The Umbrella Man

Ronald L. Ecker

Updated Sept., 2006

Imagine this. U.S. President John F. Kennedy rides in an open limousine into Dallas's Dealey Plaza. The limo is followed in the motorcade by a car full of Secret Service agents. Nothing looks suspicious, unless you count the absence of police motorcycles both in front of and beside the limo (the Secret Service ordered that the motorcycles stay to the rear of JFK's car, which led the House Select Committee on Assassinations to call the Dallas motorcade "uniquely insecure"). 1 There is also the choice of motorcade route, with that slow, tight turn onto Elm Street, seconds before rifle shots ring out. Such slow speed and tight turns can clearly be dangerous for a president riding in an open car. (One familiar with presidential motorcades might also wonder about the absence in Dallas of the usual press truck, with all of its cameras, in front of the President's limo.) And when shots are heard, and Secret Service agent John Ready jumps off the running board of the follow-up car, intent to run to JFK's limo (which driver William Greer slows down, of all things), SS agent in charge Emory Roberts in the follow-up car calls Ready back. 2 Agent Clint Hill runs to the limo anyway, climbing onto the back of it, as the limo finally speeds up after JFK has been fatally shot in the head.

But never mind the unique insecurity, the route, and the behavior of the Secret Service. Nothing else looks suspicious, till after that slow turn onto Elm Street. Imagine this. There's a man, on this bright sunny day, standing on the sidewalk right where the President is about to pass, who opens an umbrella. Not only that, but (as seen in the Zapruder film) he rotates the open umbrella while he's standing under it, as if somehow tracking the President with it as the limo approaches. Now the man pumps the umbrella up and down, as if signaling, right after JFK is first shot. Not only that, but there's a slim, dark-complected man standing on the sidewalk near the umbrella man who, after JFK has been hit, raises one hand high in the air. And after more shots have been fired, fatally wounding the President, and while everyone else is running about or fearfully lying low on the plaza grass, the man with the umbrella calmly lowers and closes it. Then he and the dark-complected man, with chaos all around them, casually sit down together on the curb. Based on blurry still photos of the pair, the dark-complected man may possibly speak into a radio, then conceal it in his back when he and the umbrella man, having taken their respite on the curb, stroll away in opposite directions. 3

From the Zapruder film, as JFK has been shot in the throat. The
umbrella is open, and the Dark-Complected Man's hand is raised.

Who were these two suspicious individuals, who have become known in JFK assassination lore as the Umbrella Man (UM) and the Dark-Complected Man (DCM)? No one claiming to be DCM has ever come forward. Researchers who theorize that anti-Castro Cuban exiles were involved in the assassination tend to see DCM as one of the anti-Castro Cubans, acting as a signaler, or possibly even as a potential walk-up assassin. Some suggest the late Felipe Vidal Santiago, who according to the late Roy Hargraves (an anti-Castro soldier of fortune and explosives expert) played a support role in Dallas. 4 Others suggest the anti-Castro Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch. For UM, some suggest Hargraves, who claimed to be in Dallas with Vidal, ordered there presumably by the CIA. 5 Others, based on photos, suggest Gordon Novel, an electronics expert who lived for a time with arms dealer Mitchell Werbell. 6 But in the final analysis there are problems with all these suggested identifications, based on the less than clear photographic evidence.

The Dark-Complected Man and Umbrella Man relax after the shooting

In 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) released a photo of UM, asking the public for help in identifying him. A tip from a former co-worker led to the appearance of Louie Steven Witt, a Dallas warehouse manager, before the HSCA. Witt claimed to be UM, and he brought along an umbrella to prove it. During the motorcade Witt had purportedly thought that the sight of an umbrella would annoy Kennedy. Everyone even had a good laugh when Witt's umbrella turned inside out when opened during the hearings. 7 Well, it's true that Neville Chamberlain's umbrella became a symbol of appeasement after Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler in 1938, and that JFK's father Joseph, then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, was accused of being a Hitler appeaser. 8 Lyndon Johnson, running against JFK for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, called Joe Kennedy "a Chamberlain umbrella man," 9 and when East Germany put up the Berlin Wall some Berlin students sent JFK a Chamberlain-like umbrella. 10 But there is a problem with Witt's HSCA testimony. The photographic evidence plainly contradicts Witt's description of his actions during the moments when the shots were fired. He testified that he was walking toward the street and opening his umbrella as the motorcade approached, and while "other people I understand saw the President shot and his movements," Witt did not see this because of the umbrella he was opening in front of him. "My view of the car during that length of time," Witt claimed, "was blocked by the umbrella's being open." 11 But the photographic evidence shows that UM was standing still with the umbrella open over his head, his view unobstructed, as the limo approached. 12 Thus researchers are far from persuaded that Louie Steven Witt was UM as he claimed. As Gary Mack has observed, Witt should have been investigated in 1963 (and the same goes for DCM), not 15 years later. 13 But I'll come back to Mr. Witt shortly.

