By: Earl Warren
Date: September 1964
Source: Warren, Earl. "Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy." President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, September 1964. Available online at ; website homepage: http://www.jfk-assassination.de/ (accessed April 2, 2003).
About the Author: Earl Warren (1891–1974) was born and raised in California. He was the governor of California from 1943 to 1953. That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (served 1953–1961) appointed him chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Warren Court was most famous for issuing the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which unanimously ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. He retired from the bench in 1969.
Unlike the vast majority of twentieth century Irish Catholics, John F. Kennedy had a privileged upbringing. His father, Joseph, was a millionaire businessman who served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (served 1933–1945) head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. After the death of John's older brother Joe, Joseph groomed John for the presidency.
Blessed with a sharp, inquisitive mind, intelligence, good looks, and charisma, Kennedy drew on his Irish Catholic heritage, an important advantage in predominately Catholic Massachusetts. Kennedy was also an attractive political candidate because he was a bona fide World War II hero.
In 1946, Kennedy won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. After serving three terms, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. At the age of forty-three, Kennedy was looking to become the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency and the nation's first Irish Catholic president.
In 1960, his Republican opponent was Richard M. Nixon, who served as President Eisenhower's vice president for eight years. In November, Kennedy won the electoral vote 303 to 219, but the popular vote was extremely close, 34,227,000 to 34,109,000. If a few thousand votes in Texas or Illinois, where confirmed voter fraud had occurred, had gone the other way, Nixon would have won the election.
For a thousand days, President Kennedy (served 1961–1963) projected an aura of dynamism, idealism, and glamor. Americans enjoyed pictures of their active president playing touch football on the White House lawn, sailing with his wife, Jacqueline, and romping with his children in the executive office. Kennedy was so popular that in June 1963, 59 percent of those surveyed claimed to have cast ballots for him in 1960. This figure approached 70 percent nearly six months later.
On November 22, 1963, despite a flagging economy, many believed that Kennedy would win reelection. With an eye toward the 1964 election, Kennedy visited Dallas, Texas. He and Jacqueline rode in an open convertible, basking in the applause of thousands of well-wishers. As the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository, an assassin fatally shot the president.
Within thirty minutes of the shooting, 68 percent of American adults learned that Kennedy had been killed. Millions watched Air Force One return to Washington, D.C., transporting the president's coffin and his widow in her bloodstained clothes.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who had returned to the United States after defecting to the Soviet Union three years earlier, was arrested after killing a Dallas policeman. Though no one witnessed Oswald firing the rifle from the upper floor of the book depository, substantial evidence tied him to the crime. Before Oswald was arraigned, Jack Rudy, a local nightclub owner, murdered him.
Between Oswald's Soviet connections and the fact that he was murdered in broad daylight while supposedly in police custody, many were not convinced that Oswald acted alone, nor that he masterminded the assassination. One week after the assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson (served 18963–1969) issued Executive Order No. 11130, which appointed the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Johnson appointed Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren to head the commission, and it is also referred to as the Warren Commission. On December 13, 1963, Congress passed Senate Joint Resolution No. 137, allowing the commission to subpoena witnesses and obtain evidence concerning any matter relating to the investigation. In the end, the commission took testimony from 552 witnesses and compiled twenty-six volumes of hearing proceedings.
In September 1964, the Warren Commission issued its official report on the Kennedy assassination. It concluded that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald. Neither man, according to the Warren Report, was part of a larger conspiracy to assassinate the president. Nevertheless, doubts persisted. Almost as soon as the report was published, some were questioning its conclusions and presenting their own explanations for the two killings. Most notably, in 1979, a congressional investigation raised serious concerns about the Warren report, concluding that there was a "probable conspiracy," with two gunmen firing four shots.
Primary Source: "Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy" [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: In these excerpts, the commission presents its opinion that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy. The evidence supporting this is summarized, and Oswald's potential motives are explored. The death of Oswald and the flaws in President Kennedy's protection are also examined.
- The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired from the sixth floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository. This determination is based upon the following:
Witnesses at the scene of the assassination saw a rifle being fired from the sixth-floor window of the Depository Building, and some witnesses saw a rifle in the window immediately after the shots were fired.
