April 04, 2009

Grassy Knoll

By Milton T. Burton © 2009

It took me ten years to find him. And the funny thing is, I was never a conspiracy theorist. Even before I read Posner's "Case Closed," I was almost completely sure Oswald had acted alone. But...

The Zapruder film was the fly in my ointment.

Anyone who's had as much experience with firearms as I have is aware that the Zapruder film proves the final shot came from the front. Or at least it does to my satisfaction.

Never mind how I found the old guy. Never mind why a redneck Klansman born eight decades earlier in a little town outside Birmingham, Alabama, was dying of pancreatic cancer in a nursing home in Stovington, Vermont. None of that matters. What does matter is that he talked.

"Why not?" he said. "I'll be dead in six weeks, anyway."

"You were the grassy knoll gunman, weren't you? The guy behind the stockade fence?"

"Damn right I was. And I can tell you exactly what happened, but it won't give you any satisfaction. Nobody is ever going to believe you because the truth isn't complicated enough to satisfy people."

"Why did you do it?"

The old man sighed and moved his wasted frame around a little on the bed trying to get more comfortable. "It damn sure wasn't notoriety, I promise you that. I wasn't trying to make a big splash and go down in history. I really wanted the man dead."

"It was race, wasn't it? The civil rights movement?"

"Hell yes!" he said. "I've been a white supremacist all my life, and I still am. I joined the Klan when I was just sixteen and took part in three church bombings and one lynching. And everybody knew Kennedy was trying to ram the niggers down our throats. I'd just had enough."

"Go on," I said.

"I felt like it needed to be done, and in my own estimation I was the perfect man for the job. I had a highly skilled trade. In a year's time I made about twice what a school teacher made back then. I was divorced and didn't have to pay any child support because we'd never had kids. That meant I had no family obligations and no wife to snoop in my business. I also had enough money to take a couple of weeks off. So I got me a black market Winchester Model 70 in .257 Roberts caliber and fitted out with a Weaver four-power scope. I'd done some work in Dallas, and I was familiar with the downtown area. I drove over there and checked into a motel. I cased the place a few days early and picked my spot. I changed motels a couple of times, ate some good meals, saw a movie or two. Then not long before noon on the morning of the 22nd I drove to that alleyway behind the knoll and parked my car. It was a white Chevy sedan--"

"There were people who saw it," I said, interrupting him.

"Why, hell yes there were. One woman saw me get out of the car with my rifle wrapped up in an old blanket. She told the cops, but they never followed up on it because they had Oswald, and that was enough to suit them. I got hunkered down behind that fence and smoked a couple of cigarettes while I waited. They found the cigarette butts, too, but they explained them away just like they did everything else. Then I heard a lot of cheering, and before I knew it the motorcade was coming. Oswald's first two shots didn't surprise me a bit. Like everybody else, I thought they were a motorcycle backfiring. But I didn't pay any attention to them or anything else but the job at hand. One thing I can say about myself is that I can concentrate even when things are going to pieces all around me. Oswald's third shot came about a half second before mine did, but he missed. It was then that I realized what I'd been hearing wasn't no motorcycle. Those two shots coming that close together are what screwed up the investigation and caused all that damn fool crap about the echoes and the acoustics in Dealey Plaza. It was my shot that got him, though."

"What did you do then?"

"I rolled the rifle back up in the blanket, threw it in the trunk of the car, and drove off. Nobody gave me a second look. After dark that night, I stopped on the Interstate 35 bridge over Lake Dallas and threw the gun in the drink. I spent the night in Texarkana and then drove on back to Little Rock the next morning. And that was that. I just went back to work and kept my mouth shut."

"I see," I said. "Any regrets?"

"Ha!" he said. "But I learned something."

"What was that?"

"You can't fight history. You can't slow it down, either. In fact, I think I may have speeded it up a little."

"How's that?"

"Lyndon Johnson come in and he was better at getting things through Congress than Kennedy ever thought about being. He rode on that big wave of sympathy and guilt over Kennedy's death and got all those civil rights bills passed a lot sooner than it would have if I'd just left well enough alone."

"So do you see yourself as an instrument of history?"

"Hell, no. I see myself as an old man dying far from home among strangers. How did you find me, anyway? I never said a word to anybody about what I'd done."

"There were always rumors that the Klan was involved. I did a lot of research, that's all. Some of your Klan buddies had put two and two together way back then and had a pretty good idea you had something to do with it. They talked to me."

"The Klan," he said contemptuously. "A bunch of nobodies doing nothing. I wish I'd never gotten tangled up with them."

"What was your connection with Oswald?" I asked.

He looked at me like I'd grown a second head. "Ain't you heard nothing I've said? There wasn't any connection. You're bound to have read as much about that poor fool as I have. A man would have been a complete idiot to have conspired with him to rob a candy store, let alone kill the President of the United States. Hell, he couldn't even drive a damn car."

"Then how--"

"There wasn't no 'how' to it. It just happened that way. Coincidence. Just a couple of guys in the same place at the same time trying to do the same thing."

"You mean?. . ."

"That's right, sonny. Now you know the truth, but nobody will ever believe you. Not in a million years. Two lone nuts!"

The expression on my face must have really been something. He began to laugh. He laughed and laughed and laughed. I turned away in disgust and went through the door. As I walked down the corridor away from his room, I could still hear his mocking laughter ringing in my ears.

Milton T. Burton was born and raised in East Texas. He has been variously, a college history teacher, a political consultant, and a cattleman. He have published two crime novels with St. Martin's Press, NY titled "The Rogues' Game" and "The Sweet and The Dead."

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