Witt and his umbrella (opened by Cynthia
Cooper) at the HSCA hearings

I remember scoffing the first time I read the notion that UM may have shot the President with some kind of dart using an "umbrella gun." But having read more, I quit scoffing, for in 1963 such a weapon did exist, a classified secret at the time. 14 In 1960 the CIA purchased from the Army a weapon system called M-1 that was developed for Special Forces by contract inventor Charles Senseney at Fort Detrick, Maryland. M-1 involved using different launching devices for a small dart or flechette that would deliver either a paralyzing or a deadly poison, and then dissolve without a trace in the victim's body. Paralysis would take place within two seconds. Former CIA directors Richard Helms and William Colby and inventor Senseney all testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975 regarding the M-1 system. In the umbrella version of the weapon, the projectile would be fired through the webbing when the umbrella was open. And this weapon was operational, in the hands of the CIA, in 1963. 15

Is DCM talking on a radio?

The use of a paralyzing dart or flechette, fired by UM, could explain why the President, after the first bullet hit him, remained upright, an easy target, instead of falling and thus possibly avoiding the lethal shot to follow. JFK was wearing a back brace that day that impeded movement, but could the conspirators be sure he would do that? They had available to them a way to paralyze JFK's muscles, from close range, to set him up for the kill, to make him an immobilized sitting duck for the Dealey Plaza shooters, rather than hope he'd be wearing a brace. What's more, the dissolving flechette explains the small wound, for which no bullet was found, and which was seemingly too small to be caused by a bullet, in JFK's throat. The small hole was thought to be a wound of entry by attending Dallas physicians, who enlarged it to perform a tracheotomy. 16 (The official autopsy report concluded that the throat wound was one of exit. Such a wound would have been larger, but the official findings had to concur, of course, with the single-bullet theory [SBT] concocted by Warren Commission attorney Arlen Specter, to support the lone-gunman story. The SBT depends on impossible alignment of the throat "exit" wound with an entry wound--originally found to be only a finger's length deep--in JFK's upper back [not, as Specter and other Warren Commission apologists persist in saying, the "back of the neck"].) 17

Is DCM putting away a radio? And is there some large object
with pointy corners under the back of his jacket?

An alternate theory concerning the wound in JFK's throat is that it was indeed, as small as it looked, a bullet entry wound, and that the bullet came from the South Knoll area across Commerce and Main Streets, fired through the windshield to hit Kennedy. Shooters from behind, from the Grassy Knoll (to JFK's right front), and from the South Knoll area would have been true triangulation of gunfire, and we know from Altgens photo 7 and from a Secret Service photograph that there was damage from a bullet or fragment in the death car's windshield, just to the right of the rear-view mirror. (According to several eyewitnesses at Parkland Hospital, there was a hole through the windshield glass. According to the Warren Commission, the windshield, or at least the one brought to the hearings, was only cracked from the interior. Only days after the assassination the damaged windshield was replaced and the whole car refurbished, in what amounted to destruction of crime-scene evidence. The Secret Service may even have washed blood and debris out of the car before it left Parkland.) 18 But a problem with a shot through the windshield inflicting the throat wound is that no apparent windshield damage is visible in Altens 6, taken right after JFK has been shot in the throat, unlike the windshield damage clearly visible in Altgens 7, taken seconds later as the limo is headed toward the overpass after the fatal head shot. The windshield glass damage appears to have occurred somewhere between Altgens 6 and 7. 19

The damaged limousine windshield

A third possibility is that the throat wound was from a bullet fired from the Grassy Knoll, the same source of at least one shot, perhaps the fatal one, seconds later. Several witnesses heard shots or saw smoke from the Grassy Knoll, or smelled gunpowder as they passed it. College journalism student Cheryl McKinnon (later a reporter with the San Diego Star-News) heard shots from the knoll and saw smoke as well. 20

