The circumstances surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 quickly spawned suspicions of a conspiracy. These suspicions were mitigated somewhat when an official investigation by the Warren Commission concluded the following year that there was no conspiracy. Since then, serious doubts have arisen regarding the Commission’s findings. Critics have argued that the Commission, and even the government, covered-up crucial information pointing to a conspiracy.
Subsequent official investigations confirmed most of the conclusions of the Warren Commission. However, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) ruled that Kennedy’s assassination was likely the result of a conspiracy, with: “…a high probability that two gunmen fired at [the] President.” No person or organization was identified by the HSCA as being a co-conspirator of Lee Harvey Oswald. Most current theories put forth a criminal conspiracy involving parties as varied as the CIA, the KGB, the American Mafia, the Isareli government, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, sitting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cuban president Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, the Federal Reserve, or some combination of those entities.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he traveled in an open-top car in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 pm,CST (1:30 pm EST) November 22, 1963; Texas Governor John Connally was also injured. Within two hours, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit and arraigned that evening. At 1:35 am Saturday, Oswald was arraigned for murdering the President. At 11:21 am, Sunday, November 24, 1963, nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as he was being transferred to the county jail.
Immediately after the shooting, many people suspected that the assassination was part of a larger plot. Ruby’s shooting of Oswald compounded initial suspicions. Mark Lane has been described as writing “the first literary shot” among conspiracy theorists with his article in the December 19, 1963 edition of the National Guardian, “Defense Brief for Oswald”. Published in May 1964, Thomas Buchanan’s Who Killed Kennedy? has been credited as the first book alleging a conspiracy.
In 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone and that no credible evidence supported the contention that he was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. The Commission also indicated that Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State; Robert S. McNamera, the Secretary of Defense; C. Douglas Dillon, the Secretary of the Treasury; Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General; J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI; John A. McCone, the Director of the CIA; and James J. Rowley, the Chief of the Secret Service, each independently reached the same conclusion on the basis of information available to them.
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed with the Warren Commission that Oswald assassinated Kennedy, but concluded that the Commission’s report and the original FBI investigation were both seriously flawed. The HSCA also concluded that at least four shots were fired with a “high probability” that two gunmen fired at the President, and that a conspiracy was probable. The HSCA also stated that “the Warren Commission failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the president.”
The Ramsey Clark Panel and the Rockefeller Commission both supported the Warren Commission’s conclusions, while New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison unsuccessfully prosecuted Clay Shaw for conspiring to assassinate Kennedy.
Possible evidence of a cover-up
Numerous researchers, including Mark Lane, Henry Hurt, Michael L. Kurtz, Gerald D. McKnight, Anthony Summers, and others have pointed out what they characterize as inconsistencies, oversights, exclusions of evidence, errors, changing stories, or changes made to witness testimony in the official Warren Commission investigation, which they say could suggest a cover-up.
Michael Benson wrote that the Warren Commission received only information supplied to it by the FBI, and that its purpose was to rubber stamp the lone gunman theory.
James H. Fetzer took issue with a 1998 statement from Federal Judge John R. Tunheim, the Chair of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), who stated that no “smoking guns” indicating a conspiracy or cover-up were discovered during their efforts in the early 1990s to declassify documents related to the assassination. Fetzer identified 16 “smoking guns” which he claims prove the official narrative is impossible, and therefore a conspiracy and cover-up occurred. He claims that evidence released by the ARRB substantiates these concerns. These include problems with bullet trajectories, the murder weapon, the ammunition used, inconsistencies between the Warren Commission’s account and the autopsy findings, inconsistencies between the autopsy findings and what was reported by witnesses at the scene of the murder, eyewitness accounts that conflict with x-rays taken of the President’s body, indications that the diagrams and photos of the President’s brain in the National Archives are not the President’s, testimony by those who took and processed the autopsy photos that the photos were altered, created, or destroyed, indications that the Zapruder film had been tampered with, allegations that the Warren Commission’s version of events conflicts with news reports from the scene of the murder, an alleged change to the motorcade route which facilitated the assassination, an alleged lax Secret Service and local law enforcement security, and statements by people who claim that they had knowledge of, or participated in, a conspiracy to kill the President.
Allegations of witness tampering, intimidation, and foul play.
Richard Buyer wrote that over 500 witnesses were interviewed by the Warren Commission and many of those whose statements pointed to a conspiracy were either ignored or intimidated. Bill Sloan wrote in his 1992 biography of Jean Hill, JFK: The Last Dissenting Witness, that Hill said Arlen Specter, then an assistant counsel for the Warren Commission, attempted to humiliate, discredit, and intimidate her into changing her story. According to Sloan, Hill also indicated she had been abused by Secret Service agents, harassed by the FBI, and was the recipient of death threats.
