Howard Brennan versus Amos Euins
We saw in 'The Mystery of the Elderly Negro' that there were two men on the sixth floor in the fifteen minutes before the assassination, and that the man who occupied the infamous southeast window during this period was the elderly negro not a white man. What matters most, of course, is which man fired the shots at Kennedy. One reason for initially assuming that the elderly negro was is that the southeast window was the only location from which a rifle was actually seen firing (or appearing to fire) at the motorcade. During the assassination, several witnesses saw a gun barrel protruding from the southeast window which we know was occupied five or ten minutes earlier by the elderly negro. James Worrell, for instance, told the FBI on November 23, 1963, that he ‘saw the barrel of a rifle sticking out of a window over my head about 5 or 6 stories up.’ He saw it fire before he ‘got scared and ran from the location.’ (16H959; cf. 2H193-194) Just after the last shot, Robert H. Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald, who was travelling with the motorcade itself, saw ‘what looked like a rifle … drawn fairly slowly back into the building.’ (2H159)
The problem, though, is that all these persons caught sight of only the rifle, not the person wielding it. When it comes to the all-important task of identifying the shooter himself, we are left with the testimony of only two eyewitnesses, 15-year old African American schoolboy, Amos Lee Euins, and white construction worker Howard Brennan. Unfortunately, while both individuals saw a shooter who resembles one of the two individuals seen by numerous witnesses on the sixth floor, each saw a different man. While Brennan saw the white man shooting, Euins saw Rowland’s elderly negro. Althought the testimony of neither individual can be accorded precedence over the other with any certainty, it is obvious that only one of them could have been right and the other has to have been mistaken. After a brief examination of their testimony, I propose a tentative, but plausible resolution of the problem.
Of the two eyewitnesses to the commission of the most important political assassination since Sarajevo, Brennan is by far the better known. Within seconds of the crime, Howard Brennan was telling people that he had seen the shooter. He soon became the lynchpin of the case against Oswald. He told the Warren Commission that the shooter had been ‘in his early thirties, fair complexion, slender but neat, neat slender, possibly 5-foot 10’ and weighed ‘from 160 to 170 pounds.’ When explicitly asked, Brennan affirmed that the shooter had been white. (3H144) However, we now know that Brennan was never in a position to furnish so full a description of the assassin. Beginning with Sylvia Meagher’s Accessories After The Fact (1967), evidence has steadily mounted that Brennan has to have been lying, at least about some of his claims. According to Duffy and Ricci, ‘Brennan’s testimony is full of discrepancies, including the fact that he said the man in the window was standing, which allowed him to estimate the man's height and weight. Photos taken seconds after the shooting show the window was raised less than halfway, suggesting the shooter would have had to kneel.’ Even Joseph Ball of the Warren Commission was sceptical: ‘In staging a reconstruction on March 20, 1964, Ball found that Brennan had trouble seeing a figure in the window, and thus it seemed doubtful Brennan could have positively identified a man in the partially opened 6th floor window, 120 feet away.’ Furthermore, Brennan’s figure, which can be clearly seen in the Zapruder film, was in a somewhat different position and posture to that which he told the Warren Commission he had been in. He therefore did not have as good a view of the sixth floor window as he would have to have had to furnish as full a description of the shooter as he did.
Because Brennan had clearly ‘sexed up’ his testimony, many researchers have dismissed him as a phoney. Harold Roffman, for examples, states that Brennan’s account ‘warrants not the slightest credence.’ (Presumed Guilty, ch. 7) Yet there is one good reason why it is not possible to dismiss his testimony altogether and that is the curious fact that the description he furnished of the sixth floor shooter resembles the white man seen by many other witnesses rather than Oswald. If Brennan was simply a liar looking for his fifteen minutes of fame, it has to be regarded as an extreme coincidence that his description of the shooter resembled the white man seen by many other witnesses. If Brennan had been pressured by the Warren Commission into providing a description that supported its case against Oswald, he should have at least gratified his interrogators by describing the sniper as aged in his early 20s rather than his early 30s. This, however, he did not do. Furthermore, as all Brennan’s critics are aware, when Brennan saw Oswald in the police lineup on the evening of November 22, his response was merely that Oswald looked more like the shooter than anyone else in the lineup – a statement which obviously falls far short of an identification. Since Brennan’s description of the shooter conforms with the white man seen earlier by Rowland and other eyewitnesses, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he really had caught a glimpse of one of the two men on the sixth floor.
