20/20 Essay of JFK Assassination
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth United States President, was assassinated on 22nd November, 1963, at 12.30pm in Dallas, Texas. The President’s fatal gunshot wounds came when he was riding in a motorcade in Dealey Plaza, with one bullet striking his head. The Governor of Texas, John Connally, who was in front of Kennedy, was also hit and critically injured. Kennedy was rushed to the emergency room of Parkland Memorial Hospital, where it was confirmed that he had no chance of survival. He was pronounced dead 35 minutes after the shooting. Governor Connally survived.
Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, set up the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Over a period of 10 months, the Commission, informally known as the Warren Commission, undertook an official investigation into the assassination. Its report, published in September 1964, concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the nearby Texas School Book Depository, was the assassin, acting alone. This theory is often referred to as the Lone Gunman Theory.
The report has been widely recognised to contain many blatant inaccuracies. Among the many inaccuracies are two important conclusions made in the report: ‘the Commission has concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy,’ and ‘The Commission has concluded that the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connelly were fired from the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building.’ These two conclusions sum up the lone gunman theory, and are very unlikely to be true, due largely to the ‘magic bullet theory’ that this alludes to; records showing that Lee Harvey Oswald was incapable of firing the fatal shots; and much controversy concerning Oswald’s whereabouts at the time of the shooting.
Perhaps the major factor in the rejection of the Warren Commission report’s findings is the infamous ‘magic bullet theory.’ The theory was designed to account for the alleged fact that there were only three bullets fired from the Texas School Book Depository, the first of which missed the limousine completely, the last of which struck Kennedy’s head, while the second one caused some of Kennedy’s and all of Governor Connally’s injuries. It was contrived by Arlen Specter, one of the Warren Commission’s lawyers, and states that the bullet:
· hit the president
· passed through his back,
· exited through his lower throat,
· entered Governor Connally’s back,
· broke one of his ribs,
· exited and slammed into his right wrist,
· exited again and became embedded in his thigh.
The alleged path of the ‘magic bullet’ is shown in Figures 1 and 2.
Photographic and medical evidence indicates that for this theory to be true, the bullet would have had to: make a right and upward turn on leaving Kennedy’s throat; paused in midair for just under two seconds; made a left and downward turn on entering Connally’s back; made a right and upward turn on leaving Connally’s chest; before making another left and downward turn to end up in Connally’s left thigh. This is clearly physically impossible, and no bullet could ever do that. However, there is more to the single bullet theory than just the path of the bullet. Another point which suggests this theory isn’t accurate is the bullet itself, ‘Warren Commission Exhibit 399,’ otherwise known as CE399. After causing all the wounds it is alleged to, it was marked with no blood or human tissue, had lost only 1.5% of its weight, and appears nearly pristine. Tests have been undertaken, with many bullets causing headshot wounds breaking apart completely after just two layers of skull bone. This is in stark contrast to the condition of CE399, which is shown in Figure 3. The theory that the bullet could not be in such pristine condition is also supported by Parkland Nursing Supervisor Audrey Bell. Nurse Bell, after seeing the fragments that were removed from Connally’s body, said: ‘I have seen the picture of the magic bullet, and I can't see how it could be the bullet from which the fragments I saw came.’
This evidence makes it clear that there was most certainly a fourth gunshot used in the assassination attempt. For this to be true, the lone gunman theory must be debunked, and it must be accepted that there was a second gunman.
While the ‘magic bullet theory’ seems strong testimony that the Warren Commission is inaccurate, that is just one of many inaccuracies found in the report.
Even if the magic bullet theory was not the main basis of the Warren Commission’s conclusions, the ability of Oswald, or anyone else, to make the fatal shots is very doubtful, if not impossible. Based on the film of the assassination by Abraham Zapruder, known as the Zapruder film, the three shots that were allegedly fired by Oswald were fired within 8.4 seconds of each other. This time frame assumes that the first shot was the one that missed the limousine completely. Not only have tests shown that the first shot made is almost invariably the most accurate one, but this was also the closest shot from Oswald’s alleged position. Supposedly, after this remarkable miss from less than 140 feet from the limousine moving at just over eleven miles per hour, he managed to fire his next two shots in approximately 5.6 seconds, hitting Kennedy with both of them. This was made even more improbable as it was established that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle allegedly used in the murder, could not be fired faster than 2.3 seconds per shot. The rifle is shown in Figure 4.
