From time to time, people find my articles in print or here on these Web pages, and they write me to tell me their latest theory, to inquire about my writings, or to take me to task for not agreeing with their obviously superior conclusions. As time and the merit of the thoughts expressed permit, I try to reply to these notes when I can.
RECOMMENDATION FOR THIS ARTICLE
BY THE INDEPENDENCE HALL ASSOCIATION,
IN THEIR USHISTORY.ORG WEBSITE.
However, the e-mails I value most are those from students who have just discovered the mysteries and contradictions and conundrums of the JFK Assassination. Their enthusiasm and sense of determined inquiry not only inspire me but also remind me of myself when I first began to read about the case. Almost always these notes take the form of requests for more information to aid them in some sort of school project or paper. And this gladdens me all the more, because it shows that teachers are allowing, and in some cases encouraging, students to explore all aspects of recent American history, not just the "official" versions.
In 1998 I had just such a request from a student in Texas, and because her questions were so well thought out and demonstrated a good fundamental grasp of the major issues of the case, I decided that, in addition to answering it by e-mail, I would reproduce the answers here. Perhaps -- to the extent that my research, opinions, conclusions, and recommendations for further research are valuable -- it will prove helpful to others who have the same questions. In the intervening time, a few other quality questions have come to me, and I have added them and my answers here as well.
Click on one of the following questions to be taken to my answer, or browse all replies by scrolling down this page.
Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin? If not, who else do you think was involved? Do you think the truth will ever be known?
Do you agree with the conclusions of the Warren Commission? If not, explain.
Do you agree with the verdict in the case against Clay Shaw set forth by Jim Garrison?
How many shots do you think were fired at President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
If Oswald was the lone assassin, wouldn't it have been easier for him to open fire when the limousine was approaching on Houston Street, rather than waiting for the limousine to turn onto Elm Street?
What is your opinion on the historical accuracy of Oliver Stone's movie JFK?
Do you believe there is any connection between the death of President Kennedy and the death of his brother Robert Kennedy?
What has become of Lee Harvey Oswald's family?
From where do you think the shots were fired at President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
What is your opinion on the unnatural deaths of many of the witnesses to the assassination?
Do you believe President Lyndon B. Johnson was involved in Kennedy's death?
What books or other sources do you recommend for someone interested in learning more about the assassination?
What is the importance or significance of “The Raleigh Call”?
- Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin? If not, who else do you think was involved? Do you think the truth will ever be known?
I believe the evidence is overwhelming that Oswald was not the lone assassin. (See the questions below on the source and number of the shots.) In fact, there is evidence that he was not even one of the assassins. Tests tended to show that he had not fired a rifle that day, and there is eye-witness testimony that places him several floors below the "sniper's lair" both just before and just after the assassination. See Mark Lane's book Rush to Judgment for many more details. In that book, Lane acts as a "defense counsel" for Oswald, showing in great detail the evidence that tends to point away from Oswald's guilt — or at least his sole guilt.
Let me also quote from an article that Dr. James R. Black and I wrote in 1995, to further answer this question:
"Throughout the time we have been trying to unravel the conspiracy, people have asked us the same two questions over and over again: 'Who killed Kennedy?' and 'Will the truth ever come out?' We have consistently refused to speculate publicly on the former question (and will not do so now), because no one's conjectures — including ours — are really worth very much. And the answer to the latter question is more interesting anyway.
"Will the truth ever come out? Our reply for the last ten years has been, 'Who says that it hasn't come out already?' The marketplace of ideas has been flooded with an enormous number of opposing and contradictory 'solutions,' some by well-meaning and hard-working researchers, and some which are obvious and blatant attempts at disinformation. Who is to say that, somewhere in that morass of opinion and deception, the real answer hasn't already been revealed? The problem is that we have no way of knowing, because the government and the press — by abrogating their responsibilities — have deprived us of the normal and official venues for discerning the truth."
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- Do you agree with the conclusions of the Warren Commission? If not, explain.
I do not agree with either the procedures or the conclusions of the Warren Commission. For whatever reason (and they may have been reasons that some would consider good ones, like national security), they seem to have started with the idea that Oswald was guilty and forced everything in their research and report to reflect that fact. When he published Rush to Judgment, Mark Lane admitted up front he was writing a book that would be a legal brief for Oswald; the Commission never admitted it -- in fact, it presented itself as an impartial fact-finding board -- but they seemed equally biased, only against Oswald.