The nearly whole bullet found on Governor Connally's stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital and the two bullet fragments found in the front seat of the Presidential limousine were fired from the 6.5-millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found on the sixth floor of the Depository Building to the exclusion of all other weapons.
The three used cartridge cases found near the window on the sixth floor at the southeast corner of the building were fired from the same rifle which fired the above-described bullet and fragments, to the exclusion of all other weapons.
The windshield in the Presidential limousine was struck by a bullet fragment on the inside surface of the glass, but was not penetrated.
The nature of the bullet wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally and the location of the car at the time of the shots establish that the bullets were fired from above and behind the Presidential limousine, striking the President and the Governor as follows: President Kennedy was first struck by a bullet which entered at the back of his neck and exited through the lower front portion of his neck, causing a wound which would not necessarily have been lethal. The President was struck a second time by a bullet which entered the right-rear portion of his head, causing a massive and fatal wound.
Governor Connally was struck by a bullet which entered on the right side of his back and traveled downward through the right side of his chest, exiting below his right nipple. This bullet then passed through his right wrist and entered his left thigh where it caused a superficial wound.
There is no credible evidence that the shots were fired from the Triple Underpass, ahead of the motorcade, or from any other location.
- The weight of the evidence indicates that there were three shots fired.
- Although it is not necessary to any essential findings of the Commission to determine just which shot hit Governor Connally, there is very persuasive evidence from the experts to indicate that the same bullet which pierced the President's throat also caused Governor Connally's wounds. However, Governor Connally's testimony and certain other factors have given rise to some difference of opinion as to this probability but there is no question in the mind of any member of the Commission that all the shots which caused the President's and Governor Connally's wounds were fired from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.
- The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. This conclusion is based upon the following:
The Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5-millimeter Italian rifle from which the shots were fired was owned by and in the possession of Oswald.
Oswald carried this rifle into the Depository Building on the morning of November 22, 1963.
Oswald, at the time of the assassination, was present at the window from which the shots were fired.Shortly after the assassination, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle belonging to Oswald was found partially hidden between some cartons on the sixth floor and the improvised paper bag in which Oswald brought the rifle to the Depository was found close by the window from which the shots were fired.
Based on testimony of the experts and their analysis of films of the assassination, the Commission has concluded that a rifleman of Lee Harvey Oswald's capabilities could have fired the shots from the rifle used in the assassination within the elapsed time of the shooting. The Commission has concluded further that Oswald possessed the capability with a rifle which enabled him to commit the assassination.
Oswald lied to the police after his arrest concerning important substantive matters.
Oswald had attempted to kill Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker (Resigned, U.S. Army) on April 10, 1963, thereby demonstrating his disposition to take human life.
- Oswald killed Dallas Police Patrolman J.D. Tippit approximately 45 minutes after the assassination. This conclusion upholds the finding that Oswald fired the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally and is supported by the following:
Two eyewitnesses saw the Tippit shooting and seven eyewitnesses heard the shots and saw the gunman leave the scene with revolver in hand. These nine eyewitnesses positively identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the man they saw.
The cartridge cases found at the scene of the shooting were fired from the revolver in the possession of Oswald at the time of his arrest to the exclusion of all other weapons.
The revolver in Oswald's possession at the time of his arrest was purchased by and belonged to Oswald.
Oswald's jacket was found along the path of flight taken by the gunman as he fled from the scene of the killing.
- Within 80 minutes of the assassination and 35 minutes of the Tippit killing Oswald resisted arrest at the theater by attempting to shoot another Dallas police officer.
- The Commission has reached the following conclusions concerning Oswald's interrogation and detention by the Dallas police: Except for the force required to effect his arrest, Oswald was not subjected to any physical coercion by any law enforcement officials. He was advised that he could not be compelled to give any information and that any statements made by him might be used against him in court. He was advised of his right to counsel. He was given the opportunity to obtain counsel of his own choice and was offered legal assistance by the Dallas Bar Association, which he rejected at that time.
Newspaper, radio, and television reporters were allowed uninhibited access to the area through which Oswald had to pass when he was moved from his cell to the interrogation room and other sections of the building, thereby subjecting Oswald to harassment and creating chaotic conditions which were not conducive to orderly interrogation or the protection of the rights of the prisoner.