Unfortunately, however, it remains in doubt when Brennan first began to claim that he had seen the shooter himself rather than only the rifle. In my judgment, the more reliable of the two witnesses is Amos Euins. Unlike Brennan, whose original statements cannot be reconstructed at all, Euins identified the TSBD shooter as a coloured man to a police motorcycle officer, David V. Harkness, within five minutes of the assassination. (6H310) Unfortunately, Harkness neglected to tell the Warren Commission that Euins had identifed the shooter to him as a coloured man. However, we know that Euins had done so because he was overheard speaking to Harkness by newsman, James R. Underwood of KRLD-TV, who had just alighted from the press car in which, sitting next to Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald, he had been travelling in the motorcade. Underwood then questioned Euins further, establishing to his satisfaction that Euins had seen a coloured man shooting. (6H170) Euins’s testimony therefore supports the view that the shooter had been Rowland’s elderly negro.
It is true that in an affidavit taken in the Sheriff’s Department on November 22, 1963, Euins states that the gunman ‘was a white man.’ (16H963) But when he was deposed by the Warren Commission, Euins, while not going so far as to state that he had seen a black man, did insist that his Sheriff’s Department deposition was incorrect and that he had never identified the man as a white man. His explanation was that the person taking down his statement had misinterpreted his reference to a ‘white spot’ on the man’s head for the identification of a white man. (2H208) Taking into account the considerable pressure he seems to have been under to admit that he had originally identified the gunman as a white man, denying that the man had been white seems to have been as far as Euins felt able to go in the intimidating situation in which he had suddenly found himself. (2H204, 205-6, 207) We can be certain that if Euins had been as tenacious a personality as Rowland he would have insisted that the shooter had been a coloured man.
There are two reasons why Euins’s testimony should be regarded as reliable. First of all, Euins’s identification is consistent with Rowland’s description of the elderly negro in two significant respects: it placed the coloured man in the southeast window and it associated him with a bald spot. By emphasizing that the man had had a bald spot, it is clear that Euins had seen the exact same man Rowland identified as the elderly negro. (2H204, 205-6, 207) Although the white man could conceivably have moved from the western to the eastern window in time to fire the shots, the bald spot could not have magically transferred itself from the elderly negro’s head to his own. The only way the matter of the bald spot could have arisen at all is if Euins really had seen the elderly negro shooting.
Second, Euins’s identification of the shooter in the southeast window as a coloured man was voluntary, spontaneous, and immediate. It can be securely dated to a few minutes after the assassination, when Euins could not have known that Rowland and several other witnesses had also seen a coloured man on the sixth floor. That Euins did indeed tell Underwood that he had seen a black gunman seems confirmed by an early news report overheard in New York by lawyer Mark Lane. In his book Plausible Denial (1991), Lane records hearing a news bulletin about the assassination at the press room inside the Criminal Court Building in lower Manhattan shortly after 1pm (EST):
A voice from Dallas: “It is thought that a Negro was involved in the assassination attempt.” A black courtroom attendant shift from one foot to the other as he tried to look innocent. The others in the room tried not to stare at him. (p. 13)
Lane’s anecdote verifies the early circulation of a report indicating that the assassin had been black. This report had reached New York at a time when Lee Harvey Oswald had not even been apprehended. On present information, there is no alternative explanation for the diffusion of this story other than Euins via Underwood. In short, Euins really did tell Harkness and Underwood within minutes of the assassination that he had seen a coloured shooter.
Our problem lies now in resolving Brennan’s and Euins’s testimony. Since both men clearly could not have fired the same shots – although possibly they could have alternated shots from the same window – I propose the following scenario based on what occurred in the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968. In Memphis in 1968, as we have learned from William Pepper’s investigation, Lloyd Jowers took the still-smoking weapon from the hands of the assassin and concealed the rifle in his restaurant while the shooter made his escape. It would seem possible, then, that in Dallas in 1963 the elderly negro fired the shots (during which act he was observed by Amos Euins) and the white man took the gun from him after the last shot (during which act he was glimpsed by Howard Brennan, who assumed that this was the man who had actually done the shooting). The negro then ran up the stairs to the seventh floor window immediately above, presumably to get a better view of what was happening in Dealey Plaza. Although arriving in the seventh floor window too late to be captured in the Dillard photo, he did arrive there in time for his image to be captured by James Powell in the colour photograph discussed in "The Mystery of the Elderly Negro" above.