The Man Who Saw Too Much

Hugh Aynesworth can’t escape what he witnessed in 1963.

“Oswald caught a city bus here,” Hugh Aynesworth is telling his visitor as the two of them cross Griffin Street on their way down Elm. “He only rode it a few blocks and then got tied up in the traffic jam around Dealey Plaza.”

“I wonder why he took a bus back toward the School Book Depository?” the visitor asks. “It seems he would want to go the other way.”

“Yeah, it does,” Aynesworth says, as the two proceed down Elm, jostled by the pre-Christmas crowds on their way to Sangers and Neimans and Brooks Brothers. It is a bitterly cold day, but Aynesworth seems oblivious to it. “But, ” he adds, with a soft smile, “That‘s what he did. He got off the bus here”—the two cross the corner of Elm and Lamar—“and ran over to the Greyhound Bus Station, where he caught a cab.”

Aynesworth should know. He broke the story of Oswald’s escape route, just as he has continued to break new ground in the assassination for twelve years. But the visitor can’t quite dispel the irrationality of it all: a man shoots the President of the United States, escapes by some miracle from a building surrounded by police, makes his way up Elm Street, and then catches a bus headed back toward the scene of his crime? A little implausible. The visitor is gripped by a vague, growing doubt, the first stages of the incurable disease called conspiracy fever, a disease which infects the 80 per cent of the American people who do not believe Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy on his own. The best cure for conspiracy fever is Hugh Aynesworth.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Aynesworth says, as they pause at a red light. Aynesworth’s voice is soft, so soft the visitor can barely hear it above the wind. Since Aynesworth is standing to his right, the visitor has full view of the six-inch scar that runs from below Aynesworth’s ear across his neck to his jaw. It is a large and very sinister scar, and it seems distinctly out of place on Aynesworth’s boyish face. “You’re thinking that a man who had just killed a president wouldn’t do that, aren’t you?”

“Well, uh, yes, I was,” says the visitor.

“I didn’t believe it either. But that’s what he did. He came rushing up Elm here, and the bus was the first place he could melt into a crowd. No one would look for the man who had killed the President on a bus. Assassins don’t jump on buses. Oswald, however, didn’t know how to drive. He had only three choices. One, someone could drive him away. That didn’t check out.” The two pass John Neely Bryan’s cabin, the first structure in Dallas, directly opposite Philip Johnson’s starkly simple memorial to Kennedy. “The other choices were a bus or a cab. He took the first of those two alternatives that came along. That happened to be a bus, which took him right back to Dealey Plaza. So he jumped off and caught a cab. It may sound strange, but it’s what happened.”

The two pass the John F. Kennedy museum, where the visitor had earlier watched a film about the assassination and bought a John F. Kennedy memorial plate. Then they are in Dealey Plaza. It doesn’t look the way one imagines it. Like the Alamo, Gettysburg, Ford’s Theater, and Appomattox, Dealey Plaza seems smaller, more ordinary, than it should. There is no inherent sense that history happened here. The buildings are small and close together; the streets narrow and choked with real cars, most headed for the Stemmons Freeway, the same direction the motorcade took twelve years before. The monuments seems too small, too ordinary, to carry such significance. The Depository is short and squatty; the infamous grassy knoll only a tiny rise; the triple underpass just that; and the picket fence rickety and flimsy. Someone standing where Kennedy was shot could throw a grapefruit and hit any of them.

The visitor is shivering. It is so cold that there are no other tourists on the plaza. Aynesworth is talking again, in his calm, even voice, not quite looking the visitor in the eye (he seldom does), reciting his personal catechism, so familiar as to be as normal as good morning, as much a part of his life as his family tree. He points out all the landmarks, discusses each in the context of the Warren Commission Report and subsequent conspiracy theories. There was where Abraham Zapruder was standing, watching through his Bell & Howell movie camera; there was where James Jarman and Harold Norman were watching the parade from the window below Oswald; there’s where Lee Bowers was watching from his tower in the switch yard; there’s where S.M. Holland was standing atop the overpass; there’s where James Tague was nicked by a fragment, and there—There!—was where the President’s limousine was when Oswald fired the first shot. And there, just across the street from the Depository, in front of the County Records Building, was where a young aviation and space reporter named Hugh Aynesworth was waiting to catch a glimpse of the President of the United States. In the next three days that young reporter would personally witness not only the assassination, but also the capture of Oswald and the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby. No other man saw so much. No other man carries such a personal burden. Hugh Aynesworth is living history, the personal imprint of what the rest of us carry in our imagination, of what the world has seen only through words and pictures. Hugh Aynesworth was there. He saw it all. Over the years, he has tried to forget it, to escape it. He can’t.

A pained expression came over Hugh Aynesworth’s face as he spoke into his office telephone, “Oh no, he’s not going to go on the air with that, is he?”

He flicked an ash into an ashtray thoughtfully provided by

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