Two tests that were attempted proved that only an outstanding marksman could make those shots. In the first, carried out by the Warren Commission, master-rated riflemen shot at stationary objects from a thirty-foot tower, using the alleged murder weapon. They missed the head and neck areas almost 95% of the time, and reported that the rifle had an odd trigger pull, and the bolt was so difficult to operate that it distorted their aim. The second test, by CBS, was a more accurate simulation of Oswald’s situation as he made the shots. Of the eleven expert marksmen, none could score two hits on their first attempt, and seven failed to score two hits on any attempt.
A former sniper for the Marines, Craig Roberts, who made several kills in Vietnam, is one of many who believe it would be impossible for Oswald to make the shots because he could never do it. He observed that to fire the shots, he would have to contend with a very difficult angle, be ready to fire as soon as the limousine came into sight, and deal with, and the high-to-low angle formula, a physics law. Together with probably the greatest sniper in American military history, Carlos Hathcock, they recreated the scene as realistically as possible. Hathcock observed, ‘I don’t know how many times we tried it, but we couldn’t duplicate what the Warren Commission said Oswald did.’ This was from the man who was credited with a confirmed 93 kills in Vietnam.
These tests make it clear that Oswald could only make the shots if he were a remarkable marksman, even better than Craig Roberts or Carlos Hathcock. However, the rifle scores he managed to obtain during his marine training tell a different story: after weeks of training, he managed a ‘sharpshooter’ qualification, the middle level of marksmanship; while on his next qualification, he dropped to ‘marksman,’ just two points away from failing to qualify. Oswald’s marine colleagues agree with the view that he was not an impressive marksman with one of his colleagues, Nelson Delgado, commenting on his shooting: ‘It was a pretty big joke, he got a lot of misses… he couldn’t prove that he was a good shot.’
More evidence about the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle suggests it was not used in the assassination. As the Army testing laboratory attempted to determine the accuracy of the weapon, they determined that the telescopic sight was so incompetently attached, and so inaccurate, that firing difficult shots would be all but impossible. Theorists supporting the Warren Commission’s findings argue that the scope was damaged when Oswald threw the weapon down hurriedly after the assassination. However, photographs of the rifle in its hiding place, as shown in Figure 5, shows that it was not put down hurriedly, as it was found neatly in a tight gap between rows of boxes.
Even Warren Commission attorney Wesley Liebeler, when commenting on the rifle tests performed for the Commission, admitted that the tests led him to doubt the report. In an internal memo, he stated ‘To put it bluntly, that sort of selection from the record could seriously affect the integrity and credibility of the entire report. These conclusions will never be accepted by critical persons anyway.’
Oswald’s whereabouts at the time of the assassination is, of course, a vitally important issue, and there is much controversy about this fact. While for the Warren Commission to be accurate, he shot the president from the sixth floor of the Book Depository, he was seen by Patrolman Marrion Baker in the second floor lunchroom a short time after the assassination. It is controversial as to how much time had passed between the shooting and Baker’s encounter with Oswald. While the Warren Commission states that 75 seconds was the minimum amount of time it could have been, established through re-enactments, the time was, in reality, less than this. When Baker’s official time getting from the motorcade to the Depository during the tests was 75 seconds, he said on that test, he ‘kind of ran,’ whereas the Warren Commission makes it clear that on the day of the assassination, he ‘dashed’ up the stairs. This makes it clear that his meeting with Oswald would have actually been less than 75 seconds after the shooting.
At this time, according to Baker, he was sipping a can of coke, looking ‘calm and collected,’ and not out of breath. So after firing the fatal shots, Oswald allegedly laid his gun down neatly, went to the stairwell on the opposite end of the floor, travelled down four flights of stairs, bought and started drinking a can of coke. And he supposedly managed this without appearing out of breath less than 75 seconds after the shooting.
