeared to be a recent coating of asphalt. In fact, the fresh pavement ends right at the foot of the fence perhaps giving viewers over the five-foot tall wooden planks an extra inch of height to peer over and down at a white-painted “X” in the middle of Elm Street. On the day that the tests were conducted, a considerable number of vehicles were parked in this lot (which provides service for the Sixth Floor Museum) and many of these vehicles were parked right up at the fence line making it at times difficult for tourists to navigate on foot. I was however able to establish a clear defined path which would take me from the probable Grassy Knoll shooter location to the North Pergola monument unobstructed.
Stockade fence facing north, following the path taken in the HSCA time trial.
The path taken was simply this: the watch would be set and I would move north up along the fence line to the area where the fence ends and a landing from the North Pergola leads out to the parking lot. From there, I would cut across the grass behind the imposing white pergola and proceed down the Elm Street extension road. I would then turn onto a short section of sidewalk which connects to a walkway leading out of the eastern pergola shelter, proceed down this eastern walkway between a row of trees and a white retaining wall, and then stop when I reached the middle most point between the two large trees as visible in the Bothun photograph. It was decided that the first test would be conducted at a leisurely walking pace and that the second would be conducted in a more hurried fashion.
Beginning the first time run and walking along the fence line, I noted how I could see several people in the Plaza from this location, most notably behind the western retaining wall where another mysterious figure dubbed “The Black Dog Man” was. I could almost imagine this figure staring back at me over the top of the fence, just a black void with no discernable identity much like the figure I was attempting to emulate in my run. At the time I was there, a conspiracy theorist had set up a table against the southern pergola shelter on the landing of the retaining wall, so a group of roughly ten people were at this location as I made my flight from the plaza. I attempted to channel the mind-set of the possible assailant. I kept my eyes down, arms at my sides, attempting to alert as little attention as possible. I used the wall of cars parked along the fence as cover; my footsteps quietly lite but determined. I pulled the brim of an invisible hat down to obscure my face. Underneath the solemn, non-blinking, almost blank-less visage I carried, I felt the urge, blaring like an approaching siren, to not be taken alive. I rested my icy hand on my revolver. I made sure not to look at my watch.
As I walked closer to the pergola monument and the inviting green lawn that I needed to tread across to get to freedom, I could see the area where the landing from the retaining wall empties into the parking lot. It struck me that if anyone had come up that landing following the time of the shooting that they probably would have run into me. I thought of the unidentified man in the Nix and Muchmore films standing on the concrete steps which lead down the Grassy Knoll. I thought of his mad dash up those steps to the retaining wall and into oblivion. I could see him pass into the parking lot and continue running for his life. Perhaps, fueled by adrenaline and an indescribable desire for safety, all sense locked. He didn’t notice me and I remained a phantom.
Facing toward where the retaining wall landing meets the parking lot.
I made the turn onto the Elm Street extension and could look all the way down into the heart of Downtown Dallas. The Texas Schoolbook Depository, now the 6th Floor Museum, loomed seven stories over my head. The building’s shadow was quite a comfort from the blazing sun and 100 degree temperature. I felt calm as if I could blend, or melt, into a crowd and vanish. Looking through the vestibules in the side of the North Pergola, I could see the Plaza and the cars passing on the street below. The architecture of the North Pergola looked incredible in the mid-day sun; its many beams casting shadows all throughout the structure. Walking the Elm Street extension is perhaps the easiest part of the trip. There are no turns, no vehicles to avoid, and most importantly the pergola provides significant cover despite the vestibules. I even felt safe from the inquiring glances of spectators in front of the Depository Building.
I quickly found the sidewalk off of the service road beneath the canopy of a respectable row of trees. I traveled along the sidewalk until I was headed in a nearly a straight path toward the now-visible County Records Building. My wife is waiting in front of the retaining wall, phone in hand. I glanced around as I made it to Point B. I noticed that it did look remarkably like the numerous photographs and films taken that fateful day. Across the street, I even saw someone taking pictures in my direction, close to where Richard Bothun was five decades ago.
My wife and I compared the times, found no variance between figures and I quickly jotted down the exact time in a handy blue memo book that I had brought specifically for this purpose. We then returned to the initial starting point (Point A: behind the fence) and conducted the second leg of the time run. This run was conducted at a hurried pace as opposed to a walking, leisurely pace. I would define a hurried pace as not quite jogging and more akin to “power walking”. After the run was completed, my wife remarked that it was obvious that I was up to something judging by how quickly I was moving and expressed the opinion that anyone fleeing in this manner (at a hurried pace) would have probably been noticed on November 22nd, 1963.
Standing near the eastern most retaining wall. Bothun would have been across the street.

