Testimony of Forrest Sorrels
Before I analyze the WC testimony of Dallas Secret Service (SS) agent Forrest Sorrels, I’ll first summarize it. There were two sessions. The first was held on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 6, led by attorney Leon Hubert. It was about the Dallas Police Department (DPD) failure to protect Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) in custody. For this blog post, I’ll set that one aside.
The second was held on the morning of Thursday, May 7, 1964, led by attorney Samuel Stern. It begins with the Dallas SS role in preparing for the JFK visit, and ends with the death of LHO. It’s in ten parts:
Advance Preparation for the JFK visit (Nov. 4-14)
Protective Research for JFK (Nov. 14)
Planning the Motorcade Route (Nov. 15)
A Handbill, Wanted for Treason: JFK (Nov. 21)
The JFK Motorcade (Nov. 22)
Interviewing Witnesses at Dealey Plaza (Nov. 22)
Interviewing LHO on Friday (Nov. 22)
Interviewing LHO on Saturday (Nov. 23)
Interviewing LHO on Sunday (Nov. 24)
The Murder of LHO in Police Custody (Nov. 24)
Without any exception, Forrest Sorrels was involved in more aspects of the JFK trip to Dallas, for a longer period, than any other Dallas official. Except for Captain Fritz, our Dallas SS agent Forrest Sorrels spent more time with LHO than any other Dallas official.
Let’s begin with Part 1: ADVANCE PREPARATION -- NOVEMBER 4 - 14.
Sorrels said the SS always followed the same procedure. When Washington DC would finalize its program for a given city, they’d send an SS agent to that city to meet with the local SS agent for that city, and the staff of the local Chief of Police to plan out the police details for the visit.
Sorrels first heard from White House SS agent in charge, Gerald Behn, on November 4, 1963, about JFK’s plans for a late November visit to Dallas.
As a speech venue, Behn’s first choice was the Dallas Trade Mart, with 60 entrances. His second choice was the Women’s Building at the State Fairgrounds. His third choice was Market Hall, across the street from the Trade Mart. Behn told Sorrels to survey these three and report back.
Quickly, Sorrels and an assistant surveyed all three buildings. Sorrels thought the Trade Mart had would require too many officers to guard. Sorrels liked the Market Hall best, but it was already booked for late November. The Women’s Building was safer, but it was too small and too cheap looking. Sorrels explained this to Behn, who selected the Trade Mart.
On November 13th, White House SS agent Winston Lawson arrived in Dallas to join Sorrels and the head of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, to survey all three places again. They all agreed that the Trade Mart was the most Presidential.
Let’s continue with Part 2: THE PRS QUESTIONS -- NOVEMBER 14
On November 14th, Sorrells alleged no known dangerous people in Dallas. SS agent Lawson double-checked with the Washington PRS and confirmed Sorrells’ allegation.
However, SS agent Lawson remembered the October 24th protest of Adlai Stevenson in Dallas, only three weeks earlier, when Adlai was physically attacked. So, Sorrels sent some of his staff to speak with the Sheriff of Denton, Texas, because some of the college students who had protested Adlai went to college in Denton.
Sorrels told the WC that the Adlai protest had occurred “60 days” before Lawson’s visit. He added that it had been “quite some time” ago. (Actually, it was only 21 days before.)
The Sheriff of Denton said that he had an informant inside that college group. Yet because concerns were so high, Sorrels asked DPD Lt. Revill to obtain photos of the student protesters.
The editor of the Dallas Times Herald said he had film. So, the SS and DPD worked with the Denton informant to identify many student protesters. Sorrels sent photos to the SS supervisor of the Trade Mart and to assigned DPD police.
When the WC attorney asked if Sorrels thought these students were dangerous, he replied, no, because they had not directly named JFK or LBJ in their protests.
Despite offers from the FBI and other Federal agencies to help the Dallas SS in the task of Presidential protection, Sorrels chose to rely entirely on the DPD for manpower in this task.
Let’s continue with Part 3: PLANNING THE MOTORCADE ROUTE -- NOVEMBER 15.
After White House SS agent Lawson decided on a motorcade, they spoke about the route.
Sorrels suggested taking a motorcade all the way from Fort Worth to Dallas – because that would be faster than driving all the way to the Air Force to get the AF1 jet.
Lawson rejected that idea. He wanted the best route from Love Field to the Trade Mart, maximizing JFK visibility to the public, and taking no longer than 45 minutes.
Sorrels proposed: from Love Field to Mockingbird Lane, left onto Lemmon, right onto Turtle Creek, left onto Cedar Springs, left onto Harwood, right onto Main Street, right onto Houston Street, left onto Elm, straight to Stemmons Expressway onramp, and then to the Trade Mart.