A shooter from either knoll inflicting the throat wound would presumably leave to UM the role of a signaler for one or more of the shooters, with the availability at the time of a CIA umbrella gun being only coincidental. But as ballistics expert Al Carrier asks, would shooters need such a signaler? Could not shooters more easily see for themselves, through their sights, whether more shots were needed? 21

Yet another possibility is that UM was stationed where he was to taunt Kennedy, for a reason unrelated to Chamberlain symbolism. In 1961 JFK had withheld a CIA-promised "umbrella" of air cover for the anti-Castro Cubans in their failed, CIA-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The anti-Castro Cubans and their CIA supporters bitterly blamed Kennedy for the invasion's failure, a perceived betrayal compounded in 1962 by Kennedy's pledge, in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis, not to invade Cuba. DCM, according to the taunt theory, was one of the anti-Castro Cuban leaders who JFK knew and would recognize. In his last moments the president would see this man and the pumping umbrella, almost right in front of him, and know why he was being killed. 22

But this is all speculation. Which brings us back to Mr. Witt, who purportedly brought an umbrella to Elm as a taunter himself. Is it possible, despite their suspicious behavior, and despite Witt's inaccurate HSCA testimony, that UM really was Witt, having nothing to do with a JFK murder plot, and that DCM, by extension, was also just an innocent witness that day? (Witt testified that DCM was "a Negro man" whom he didn't know, who sat down beside him and said something like "They done murdered them folks.") UM and DCM were not, after all, the only ones in the plaza who were sitting or lying down right after the assassination. And consider the following graphic, courtesy of researcher Jerry Organ, comparing UM with 1978 photos of Witt. Undeniably UM's image in the Grant photo does resemble Witt.

Here is how Organ attempts to explain Witt's HSCA testimony:

Critics note Witt said he didn't see "the President shot or his movements" because Witt was preoccupied walking towards the sidewalk and raising up the umbrella. Photographs show the Umbrella Man was already stationed on the sidewalk with a raised umbrella, and thus (had) a clear view of the approaching motorcade. But consider the dynamics of the moment, such as the possibility that the first and second loud reports diverted Witt's attention towards the Depository as the President neared.

Recall that Witt was in the Plaza to protest against the President--at the last moment, Witt could have seen the Secret Service agents and Mrs. Kennedy, realized the absurdity of his silly protest, and just couldn't face the President. Years later, he would not be able to recall the exact sequence. 23

To me that is not too convincing. If UM was Witt, then only Witt could know why he testified as inaccurately as he did. In short, there is no definitive answer as to who UM and DCM really were, just as there is no definitive answer as to why the Secret Service performed as it did as the motorcade headed down Elm. The same is true of a plethora of unanswered questions, far too many, about the JFK assassination, over 40 years and two major government "investigations" after the fact.

Imagine that.

DCM and UM take it easy, while assassination witness Bill Newman
and his family still lie on the ground; half-lying on the ground also
is Cheryl McKinnon (center), who heard shots from the knoll and
saw "puffs of white smoke." (Photo by Art Rickerby)


1. U.S. House of Representatives, House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), 1979, XI:529.

2. Secret Service statement of Special Agent John D. Ready, November 22, 1963. Roberts later reported that "I told (Ready) not to jump, as we had picked up speed, and I was afraid he could not make it" (Emory P. Roberts, memo to Chief James J. Rowley, November 29, 1963).

3. See photographs in Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President (New York: Viking Studio Books, 1993), pp. 25-29, 178-183, 188-189.

4. Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked: What We Know about the JFK Assassination after 40 Years (Southlake, Texas: JFK Lancer Productions and Publications), pp. 290-292.

5. Orlando Bosch Avila is an anti-Castro Cuban exile who led a group linked to various bombing incidents. In 1968 he was arrested for firing a bazooka into the hull of a Polish ship anchored in Miami harbor. Tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison, he was paroled in 1972. Traveling through Latin America in violation of his parole, Bosch was imprisoned in Venezuela on charges of complicity in the 1975 bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane that killed 73 people. Interviewed in prison, Bosch told the HSCA that he was not involved in the airplane bombing but approved of it. (See HSCA X:89-91). Finally released in Venezuela for lack of evidence, Bosch was imprisoned in the U.S. in 1988 for violation of his parole. Despite the INS declaring Bosch an "undesirable alien" and moving to deport him, Bosch was released from prison in 1990 by order of President George H.W. Bush, and now resides in Miami (Gaeton Fonzi, "Jorge Who?", 1993). On Hargraves as UM and Vidal as DCM, see Hancock, pp. 262, 264-265, 300.