The Results:

After reviewing the data collected from Dealey Plaza on June 14th, 2013, the results were very surprising. To get from the HSCA shooter location to the “shadowman” position as seen in Bothun #4, walking at a calm and collected pace, took 54.3 seconds. In the second test, conducted at a more strenuous and quicker pace, it took exactly 40.9 seconds to reach the predetermined final site. Speaking in relative terms, my own perception of the two tests actually seemed much shorter and I expressed feelings of disbelief over these findings, but the clock does not lie.
It has been established that the Richard Bothun photograph was taken within thirty to forty seconds following the assassination. So where does that leave Mr. James Files and the claim that the mysterious figure seen in the Bothun photograph is him? In my honest opinion, the tests conclusively ruled out that it could be Files if he were walking at a normal stride. However, it does remain possible that Files could have made it to that location in a maximum of forty-seconds if he were walking (or even running) much faster and just happened to avoid detection by any spectators to the tragic event. He may have ran behind the North Pergola or through the parking lot by the stockade fence and switched gears when he reached the walkway across the plaza to a more acceptable ambulatory rate. However, in his confession, Mr. Files states that he left the scene of the crime in a calm fashion.
Perhaps the largest strike against James E. Files as Bothun’s unknown human shade is that the time tests conducted in Dealey Plaza only take into account the bare minimum time required for the assassin to reach the area seen in the photograph and does not take into account the time required to disassemble the weapon. In fact, not only does Mr. Files claim to have taken apart his gun in the crucial seconds after the shooting (which he placed in a briefcase), he also remarks that he observed the behavior of the people lining the street in front of the Grassy Knoll before breaking the weapon down. Even if Files had fake Secret Service agents running inference for him (to keep away spectators), there is no way he could have made it to the point as seen in Bothun #4. In Mr. Files’ defense, I do have to say that he doesn’t outright identify himself as the mystery figure but it is inferred, mainly through the website that promotes Files as the second shooter, that we do see Mr. Files in the Bothun photograph. However, using the time data collected, he simply know this claim cannot be true.
In order to be fair and objective, I also conducted two time tests from the so-called “Badgeman” position to the finish area as used in the first set of time runs. These tests were conducted in the same manner and fashion as the previous set of time runs (complete with regular stride and fast stride options) with only the starting location moved. The “Badgeman”, so named because he appears to be wearing a uniform, is a controversial image taken from the Mary Moorman Polaroid of what appears to be a human figure back behind the retaining wall and stockade fence. He appears to be roughly 10 to 15 feet north of where the fence corner is. This figure’s face appears to be obscured by what some analysts claim is smoke or a muzzle-flash. The debate over whether “Badgeman” is a flesh-and-blood creature or a complex trick of light and shadow has been an ongoing ordeal for nearly thirty years.
 The Badgeman Position to Bothun #4.
The “Badgeman” tests yielded the following results: at a normal walking pace, it took exactly 40.8 seconds to reach the finish line. At a more hurried pace, it took exactly 35.3 seconds to reach the final destination. This would have allowed a somewhat larger time window for the assassin to appear in Bothun #4, but is “Badgeman” James Files? I would have to conclude absolutely not. In his interviews, Mr. Files specifically states the clothes he wore that day and he was not wearing a uniform. Also to add more water to an already sinking ship, there is even a page on Wim Dankbaar’s webpage devoted to the “myth” of the Badgeman proclaiming the figure to be nothing more than an optical illusion (the link can be found here).

Was James Files captured on film, specifically in the Richard Bothun photograph, in Dealey Plaza moments after the fatal shot which ended President Kennedy’s life? My answer would simply be “no.” Based on the time tests conducted, I believe it would be impossible for Mr. Files, or the Grassy Knoll assassin for that matter, to arrive at the “shadowman” site roughly a half minute after the assassination.
To this day, photographic confirmation of James E. Files’ presence in Dealey Plaza on November 22nd, 1963, as an assassin or even as an eyewitness to the event, remains elusive and the identity of the Bothun shadow person continues to be unknown. In the meantime, researchers (seasoned and novice) will continue searching the shadows for possible clues, pouring over fading and out of focus photographs or 8mm frames, and continually sift through mountains of documents and texts for the smoking gun that will either affirm or quell the darkest and deepest fears of history.
I count myself among these ranks.
Thurman Lee Storing
July 23, 2013
5:49 PM  

Shadow of a Doubt: James Files and the Richard Bothun Photograph Part One.

