Who Shot the President?

Doubts about the Warren Commission and a Spate of Conspiracy Theories

The President of the United States was shot and killed early this afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

John F. Kennedy '40 was riding in a motorcade with Texas Gov. John Connally when three rifle shots rang out from the large crowd gathered in downtown Dallas.

The President slumped over on the seat of his car, blood pouring from a wound in his right temple. He was rushed to the emergency room of Parkland Hospital, where he died about 2 p.m. (EST). Gov. Connally was also shot and rushed to an emergency operation.

*--The Harvard Crimson, November 22, 1963.

Here, the agreement ends.

When first word of the assassination began to spread across the country--from a 12:34 p.m. (CST) UPI bulletin and a coatless Walter Cronkite interrupting the afternoon soap operas--the specter of conspiracy began to surface.

The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed a seven-man commission headed by then Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren to investigate and research all the circumstances surrounding the assassination. The Commission, laboring for 10 months, produced 26 volumes of transcripts and exhibits, and its 726-page final report drew these basic conclusions:

* A 24-year-old man named Lee Harvey Oswald crouched in a drab sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building as President Kennedy's motorcade passed below.

* Oswald fired three shots with an Italian carbine, a Mannlicher-Carcano. One shot missed, one struck both Kennedy and Connally, and a third killed the President.

* After carelessly hiding the carbine, Oswald turned and left the building on foot. He went to his rented room at a Dallas boarding house, picked up a revolver, and about 10 minutes later shot to death police officer J. D. Tippit.

* Revolver in hand, Oswald was captured in a Dallas movie theater a short time later. He was interrogated for two days.

* In a ghoulish climax, less than 48 hours after the assassination, Oswald was murdered right in the Dallas police station, by nightclub manager and police hanger-on Jack Ruby.

An October 1964 poll by Lou Harris showed that 31 percent of the American people doubted the crux of the Commission's conclusion--that Oswald had acted alone. The theorists came from all shades of life--from left-wing lawyer and civil rights activist Mark Lane, to Haverford College's philosophy professor Josiah Thompson. And many still harbor such thoughts today. The most common objections to the report's findings are as follows:

* Kennedy and Connally could not have been hit by the same bullets. A nearly pristine bullet was found in Parkland Hospital, apparently from the gurney used to convey Connally to surgery. But the bullet is said to have gone through the President's neck and smashed into Connally's back, a gruesome process which should, according to FBI tests, have damaged the bullet. Thompson relied heavily on these tests in forming the theories used in his book Six Seconds in Dallas.

* If the President and the governor were hit by separate projectiles, they could not have come from the same gun. The entire assassination, most eyewitnesses agree, took place in 5.8 seconds. According to the Commission, it took 2.3 seconds to operate the rifle's bolt mechanism between shots. Magazine journalist Robert Sam Anson, in his articles in New Times and his book "They've Killed the President!", relies heavily on the color 8-mm film Dallas garment manufacturer Abraham Zapruder made of the murder. In the film, Connally is not seen to react until nearly a second after Kennedy emerges, obviously wounded, from behind a ground-level sign blocking Zapruder's view.