6. James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1992), pp. 134-138; A.J. Weberman, Coup D'etat in America Data Base, Nodule 21; on WerBell, see this author's "Our Man in Powder Springs."

7. HSCA IV:444; Groden, p. 189.

8. Melvin G. Holli, The Wizard of Washington: Emil Hurja, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Birth of Public Opinion Polling (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 104; Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda (New York: New York Review of Books, 2002), p. 194.

9. Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 97; Jack Newfield, RFK: A Memoir (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003), p. 182.

10. Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001), p. 144.

11. HSCA IV:429-453.

12. Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1989), pp. 32-33.

13. Gary Mack, "Jerry Organ, or the Second Posner Theory," The Fourth Decade 1(5):18-21 (July 1994), p. 20.

14. Richard E. Sprague and Robert Cutler, "The Umbrella System: Prelude to an Assassination," Gallery, June, 1978.

15. Ibid. In his 1975 Senate testimony, Colby called the CIA's dart gun a "Nondiscernible Microbioinoculator" (William Colby and Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978], p. 441). In 1978 in London, Belgian dissident Georgi Markov was shot with a poison-filled dart fired from an umbrella. Markov died four days later. The Russian KGB was suspected in his murder (CNN, "Ricin and the Umbrella Murder," 1/7/03; PBS, "Secrets of the Dead," 2006).

16. Dr. Malcolm Perry, who performed the tracheotomy, twice told a press conference on November 22, 1963 that the neck wound was an entrance wound ("Transcript of Parkland Hospital Press Conference," pp 5-6, in Brad Parker, First on the Scene [Southlake, TX: JFK Lancer, 2002], pp. 43-57).

17. Primary medical sources such as autopsy pathologist J. Thornton Boswell's descriptive sheet diagram and JFK's death certificate, prepared by White House physician Admiral George G. Burkley who was at the autopsy, concur that the back wound was below the upper border of the scapula (shoulder blade), and between the scapula and the spine. Specifically, according to the death certificate, the wound was at the third thoracic vertebra. (The neck ends anatomically with the seventh cervical vertebra; the death certificate thus places the back wound three vertebrae below that.) But chief pathologist James J. Humes chose to be less precise about the back wound's location. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) would later note the failure "to measure (the wound) with reference to standard fixed body landmarks" (HSCA 7:175). Humes stated in his autopsy report that the back wound was in "the upper right posterior thorax," that is, in the back, not in the neck (cervix) nor the base thereof. But as for landmarks, he stated that the wound was 14 cm. (5.5 inches) below the mastoid process (the bony point immediately behind the ear), a distance that will vary depending on the position of the head at the time of measurement. Thus some fudging was possible, and Humes placed the wound "just above the upper border of the scapula." But in the formerly "top secret" transcript of the Warren Commission's executive session of January 27, 1964, chief counsel J. Lee Rankin, contradicting Humes, told the commissioners, "We have the picture (referring presumably to the autopsy photograph of JFK's back) of where the bullet entered in the back, that the bullet entered below the shoulder blade." (Rankin had to mean below the upper border of the shoulder blade, not below the entire blade, which extends well down the thorax.) Admiral Burkley's location of the wound at the third thoracic vertebra also corresponds to the location of the bullet holes in JFK's coat and shirt (see HSCA 7:81-83). Further, it corresponds to the placement of the wound, in the FBI's assassination reenactment for the Warren Commission in May 1964, about six inches below the top of the collar (Stewart Galanor, Cover-Up [New York: Kestrel Books, 1998], p. 22 and Document 4). In 1966 Humes, Boswell, and two others who were present at the autopsy cataloged and labeled the autopsy photographs and x-rays in the National Archives, and the report signed by Humes and the others describes the photographed back wound as being "high in shoulder" (not anywhere in "neck") (ARRB testimony of Pierre A. Finck, M.D.). In addition, Secret Service agents Roy H. Kellerman and Clinton J. Hill both viewed JFK's wounds after the autopsy. Kellerman testified that the back wound was in the "large muscle between the shoulder and the neck, just below it," and Hill testified that the back wound was "about 6 inches below the neckline." But the Warren Commission Report, apparently wanting to get that wound as close as possible to the neck (to align it with the throat "exit" wound--originally said by Dr. Perry in Dallas to be an entry wound--for a single bullet), did not use the autopsy photo of the back wound (or any other autopsy photos), but instead used drawings, made under Humes's guidance, that moved JFK's back wound up to "the base of the back of his neck" (WCR p. 3; on the drawings [WC Exhibits 385-386, 388], see Stewart Galanor, Cover-up [New York: Kestrel, 1998], p. 23 and Documents 9-11). In 1997, former Warren Commission member and U.S. president Gerald R. Ford admitted that he had recommended in writing that the report delete "the base" and simply say "the back of his neck." Ford told the press that his recommended change was intended only for clarity and "had nothing to do with a conspiracy theory" (New York Times, July 3, 1997, p. A8). Former FBI agent James W. Sibert, who was present at JFK's autopsy and wrote a report on it with fellow agent Francis X. O'Neill, was interviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) in 1997. Sibert produced a press clipping of the Ford news story and told the ARRB, "Well, I felt like, Thank goodness that is the answer! Because I couldn't account for how that wound in the back had been moved up gradually--up to the base of the neck from down below the scapula" (meaning, again, below the scapula's upper border) (Walt Brown, "James W. Sibert and the ARRB," JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 8(4)[July 2003]:3-8, p. 7). Yet as late as 2003 Arlen Specter still says on national TV that JFK was shot in "the back of his neck" (CBS News, 11/21/03), and historian Robert Dallek writes in his JFK biography An Unfinished Life that Oswald shot Kennedy "in the back of his neck" (p. 726). Researcher Walt Brown has called the latter "an obscenity when committed by a scholar" (Walt Brown, "JFK: An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek," JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 8(4)[July 2003]:9-13, p. 12). As for Specter, Sibert says, "What a liar. I feel he got his orders from above and how far above I don't know" (William Matson Law, with Allen Eaglesham, In the Eye of History: Bethesda Hospital Medical Evidence in the JFK Assassination [Southlake, Texas: JFK Lancer Productions and Publications, 2005], p. 145.) In sum, the actual location of JFK's back wound discredits the single-bullet theory and proves a conspiracy (three wounds to JFK--head, back, and throat--plus Connally's wounds, plus the wounding of James Tague [an onlooker standing by the overpass] by a fragment from a bullet that hit the curb on Main Street [WCR p. 116], whereas Oswald could have only fired three shots).