Many assassination researchers have dedicated an innumerable amount of resource and time, sometimes to detrimental financial and personal effect, to discovering a proverbial smoking gun to firmly establish a long denied conspiracy. To conspiracy theorists, proving the existence of a second assassin that cut down President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, is perhaps most comparable to the Arthurian legend of the search for the Holy Grail. The credo of these assassination researchers is as follows: find the location of another rifle and the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, is obliterated. The most mythic and popular placement of an unnamed and officially invisible second gunman is behind a picket fence adjacent to Dealey Plaza’s North Pergola monument, positioned to the right front of the Presidential limousine as it slowly passed down Elm Street during the motorcade which was planned to have taken him to a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Market. This alleged sniper’s perch, behind the wooden fence and camouflaged by foliage, sits atop a small but steep incline which has since entered the popular lexicon as the “Grassy Knoll.”

This photograph was taken on my first trip to Dealey Plaza in March 2013 from behind the stockade fence.  Renovation was still in progress at that point.

While the possible existence of a Grassy Knoll gunman has been a hotly debated subject, having been embedded in assassination lore since the first wave of Warren Commission critics emerged, the attempts at identifying the assassin have been a convoluted and most often incredulous affair. Perhaps the most important, and controversial, person in recent memory claiming to have been the fabled second shooter on the Grassy Knoll is a convicted felon named James E. Files (AKA James Sutton). Files, who had strong criminal ties to mafia kingpin Sam Giancana, is currently serving a fifty-year sentence at a high-security correctional institute in Illinois for the attempted murder of a police officer. In a taped interview conducted by private investigators in 1994, Files implicated organized crime as being behind the assassination of President Kennedy and confessed that he participated as one of the shooters. In fact, Files claimed to have been the second assassin on the Grassy Knoll that fired the shot which mortally wounded the President.
Since his confession broke publically in 1996, James Files has remained a questionable and much contested figure to assassination researchers; polarizing to conspiracy theorists, contentious to supporters of the official government version of the story. Files has been the subject of a popular documentary entitled “Confessions of an Assassin” and has had many publications, both in print and on the internet, written about his claims. Perhaps the most notable of these is the webpage www.jfkmurdersolved.com which is run by Dutch entrepreneur Wim Dankbaar, who produced the aforementioned documentary. The webpage, contents of which Dankbaar later published in physical print as Files on JFK in 2009, deals exclusively with Files’ confession and subsequent correspondence with investigators since his initial interview. The site also contains a multitude of articles that attempt to validate Files’ story through the study of assassination eyewitnesses and photographic evidence. To say that Mr. Dankbaar’s efforts to establish the case as closed, following James Files confession, are prolific is perhaps an understatement.

One of the more notable claims presented on Dankbaar’s webpage is that James Files presence in Dealey Plaza can be confirmed via a photograph taken within the immediate aftermath of the assassination (the link can be accessed here: http://www.jfkmurdersolved.com/figure.htm). The photograph in question was taken thirty seconds after the final shot by Richard Bothun who was directly across the street from the North Pergola and Grassy Knoll. In fact, Bothun is visible with his camera, behind AP photographer James “Ike” Altgens (also with a camera) who is standing at the curb, in the Zapruder Film very clearly at frame #346. Although Mr. Bothun did not take any pictures during the actual assassination sequence, he did capture the pandemonium of the vital moments after the shooting in Dealey Plaza as witnesses reacted. Of the photographs that Bothun took in the earth-shattering minutes after the assassination, the one that attracts the most attention is Bothun’s fourth (#4) photo, snapped a mere half minute after the fatal head wound to the president.
The Richard Bothun #4 Photograph. Credit: Robin Unger.

