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