As a result of the recent O J Simpson trial, we are all familiar with the testimony of a rather strange character called Brian 'Kato' Kaelin. This aspiring actor ('aspiring' for several years!) had been a close friend of both victim Nicole Brown Simpson and accused Oranthal James Simpson. It was obviously debatable which side, the prosecution or the defence, would call him to appear for them. In the event, he was called by the prosecution. His evidence, however, seemed to be of equal value to the defence.
I feel that the subjects of this article, Ronald B Fischer and Robert Edwin Edwards, would have proved very similar if Lee Harvey Oswald had ever been allowed his day in court.
Fischer and Edwards were eyewitnesses to the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dealey Plaza, Dallas on Friday 22nd November 1963 and were thus of considerable importance. However we need to examine exactly what they saw, or what they say they saw, in order to judge what their value may have been in a court trial - for whichever side they may have appeared.
Who was Ronald Fischer?
Ronald B Fischer was 25 years old when the assassination took place. He lived with his wife and two children in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite and had been employed by the Dallas County Auditor's Office as an auditor for five years. His office was situated in the County Records Building adjacent to Dealey Plaza. A well-educated man, he had completed his high school education and had then taken courses towards an accounting degree at Arlington State College. This man was no fool.
On the day of the presidential visit, Fischer and a friend, fellow office worker Robert Edwin Edwards, had lunch at 11.45am and then, with the permission of their supervisor (a Mr Lynn), left the building a few minutes later. At around 12.05pm or 12.10pm Fischer and Edwards took up positions just outside the Records Building on Main Street. They quickly realised that they would have a better view of the motorcade a little further along Houston Street and at 12.20pm they found a suitable vantage point on the curb on the southwest corner of Houston Street and Elm Street.
About 10 or 15 seconds before the first car in the motorcade turned on to Houston Street, Edwards drew Fischer's attention to a man in the window of the east corner of the south side of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
The man in the window
According to Fischer's testimony before the Warren Commission, the man "held my attention ... because he appeared uncomfortable ... and ... he didn't look like he was watching the parade. He looked like he was looking toward the Trinity River and the triple underpass ... toward the end of Elm Street."
Fischer then provided a thorough description of this man: "I could see from about the middle of his chest past the top of his head ... He seemed to be sitting a little forward ... he had on an open-neck shirt, but it could have been a sport shirt or a T-shirt. It was light in color, probably white, I couldn't tell whether it had long sleeves or whether it was a short-sleeved shirt but it was open-neck and light in color."
He then went on to describe the man's personal appearance: "He had a slender face and neck ... and he had a light complexion ... he was a white man. And he looked to be 22 or 24 years old ... His hair seemed to be neither light nor dark ... well, it was brown ... but as to whether it was light or dark, I can't say. He couldn't have had very long hair because his hair didn't seem to take up much space - of what I could see of his head. His hair must have been short and not long."
Remarkably detailed as this description was, Fischer went even further when Warren Commission Assistant Counsel David W Belin asked him whether he had seen the man full face or in profile. Fischer said: "I saw it at an angle but at the same time I believe I could see the tip of his right cheek as he looked to my left."
On Monday 25th November 1963, a mere three days after the assassination, Fischer had been visited at his home by Dallas Detectives W E Potts and F M Turner who showed him a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald. According to Detective Potts' report: "He would not say definitely it was the man he saw, but he stated it looked like him." (Potts Exhibit B).
Fischer conceded that he had not seen the man's hands and so was unaware whether he was holding anything. He saw nobody with the man but observed that: "There were boxes and cases stacked all the way from the bottom to the top and from the left to the right behind him."
Fischer's attention had next been attracted to the presidential limousine and he watched it pass just in front of him. After it had made the wide turn from Houston Street on to Elm Street, he was watching the following cars when he heard a shot. Like many other witnesses, he likened this shot to a firecracker. He then described two further shots and made a very curious remark in his testimony: "At first, I thought there were four, but as I think about it more, there must have been just three."
One must query this brief statement and wonder if Fischer had been coached as to what he was expected to say. If he had been coached, however, then it had not been carried out very well and he had not learnt his lines!
Corroboration by Robert Edwin Edwards
Edwards was also employed by the Dallas County Auditor's Office. He was a utility clerk in the same office as Fischer. In his Warren Commission tesimony, he confirmed Fischer's account of them standing together on the corner of Houston and Elm, facing the Book Depository and he described seeing "one individual who was up there in the corner of the sixth floor which was crowded in among boxes."
His description of this man was almost identical to that given earlier by Fischer. A white man, neither tall nor short, wearing a light-colored, short-sleeved, open-neck shirt, average build (possibly thin), light brown hair. Like Fischer, Edwards had seen the man from the waist up but had not observed his hands and could not say whether he was holding anything.
