JFK Assassination

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The JFK Assassination on November 22, 1963 has become a staple in American conspiracy theories, as thousands of books have been published claiming there was a conspiracy to cover up the actual events. This belief has become so wide spread, that polls indicate two-thirds of Americans still believe there was a conspiracy behind JFK’s death. 1 Conspiracy believers dispute the official findings in the Warren Report, which stated that one gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone. Instead, they claim that parties such as: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), KGB, FBI, current President Lyndon B. Johnson, former vice president Richard Nixon, Cuban President Fidel Castro, etc. were involved in the assassination and subsequent cover-up.

Contents

Summary

John. F Kennedy, often referred to as JFK, was elected as the 35th President of the United States on January 20th, 1961. By the end of his term in office, it was clear that he was going to run again and was already planning for his presidential campaign. He planned to visit Texas in hope of stabilizing the feud between Democratic political leaders, which he believed would increase his chances of carrying the state’s electoral votes. 2

On November 22nd, 1963 at 11:40 am, JFK had arrived at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. The president began his scheduled route almost immediately, planning to make his scheduled speech at Trade Mart. Around 12:30pm, JFK and his entourage entered Dealey Plaza where he and Governor Connally where shot. Upon being wounded, JFK and Connally were rushed to Parkland hospital where doctors frantically tried to save their lives. Connally was critically injured, but lived. JFK died due to extensive brain damage, and was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm. 3

On November 29th, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson created a commission (see The Communist Conspiracy in the United States of America for more details), referred to as the Warren Commission, to “evaluate all the facts and circumstances surrounding the assassination and the subsequent killing of the alleged assassin and to report its findings and conclusions to him.” 4 On September 24th, 1964, after months of research, the Commission presented their report to President Johnson. The Commission, through witness testimony and evidence analysis, concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy and wounding governor Connally. These findings have been controversial, as there have been many theories which attack the Warren Report and claim JFK’s death was part of a conspiracy.

According to longtime Clinton aide Webster Hubbell's memoir, President Clinton told his trusted ally and Justice Department appointee there were two things he wanted found out: whether there were UFOs, and who killed JFK. In the past year, U.S. newspapers have mentioned Oswald 760 times — more than twice as frequently as either Sirhan Sirhan or James Earl Ray, the men who murdered Sen. Robert Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., respectively.

Background

Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald was the only person who shot at President Kennedy. There were several motives for the assassination given in the Warren Report. First, he had a resentment of all authority which was expressed in a hostility toward every society in which he lived. Second, he had an urge to try to find a place in history at times over failures in his various undertakings. Third, his capacity for violence was evident by his attempt to kill General Walker. Lastly, he supported Marxism and communism which was expressed by his defection to the Soviet Union and by his efforts to go to Cuba. 12Indeed, most Americans don't believe he acted alone in killing the president. According to a poll of CBS News in 1998, it found that only 10 percent of respondents felt Oswald acted alone. Seventy-four percent believed there was a cover-up. Recent polls suggest that this is still the way Americans feel.

Warren Report

The Warren Report is the official statement regarding the assassination of President Kennedy. The majority of the report focuses on Lee Harvey Oswald and his role in the assassination. The Commission stated that Oswald was witnessed entering the Texas School Book Depository with a rifle and was spotted at the sixth floor window. Later, three used cartridge cases were found near the sixth floor window which fit the description of Oswald’s rifle. This corresponded directly with what the Commission found earlier, that there were a total of three shots fired: one which missed, one which hit Kennedy and Connally, and one which hit Kennedy in the head. Upon examining the wounds on President Kennedy and Governor Connally through autopsy reports and photographs, the Commission determined that the shots came from above and behind. 12

The commission also stated that there was no credible evidence that the shots were fired from the Triple Underpass, ahead of the motorcade, or from any other location. With confidence, the commission concluded that Oswald was capable of producing all the damage himself and acted alone in the assassination of JFK and wounding of Connally. 12