As one can see from viewing Bothun #4, there are many interesting actions occurring in the chaos that enveloped the Plaza after the final shot was fired. Gayle and Bill Newman, being only a few feet from the presidential limousine at the time of the explosive shot which destroyed the right side of the president’s head, are covering their two children from a flurry of rounds on the lawn in front of the pergola. Several press photographers are already quickly capturing the scene with their cameras, including NBC cameraman David Wiegman who abandoned one of the press cars in the motorcade while still in motion. James Altgens, who only moments before snapped several pictures of the shooting in progress, has run across the street in the maddening confusion, his expression lost, looking back toward where he believes the shots came from. Dallas motor patrol officer Clyde Haygood is preparing to abandon his motorcycle to pursue a possible fleeing assassin; his attention fixed on the Grassy Knoll. The Umbrella Man and his possible accomplice “Dark Complected Man” sit in calm composure on the sidewalk, aloof from what is happening around them. Various civilians run for cover while others are helpless to mobilize. Within Mr. Bothun’s frame, uncertainty exist freely and the panic is palpable.

In the far right of Bothun #4, there also appears to be the silhouette of a human figure walking behind the east retaining wall of the North Pergola monument which leads to the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets. This figure, absent of detail, appears as only a black shadow, unidentified and eerie. It is the image of what appears to be a man, perhaps with a brimmed hat, walking casually away from the scene; separated from the terror that has just unfolded nearly a minute previous. This darkened figure, sometimes referred to as the “Shadowman” by assassination researchers, is apparently walking on the sidewalk between the North Pergola’s eastern retaining wall and the Elm Street extension road which runs parallel to the Texas School Book Depository and empties out into the parking area behind the Grassy Knoll. While many researchers have attempted to identify this figure, the results have not been conclusive and debate still rages to this day on who (or even what) “shadowman” is.

The red circle indicates the location of the so-called mysterious Bothun "shadowman".

According to Mr. Wim Dankbaar’s webpage, this mystery has been solved: the famous “shadowman” is, in fact, James Files leaving the scene of the crime after fatally shooting President Kennedy to fade into the ether like a respectable mob hit-man. In fact, the JFK Murder Solved webpage has even devoted an entire article to prove the claim that Files is the mystery man seen in Bothun #4. Dankbaar’s reasoning for Files being the Bothun “shadowman” stems from a particular interview in which Files described his exit from Dealey Plaza:

"I know that after I had put the Fireball away, I know I had a Colt 45 inside my pocket on the left side of me...my briefcase was in right hand and I was prepared to shoot my way out of there if it came down to that.... I did not look back over my shoulder...I did not run...I did not stand around...I just carried a natural gait and proceeded to exit....just like a business man walking away from lunch."

Besides Files’ quote, the analysis of Bothun #4 presented on the webpage provides a crude outline sketch of “shadowman” depicting him with a hat and keeping a close hand on a concealed handgun at the belt-line. In fact, even without the rudimentary attempts at drawing in objects, the figure does appear to have one arm bent back perhaps like a Wild West gunfighter ready to draw his Colt revolver in a High Noon style showdown. According to the sketch (the word “cartoon” is probably more fitting), the figure is holding a briefcase supposedly containing File’s disassembled Remington XP-100 Fireball: the weapon he claims to have slain the president with. However, this detail cannot be determined since the area behind the retaining wall is not visible and the figure apparently does not appear in any other photographs, so this claim rests firmly in the realm of speculation but may account for the awkward posture of “shadowman” as he makes his escape from the kill zone and into obscurity.

The concrete walkway leading east of the North Pergola as seen in March 2013. This would have been the Bothun figure's escape route.

If the claims made on jfkmurdersolved.com are true, that James E. Files was the Grassy Knoll gunman and, also, is the mysterious figure visible in Richard Bothun’s photograph then there needs to be an established time frame from how Mr. Files got from Point A: the stockade fence to the southwest of the North Pergola to Point B: the walkway leading east from the North Pergola to the Texas School Book Depository. To achieve this feat and be captured in the Bothun #4 black and white still picture, Mr. Files would have had to have moved from Point A to Point B in as little as thirty seconds but possibly as late as forty seconds depending on the source used for the photographic timeline (which is still in-flux amongst researchers to this very day). Combining both extreme (earliest/latest) time limits and making an average would give Files an estimated thirty-five seconds to reach the proximity of “shadowman” from his sniper’s perch in the parking lot at the top of the Grassy Knoll. Could James Files, having just shot the president of the United States, have covered enough ground and be the explanation behind an enduring assassination photographic mystery?

(To Be Continued)

Thurman Lee Storing
July 23, 2013
10:33 AM CST