On November 22, 1963, he had a ringside seat in Dallas. Literally. Nearly sixty years later, Paul Landis, one of eight Secret Service agents who followed President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's (JFK) midnight blue Lincoln Continental five meters away in a 1955 Cadillac, breaks his silence. In The Final Witness, Chicago Review Press, to be published October 10, he gives, for the first time, his version of the facts on this event which continues to fascinate America and beyond. The late account of this 88-year-old, whom the New York Times met in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives, differs on a key point from the official version. It will also give fodder to those who defend the thesis that the president was not targeted by a single shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, but by two.
Paul Landis was responsible for protecting Jacqueline Kennedy, present alongside the 35th President of the United States. In the famous photo by Ike Altgens, photographer for the Associated Press agency, we see him on the running board of the Cadillac, looking over his right shoulder in the direction of the shots, while Kennedy puts his hands to his throat. Then came the race to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the president was pronounced dead at 1 p.m., the return to Washington and the state funeral. Six months later, Paul Landis resigned from the Secret Service.
The “magic bullet” theory
According to the New York Times (NYT), there followed a long period during which he sought to “try to forget this indelible moment etched in the memory of a grieving nation.” Then comes the day when he finally feels able to “read” about the event and when he “understands that what he read is not accurate, not like what he remembers.” In 2014, he delved into Six Seconds in Dallas, published in 1967, where the author, Josiah Thompson, developed the idea that there had been multiple shooters. The work makes him doubt the “single-bullet theory” according to which a single bullet hit both the president and Governor John Connally, who was seriously injured that day.
Yet this is the conclusion reached by the Warren Commission created in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination of his predecessor. The first bullet reportedly passed through President JFK's upper back before exiting through his throat. It then allegedly reached Governor Connally, sitting directly in front of him, penetrated to the right of his right collarbone, passed through a lung, fractured a rib on its way out, pierced his right wrist then finished its course by superficially penetrating his left thigh. A few seconds later, a second bullet hit the president in the head, causing irreversible damage.
This scenario, however, has its skeptics, who ironically call it the “magic bullet theory.” How could a bullet that passed through two human bodies, hit a rib, fractured a radius be found almost intact? Investigators came to this conclusion “not least because the bullet was found on a stretcher that was believed to have transported Mr. Connally,” recalls the NYT. Ballistics experts using modern techniques concluded, in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination, a plausible hypothesis.
Projectile found in Lincoln, not on Connally's stretcher
Never questioned by the Warren Commission, Paul Landis explains today that things happened differently. He claims to have found the projectile first, in the Lincoln, in the seat occupied by the president, after arriving at the hospital, and to have picked it up to prevent it from being taken away by souvenir hunters. Which means that it would have lodged behind the president's back but without reaching the governor. The agent claims to have then placed it next to the president's body, imagining that this would allow doctors to understand what had happened. He assumes he ended up in Governor Connally's gurney when the stretchers were moved.
Interviewed by the New York Times, James Robenalt, a Cleveland lawyer and author of several history books who has extensively investigated the JFK assassination, believes that Paul Landis' testimony, if true, "is likely to reopen the question of the second shooter”. According to him, it is not possible that a distinct shot could have come from Lee Harvey Oswald, who would not have had time to reload his weapon so quickly.
In 1979, the report of a commission of inquiry of the United States House of Representatives into the assassinations of J. F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King already concluded that there was a second shooter, who would have missed his target.
The fact remains that Mr. Landis’ story, sixty years after the events, raises questions. Clint Hill, one of his colleagues charged with protecting the first lady in 1963, tried to discourage him from speaking out. “There are serious inconsistencies in his [Paul Landis] various statements/stories,” he wrote in the NYT. This long silence also questions everyday life, as do the reasons why his account differs from his statement made in 1963. At the time, he did not mention the famous bullet and declared that he had only heard two gunshots. The effect of shock, pleads the former security agent, and fatigue, even though he had barely slept during the five days preceding his testimony.
Ken Gormley, a specialist in presidential history, defends Mr. Landis, whom he helped find an agent for his book. “It often happens that at the end of their life, people (…) want to put on the table things that they have kept for themselves, especially when it is a piece of History so they want that “it is correctly transcribed,” he explains to the NYT. Whether what he says is consistent, I don't know. But others may look into it. »
In 2017, a poll showed that only a third of Americans believed Lee Harvey Oswald was responsible for the assassination of J. F. Kennedy. A majority (61%) believed other people were involved. This is why, under the direction of the Biden administration, the National Archives published, in 2022, more than 16,000 documents relating to the JFK assassination. However, certain documents will remain classified until... 2067, enough to fuel much speculation.