The numerous statements, sometimes erroneous, made to the press by various local law enforcement officials, during this period of confusion and disorder in the police station, would have presented serious obstacles to the obtaining of a fair trial for Oswald. To the extent that the information was erroneous or misleading, it helped to create doubts, speculations, and fears in the mind of the public which might otherwise not have arisen.
- The Commission has reached the following conclusions concerning the killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963:
Ruby entered the basement of the Dallas Police Department shortly after 11:17 a.m. and killed Lee Harvey Oswald at 11:21 a.m.
Although the evidence on Ruby's means of entry is not conclusive, the weight of the evidence indicates that he walked down the ramp leading from Main Street to the basement of the police department.
There is no evidence to support the rumor that Ruby may have been assisted by any members of the Dallas Police Department in the killing of Oswald.
The Dallas Police Department's decision to transfer Oswald to the county jail in full public view was unsound.
The arrangements made by the police department on Sunday morning, only a few hours before the attempted transfer, were inadequate. Of critical importance was the fact that news media representatives and others were not excluded from the basement even after the police were notified of threats to Oswald's life. These deficiencies contributed to the death of Lee Harvey Oswald.
- The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy. The reasons for this conclusion are:
The Commission has found no evidence that anyone assisted Oswald in planning or carrying out the assassination. In this connection it has thoroughly investigated, among other factors, the circumstances surrounding the planning of the motorcade route through Dallas, the hiring of Oswald by the Texas School Book Depository Co. on October 15, 1963, the method by which the rifle was brought into the building, the placing of cartons of books at the window, Oswald's escape from the building, and the testimony of eyewitnesses to the shooting.
The Commission has found no evidence that Oswald was involved with any person or group in a conspiracy to assassinate the President, although it has thoroughly investigated, in addition to other possible leads, all facets of Oswald's associations, finances, and personal habits, particularly during the period following his return from the Soviet Union in June 1962.
The Commission has found no evidence to show that Oswald was employed, persuaded, or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate President Kennedy or that he was an agent of any foreign government, although the Commission has reviewed the circumstances surrounding Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union, his life there from October of 1959 to June of 1962 so far as it can be reconstructed, his known contacts with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and his visits to the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City during his trip to Mexico from September 26 to October 3, 1963, and his known contacts with the Soviet Embassy in the United States.
The Commission has explored all attempts of Oswald to identify himself with various political groups, including the Communist Party, U.S.A., the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and the Socialist Workers Party, and has been unable to find any evidence that the contacts which he initiated were related to Oswald's subsequent assassination of the President.
All of the evidence before the Commission established that there was nothing to support the speculation that Oswald was an agent, employee, or informant of the FBI, the CIA, or any other governmental agency. It has thoroughly investigated Oswald's relationships prior to the assassination with all agencies of the U.S. Government. All contacts with Oswald by any of these agencies were made in the regular exercise of their different responsibilities.
No direct or indirect relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby has been discovered by the Commission, nor has it been able to find any credible evidence that either knew the other, although a thorough investigation was made of the many rumors and speculations of such a relationship.
The Commission has found no evidence that Jack Ruby acted with any other person in the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.
After careful investigation the Commission has found no credible evidence either that Ruby and Officer Tippit, who was killed by Oswald, knew each other or that Oswald and Tippit knew each other. Because of the difficulty of proving negatives to a certainty the possibility of others being involved with either Oswald or Ruby cannot be established categorically, but if there is any such evidence it has been beyond the reach of all the investigative agencies and resources of the United States and has not come to the attention of this Commission.
- In its entire investigation the Commission has found no evidence of conspiracy, subversion, or disloyalty to the U.S. Government by any Federal, State, or local official.
