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JFK, John Keel and the Controversial “Umbrella Man” – A Strange Saga

In an article titled “The Mysterious Umbrella Man Who Conspiracy Theorists Think Signaled JFK’s Assassination,” Katie Serena wrote: “As Kennedy’s presidential limousine passed by, carrying driver Agent Bill Greer, Agent Roy Kellerman, Governor John Connally, Nellie Connally, President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, onlookers waved and attempted to get the president’s attention. Some had small flags, some had handkerchiefs, but most waved their own hands or hats. One onlooker, however, had something far more interesting. As Kennedy’s limo rolled past, the onlooker opened a black umbrella and lifted it into the air.” The theory among a number of JFK assassination researchers is that the man was using the umbrella to signal someone – possibly a gunman, or even several – that the assassination was a definitive “Go.”

Business Insider, in 2011, said in an online feature titled “NY Times’ Umbrella Man Exposed”: “There was even the September 1975 Senate intelligence committee testimony by Charles Senseney, a contract weapons designer for the CIA, that the agency had perfected an umbrella that shoots undetectable poison darts that can immobilize and kill, raising questions about whether this was in play that day.” A lot of mystery surrounded the “Umbrella Man.” That is, until 1978 when he came forward. Out of the shadows, we might say. He was identified as Louie Steven Witt. It turns out that 1978 was also the year in which a special House Select Committee on Assassinations dug deep into the matter of who killed JFK. As a result, Witt agreed to be  interviewed. The interview was undertaken by Robert Genzman, the staff counsel to the committee.

The Umbrella Man

At howstuffworks, there’s this: “Witt disliked JFK’s father, former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom Joseph P. Kennedy, whom he faulted for supporting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policies toward Hitler. Chamberlain’s trademark was his ever-present umbrella, and Witt chose that day to brandish a big, conspicuous one in an effort to needle the president. He brought along a visual aid to the hearing — a battered black umbrella that he claimed was the one he’d used that day. A committee staffer popped it open, to reveal that it didn’t contain a weapon.” Let’s now take a look at some of Witt’s words:

“Actually, I was going to use this umbrella to heckle the President’s motorcade…Being a conservative-type fellow, I sort of placed him in the liberal camp and I was just going to kind of do a little heckling.” Witt continued: “…every day I walk someplace, and looking back the only reason I can account for my going that direction as opposed to the other direction would be since I was carrying that stupid umbrella, intent to heckling the President, and not being a person who was given to – prior to this time – doing things that would bring myself into notice, the only thing I can say is that I went down the street where I assumed there would be fewer people, because the buildings on the west end of the street, or the lower end, were either low buildings or low buildings where there were not a lot of people. I ended up turning left and going down into what is known as Dealey Plaza. The only reason I can think that I ended up down there was possibly I looked down there and saw an area where there were not a large group of people. There were people in that area but there was also in this area which later became known as the grassy knoll, there was no one out in that area in any great number.”

The Q&A between Witt and Genzman continued:

GENZMAN: “Did President Kennedy see your umbrella?”

WITT: “I have no way of knowing. I really don’t.”

GENZMAN: “What do you next recall happening?”

WITT: “Let me go back a minute. As I was moving forward I apparently had this umbrella in front of me for some few steps. Whereas other people I understand saw the President shot and his movements; I did not see this because of this thing in front of me, The next thing I saw after I saw the car coming down the street, down the hill to my left, the car was just about at a position like this [indicating] at this angle here. At this time there was the car stopping, the screeching of tires, the jamming on of brakes, motorcycle patrolman right there beside one of the cars. One car ran upon the President’s car and a man jumped off and jumped on the back. These were the scenes that unfolded as I reached the point to where I was seeing things.”

GENZMAN: “What did you hear at that time? Did you hear voices?”

WITT: “I don’t recall any voices at that particular time. After I finally became aware that something had happened, you know, something terrible had happened, I just sat down. I was standing on the retaining wall, and I just sat down, just right straight down, and apparently – I don’t know if I had laid the umbrella down or dropped it or what I did. Nevertheless, I think it ended up on the sidewalk and I just sat there. Some of the things that I recall, one of the things I remember seeing while standing, there was a couple, I looked down to the right and there was a man and a woman, and they were covering some children, they were lying down and they were covering the children with their bodies and this may have caused me to sit down or I may have just sat down because I was stunned. Because there for a few minutes or for a few seconds at least I didn’t seem to be able to collect my thoughts. Sometime later after the cars moved out, this is when all this activity in the cars stopping and the cars moved out, I recall a man sitting down to my right and he said something like: They done shot them folks. He repeated it two or three times but it was repetitious of him saying the same thing.”

The story gets weirder. Surreal, even. As Doug Skinner notes at JohnKeel.com: “One of John’s more intriguing abandoned projects is ‘The Return of the Umbrella Man,’ a proposal for a novel. The Umbrella Man, of course, was the mysterious man with the umbrella at Kennedy’s assassination, long an object of speculation by assassination researchers. In 1978, he was identified as Louie Steven Witt, who had simply picked a particularly bad time to protest Joseph Kennedy’s support of Neville Chamberlain.”

Doug adds: “In 1977, however, John cooked up an idea for a novel, making him a spirit who was repeatedly killed, only to walk in to other host bodies. The premise allowed John to have some fun with a plot brimming with sex, violence, conspiracy, poltergeists, walk-ins, organized crime, mysterious cartels, the Elks, and the Kennedy assassination. And, for good measure, funny underwear. In later years, he often lamented that fictionalized forteana was more commercial than reportage; and that ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Men In Black’ were lifting plot points from his books. ‘The Return of the Umbrella Man’ was an attempt to create an entertainment using some of the same paranormal material.”

To be sure, a very strange saga!

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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