By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The man on the phone speaks in conspiratorial tones. His name is Martin Barkley, a 40-something divorced father of two who has devoted so much of his life to a single purpose--proving that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill John Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository on November 22, 1963.
His research qualifications amount to having worked security for several large companies and spent time in Army intelligence. His personal link to the assassination was that his uncle was the longest-serving Dallas police officer when Kennedy was shot--and, of course, he whispered something conspiratorial at Thanksgiving dinner days after the assassination.
Barkley is a true believer, and he talks in elliptical phrases and vague pronouncements. On this day, he says he wants to share his theory that Dallas' powers-that-be are perverting the information presented in the Sixth Floor Museum, Oswald's alleged sniper's perch--and this city's biggest tourist attraction. Barkley argues that those in charge of the museum are toadies for the Warren Commission.
"The way to control an issue is to manage information on both sides so nothing gets out of control," he says, espousing a typically muddy slogan.
He says he will prove this all with a guided tour of the Sixth Floor, where he used to work as a security guard. Barkley was a seasonal hire two years ago and was laid off--ostensibly when tourist traffic slowed down, he explains. But he's convinced that he was, in fact, terminated because he answered visitors' probing conspiracy questions too honestly, too carefully, too knowledgeably. Of course, he can't prove it.
Barkley insists we meet late on a Sunday, when we would arouse the least amount of suspicion.
When he arrives that afternoon, he wears an overcoat over his tall frame and a fedora that doesn't obscure piercing blue eyes. Still, the disguise doesn't work: Two minutes after we step inside the building, security guards surround him and want to know why he's there.
"See what I mean," he whispers, as the guards escort us up in the elevator.
He reels off an enormous list of ways the museum subtly controls the mind of the visitor. He is suspicious of a sign that directs visitors to begin the tour with the panels and videos highlighting Kennedy's early years; Barkley believes the "flow" of the exhibit--which winds through Kennedy's all-too-brief presidency, his fateful visit to Texas, then the assassination--is intentionally misleading and exhausting.
"By the time the visitor gets to the end," Barkley insists, "he's too tired to read about conspiracies."
Barkley's rant is a fairly predictable and obvious one. Indeed, place a museum on the sixth floor of the old School Book Depository, and you're pretty much admitting you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It's not like the county opened a Grassy Knoll Museum.
Yet Barkley is not all hushed whispers and vague hypotheses.
Displayed halfway through the tour in the Sixth Floor Museum is one of the most famous windows in the world--the perch from which Oswald allegedly killed Kennedy with a cheap Italian mail-order rifle. Behind a thick wall of Plexiglass, the window has been exhibited here since 1995, and since then, more than a million visitors have scrutinized it, studied it, even venerated its tragic place in history.
The window, located in the southeast corner of the museum, sits only a few feet from where Oswald killed Kennedy--allegedly, of course. It bears the caption "The Original Window from the Sniper's Perch."
But is it?
Barkley believes the infamous perch that hangs in the museum is a fake...a fraud.
He may be right.
Just a cursory look at the window on display reveals that it differs significantly from pictures taken of the window moments after the assassination.
For instance, the window on display has a thick smudge of paint and putty on a pane of glass at its top half. But there is no such smudge on any pictures of the original sniper's perch. Also, old photos of the window--photos that are on display at the museum--show markings on the green wooden sash along the bottom portion of the window. The window encased in the Plexiglass exhibit has no such markings.
Of course, conspiracy theorists say they never believed it was the real window all along.
So here's one more riddle for the theorists to solve: If this isn't the real window, and it likely isn't, then where is it--and how did this impostor wind up enshrined in this museum? We're through the looking glass, as Kevin Costner's Jim Garrison drawled in JFK, where every answer spawns a dozen more questions.
"There is just no end to this," says Robert Groden, a prominent local conspiracy theorist who served as a photo analyst on the 1978 U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations. "It's just mystery after mystery."
For more than two decades, the window--or what one man believed was the famous sniper's perch window--hung like a trophy, or a deer's head, in the banquet room of one of the wealthiest men in Dallas.
Col. D. Harold Byrd kept it in his University Park home as a souvenir, a tragic keepsake he ordered removed from the building on Elm and Houston streets that he owned and leased to the Texas School Book Depository. Byrd kept it there until his death in 1986, at which time it fell into the hands of his son Caruth--who, the story goes, kept the window out of public view for almost a decade.