I could not find a photograph of Dallas Police Inspector Herbert Sawyer, so I'm featuring a photograph of Warren Commission (WC) witness Howard Brennan, because their WC testimonies go together like a hand and glove. So, here is my opinion of both Brennan and Sawyer in one post.
Like Bill Simpich, I’m disturbed by the fact that Inspector Herbert Sawyer could not remember anything distinctive about the man who gave him his most vital data for broadcast to all squad cars over the Dallas Police Radio less than 15 minutes after JFK was assassinated. I’m speaking about the famous line from 12:43 PM:
“The wanted person is a slender white male about 30, 5 feet 10, 165 pounds…”
What makes Sawyer’s lack of memory so disturbing is that this description of the shooter was exactly what the Dallas FBI had on file for LHO, starting from June, 1962 when John Fain first interviewed LHO upon his return to Fort Worth from Russia.
That description of the JFK shooter was all that the Dallas Police had for the next half-hour. It is an important moment of US history, and Inspector Sawyer could not remember who told him. Was it a coincidence that this 1962 FBI description of LHO was given to Sawyer? (By the way, in 1963, LHO weighed about 130 pounds).
I am not alone in my speculation that the Dallas plotters included some rogues inside the Dallas FBI, and it was these rogues who gave Sawyer this description. And if that was the case, then we must ask – was Sawyer himself a part of that plot?
So, that’s the problem of this post. Let’s get started. First, I’ll summarize the WC testimony of Dallas Police Inspector Herbert Sawyer.
1. Inspector Sawyer was on foot patrol during the JFK motorcade. His five-block beat was on Main Street, from Akard to Harwood, which is about ten city blocks from Dealey Plaza. Around 12:30 PM, police radio reported that shots were fired at Dealey Plaza.
2. Sawyer heard the broadcast clearly, insofar as he remembered Chief Curry ordering his men to the top of the underpass. He remembered that Sheriff Decker took the microphone and ordered, “That might take too long, put all of my men there until Homicide gets there!” Sawyer struggled to get back to his car through the thick crowd.
3. Around 12:34 the Police Radio dispatcher announced that a passerby identified the Texas School Book Depository building (TSBD) as the source of the shots. Sawyer rushed to the TSBD and parked his car in front of the main entrance.
4. There were many officers in Dealey Plaza running around, including many at the TSBD – hastily seeking any clues at all. Some officers told Inspector Sawyer that they thought some shots came from “the top floor.”
5. An employee and two officers rushed Sawyer to the TSBD “top” floor. (Whether he actually went to the 7th floor is a separate point.) The point is that in his WC testimony he timed this event at about 12:37 PM.
6. (Sawyer’s timing is about the same as Officer Marrion Baker’s. Baker said he saw LHO on the 2nd floor of the TSBD, two minutes after the JFK shooting, maximum, and then sped to the roof to look around for about 5 minutes, and found nothing, so then he came downstairs. There he saw Inspector Sawyer on one of the top floors. It makes the time about 12:37 PM. Both officers recalled the same timing from different perspectives.)
7. Sawyer and his men looked around that “top” floor for about one minute, he said, and found nothing amiss, so Sawyer quickly rushed downstairs with his men to ensure that the building was sealed off properly. He claimed that this whole process took no more than three minutes. The time was now 12:40 PM, he said.
8. Sawyer quickly posted two men on the front entrance with strict orders not to let anyone in or out a full screening. There had already been many officers out front, but Sawyer saw civilians coming and going at will. So, Sawyer gave official orders to secure the building.
9. Sawyer also ordered some Sergeant to cover the rear entrances. Men were already were, said the Sergeant, but Sawyer ordered him to double-check.
10. About 12:40 PM, he claims, the Sergeant told Sawyer that that rear of the TSBD was completely sealed off.
11. Immediately, Sawyer set up a Command Post in front of the TSBD, at his car out in front.
12. Next, at 12:43 Sawyer called the Police Radio dispatcher and announced this: “We need more manpower down here at the TSBD; tell those on Main Street to come here!”
13. Then Sawyer added a famous line: “The wanted person is a slender white male about 30, 5 feet 10, 165 pounds, carrying what looks to be a 30-30 or some type of Winchester.”
14. The dispatcher asked: “Any clothing description?” Sawyer responded: “Current witness can’t remember that.” At 12:44 PM, police radio announced: “Attention all squads, no further information at this time.”
15. Sawyer added in his WC testimony that there should be some record of his broadcast to arrest Charles Givens, a young black employee of the TSBD. Some Deputy had brought a photo and his record from the Sheriff’s office, he said. Givens was reported missing from the TSBD, said the Deputy, and “he might have some information about the shooter.” The record of this broadcast is missing – yet Givens actually was arrested, and he was taken to police headquarters for questioning.
16. Sawyer said all the confusion was due to the rush that everybody was under.
17. Then Sawyer went on Police Radio again about 12:45 PM and announced “From this building it is unknown if he is still there or not. Unknown if he was there in the first place.”
