Friday, June 28, 2013

The South Knoll: An Assassin's Paradise?



For a grueling five decades, conspiracy theorists have attempted to establish the whereabouts of a second (or multiple) shooter(s) during the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. The most famous is, of course, the stockade fence that sits atop the now infamous "Grassy Knoll". In fact, conspiracy theorists have placed potential snipers in nearly any location in Dealey Plaza that could fit a human being including (but by no means limited to) rooftops, storm drains, various vehicles, and even the limo the President was riding in. Perhaps one of the more neglected areas that could have sheltered a concealed second assassin is Dealey Plaza's South Knoll area. In a recently published book entitled Enemy of the Truth: Myths, Forensics, and the Kennedy Assassination, blood spatter analyst Sherry Fiester makes the case that the fatal shot, which shattered President Kennedy's head and ultimately lead to his untimely death, originated from the area of the South Knoll. Fiester's analysis has lead to a revival of sorts in researcher circles and trigger considerable discussion about the possibility of this area being feasible as the location of a hidden gunman.

From June 13-14th, 2013, I spent two days in Dallas investigating the area of and surrounding Dealey Plaza. This was my second visit to the historic site, the first having been conducted in March of the same year. However during the tenure of my stay in March, Dealey Plaza was under renovation for the upcoming 50th anniversary and both the North and South Pergola area were off-limits to the public. I was able to take some pictures and gain a familiarity with the area but much was left to be desired. Upon my return this June, Dealey Plaza's Phase 2 renovation was complete and both the North and South Pergola and their respective knoll areas were open to the public. A sizable crowd walked up and down the sidewalk in front of the North Pergola/Grassy Knoll area, often pointing at the Texas School Book Depository Building (now the current 6th Floor Museum) or the stockade fence at the top of the Grassy Knoll. Many of these tourists were stopped by conspiracy theorists attempting to sell pamphlets that appeared to have been printed from the early 1990s, no doubt at that time riding the popularity of Oliver Stone's "JFK", and often spoke loudly with exaggerated fervor that firmly pole-vaulted over hyperbole. The North Pergola was awash with activity: businessmen with mobiles in hand walking to their next appointment; children playing in the sprinklers on the lawn where the Newman family had stood; an elderly couple, solemn and perhaps tearful, gazing out at the final "X" marked in the street were the young president was mortally wounded so many years before; college students thumbing through text books (or tablets) in the shaded seclusion of the pergola shelter mere yards from were Abraham Zapruder filmed the most infamous home movie in history. Behind the retaining wall, a card table was surrounded by curious onlookers as a more high-budgeted conspiracy theorist, speaking into a microphone, claimed "four out of five witnesses said the shots came from here." I don't believe "circus" is the most appropriate word to use, that would be too harsh. Simply, the area of the North Pergola was very alive. I could still hear songbirds, from time to time, in the comfort of the trees hanging over the stockade fence.

The North Pergola/Grassy Knoll at a much quieter time, around 10 AM.
On the other hand, the South Pergola/Knoll was completely devoid of any activity. The South Pergola is nearly a mirror image of the North Pergola. It even has a retaining wall and walkway much like its northern counterpart. One difference between these two areas is that while the infamous "Grassy Knoll" has a sturdy and imposing wooden stockade fence at its summit, the South Pergola's knoll does not. Instead there is a fence made of simple iron bars that surrounds a parking lot for the United States Post Office Building. This fence connects and dead-ends into the Triple Underpass. Entry can not be gained into the parking lot from the Triple Underpass or from the South Pergola. There is a guard post that provides access into the parking lot near Houston Street. In 1963, this parking lot had a barb wire fence instead of the current iron one.

Looking toward the South Pergola from behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll.


The South Knoll as seen from the reflecting pool area.

Provided with the serenity of the South Knoll, I was able to walk around the curved, striking white monument and its surrounding grounds unimpeded by any distraction, aside from the slight drone of traffic passing on Commerce Street. I stood at various points in or near the pergola including on the pergola steps, out on the lawn in front of the pergola, inside the pergola shelters, and on the walkway leading down the street. One of the more striking details one grasps of Dealey Plaza from this location is the slope of Elm Street. The decline seemed far greater than I had expected or noticed when I was at the North Pergola or even from the intersection in front of the Depository Building. The image of the Grassy Knoll and Depository Building in panoramic view from the South Pergola was inspiring. The renovation to the entire area should be applauded. When there were lulls in traffic and Elm was devoid of modern cars, Dealey Plaza looks very much frozen in time. In fact, my wife marveled at how similar it looked to the films from that fateful day, right down to the vivid colors of the grass and foliage.


Taken from the steps at the South Pergola.


Facing the North Pergola from the walkway leading to Commerce Street. The yellow banner on the Grassy Knoll actually reads "Grassy Knoll".

