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THE TIME TESTS

On November 29, 1963 – the day the Warren Commission was formed – agents of the Secret Service and the FBI were very busy in Dallas. They were conducting tests based on developing concerns over whether Lee Oswald had sufficient time to perform all that he was said to have done a week earlier between 12:30 PM and his arrest some 90 minutes later. Those agents, pinpointing their results not only to the minute but to a more precise second, duplicated the “sequence of events following the assassination as reconstructed with information available.” Their detailed reports written the next day were turned over to the newborn Commission, which later used those times as the foundation for determining that Oswald indeed was capable of accomplishing all of his prescribed deeds within the allotted period.

Of personal interest was the timing noted by the Secret Service and the FBI regarding Oswald’s movements from the sixth-floor window (the so-called “sniper’s nest”) to the second-floor lunchroom (the so-called “lunchroom encounter”), and his ultimate escape from the building (the so-called “initial sign of guilt”). The Secret Service was succinct in describing this part of the getaway, which it postulated began when the president was assassinated “at about 12:32 PM”:

“Oswald walked from the window across the sixth floor area, hid the weapon, walked to the stairs, down the stairs to the lunch room on the second floor, spent approximately 30 seconds in the lunch room and continued down the stairs and out the front door. TIME 2:25 average walking, 2:52 with elevator waiting.”

A more specific report, however, was written by FBI agents Ben Harrison and Will Griffin, who concentrated on a single aspect of the overall escape route: the flight to the front door of the Depository. In this document, the two agents mapped out every conceivable way this particular departure could have occurred. (They did not include, as some writers would later suggest, the possibility that Oswald fled the scene by way of an outside fire escape or rope ladder.)

The FBI’s version (click page above for larger image) lists 10 possibilities involving the rear and front stairs, the freight elevators, the passenger elevator, or combinations accepting them all. In the end, the Warren Commission would settle on scenario six:

“Walking from window on sixth floor to stairway, walking down stairway to second floor, walking on second floor from stairway to lunchroom, spending 30 seconds in lunchroom, and then walking to front stairway and walking downstairs to first floor and then walking to front door: 2 minutes 25 seconds.”

That timing would set Oswald up for everything that followed.

The Commission refined that summary even more when, on March 20, 1964, Secret Service agent John Howlett retraced the accused assassin’s route, now abbreviated to end in the second-floor lunchroom. The emphasis at this moment had become centered on whether Oswald had enough time to get there in advance of Officer Marrion Baker and Roy Truly.

In a sworn affidavit signed by Howlett in August 1964, the agent stated:

“During this test, I carried a rifle from the southeast corner of the sixth floor northerly along the east aisle to the northeast corner, then westerly along the north wall past the elevators to the northwest corner. There I placed the rifle on the floor. I then entered the stairwell, walked down the stairway to the second floor landing, and then into the lunchroom. After the second test which was run at a ‘fast walk.’ I was not short-winded.”

The “fast walk” test was done in one minute 14 seconds; an earlier one “at normal walking pace” took one minute 18 seconds.

In another document titled, “Explanation of Film Sequences: Reconstructing the Assassination of the President,” the Secret Service explained what was taking place as Howlett undertook his reenactment before a video camera:

“The next sequence shows the concealment of the point where the assassin fired and shows Agent Howlett fleeing the scene by the route which we believe Lee Oswald used, as it is the most direct route. The end of this sequence shows Agent Howlett placing a stick at the point where the assassin [sic] weapon was found and exiting down the steps which we think Lee Oswald used.”

You can watch Howlett and the “stick” rendition at the 22:05 mark by clicking here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdS35FD7YMM

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