Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Incident at the El Chico Resaurant
INCIDENT AT THE EL CHICO RESAURANT – OAK CLIFF, Dallas 2PM 11/22/63
By William Kelly
Eyewitness testimony is sometimes suspect. Even certified eyewitnesses have been discredited, so detectives and investigators prefer hard evidence that can be followed up on, such as phone numbers, credit card receipts, note books, flight manifests and motor vehicle records that cannot be discredited and could lead to other witnesses and evidence and will stand up in court.
The significance of automobile license plates in such an investigation can be seen in the deliberate destruction by the Dallas Police of the photo Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have taken of a 1957 Chevy parked in the drive way of Gen. Walker’s home, which eradicated the license plate so it couldn't be identified.
More significant is the license plate number of an automobile seen near the Tippit murder.
Most people focus on President Kennedy when they think about the events of that November 1963 weekend in Dallas, but actually three people were killed – President Kennedy, Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit and Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused murderer of both Kennedy and Tippit.
The key to the murder of Tippit also unlocks the mystery of Kennedy’s death. It is, as Warren Commission attorney David Belin liked to say, “the Rosetta Stone” of the Kennedy assassination.
The primary question concerns how the accused assassin of the President arrived at 10th and Patton in Oak Cliff in time to kill Tippit before 1:16 P.M., when a pedestrian called in on Tippit’s patrol car radio to report the shooting.
The official version of events has Oswald leaving the Texas School Book Depository shortly after the 12:30 P.M. assassination, walking seven blocks east, boarding a bus heading back towards the scene of the crime, disembarking the bus in traffic, taking a bus transfer with him, and then hailing a cab that took him a few blocks past his rooming house in Oak Cliff.
Oswald is reported to have left his rooming house shortly after 1 P.M. with a jacket and his .38 revolver, last seen standing on a corner, apparently waiting for a bus or a ride.
Tippit was killed nearly a mile away less than 10 minutes later.
Even Warren Commisison apologist David Belin had trouble walking the distance in the allotted time. If Oswald did kill Tippit he must have had some sort of mobile assistance in getting him to the scene of the murder, and an automobile would do very nicely.
While Oswald did not have a driver’s license, he had been given driving lessons by Mrs. Paine, whose car he did drive, and he was capable of driving.
Having read “The Wise Allegation” in the “Oswald-Tippit Associates” section among the Final Reports of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) volumes, while in Dallas in 1992 I called Wes Wise on the phone and arranged to meet him at the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD). While there, Wise and Bob Porter interviewed me about my research and work on the JFK Act on video camera for the TSBD Oral History Project.
Wise then took me on his Dallas Tour of assassination sites, while I audio taped recorded his narration, all of which is interesting, but of which I was mostly concerned with his activities in Oak Cliff.
As Wise explained it to me then, about a week and a few days after the assassination, just as things were starting to calm down and people were getting back to their normal routines, Wise was to give a previously arranged talk on sports at a lunch reception at the El Chico restaurant in Oak Cliff. As a TV sports anchor and later mayor of Dallas, Wise was a well known celebrity about town, but he had also performed routine reporters duties during the assassination weekend, and even had a personal encounter with Jack Ruby that led to his being a witness at Ruby’s trial.
With Wise behind the wheel, we drove into Oak Cliff, to the Tippit murder scene at 10th and Patton, drove past the Texas Theater, the scene of Oswald’s arrest, and then went intot he back neighborhood where he pulled into the parking lot of a closed restaurant.
“This was the El Chico restaurant,” Wise said. “It’s still a Mexican restaurant, but has a different name today. I was to give a speech on sports, but the whole town was still talking about the assassination, and they didn’t want me to talk about sports. It had been well known tht I had interviewed Mrs. Paine, Mrs. Tippit, and that I had the story where I traced all of Oswald’s steps. And it was pretty well known that I had talked with Ruby at the Depository on the day after the assassination. So the audience, instead of talking sports, wanted my insights into the assassination.”
According to Wise, when the question and answer session began after his talk, a guy uts up his hand and says, “We have a mechanic over here at my garage, who says that he saw Lee Harvey Oswald sitting in a parked car right out here in this parking lot, during that period of time right after the assassination, when radio stations were saying that he’s in Oak Cliff.”
Although Wise said he wanted to talk to the witness, the mechanic was reluctant to talk.
