The Mystery of JFK’s Motorcycle Escort and related matters
“The Secret Service men were not pleased because they were in a “hot” city and would have preferred to have two men ride the bumper of the President’s car with two motorcycle policemen between him (JFK)…” [“The Day Kennedy Was Shot” by Jim Bishop, p. 134 (1992 edition)]
I. DPD motorcycle officer Marrion L. Baker—
A. To the Warren Commission:
[from 3 H 244; bracketed comments by the author]
At this particular day in the office up there before we went out, I was, my
partner and I, we received instructions to ride right beside the President’s car.
About when was this that you received these instructions?
Let’s see, I believe we went to work early that day, somewhere around 8 o’clock.
And from whom did you receive your original instructions to ride by the side of
the President’s car?
Our sergeant is the one who gave us the instructions. This is all made up in the
captain’s office, I believe.
[so far, so good]
Chief Curry; our captain is Captain Lawrence.
Were these instructions ever changed?
Yes, sir. When we got to the airport, our sergeant instructed me that there
wouldn’t be anybody riding beside the President’s car.
[the change at Love Field]
Did he tell you why or why not?
No, sir. [important to remember: nothing about JFK or even who told the unnamed sergeant to make this change] We had several occasions where we were assigned there and we were
moved by request.
On that day, you mean?
Well, that day and several other occasions when I have escorted them.
[“them” is probably hyperbole for President’s Kennedy AND Johnson: see “C” below. Baker only escorted JFK once: 11/22/63]
On that day when did you ride or where were you supposed to ride after this
assignment was changed?
They just–the sergeant told us just to fall in beyond it, I believe he called it the
press, behind the car.
Beyond the press?
Did he tell you this after the President’s plane arrived at the airport or was it
It seemed like it was after he arrived out there.
Had you already seen him get out of the plane?
About what time was it before the motorcade left that you were advised of this,
was it just before or 5 or 10 minutes before, or what?
It was 5 or 10 minutes before.
Then the motorcade left and you rode along on a motorcycle in the motorcade?
B. To the HSCA:
[11 HSCA 528, 536-537, regarding Baker’s 1/17/78 interview with the staff of the HSCA (JFK document No. 014899)]
JFK did it—
“Baker…stated to the committee that it was at the President’s request that they made no effort to stay in close formation immediately to the rear of the Presidential limousine…[Baker] asserted that the President was responsible for [his] position near the press bus.”
C. “No More Silence” by Larry Sneed (1998), p. 123:
The truth comes out—
“I think that morning we were already assigned locations when we arrived at headquarters. They didn’t want anyone around the Presidential car, so they told us to follow in behind the news media. We didn’t know whose instructions those were; it might have been from the Secret Service. I know [Pres.] Johnson didn’t want anyone around him, especially a motorcycle officer.”
D. 10/98 letter to Vince Palamara:
Palamara: “Are you aware of any orders not to have the motorcycles ride right beside JFK’s limousine?”
II. DPD motorcycle officer Billy Joe Martin—-
A. To the Warren Commission:
[6 H 293; bracketed comments by the author]
Mr. Ball: Did you at any time come abreast of the President’s car in the motorcade?
Mr. Martin: No, sir.
Mr. Ball: Were you under certain instructions as to how far behind the car you were to keep?
Mr. Martin: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ball: What were those instructions?
Mr. Martin: They [plural=Secret Service]instructed us that they didn’t want anyone riding past the President’s car and that we were to ride to the rear, to the rear of his car, about the rear bumper.
Mr. Ball: I think that’s all, Officer. [?!]
B. “Murder From Within” by Fred Newcomb & Perry Adams (1974), p.33:
Martin”said that at morning muster the four [Presidential motorcycle officers]were ordered that under no circumstances were they to leave their positions “regardless of what happened.””
C. To the HSCA:
[11 HSCA 528, 536, regarding Martin’s 1/17/78 interview with the HSCA staff, done on the same day as Baker’s, above (JFK document no. 014372)]
JFK did it—
“…Martin stated to the committee that it was at the President’s request that they made no effort to stay in close formation immediately to the rear of the Presidential limousine…Martin confirms the Presidential objection to the close positioning of motorcycles.”
