The Grassy Knoll

“Though truth and falsehood be Near twins, yet truth a little elder is.”


John Donne

The term Grassy Knoll¹ was first coined by Albert Merriman Smith, who was the UPI reporter riding in the press pool car behind the presidential motorcade. Immediately after President Kennedy was shot on Nov 22, 1963, he reported, "Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the president's car, probably from a grassy knoll to which police rushed." These words were then repeated on national television by CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in his second CBS bulletin on the Kennedy assassination.

A few years ago I was visiting the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository, adjacent to the Grassy Knoll, when I noticed an exhibit containing the suit, boots, and Resistol² cowboy hat formerly worn by Dallas Police Department (DPD) Detective Jim Leavelle. Det. Leavelle was the man who was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby - all captured in the iconic photo. The black and white photo makes Leavelle’s outfit appear to be a rather staid gray when in reality it was an orange-ish tan suit perfectly complimented by orange cowboy boots and a light-colored Resistol. The whole ensemble is quite eye-catching.

Via the dapper detective, I have a personal connection to the Kennedy assassination via my sister who worked for the DPD back in 1978, where she met Det. Leavelle. She mentioned he was dressed similarly: suit, boots, and of course the Resistol. I remember thinking then (as I think now), how cool it was that my sister met the most famous police officer in the world.

While some may think that everyone is familiar with the term Grassy Knoll, I have come to realize that some people are not even familiar with John Wayne . . . and therefore a primer on the Grassy Knoll may be in order.

The Grassy Knoll is the small hill directly to the right of and perpendicular to, where President Kennedy was shot on Nov 22, 1963. It is now an integral part of Kennedy assassination lore and the epicenter of most conspiracy theories - where a second (or third) gunman was supposedly located.

A specific Grassy Knoll sub-conspiracy is Badge Man, which until I did research for this article, I had never heard of. Apparently, Badge Man is the second (or third) gunman, possibly a police officer, who was actually photographed on the Grassy Knoll in the act of shooting President Kennedy.

Sometimes walking in the footsteps of history can actually offer a unique perspective not possible from just research. In this case, my recent visit to the Grassy Knoll, made me think of a movie, not Oliver Stone’s colorfully bizarre JFK or David Miller’s deadly boring Executive Action, but Christopher McQuarrie’s darkly humourous Jack Reacher. In this 2012 action thriller, the eponymous drifter and former MP, investigates an assassination allegedly performed by an unstable former military sniper (sound familiar?). A key part of the plot involves the location of the actual sniper/assassin. As Reacher is an expert marksman, he knows that the best position for a sniper to take is in front or behind a moving target and not perpendicular. It all has to do with the difficulty in tracking a moving target. It made me realize that a gunman located on the Grassy Knoll would be in the worst possible location for a sniper, with Oswald’s position in the Texas School Book Depository being the best. Hey, who knew that Maverick could help shed some light on the Mother of all Conspiracy Theories (MOACT©)?

John F. Kennedy’s assassination has been a watershed event for all of America, as ever since every American can be categorized in either two ways: lone gunman vs. conspiracy. I fall squarely in the lone gunman camp, but . . . who knew that it could be so complicated?

Oct 07, 2021

The Grassy Knoll and the Badge Man: Oct 07, 2021 & Nov 22, 1963

The Grassy Knoll: now and then


1. For those who are not convinced by my cinematic forensic ballistic analysis, then you will be excited to hear that Det. Leavelle was also present on Dec 7, 1941 . . . at Pearl Harbor (the John the Baptist of conspiracy theories). On that day Storekeeper Leavelle was on the USS Whitney (AD-4), a destroyer tender that was actually strafed (a sailor! Hey, I knew I liked the cut of his jib). He was injured on board a year or so later, met his future wife in the hospital where she was a nurse. He joined the DPD in 1950 and retired in 1975. The Dallas Police Department's Detective of the Year Award is named in Leavelle's honor.

2. The suit in question also has a colorful backstory: It was a second-hand double-breasted suit given to the detective by a friend, as on his detective salary he couldn’t afford this Nieman-Marcus suit. He had it altered to a single-breasted suit as he liked to wear it open if he thought he might have to draw his weapon and didn’t like the look of an open double-breasted suit. It hung in his closet for many years until he loaned it to the Sixth Floor Museum.

- The boots in question were worn until they were worn out and then thrown out. Det. Leavelle didn’t like the suit hanging in the museum without boots, so he loaned them a similar pair - another part of the conspiracy?

3. Leavelle is pronounced luh-VELL.

Oct 7, 2021


¹ The term Grassy Knoll perfectly represents the confusion that is the Kennedy assassination. The definition of the word knoll is “a small hill or mound”. Therefore the conspiracist might expect that the Grassy Knoll would be a small hill or mound covered in grass. In actuality, the Grassy Knoll is a small hill or mound covered in . . . trees. There is grass in front of the knoll, so I assume this is how it got its name, but like much of the conspiracy theories, it makes no sense.

² Resistol is the second most well-known piece of Texas headgear. Many might think that the good detective was wearing a Stetson, as that is what one might expect a Dallas police officer to wear. Actually, though a Resistol is (much) more Texan than a Stetson, as the former has always been made in Texas, and is the official headgear of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Stetsons were originally made in Philadelphia, PA, then St. Joseph, MO. Today, Stetsons and Resistols are currently made in the same factory in Garland, TX.