Obsession with assassination of JFK has not waned 50 years later

The plaza where the 35th president was shot has become America’s altar to the conspiracy theory

The plaza where the 35th president was shot has become America’s altar to the conspiracy theory

The plaza where the 35th president was shot has become America’s altar to the conspiracy theory


Sherman Hopkins was five years old when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas 50 years ago.

Now he is one of the self-described “guides” lurking around the assassination site – a crime scene designated a “national historic landmark” by the US National Park Service in 1993.

These erudite panhandlers wander about firing various facts about the assassination as well as associated conspiracy theories at tourists in the hope of getting their attention and, if they’re lucky, a few bucks in their back pocket for an impromptu tour.

Hopkins has the advantage of having a crudely printed newspaper published by a local historical society to sell. The paper is surprisingly measured on how it reports the events of November 22nd, 1963.

“Some people say my job is morbid,” says Hopkins, who moved to Dallas 25 years ago and has been giving his guided assassination tour of Dealey Plaza for the past 24.

“I have studied it my whole life. It is fascinating. I just feel that there is more to be told to the American public than just what the government tells them.”

Oswald ‘a scapegoat’
Hopkins believes that Oswald was involved in the assassination but that he was “used as a patsy and a scapegoat” as Oswald himself said after being captured by police soon after Kennedy’s killing. “The Mob put Kennedy in the White House as president of the United States and the Mob took him out, but someone in the government had to help,” Hopkins theorises.

Next to the entrance to what in 1963 was the Texas School Book Depository building – where it is claimed Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy from a sixth floor window – is a metal plaque.

Sherman points to the word “allegedly” in the line referring to Oswald’s role in the shooting. The word is the only one on the plaque has been indelibly highlighted with graffiti.

Down on Elm Street where Kennedy was shot in his limousine are two crosses marking the spots where the 35th president was struck by bullets; the second cross marks the point where Kennedy was shot in the head as captured in dressmaker Abraham Zapruder’s famous 486 frames of grainy footage.

Grass knoll
On the footpath next to this spot is a more temporary message written by a conspiracy theorist.

In a tribute to the late comedian Bill Hicks, whose material regularly included conspiracy theories around the assassination, they have scribbled in chalk: “It doesn’t take a lot of brains to figure out that the bullet came from over there.”

A chalk arrow points in the direction to the grassy knoll, the place where most conspiracy theorists believe the fatal shot killing Kennedy was fired from.

Beside the arrow scrawled in ballooning, almost mocking writing are the words “Back and to the left”, referring to the direction Kennedy’s body shifted as a result of the impact of bullet striking his head.

This has long been held by conspiracy theorists as evidence that the fatal shot came from the front and the grassy knoll, and not the back and the direction of the book depository building.

For many Irish people, the 50th anniversary they will commemorate is not his assassination but the 1963 visit of President Kennedy to Ireland. This was an important event in Irish-American history – the symbolic return of a descendant of an Irish immigrant who made it to the highest political office, proving that just over a century of Irish emigration had not been in vain.

In America, the more macabre anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination half a century on will capture more interest. There was a steady stream of visitors to Dealey Plaza late on a Saturday three weeks ago, showing that the obsession with the assassination shows no sign of waning so many years later.

This leafy green plaza is America’s altar to the conspiracy theory, a monument to the distrust that many Americans have in their government. The theory-mill has long been turned by a 1979 congressional committee which found that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”, discounting the official 1964 conclusion of a government-appointed commission that Oswald was the lone gunman.

Conspiracy theories
As recently as last month a poll found that 59 per cent of Americans think multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Some 24 per cent said they thought Oswald acted alone and 16 per cent were unsure, according to the poll by the Associated Press and market research firm GfK.

The conspiracy theories may partly be driven by a belief, as Sherman Hopkins thinks, that had Kennedy lived the US may have taken a different, less traumatic course away from the political, social and racial unrest that characterised the Vietnam War-Watergate era in the decade or so after his assassination.

“It is a piece of history,” says Hopkins, explaining in his Texas drawl what happened here. “I think the world changed the day this happened… Kennedy was trying to do a lot of good for America. A lot of that didn’t get done.”