Zapruder Film

The Zapruder Film is a film shot by Abraham Zapruder, which is widely regarded as the best video documentation of the assassination. Due to the vantage point of the camera, the motions of President Kennedy and Governor Connally can be viewed throughout the film. Because of this, the film is widely studied and used as a main piece of evidence for analyzing the assassination. Conspiracy believers and Warren Report supporters both claim that the Zapruder film contains evidence for their respective arguments. 13

Change of Route

On the Dallas Morning News for November 22, there is a map of route President Kennedy’s motorcade would take through the city that day. According to the map, JFK supposed to stay on Main Street while passing through Dallas Plaza, and would not pass the Book Depository. However, the motorcade turned from Main onto Houston and then to Elm Street. This unplanned sharp turn forced his car to slow down to ten miles per hour and also led to his later assassination. A change in a parade route would have required the acquiescence of the city police and government. The Mayor of Dallas, Earle Cabell, signed off the change.

Proponents

Jim Garrison

Jim Garrison was a district attorney in New Orleans who began investigating the JFK assassination in 1966. After researching records, Garrison concluded that there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK involving David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA, and the FBI. Garrison assembled dozens of witness and took Clay Shaw to trial in 1969 on charges of conspiring to kill the president. However, most of the witnesses were not found to be credible or changed their stories at the stand. Clay Shaw was found not guilty by the jury in less than an hour of deliberation. To this day, this is the only trial ever conducted involving the JFK assassination. 17 In 1991, a movie was made about Jim Garrison, called JFK.

Crossfire

Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, is often referred to as the “bible” of the JFK conspiracy. Crossfire examines the Warren Report, shooting details, witnesses, the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA, etc. and concludes Kennedy’s death is inconsistent with the Warren Report. Crossfire reasons that JFK’s death was inevitable due to the amount of enemies he made and there was a conspiracy at the highest level to assassinate him.

Jackie Kennedy

A few months after her husband's death, Jackie Kennedy, had several interviews with a historian named Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. These session interviews were recorded and are expected to hold very valuable information on the JFK assassination, and insight into the mind of our beloved president. Unfortunately for the public, these recorded interviews were sealed and kept secret by the first lady's request. Now, on JFK's fifty year anniversary of his inauguration, Jackie and John's child, Caroline Kennedy, has decided that she will allow a release of a six and a half hour long audiotape of the interviews with Jackie Kennedy. The recording are supposedly filled with important and in depth information about things such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Jackie's experience of being the first lady, and also about the dread day of Kennedy's assassination. Nevertheless, it is sure that when these interviews are published, it will answer a lot of question on the conspiracy of JFK's death. 18

Evidence for Conspiracy

Timing of the Shots

Some widely accepted critics claim that Oswald was the only gunman claim that Oswald would have been firing at Kennedy for a maximum of about 5.6 seconds, an amount of time considered by these critics to be too short to fire all three of the shots heard by many in the Zapruder film. According to the results of some ballistic experiments, Oswald needed at least 2.25 seconds between two shots to properly reload and aim accurately. This indicates the presence of a second gunman to the conspiracy theorists. [5]

Single Bullet Theory

According to the Warren Commission, Bullet 399 entered the rear of the president’s neck at a downward angle until it exited his throat. It tumbled so that the long part of the bullet, not the tip, entered Connally’s back (this accounts for the large elongated entrance hole) and exited his chest. The bullet then entered the Governor's wrist, smashed his radius, exited and turned around to enter his thigh. Despite doing all of this, “bullet 399 remained intact, losing only 1.5 to 2.5 grains of its original weight, while lead deposits were recovered from Governor Connally’s body.” [5]

The conspiracy claims that one bullet could not have caused all this damage while remaining intact. This claim is supported by a team of experts, working for the Warren Commission, who simulated Oswald’s rifle on animals. Of the bullets that were fired and made available, none remained intact and were described as “severely mutilated.” As a result, the experts had a “very strong opinion that there were two separate bullets.”[5]

Shot to the Back

According to the autopsy reports, a bullet struck JFK in the back of the neck and continued on a downward path until it exited his throat. However, photographs taken of JFK’s coat and suit show a bullet hole 6 inches below the collar and towards his shoulder, clearly not at the base of the neck. Additionally, the death certificate written by JFK’s personal physician states that he was hit by a bullet in the third thoracic vertebra, corresponding directly with the holes in the suit and coat. [5] [6]

