Sabato: No fourth shot fired at Kennedy



Richmond Times-Dispatch

Larry Sabato unveiled a comprehensive study of police radio transmissions.

WASHINGTON For five decades, the number of shots fired at the presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, has remained one of the greatest mysteries of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, because it made the difference between the one-shooter theory and a conspiracy.

On Tuesday, Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, unveiled a comprehensive study of police radio transmissions from the day of the assassination, debunking the theory of the fourth shot, hence supporting the official account that Lee Harvey Oswald alone had killed the president.

“My team has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, for the first time, that the main conclusion of the House Select Committee on Assassinations — that a Dallas police Dictabelt recording shows four shots, not three, were fired in Dealey Plaza — is simply wrong,” Sabato said Tuesday in a news conference at the Newseum in Washington, where he unveiled his new book “The Kennedy Half Century.”

In 1964, just a year after the assassination, the Warren Commission had concluded that only three shots were fired at the motorcade as it entered Dealey Plaza, all from behind, and all from Oswald’s rifle.

The first shot missed; the second hit Kennedy in the back, exited through his throat and then severely injured Texas Gov. John Connally. It was the third shot that struck Kennedy in the head, killing the president — and researchers argue to this day about where it originated.

But the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which in 1976 launched the second major investigation into Kennedy’s death, analyzed recordings of the Dallas Police Department radio transmissions on radio channels 1 and 2 from the day of the murder.

The committee members, in listening to the recording of Channel 1, singled out a 5-minute-plus period when a microphone switch stuck in the “on” position was believed to have recorded the shots that killed the president.

“They believed a policeman in the motorcade near the president’s limo had a stuck microphone on his motorcycle — and thus recorded the gunshots,” Sabato said.

The committee concluded that, based on the recording, there was at least one additional shot fired from the grassy knoll near the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald was perched on the sixth floor and that Kennedy’s murder was “probably . . . the result of a conspiracy.”

But Sabato said that new “painstaking and technologically advanced” audio research on all the Dallas police recordings of the Kennedy assassination, conducted for his book, conclusively proves that the Dallas police motorcycle with the stuck microphone was not traveling as part of the presidential motorcade at the time the shots were fired at Kennedy.

“The 1979 conclusion by the House Select Committee on Assassinations is wrong,” Sabato said. “Not only does the Dictabelt not prove the committee’s assertion about a shot from the grassy knoll, we can find no evidence of gunfire at all on the Dictabelt, and thus it cannot be used to prove either that Oswald was the lone gunman or that there was more than one shooter in Dealey Plaza.”

Sabato’s conclusion was backed by James C. Bowles, who worked as communications supervisor for Dallas police in 1963 and later served almost 20 years as sheriff of Dallas County. Bowles copied and transcribed the recordings and transferred them to Dictabelts at the FBI’s request.

Bowles also said with certainty in an interview Monday that the police officer who transmitted the sounds was at least 2 miles from Dealey Plaza, that the section with the sound bites of the alleged shots was “about one minute off” and that pops caused by scratches on the tape had been mistaken as shots.

“When I recorded and transcribed the tapes, it was necessary to raise the stylus, slide it backwards, put it down. Listen, missed it, raise it, slide it back, put it down, catch it,” Bowles said about how he may have caused the unwanted noise on the tapes.

“There were not only little marks where that (purported) fourth shot was fired, there were other marks all the way through the tape,” Bowles said.

Sabato said his findings do not necessarily disprove the idea of a second shooter in Dealey Plaza. “But we’ve certainly blown apart forever the conclusion of the HSCA. It is off the table. And now we also know for sure the Dictabelts cannot confirm or deny the existence of a second gunman,” he said.

Sabato’s book “The Kennedy Half Century” went on sale Tuesday, one month before the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.

It is accompanied by a PBS documentary of the same name that will be aired throughout November and a mobile app that includes more than 30,000 words of the radio transmissions from that fateful day in Dallas. (804) 649-6537 Twitter: @MSchmidtRTD

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