By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Caruth Byrd wanted to keep the window buried, forgotten about. He rejected enormous financial offers from those who collect such morbid artifacts, and refused the requests from those who wanted to place the window in a Dallas museum commemorating the assassination--fearing the museum would be an embarrassment to the city. He preferred to keep hidden this reminder of Dallas' shame...until one day, in 1994, he had a change of heart and turned the window over to the Sixth Floor Museum.
On February 21, 1995--President's Day--more than 100 elected officials, members of the Dallas County Historical Foundation, and assassination eyewitnesses gathered at the Sixth Floor Museum for the window's dramatic unveiling.
"I thought and thought about what to do with it," the garrulous, barrel-chested Byrd told the assembled crowd during the unveiling ceremonies. "I've had offers for a lot of money for it, but I decided the best thing to do was bring it home where it belongs."
The window has remained on display here ever since, an authentic piece of history that offers its own special peek into a tragic day in this city's history.
At least, that's what half a million visitors a year believe.
There are those who doubt Byrd's tale--those who have photographic evidence right in the museum that proves the window on display is not the real sniper's perch, those who have spent months studying the discrepancies.
And there is at least one man who claims to own the window itself.
First, there is Barkley and his band of conspiracy theorists, including James Bagby, another former security guard at the museum. After overhearing some museum visitors question the authenticity of the window last March, Bagby studied the window for himself. He first noticed that the one-inch thick, salmon-colored smudge of paint and putty on the display window isn't apparent on an old picture of the real window.
The smudge, which is on what would have been the outside of the glass, matches the color of the wooden trim on the outside of the window. A note on the exhibit points out that the "paint on the exterior trim is original to the time of the assassination."
After studying pictures of the real window taken the day of the assassination, Bagby also noticed the distinct markings on the wooden sash along the bottom of the window that do not appear on the window on exhibit.
Bagby first brought these discrepancies to the attention of museum archivist Gary Mack eight months ago.
"'What you've discovered is quite important,'" Bagby says Mack told him. "'But I wouldn't be telling anyone about this.'"
Jeff West, executive director of the Sixth Floor, and Mack now admit they have questions about the authenticity of the window--no, make that doubts.
"We have concerns," West says. "It definitely bears scrutiny."
"It's a corner window," Mack adds. "Whether it's the window where shots were fired, we're not sure."
What makes all this speculation significantly more intriguing is that Conover Hunt, the museum consultant who helped put the Sixth Floor Museum together, knew from the beginning that there was someone else out there who claimed to own the real window.
His name is Aubrey Mayhew, a music producer from Nashville who may be the one person who can repair this jagged puzzle--or bust the whole thing into a million pieces.
The tale of the sniper's perch is not only a whodunit, but a whogotit. And with any mystery, perhaps it's easier to begin at the beginning, during those moments just as the echo of gunfire began fading in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, and Dallas police ran inside the brick building at the corner of Elm and Houston.
They were directed there by witnesses who thought they saw what appeared to be the barrel of a rifle jutting out of a half-opened window on the sixth floor of the building, which housed the Texas School Book Depository, one of two textbook distribution sites for the state.
On the cavernous sixth floor, filled with stacks of book-filled boxes, police said they found three shell casings in front of the open window in the southeastern-most corner of the building. They also claimed to find a rifle, which Oswald was said to have bought through mail order, stashed under boxes diagonally across from the window.
Until the end of the 1960s, the Texas School Book Depository Company remained in the building, which was owned by Col. D. Harold Byrd. Byrd was an oil millionaire and husband of Mattie Caruth, whose family once owned most of the land from downtown Dallas to Park Lane. The Caruth family, after whom Caruth Haven Road is named, donated all the land for Southern Methodist University and leased the land for NorthPark Mall.
Afraid that curiosity seekers would carve off pieces of the sniper's-nest window, Byrd instructed his employee, Buddy McCool, to remove the window six weeks after the assassination, according to interviews with McCool and Byrd filmed in the early 1970s.
Whether McCool removed the right window is the question at the heart of this mystery.
The location of the sixth-floor sniper's perch is among the most infamous points of interest in the whole world. Yet it's conceivable that six weeks after the assassination, Byrd's lackey could have been confused about its exact location. There is no one alive who can verify which window McCool took out that day.