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The Mary Woodward Turnaround

by Jan Stevens

Dealey Plaza eyewitness Mary Woodward was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News in 1963, for the "Womens' News" pages of that paper. Along with co-workers Ann Donaldson, Aurelia Alonzo and Margaret Brown, (Josiah Thompson, SIX SECONDS IN DALLAS, p. 19) she took position on the north side of Elm Street, near Bill and Gayle Newman and Emmet Hudson by the grassy knoll, to view President Kennedy's motorcade. Although she was not called to testify before the Warren Commission, she did give a deposition tothe FBI, as recorded by Special Agents David Barry and Henry Oliver, on December 6th:

"There was a horrible ear-shattering noise, coming from behind us and a little to the right."

(Dallas Morning News, Nov. 23, 1963, p. 1, also Mark Lane, RUSH TO JUDGMENT, p. 41)

Right after the assassination, Woodward wrote her account of the slaying for her paper, which appeared in the November 23rd edition. Woodward said "There was a horrible ear-shattering noise, coming from behind us and a little to the right."

The FBI report goes on, attempting to clarify, stating that this was "above her head and possibly behind her." Woodward's perceptions speak for themselves and thus place a shot from the knoll area; therefore it's hard to fathom why Bureau agents would write this up as "possibly" behind her.

In 1988, Woodward was interviewed for the Nigel Turner documentary, "The Men Who Killed Kennedy" and confirmed her story once again, telling how, after witnessing the assassination, she went back to her newspaper's offices highly agitated and obviously, quite upset.

Let's look at her account as she told it to Turner's people: "They first of all took me to the office nurse, and had me have a tranquilizer, because I, they thought, was somewhat hysterical. I think I was behaving quite rationally under the circumstances. But anyhow, I then sat down and wrote the story, and actually had completed the story before the news was absolutely confirmed that he was even dead. So the story was absolutely my own impressions; it was not from anything anyone had said, or what I had read or heard. Some things, I have often said, I would hate to swear before a court of law, or before God. But one thing I am totally positive of in my own mind is how many shots there were. And there were three shots. The second two shots were immediate -- it was almost as if one were an echo of the other -- they came so quickly. The sound of one did not cease until the second shot. With the second and third shots, I did see the president being hit. I literally saw his head explode. So, uh, I felt that the shots had come -- as I wrote in my article -- from behind me and to my right, which would have been in the direction of the grassy knoll, and the railroad overpass." Turner then explains that Woodward's account was pulled from the paper, since it didn't square with the developing official version. She goes on, "Civic leaders, responsible people, whether it be the mayor, [or] the managing editor of the paper, almost felt it a responsibility, to kind of not 'rock the boat', perhaps. The neat answer was the version that came to be the most widely accepted -- that there were three shots and they had all come from the School Book Depository -- and they were all fired by Lee Harvey Oswald."

From Woodward's own remarks in 1988, we can see that she still believed shots came from the knoll or overpass area, and that those "responsible" felt that the lone nut story had to be put forward no matter what. So far, so good.

So, what happened five years later, which made Mary Woodward (now Pilsworth) change her story, recant the conclusions made to a nationwide cable TV audience, and turn around to support the official lone assassin version?

On November 21, 1993, a conference called "Reporters Remember: November 22, 1963" was held at Southern Methodist University. Many of the surviving reporters and newsmen who were on the spot during the tragedy in Dallas were on hand to give their recollections, do some glad-handing and express mutual admiration for their fellow media cohorts.

