THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE,
PHONY SECRET SERVICE AGENTS IN DEALEY PLAZA
Michael T. Griffith
1996@All Rights Reserved
Some witnesses said they encountered Secret Service
agent in Dealey Plaza moments after the assassination. These
reports continue to be the subject of much controversy. Why?
Because it has long been established that no genuine Secret Service
agents on the ground in Dealey Plaza until later that afternoon.
This fact suggests phony Secret Service agents were in Dealey
Plaza, and that they were there to help the assassins escape.
David Scheim(1) summarizes:
"After the shooting, Dallas Police officer
Joe M. Smith encountered another suspicious man in the lot behind
the picket fence [on the grassy knoll]. Smith told the Warren
Commission that when he drew his pistol and approached the man,
the man "showed [Smith] that he was a Secret Service agent."
Another witness also reported encountering a man
who displayed a badge and identified himself as a Secret Service
agent. But according to Secret Service Chief James Rowley and
agents at the scene, all Secret Service personnel stayed with
the motorcade, as required by regulations, and none was stationed
in the railroad parking lot [behind the grassy knoll]. It thus
appeared that someone was carrying fraudulent Secret Service
credentials--of no perceptible use to anyone but an escaping
assassin. (Scheim 30-31)
Not only were there no Secret Service (SS) agents
stationed on or behind the grassy knoll, but there were no FBI
or other federal agents stationed there either. Officer Smith
was not the only witness who encountered an apparently phony
federal agent. Malcolm Summers ran to the knoll moments after
the shooting. He related the following in the 1988 documentary
Who Murdered JFK?:
"I ran across the--Elm Street to right there
toward the knoll. It was there [pointing to a spot on the knoll]--and
we were stopped by a man in a suit and he had an overcoat--over
his arm and he, he, I saw a gun under that overcoat. And he--his
comment was, "Don't you all come up here any further, you
could get shot, or killed," one of those words. A few months
later, they told me they didn't have an FBI man in that area.
If they didn't have anybody, it's a good question who it was.
" (Anderson 14)
"Don't you all come
up here any further,
you could get shot, or killed..."
the mystery SS Agent
Lone-gunman theorist Gerald Posner dismisses
all reports of phony SS agents:
"Outside the Depository, some witnesses later
claimed they ran into Secret Service agents. Since there were
no Secret Service agents at Dealey until 1:00 P.M., when Forrest
Sorrels returned from Parkland Hospital, could that mean that
somebody was impersonating Secret Service agents, indicating
a conspiracy? Most of the witnesses later admitted they were
mistaken. And immediately after the assassination, different
groups of law enforcement officials (most of them having been
there to watch the motorcade from nearby government buildings)
spread out in Dealey Plaza--they included Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms (ATF) agents, postal inspectors, officers from the Special
Service Bureau of the Dallas Police, county sheriffs, IRS agents,
and even an Army intelligence agent. . . . The author has reviewed
the 1963 badges for the above organizations, and found that several
look alike. Any of those law enforcement officials could have
been confused with Secret Service agents. " (Posner 269)
I find this explanation inadequate for a number
of reasons. For one thing, the various "spectator"
government agents mentioned by Posner could not have reached
the parking lot behind the grassy knoll so quickly after the
shooting; none of them could have been there in time to be encountered
by Officer Smith. Furthermore, although Officer Smith did not
specifically say so, it seems reasonable to infer from his testimony
that the man he met identified himself VERBALLY as an SS agent--I
doubt that the man merely held up his badge and said nothing.
In addition, Posner does not address the fact that Officer Smith
himself later became suspicious of the man he had seen, nor does
Posner mention Smith's reasons for doubting the man's identity.
