An assassination still shrouded in suspicion
As he left Ireland, John F Kennedy promised he would return “in the springtime”. Five months later, he was dead. Ever since, conspiracy theories have thrived
President Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is fatally shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
The view from the Texas Book Depository taken about an hour after Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy from there.
President Kennedy and his wife Jackie in the Dallas motorcade shortly before he was shot.
Ten months after the assassination of President John F Kennedy on November 22nd 1963, in Dallas Texas, the Warren Commission concluded that he was shot by an ex-marine, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had acted alone. It also held that Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who shot Oswald in the Dallas police headquarters two days later, had also acted alone.
Today, a majority of Americans believe that there was a conspiracy involved in the assassination and that, while Oswald almost certainly shot the President from the sixth floor of the Dallas book depository, he was part of a wider network of conspirators. Since the publication of the 888,000-word Warren Report and accompanying 27 volumes of evidence and exhibits, there have been several congressional investigations and the release of millions of words from intelligence files.
As the 50th anniversary of the killing approaches the controversy will get new life. Several blockbuster movies are in preparation involving actors Tom Hanks, Leonardo Di Caprio and Cate Blanchett.
There is no shortage of conspiracy theories. The Soviet Union, Cuba, anti-Castro Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA, disaffected Army generals, even Lyndon Johnson himself figure in the alleged plots. At one extreme, some see a plot to set up a new world order through the murders of JFK, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King, the Twin Towers catastrophe of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and whatever your’re having yourself. But there are also many books asking legitimate questions about the Warren Report, now seen to have been too rushed as Johnson wanted it out of the way before the 1964 presidential election, which he won in a landslide.
There is huge scope for widely divergent views and the internet has been a happy hunting ground for them. The 1991 Oliver Stone movie, JFK, revived interest about the assassination especially among a younger generation but it also muddied the waters by twisting facts. Stone’s version – repeated in his 2013 documentary series, The Untold History of the United States – is that Kennedy was the victim of a plot by a secret shadow government within the military-industrial-intelligence network loosely allied with Cuban exiles, the Mafia and arms manufacturers. The plotters were convinced that Kennedy was preparing to end the Cold War and withdraw all US troops from Vietnam.
Stone also built his film around the efforts in 1969 by the New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, to convict a local businessman, Clay Shaw, of being part of a conspiracy of Cubans, Mafia and maverick FBI and CIA elements to eliminate Kennedy. Garrison also portrayed a scenario of 16 marksmen ready to shoot Kennedy with Oswald being used as a “patsy” to conceal the real plot. Oswald, incidentally, while denying he shot Kennedy, did describe himself as a “patsy” in the affair, meaning presumably that he was being blamed for something he did not do.
The magic bullet
The New Orleans jury found Clay not guilty after less than an hour. Garrison was largely discredited thereafter. But Stone also made dramatic use of the only film taken of the assassination, the famous Zapruder footage. Shot by a local dressmaker, Abraham Zapruder, with an 8mm cine-camera, the blurry colour film lasts for 26 seconds. It captures Kennedy and governor John Connally, who was in the car with him, first reacting to being shot and then the horrific sight of Kennedy’s head exploding and Jackie Kennedy scrambling apparently to retrieve a part of the shattered skull.