Not long after Byrd met with Hunt, Aubrey Mayhew sent Hunt
a letter. He, too, said he had the window -- both windows, in
fact -- from the sniper's perch, and he wanted $250,000 for
them. Hunt says she asked Mayhew to send her a picture and
measurements of the windows.
"He never did," says the whiskey-voiced Hunt. "I was naturally
cautious. If someone wants to sell it, the least they can do is
send a picture and the exact measurements."
Hunt explains that she never flew to Nashville to see Mayhew's
windows because she couldn't justify the expense without first
having some proof that Mayhew actually had the windows.
In 1994, Caruth Byrd suddenly changed his mind about
burying the past and let the museum know he was willing to
loan out the window. Hunt retrieved it from Byrd's ranch and
analyzed it. She says the paint color matched the other
windows along the southern wall, and the shape led her to
believe it was one of the two corner windows that were
"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
"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
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.
A short man in a windbreaker, Mayhew says he is "neither rich
nor crazy." He explains that he was a coin and metal collector
in the early 1960s when he became fascinated with all the metal
objects that were created with Kennedy's likeness after his
death. He produced a book on the subject, then went on to
collect all manner of Kennedy memorabilia. It's a hobby he
likens to a disease.
He was in search of more memorabilia when he came to Dallas
in 1970 and attended an auction of 20 parcels of D. Harold
Byrd's real estate, including the building leased to the Texas
School Book Depository. He wasn't even a registered bidder,
he says, but wound up offering $650,000 for the property. He
claims he beat out two other bidders, including an entrepreneur
who was going to raze the building and sell it off at a dollar a
"It was just a piece of real estate everyone wanted to forget,"
Mayhew explains he wasn't sure what he was going to do with
the building -- or how he was going to pay for it. At the time,
he says, he was making $100,000 yearly working for a music
company. He eventually seized on the idea of turning the
building into a "first-rate museum."
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