It took me ten years to find him. And the funny thing is, I was never a conspiracy theorist. Even before I read Posner’s “Case Closed” I was almost completely sure Oswald had acted alone. But…
The Zapruder film was the fly in my ointment.
Anyone who’s had as much experience with firearms as I have is aware that the Zapruder film shows conclusively that the final shot came from the front. Period.
Never mind how I found the old guy. Never mind why a redneck Klansman born eight decades earlier in a little town outside Birmingham, Alabama, was dying of pancreatic cancer in a nursing home in Stovington, Vermont. None of that matters. What does matter is that he talked.
“Why not?” he said. “I’ll be dead in six weeks, anyway.”
“You were the grassy knoll gunman, weren’t you? The guy behind the picket fence?”
“Damn right I was. And I can answer all your questions for you, but it won’t give you any satisfaction. Nobody is ever going to believe you because the truth isn’t complicated enough to satisfy people.”
“Why did you do it?”
The old man sighed and moved his thin frame around a little on the bed trying to get more comfortable. “It damn sure wasn’t notoriety, I can tell you that. I wasn’t trying to make a big splash and go down in history. I really wanted the man dead.”
“But why? It was race, wasn’t it? The civil rights movement?”
“Exactly,” he said. “I’ve been a racist all my life, and I still am. I joined the Klan when I was just sixteen and took part in three church bombings and one lynching. And everybody knew Kennedy was trying to ram integration down our throats. I’d just had enough.”
“What kind of gun did you use?”
“It wasn’t a piece of junk like Oswald had. I promise you that. I got myself a nice used Model 70 Winchester in .257 Roberts caliber and fitted it out with a fourpower Weaver scope.”
“Go on,” I said.
“I had a good trade. I was divorced and didn’t have to pay any child support because we’d never had kids. That meant I had no family obligations and no wife to snoop in my business. I also had enough money to take a couple of weeks off. I’d done some work in Dallas, and I was familiar with the downtown area. I drove over there and checked into a motel. I cased the place a few days early and picked my spot. I changed motels a couple of times, ate some good meals, saw a movie or two. Then not long before noon on the morning of the 22nd I drove to that alleyway behind the knoll and parked my car. It was a white Chevy sedan, and a couple of people noticed it. Hell, one woman saw me get out of the car with my rifle wrapped up in an old blanket. She told the cops, but they never followed up on it because they had Oswald, and that was enough. I got hunkered down behind the fence and smoked a couple of cigarettes while I waited. They found the cigarette butts, too, but they explained them away just like they did everything else. Then there was a lot of cheering, and before I knew it the motorcade was coming. Oswald’s first two shots didn’t surprise me a bit. Like everybody else, I thought they were just a motorcycle backfiring. But I didn’t pay any attention because I had my target in my crosshairs. Oswald’s third shot came about a half second before mine did, but he missed. Them two shots coming that close together is what screwed up the investigation and caused all that damn fool crap about the echoes and the acoustics in Dealey Plaza. It was my shot that got him, though.”
“What did you do then?”
“I rolled the rifle back up in the blanket, threw it in the trunk of the car, and drove off. Nobody gave me a second look. After dark that night I stopped on the Interstate 35 bridge over Lake Dallas and threw it in the drink. I spent the night in Texarkana and then drove on back to Little Rock the next morning. And that was that. I just went back to work and kept my mouth shut. To tell the truth, I don’t see how you found me because I never said a word to anybody.”
“There were always rumors that the Klan was involved. I did a little research, that’s all. Some of your Klan buddies had put two and two together, and they talked to me.”
“The Klan,” he said contemptuously. “A bunch of nobodies doing nothing.”
“What was your connection with Oswald?” I asked.
He looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Ain’t you heard nothing I’ve said? There wasn’t any connection. You’re bound to have read as much about that poor fool as I have. A man would have to be a complete idiot to conspire with him to rob a candy store, let alone kill the President of the United States. Hell, he couldn’t even drive a damn car.”
“There wasn’t no “how” to it. It just happened that way. Coincidence. Just a couple of guys in the same place at the same time trying to do the same thing.”
“That’s right, sonny. Now you know the truth, but nobody will ever believe you. Not in a million years. Two lone nuts!”
He saw the expression on my face and began to laugh. He laughed and laughed and laughed. I turned and went through the door. As I walked down the corridor away from his room, I could still hear his mocking laughter ringing in my ears.
Milton T. Burton is a Texas native, former college teacher, cattleman, and political consultant. He is also the author of two crime novels, The Rogues’ Game & The Sweet and The Dead, both published by St. Martin’s Press. A third, The Devil’s Own Odds, will be released in June of 2009.