JFK: Is this proof there WERE two shooters? He was a secret service agent in the car behind Kennedy when he was killed. Now, breaking 60 years of silence, his story casts doubt on the official version
As one of two Secret Service agents assigned to safeguard the wife of President John F. Kennedy, Paul Landis was never far behind Jackie Kennedy wherever she went.
That was the situation on November 22, 1963, when the Kennedys embarked on what should have been a routine motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas.
As excited crowds clamoured to catch a glimpse of America’s golden couple in their open-top limousine, 28-year-old Landis was one of four agents keeping watch from the jumpboard of a Cadillac immediately behind.
It meant that when shots rang out, he had a ringside view of one of the most shocking — and defining — events of the 20th century.
Yet for almost 60 years Landis has remained largely silent, traumatised by what he witnessed after the limousine passed by the Texas School Book Depository and bullets struck the President’s neck and head. It is only now, in his 88th year, that he feels able to fully recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated in front of him.
This month, Landis publishes his book, The Final Witness, a compelling account of his time in the Kennedy detail, the elite team whose mission was to protect the President and the First Lady.
Why did it take him so long to tell his story?
As one of two Secret Service agents assigned to safeguard the wife of President John F. Kennedy, Paul Landis was never far behind Jackie Kennedy wherever she went (pictured front, wearing sunglasses, on the morning of JFK’s assassination
President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally ride through Dallas moments before Kennedy was assassinated
‘I had nightmares for years about the President’s head exploding in front of me, so I tried to remove myself from the whole situation,’ Landis told the Mail, speaking exclusively from his home in Cleveland, Ohio.
Intriguingly, however, his memories throw doubt on the official Warren Commission account of what happened at 12.30pm that sunny autumn day.
In particular, Landis’s recollections are at odds with the Commission’s finding that one bullet — the so-called ‘magic’ bullet — was able to pass through John F. Kennedy then hit Texas Governor John Connally in multiple places before emerging undamaged.
Over the years, many have found this unconvincing, arguing that the trajectory wasn’t possible, and that one bullet wouldn’t have been able to cause so much damage and remain unscathed.
But the magic bullet theory was formed, in part, because a bullet was found next to Connally on his hospital stretcher and was assumed to have come from his body.
However, Landis is insistent this was the same ‘pristine’ bullet that he found at the back of the presidential limousine, resting on the top of the seat, and which he placed next to the President on his stretcher — a fact that he has only recently made public. He thinks that in the chaos it must have got moved.
It might seem like an insignificant detail, but to those who believe that the full truth of the assassination has never been told, this could be a major development.
The Warren Commission eventually concluded that three bullets were fired by a single shooter — Lee Harvey Oswald — from the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found on the Book Depository’s sixth floor.
One bullet missed, and was thought to have hit a sign, as fragments were found nearby.
The second — the infamous ‘magic’ bullet — hit JFK near the base of the back of the neck, slightly to the right of the spine.
It is only now, in his 88th year, that Landis feels able to fully recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated in front of him
The Warren Commission eventually concluded that three bullets were fired by a single shooter — Lee Harvey Oswald
It then exited from the front of JFK’s neck, from where they concluded it went on to hit Governor Connally — sitting directly in front of JFK, next to his wife Nellie — injuring his back, chest, wrist and thigh.
Another reason why the magic bullet theory made sense was that the inquiry determined the time lapse between the President and Governor Connally being hit was too tight for Oswald to have reloaded his weapon in time.
The third bullet struck President Kennedy in the head.
Yet if, as Landis says now, the bullet on Connally’s stretcher was the one he found elsewhere in the car (he thinks it must have hit the President in the back but didn’t penetrate deeply and was somehow dislodged from his body) then that whole theory was based on a false premise.
And if the Governor wasn’t struck by that bullet, then how did he come to be shot?
Theories that a second shooter was involved have persisted over the years. In particular, some witnesses said they heard shots from a nearby ‘grassy knoll’, made famous in the Oliver Stone movie, JFK.