D. From Martin’s alleged paramour, assassination eyewitness Jean Hill:
[“JFK: The Last Dissenting Witness” (1992), pp. 112-114]
Hill, quoting Martin: “…they told us out at Love Field right after Kennedy’s plane landed…Well, while Kennedy was busy shaking hands with all the wellwishers at the airport, Johnson’s Secret Service people came over to the motorcycle cops and gave us a bunch of instructions…They also ordered us into the damdest escort formation I’ve ever seen. Ordinarily, you bracket the car with four motorcycles, one on each fender. But this time, they told the four of us [Martin, Hargis, Chaney, & Jackson] assigned to the President’s car there’d be no forward escorts. We were to stay well to the back and not let ourselves get ahead of the car’s rear wheels under any circumstances. I’d never heard of a formation like that, much less ridden in one, but they said they wanted to let the crowds have an unrestricted view of the president. Well, I guess somebody got an ‘unrestricted view’ of him, all right.”
III. DPD motorcycle officer H.B. McLain– –
A. “No More Silence” by Larry Sneed (1998), p. 162:
“The escort route had been picked out for him [JFK] by the Tactical Group. Normally we had done our own scheduling, but they took it upon themselves this time. It was rather unusual because they had people working in positions they didn’t normally work. We usually rode side by side with the senior man riding on the left and the junior man on the right. In this case, they had it reversed.”
IV. DPD motorycle officer James W. Courson—
A. “No More Silence” by Larry Sneed (1998), p. 127:
“We were given our assignments that morning through our sergeant [unnamed]which had been coordinated between the Secret Service and the police department.”
V. DPD motorcycle officer Bobby Joe Dale—
A. “No More Silence” by Larry Sneed (1998), pp. 132-133:
“Two or three days prior to the President’s visit we’d ridden with the Secret Service checking to see where the turns and problem areas might be. We had three possible routes, but we didn’t know which one we were going to take, and we were not briefed on it. But by riding during the week, I kept hearing the phrase “escape routes,” which dawned on me later that should something happen to any part of the motorcade we had an escape route to either Baylor or Parkland Hospitals…Once we were assembled and the President was ready to go, we started the motorcade by going out a gate at the far end. At that time, we didn’t know which route we were taking; we had three: right, straight, or left. As we were leaving, the word came over the radio that we would use the particular route that went left.”
B. Corroboration for Dale:
[HSCA RIF# 180-10109-10411: WC document, Griffin to Rankin, 4/2/64]
“From an administrative standpoint, (DPD’s Charles) Batchelor** believed that the failure of the Secret Service to inform the police adequately in advance of the exact route to be taken by the president prevented them from adequately organizing their men and taking the necessary security precautions.”
VI. DPD Sergeant Samuel Q. Bellah—
“Fairfield (TX) Recorder”, 11/17/88: based off interview with Bellah
(photo inc.) [provided to the author by Bellah]—“On the night beforehis assignment, Bellah reviewed the planned route with his captain. The route was not the original that was to go straight through Dealey Plaza,but a revised route. The original plan would have skirted the Texas Book Depository building by a block, but the altered plan turned to pass directly in front of the building.”
VII. DPD motorcycle office Clyde A. Haygood—
[11 HSCA 528-529; see also 6 H 297]
“Clyde A. Haygood…[was] assigned to the right rear of the Presidential limousine. The activity of [Haygood] indicated again a departure from standard maximum security protection. Haygood, for example, admitted that although he was stationed to the right rear of Kennedy’s car, he was generally riding several cars back and offred no explanation for this. Haygood…was on Main Street at the time of the shooting…Haygood and Baker were too far from the Presidential limouisne to afford Kennedy any protection.”
VIII. DPD motorcycle officer (Sergeant) Stavis Ellis—
A. “No More Silence” by Larry Sneed (1998), pp. 143-144:
“I was in charge of the actual escort of the President’s car. All the other officers had their assignments, but some were just assigned to us as surplus. At the airport, Chief Curry told me, “Look, you see that double-deck bus up there [one of the Press Busses]? That’s full of news media. Now they’ve got to get to the Mart out there where the President is going to talk, but we don’t want them messing up this motorcade. Just give them one of your men back there and tell him to escort them there on time but to keep them out of the motorcade and not to mess with us.” So I got M.L. Baker*and told him exactly what the chief had told me. That put him behind us quite a bit.”