Sorrels drove Lawson on that route, and Lawson liked it. Then they repeated the route with select members of the DPD.
The WC attorney asked Sorrels, “Why didn’t you stay on Main Street rather than turn at Houston and Elm?” Sorrels replied: “You cannot get to Stemmons Expressway from Main Street without going over a concrete island barrier, or going farther and making a sharp U-turn, too hard for a limo.
As for all the many buildings along the motorcade route – especially on Main Street, there was nothing anybody could do except watch and then respond after-the-fact.
Sorrels himself remarked that if someone wanted to get JFK, he could do it from a tall building using “a high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight.” Everyone in the SS agreed that it was true.
The DPD confirmed Sorrels choice of route. They did not suggest another route.
Let’s continue with Part 4: A HANDBILL: WANTED FOR TREASON: JFK – NOVEMBER 21
Sorrels recalled that on the morning of November 21st, FBI agent James Hosty brought him some handbills with mug shots of JFK, labeled: “Wanted for Treason.”
Sorrels told Hosty that the DPD had already brought some of these handbills earlier in the morning. Sorrels’ staff called Lt. Revill of the DPD for details, but they had no witnesses. The Dallas SS asked their own informants, but nobody knew anything about these handbills. “We had no leads,” claimed Sorrels.
Let’s continue with Part 5: THE MOTORCADE AT DEALEY PLAZA – NOVEMBER 22
Late on the morning of Friday, November 22nd, JFK and his entourage arrived at Love Field airport. Soon they began the JFK motorcade. Chief Curry drove the lead car in front of JFK’s car, with Sheriff Bill Decker at his right. In the back seat were White House SS agent Lawson, on the left and Dallas SS agent Forrest Sorrels on the right.
The function of the lead car was to be with the White House SS agent, and Chief Curry to observe the people, the buildings and their windows as the motorcade moved along. They would be looking for anybody holding a rifle or gun or any throwing or tossing anything.
While driving the JFK motorcade, Sorrels remarked about how many people were hanging out of the windows.
Turning right from Main to Houston, Sorrels noticed the open windows on the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) building, with two or three colored men looking out from windows right of center, two floors from the top. Sorrels looked for any movement or activity in all the open windows – and he saw none.
Sorrels claimed that at this time the lead car was about 30 feet in front of JFK’s car.
Sorrels saw nothing unusual in the crowd along Houston and Elm.
As the lead car turned left on Elm Street, our SS agent Sorrels took a brief look at the TSBD while passing by and saw nothing suspicious.
The crowd had begun to thin out on Elm Street. Sorrels looked back to the right see how close JFK’s car was after making the turn, because the lead car had begun to pick up speed after the turn. Now the lead car was several car lengths ahead.
Lawson said, “I wish he would come on, because we’re late now.” Sorrels said, “Oh, we’re not going to be very late.” Sorrels looked at his watch, and it was about 12:30. Sorrels and Curry agreed that they would arrive at the Trade Mart in five minutes – only five minutes late.
They used police radio to tell the police at the Trade Mart that we were 5 minutes away. Suddenly, everybody heard the first shot.
Sorrels turned around to look up on the terrace, thinking the sound came from that direction. The TSBD was much farther back and he did not look at it. Within about 3 seconds, there were two more shots.
Sorrels said, “Let’s get out of here” and looked all the way back to JFK’s car, and saw some confusion, and JFK’s car lurched forward. A motorcycle officer ran up on the right-hand side and Chief Curry yelled, “Anybody hurt?” The officer said, “Yes.” Curry said, “Lead us to the hospital!”
Chief Curry took his DPD microphone and ordered the Dispatcher to alert Parkland Hospital, and said, “Surround the building!” without further explanation.
By that time the lead car was about under the underpass, and JFK’s car rushed up about to pass – and Sorrels ordered Chief Curry to remain in the lead all the way to Parkland, so Curry floored it, and remained in the lead.
Sorrels estimated that the time from the first shot to the third shot was six seconds. All the shots “definitely” came from the same direction, he said; from his rear and right. At first he thought it was the terrace, though the TSBD was a bit further away in the same direction.
Sorrels was “positive” no shots came from the overpass.
Sorrels saw no reason to doubt that all the shots came from the TSBD.
Let’s continue with Part 6: INTERVIEWING WITNESSES AT DEALEY PLAZA – NOVEMBER 22
The lead car, driven by Chief Curry, with Sheriff Decker next to him, and SS agents Lawson and Sorrels in the back seat, sped to Parkland Hospital.