In his book Crossfire, Jim Marrs gave accounts of several people who claimed they were intimidated by FBI agents, or anonymous individuals, into altering or suppressing what they knew about the assassination, including Richard Carr, Acquilla Clemmons, Sandy Speaker, and A. J. Millican. Marrs also wrote that Texas School Book Depository employee Joe Molina “…was intimidated by authorities and lost his job soon after the assassination,” and witness Ed Hoffman was warned by an FBI agent that he “might get killed” if he revealed what he had observed in Dealy Plaza on the day of the assassination.
Jim Marrs presented a list of 103 people he believed died “convenient deaths” under suspicious circumstances. He noted that the deaths were grouped around investigations conducted by the Warren Commission, New Orleans D.A Jim Garrison, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Marrs pointed out that “these deaths certainly would have been convenient for anyone not wishing the truth of the JFK assassination to become public.”
Vincent Bugliosi has described the death of Dorthy Kilgallen as “perhaps the most prominent mysterious death” cited by assassination researchers. According to Jerome Kroth, Mafia figures Sam Giancana, John Roselli, Carlos Prio, Jimmy Hoffa, Charles Nicoletti, Leo Moceri, Richard Cain, Salvatore Granello, and Dave Yaras were murdered to prevent them from revealing their knowledge. According to Matthew Smith, others with some tie to the case who have died suspicious deaths include Lee Bowers, Gary Underhill, William Sullivan, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, George de Mohrenschildt, four showgirls who worked for Jack Ruby, and Ruby himself.
Allegations of evidence suppression, tampering, and fabrication
According to Bugliosi, allegations that the evidence against Oswald was planted, forged, or tampered with is a main argument among those who believe a conspiracy took place.
Suppression of evidence
In 1967, Josiah Thompson stated that the Commission ignored the testimony of seven witnesses who saw gun smoke in the area of the stockade fence on the grassy knoll, as well as an eighth witness who smelled gunpowder at the time of the assassination. In 1989, Jim Marrs wrote that the Commission failed to ask for the testimony of witnesses on the triple overpass whose statements pointed to a shooter on the grassy knoll.
Confiscated film and photographs
Other researchers report that witnesses who captured the assassination in photographs or on film had their cameras and/or film confiscated by police or other authorities. Jim Marrs gives the account of Gordon Arnold who said that his film of the motorcade was taken by two policeman shortly after the assassination. Another witness, Beverly Oliver, came forward in 1970 and said she was the “Babushka Lady” who is seen, in the Zapruder film, filming the motorcade. She said that after the assassination she was contacted at work by two men who she thought “…were either FBI or Secret Service agents.” According to Oliver, the men told her that they wanted to develop her film and would return it to her within ten days, but they never returned the film.
Richard Buyer and others have complained that many documents pertaining to the assassination have been withheld over the years, including documents from the Warren Commission investigation, the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation, and the Church Committee investigation. These documents at one time included the President’s autopsy records. Some documents are still not scheduled for release until 2029. Many documents were released during the mid-to-late 1990s by the Assassination Records Review Board under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. However, some of the material released contains redacted sections. Tax return information, which would identify employers and sources of income, has not yet been released.
Tampering of evidence
Among the items of physical evidence alleged by various researchers to have been tampered with are the “single bullet”, also known as the “magic bullet” by critics of the official explanations, various bullet cartridges and fragments, the limousine’s windshield, the paper bag in which the Warren Commission said Oswald carried the rifle within, the so-called “backyard” photos which depict Oswald holding the rifle, the Zapruder film, the photographs and radiographs obtained at Kennedy’s autopsy, and Kennedy’s body itself.
Fabrication of evidence
The Warren Commission found that the shots which killed Kennedy and wounded Connally were fired from the Mannlicher-Carano 6.5-millimeter Italian rifle owned by Oswald. Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone and Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman both initially identified the rifle found in the Texas School Book Depository as a 7.65 Mauser. Weitzman signed an affidavit the following day describing the weapon as a “7.65 Mauser bolt action equipped with a 4/18 scope, a thick leather brownish-black sling on it”. Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig claimed that he saw “7.65 Mauser” stamped on the barrel of the weapon.
Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade told the press that the weapon found in the Book Depository was a 7.65 Mauser, and this was reported by the media. But investigators later identified the rifle as a 6.5 Italian Mannlicher Carcano. According to Mark Lane:
“The strongest element in the case against Lee Harvey Oswald was the Warren Commission’s conclusion that his rifle had been found on the 6th floor of the Book Depository building. Yet Oswald never owned a 7.65 Mauser. When the FBI later reported that Oswald had purchased only a 6.5 Italian Mannlicher-Carcano, the weapon at police headquarters in Dallas miraculously changed its size, its make and its nationality. The Warren Commission concluded that a 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano, not a 7.65 German Mauser, had been discovered by the Dallas deputies.”