Further supporting the idea that the shot did not enter JFK’s neck comes from a report by a panel of forensic pathologist hired by a House Committee to review the Warren Report. The panel concluded that the bullet entered below the president’s shoulder and to the middle back, not as the base of the neck. “The panel also concluded that the bullet entered President Kennedy’s back at an upward angle because the abrasion collar of bruising around the wound was larger at the bottom than the top.’[5]

Since a bullet traveling at a downward angle through the president’s throat and hitting governor Connally was vital for the single bullet theory, conspiracy believers claim that the autopsy report was falsely written and that there was another gunman firing from a lower angle.

Throat Wound

According to the autopsy reports, the wound on JFK’s throat was classified as an exit wound. However, conspiracy believers point to discrepancies in evidence to suggest the throat could have been an entrance wound. First, the throat wound was only half as large as the entrance wound on the president’s back. Second, the throat wound was smaller in diameter than the bullets from Oswald’s rifle. Third, ballistic tests showed that bullets from Oswald’s rifle caused exit wounds twice as large as entrance wounds. These show how the throat wound being an exit wound is highly unlikely and suggest a gunman had to be shooting from the front of the president. As Kurtz states, “there is no certain evidence that the hole in the president’s throat was one of entrance or exit. The tiny size of the hole, the opinion of Dallas doctors, the lack of metal traces, all argue this could have been a wound of entrance fired from in front.” [5]

Head Movement

In the Zapruder film, President Kennedy’s head in frames Z313 through Z321 is thrown backwards and to the left once struck by a bullet. Critics of the Warren Report claim that only a person shooting in front of Kennedy and to the right could have caused his head to produce such a movement.

Neutron Activation Analysis

Perhaps the most convincing evidence comes from analyzing the chemical composition of bullet 399, fragments from the governor’s wrist, fragments found in the limousine, and two fragments from the president’s head. “The results for both silver and antimony demonstrate that Bullet 399 did not match the fragment removed from Governor Connally’s wrist. The Kennedy head fragment did not match the limousine fragment and therefore could not have caused it. The Kennedy head fragments did not even closely resemble the Connally wrist fragment of Bullet 399, nor did the limousine fragments. These results mean that two different type of ammunition were used.” [5]

Hospital Report

While the President's autopsy was underway at Bethesda Naval Hospital, federal agents removed the X-rays of the body from custody of the examining doctors. Though the X-rays undoubtedly would have been valuable in determining trajectories of the bullets hitting the President, and thus the shooter's location, they are neither published nor alluded to in the Warren Report. Thoughtfully, the Commission did provide in its report a dental chart made for Jack Ruby's mother 25 years before the assassination, as well as a detailed physical analysis of three of Oswald's pubic hairs.

Grassy Knoll

If the evidence points to multiple gunmen, then the most likely place for a second shooter would be the “grassy knoll” according to conspirators. They claim that "almost three-quarters of the witnesses who testified heard shots from the knoll during the shooting and three people saw a flash of light there. Witnesses smelled gunpowder in the knoll area and a witness saw a man fleeing the knoll area.” [5]

Additional evidence was discovered from a policeman’s radio microphone which recorded the sound of the shots. A committee studying the recording released this statement: “the recording contained four sounds, which was attributed to probable gunshots, and that with a probability of 50 percent that one of the sounds was due to a shot from the grassy knoll area. Later their conclusion was that the odds were 20 to 1 that the sounds were from the grassy knoll area.” [7] To conspiracy believers, this evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at the president.