- On the basis of the evidence before the Commission it concludes that Oswald acted alone. Therefore, to determine the motives for the assassination of President Kennedy, one must look to the assassin himself. Clues to Oswald's motives can be found in his family history, his education or lack of it,
his acts, his writings, and the recollections of those who had close contacts with him throughout his life. The Commission has presented with this report all of the background information bearing on motivation which it could discover. Thus, others may study Lee Oswald's life and arrive at their own conclusions as to his possible motives. The Commission could not make any definitive determination of Oswald's motives. It has endeavored to isolate factors which contributed to his character and which might have influenced his decision to assassinate President Kennedy. These factors were:
His deep-rooted resentment of all authority which was expressed in a hostility toward every society in which he lived;
His inability to enter into meaningful relationships with people, and a continuous pattern of rejecting his environment in favor of new surroundings;
His urge to try to find a place in history and despair at times over failures in his various undertakings;
His capacity for violence as evidenced by his attempt to kill General Walker;
His avowed commitment to Marxism and communism, as he understood the terms and developed his own interpretation of them; this was expressed by his antagonism toward the United States, by his defection to the Soviet Union, by his failure to be reconciled with life in the United States even after his disenchantment with the Soviet Union, and by his efforts, though frustrated, to go to Cuba. Each of these contributed to his capacity to risk all in cruel and irresponsible actions.
- The Commission recognizes that the varied responsibilities of the President require that he make frequent trips to all parts of the United States and abroad. Consistent with their high responsibilities Presidents can never be protected from every potential threat. The Secret Service's difficulty in meeting its protective responsibility varies with the activities and the nature of the occupant of the Office of President and his willingness to conform to plans for his safety. In appraising the performance of the Secret Service it should be understood that it has to do its work within such limitations. Nevertheless, the Commission believes that recommendations for improvements in Presidential protection are compelled by the facts disclosed in this investigation.
The complexities of the Presidency have increased so rapidly in recent years that the Secret Service has not been able to develop or to secure adequate resources of personnel and facilities to fulfill its important assignment. This situation should be promptly remedied.
The Commission has concluded that the criteria and procedures of the Secret Service designed to identify and protect against persons considered threats to the president were not adequate prior to the assassination.
- The Protective Research Section of the Secret Service, which is responsible for its preventive work, lacked sufficient trained personnel and the mechanical and technical assistance needed to fulfill its responsibility.
- Prior to the assassination the Secret Service's criteria dealt with direct threats against the President. Although the Secret Service treated the direct threats against the President adequately, it failed to recognize the necessity of identifying other potential sources of danger to his security. The Secret Service did not develop adequate and specific criteria defining those persons or groups who might present a danger to the President. In effect, the Secret Service largely relied upon other Federal or State agencies to supply the information necessary for it to fulfill its preventive responsibilities, although it did ask for information about direct threats to the President.
The Commission has concluded that there was insufficient liaison and coordination of information between the Secret Service and other Federal agencies necessarily concerned with Presidential protection. Although the FBI, in the normal exercise of its responsibility, had secured considerable information about Lee Harvey Oswald, it had no official responsibility, under the Secret Service criteria existing at the time of the President's trip to Dallas, to refer to the Secret Service the information it had about Oswald. The Commission has concluded, however, that the FBI took an unduly restrictive view of its role in preventive intelligence work prior to the assassination. A more carefully coordinated treatment of the Oswald case by the FBI might well have resulted in bringing Oswald's activities to the attention of the Secret Service.
The Commission has concluded that some of the advance preparations in Dallas made by the Secret Service, such as the detailed security measures taken at Love Field and the Trade Mart, were thorough and well executed. In other respects, however, the Commission has concluded that the advance preparations for the President's trip were deficient.
- Although the Secret Service is compelled to rely to a great extent on local law enforcement officials, its procedures at the time of the Dallas trip did not call for well-defined instructions as to the respective responsibilities of the police officials and others assisting in the protection of the President.
- The procedures relied upon by the Secret Service for detecting the presence of an assassin located in a building along a motorcade route were inadequate. At the time of the trip to Dallas, the Secret Service as a matter of practice did not investigate, or cause to be checked, any building located along the motorcade route to be taken by the President. The responsibility for observing windows in these buildings during the motorcade was divided between local police personnel stationed on the streets to regulate crowds and Secret Service agents riding in the motorcade. Based on its investigation the Commission has concluded that these arrangements during the trip to Dallas were clearly not sufficient.
The configuration of the Presidential car and the seating arrangements of the Secret Service agents in the car did not afford the Secret Service agents the opportunity they should have had to be of immediate assistance to the President at the first sign of danger.
Within these limitations, however, the Commission finds that the agents most immediately responsible for the President's safety reacted promptly at the time the shots were fired from the Texas School Book Depository Building.
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