18. Then about 12:47 PM, the police dispatcher replied to Sawyer saying: “All the info we have indicates it did come from the 5th or 4th of that building.”
19. Since Sawyer had set himself up as the “Command Post” in front of the TSBD, officers brought all eye-witnesses to Sawyer. They had conflicting stories, and Sawyer saw that Dallas authorities needed to take this down formally.
20. A Deputy Supervisor who was there at the TSBD offered the use of Sheriff Decker’s office – just across the street – so that these eye-witnesses could make affidavits.
21. So, Sawyer had organized some police and deputies to manage the flow of witness affidavits with a sort of shuttle service. While Sawyer was in charge, dozens of affidavits were recorded at the Sheriff’s office (e.g. WC Decker Exhibit #5323).
22. Sawyer remembered one witness who claimed to see a colored man with a rifle on the 5th or 6th floor of the TSBD. Sawyer sent him to the Sheriff's office. Others claimed they saw a part of a rifle at a TSBD window. Some claimed that they heard shots from over the overpass. Most folks who heard shots pointed to the TSBD, said Sawyer.
23. The next time that Sawyer made a Radio Log was at 1:12 PM, “We have found empty rifle hulls on the 5th floor and from all indications the man had been there for some time.” Sawyer did not remember who gave him this information, either.
24. The next thing Sawyer remembered, was when the shooting of Officer Tippit came in at 1:18 PM, Sawyer released six men to go to Oak Cliff to help with that.
25. One man reportedly took pictures from the DalTex upper floor, and refused to hand over his film to anybody but the Secret Service or the FBI. Sawyer demanded to see him, until he heard that Dallas Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels was in charge of the man.
26. Sawyer spent most of the afternoon until 4 PM just sending people to the Sheriff’s for affidavits.
27. At 4 PM, Sawyer went to City Hall to see if he could do anything more. No. He went home and stayed at home for the remainder of the weekend. Nobody called him.
There is his testimony. The biggest problem most readers find with Sawyer’s WC testimony is the massive number of times he said, “I don’t remember.” He didn’t remember names, faces, ranks, departments – and his timing might have been too optimistic. But none of that is proof of anything. As he said, the rush of events was overwhelming.
The biggest problem that good researchers like Bill Simpich have found with the WC testimony of Inspector Herbert Sawyer, is he could not remember anything about the man who came to his Command Post in front of the TSBD at 12:43 PM, and gave him that description of the shooter: “The wanted person is a slender white male…5 feet 10, 165 pounds…”
According to the WC, Howard Brennan, age 44, was the source of this description. Yet Howard Brennan was an unreliable witness. At a police lineup, he denied that LHO was the man he saw in the 6th floor window with a rifle. However, in May, 1964, he swore an affidavit to the FBI that LHO surely was the man – and that he had denied it earlier because he was sure the Communists killed JFK, and he was afraid for his family’s safety.
There are other problems with his testimony. He claims that he saw the 6th floor shooter standing, from the belt up. But the windows on the 6th floor are only about 18 inches above the floor, so that view would have been impossible from the sidewalk below. Or perhaps that was an honest mistake. If we are six stories below, and we see a man kneeling at a low window, but we didn’t know he was kneeling because the window was low – we might mistake him for standing. I'll give Brennan the benefit of that doubt.
The important questions in my opinion, aren’t about how well Howard Brennan recalled the shooter details – the important questions are: (1) what did Brennan report; (2) when did Brennan first report it; (2) where did Brennan first report it; (3) to whom did Brennan first report it?
So – let’s carefully review Brennan’s WC testimony. First, the “what”:
Mr. BELIN. Could you describe the man you saw in the window on the sixth floor?
Mr. BRENNAN. To my best description, a man in his early thirties, fair complexion, slender but neat, neat slender, possibly 5-foot 10.
Mr. BELIN. About what weight?
Mr. BRENNAN. Oh, I calculated, I think, from 160 to 170 pounds.
Mr. BELIN. A white man?
Mr. BRENNAN. Yes.
Now, some might argue that Brennan was coached to say this. After all, this WC testimony was given more than five months later. By that time, it was well-known in Dallas that the Radio Log said, “slender white male, 5 feet 10, 165 pounds.”