“This is where my being a sports announcer was very beneficial to me in the coverage of this story, because people recognize me,” said Wise. “So I went over there to this garage next door and met Mr. W. T. White, a nice little old man in coveralls, a regular mechanic type looking guy. White said that he and his wife were watching TV on the night of the assassination when they brought Lee Harvey Oswald out at the police station. White said to his wife, “That’s the man I saw in the car over in the parking lot this afternoon.”
White told Wise that the car, a 1957 Plymouth, was parked against the far wall of the parking lot behind a billboard facing Davis Street, which is only a few blocks form the Tippit murder scene.
“You definitely identified him as Oswald?” Wise asked him, and White responded, “There’s no doubt at all. I said to my wife, ‘That’s that man I saw in the parking lot of the El Chico restaurant.”
White showed Wise exactly where the car was parked and where he was standing when he walked over towards the car to watch the police cars going by at a high rate of speed. “He thought the guy looked suspicious, as if he were hiding or something,” said Wise.
Mr. White said he walked closer and got a good look at him, “but when the guy made some sort of motion in the car, he turned around and walked back towards the garage. He then took down the license plate number.”
Incredulously, Wise asked White, “You took down the license number of the car?
And White said, “Yea, I have it right here.”
As Wise recalled the moment, “He reached into his shirt pocket and took out a piece of paper with the license number on it, and I thought, ‘God, what have I fallen into?’”
Mr. White was also having doubts about what he was falling into, and said, “Look, I don’t want to get into any trouble. We don’t know what this thing is all about.”
Wise said he had to use his best salesmanship. “Mr. White, we’re talking about the President of the United States being assassinated here, and even for just patriotic reasons, I think you ought to let me know that number. And I’ll get together with our contacts in the FBI, and if anything comes of this, you won’t be involved. But I can’t promise you that if something does come of it, you won’t be questioned, because I’m sure they will.”
So White handed Wise the paper with the license number on it, and Wise copied down the number PP4537 and got in touch with the FBI, saying, “Look, we realize that if this turns out to be a big story, it’s everybody’s story, but we want first crack at it because we’re giving you the information.”
The FBI agreed, and said they would check into it. They found that a 1957 Plymouth, with Texas plate number PP4537 was owned by one Carl Amos Mather of 4305 Colgate Street, Garland, Texas.
The FBI went out and checked it out,” Wise related, “and what was really amazing to me was the car is right there in the driveway – a ’57 Plymouth. They knock on the door and Mrs. Mather comes out. They asked Mrs. Mather where her husband was at the time of the assassination. She said he was working at Collins Radio, in nearby Richardson, Texas. The car, on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, at the time of the assassination, she believed, was in the Collins Radio parking lot. But later that afternoon, by 2 PM, it was at the Tippit residence. They were very close friends of J.D. Tippit, and his wife had called and said that her husband had been shot and killed, and would they please come over.”
“Now to me, that coincidence is just mind boggling,” Wise concluded.
So now the FBI had the accused assassin of the president near the scene of the murder of a Dallas policeman who he is also accused of killing, sitting in a car belonging to a close friend of the victim, a friend who was working at Collins Radio at the time.
Rather than go out to Collins Radio when Carl Mather was at work and interview him properly, the FBI agent instead goes back to Mr. White and interviewed him, despite the promises and assurances that he wouldn’t be involved.
THE RED FORD FALCON
The FBI agent who interviewed Mr. White confirmed everything that Wise had conveyed, but now, the 1957 Plymouth license tag #PP4537 is possibly “red,” which led Wes Wise to say, “The mechanic Mr. White may have gotten the color wrong, but the year, model and number are right, and Mr. White was an old man and may have been color blind or something. He got the year, model and license number plate right, and that’s a big part of the story.”
There is no mention of "red" in the story until the FBI get involved, and while it is possible White got the color wrong, it is implausible for a 60 year old lifelong mechanic to mistake a 57' Plymouth and a Ford Falcon, which makes the FBI report suspect and not Mr. White's veracity.
And White wrote down the license plate number so there is a piece of paper that becomes evidence when introduced in a court of law, and that number leads to the individual who registered it and a whole slew of other records and possible witnesses.
But despite Wes Wise’s assurances that he wouldn’t be involved, the FBI did not bother to check out and interview the owner of the car, but instead interviewed and intimidated the primary witness, Mr. White, and for the first time the color of the car is misidentified as “red.”