Bullets and cartridges
The Warren Commission determined that three bullets were fired at Kennedy: one of the three bullets missed the vehicle entirely, one hit Kennedy, passed through him and struck Governor John Connally, and the third bullet was the fatal head shot to the President. The weight of the bullet fragments taken from Connally and those remaining in his body, some claim, totaled more than the missing mass of the bullet found at Parkland Hospital on Connally’s stretcher – dubbed by critics of the Commission as the “magic bullet”.
Allegations of multiple gunmen
The Warren Commission concluded that “three shots were fired [from the Texas School Book Depository] in a time period ranging from approximately 4.8 to in excess of 7 seconds.” Some assassination researchers, including Anthony Summers, dispute the Commission’s findings and point to evidence that brings into question the number of shots fired, the origination of those shots, or the ability of Oswald to accurately fire three shots in a short amount of time, suggesting the involvement of multiple gunmen.
Governor Connally, seated in the limousine’s jump seat directly in front of Kennedy, testified before the Warren Commission that “…the thought immediately passed through my mind that there were either two or three people involved, or more, in this—or someone was shooting with an automatic rifle.”
Number of shots
Based on the “consensus among the witnesses at the scene” and “in particular the three spent cartridges”, the Warren Commission determined that “the preponderance of the evidence indicated that three shots were fired”. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded there were four shots, one coming from the direction of the grassy knoll.
The Warren Commission, and later the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded that one of the shots hit President Kennedy in “the back of his neck”, exited his throat, continued on to strike Governor Connally in the back, exited Connally’s chest, shattered his right wrist, and embedded itself in his left thigh. This conclusion came to be known as the “single bullet theory”.
Mary Moorman said in a TV interview immediately after the assassination that there were three or four shots close together, that shots were still being fired after she took her photograph of the President being hit, and that she was in the line of fire. In 1967, Josiah Thompson concluded that four shots were fired in Dealey Plaza, with one wounding Connally and three hitting Kennedy.
Some assassination researchers have pointed to testimony or medical evidence suggesting that at least one of shots fired at President Kennedy came from a location other than the Book Depository. Roy Kellerman, the Secret Service agent seated next to the driver in the presidential limousine, testified that he saw a 5-inch-diameter (130 mm) hole in the back right-hand side of the President’s head. Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who sheltered the President with his body on the way to the hospital, said: “[A] portion of the President’s head on the right rear side was missing.” Later, in a National Geographic Channel documentary, he described the wound as a “gaping hole above his right ear, about the size of my palm.”
Robert McClelland, one of the Parkland Hospital doctors who attended to Kennedy, testified that the back right part of Kennedy’s head was blown out, with posterior cerebral tissue and some cerebellar tissue missing. He indicated that the wound was an exit wound, and that a second shooter from the front delivered the fatal head shot.
Kennedy’s death certificate located the bullet at the third thoracic vertebra—which some claim is too low to have exited his throat. Moreover, the bullet was traveling downward, since the shooter was in a sixth floor window. The autopsy cover sheet had a diagram of a body showing this same low placement at the third thoracic vertebra. The hole in back of Kennedy’s shirt and jacket are also claimed to support a wound too low to be consistent with the “single bullet theory”.
Conspiracy theorists such as Walt Brown and authors such as Richard H. Popkin contend that Oswald was a notoriously poor shot, his rifle was inaccurate, and that no one has ever been able to duplicate his ability to fire three shots within the time frame given by the Warren Commission.
Role of Oswald
Assassination researchers differ as to the role of Oswald in the assassination of President Kennedy. Some researchers believe that Oswald was an uninvolved patsy, while other believe he was actively involved in a plot. Oswald’s ability to move to Russia, then return as an avowed Communist to the United States with help from the State Department has led some theorists to speculate that he was working for the CIA and/or the FBI.
According to Richard Buyer, Oswald never fired a shot at the President. James W. Douglass described Oswald as “a questioning, dissenting CIA operative who had become a security risk” and “the ideal scapegoat”. According to Josiah Thompson, Oswald was in the Texas School Book Depository during the assassination, but it is “quite likely” he was not the shooter on the sixth floor.
I could go on but there is just too much evidence proving the Oswald was not the lone shooter, evidence like the witness testemonies, the three tramps, Deputy Tippitt who later died and was believed to be the second shooter behind the grassy noll, etc.