Who killed Kennedy? The question that refuses to go away

Lee Harvey Oswald, suspected assassin of President Kennedy, grimaces as he is shot to death at point-blank range by nightclub owner Jack Ruby
Lee Harvey Oswald, suspected assassin of President Kennedy, grimaces as he is shot to death at point-blank range by nightclub owner Jack Ruby
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Even after half a century JFK’S assassination is still surrounded by conspiracy theories. Chris Bond reports.

JOHN F Kennedy had been buried less than a week when President Lyndon Johnson set up an official investigation into his assassination.

The 900-page Warren Report, released in September 1964, concluded that the shots which killed president Kennedy and wounded governor Connally were fired from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, and that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

The assassination of JFK was one of the 20th-century’s most defining moments so it’s perhaps not surprising that it has become mired in conspiracy theories over the decades.

These were fuelled in 1979 by the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) which said the Warren Commission’s investigations were flawed and that Kennedy was probably killed as the result of a conspiracy – something many Americans seem to agree with.

The most common explanation of what happened on that day 50 years ago, though, is still that Oswald, an ex-Marine sharpshooter, fired three shots at the president’s car from the window of the Texas School Book Depository.

One missed, a second hit president Kennedy and governor John Connally, and the third was the shot that killed the president.

But some people believe that a fourth shot was fired, and that Kennedy was shot from two different directions, with some witnesses saying they saw two men on top of a grassy knoll by Dealey Plaza before the shooting.

Over the years conspiracy theorists have argued that JFK was murdered by the Russians, the mafia, or the Cubans, or by the CIA and the FBI, or by the whole lot acting together. One particularly outrageous theory even claimed he was killed by a secretive right-wing cabal in order to put Johnson in power.

Then there’s the fact that Oswald himself was gunned down – on national TV – in the basement of a Dallas police station by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who allegedly had ties to the mafia.

Others have pointed to the Zapruder film, which captured the horrific moment the fatal bullet hit the president. In 1975, the Zapruder film – taken by Abraham Zapruder, a bystander at Kennedy’s assassination – was shown for the first time on network TV. It appears from the movement of the president’s head in the film that he must have been shot from the front – from the grassy knoll – rather than from the book depository.

More recently a documentary, JFK: The Smoking Gun, claimed a new theory – that a Secret Service agent shot Kennedy by accident and his actions were then covered up to protect the agency.

However, an esteemed US academic has poured cold water on some of the theories, saying evidence used by the 1979 committee was “completely flawed”.

Professor Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics and author of a new book The Kennedy Half-Century, said modern technology had revealed a fourth sound caught on a police radio recording – alleged to be a fourth gunshot – was actually the rattling of a microphone.

It may never be known exactly what happened on the day JFK was assassinated, but for some people the possibility that an under-achieving misfit could kill the most powerful man on earth in broad daylight was just too simple, too banal, to be true. Sometimes, though, the truth is just that.