In addition, there is mention of a Ford Falcon, which, is inserted into the record by Mr. Mack Pate, the owner of the garage. Pate was the man at the El Chico restaurant who first tipped off Wes Wise about Mr. White, the mechanic who saw Oswald in the car in the parking lot. Mr. Pate was also interviewed further by Wes Wise and others, and noted that they saw a lot of police cars speeding by with their lights and sirens going.
Pate said that he recalled hearing a radio report about a suspicious car, a red Ford Falcon seen in Houston the day before that was related to an assassination attempt on the President. And there was a Red Ford Falcon being driven around Oak Cliff at the time by one Igor Vaganov, who had arrived in Oak Cliff from Philadelphia and worked in an office adjacent to Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. His wife had called home and said she was worried her husband, who had a rifle, was going to do something crazy on the day of the assassination, and he was driving his red Ford Falcon around Oak Cliff at the time of the assassination.
In any case, the FBI inserted the “red” Ford Falcon into the documentary record, and now everyone who comes later asks about the red Ford Falcon instead of the 1957 Plymouth with Texas tags PP4537.
“When the FBI came back to us,” Wes Wise recalled, “they played all of this down. They played it DOWN, DOWN. We asked them if they looked into it closely, but let’s put it this say – we would have thought they would have looked into it more closely, much more closely than they did.”
“The Warren Commission didn’t even interview me on this,” notes Wise, “although the House Select Committee on Assassinations did interview me, and quite extensively, as they were extremely interested in it.”
While Carl Mather was not even questioned by the Dallas Police, the FBI or the Warren Commission, he was casually interviewed by a HSCA investigator, a CBS News reporter, the late researcher Larry Harris and Wes Wise, and was given immunity to testify under oath before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, they failed to subpoena or obtain his testimony.
When Mather and his wife sat down to dinner with Wise and two CBS News editors, Mather was too nervous to eat. They asked him questions and tried to figure out what they considered to be an amazing coincidence – the accused assassin of the President and killer of a Dallas policeman is seen in a car that belongs to a good friend of the policeman near the scene of the murder.
“We tried to draw Mather out,” Wise said, “but couldn’t do it.”
All Mather would say was, “Put yourself in my shoes. I just can’t explain it.”
CBS News never used the material they developed on Mather and his association with Tippit, if they developed anything at all, but Mrs. Mather’s name is listed among the credits of one of the CBS News documentaries on the assassination.
As Wes Wise, who worked for the Dallas CBS outlet puts it, “There isn’t a reporter in the world, including this one, who wouldn’t love to uncover something, anything that would decisively reverse or positively confirm the current weight of the evidence in this case. But despite years of trying, we at CBS News have not done that, and neither has anyone else.”
Mr. Rather meet Mr. Mather.
According to the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), CBS News has offered to donate all of their documentary material, including out-takes not used in broadcasts, to the JFK Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but had not done so when the report was issued.
The HSCA investigator in Dallas, Jack Moriarty, was an experienced big city homicide detective, and faithful to his security oath when I tracked him down and talked with him over the telephone in the 1980s. He did say however, that he was just following the leads where ever they went, then submitted his reports to Washington. The HSCA investigation he said, was tightly compartmentalized, so he didn’t know what other investigators were doing in New Orleans or Miami. Only the committee’s chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey, “knew the whole picture.”
The late researcher Larry Harris probably knew more than anyone else about J.D. Tippit and the details of the Tippit murder. He even got a job as a mail man in the Oak Cliff neighborhood just to get to know the neighbors and the layout of the land. After giving a talk on the Tippit murder at the first ASK conference in Dallas, and not mentioning the Wise/White/Mather story, I asked Harris about it.
Harris said that when he talked to Carl Mather, all Mather would say was, “Look I’ve talked to the FBI, to the police and to the House Select Committee investigators, and I’ve told them everything. I just can’t explain it.”
There are however, no existing documentary records or reports regarding interviews with Mather among the FBI or Dallas police files, so while he may have been questioned by the FBI and the Dallas PD, there are no records of it, and this lead remains uninvestigated.
If there is is ever a proper, independent grand jury investigation of the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit or the assassination of President Kennedy, Texas Plate #4537 should be thge first item introduced as evidence, and the outstanding questions it presents should be answered and the truth determined even if Justice can never be served.
Mural from the wall of El Chico Restaurant, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas