2013-12-19 / Opinions

French journalist had a close-up look at Kennedy assassination


The recent musings and opinions regarding the circumstances of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy brought about a motivation to contact an old friend who covered the events in Dallas and has a thorough knowledge of what took place on that fateful November day a half century ago.

François Pelou worked for Agence France-Presse, the global news service which is the French equivalent to the Associated Press. A news veteran of the Korean Conflict and the Viet Nam War, François was based in New York when he was directed to hurry to Dallas post haste in November, l963. A man with exceptional intellect and remarkable instincts for gleaning facts in a dramatic scene such as the Kennedy assassination, this distinguished French newsman holds the firm belief that Oswald was without accomplice in the shooting of the President.

Several years ago, a mutual friend, introduced me to François, and I have spent countless hours at his flat in Paris recalling what took place in Dallas. We have had many conversations whenever we have spent time together including my home in Athens. Nobody could have had a closer proximity to the action after Kennedy was shot than François. He was elbowed out of the way by Jack Ruby who killed Oswald. Last week, he reaffirmed his conviction that Oswald acted alone. “ The work of the Warren Commission,” he wrote, “was not perfect but it was serious. Moreover, its conclusions are the same as mine. Oswald shot after keeping JFK in his sights for almost one minute. He missed the first two shots and the third hit Kennedy on the top of his head. The motorcycle cop, who was riding in back of the limousine, told me a few hours after the shooting, when I arrived at the police station, that ‘his head exploded.’ Oswald was not a sharp shooter but had the badge of rifleman from the Marine Corps. His carbine was excellent and his stand set up at the window (Texas School Book Depository), was perfect. For almost one minute the limousine was in his sight moving slowly toward him. If he didn’t shoot earlier, it was because of the sun reflecting on the pavement which partially blinded him. Psychologically, it felt safer shooting when the car turned left and from the rear. For me, there is no question Oswald acted alone.”

When I asked about Oliver Stone, the movie producer who disagrees with the findings of the Warren Commission, François was blunt and to the point. “He knows for many years there is no money, books or movies, if you go along with the conclusions of the Commission.”

One of the most interesting developments which took place in the Jack Ruby killing of Oswald, according to my French friend, is something that you never see in print. The plan was to move Oswald from the Dallas Police Department to the County Jail. When the Chief of Police met with the media and informed them that they would be bringing Oswald down an elevator and immediately put him in a waiting car parked nearby.

“I object to that,” François quotes an ABC newsman. “(The newsman) wanted to be able to show Oswald walking in front of the TV cameras.” The Dallas police, who bungled so much of the events, including allowing Ruby to have free run of the police offices, backed off its original plan because of the objection of the ABC newsman.

“The (change in setup) made it easier for Ruby, who was next to me between two cameras to reach Oswald and shoot him. If the original plan had been respected, nobody could have really reached him (Oswald.)” If you ever have a chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas, you will see a photograph of François in disbelief as Ruby abruptly pushes past François to stick his pistol into the stomach of Oswald and fire the fatal shot.

A sidebar of note, has to do with Georgia’s senior senator (at the time), Richard B. Russell. President Lyndon B. Johnson put Russell on the commission, without the senator’s approval. Johnson wanted all the members to sign the report, making the Warren Commission findings unanimous. Russell agreed to sign but with a caveat. That has always been troubling, but his press secretary at the time, Earl Leonard, explains Russell’s stance. “He was concerned that there might be some new evidence that might shed new light on the circumstances. That is why he was reluctant to sign.”

I have recorded François Pelou’s recollections and conclusions for the University of Georgia research library. François’ view and documentation is very persuasive. And, I might add, he has never written a book or produced a movie, and has no plans to do so.

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