When they arrived, Sorrels saw the stretchers rush out; and the Secret Service rushed LBJ inside, and then Connally, and finally JFK, very quickly.
Sorrels immediately rushed to a police car and asked them to speed him to the TSBD!
Sorrels explained to the WC attorneys that he intended the general vicinity of the TSBD to interview Dealey Plaza witnesses. (He had not heard any police broadcasts about the TSBD.)
Since the time of the shots, Sorrels estimated that only 20 minutes had passed before he arrived back at Dealey Plaza. Or, 25 minutes at the very most.
When Sorrels arrived at the TSBD, he saw police officers outside the building. He came around the rear entrance and saw a colored man, presumably an employee, on the rear loading platform. Sorrels called out, “Did you see anyone leave the back way?” “No, sir.”
Sorrels saw no policeman stationed at the loading platform when he came up. He was able to enter the building without identifying himself.
Sorrels saw many people inside, and immediately asked for the manager. They pointed to Roy Truly who was standing right there. Sorrels identified himself and demanded a stenographer to write the names and addresses of every employee in the building. He knew they must all be interviewed just to find anybody who saw something – potential witnesses – not potential suspects.
Sorrels then walked out the front door and asked the people there, “Did anyone here see anything?” And someone pointed to Howard Brennan.
Sorrels identified himself to Brennan, and asked him if he saw anything. Brennan told Sorrels that he heard a crack and shortly afterwards another crack, and he looked up at the TSBD, and saw a man at the window on the extreme east side, 2nd floor from the top.
Brennan said, “I could see the man taking deliberate aim and I saw him fire the third shot and then he just pulled the rifle back in and moved back from the window, very calmly.”
Sorrels asked Brennan if he could ID the person. He said he remembered the person was slender, and wore a light jacket, and maybe he could ID him.
Sorrels asked for other witnesses. Brennan pointed to a high school student named Amos Euins.
Euins said that he heard a crack, and looked up and saw a man at the window with the rifle, but he couldn’t ID the person, or even be certain if he was black or white.
So, Sorrels took Brennan and Euins to the Sheriff’s office to deposit affidavits.
Then Sorrels went out to find other witnesses, and Chief Deputy Sheriff Allan Sweatt introduced him to a young married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Roland. They had been standing on Houston Street, by the courthouse, 20 minutes before JFK arrived.
Mr. Roland said that he looked up at a high floor on the TSBD, and some windows open at the west side, and a man standing there holding a rifle with a telescopic sight. He told his wife, “I guess that’s a Secret Service man.” Without her glasses, she could see nothing so far away.
Sorrels demanded: “What made you think it had a telescopic sight?” Roland replied, “It seemed like it was wider against light background.” Sorrels demanded, “How was he holding it?” Roland said, “Port arms – he was standing several feet back away from the window.” These were reasonable answers.
Sorrels asked Roland: “Could you identify that man?” He said, “No, I could not.”
Sorrels then demanded, “You were standing right there by the Sheriff’s office! Why didn’t you simply walk in and say, “I saw a man with a rifle over there!” Roland replied, “I just thought he was a Secret Service man.” That was also a reasonable answer.
Sorrels saw no reason to doubt Brennan, Euins or Roland.
About that time, Dallas police reported that they had found a rifle and rifle shells in the TSBD on the 6th floor. So, this tied everything together.
Suddenly, McCormack from the DMN said, “Forrest, I have man here who got film of this whole thing.” Sorrels said, “Let’s go see him.” So they went to Elm and Houston, north of the court house, to the office of Abraham Zapruder, a dress manufacturer.
Zapruder was excited. He had film of JFK’s brains coming out of his head!” Sorrels asked Zapruder for a copy.
They went seeking a film developer, and at length made an appointment with Eastman Kodak, so Sorrels, McCormack and Zapruder summoned a police car, and went there with sirens blaring.
Let’s continue with Part 7: INTERVIEWING LHO ON FRIDAY – NOVEMBER 22
At Eastman Kodak, about 2 PM, Sorrels called his office for the first time since Love Field. They said the FBI had reported that Captain Fritz of the Homicide Bureau had a suspect in custody. Sorrels left Zapruder and hurried to Captain Fritz’ office – sirens blaring again.
There were many officers there; and news cameras out in the hall. Captain Fritz was in session – the blinds were drawn for his office. LHO was in there with him.
When Captain Fritz emerged, Sorrels asked to speak with LHO. Fritz agreed right away. There were several officers there, including FBI.
Sorrels asked some questions, but LHO refused to answer. He said, “What am I charged with? Why am I being held? Isn’t someone supposed to tell me my rights?”
