Unlike Oswald, who failed to qualify on the rifle range in Boot Camp, and who barely qualified "Marksman"-the lowest of three grades-on a later try, I was a trained and combat-experienced Marine sniper. I had spent a year in Vietnam, during which time I had numerous occasions to line up living, breathing human beings in the crosshairs of my precision Unertl scope and squeeze the trigger of my bolt-action Model 70 Winchester and send a .30 caliber match-grade round zipping down range.
Here I was, a professional police officer and writer, looking down at the most famous ambush site in history through the eyes of a sniper. A strange feeling came over me. A feeling of calm, dampening my anger. The trained investigator inside me surfaced and took over my emotions. I began to scrutinize what my senses were absorbing.
First, I analyzed the scene as a sniper. In the time allotted, and in the distance along the street in which the rounds had impacted the target from first report to final shot, it would take a minimum of two people shooting. There was little hope that I alone, even if armed with the precision equipment I had used in Vietnam, would be able duplicate the feat described by the Warren Commission. So if I couldn't, I reasoned, Oswald couldn't.
Unless he had help.
I looked at the engagement angle. It was entirely wrong. The wall of the building in which the windows overlooked Dealey Plaza ran east and west. By looking directly down at the best engagement angle-which was straight out the window facing south-I could see Houston Street. Houston was perpendicular to the wall and ran directly toward my window. This is the street on which the motorcade had approached and would have been my second choice as a zone of engagement. My first choice was directly below the window, at a drastic bend in the street that had to be negotiated by Kennedy's limousine. It would have to slow appreciably, almost to a stop, and when it did, the target would be presented moving at its slowest pace. The last zone of engagement I would pick would be as the limo drove away toward the west-and the Grassy Knoll. Here, from what I could see, three problems arose that would influence my shots. First, the target was moving away at a drastic angle to the right from the window, meaning that I would have to position my body to compete with the wall and a set of vertical water pipes on the left frame of the window to get a shot. This would be extremely difficult for a right handed shooter. Second, I would have be ready to fire exactly when the target emerged past some tree branches that obscured the kill zone. Finally, I would have to deal with two factors at the same time: the curve of the street, and the high-to-low angle formula-a law of physics Oswald would not have known.
Even if I waited for the target to pass the primary and secondary engagement zones, and for some reason decided to engage instead in the worst possible area, I still had to consider the fact that Oswald made his farthest, and most difficult shot, last. I estimated the range for this shot at between 80 and 90 yards. It was this final shot that, according to the Warren Commission, struck Kennedy's head.
As an experienced sniper, something else bothered me. Any sniper knows that the two most important things to be considered in selecting a position are the fields of fire, and a route of escape. You have to have both. It is of little value to take a shot, then not be able to successfully get away to fight another day. Even if the window was a spot that I would select for a hide, I had doubts about my ability to escape afterwards. According to what little I had read, the elevator was stuck on a floor below at the time in question, and only the stairway could have been used as a means of withdrawal. And there were dozens of people-potential witnesses-below who would be able to identify anyone rushing away from the scene. Not good.
But Oswald was not a trained or experienced military sniper. He was supposed to be little more than some odd-ball with a grudge. And for whatever reason, had decided to buy a rifle and shoot the President of the United States. Or so the Warren Commission would have us believe.