Also opposing the theory that Oswald was the lone assassin is that when he was seen, he was wearing a rust-coloured shirt, whereas all five of the witnesses who supposedly saw someone on the sixth-floor prior to the assassination identified him as wearing a light-coloured shirt. One of these witnesses was Howard Brennan, who was farsighted, with his vision of things at a distance described as ‘extraordinary.’ If we accept this piece of testimony, which seems reasonable, given five different witnesses agreed, in the 75 second period, Oswald would have also had to change his shirt. This gives even less credibility to the Warren Report’s findings.
While there is controversy over Oswald’s actions immediately following the assassination, the same can be said for his whereabouts just prior to the shooting. Bonnie Ray Williams, a co-worker of Oswald’s, gave testimony that he ate his lunch on the sixth-floor, near the south-east corner, between 12:00 and 12:18PM, and saw and heard ‘no-one around.’ This testimony was considered reliable by the Warren Commission and shows that Oswald wasn’t on the sixth-floor just 12 minutes prior to the assassination. It seems very doubtful that Oswald would not be prepared for the shooting at this time, since assembling and loading his weapon would take at least 10 minutes. Giving less credibility to the lone gunman theory is the fact that the motorcade was five minutes late, arriving at 12:30 rather than 12:25. Unless Oswald knew of this delay, which doesn’t seem likely, he would not have enough time to assemble the weapon before the motorcade drove past.
Oswald’s actions immediately after leaving the Depository also imply that he was not the assassin. Preparing to travel back to his boarding house by taxi, the taxi driver stated that he was very calm, and even offered his taxi to an elderly lady, very uncharacteristic of someone who had just killed the President of the United States. While his actions following the assassination are not solid proof that he was innocent of the murders, the other details put it beyond doubt. Based on the large amount of evidence, it can be safely concluded that Oswald was not Kennedy’s assassin.
There is a great extent of evidence that weakens the Lone Gunman Theory put forward by the Warren Commission. In particular, the magic bullet theory, Oswald’s incapability to fire the fatal shots, and his questionable whereabouts at the time of the assassination are remarkably convincing in undermining the credibility of the entire Warren Commission report. Based on this evidence, it can be concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the assassin of President Kennedy. Based on this, it must therefore be concluded that the Warren Commission is inaccurate. If we accept that the Warren Commission’s standpoint on the events of Kennedy’s assassination is flawed, we must investigate further to uncover evidence of what actually happened. There is a multitude of evidence that a conspiracy was responsible for Kennedy’s death. This includes, but is not limited to: the dented bullet shell found in the Texas School Book Depository, which proves that only two bullets could be fired from the sixth-floor, and an assassin must therefore have shot from somewhere else; the fact that the President’s head moved back and to the left after being shot, indicative of being shot from behind by a second shooter; the strong evidence of a shot fired from the grassy knoll; and the low level of security guidelines followed by the Secret Service both prior to and during the assassination.
The idea that a conspiracy was responsible for John Kennedy’s death was around very soon after the assassination. 15 years after the assassination, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, a congressional committee, reviewed the Warren Report, and, while they accepted many aspects of the report, concluded that Kennedy was murdered ‘probably as a result of a conspiracy.’ The HSCA criticized both the Warren Commission and the FBI for failing to investigate whether others were involved. While not naming the gunman, they stated that there was probably a second gunman, besides Oswald, firing from the grassy knoll.
In trying to prove that there was a second gunman, there is an abundance of evidence available. Just one piece of evidence is CE543, the dented bullet shell that was found on the sixth-floor of the Texas School Book Depository near the sniper’s window. The damage that the shell sustained means it is questionable as to whether or not it could fire a bullet. If it couldn’t have been used, then no more than two bullets could be fired from the Depository, and as the lone gunman theory requires three bullets, there must have been a second assassin. In Bonar Menninger’s book, Mortal Error, he questioned firearms expert Howard Donahue, saying ‘one of the shells was dented and showed numerous marks from the carrier,’ and that he ‘did not believe this dented shell could have been used to fire a bullet that day. The gun would not have functioned properly.’ Gerald Posner, lone gunman theorist and author of Case Closed, disagreed with the statement, saying that HSCA tests showed ‘rapid firing of the Carcano resulted in some shells being dented in the exact same location upon ejection.’ Donahue countered Posner’s claim: ‘there were no shells dented in that manner by the HSCA… these cases could only be dented by feeding the case into the breach of the gun with great force… I have never seen a case dented like this.’
