The JFK assassination, pt. 6: The TSBD’s electricity

According to the official version of the assassination of John Kennedy, Lee Oswald shot from the “sniper’s nest” in the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, wiped his fingerprints off the gun and then hid it among stacks of boxes (although he left three shell casings in the “sniper’s nest”), then left the sixth floor by the stairs in the northwest corner down to the second floor. Nobody saw him going down the stairs. He was then encountered by Officer Marion Baker and TSBD Supervisor Roy Truly in the lunch room on the second floor. Baker was the first policeman into the building after the assassination, and Truly went with him to show him around the building. Because the elevator was not working, they took the stairs. In the lunch room, Truly identified Oswald as an employee to Baker, who then went on, leaving Oswald temporarily free from suspicion and allowing him to leave the TSBD. Truly and Baker recount this here.

I emphasized that Oswald took the stairs rather than the elevator. We have no way of knowing if he tried to take the elevator or if he purposely wanted to take the stairs (assuming the official version is correct that he was the shooter on the sixth floor). But it’s worth thinking about the elevator for a moment. Four witnesses, two policemen and two employees of the TSBD, said that the elevator was not working. Another employee says that it was not moving, which is different from saying that it was not working but at least does not contradict this idea.

Geneva Hine was an employee at the TSBD, and her testimony to the Warren Commission can be found here (quote on page 395).

Miss HINE. Yes, sir: I was alone until the lights all went out and the phones became dead because the motorcade was coming near us and no one was calling so I got up and thought I could see it from the east window in our office.

Elsewhere in her testimony she says that she was covering the phone for some of the other employees so that they could go outside and see the president, so she’s believable when she says that the phone wasn’t working. She also says “the lights all went out”. All. Nowhere is it given that this is standard procedure when a presidential motorcade drives by. She later said that when she returned to the building there were telephone calls beginning to come in again.

[EDIT: I wanted to add a little extra here. A commenter to this post suggests this probably means the lights on the switchboard went out, i.e. nobody was calling, which is consistent with the quoted part of Hine’s statement. I gave this a lot of consideration, but something still seems fishy to me. As Jerry Organ notes, “[t]he Texas School Book Depository…was a privately-owned company charged with fulfilling book orders from schools all over the Southwest.” There’s no reason why phone calls would stop coming in from “all over the Southwest” on account of the motorcade. It’s fair to assume most callers wouldn’t have had any idea the president was near the building at that time.]

Luke Mooney was a deputy sheriff, one of the early responders to the building. He first ran from approximately the intersection of Main and Houston towards the grassy knoll, believing the shots to have come from there, and once he was up at the railyard he was ordered to the TSBD. His testimony to the WC can be found here (quote from page 284).

Mr. MOONEY. It was a push button affair the best I can remember. I got hold of the controls and it worked. We started up and got to the second. I was going to let them off and go on up. And when we got there, the power undoubtedly cut off, because we had no more power on the elevator. So I looked around their office there, just a short second or two, and then I went up the staircase myself.

This is slightly different. Assuming everybody remembered correctly and told the truth to the WC, the power came back on and then went back off. He doesn’t say anything about the lights, however, which he surely would have noticed.

Victoria Adams was another employee at the TSBD. She observed the assassination from the fourth floor with three other women, and then she and one of them went down the stairs. Her testimony can be found here (quote from page 389).

Mr. BELIN. Let me ask you this. As you got to the stairs on the fourth floor, did you notice whether or not the elevator was running?
Miss ADAMS. The elevator was not moving.
Mr. BELIN. How do you know it was not moving on some other floor?
Miss ADAMS. Because the cables move when the elevator is moved, and this is evidenced because of a wooden grate.
Mr. BELIN. By that you mean a wooden door with slats in it that you have to lift up to get on the elevator?
Miss ADAMS. Yes.
Mr. BELIN. Did you look to see if the elevator was moving?
Miss ADAMS. It was not; no, sir.
Mr. BELIN. It was not moving?
Miss ADAMS. No.

She remarks she did not see anybody while they were going down the stairs. She also says she did not hear anybody on the stairs either. Certainly somebody fleeing a crime scene would make some kind of noise. She makes no mention of any power outage, but notes that the elevator was not moving.

This excerpt of the Alyea film shows the elevator in motion at 0:36. This video shows a light on in the entrance to the TSBD at the 2:03 mark. This same light is not on a few minutes prior in the Altgens photo, taken during the assassination. This is consistent with Geneva Hine’s testimony.

What does this all add up to? It’s mighty strange that the power wasn’t working when somebody on the sixth floor was busy assassinating the president. This could be a lucky coincidence for the shooter (or team, or however it played out), making it even less likely that somebody would come upstairs in time to witness the act. It becomes more eerie when one learns that the building was owned by D.H. Byrd, an associate of Lyndon Johnson’s, although this by itself is not necessarily significant.

If it’s unlikely that Oswald would have had time to shoot, clean, and hide the gun, and run downstairs quickly enough to be calmly drinking (or purchasing) a Coke when Officer Baker found him in the second floor, it’s even less likely that he would have had time to do all that and get away unnoticed by the police when he also had to throw the power off and on. Perhaps the TSBD just had a bad electrical system, although the implication of Hine’s testimony is that this was not a common occurrence.

Since it’s clear that there was at least some minimal kind of conspiracy, as I noted in a previous post, I could see this fitting in. Maybe not. I wouldn’t make too big a fuss about it, but it’s strange and worth taking note of. The shooter, whether Oswald or someone else, had a little extra insurance during the act and then afterwards. The odds of that happening without somebody making it happen are pretty slim.


5 thoughts on “The JFK assassination, pt. 6: The TSBD’s electricity

  1. Pingback: The JFK assassination, pt. 8: Bonnie Ray Williams and the elevators in the TSBD | Randall F. McElroy iii

  2. Perry

    Randall, I was reading through some of your JFK posts, and thought I’d make a quick comment about Geneva Hines. I think a careful reading of her testimony suggests that she was not referring to the building’s electricity, but the lights on the phone system. She’s saying that no calls were coming in due to the president’s motorcade moving through downtown. So the phone lights stopped blinking and the phones “went dead,” or put another way, simply stopped ringing. No one was calling. Further down in her testimony, after the assassination and she had returned to her office, she says the phone lines began “winking” back on because people were starting to call again.

    To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything suspicious here, or in any of the other goings-in the TSBD that day, other than what Oswald was doing. That said, you’ve put quite a bit of thought and effort into your various posts, and they make for interesting reading. Even for a ‘lone nutter’ like myself. 🙂

    1. Perry,

      You have a good point, and I appreciate your catching my unconscious assumption. In my mind I was pairing that with the elevators that were not working and reading that as a general power outage. I may be wrong, but I believe the point still stands.

  3. Dennis

    The theory that this convent power outage at the TSBD at the exact moment in time of the Kennedy murder is that the shooter or shooters were able to exit the building unnoticed by the elevator shaft by simply sliding down the cables with gloved hands to the ground floor area and then exit the building unseen. This way there would be no contact with anyone in the elevator or stairwell. This would be a well thought out plan. Although, in the excitement of the moment, the team at the west end of the building on the 6th floor dropped the wrong rifle which was identified later by firearms expert S. Weitzman as a 7.65 Mauser at the scene on 11-22-63.

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