As Mr Belin carefully led Edwards through his testimony, the witness produced what has become one of the most outrageous answers to any question in the entire investigation. This has to be seen in print to be believed:
MR BELIN: "How many shots did you hear, if you remember?"
MR EDWARDS: "Well, I heard one more than was fired, I believe."
To his credit, Mr Belin refused to allow this totally unexpected answer to throw him off balance and he referred to Edwards' affidavit in an effort to retrieve the situation. This, however, served only to worsen his position because in his affidavit, made on the afternoon of the assassination, Edwards had also claimed to have heard four shots. Furthermore he had said that the man he described had been on the fifth floor.
Direction of the shots
Despite the obvious difficulty with Edwards' confused statement concerning the number of shots he heard, the forgoing evidence and testimony of both Fischer and Edwards would doubtless have been of value to the prosecution had Lee Harvey Oswald ever been brought to trial. However .....let us look a little deeper and a little longer atwhat else these two men had to say. Perhaps what follows may have been enough to dissuade the prosecution from calling either of them. Perhaps it would have tempted the defence to use them instead - despite the description of the man in the window which fitted Oswald like a glove (no OJ Simpson trial reference intended!).
Both Fischer and Edwards described hearing the shots; three (but originally four) in Fischer's case and four in Edwards' case.
In his Warren Commission testimony, Fischer was asked by Mr Belin: "Where did the shots appear to be coming from?" He replied: "They appeared to be coming from just west of the School Book Depository Building. There were some railroad tracks and there were some railroad cars back in there." Mr Belin continued: "And they appeared to be coming from these railroad cars?" to which Fischer replied: "Well, that area somewhere."
Fischer then went on to describe how he and Edwards had run down Elm Street, past a family lying on the ground (obviously the Newmans), and then "up to the top of the hill where all the Secret Service men had run, thinking that that's where the bullets had come from since they seemed to be searching that area over there."
With those answers and opinions, Ronald B Fischer suddenly ceases to be a star prosecution witness able to positively identify Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman in the sixth floor window. Instead, he becomes a potentially damaging witness who will tell the court that the shots did not come from the Texas School Book Depository at all!
In the case of Edwards, as if enough damage had not been caused by his "one more shot than was fired" comment, he replied "I have no idea" when asked by Mr Belin where he thought the shots had originated. Mr Belin pointed out to him that in his affidavit of 22nd November 1963 he had stated that the shots had come from "the building there" - meaning the TSBD. Edwards' reply to that was straight to the point: "No; I didn't say that." Needless to say, those words do appear in Edwards' affidavit. Perhaps we should now question why. It almost goes without saying that Mr Belin did not follow up that line of questioning.
Like his friend and colleague Ronald B Fischer, Robert Edwin Edwards could hardly be described as a reliable prosecution witness and it is a near certainty that he would never have been called to testify in court.
Conclusions to be drawn
It seems irrefutable that both men saw a figure in what later became known as the sniper's nest window. Their descriptions match one another and are also very close to describing Lee Harvey Oswald. There, however, any value Fischer and Edwards may have to the prosecution comes to an end.
On the defence side, neither man could (or would) swear to the shots being fired from that window. Indeed, particularly in Fischer's case, he, would say that the shots came from the grassy knoll/triple underpass direction.
Neither man would have made a suitable or safe witness for either the prosecution or th defence. In The People v Lee Harvey Oswald, his fictionalised study of the trial that never was, Walt Brown includes both Fischer and Edwards in a list of "witnesses who were subpoenaed but not called." I wonder if Dr Brown has taken an easy option here. I am certain that had either or both of these eyewitnesses appeared at Lee Harvey Oswald's trial, we would have been treated to a similar spectacle to that presented by the charismatic Mr Kaelin! It would have been fascinating to watch - but possibly damaging to both sides!
Postscript to Ronald Fischer's affidavit/testimony
At the end of Fischer's affidavit there appears a very strange remark. This was queried (somewhat half-heartedly) by Mr Belin during the Warren Commission testimony session but as far as I am aware, it has never been properly investigated. He said:
"I do remember one peculiar thing happened just at the time I saw the man up there. There was a girl walked in the Texas School Book Depository Building, a rather tall girl, and looked to me like she might be an employee of that building. She was walking in while everyone else had been coming out."
That, as they say, appears to be another story! Perhaps someone, somewhere, can throw some light on it.
Since almost all the above information is readily available to researchers, I have not included specific footnotes. Fischer's Warren Commission testimony can be found on pages 191 to 200 of Volume 6 of the 26 Volumes and his affidavit appears as Fischer Exhibit No. 1 on page 650 of Volume 19. Edwards' testimony is
on pages 200 to 205 of Volume 6, with his affidavit (Edwards Exhibit A) on page 746 of Volume 19.
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