November 22, 1963:
It was 12:30 PM, Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and President John F. Kennedy's motorcade of cars, politicians, and security forces was almost through its Dealey Plaza route in Dallas, TX when gunfire suddenly shattered the clear, sunny skies and cheering crowds.
In the Secret Service back up security car immediately behind the President's military-civilian giant blue Lincoln Continental limousine---SS 100 X-a former Baltimore County, Maryland policeman-turned-Secret Service agent named Emory Roberts discovered to his horror that he had a ringside seat to the most shocking political crime of the 20th century since the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, JFK's murder.
He was the agent in charge of the eight-passenger, 1955 Cadillac that the White House press corps called The Queen Mary, but not of the overall Dallas detail. That post was held by Special Agent Roy Kellerman, riding up ahead in the front of SS 100 X. The Queen Mary was codenamed Halfback by the Secret Service, and Roberts rode up front, next to the driver, Agent Sam Kinney.
The car's other passengers were the late Kennedy aides Kenneth O'Donnell and David Powers, as well as agents Clint Hill and Bill McIntyre on the car's left running board, John Ready and Paul Landis on the right with agents George Hickey and Glen Bennet in the rear, with an AR-15 .223 automatic rifle on the seat between them.
In addition to the assault rifle, the agents were armed with the standard secret Service issue sidearm, a .38 caliber revolver.
At 12:30 PM, Roberts radioed ahead to JFK's next speech destination---the Dallas Trade Mart---"Halfback to base. Five minutes to destination. "Then it happened, and Roberts immediately recognized the first sound as high-powered rifle shot. Agent Hill leaped onto Elm Street to rush aboard the rear of SS 100 X, where he'd seen JFK grasp at his throat in pain.
Now Emory Roberts saw the fatal headshot explode the President's skull, sending a shower of brains, bone, and blood everywhere. The doctors at nearby Parkland Hospital might try to revive what they knew to be a corpse upon its arrival, but he knew instantly the truth of JFK's immediate death, and accepted the consequences of what next must be done.
It was a tough decision-made in split seconds-but it was the right one. Like every other secret Service agent, Roberts was charged "To protect the President of the United States"---and a dead man simply couldn't serve ad President. That role now fell to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, riding in the car behind The Queen Mary.
Roberts thus took it upon himself to switch protective measures from SS 100 X to the Veep's car instead, and---as John Ready was about to leap after hill to board the Kennedy death vehicle-Roberts shouted, "Don't go, Jack!"
He turned to McIntyre and asserted, "They got him. You and Bennet take over Johnson as soon as we stop." At Parkland, it fell to Roberts to establish conclusively that JFK was dead, and he ordered a weeping Jackie Kennedy to "Get up." He lifted her elbow for a closer look at the President's face, then dropped it. Turning to Kellerman---his boss-he ordered, "You stay with Kennedy. I'm going to Johnson."
Concerned that JFK's death night be part of a wider plot to kill LBJ and the whole US government preparatory to a sneak attack by nuclear weapons or conventional forces on America. Roberts surrounded the new President with guards hidden away at Parkland, and urged LBJ to leave immediately for the safer Air Force One Presidential jet at Dallas' Love Field, where they'd landed just a short time ago.
Johnson hesitated: "Maybe President Kennedy will need the airplane. Later, after JFK's death was officially confirmed, he still refused to go until Mrs. Kennedy was aboard with the late President's coffin.
Finally, after Johnson took the oath of office, the plane lifted off, en route for Washington, with Roberts left behind on the ground, but he had taken charge---perhaps ruthlessly and gruffly---at a brutal moment in American history. What happened to him?
In 1988, the Secret Service refused to release any information about him to me, even if he was still alive or dead, while the director of personnel for Baltimore County government in Maryland---in running a computer check back to 1950---found no reference to him at all as a former County employee, and yet, indeed, he was.
Stated the late Towson, MD firearms expert and ballistics authority Howard C.H. Donahue, "He was a Baltimore County police officer all right, assigned to the Towson Police station. He graduated from Towson Senior High School in 1932, and I knew him for many years, and remember when he left the force for the Secret Service. After his
retirement, Roberts lived at Brooklandville, MD until his death from a heart attack in 1973."
Roberts took to his death a terrible secret, in the late Mr. Donahue's view, for it was his contention that JFK's fatal head shot was fired from the AR-15 rifle in The Queen Mary accidentally during the confusion by Agent George Hickey, a fact covered up he felt by the Warren Commission report.
Roberts---seated behind Kennedy and in front of Hickey---would most likely have known the real truth of who killed John F. Kennedy, and with that weapon, but his lips---like those of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald-are sealed forever, a former Baltimore County cop at a tragic time in history.
While I never met or interviewed either Agents Roberts or Hickey, I did know and interview the late Mr. Donahue. His view just stated was published in a book with writer Bonar Menninger entitled Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK, and one that was fired, moreover, from The Queen Mary.
Mr. Donahue first came to prominence regarding the ballistics side of the JFK shooting when he was selected by CBS Television on May 1, 1967 to replicate---if he could-what the Warren Commission said that Oswald had, indeed, done on Nov. 22, 1963. This was to accurately fire three shots in six seconds and hit a moving target from a high perch in a simulation of JFK's position relative to Oswald that day in Texas long ago. He did.
Donahue also concluded that there was no firing from the infamous "grassy knoll" that day, and that---even if there were was---the fatal shot that killed JFK was not fired from there.
Mr. Donahue's theory was that Oswald fired only the first two of the three rounds fired that day, but that the third and fatal shot "Was fired from the left and rear---from right behind Kennedy's car, from the secret service vehicle immediately behind his limousine"---from The Queen Mary, in fact.
Although, at first, the secret service officially denied there was an AR-15 present in the back up vehicle, Donahue concluded that it had been there by eyewitnesses who both saw a man with a "machinegun" standing in The Queen Mary and the smell of gunpowder in the immediate vicinity of SS 100 X as well, and also photographs of the vehicles speeding to Parkland memorial Hospital following the shooting.
Donahue also believed the testimony of eyewitness S. M. Holland, who stated, "Just about the time the President was shot the second time, the secret serviceman jumped up and was standing up... on the seat... I actually thought he was shot, too, because he fell backwards just like he was shot, but it jerked him down when they started up. When he stood up, he pointed this machinegun right towards that grassy knoll behind that picket fence."
And thus, the muzzle of this very lethal assault rifle was also pointed in the direction of the back of President Kennedy's head-"About 25-26 feet away," noted Donahue. His overall conclusion? I asked him before his death.
"It is my opinion that President Kennedy's head shot came from the AR-15 rifle that was held by a Secret service agent in the back up vehicle. It was not an intentional shot, but a horrible accident, and that's the reason for the official cover up. There was no conspiracy or plot on the part of the Secret service to kill the President."
Why, then, the subsequent Warren Commission cover-up? I asked. "It was intended to protect the integrity of almost the entire US government, which felt that it would be impossible to admit that John Kennedy had been killed by one of his own bodyguards."
Today, The Queen Mary can been seen in the Imperial Palace Auto Collection at Las Vegas, NV, where I saw it in 2000.
Ⓒ 2017 International Historic Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.