By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"And the provenance--the history of ownership--was excellent," she says. She admits she did not compare Byrd's window with pictures of the original.
Although the window on display touts it as "The Original Window from the Sniper's Perch," leading visitors to believe it was the window through which Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy, Hunt also admits that she was never certain of that. "There were two windows missing, so there was a 50-50 shot that this was the one through which the gunman fired."
Now that questions are being raised about the window's authenticity, Hunt defends herself by claiming that both windows are historically significant--even though there's a good chance the museum isn't advertising the truth.
"Until you have both windows together and have them professionally examined, you won't have an answer," she insists. "The fact that people are studying the window, examining the evidence, is healthy. These things happen all the time in my business."
It's now early November 1997, just weeks before the 34th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, and Caruth Byrd has no idea the Sixth Floor Museum has any concerns about the window he loaned them.
A Confederate flag and a flag of John Wayne fly over his 150-acre ranch in Van, the Caruth Byrd Wildlife Compound. A large man with white hair and bulging blue eyes, Byrd divides his time between his private wild kingdom, where more than 3,000 exotic and endangered animals roam, and his Hollywood home next to Gene Autry, where Byrd produces movies and TV specials.
"Watch out for the kangaroo shit," he warns as we approach the front porch of his house, which resembles a huge dude-ranch lodge. He and the kangaroo, he explains, shared a morning doughnut on the porch.
A self-professed mortician, veterinarian, gourmet cook, and "the best organ player in the world," Byrd is a hard man to characterize, at once grandiose and earthy. He describes himself as a man "who was born with a silver spoon up my ass," but who despises the phony airs of the Dallas rich. His main residence on his compound, where he lives alone, is covered with hundreds of pictures of him with such Hollywood notables as Burt Reynolds and Lee Majors.
Among the photos lining the walls is a picture of him donating the window to the Sixth Floor Museum. Byrd launches into the story about how his father ordered an employee to remove it, and he rolls a videotaped interview with the worker that confirms his story.
Byrd says he decided to loan the window to the Sixth Floor after he got a call from The Smithsonian Institute, asking him to donate it to the Washington museum. "I decided if it went anywhere, it should stay in Dallas," Byrd says of his decision.
He has no doubts that his window is the real sniper's perch, and he is shocked to learn that the people running the Sixth Floor now have questions about its authenticity.
The name Aubrey Mayhew makes Byrd bristle. "He's a nut who tried to buy the building from my dad," Byrd says. "If he says he has the window, then where in the hell is it? He can't produce one."
Mayhew is the equivalent of the sniper's-perch second gunman, the man who may or may not hold the answer to the mystery of the missing window. But if he does possess the proof, making him produce it may be impossible.
Mayhew is a bitter fellow who believes a cabal of powerful Dallasites conspired to take away from him the building that houses the Sixth Floor Museum. Mayhew claims he lost everything in pursuit of creating a Kennedy museum here--his livelihood, his wife and two children--and he blames Dallas for those losses.
So it's not surprising that when finally reached in Nashville, Mayhew almost explodes when asked about the authenticity of the window on display in Dallas.
"Of course it's not the real window!" he bellowed over the phone. "I've been telling you people this for 30 years. I'm really a low-profile, non-publicity guy. All I can tell you is that Mr. Caruth Byrd is an idiot, and his father is an idiot and a thief."
Mayhew went on to insist that he still has the real window in storage in Detroit. When asked why he never showed it to the people at the Sixth Floor when they asked, he shot back: "I don't have anything to prove."
A 70-year-old music publisher who once worked with jazz great Charlie Parker and produced and co-wrote songs with outlaw country singer Johnny Paycheck ("Take This Job and Shove It"), Mayhew said over the phone that he was planning to come to Dallas the following week to see some of the songwriters with whom he still works. It was just a coincidence, he said, that it would be the day before the 34th anniversary of Kennedy's death, and he promised to call when he got to town.
He phoned a few days later and agreed to meet, but warned he might not have much to say. Three hours into a meal of coffee and apple pie at the Grand Hotel, he was still talking.