Explained Officer Smith:
He looked like an auto mechanic. He had on a sports
shirt and sports pants. But he had dirty fingernails, it looked
like, and hands that looked like an auto mechanic's hands. And
afterwards it didn't ring true for the Secret Service. At the
time we were so pressed for time, and we were searching. And
he had produced correct identification, and we just overlooked
the thing. I should have checked that man closer, but at the
time I didn't snap on it. (Summers 50)
Former Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry stated in
1977 that the man encountered by Officer Smith "must have
been bogus." Said Curry,
"I think he must have been bogus--certainly
the suspicion would point to the man as being involved, some
way or other, in the shooting since he was in an area immediately
adjacent to where the shots were--and the fact that he had a
badge that purported him to be Secret Service would make it seem
all the more suspicious." (Summers 51)
As for Smith's account, Posner notes that Smith
said nothing about encountering an armed federal agent in his
11/22/63 affidavit (Posner 259). But this is understandable,
since Smith had no reason at the time to think it was unusual
or noteworthy that an armed federal agent would be stationed
on the grassy knoll. He apparently assumed that the man was an
FBI agent. It wasn't until later that Smith learned no FBI agents
were stationed in that area before or after the shooting.
Posner further notes that "no one else saw"
the man Smith said he encountered. However, even if no one else
saw the man, this does not prove that Smith's account is false.
Nor can we be absolutely certain that no one else saw the man.
The most that can be said is that is no known report is available
that another witness saw him.
Often overlooked in discussions on phony SS agents
in Dealey Plaza is the disturbing account of Sergeant D. V. Harkness,
(Posner, for example, does not even mention it.). Sergeant Harkness
went to the REAR of the Texas School Book Depository Building
within a few minutes of the assassination. When he arrived there,
he encountered several "well-armed" men dressed in
suits. These "well-armed" men TOLD Harkness they were
SS agents (Hurt 110-111). It's not hard to understand why the
presence of the armed, well-dressed men at the rear of the Book
Depository did not make Harkness suspicious. Police officers
were beginning to seal off the area, and just six minutes after
the shooting Harkness himself identified the Depository over
the radio as a possible source of gunfire. The problem, of course,
is that the men encountered by Harkness could not have been legitimate
SS agents, nor is it credible to suggest that Harkness somehow
"misunderstood" what they said to him.
Did Officer Smith Encounter A Real Secret Service
Having just read Chris Mills' article "The
Man Who Wasn't There" in the December 1995 issue of The
Assassination Chronicles (pp. 58-62), I would like to note
some of the weaknesses that I see in his theory. Mills believes
that Secret Service agent Thomas "Lem" Johns was the
man encountered by Officer Smith. I realize that Mills believes
that if his theory is correct, it constitutes evidence that Johns
believed shots came from the knoll. However, I have several problems
with Mills' theory:
I find Mills' explanation
of Smith's statement about the man's clothing to be unconvincing.
Mills simply dismisses the statement, partly on the basis that
it was made fifteen years later, "by which time Smith was
well aware of the controversy his original statement had caused."
What is Mills saying here? That Smith embellished his story because
he knew how much controversy his original account had caused?
But wouldn't Smith have therefore watered down the account, instead
of adding troubling features to it? In essence, Mills is saying
that either Smith's memory was egregiously mistaken or he deliberately
embellished his story.
Mills goes on to note that
Officer Smith did not mention that the man was wearing a sports
shirt in his WC testimony. This omission however, proves nothing.
Smith recounted in his testimony that he had seen other law enforcement
officers in civilian clothes, i.e., not in their normal attire,
right after the shooting. So, at the time, Smith could have assumed
that the man was an SS agent in casual civilian clothes, and
thus would have had no reason to mention that the man was wearing
a sports shirt (and sports pants). And what about the fact that
Officer Smith also said the man was wearing sports pants? Mills
does not address this point.
Mills deals with Smith's
recollection that the man had dirtied hands by suggesting that
Johns had dirtied his hands between exiting the car and allegedly
meeting Smith ("on the fence, dusty cars, etc."). But
would Johns' hands have become so noticeably dirty that Smith
would describe them as "hands like a mechanic"? This
statement implies that the hands were quite dirty, with dirt
or grease readily visible on them. What's more, no evidence exists
that Johns jumped over the picket fence to get behind it, assuming
he was ever behind the fence at all. (In fact, no evidence whatsoever
exists that Johns went behind the fence.) Would the fence have
been THAT dirty anyway? And why would Johns have touched any
cars? Even assuming he casually put his hands--not just one hand,
but both hands--on a few cars, were these cars so dusty that
they could have dirtied someone's hands to the point that they
would be described as looking like a mechanic's hands? Would
Johns' hands have been markedly dirty after hurriedly jumping
the fence and then touching a few cars? I don't think so.