Criticism of Conspiracy Evidence

Timing of the Shots

Supporters of the Warren Report contradict the claim that Oswald needed 5.6 seconds to fire his rifle three times. As shown by magicians Penn and Teller, only 3.45 seconds are needed to fire the Carcano rifle used by Oswald. Although this does not take into account recoil and proper aiming techniques, it shows that Oswald did have the time to fire all the shots. 8

Single Bullet Theory

According to studies, a single bullet passing through Kennedy and Connally was possible due to their seating arrangements. Critics of the theory assumed that governor Connally was directly in front of Kennedy, which would make bullet 399 have to change direction in mid air. However, Conally was seated to the left and below Kennedy, which would make the bullet continue along a straight path. 9 Additionally, the Carcano rifle used by Oswald was intended to shoot through multiple targets, giving it enough velocity to hit both Kennedy and Connally.

Supporters of the Warren Report also claim that the bullet is not as “pristine” as critic’s claim it is. In fact, “the cross-section of the base of the bullet is so distorted that it required, in the words of Dr. John Lattimer, "viselike forces."”14 Supporters state that calling the bullet “pristine” or “magical” is misleading and dishonest.

Shot to the Back

The fact that the bullet hole in President Kennedy’s suit and coat was six inches below the collar can be easily explained if his suit and coat were bunched up. This is a high possibility since he was waving to the crowd and as a result, his suit lifted. The bullet locations on the Presidents suit and coat should not be viewed as significant evidence toward a shot away from the neck. There are also no current photographs in the records which would support a shot entering Kennedy’s back.

Throat Wound

Supporters claim that the size of the throat wound should not be cited as evidence towards an entrance wound. “In the wounds caused by rifled weapons, the size of the wound is not always helpful in determining the caliber or type of weapon … in fact, the size of the wound can be misleading.” 16 In Kennedy’s case, since his suit was buttoned tight against his neck, the pressure served as reinforcement to stop skin distortion. This created a smaller exit than entrance wound and the ring of abrasion when the bullet exited the throat. These factors made the throat wound appear like an entrance wound.

Head wound

Supporters of the lone assassin theory state that Kennedy’s head had a natural motion when hit with the final shot. Due to the excretion of brain and skull fragments from the front of his head, the matter created a “jet effect” which pushed the president’s head towards the direction of the shot. The experiment was recreated by Penn and Teller with melons, where the melons end up flying in the direction of the shot. 8

Neutron Activation Analysis

Upon further examination, it was concluded that the tests done the night of the assassination on the chemical composition of the bullets were filled with errors and should be considered useless. Further tests indicated that the two bullets fired which hit President Kennedy and Governor Connally matched those of Oswald’s rifle. 15

Grassy Knoll

The acoustical evidence found on the policeman’s radio has been found to be inaccurate in recent years. In a study done by Michael O’Dell, there are several flaws with how the tapes were analyzed. It was found that an inaccurate timeline of events were used when comparing the recordings to the shootings. Additionally, it was found that there is no evidence that the radio played continuously after the shootings, an important assumption made originally. Overall, it was found that the original study did not find any statistical significance for a shot from the grassy knoll. All it did was find a match for patterns that occurred. 10

Case Closed

Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner is one of the most influential conspiracy debunking novels written. It uses hard evidence and interviews to show that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that none of the conspiracy theories hold any weight. The book is best known for its analysis of Oswald and completing a portrait of how he had to act alone.

Analysis

It is human nature to disbelieve that JFK died helplessly for nothing. A conspiracy on the other hand, would give meaning and an explanation to the President's death. As William Manchester states, “if you put six million dead Jews on one side of a scale and on the other side put the Nazi regime you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals. But if you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn't balance. A conspiracy would invest the President's death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something.” 11

Overall, everything stated and presented by conspiracy believers has either been disproven or explained. It is time to accept that one man with a lucky shot is the only person who can be physically tied into the Kennedy assassination.

JFK Assassination in the Media

Penn and Teller researched this conspiracy theory on their Showtime television show "Bullshit!"


Cited References

  • [5] Michael L. Kurtz, . (1982). Crime of the century. University of Tennessee Press.
  • [7] Council, C. (1982). Reexamination of Acoustic Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination. Science, New Series, 218(4568), 127-133.

8[15] Overall summary of logic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.kenrahn.com/JFK/scientific_topics/NAA/NAA_and_assassination_II/Overall_logic.html

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