Did Stewartstown native kill JFK?

A NATIVE of County Tyrone, who retired from work in July 1966 and died in 1985, has become one of the most investigated figures of the 20th century.

Despite being relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic, William Greer, a farmer's son from Stewartstown who emigrated to America in 1929, has come to prominence at the epicentre of the biggest conspiracy theory of the millennium.

Special Agent William Robert Greer joined the Secret Service in 1945 having served in the US Navy during the war. He was a trusted servant and acted as a personal bodyguard to both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower before being chosen to drive John F Kennedy through Dallas on 22 November 1963.

Everyone knows what happened next, but thanks to a mixture of the American craving for conspiracy theories and the accessibility of the internet, Greer has become the focus of attention for an ever-increasing number of sleuths.

What began as open criticism of Greer's inaction at the time of the assassination, has grown over the years into a deluge of amateur investigators accusing the Tyrone man of having fired the second, and fatal, shot from inside the car itself. This train of thought has snowballed following the publication of 'Behold a Pale Horse' by William Cooper in 1991.

Greer had been the subject of stringent examination at the Warren Commission set up in 1964 to investigate the assassination. On newsreel footage he had been shown to slow the car at the crucial period following the first shot, and then turning twice to look into the rear of the limo instead of speeding away.

Cooper alleges that the first glance established the likelihood of the President surviving the external attack, and the second was to initiate 'plan B' where Greer himself was to ruthlessly finish the job while all eyes were on the victim.

Producing a wealth of 'evidence' to substantiate their claims, the conspiracy theorists on hundreds of websites point to several unexplained events both during and after the assassination.

Drawing heavily on film footage shot by Abraham Zapruder, they have swamped the internet with what appears to be images of Greer turning and raising his hand towards the President at the crucial moment of what was almost certainly his death.

While many observers have dismissed the apparent gun in Greer's hand as nothing more than a reflection, a die-hard contingent will accept nothing else. They also allege that later TV footage, where Greer is seen ordering the ambulance crew from their vehicle and then driving the President's body to the autopsy from Andrews Air Force Base, is further evidence of the need to keep others from seeing the body.

Greer's actions, and his alleged part in a right-wing conspiracy within the CIA against Kennedy, have been analysed time and again in books such as, The Death of a President, Crime of the Century, and Deadly Alliance, but no definitive conclusions have been reached.

Many of the speculators even go as far as drawing on Greer's Protestant upbringing to beef up their theories of anti-Catholic sentiments influencing the assassins.

It was widely reported that the President's wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, was bitterly critical of Greer's actions and compared his performance on the day to that of 'Maud Shaw,' the Kennedy children's nanny.

It's most likely that if Greer had saved the President with timely reactions then he would have gone on to become a household name around the globe and his background highly publicised. As it is, records of his past are hard to come by and quite a bit of detective work was required to glean any further information at all.

What the records do show is that a William Greer (21) sailed from Belfast to Quebec on the Cunard ship, 'Andania' as a third class passenger on 25th May 1929. His address was listed as Drumbanaway, Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone. A further record exists of a William Greer crossing into America at Vanceboro, Maine not long after that date.

The Stewartstown Greers feature heavily in the history of the Unionist Party, the Orange Order, and the UVF between 1912 and 1917. In 1916, a Thomas MacGregor Greer was commended in a letter from Sir Edward Carson for his help in recruiting battle casualty replacements for the 36th Ulster Division.

At the time of his retirement through ill health in 1966, William Greer had a sister, Ella Torrens, living in Dunmurry and several cousins living in Lisburn.

He could have been just another of the countless anonymous exiles from these shores over the centuries, but thanks to the hand of fate and the power of the internet, the William Greer story looks set to run and run.