Six decades after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a frequent lecturer on the subject agrees with the original official version of what transpired:

“Even all these years later, I generally have come out and said, ‘The Warren Commission, I think, got most of it right.’ ”

Bethel Park resident Dick Jewell, an attorney who served 11 years as president of Grove City College, concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone on Nov. 22, 1963, and that despite Oswald’s murder two days later by Jack Ruby, no conspiracy existed.

Jewell, 78, was the speaker for the second in a series of lectures hosted by the Bethel Park Historical Society, following a talk in March by retired mining professional Warren Merritt on the history of local coal mines.

For the society’s Nov. 18 program, Jewell covered a variety of aspects related to the fourth and most recent killing of a U.S. president, from his personal recollections and viewpoints to the latest entry among 2,000 or so books written about the era-defining tragedy.

‘No smoking guns’

In 2018, the National Archives released 19,045 assassination-related documents, and according to Jewell, about 98% of such documents are available to the public.

“No smoking guns in all that information,” he reported, despite a widespread perception that “people were hiding things.”

Critics of the Warren Commission began trying to poke holes in the group’s 888-page report soon after it was released, but Jewell’s contention is that it reflects the advantage of contemporary questions and answers.

“They had the benefit of a lot of interviews,” he said, adding up to 525 people and 25,000 pages’ worth of transcription. “So they got a tremendous amount of information right up front for the months that they were looking at it.”

Among the investigators was future U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, then a 34-year-old attorney from Philadelphia. His work with the commission focused on the shots that were fired in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, and whether they came from the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald worked, or somewhere else.

Jewell was Specter’s chief fundraiser for two of his election cycles, and they often discussed what became known as the single-bullet theory: One projectile accounted for significant damage to Texas Gov. John Connally, who was riding in the seat in front of the president, and to Kennedy.

The theory is necessary to account for the commission’s finding, as supported by Jewell, that three bullets came from the depository, with one missing and the final, fatal shot striking Kennedy in the head.

As for the notion that the shots emanated from the area known as the Grassy Knoll — located in front of the presidential limousine as it made its way along Elm Street, with the book depository to the rear — Jewell cited evidence to the contrary.

Using a Bell & Howell home-movie camera, Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder stood on top of a concrete abutment on the knoll to film the procession. Jewell has paid dozens of visits to the same spot and reached the conclusion:

“You couldn’t have missed somebody firing a rifle, because you’re looking right down into it.”

Marilyn Sitzman, Zapruder’s secretary, accompanied him after insisting that he retrieve his camera from home for the occasion.

“They took her deposition,” Jewell said. “If she’d seen that, she would have said something. She said nothing.”

Oswald and Ruby

Beyond both going through dreadful childhoods, Jewell sees little to connect Oswald with the man who shot him to death.

Jewell’s description of Oswald painted him as a “wife beater and a mother beater” who took a deep interest in communism “because he hated America so much and his life in America.”

The standard biography has Oswald joining the U.S. Marine Corps as soon as he was old enough, defecting to the Soviet Union after serving three years, getting married while he was there and returning to the United States with spouse Marina and baby daughter June in mid-1962.

From there, he worked sporadically at odd jobs while embarking on what amounted to political fantasies, including attempts at gaining support and notoriety for his Fair Play for Cuba Committee, of which he was the sole member, and trying to gain entry to Cuba through that country’s embassy in Mexico City.

According to Jewell, Oswald tried to murder Army veteran Edwin Walker, whose ultra-conservative activism resulted in his being the only American general to resign during the 20th century. Jewell further tied Oswald to the fatal shooting of Dallas Police Department Officer J.D. Tippit shortly after Kennedy’s assassination.

Ruby, meanwhile, “took the shooting of Mr. Kennedy very hard, and he kept talking about how hard it must be” for his widow, Jewell said. And referring to Oswald’s perceived demeanor: “He had really built up this emotional anger against this guy who smirked a lot.”

