Hank Killam is a name that’s likely unfamiliar to most Pensacolians. Half a century ago, however, his name put the city on the map for his bizarre and mysterious death and its alleged connection to the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy.
At the time of the assassination, Hank Killam was just an ordinary house painter — or so it seemed. In reality, Killam was one of a few individuals who traveled in the same circles as Lee Harvey Oswald, the sniper who assassinated the 35th President of the United States on November 22, 1963, and Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed Oswald shortly after his capture by police.
On March 17, 1964, a few short months after the assassination, Killam was found bleeding to death on the sidewalk outside the Thiesen Building in downtown Pensacola. According to official reports, police discovered him outside the window display of a department store, his throat severed and shattered glass surrounding his body. Killam died before he reached the hospital and police were quick to rule his death a suicide.
According to news reports of the investigation, Escambia County coroner Dr. A.H. Northup said his lone injury was a three-inch deep laceration to his neck. “I didn’t know until now that police had listed the death as a probable suicide. In 10 years as a medical examiner, I’ve never heard of a man trying to kill himself in that way,” Northup told a reporter after his death.
Investigators came to the conclusion that Killam likely threw himself through the storefront window, cut his neck on the glass and crawled onto the sidewalk. Investigator Jim Harper, who wrote the report on the death, stated in his investigation, “that is no sure way to commit suicide. If he had been cut anywhere else except the jugular vein he would never have bled to death.”
His death, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it, have had conspiracy theorists buzzing for more than 50 years. With Killam’s ties to Oswald and Ruby, he was a noted person of suspicion in the assassination of Kennedy. Killiam’s suspicious death less than six months later has formed yet another peculiar chapter in the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination.
Before Kennedy’s assassination, Killam was a painter living in Dallas. His close friend and co-worker John Carter was a roommate of Oswald. Killam’s wife Wanda was a dancer at Jack Ruby’s nightclub in Dallas. Because of these two apparent associations, Killam’s life was forever changed after Kennedy’s death. Killam claimed he had “special knowledge of the assassination plot” and became convinced he knew too much and was being targeted by federal agents.
“I’m a dead man,” Killam claimed after paranoia and fear led him to flee Dallas. He lived for a short time in Tampa before escaping to Pensacola. He cried in fear to his brother Earl Killam, “They’re going to get me — but I’ve run as far as I’m going to run.”
Killam was staying at his mother’s home on West Romana Street behind where Ever’man Grocery stands today. Killam confided in his brother Earl that “agents”and “plotters” began harassing him at his home downtown in the weeks after the assassination of the president. He even believed men claiming to be clergymen visited his home to harass him.
On the night of his death, Killam’s mother Mary Killam said her son received a phone call at 4:00 a.m. Shortly after, she reported Killam leaving the house and hearing a car door slamming. Less than a half-hour later, Killam was found unconscious and bleeding to death outside the Thiesen building, just three blocks away. Adding to the mystery, Killam’s mother told investigators she had no knowledge of her son owning a car. “I know too, that it is possible that someone picked him up, slit his throat, threw him into the window to make it look like an accident,” Mary Killam told police after his death.
The “probable suicide” is officially listed in the investigation report of police officer S.N. “Buck” Reeves, then a rookie cop, who was the first to arrive at the crime scene. His report read, “The plate-glass window of the Linen Department Store was shattered. Because of the presence of blood approximately 4 feet inside the store window, it is my opinion Killam jumped through the window.”