Mary E. Woodward: The First Dissenting Witness

Peter Whitmey
A149-1909 Salton Road,
Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada V2S 5B6

The Third Decade, July 1992, pp. 24-26

      One of the many witnesses to the assassination of President Kennedy was a young junior reporter from the DALLAS MORNING NEWS named Mary Elizabeth Woodward, who was standing on the north side of Elm St. with three other female colleagues (Maggie Brown, Aurelia Lorenzo and Ann Donaldson) next to the large sign that momentarily impaired Abraham Zapruder’s view of the motorcade. Despite being close to the Lincoln convertible carrying the Kennedys and the Connallys, none of the four women were interviewed by either the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department or by the Warren Commission itself. The only official statement given by Miss Woodward was to the FBI on December 6, 1963, published as Commission Exhibit No. 2084.[1]
However, since she was a reporter from the DMN, Mary quickly ran back to their offices only a few blocks from the assassination site, as she described during a 1988 interview for “The Men Who Killed Kennedy.”[2] Upon reaching the newsroom, she was given a tranquillizer by an office nurse, because other members of the staff thought she was “somewhat hysterical”, although, in retrospect, Mary feels she was behaving “quite rationally under the circumstances.” Her report, entitled “Witness from the NEWS Describes the Assassination,” was, in fact, written almost immediately following the shooting, prior to the official announcement that the President was dead.
Because the DMN was a morning paper, Mary’s account was not circulated until the next day, November 23, appearing on page 3 of section 1 on the right-hand side below a large photo of the alleged assassin’s view of Elm St. from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. On the left-hand side of the page were photos of the “sniper’s nest” and the entire building, with an article entitled “Kennedy Killer Hid in Area Used Little” in the bottom left corner, accompanied by a floor plan showing “the assassin’s hideout.” (It should be noted that a close-up of Miss Woodward’s article during “The Men Who Killed Kennedy” is somewhat misleading, in that it was taken from a booklet entitled “The Assassination Story” by Robert Surrey of American Eagle Publishing Co. in early 1964. It is quite clear that he cut the articles out and assembled them by date but not necessarily in their original locations.)
Since Miss Woodward’s report was prepared so soon after the assassination by an actual eyewitness, it was certainly an important account of the events. As she emphasized in her 1988 interview, the story was “absolutely my own impressions; it was not from anything anyone had said or what I had read or heard…”[3] The most significant statement in her report, which was quoted by UPI later that day, was her recollection as to the direction from which one or more shots originated:

“…After acknowledging our cheers he [Kennedy] faced forward again and suddenly there was a horrible, ear-shattering noise coming from behind us and a little to our right.”[4]

      Although Miss Woodward didn’t specifically state what was “behind…and a little to our right”, which many readers probably assumed was the TSBD, clearly she was describing the grassy knoll, as it came to be known. The fact that the sound of gunfire was so painful to the ear strongly suggests the sonic wave preceding at least one of the shots travelled closely by and not from high above [had its source been the TSBD].
According to her interview in 1988, Woodward’s immediate recollection of hearing shots from somewhere other than the TSBD did not sit well with the managing editor and city officials, since it strongly suggested the possibility of more than one gunman being involved. However, there is no evidence that it was removed in that the microfiche copy of the page I received from the Dallas Public Library is a five star (*****) edition. Certainly the content of her article gave no hints of shots being fired from behind the motorcade, except for the first being described as sounding like a firecracker, which Miss Woodward believed had missed its target altogether. Both in her report and during the 1988 interview, Mary was quite emphatic that three shots had been fired, with the last shot “rapidly” following the second.
In stark contrast to Miss Woodward’s account was another reporter’s story entitled “Assassin Crouched and Took Deadly Aim,” written by Kent Biffle, today a senior editor at the DMN’s “State Desk” [as of 1992—PW]. Even though it too was written early in the investigation (but after the arrest of Oswald), the headline left no doubt as to Biffle’s point of view. No reference was made to any indications of a possible crossfire, only to how upset and confused everyone was following the shooting. Evidence supporting the headline was methodically provided, including a statement from H.L. Brennan, as well as investigators searching the TSBD. Brief reference was also made to the killing of J.D. Tippit.
Intriguingly, Biffle makes reference at the end of the report to an unidentified employee of the TSBD who approached the police and stated: “…I don’t know if you are interested in this…but one of the fellows who works here is gone. Can’t find him anywhere. He’s 23, about five-foot nine and weighs about 150 pounds. I’d have to check the payroll records to be sure, but I think he’s been here a couple of months. His name is Lee Oswald.”[5] Although this is the only time Oswald’s name was mentioned in the article, clearly the implication being made was that Oswald was the one and only assassin involved.
Almost two weeks after the assassination, FBI agents Henry Oliver and David Barry interviewed Miss Woodward, presumably at her home located at 4812 Alcott; she was identified in their report as “Employee, Women’s News” at the DMN.[6] Brief mention is made of the three other employees who were standing alongside Mary. In regard to the source of the shots, the report emphasizes that “her first reaction was that the shots had been fired from above her head and possibly behind her.” Mary indicated that initially she thought one or two shots “might have come from the overpass which was to her right.” However, she had now come to the conclusion that due to the “…loud echo, she could not say where the shots had come from, other than they had come from above her head.” She explained to the agents that she had noticed “…five or six persons standing on top of the overpass…” No reference is made in the report of the possibility of one or more shots coming from the grassy knoll or picket fence area, which is more consistent with Miss Woodward’s initial report. Undoubtedly, the FBI and her employer were both delighted at her uncertain recollections as of December 6, 1963.
Like many eyewitnesses, Miss Woodward was not questioned by the Warren Commission or its staff members, even though Mark Lane made a point of emphasizing her November 23 report during his open testimony in Washington D.C. on March 4, 1964, a meeting attended by Chief Justice Warren, Congressman Gerald Ford and Senator John Cooper, among others.[7] Presumably Arlen Specter decided, when he traveled to Dallas, that Jean Hill was an easier witness to discredit than a newspaper reporter.
Despite her assertion that gunfire appeared to be coming from her right, two Dallas reporters decided in 1980 that the whole matter was simply a mistake on Miss Woodward’s part. This conclusion is contained in an article published on August 17, 1980, defending the WARREN REPORT’s conclusions. With no evidence that they actually spoke to Miss Woodward or others, Doug Bedell and Hugh Anyesworth of the now-defunct DALLAS TIMES-HERALD provided their own explanation:

“…the origins of the so-called ‘grassy knoll theory’ of a second gunman can be traced to the simple mistake of a DALLAS MORNING NEWS reporter out for lunch with her cohorts to watch the motorcade…When Kennedy was shot, she raced back to her office to file a tearful, horrified account of what she had seen. Gunfire, she wrote, came over her right shoulder. The way she was facing, that would mean the shots would have come from the knoll – and when her friends saw the story, they rushed in to correct her. The story was corrected for later editions. In spite of affidavits to the contrary, attorney Mark Lane used the woman’s uncorrected account of the shooting to bolster his assertion that another gunman was involved.”[8]

      Although I am not familiar with Doug Bedell’s background, the name “Hugh Aynesworth” is closely associated with media attacks against Jim Garrison, following the preliminary hearing of Clay Shaw.[9] In May, 1967, Aynesworth had written a scathing denouncement of the New Orleans investigation for NEWSWEEK; in both examples, he seemed quite prepared to make unsubstantiated or blatantly inaccurate statements in order to emphasize a point. Even though the conclusions of the HSCA in 1979 had clearly added credibility to Miss Woodward’s account and that of other witnesses, Aynesworth and Bedell were obviously still not impressed, suggesting that the search for a conspiracy was now reaching the “morbid” level, with the anticipated exhumation of Oswald’s body in mind.
Fortunately, despite the intimidating efforts of certain government officials, employers, reporters and others, witnesses such as Mary Woodward have had the courage to speak up in recent years, so that the truth surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy does not remain buried forever.

Coincidentally, researcher Jan Stevens, whom I had met in Dallas in 1991, wrote an article on the same subject, which was published in JFK/DEEP POLITICS QUARTERLY, based in part on an earlier article written in TTD by my Canadian colleague Sheldon Inkol. Sheldon had attended a reporters’ conference in Dallas, at which Mary spoke. Jan’s article is available at .

[1] Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits, vol. 24, p. 520. References to this source cited hereafter in format: 24H520.

[2] “The Men Who Killed Kennedy,” originally broadcast in two parts in Britain in 1986; part III broadcast by A&E television network in the fall of 1991. [Parts I to V have been broadcast numerous times since then, usually on the History Channel, and a part VI has been released separately.]

[3] “The Men Who Killed Kennedy.”

[4] SEATTLE TIMES, November 23, 1963, p. 2.

[5] “Assassin Crouched and Took Deadly Aim,” DMN, Nov. 23, 1963; Sec. 4, p. 1.

[6] 24H520.

[7] 7H43–44 and 7H59.

[8] “Morbid Search for JFK Conspiracy,” DTH, Aug. 17, 1980; thanks to Paul Hoch for copy.

[9] “The Case For Conspiracy,” NEWSWEEK, May 15, 1967, pp. 36-38.

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