18. Douglas Weldon, "The Kennedy Limousine: Dallas 1963," in James H. Fetzer (ed.), Murder in Dealey Plaza (Chicago: Catfeet Press, 2000), pp. 129-158; Pamela McElwain-Brown, "An Examination of the Presidential Limousine in the White House Garage, Kennedy Assassination Chronicles 5(4)(Winter 1999), p. 18. Parkland Hospital nurse Shirley Randall stated that as JFK was being rushed on a carriage to the emergency room, "some man" in the presidential party "asked me if I would get someone to come and wash the blood out of the car." (She said that she was "so excited and nervous" that she forgot about it.) (WC 21:217.) Former SS agent Jerry O'Rourke, who helped protect JFK in Fort Worth on the morning of the assassination, has said he was later told by a fellow agent of being ordered to remove blood from the car (Ellen Miller, "Ex-Agent Refuses to Toe Party Line on JFK Slaying," Rocky Mountain News, November 20, 2003). See photo of SS agents Samuel Kinney and George Hickey at Parkland attaching the top to the limo with a water bucket sitting beside them.

19. Researcher Bill Miller has made a strong case that a "white swirl" that some take to be damage in the windshield glass in Altgens 6 is actually a newspaper being held in the background, and does not match the pattern and location of the damage seen in Altgens 7 (Bill Miller, JFK Lancer Research Forum, #18696, "RE: How could a JFK back wound have been this shallow? pt. 2," 7/31/03).

20. Cheryl McKinnon, "My Last Look at Mr. President," San Diego Star-News, November 20, 1983.

21. Al Carrier, The Education Forum: JFK Assassination Debate, "Robert Groden Interview," #35, December 23, 2004.

22. Marrs, p. 31.

23. Jerry Organ, "'Smoke' on the Grassy Knoll", 2000.

Other JFK articles:

Greetings from Lee Harvey Oswald

Hell in Miami

From Grimsby with Love

The Tokyo Flight

Our Man in Powder Springs

Jack Ruby's Dog

Copyright 2005-2006 by Ronald L. Ecker

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