"The logical assumption
is that Agent Johns showed up for duty
that morning properly cleaned and groomed.
After all, he was about to participate in a presidential motorcade."
It should also be pointed
out that Smith noted that the man's fingernails were dirty as
well. It is this kind of specific detail that, in my opinion,
gives Smith's account to Summers the ring of truth. And, if the
mystery man was Agent Johns, how could he have so dirtied his
fingernails that they would be noticeably dirty to a policeman
during a brief encounter? The logical assumption is that Agent
Johns showed up for duty that morning properly cleaned and groomed.
After all, he was about to participate in a presidential motorcade.
The idea that he would have reported for duty with noticeably
dirty fingernails strikes me as highly unlikely. Could he have
dirtied his fingernails during the motorcade? It is hard to see
how he could have done so, since all he was doing was riding
in a car. Even assuming that he touched a dirty seat or something,
would that have so soiled his fingernails as to make them visibly
dirty? Such a scenario is extremely improbable.
Mills suggests that Wiegman
and Johns were behind the picket fence at the same time. But
Wiegman said nothing about going behind the fence. Instead, his
account strongly indicates that he and Agent Johns were near
or behind the end of the western wall of the pergola. Also, Wiegman
didn't say anything about Johns being challenged (or even approached)
by a police officer, nor about Johns' then producing Secret Service
ID in response, and Smith, in turn, said nothing about an unknown
man (i.e., Wiegman) being next to or near the man he challenged.
When Wiegman stopped filming
and ran down the knoll to reach his car, Johns might have already
been on the street (see Richard Trask, Pictures Of The Pain,
p. 374). Said Wiegman, When I came back down the hill Lem Johns
didn't have a ride and I said, 'Come on, get in our car. Here
it is." " This statement seems to imply that when Wiegman
came back down from the knoll and approached his car on the street,
Johns was already nearby. If such was the case, are we to believe
that Johns just happened to come down from the knoll in time
to be near the road when Wiegman approached his car?
However, one could also
read Wiegman's account to mean that Johns accompanied Wiegman
back down the slope. We know from Wiegman's account that he and
Johns were fairly close to each other when they were near or
behind the end of the western wall of the pergola. It is not
illogical to suppose that Johns followed Wiegman down the hill
and that Wiegman then offered him a ride in the camera car.
If Agent Johns had been
in the parking lot, presumably he would have been in the act
of searching, and this action would have been obvious to anyone
who saw him. Why, then, would Officer Smith have even approached
him? What's more, Johns was wearing a coat and tie, which makes
it even harder to understand why Officer Smith would have approached
him if he had been the man in question.
Confronted with the fact
that Agent Johns said nothing in his report (or later) about
being challenged behind the fence by a police officer, Mills
suggests that Johns omitted this event because he was embarrassed
over having become separated from Vice President Johnson and/or
because his actions indicated he believed shots came from the
right front. But why would Johns have remained silent in subsequent
years when Warren Commission critics repeatedly and loudly pointed
to Smith's encounter as evidence that a phony SS man was stationed
on the knoll? And, was Johns alive during the House investigation?
If so, given the attention that Smith's encounter received during
that inquiry, wouldn't Johns have come forward to clear up the
matter then? If Johns had been the man Smith saw, one would think
that Johns would have shared this historic fact with at least
a few of his closest friends and family, and, if this were the
case, surely one of them would have long since disclosed this
information by now.
The Select Committee investigated
Smith's story and determined that no SS men were behind the picket
fence at the time of the encounter (Blakey 101).
From my reading of Smith's
and Wiegman's accounts, I seriously doubt that Johns could have
been in the parking lot behind the grassy knoll at the time Smith
encountered the man with dirty hands wearing a sports shirt and
Mills assumes that Johns
could have been the man seen by Officer Smith because Johns does
not appear in certain photos of the knoll. However, the photographic
record of the knoll during the time in question is neither continuous
nor complete. Agent Johns could have been just out of sight a
little farther north on Elm Street. Or, he could have been behind
the end of the western wall of the pergola. Wiegman's account
clearly indicates that he saw Johns in this general area, either
near the end of the wall or just behind it--or both, for that
matter, though obviously not at the same time (Trask 372-373).
