Bonnie Ray Williams
Who was Bonnie Ray Williams?
Bonnie Ray Williams was born on September 3, 1943, in Carthage, TX. Since September 8, 1963, he worked at the Texas School Book Depository. He started out as a wrapper, and then became a checker. Up to November 22, he had been working at the TSBD for over two months, and he was 20 years old. He worked at the TSBD because it allowed him work in the daytime; his previous job had him working nights, and as his wife was pregnant, he wanted to be able to spend time with her.
Williams was one of three employees of the TSBD that was definitively on the fifth floor at the time of President Kennedy's assassination. He is considered a Key Person because he was just below the assassin's perch on the sixth floor of the TSBD.
Who did he know?
As an employee of the TSBD, Bonnie Ray Williams was acquainted with many of the other Key Persons also employed there. Though he is connected to other figures, such as FBI agents who interviewed him, his social circle is primarily made up of other TSBD employees.
In particular, he was friendly with Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr., both of whom were also black. The three watched the President's motorcade procession in Dealey Plaza from the fifth floor of the TSBD on their lunch break together.
Williams was an employee of William Shelley, and a co-worker and acquaintance of Jack Dougherty. Williams was also the co-worker of Lee Harvey Oswald and, although they never spoke to each other or interacted socially, was able to recognize and identify him. According to Williams, as of November 1963, Oswald had been working at the TSBD for six weeks. Williams also noted that Oswald never spoke to anyone, and that he regularly read about politics in the newspapers.
What was he doing on November 22, 1963?
On the morning of November 22, Bonnie Ray Williams went in to work at 8:00AM. He saw Oswald for the first time that day at just past 8:00AM on the first floor. Shortly after, he went up to the 6th floor of the TSBD, where he continued his work of cutting and laying wood for the floor, a continuation of the past two days' work. Five other people were working with him on this project on the 6th floor: William Shelley, Charles Givens, Danny Arce, Billy Lovelady, and Harold Norman, the last of whom joined them later to help out. That morning, they were working on the floor of the entire west side, "from the elevator to the window facing Elm Street."
Some time between 11:30AM to 11:50AM, Williams finished his work and got ready to take the elevator down to the first floor lunch room. He and his co-workers raced to descend to the first floor, and on the way down, Williams saw Oswald on the east side of either the 5th or 6th floor. Williams heard Oswald tell Givens to "[c]lose the gate on the elevator and send the elevator back up."
Where was he at the time of the assassination?
At approximately 12:00PM, Bonnie Ray Williams took his lunch - consisting of a chicken sandwich and a Dr. Pepper - up to the 6th floor via elevator to watch the Presidential motorcade. That Friday, Williams's wife had mentioned that the President would be coming, and he had also thought that Arce, Lovelady, and others would also be on the 6th floor to watch the upcoming Presidential motorcade.
Williams ate his lunch near the southeast corner of the 6th floor of the TSBD, sitting against some boxes. He did not see anyone else on that floor. In his Warren Commission testimony, he indicated his position by drawing on a floor plan of the 6th floor by marking the two windows he was near as "W3" and "W4"; this area was to be the assassin's perch. Williams finished his lunch within a couple of minutes and left the remnants there, placing the Dr. Pepper on a box. In a photo later taken, it is shown on the ground, indicating that someone must have moved it, and making it further likely that someone was in that spot after Williams.
Somewhere between 5 to 12 minutes after 12:00PM, Williams left the 6th floor. He took an elevator to the 5th floor, where he convened with Norman and Jarman. The three moved to the south end of the building - facing Elm Street - to watch the motorcade. The three were organized, from left to right, Jarman, Williams, and Norman, the last of whom was positioned directly below the shooter's window.
What did he see, hear, and feel?
"The President came around, we remember seeing him standing up and waving. And he's turning to go down Elm Street...we heard a shot and saw the President slump." (CBS Interview)
Bonnie Ray Williams testified that, as the President's car passed, he thought Kennedy was simply brushing his hair back. He then heard two to three shots nearby, and had thought that the noise was fireworks (as he stated in the CBS interview), or motorcycle backfire (as he stated before the Warren Commission).
Williams did not pay attention to the first shot, but by the second, had some idea of what was going on, as the shot shook the building and windows, causing concrete debris to fall onto his head, which he wiped away shortly after. According to Williams, Jarman was the first to state, "Man, someone is shooting at the President." Furthermore, Norman also said to Williams that he saw the President slump, and that he could hear the rifle shells hitting the floor just above him. Williams himself did not hear the rifle shells being discharged, or see President Kennedy slump over.
Immediately after the President's assassination, Bonnie Ray Williams became a key witness due to his unique proximity to the shooter's location. On the right is a photo of Williams being escorted into a police car on November 22, 1963, to be taken in for interview. This photo shows debris on Williams's shirt consistent with the fallen concrete he testified to coming from the shot. On the left is Williams's affidavit taken that same day, mere hours after having witnessed the President's assassination. This was his first formal account of what he witnessed.
What was his testimony?
Bonnie Ray Williams's testimony, both what he told the FBI immediately after the President was assassinated, and what he testified to in the Warren Commission several months later, has little that can be called into question, yet there are discrepancies in his story.
First, certain statements Williams made while testifying before the Warren Commission on March 24, 1964, contradict statements he'd made prior to the FBI. In particular, Williams's placement of Oswald differs. In an FBI statement (top), Williams claimed that Oswald was definitively on the 6th floor of the TSBD at around 12:00PM. However, his testimony before the Warren Commission (bottom) does not match that; Williams said that Oswald might have been on the 5th or 6th floor.
Second, Williams's original affidavit, taken the day of the assassination (see above, left), is inconsistent with his later testimony, both through omission and by outright contradiction. In that affidavit, Williams never mentioned going to eat lunch on the 6th floor by himself; this matters because he testified that he was alone on the floor, and Oswald being potentially on the 6th floor would negate that. He also stated that he did not see Oswald after 8:00AM, when later testimony to both the Warren Commission and the FBI indicated that he did see Oswald at least once more, around or before 12:00PM, which would be just before President Kennedy was assassinated.
Finally, Williams originally told the FBI that he only heard 2 shots. He later recanted, conceding that he was "excited" and "couldn't remember too well" during that initial interview, but that "later on, as everything began to die down, [he] got [his] memory even a little better than on the [sic] 22d" and more accurately remembered that he had heard 3 shots.
Mary Ferrell Foundation, "The JFK Assassination." https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/JFK_Assassination.html
McAdams, John. The Kennedy Assassination. http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/
Report of the Warren Commission On the Assassination of President Kennedy.
Williams, Bonnie Ray (11/30/1963-9/24/1964). Records of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, 1954-1965, National Archives, College Park, MD.