IX. DPD Captain Perdue W. Lawrence—
A. To the Warren Commission:
[7 H 580-581; bracketed coments by the author]
Mr. Griffin: At the time of your first meeting with Chief Batchelor were you given any special
instructions about the protection of the President?
Captain Lawrenc:. None.
Mr. Griffin: When was the next time you received some instructions from one of your
Captain Lawrence: The next time was, to the best of my knowledge, the motorcade
assignments–possibly 2 days before the President arrived—I asked how we would escort this
Mr. Griffin: And with whom did you discuss that?
Captain Lawrence: Chief Lunday and Chief Batchelor.
Mr. Griffin: Was anybody from the Secret Service present at that time?
Captain Lawrence: Not at that time no.
[important to keep in mind]
Mr. Griffin: What were you told about the purpose of the officers that were being provided,
Captain Lawrence: I was told that there would be these lead motorcycle officers, and that
we would also have these other officers alongside [not to the rear of]the President’s car and the Vice President’s
car, and some of the others that would be in the motorcade, and approximately how many
officers would be needed for the escort, and at that time I had prepared a list of 18 solo
motorcycle officers, this included three solo sergeants.
I was also instructed that about this motorcade–that when it reached Stemmons
Expressway, Chief Batchelor told me that he wanted a solo motorcycle officer in each traffic
lane, each of the five traffic lanes waiting for the motorcade, so that no vehicles, on Stemmons
Expressway would pass the motorcade at all and he wanted these solo motorcycle officers to
pull away from the escort and get up there on Stemmons Freeway and block the traffic, and
some of these officers, he stated, would pull past the Presidential car.
Mr. Griffin: When did that conversation take place?
Captain Lawrence: That conversation took place about the 20th of November—2 days
Mr. Griffin: Now, did you receive another set of instructions or orders after that?
Captain LAWRENCE. Yes; on the evening of November 21, this was the first time that I had
attended any security meeting at all in regards to this motorcade. At approximately 5 p.m. I
was told to report to the conference room on the third floor, and when I arrived at the
conference room the deputy chiefs were in there, there were members of the Secret
Service–Mr. Sorrels, Captain Gannaway, Captain Souter of radio patrol, and Capt. Glen King,
deputy chiefs, assistant chiefs, and Chief Curry, and one gentleman, who I assume was in
charge of the security for the Secret Service. This was the first time I had attended any
conferences in regard to the security of this escort, and I listened in on most of the discussion
and I heard one of the Secret Service men say that President Kennedy did not desire any
motorcycle officer directly on each side of him, between him and the crowd, but he would
want the officers to the rear. This conversation I overheard as Chief Batchelor was using a
blackboard showing how he planned to handle this–how plans had been made to cover the
Mr. Griffin: Was there ever any discussion that you heard about taking precautions
designed to prevent some sort of assault on the President that would be more severe than
simply placards, picketing, and people throwing rotten eggs and vegetables, and things like
Captain Lawrence:. Not to my knowledge, other than the fact that the Secret Service man
in there–when it was mentioned about these motorcycle officers alongside the Presidents car,
he said, “No, these officers should be back and if any people started a rush toward the car, if
there was any movement at all where the President was endangered in any way, these officers
would be in a position to gun their motors and get between them and the Presidential car,”
and he mentioned, of course, the security and safety of the President and those words were
Mr. Griffin:. Let’s go back a little bit and let me ask you–when did you first give instructions
to the men who were actually stationed along the route as to what they should do?
Captain Lawrence: I gave them those instructions on the morning of November 22 and I
had with me at the time–I had the detail with me and some notes that I had written…
X. Asst. Chief of DPD Charles Batchelor**, Deputy Chief George L. Lumpkin, & Deputy Chief M.W. Stevenson—
A. 11/30/63 report to Chief Curry:
[21 H 571]
“[DPD Captain Perdue] Lawrence then said there would be four (4) motorcycles on either side of the motorcade immediately to the rear of the President’s vehicle [as borne out by his 11/21/63 report***]. MR. LAWSON [OF THE SECRET SERVICE] STATED THAT THIS WAS TOO MANY, that HE [Lawson]thought two (2) motorcycles on either side would be sufficient, about even with the rear fender of the President’s car.” [emphasis added]
B. ***DPD Captain Perdue Lawrence Exhibit re: motorcycle distribution DATED NOVEMBER 21, 1963, the day before the assassination [handwritten comments from 7/24/64; 20 H 489; same as HSCA JFK Exhibit F-679]:
In addition to DPD motorcycles officers B.W. Hargis and B.J. Martin, H.B. MCLAIN AND J.W. COURSON WERE SLATED TO RIDE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF JFK’S LIMOUSINE. Also, in addition to DPD motorcycle officers D.L.Jackson and J.M. Chaney, C.A. HAYGOOD AND M.L. BAKER WERE SLATED TO RIDE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF JFK’S LIMOUSINE!
XI. DPD Chief Jesse Curry—
A. To the Warren Commission:
[4 H 171; bracketed comments by the author]
(included in the actual transcript is a bizarre error involving a seemingly deliberate edit)
Mr. Curry. In the planning of this motorcade, we had
had more motorcycles lined up to be with the President’s car, but the Secret
Service didn’t want that many.
Did they tell you why?
We actually had two on each side but we wanted four on each side and they
asked us to drop out some of them and back down the motorcade, along the
motorcade, which we did. [this does not answer the question and is repeated verbatim below]
How many motorcycles did you have?
I think we had four on each side of him.
How many did you want to have?
[Here it is, repeated. Notice that even this does not answer this particular question!]
We actually had two on each side side but we wanted four on each side and they
asked us to drop out some of them and back down the motorcade, along the
motorcade, which we did.
So that you in fact only had two on each side of his car?
Two on each side and they asked them to remain at the rear fender so if the
crowd moved in on him they could move in to protect him from the crowd.
Who asked him to stay at the rear fender?
I believe Mr. Lawson.
The Secret Service man?
XII. Secret Service Agent Winston G. Lawson —
A. To the Warren Commission:
[4 H 338; bracketed comments by VP]
DULLES: “…do you recall that any orders were given by or on
behalf of the President with regard to the location of those motorcycles that were particularly attached to his car?’
LAWSON: “NOT SPECIFICALLY AT THIS INSTANCE ORDERS FROM HIM.”
[emphasis added—Lawson would go on to say “it was my understanding
that he did not like a lot of motorcycles surrounding the car”, something not borne out by very recent prior motorcades from 11/18-11/22/63]
HSCA Volume 11, page 529:
“The Secret Service’s alteration of the original Dallas Police Department motorcycle
deployment plan prevented the use of maximum possible security precautions…Surprisingly, the security measure used in the prior motorcades during the same Texas visit (11/21/63) shows that the deployment of motorcycles in Dallas by the Secret Service may have been uniquely insecure…The Secret Service knew more than a day before November 22 that the President did not want motorcycles riding alongside or parallel to the Presidential vehicle…”
Yet at least 6 motorcycles surrounded JFK’s limousine (inc. 1-2 directly beside him) on 3/23/63 in Chicago1, on the European tour of June-July 1963 (encompassing Germany, Italy, & Ireland)2, the 11/18/63 Florida trip3, and, most importanly, in San Antonio on 11/21/634, Houston on 11/21/635, and Fort Worth on the morning of 11/22/63.6
[see addendum, below, for more on Lawson and the motorcycle issue]
DMN reporter Tom Dillard—
“We lost our position at the airport. I understood we were to have been quite a bit closer. We were assigned as the prime photographic car which, as you probably know, NORMALLY A TRUCK
PRECEDES THE PRESIDENT ON THESE THINGS [MOTORCADES] AND CERTAIN
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PHOTOGRAPHIC PRESS RIDE WITH THE TRUCK. In this
case, as you know, we didn’t have any and this car That I was in was to take photographs which was of spot-news nature.” [Emphasis added]. 7Dillard forcefully said the same thing on C-Span on 11/20/93, telling the TV audience that the flatbed truck was “canceled at the last minute” and they were put in Chevrolet convertibles “which totally put us out of the picture.” [all previous trips, inc. Florida, has press/ photographers very close in front and behind JFK’s limousine, inc. WH photographer Cecil Stoughton, who rode in the SS follow-up car from July 1963 until 11/21/638]
Henry Burroughs, AP photographer (rode in Camera Car #2)—“I was a member of the White House pool aboard Air Force One when we arrived with JFK in Dallas on that fateful day. We, the pool, were dismayed to find our pool car shoved back to about #11 position in the motorcade. We protested, but it was too late.
From Jim Bishop’s “The Day Kennedy Was Shot” (1992 edition): p. 133 “The ninth car was a Chevrolet convertible for White House motion picture photographers. It was impossible to take pictures in a position so remote from the President. Behind it were two more automobiles with photographers.”
pp. 133-134 ” The press was displeased with its place in the parade. Some felt they could have reported a better story watching the motorcade from any of the buildings downtown. Even their wire representatives- AP, UPI, and American Broadcasting- sitting forward in a special car, were six hundred feet behind the Kennedys and could see little except the Mayor of Dallas
pp. 109-110;134 “Dr. George Burkley…felt that he should be close to the President at all times… Dr. Burkley was unhappy…this time the admiral protested. He could be of no assistance to the President if a doctor was needed quickly.”9
Seth Kantor’s notes —-
“Will Fritz’s men called off nite before by SS. Had planned to ride closed car w/ machine guns in car behind Pres.” [which could mean someplace behind JFK’s car, as was the case in Chicago, IL, on 3/23/6310 & New York on 11/15/63] 11
Milton Wright, Texas Highway Patrolman (driver of Mayor Cabell’s car)— “As I recall, prior to the President arriving at the airport we were already staged on the tarmac. I do not recall what position I was in at that time but it was not #1[the number taped to his car’s windshield]. At the last minute there was a lot of shuffling and I ended up in the 5th vehicle. My vehicle was the last to leave downtown after the shooting because the police set up a road block behind my car.”12
General Godfrey McHugh (rode in VIP car)— was asked to sit in a car farther back in the motorcade, rather than “normally, what I would do between the driver and Secret Service agent in charge of trip”13 – he admitted this was “unusual”;14″Ordinarily McHugh rode in the Presidential limousine in the front seat. This was the first time he was instructed not to ride in the car so that all attention would be focused on the President to accentuate full exposure.”15
And, as regards the Dallas Police, in keeping with all prior motorcades in 1963, DPD Captain Glen King stated that the Secret Service was primarily responsible for the President’s security, while the role of the DPD was a supportive one.16
ASAIC Roy Kellerman, to FBI agents’ Sibert & O’Neil on the night of the murder: “the advanced security arrangements made for this specific trip were the most stringent and thorough ever employed by the Secret Service for the visit of a President to an American city” [[FBI RIF#124-10012-10239; Kellerman would go on to deny ever saying such a thing: 18 H 707-708]
JFK, to San Antonio Congressman Henry Gonzalez on 11/21/63: “The Secret Service told me that they had taken care of everything – there’s nothing to worry about.” [“High Treason”, page 127]
President Kennedy, to a concerned advance man, Marty Underwood on 11/21/63: “Marty, You worry about me too much” [Evening Magazine” video 11/22/88; interview with Marty Underwood 10/9/92]
DPD Chief Curry, “Dallas Morning News”, 10/26/63 [22 H 626]: “LARGE POLICE GUARD PLANNED FOR KENNEDY-Signs Friday pointed to the greatest concentration of Dallas police ever for the protection of a high-ranking dignitary when President Kennedy visits Dallas next
month…The deployment of thr special force, he said, is yet to be worked out with the U.S. Secret Service.”
1. RIF#154-10003-10012: Secret Service Supplemental & Protective Survey Reports
2. Stoughton films/ photos, JFK Library
3. Stoughton photos, JFK Library
4. RIF#154-10002-10424: Secret Service Final Survey Report. Also utilized: a police helicopter along the motorcade route and 40 members of the Military Police from Ft. Sam
5. NBC video from 11/22/63 (depicting newsreel from previous day); still photo, “Houston Chronicle”;11 HSCA 529 & 537; Secret Service Final Survey Report (JFK document No. 014979)—stated that in all motorcade movements “six motorcycles flanked the Presidential limousine and an additional 33 motorcycles were used to flank the motorcade and cover the intersections.”
6. “Texas News” newsreel; Stoughton photo, JFK Library (interestingly, there is no mention in the Fort Worth Secret Service Survey Report about the deployment of motorcycles in the vicinity of the Presidential limousine. Thankfully, we have the photographic record [11 HSCA 529 & 537]).
7. 6 H 163
8. “The Memories, 1961-1963” by Cecil Stoughton w/ Ted Clifton and Hugh Sidey (1973), p. 160; see also Stoughton’s motorcade films of the trip to Italy (7/63), as well as his still photos from the follow-up car in Tampa, FL (11/18/63) and in Houston, TX (11/21/63) via the JFK Library (shown by the author at COPA 1996)
9. Burkley rode in the lead car in Miami on 11/18/63: RIF#154-10002-10422
11. 20 H 391; see also 4 H 171-172 (Curry); 11 HSCA 530
12. 9/3/98 e-mail to the author
13. For example, McHugh rode here in Tampa on 11/18/63: RIF#154-10002-10423
14. CFTR radio (Canada) interview 1976
15. 5/11/78 interview with the HSCA’s Mark Flanagan (RIF#180-10078-10465 [see also 7 HSCA 14])
16. 20 H 453, 463-465; see also Curry, p. 9
[from John Kelin’s “Fair Play”: review of the author’s Lancer 11/22/97 conference appearance re: agent being recalled at Love Field]
“This is different angles of [the Kennedy motorcade] leaving Love Field,” Palamara said,
as the video rolled. Using a red “laser light” pointer, he identified various agents, and supplied narration: “This is John Ready … Paul Landis … here they are,
leaving Love Field … Henry Rybka — thinking that he’s going to be doing what he just did the last few stops — this is when Emory Roberts rises in his seat in the followup car … and we see some hand gestures … basically tells [Rybka] to cease and desist from his actions. Paul Landis is even making room for him on the followup car! And this is when you’ll see Henry Rybka … I think a picture says a thousand words, well this is about as close as you can get here —” And as
the next image flickered on the screen in slow motion, the Lancer audience rumbled in astonishment — the words “Wow!” and “Jesus!” leap out from my tape recorder. For as Henry Rybka is seen being summoned from his usual position back to the followup car, he issues a confused palms-up gesture that seems to say, “What gives?”
Rybka was left behind at Love Field. “And the most amazing thing of all,” Palamara continued, “is the fact that there is not one report, not two reports, but three reports after the fact, placing Rybka in the followup car! But he wasn’t there! Again — either they assumed he did hop into the car, or there was a coverup. Take your pick…”
The clip of Rybka’s confusion rolled again; I think everyone needed to see it at least twice. “When you see this clip normally, it’s normally real time, it goes by real quick…”
And from Peter Dale Scott’s excellent book Deep Politics and the Death of JFK , pp. 277-278:
“Another army reserve officer in Dealey Plaza may have been Winston Lawson, the White House Secret Service agent responsible for the choice of the Kennedy motorcade route (4 WH 318). Lawson’s first three reports of what happened on and before November 22 raise considerable questions about his performance. For example he reported that motorcycles were used on “the right and left flanks of the President’s car” (17 WH 605; cf. 17 WH 624, 18 WH 741) although photographs show that they accompanied at the rear (21 WH 768-70). Numerous later reports from the Dallas police agreed that at Lawson’s own instructions the proposed side escorts were redeployed to the rear of the car (7 WH 581, 3 WH 244, 18 WH 809, 21 WH 571). This change, ostensibly for the sake of security, would appear to leave the President more open to a possible crossfire. Lawson also noted that “the motorcycles cleared a path to the Parkland
Hospital” (17 WH 629), and later that his own car (the lead car, between Lumpkin’s and the President’s) “assisited the motorcycles in escorting the President’s vehicle to Parkland Hospital” (17 WH 632; cf. 21 WH 580). These claims are inconsistent with the radio orders on police channels to clear a route to Parkland (and block off the side streets), which had been issued,
not for the President’s car, but for the ambulance summoned by the psuedo-emergency of the so-called “epileptic seizure” (23 WH 841; cf. 17 WH 368, 395).
Lawson’s sworn testimony to the Warren Commission said nothing about the motorcycles escort; and it painteda picture even harder to reconcile with the orders for a route to be cleared” “We had to do some stopping of cars and holding our hands out the windows and blowing the sirens and the horns to get through” (4 WH 354). No one on the Commission asked about the orders on the police radio transcript, by which other cars had already been blocked from the route.”