Donahue is not the only one that believes the shell could not have been fired. Chris Mills, a British researcher established one way the case could have been damaged: ‘similar damage can be caused by loading an empty case in the weapon… the more times this was attempted, the more likely the damage was to occur… this led me to the apparent conclusion that this particular case had been fired at some earlier time, then reloaded empty, probably several times.’ This conclusion brings about the obvious question of why? Mills speculated that: ‘the empty case was fed through several times so it could be matched by scratch marks on its surface, to the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, whether or not the bullet was really fired from that weapon.’ This conclusion points strongly to a conspiracy with considerable thought behind it, that not only were the bullet shells planted, but they were even tampered with to make it seem as if they came from the alleged murder weapon. The evidence of the dented bullet shell gives assurance that only two bullets were fired from the Depository, too little even for the lone gunman theory. Therefore it must be concluded that there was a second gunman in the assassination, and there is strong evidence to suggest where that gunman might have been situated.
One strong piece of evidence of conspiracy is the fact that Kennedy’s head moved back and to the left as he was struck by the fatal bullet. This strongly indicates the bullet came from in front of him, from the grassy knoll, rather than behind him, from the School Book Depository. At frame 313 of the Zapruder film, we see Kennedy’s head moving forwards, which indicate a shot from behind. However, at frame 314 his head moves sharply backwards, indicating a shot from the front. This shows that while there was indeed, a shot from behind, possibly from the School Book Depository, there was another from in front of him very soon after. While this seems proof that there was a second gunman, lone gunman theorists still disagree. They refer to the ‘jet effect’ phenomenon, which claims that a bullet wound will result in a body being driven back towards the source of the bullet. Craig Roberts, the marine sniper who attempted and failed to recreate Oswald’s alleged shooting feat, is sure that this theory is false, having spent much time in combat, and not noticing this effect. He claimed that anyone who supported the claim ‘had obviously never served in combat, where witnessing high-velocity bullet strikes was commonplace.’ Even if the ‘jet effect’ phenomena was true, the Zapruder film’s depiction of Kennedy’s head moving in both directions still proves that there were shots coming from two different directions. The Zapruder film is photographic evidence that there was more than one assassin, and therefore, a conspiracy to kill the President.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the bullet which came from the front was indeed from the grassy knoll area identified by the HSCA as well as numerous witnesses as a probable position for the second assassin. Just preceding the shooting, suspicious events were noticed on the grassy knoll by two witnesses, Lee Bowers and Julie Ann Mercer. About half an hour before the assassination, Bowers saw three cars entering the parking lot behind the knoll, an area that was cut off at 10:00 that morning. One of the drivers was talking into a microphone, seemingly investigating the area. Just minutes before the shots were fired, he saw two men standing near the fence, one young and wearing a plaid shirt, and one middle-aged and thick-set. Mercer also saw men matching their descriptions about an hour and a half before the shooting, one of whom was carrying a brown case resembling a rifle case. She describes the two men as Bowers did, but neither claim was investigated properly. Patrolman Joe Murphy, one of three officers Mercer alerted, said they were construction workers working on the First National Bank, although he didn’t remember the name. This was never looked into; suggesting the FBI or Dallas Police may not have wanted to draw attention to it, as it would have been a simple matter for them to find out what the men were doing, and disregard the account. British scholar Matthew Smith says this ‘raises more questions than it answers, and strengthens Miss Mercer's claims.’
Gun smoke, seen above the grassy knoll by seven men following the shooting, also suggests that that is where the second assassin was firing from. Gerald Posner has tried to downplay these claims by saying that witness James Simmons said he saw ‘exhaust fumes,’ although, in a 1966 interview, he said that he saw a puff of smoke. Simmons said that, when he and others went to investigate, there ‘were footprints in the mud around the fence and footprints on the two-by-four railing on the fence.’ In his anti-conspiracy book, Case Closed, Posner also ignored testimony from others who saw smoke. His distortion of the truth indicates that even supporters such as him are able to acknowledge the weakness of the lone gunman theory.
