My Girl on the Stairs: My Search for a Missing Witness to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy by Barry Ernest, CreateSpace Books, 13 March 2011, 420 pages, $19.95 print/$2.99 Kindle Edition
I’m no obsessive on the Kennedy Assassination with all the books on the event on my book shelf. But I’ve just enjoyed reading about Barry Ernest’s 35 year quest to track down a largely forgotten and missing witness to the Kennedy Assassination, Victoria Adams. Adams was on the Fourth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository building with two other women who worked with her for Scott Foresman and Company at that time. It was Adams, and one other young woman who went down the back stairs of the building—the same ones Lee Harvey Oswald used, the Warren Commission tells us, to exit the building after the shooting of the President.
The Warren Report places Oswald in a second floor lunchroom with a bottle of Coke, calm and not the least bit out of breath, almost immediately after he shot the President. The timing of his being where he was makes it imperative that he had to have used the very same stairwell, coming from two floors above Adams and her companion at the very same time. Adams testimony given to the Warren Commission on more than one occasion insisted she and her friend went to the stairs within 15-30 seconds of the shots ringing out. They had to have heard Oswald coming down those very same stairs directly behind them or have run into Oswald just as he was coming out onto the second floor landing ahead of them. They neither heard nor saw anyone. The Warren Commission ended up completely discounting Adams as having been mistaken about how long she waited before heading to the stairs. There is no corroborating testimony independently taken from her companion who experienced exactly the same things as Adams did. No one spoke to that woman at all. The FBI, the Dallas city and county police departments and a very arrogant Warren Commission lawyer repeatedly interrogated her only to get the same testimony. They obviously wanted her to say she had waited a significant amount of time, say several minutes, instead of just seconds, in order to explain why they did not encounter or even hear anyone, Oswald or not, on those noisy rickety back stairs.
If Victorian Adams is telling the truth and is even just a little outside her margin of error of just seconds, then Oswald could not have been the shooter on the sixth floor. There had to be a different gunman. It is undoubtedly why Miss Adams was hounded and browbeaten by authorities in the days, weeks, and months after the shooting. A more likely explanation for Oswald being seen in that second floor lunchroom is to take the word of more than one witness who placed him outside the front of the building as the President’s motorcade passed by Dealy Plaza. There is a nice front stairwell to the second floor lunchroom making it easy for Oswald to be there so quickly and to have already purchased a Coke (no product placement here) and appearing entirely calm and not out of breath or breaking a sweat in the testimony of the first trained police officer into the building upon the shooting and a positive ID of Oswald by the building’s superintendent who had just hired Oswald a month or two before.
While Ernest does not provide anything entirely new and much of his personal interviews with witnesses over that 35 year span are not under oath or confirmed entirely, the book is a very entertaining and thought provoking read.
It reminds us yet again why a majority of us do not accept the fundamental finding of the Warren Commission of a lone gunman from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the extremely tortured explanations of the Single Bullet Theory. The obvious efforts investigators repeatedly made to deflect attention away from numerous witnesses who saw either a puff of smoke from the end of a fence on top of the now infamous Grassy Knoll, or a possible person there at the time the shots rang out; the distinct impressions of people just under the crest of the Knoll who are sure that at least one of the shots came from above and behind them there on the Knoll. The almost pristine condition of the single bullet recovered from the gurney that the slain President Kennedy had been brought into Parkland Hospital on—a bullet that had passed through the bone and flesh of Governor Connelly as well as the President’s neck and not been damaged at all. The horrifying, but historically and forensically conclusive Zapruder Film that shows that it was the final shot that literally blew Kennedy’s brains out—the true kill shot. The first hit through the President’s neck earlier in the film sequencing from above and behind may have been mortal but not immediately fatal.
We are left to conclude that the no doubt fatal third or perhaps fourth shot (some very close witnesses corroborated to the Warren Commission despite the Commission’s glaring lack of interest) that the kill shot came from in front of the President and not above and behind him as the first two to three shots undoubtedly did. That of course leaves us with two shooters: one from in front and one from behind. It seems to even the layman, that the first shot missed. All witnesses speak of that first shot followed by two to three seconds before the second shot (the one that passed through Kennedy’s neck and may have indeed hit Governor Connelly). Far too many credible witnesses with no axes to grind speak of a third shot or a third and fourth shots closely together at the moment the President’s skull and brain were shattered as captured with such horror by the Zapruder film.
There is the historically and logical improbability that Jack Ruby acted merely out of a sense of outrage and patriotism given his connections to organized crime and too many people who wanted to offer serious testimony that Ruby and Oswald had been seen together at Ruby’s nightclub before the assassination of Kennedy—linking them in the most disturbing way. Ruby’s timely appearance within 24 hours of the event on that ramp at the Dallas police department is a coincidence that is difficult to accept.
Like so many people, I believe that what we have is definitely a conspiracy. But I am a trained historian and I know that great historical and dramatic events that receive such microscopic scrutiny most often reveal multiple coincidences and mistakes that can distort and enlarge the scope of such a great event of human history. And from my perspective it is not the whole government or a massive conspiracy in a film blockbuster. There seems little doubt though of some kind of effort to muddy the waters; an effort to deflect our attention from that man standing behind the curtain. It is more the stuff of the magician’s sleight of hand.
More likely whatever persons were involved were relatively few. They were purposeful and succeeded in their intent to kill the President of the United States on 22 November 1963. Oswald, most likely was involved somehow if not being one of the shooters as the Warren Commission concludes. It is more likely that the people who were closest to protecting the President and in relevant national security positions of authority quickly become aware that there had been a fatal breach in that cordon of security which protects our presidents as well as the national security–where one or more people within the government had aided or abetted the killers. That the full truth remains unknown to anyone not directly involved in the conspiracy, or for a very long time has been one of the nation’s great State secrets, passed on from President to President is probable.
The Kennedy Assassination and the mass of material written about it certainly is one of the most successful who done it’s of all time. It makes reading this latest book worthwhile. No, this latest book will not settle the matter at all. Its research, though exhaustive, might have been better. And it should be fertile ground for historians far into our nation’s future. It is a grave mistake to give in to our wildest fantasies or fears about this tragic event in our nation’s history. Successful conspiracies most often are small; else we would now know the truth of it. People will talk.
But the idea of the lone gunman and the neat conclusions of a badly flawed Warren Report in so many areas, and the excess number of coincidences and mistakes make it impossible to believe it is just as given to the public in 1964 and 1965. More than one shooter? Conspiracy? Yes. It has huge implications for how we understand this nation and our world since.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
For Struggles for Justice