The Dallas police schedule for Nov. 24, two days after the assassination, called for Oswald to be transferred the more secure county jail at 10 a.m., but questioning by various officials caused a delay, as did the suspect’s request for a sweater to wear. Ruby entered the police station unchecked at about 11:20, long after Oswald was supposed to have departed, and drew his revolver.

At the time, Jewell was a Grove City freshman who had just finished a shift at his job and was walking by a store window.

“I’m out just past where I was working, looking at a black-and-white TV that’s up in the corner,” he recalled. “And he gets shot. And he gets killed.”

Close encounters

In his 50 years of giving presentations on the Kennedy assassination, Jewell talks about his own related experiences.

For example, as is the case with any American who was cognizant in November 1963, he remembers exactly where he was when the news came from Dallas: in the reading room at Grove City’s library. A woman at the checkout desk told him the president was dead.

Just a few years earlier, he had occasions to be as close to a couple of presidents as he was for the folks in the front row for his Bethel Park lecture.

In 1960, Dwight Eisenhower visited Pittsburgh to campaign on behalf of his vice president, Richard Nixon, who was running against Kennedy for the nation’s top office.

“They had set up a riser with a big lectern on it for Mr. Eisenhower to speak,” Jewell said. “I walked right up to the back of where he was going to walk right up to get on the stage. And there was no push-away or protection. There was not checking for who’s coming. There was no way to determine if you had a weapon or anything like that.”

Kennedy visited the region in 1962 to stump for U.S. Rep. Thomas Morgan, a Washington County Democrat in the midst of serving 32 years in the House. The president lodged Downtown in what now is the Omni William Penn Hotel, and Jewell and his late twin brother, Paul, were on the scene.

“We stand right across the street from what’s the back side of the hotel. Sure enough, Kennedy comes in, in the same car in which he was shot,” Dick recalled. “The next day, Saturday, he announced he was coming out at 10 in the morning to get in his car, and he’s going to be in an open motorcade.”

So at 10, the brothers were back in Pittsburgh, getting close enough that they could have touched Kennedy as he emerged from the hotel.

“We went out and walked with the president to the car,” Jewell said. From there, he traveled south to Washington, passing plenty of South Hills onlookers along Route 19.

Two years after that, Jewell was on vacation in New York City when he learned that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, would be at the Waldorf-Astoria and wondered if he could get yet another close encounter.

Not this time.

“They shut off Park Avenue back about three blocks. Where he was to get out of his car, about three hours before, there were about 150 New York policemen, literally arm to arm,” he said, “that would be a cordon that he’d walk through to go up into the back entrance on Park Avenue into the Waldorf.

“That was the difference. It was amazing.”

‘The Final Witness’

Jewell delivered his latest assassination talk about a month after 88-year-old Paul Landis published his memoirs.

In “The Final Witness: A Kennedy Secret Service Agent Breaks His Silence After Sixty Years,” Landis includes a relatively brief account of riding in the car behind the presidential limousine in Dallas, opposite agent Clint Hill, who was assigned specifically to Jacqueline Kennedy and her children.

From the book, Jewell quoted Landis:

“When Mrs. Kennedy finally stood up, I looked again at the seat and saw a bullet on top of the tufted white leather cushion behind where she had been sitting. …

“I picked it up and quickly examined it. It was approximately 2 inches long, in almost perfect condition. It had rifle serrations running lengthwise along the sides. Man, oh, man, I thought. What should I do? Seconds were ticking away. Things were moving fast. I had to make a quick decision.”

Not wanting a photographer of souvenir hunter to encounter the bullet, he stuck it in his coat pocket. Then at Parkland Hospital, to which the president had been rushed, Landis claims he placed the bullet on Kennedy’s gurney.

The admission ostensibly solves a decades-old mystery surrounding the projectile’s origin, but it presents a conundrum of sorts for Jewell and his long-held beliefs.

“I cannot account for a fully clad bullet being found in the back seat of the presidential limousine, next to Mrs. Kennedy. I don’t know what to say about that,” he said. “It may be the last word, but I can’t fit it in.”

Harry Funk is a Tribune-Review news editor. You can contact Harry at