But, this account is a far cry from getting Johns in the parking
lot, much less getting him there in time to be seen and then
challenged by Officer Smith.
"Are we also to assume
that Smith would not have approached
a well dressed suspect? Don't assassins wear coats and ties?"
Mills' theory appears to
be refuted by the photographic evidence. Photos and film footage
taken by Wiegman, Malcolm Couch, and Richard Bothun, for example,
indicate that Wiegman's press car left the plaza--WITH AGENT
JOHNS IN IT--no more than 60-70 seconds after the final shot,
and possibly as early as 45-55 seconds afterward (cf. Trask 156-157,
374-376, 426-427). Bothun photo 4 was taken about 30 seconds
after the last shot. In it we see Wiegman pointing his camera
at an oncoming patrolman, Clyde Haygood. This was AFTER Wiegman
had filmed the Newmans and the Hesters (Trask 157). Wiegman stopped
filming a few seconds later. Then, about 15-20 seconds after
that, Wiegman raced to catch his car after running down the grassy
slope toward another woman who was lying on the ground (Trask
So Bothun photos 4 suggests
that Wiegman's car left the plaza about 50-65 seconds after the
shooting. In the Couch film we see what appears to be Agent Johns
and newsman Tom Atkins running to the street to catch a ride,
and Johns is seen to vault over the trunk of Wiegman's camera
car (Trask 425-427). When did Couch capture this scene on film?
Approximately 45-65 seconds after the last shot was fired. In
short, Johns did not have enough time to do all the things required
of him by Mills' theory. Richard Trask has reached the same conclusion,
as Mills candidly acknowledges in a footnote.
To judge from the available evidence, Officer Smith
encountered the mystery man--again, keep in mind, in the parking
lot behind the knoll--about 25-40 seconds after the shots were
fired. Smith indicated the man was already among the cars when
he saw him (Summers 50). Not only was the man already there,
but the man apparently did not rush off right after the encounter,
as Johns would have had to do in order to catch his ride with
Wiegman. If the man had suddenly run off, one would think Smith
would have mentioned this in his WC testimony or in his interview
with Summers. After the man showed Smith what appeared to be
Secret Service identification, Smith continued to search among
the cars. The logical implication is that the man remained in
the parking lot for a while. In addition, it stands to reason
that the mystery man did not suddenly arrive to the parking lot
just a few seconds before Officer Smith saw him, since one would
suspect that Smith would have mentioned this as well.
In other words, it seems reasonable to assume that
the man was in the parking lot well before Smith began to search
around the cars. Moreover, Officer Smith's encounter with the
mystery man appears to have occurred at roughly the same time
that Wiegman saw Agent Johns near the end of the western wall
of the pergola. The parking lot was a good 40 feet from this
area and was separated from it by the picket fence.
Michael T. Griffith, 1996
(1) All subsequent references are listed below
in alphabetical order:
Anderson, Jack, American Expose: Who Murdered JFK?,
New York: Journal Graphics' Transcript, 1988.
Blakey, G. Robert and Richard Billings, Fatal Hour,
Berkley Books Edition, New York: Berkley Books, 1992.
Hurt, Henry, Reasonable Doubt: An Investigation
Into The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy, New York: Holt, Rinehart,
and Winston, 1985.
Posner, Gerald, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald
And The Assassination Of JFK, New York: Random House, 1993.
Scheim, David, The Mafia Killed President Kennedy,
London: Virgin Books, 1988.
Summers, Anthony, Conspiracy: The Definitive Book
On The JFK Assassination, Updated and Expanded Edition, New York:
Paragon House, 1989.
Trask, Richard, Pictures Of The Pain: Photography
And The Assassination Of President Kennedy, Danvers, Massachusetts:Yeoman
also The Agent on the Grassy Knoll
In The Eye of History:
Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence,
by William Law
of conversations with eight individuals who agreed to talk. For
the first time, these
eyewitnesses relate their stories comprehensively in their own
words. Law allows them to tell it as they remember it without
attempting to fit any pro- or anti-conspiracy agenda. The reader
is the judge of these
eyewitness accounts and their implications.
Vist our online catalog