The fact that LHO weighed only about 130 pounds that day is a separate problem. The real question is obtaining an independent confirmation that Brennan gave this description to Inspector Herbert Sawyer at 12:43 PM. What else have we got? Well, we have a deposition from Brennan given at the Sheriff’s office. In that deposition, Howard Brennan said:
In the east end of the building and the second row of windows from the top I saw a man in this window. I had seen him before the President's car arrived…He was a white man in his early 30's, slender, nice looking, slender and would weigh about 165 to 175 pounds...I proceeded to watch the President's car as it turned left at the corner where I was, and about 50 yards from the intersection of Elm and Houston…I heard what I thought was a back fire…and I looked up at the building. I then saw this man I have described in the window and he was taking aim with a high-powered rifle. I could see all of the barrel of the gun...I was looking at the man in this window at the time of the last explosion. Then this man let the gun down to his side and stepped down out of sight. He did not seem to be in any hurry. I could see this man from about his belt up…I believe that I could identify this man if I ever saw him again. (H. L. Brennan, 11/22/1963)
Here is a real problem. Even at this early date, without any time interval for coaching, Brennan reported most of that famous description that Inspector Sawyer had broadcast earlier in the day. “white man in his early 30's, slender…and would weigh about 165 to 175 pounds.” The only factor missing is the “5 foot 10”. But the other wording is too close to ignore. Based on this deposition, I am inclined to agree that Howard Brennan was the plausible source of this description that Inspector Sawyer broadcast.
OK, that covers the “what.” Now let’s talk about “when and where.”
Mr. BELIN. After you saw that, what did you do?
Mr. BRENNAN. I knew I had to get to someone quick to tell them where the man was...And there was one officer standing at the corner of the TSBD on the street. It seemed to me he was standing still.
Mr. BELIN. What did you do or what did you say to him?
Mr. BRENNAN. I asked him to get me someone in charge, a Secret Service man or an FBI. That it appeared to me that they were searching in the wrong direction for the man that did the shooting. And he was definitely in the building – one window from the top…
Mr. BELIN. And then what happened, sir?
Mr. BRENNAN. He said, “just a minute.” And he had to give some orders or something on the east side of the building on Houston Street. And then he had taken me to, I believe, Mr. Sorrels, an automobile sitting in front of the Texas Book Store.
The answer to “when” is – within minutes of the JFK shooting. Brennan looked around first, for an officer who wasn’t running around. He finally spotted one and rushed to him, and the officer told him, “just a minute.” We don’t know how long a “minute” might be to some people. We only know that this was a few minutes from the JFK assassination.
We don't know the name of this officer, but we do know that this officer soon walked Brennan over to a higher official whose name Brennan was uncertain about. Brennan was certain, however, that this higher official was somehow associated with “an automobile sitting in front of the Texas Book Store.”
Now – we heard from Inspector Sawyer that he: (1) parked his car directly in front of the TSBD main entrance by about 12:35 PM; and (2) set up a Command Post there by about 12:40 PM. What grabs my attention is the accidental connection of the testimonies of Sawyer and Brennan on the question of “when and where.” It was only a few minutes after the JFK shooting, and it involved a car sitting in front of the TSDB.
OK, now back to the WC testimony of Howard Brennan. Let’s talk about the person to “whom” Brennan gave his information.
He said he “believed” it was “Mr. Sorrels.” We do have a Dallas Secret Service agent named Forrest Sorrels, who is high on my suspect list. But we know from the timeline of the JFK assassination that Forrest Sorrels was at Parkland Hospital with Chief Jesse Curry and Sheriff Bill Decker at 12:40 PM. He was driving in their car during the motorcade. So, Brennan could not have met with “Mr. Sorrels” at 12:40 PM.
However, the name “Sorrels” sounds a bit like the name, “Sawyer.” Both names begin with “S” and both names have two syllables. Also, the “Sa” in Sawyer is often pronounced as “So”. Since the name of Forrest Sorrels arose often in the JFK case, then the confusion is easy to understand.
Also, since Sorrels was at Parkland Hospital at 12:40 PM, when Inspector Sawyer was leaning on his car in front of the TSBD, as the leader of the Command Post, then I find it likely that Brennan was the source of Sawyer’s broadcast at 12:43 PM.
That would explain the “what, when, where and whom” of the matter.
Many problems remain. Even from a distance, how would Brennan suppose that somebody who weighed 130 pounds might weigh as much as 170 pounds? I see two possibilities: (1) the man that Brennan saw in the window wasn’t LHO; or (2) Brennan was part of a plot to bring that specific description from the FBI directly to Inspector Sawyer for the Dallas Police Radio.
I see no coincidence -- Brennan brought this specific description to Sawyer, which didn’t match LHO in 1963, but did match the description of LHO in the Dallas FBI files. Thus – I am now leaning towards option (2).
If I am right, then this would also help to explain why Brennan changed his identification of the shooter from, “Not LHO” to, “definitely LHO.” Let’s review how Brennan explained his 180 degree turn to the WC:
Mr. BRENNAN. I believed at that time, and I still believe, it was a Communist activity, and I felt like there had been more than one eyewitness, and if it got to be a known fact that I was an eyewitness, my family…might not be safe.
Where did Howard Brennan get the idea that it was a Communist activity? As I always say, the Dallas plotters chanted incessantly that JFK was assassinated by the Communists. The closer that Brennan was connected with the Dallas plotters, the more he would have heard this chant. Therefore – even though I maintain that Howard Brennan was the source of Inspector Herbert Sawyer’s famous 12:43 PM description of the TSDB shooter, I continue to suspect that this description came from Dallas FBI files.