The smell of gunpowder was detected by numerous witnesses immediately following the shooting. Three of these witnesses were in the motorcade, and could not have smelled the gunpowder if it were coming from the sixth-floor of the Depository. Policeman Joe Smith, who was holding up traffic, heard a woman shout out ‘They’re shooting the President from the bushes.’ Smith investigated the knoll, and stated that ‘around the hedges, there was the smell, the lingering smell of gunpowder.’
One last piece of evidence suggesting the second shooter came from the grassy knoll is the man that was seen running after the shots were fired. JC Price saw a man ‘running very fast, which gave me the suspicion that he was doing the shooting… he was carrying something in his hand which could have been a gun.’
The strong evidence suggesting a shooter from the grassy knoll indicates there was almost certainly a second shooter, and therefore a conspiracy. The FBI’s inability or unwillingness to act on witness testimony implies that they were very likely involved in the cover-up of the conspiracy.
The negligent security present around President Kennedy both during and before the assassination is another issue which points to the possibility of conspiracy. One of many examples of this is that the buildings along the motorcade route were never inspected, although Secret Service regulations required all buildings to be checked along standard routes. As Superintendent Ducret, who was responsible for then French President Charles De Gaulles’s security, stated: ‘It can be assumed that occupied office or apartment buildings are relatively safe... On the other hand, all unoccupied buildings that would be ideal for an ambush must not only be watched, but actually occupied by forces placed directly under the supervision of the Presidential security division.’ While a few men would have been adequate to guard Dealey Plaza, this precaution was not taken, even though it was the riskiest spot on the motorcade route, surrounded by five buildings.
The police motorbikes escorting the motorcade were also in an insufficient number when compared to the security in place for Kennedy’s motorcade through Houston the day before. Instead of the usual six, only four were assigned, and rather than flanking the limousine, as usual, they were instructed to remain at its rear. Of these four motorcycles, one fell back in the motorcade before shooting began, weakening security on the right side.
The Secret Service men in Kennedy’s limousine failing to properly perform their duties was another aspect of security that was bizarrely lacking. While the agent on the passenger side should have either pushed the president down or thrown his own body on the president’s, he was observed to do neither. The driver of the limousine also failed to perform his proper function. He was supposed to accelerate, taking the vehicle away from dangers such as sniper fire, but he didn’t accelerate, and may have slowed down. The Zapruder film shows that the brake lights of the limousine were on for most of the shooting, remaining on until after the President was fatally shot in the head. The general reaction time of all the Secret Service agents during the assassinations was pathetically slow: while the tactical and ballistic aspects of the operation were based on a reaction time of three seconds; the first agent to move, Clint Hill, took at least seven seconds to react. This slow time was a clear example of the agents failing to follow their duties effectively.
The large amount of security flaws evident in the preparation of Kennedy’s visit, as well as during the assassination, strongly suggests conspiracy as the cause of the President’s death. It suggests that the chiefs of the Secret Service were a part of the conspiracy, as their failure to do something as simple as inspecting the buildings along the motorcade route greatly increased the chance of an attempt on Kennedy’s life.
There is a multitude of evidence to analyse in the assassination of John Kennedy on 22nd November, 1963. The vast majority of this evidence points strongly towards the Warren Commission being flawed in its accuracy, with the Lone Gunman Theory proved beyond any reasonable doubt to be physically impossible. It can be concluded that Oswald was not President Kennedy’s assassin, as he lacked the ability, and was also not in the right place, to assassinate the President. It can further be concluded that a conspiracy was responsible for the President’s death, demonstrated through many pieces of evidence, which include: the dented bullet shell, which proves the presence of a second shooter; Kennedy’s head moving back and to the left, indicating a shot from in front; suspicious events on the grassy knoll, implying a shot from that area; and the low level of security followed by the Secret Service, suggesting their involvement in the assassination. The evidence, which is excessive, strongly suggests conspiracy on the part of a number of people: at least two shooters; the United States Secret Service; and almost certainly many others. The conspiracy shows much evidence of concealment and secrecy, something which President Kennedy himself was much opposed to. In the words of Kennedy, speaking before the American Newspaper Publishers Association: ‘we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.’
The alleged path of the ‘magic bullet’
CE399, the ‘pristine bullet’
The Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald allegedly used
The rifle shown put neatly between rows of boxes