Predictably, opinions about this development are divided in the U.S.
‘If true, it makes it much more likely that there were other shooters,’ says presidential historian and author James Robenalt.
However, Gerald Posner, who wrote the 2003 book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald And The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy, comments: ‘It could help solve the riddle of the magic bullet, but it doesn’t go further than that.’
What is certain is that Paul Landis was there when it all happened.
He remembers hearing the first shot ring out from behind his right shoulder and turning to look at the President.
The State Funeral of President Kennedy: Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy prepare to depart the US Capitol building
A portrait of John F. Kennedy taken in the Oval Office in the White House
‘He was leaning slightly to his left, towards Mrs Kennedy, and I thought he was turning around to see where the noise came from.
‘I didn’t realise he had been hit by a bullet at that time,’ he says.
‘I heard the second shot. From my position, standing on the running board of the follow-up car, I didn’t see any reaction in the President’s car, so I thought that shot had missed.’
Meanwhile, Landis’s colleague, Clint Hill, who had also been in the follow-up car, had leapt into action and sprinted forward to clamber aboard the limousine as the motorcade approached an underpass.
‘I heard the third shot and I saw the President’s head explode in a mist of blood and flesh and brain matter — and I ducked to avoid getting splattered,’ continues Landis.
‘The third shot came fairly quickly after the second… and then we raced to Parkland Memorial Hospital.’
Landis found the First Lady cradling her husband’s head in her lap. Her pink suit, which she wore with a matching pillbox hat, was stained with her husband’s blood.
‘I asked Mrs Kennedy if I could help her up and she said: ‘No, no. I want to stay with him.’
‘I followed Clint Hill into the back seat area of the limousine and saw two bullet fragments in a pool of blood next to Mrs Kennedy.
‘Mrs Kennedy, at that point, was standing up to follow the President’s body, which was being removed. And where she was seated, right behind her, on the top of the seat, there was an intact bullet resting there.
‘Everybody was concentrating on getting the President’s body out of the car and people were beginning to converge on the limousine, so I was afraid this bullet might disappear with a souvenir hunter, or that it might get lost.
Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President John F. Kennedy, holds her children’s hands outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, after funeral Mass for the president
Members of the Kennedy family leave the US Capitol follwing a brief service, leaving the President’s body to lie in state
‘There was nobody to secure the scene, so I made a snap decision to put the bullet in my pocket.’
Landis recalls the pandemonium in the hospital’s trauma room, where doctors were working on the catastrophic head injury suffered by the 46-year-old President.
Connally — who recovered from his wounds — was being treated nearby
‘The doctors were saying: ‘Please! Please! Everybody! Make room so we can work!’
‘People started to leave, and I reached into my pocket and I put the bullet next to the President’s body.’ He then followed Mrs Kennedy out and stood guard as the First Lady sat on a chair outside the trauma room.
‘There was a blank expression on her face. No tears. I remember Mrs Johnson (the wife of vice president Lyndon B. Johnson and soon to become First Lady) coming over and talking to her.
‘Mrs Kennedy was in shock. I was in shock. I was afraid I’d break down.’
Shortly afterwards came the news that the President was dead.
Landis accompanied JFK’s body and Mrs Kennedy back to Washington DC aboard Air Force One; he also attended the state funeral.
He was never interviewed by the Warren Commission or the FBI, instead providing two statements to the Secret Service in the week after the assassination in which he now admits he did not mention the intact bullet. ‘When I wrote my report, I was under pressure and hadn’t had much sleep for days,’ he says.
Tormented by images and memories, Landis left the Secret Service just seven months later.
‘I didn’t read anything about the assassination, and I refused to think or talk about what I had done. I just assumed that whatever the Warren Commission came up with, that was the answer to the assassination.’
Whatever the truth, for Landis the assassination brought to an end what had been his dream career.
Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of President John F. Kennedy, reacts as Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby, foreground, shoots at him from point blank range in a corridor of Dallas police headquarters
President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy at the entrance to the White House
He had joined the Secret Service in 1959, aged 24, thinking it sounded like ‘the coolest job in the universe’. Physically slight, Landis only just made the minimum height requirement of 5ft 8in.
After President Kennedy was elected in 1960, Landis — code name Debut because he was the youngest agent at the White House — was assigned the job of protecting the Kennedy children — Caroline, then aged four, and John Jnr, 10 months.
‘The children were delightful and well-behaved. Mrs Kennedy wanted them to have as normal a life as possible, so we tried to stay in the background,’ he says.
‘One day, I was leading Caroline around the White House grounds on her pony, Macaroni, and she said she wanted to go and see her Daddy and I thought: ‘Why not?’
‘We trotted over to the Oval Office and I peeked through the screen door and President Kennedy was sitting at his desk, writing. I opened the screen door and the three of us — Macaroni, Caroline and I — walked in.
‘I’ll never forget the expression on President Kennedy’s face. His jaw literally dropped open. Then he relaxed, had a big smile on his face, got up from his desk and walked around and said: ‘Mr Landis, I really don’t think this is a good idea.’ By then, I was thinking the same. I was worried about Macaroni suddenly deciding to relieve herself on the rug decorated with the Presidential Seal, so we went back outside.’
On another occasion, he had to loan the President a penny to allow Caroline to purchase a sweet from a gumball machine.
‘The President turned to me and said: ‘I don’t have any money — do you have a penny?’
‘This was the most powerful man in the world, and I had to solve his financial crisis.’
Eventually, Landis was moved on to Mrs Kennedy’s protection detail, along with senior agent Clint Hill.
‘Mrs Kennedy was young and vivacious and charming, and she had an impish sense of humour,’ he says. ‘The Kennedys created such a friendly atmosphere with all the agents, it was like we also lost a family member that day.’
In the decades after he left the service, Landis became a businessman, married and had a son and a daughter, before divorcing in 1984. He now works as an ambassador at his local historical society.
In 2013, Landis says he was given the book Six Seconds In Dallas, by author Josiah Thompson, and was dismayed when he learned for the first time about the ‘magic bullet’ found with Governor Connally.
‘I was like ‘No! That was my bullet!’ My mind was spinning, and I thought that I had to correct this,’ he says.
President Kennedy speaks at a dedication ceremony a day before his assassination
James Robenalt says that he was sceptical about Landis’s revelation at first, but now he feels his account needs to be investigated.
‘If President Kennedy was hit by a bullet that was ejected from his back and landed in the limo, then it means Governor Connally was hit by a second bullet — not the first one that hit Kennedy. And then a third or maybe more [bullets] hit Kennedy in the head.
‘The Warren Commission assumed that one of the three shots missed President Kennedy, but this is now in doubt because of the Landis revelation.’
But Gerald Posner suggests the bullet could still have been ejected from Governor Connally’s body.
‘The Governor was over 6ft tall and was slumped over in the jumpseat, which was a very small space,’ says the author.
‘It is possible that the bullet came out of the Governor’s body, as the Secret Service agents were pulling him out, and that was the one Landis found.’
Another theory, Posner says, is that Landis’s recollection of putting it on the President’s stretcher is simply wrong, and that in the chaos at the hospital, he put it on another stretcher.
Landis is aware that his revelation will spark speculation but he says he feels relief that his story is out in the open.
‘It took me 60 years… working my way through the mental process, questioning things and then starting to feel guilt — not about what I’d done, but guilt that I hadn’t said anything,’ he says.
Of theories that Oswald — who was himself shot and killed not long after his arrest — didn’t act alone, Landis insists to me: ‘I know there are crazy conspiracy theories out there, and I find them entertaining, but that’s all’.
But it’s clear he’s also had moments when he’s been less certain, saying recently: ‘Now I begin to wonder.’
Certainly, as the 60th anniversary of the assassination of JFK approaches, the circumstances around the killing of the 35th President of the United States remain as intriguing as ever.
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