Sorrels said, “Your rights are the same as any American citizen. You have the right to silence and to get an attorney. You may use the telephone to call anybody you want.
Sorrels asked LHO where he worked. LHO said he worked at this Book Depository.
Sorrels asked LHO for his duties at the TSBD. LHO said, filling orders.
Sorrels asked LHO his address. LHO said he lived apart from his wife; she lived in Irving.
Sorrels asked LHO if he was on the 6th floor. LHO said, yes, all floors; mostly the 1st floor.
Sorrels asked LHO if he’d been in a foreign country. LHO said Europe; mostly the USSR.
Then LHO allegedly said, “I don’t care to answer any more questions.” So, the interview was over.
6. Sorrels had wanted to ask LHO other questions. At that point, police put LHO back in jail.
7. Captain Fritz told Sorrels that he had not got anything out of LHO – yet.
8. Sorrels did not speak with LHO again that night.
9. The SS in Washington DC told Sorrels that Inspector Kelley was coming to Dallas.
10. Sorrels told Captain Fritz about Brennan and asked for a line-up of LHO for him. Fritz said OK.
11. Brennan arrived hours later, and after the line-up, he apologist and said he couldn’t identify LHO.
12. Sorrels admitted to the WC that he knew Dallas FBI agent James Hosty, but he insisted that he did not speak with Hosty that weekend.
13. Sorrels said he remembered seeing Hosty at a distance one time that weekend. That is all.
14. Sorrels remembered that SS agent Patterson said that Hosty told him that he had a file on LHO.
15. It seemed widely known that Hosty had been checking on LHO, and knew he was in the TSBD.
16. Sorrels saw no sign of force, coercion or intimidation of LHO by anyone at the DPD.
Let’s continue with Part 8: INTERVIEWING LHO ON SATURDAY – NOVEMBER 23
On Saturday morning, November 23rd, Sorrels sat in on Fritz’s next interview of LHO.
LHO asked for a lawyer named Abt. Fritz gave LHO a phone to call Abt; and Sorrels heard later that LHO had tried.
LHO said if he could not get Abt, then he wanted a lawyer from the ACLU.
Captain Fritz had learned from the Dallas Post Office that LHO had purchased the murder rifle from Kleins in Chicago, shipped to Alek Hidell. LHO denied everything.
Sorrels got the impression that LHO had merely been baiting Captain Fritz to make him angry; to slip him up in some way.
Let’s continue with Part 9: INTERVIEWING LHO ON SUNDAY – NOVEMBER 24
On Sunday morning, November 24th, LHO took a different attitude. He was more easy-going in his attitude – no longer trying to bait Captain Fritz.
The newspapers had been told that LHO would be moved at 10 AM, so they were crowding around the DPD parking garage.
Sorrels told Captain Fritz not to move LHO at an announced time, but at 3 or 4 in the morning, “when nobody is around.” Fritz replied, “The Chief goes along with the Press and TV people,”
Still, after 11 AM, Captain Fritz still kept LHO.
Chief Curry kept coming around, asking how long Captain Fritz was going to be
Captain Fritz told Chief Curry, “We’ll be through in a few minutes.”
Fritz told Sorrels, “As long as LHO might talk, I hesitate to quit.”
Postal Inspector Harry Holmes brought a New Orleans change-of-address card that LHO had filled out in his own handwriting and signature, and one of the receiver names was A. Hidell.
Sorrels pressed this issue with LHO – here was positive proof! Still LHO denied everything. That was the last SS interview question that LHO was ever asked.
LHO was told he was going to county jail, and he asked for a clean shirt.
Captain Fritz provided a selection, and LHO selected a dark colored sweater.
Then LHO was led down to the DPD parking garage.
Let’s continue with Part 10: MURDER OF LHO IN POLICE CUSTODY – NOVEMBER 24
Sorrels and Inspector Kelley and went to the office of Deputy Chief Batchelor for a visit.
After a few minutes they moved to Chief Curry’s reception area, and around 11:21 AM a DPD officer rushed in to report that LHO had just been shot in the parking garage by Jack Ruby.
Sorrels and Inspector Kelley ran down to the parking garage. LHO was still on the floor when they arrived.
Sorrels immediately called SS in Washington DC to tell them. They asked for more details ASAP. It was now about 11:25 AM.
Sorrels rushed back upstairs to Homicide, to talk to Jack Ruby as fast as possible.
Police escorted Sorrels to the jail cell of Jack Ruby, there on the 5th floor of the DPD.
There's my summary of WC testimony of Forrest Sorrels, given on the morning of Thursday, May 7, 1964. Next week I'll offer my opinion about what stinks to high heaven in this testimony.