Rather than running the risk of putting her remarks out-of-context, let's look at Mary Woodward's pertinent statements on the assassination directly, as transcribed from a videotape of the conference (presented on C-SPAN) . As you look at these, keep in mind her previous recollections made to the FBI in 1964 and to Nigel Turner in 1988:

"(We) stationed ourselves just down from the School Book Depository building and waited for the parade to come by. And we were chatting, and as we were talking, I looked up at the grassy knoll, and I said to my friends, I said 'that's a very dangerous-looking spot to me, it must be very, there must be a lot of security up there, [sic] 'cause it looks a perfect spot , if somebody wanted to do something." [ This is a strange statement, and one that she had not alluded to making at any other time before. But it appears to have a purpose to serve, as we will see later] "And then the motorcade came along and I couldn't believe it: finally, I'm gonna see Jaqueline Kennedy, and she's looking in the other direction. So I yelled 'please look this way', and they looked right at us, waved, and at that moment, I heard a very loud noise. And I wasn't sure what it was at that point, and I turned to my friends and asked 'what was that; is some jerk shooting off firecrackers?' And, uh, then I heard the second one, and this time I knew what had happened, because I saw the president's motion, and then the third shot came very, very quickly, on top of the second one. And [at] that time, I saw his head blow up, and I very well knew what had happened by that point. "

Woodward then briefly recalls that the first shot definitely didnot hit JFK ("I have never wavered on that") and how amazingly slow the reactions of the Secret Service were. She then recounts how she was received back at the Dallas Morning News when she said that the president had been killed. It seems that her co-workers and fellow eyewitnesses were unwilling to "support me on that, they were saying 'well, something happened, he's been shot, but nobody was willing to say 'they killed him'. But I kept insisting 'he's dead, I know he's dead, or else I hope he's dead, 'cause his head's blown open.' ''

She then repeats how she wrote the story, narrates the sequence of the shots (the same basic account she gave Turner) and says, in retrospect, that "I think I wrote it correctly" after re-reading it before the 1993 conference.

Now is where the trouble begins, however. Let's pick it up a bit later in Ms. Woodward's speech to her colleagues: "The only thing, that I guess I got myself in a little bit of controversy about: I said that the shots appeared to have come from behind me and to my right. And I did say seemed to, I didn't say theydid come from that direction. [emphasis speaker's] Because first of all, I have very great difficulty discerning the direction of sounds anyway -- I'm the kind of person on the thruway, when I hear a siren, I panic 'cause I don't know where it's coming from. And secondly, I had spoken to my friends just prior to the event, suggesting that the grassy knoll would be the perfect spot for an assassin. So, I said it was somewhat like self-fulfilling prophesy; that when it happened, I naturally expected it to have come from where I had predicted it would come from. So, in reality, I do believe they did come [from] the School Book Depository building -- so I get a little bit upset when I get put into the other column." (see Sheldon Inkol: "Reporters Remember: 11/22/63" in FOURTH DECADE, Vol. 1, No.2 January 1994, for a good first-person account.)
The face-saving ploy of saying that her previous 'from the knoll' statements were some sort of self-fulfilling prophesy makes no sense to me at all. To complicate the shifting Woodward credibility, author Walt Brown reports in his book,Treachery in Dallas , that he, along with authors George Michael Evica and Dick Russell had dinner with Mary Woodward on November 22, 1992 and that she "nodded in the affirmative" (Brown, Walt.Treachery in Dallas.1995) when asked if the knoll was a source of shots. Why would she give such a cock-and-bull story a year later at the reporters' conference? Could it be that she was somehow pressured to change her tune after all these years? Could it be the apparent pressures of speaking before her media colleagues -- a solid fortress against any conspiracy stories -- folks who couldn't face the embarrassment of being wrong about a lone gunman all these years?

As has been oberved many times before, the media has always had an agenda to protect since their erroneous reporting of the assassination story and their Oswald-alone stance. Their unwillingness to correct it after all these years should be no surprise to any of us. After hearing these tapes once again, and transcribing her remarks, it seems that Mary Woodward (Pilsworth) has joined those whose agenda has been fueled by misinformation. This was a news-woman who was there, and called it as she saw it -- gunfire from the knoll and all. She said it in print in 1963, on national TV in 1988 and again privately to JFK researchers in 1992. For her to say otherwise and take it back a year later (in a room filled with reporters who covered the assassination), is not only a travesty for journalism, but a travesty for the quest for truth.

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