I spent about ten minutes pacing around the Pergola before moving on to my next area of study. The South Pergola was secluded and would have been away from the parade route on that day in November, attracting little attention. I had little doubt that no one knew I was even over here. In fact, I hadn't noticed any single person over at the South Pergola on either day of my most recent visit. As I stood there on the steps of the walkway leading down to the street, a few pedestrians walked past on the sidewalk below. They weren't tourists. They looked like average working Americans headed to their respective destinations in Downtown Dallas. They would look up at my wife and I with a sort of quizzical glance. "What are they doing up there? No one goes up there.” I had no idea that the South Pergola was this unpopular, bordering on a shameful neglect.

Illustrating how similar both North and South Pergola are, note the corresponding pedestal and retaining wall. Also note: part of the parking lot gate can be seen through the pergola shelter. 


Looking toward Elm Street from the South Pergola walkway steps. The Grassy Knoll fence is visible.

Finishing up my study of the pergola monument on the southern end of Dealey Plaza, I then moved to the grassy slope near the Triple Underpass. The South Grassy Knoll provided an excellent view of the North Pergola and of the entire plaza including the former Texas School Book Depository Building. The trees hanging over the South Knoll's iron fence provided a dark canopy of eerie shade. If a shooter were in the parking lot on the South Knoll, they would have had a very good view of Elm Street and the presidential motorcade headed nearly in their direction. The shadowy area along the parking lot was also shielded from direct view from the North Pergola/parade route and even the Triple Underpass. The idea began to seem possible: a shooter may have been lurking in this area, avoided detection, and zeroed his sights on the 35th President of the United States.
Nearly center on the South Knoll, standing five feet in front of the parking lot. I was struck by how this picture reminded me of the Bronson film. Perhaps its the tree limbs.


Standing up against the parking lot iron fence roughly ten feet down from the start of the Triple Underpass. This may have been the shooter's vantage point.

However, the idea remained fixed as merely a possibility. The shooter would have had a very good line of sight; however, there are a number of problems that must be addressed. Much like the "classic" Grassy Knoll gunman to the north of the position I was at, the South Knoll assassin would have been firing down into the car. However, while the Grassy Knoll gunman may have had an unobstructed view of President Kennedy, the South Knoll assassin would have had many more obstacles to deal with. The two obstacles that directly come to mind being: the windscreen and the occupants of the car. Could a shot have cleared the windshield of the car? Possibly for the fatal shot, but doubtfully if it was the shot which wounded the President in the throat or may have wounded Governor John Connally. The projectile could have cut through the windshield like a contingent of conspiracy theorists claim, creating the pencil-width hole reported by a handful of witnesses. However, analysis of AP photographer Ike Altgens'  photograph #6, taken while the assassination was in progress and corresponding to Zapruder frame 255, shows no apparent damage to the windshield while the President is clearly hit and clutching at his throat. The possibility of the South Knoll shooter accounting for the President's throat wound is remote.  If the South Knoll assassin was responsible for the head shot (Zapruder Frame #313) would the assassin have been able to hit the President without hitting anyone else in the car? Possibly. If this shooter was responsible for the fatal head shot, how does it account for damage to mainly the right side of the President's head?

 I left the South Knoll that day with some questions answered and new ones raised. I felt that while it was firmly possible a shooter could have taken up short residence on the south side of Dealey Plaza at 12:30 PM on November 22nd, 1963, and that this area would have provided sufficient cover and an excellent overview of the motorcade route, I believe that the evidence, as it stands today, leaves too much uncertainty to reach a confirmation that any shots were fired from this area. So while, indeed, the case of a South Knoll assassin is an open possibility and this is not my final word on the topic, I have to conclude the following: While the possibility of a second (or one of multiple) assassin(s) on the South Knoll is far more ideal than several other projected shooter locations along the parade route, that it is improbable that a shot originated from this location based on the evidence as it currently stands and from my first-hand analysis of the conditions and geography present at Dealey Plaza.

Thurman Lee Storing
June 28th, 2013
3:16 PM CST


  1. I have listened carefully to almost every interview with Sherry Fiester, available online. I also read her own summary of the angles involving a potential fatal shot onto the President's right side of the head. Given the directional position of the President's head at the exact moment of the fatal shot at Zapruder frame 312-313, and the anatomical description of the damage isolated to the right hemisphere of Kennedy's head, one can only conclude that a limited range of vantage points from the triple railroad overpass (south end) to the South Knoll parking lot would have offered a shooter the opportunity to make such a shot.

  2. I concur with the above comment and agree with Sherry Fiester's findings. Additionally, as I have said in several other places, Altgens 6 is perhaps the most important piece of photographic evidence of the Assassination we have. In its current form, it shows the clumsy alteration to the TSBD doorway figures in the attempt to disguise the presence of LHO. It shows gunmen in the shadowy second-floor window of the DalTex. It most definitely shows a bullet hole straight through the windscreen of the limousine, which is nothing like the crack that appears in photographs after the car had been to Detroit and back. Thus, I disagree with the penultimate paragraph of the above.

  3. I agree with these comments. In addition to the photographic evidence is the testimony to an apparent bullet hole in the windshield by six credible witnesses. The trajectory suggests a shooter in the vicinity of the South Knoll or south end of the triple overpass.

  4. The problem with referencing the Zapruder film and this or that detail from Ike Altgen's photos is....the Zapruder film and Altgens photos have been extensively tampered with/modified

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