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.
If these theories are true, a conspiracy had to exist. Thompson said that there were three shooter locations: the sixth-floor window of the Depository building, a grassy terrace by which the motorcade passed, and the roof of a close by government building.
Sylvia Meagher, a lifelong United Nations employee who wrote an exhaustive index of the Commission's exhibits, has said that the Commission's report "pronounces Oswald guilty," while the hearings and exhibits "create a reasonable doubt of Oswald's guilt and even a powerful presumption of his complete innocence." Her goal was not to sniff out and expose conspiracy theories, but rather to question whether the FBI and the Commission acted in good faith.
Beyond challenges to the Commission's work, a spate of actual conspiracy theories have emerged. Mark Lane's second book on the assassination, though published as fiction, was Executive Action, suggesting very strongly that Oswald was used as a patsy for Dallas right-wing elements. An old theory suggests a link between Oswald, his killer Jack Ruby, and murdered Dallas officer Tippit. Evidence for this theory is almost exclusively circumstantial. Oswald's landlady said a police car drove by Oswald's rooming house, honked the horn, and drove away. This was five or six minutes before the time that Tippit was murdered. So, according to proponents of this theory, Tippit was assigned to kill Oswald after Oswald had incriminated himself, but that Oswald had learned of it and had killed Tippit. Jack Ruby was a police buff who was forever hanging around police headquarters, partly because of a very long rap sheet and a desire to cultivate as many law enforcement friends as possible. Nothing concrete ties Ruby and Tippit together, nor does anything substantially link Oswald to either.
The district attorney of Louis Parish, La., Jim Garrison, also announced that he had solved the JFK assassination. His theory was that a conspiracy was headed by the director of New Orleans' International Trade Mart and a liberal thinker. Clay L. Shaw, Garrison insisted that Shaw had met with Oswald and master pilot and gun enthusiast David Ferrie, and that the three had planned the killing. Oswald had perpetrated the crime, and was then set up as a scapegoat by his fellow conspirators. Shaw went to trial in highly publicized proceedings, and was found not guilty. Garrison was also convinced of the CIA's hand in the assassination, an accusation which seemed less farfetched when it was revealed that Shaw and Ferrie were contract employees of the CIA.
Ferrie's prominence in the Garrison accusations also not the stage for a CIA-Mafia-big labor conspiracy. Ferrie, in his capacity as a pilot, allegedly flew the accused godfather of the Southwestern Mafia, Carlos Miscello, back to New-Orleans from Guatemula City after his deportation by then. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy 348 his campaign against organized crime.
In addition to disliking Robert Kennedy, Marcello also had cause to make the President, John Kennedy had approved of his brother's attack on Marcello and union leader Jimmy R. Holla and his unsuccessful Boy of pigs invasion had lost all of the Mafia's casino dope cackers and position rings to Fidel Castro. Ferre was anti-Castro and-elegantly turned Owald Ferrie was found dead six days after being named as a conspirator by Garrison. The thread tying Dallas and New Orleans together was allegedly Ruby.
Ruby had been associated with union activities since his Chicago adolescence, when he had been secretary of the Scrap Iron and Junk Handlers Union. He was interrogated but released when the union's founder was discovered murdered. The union ended up in the hands of Hoffa ally Paul Dorfman.
The theory that has received the greatest speculation is that Oswald was an agent for someone, and speculations on for whom are a dime a dozen. As a Russian KGB agent, evidence, circumstantial mostly, points to his defection to the Soviet Union, and his easy employment and marriage, and very easy departure back to the U.S., a rarity for defectors. In a trip to Mexico in 1963, Oswald met with a KGB agent working in its "liquid affairs" department, the department utilized for assassination in Soviet intelligence.
Along with several complicated, never concretely established stories of Oswald as a CIA agent comes Oswald-the-FBI-agent. It is known that Oswald was in contact with the FBI. His notebook had the name, phone number, and license number for agent James Hosty. The Bureau says that Hosty had the duty of investigating Oswald and his Russian wife Marina to see if they were hard-core Marxists. Just before the assassination, Oswald sent Hosty a threatening note, which Hosty or someone else ordered destroyed. According to the FBI, the note only expressed anger over the harassment of Marina Oswald. Hosty, according to the Dallas Police Department, telephoned less than two hours after the President was killed, saying that Oswald was capable of killing Kennedy. The FBI's central office also allegedly sent a teletype that a "militant revolutionary group" might try to kill Kennedy on November 22. The Miami police department sent them information, obtained by wiretap, that white racists were planning to kill Kennedy with a rifle. More bitter critics say that the reason Oswald was not taken into custody was that J. Edgar Hoover was upset with Robert Kennedy, who was in Hoover's territory with his organized-crime crusade.
The theories and all the attempts to assign blame differ. But all critics share the common disbelief that while union bosses, expatriate Mafiosi, and Soviet dissidents are subjects of elaborately planned and executed plots, the young, vibrant Chief Executive of the most powerful nation in the world could die at the hand of a loan nut.