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- Do you agree with the verdict in the case against Clay Shaw set forth by Jim Garrison?
Whether or not he actually was, there seems no doubt that Oswald believed he was working in/for some aspect of American intelligence. The people in whose company he moved in and out of, the shadowy way he lived his life, the secretive comments he was heard to make from time to time, and the mysterious events which always seemed to swirl around and include him, all point to a man who thought he was participating in something like intelligence work. It seems clear that people close to Oswald made him think he had been recruited (probably as far back as his military days) to work as some sort of agent. In order to believe in the case that Garrison made against Clay Shaw, you need to believe that, in fact, those people actually were American intelligence agents, and that (for whatever reasons; perhaps merely to use him as a pawn) those people did recruit Oswald for that purpose.
Was Clay Shaw a part of that plan? I don't know. Was Oswald really recruited by true American intelligence agents? I don't know. Was Clay Shaw really guilty of conspiring to kill the president? I don't know. But... did Oswald believe he had been recruited by American intelligence agents, and did those people ultimately turn against him and make him (as he said) a "patsy"? Almost certainly that is true.
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- How many shots do you think were fired at President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
Consult Mark Lane's book Rush to Judgment. He did perhaps the best job of anyone (including the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations) in finding ALL the witnesses who were in Dealey Plaza that day and asking them (a) how many shots did they heard, and (b) where they thought the shots were coming from. The fewest anyone said was three. The most was eight or so. Eyewitness testimony as to the number of shots in a case like that is ultimately quite unreliable. By definition, people do not expect the shots to begin, and so are startled by them. By the time they focus on what's happening, often they are too late to really starting "counting." Trying to figure out how many shots were fired based on how much damage was done (to the President, to the Governor, to the car, and to the by-stander Tague), the minimum number required seems to be no less than four, and probably more like six. The worst piece of work the Warren Commission did was done by attorney (later Senator) Arlen Specter who devised the "single-bullet theory." This theory seems to have been reasoned this way: the most number of shots Oswald could have fired was three. One shot missed the car and hit the by-stander (that's one). The final shot hit the President in the head (that's two). Everything else that was done (since we are sure Oswald acted alone, they reasoned) had to have been done by a single bullet. Mark Lane's analysis in Rush to Judgment and Anthony Summers' analysis in Conspiracy (later updated and republished as Not In Your Lifetime) demonstrate the folly of this line of thinking.
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- If Oswald was the lone assassin (as stated by the Warren Commission), wouldn't it have been easier for him to open fire when the limousine was approaching on Houston Street, rather than waiting for the limousine to turn onto Elm Street?
Many researchers have speculated about this -- that it might have been easier for a lone assassin in the School Book Depository 6th Floor to fire at an on-coming car on Houston Street, as opposed to waiting for the car to turn onto Elm Street and be going away from him.
One rationale is that it might have been best for the sniper to wait for the car to slow down -- which is of course what it HAD to do in order to make the "hairpin turn" off of Houston onto Elm. The slower speed would result in less distance the car would cover, keeping the it in the sniper’s sight for a longer time. The sniper would therefore have a longer time to get the shot(s) off once the car was on Elm Street.
But also consider this: Look at the photo reproduced below. This is a picture of Houston Street taken from Oswald's supposed 6th Floor window. (Don't be confused by the photograph. The traffic here is shown going away from the School Book Depository. That's because it is a one-way street. On the day of the assassination, the motorcade was routed the "wrong" way up Houston, approaching the building.) Remember that Kennedy was in a convertible, with a bullet-proof front windshield. Notice how CLOSE to the building the car would have to have come in order for Kennedy’s head and upper body to be visible out from behind the front windshield. That would give the sniper far less time to aim and get a shot off before the car was TOO close to the building.
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- What is your opinion on the historical accuracy of Oliver Stone's movie JFK?
This question needs to be answered in two parts: (1) how accurately do I think Stone depicted the various facts that researchers have uncovered over the years, and (2) do I agree with Stone's conclusions as to who killed the President and why?
As to the first question, the first time I saw the film I was overwhelmed at how meticulously accurate Stone was in showing details that represented various eye-witness accounts. He and others did a marvelous job of gathering all these facts and statements and perspectives and weaving them into a narrative. I remember thinking at the time that you could put a footnote about every 15 seconds of the movie showing whose testimony that particular detail came from (and in fact it has been done; see the published screenplay of the film JFK by Oliver Stone).
Concerning the second question, no, I do not share Stone's conclusions as to "who did it and why." To be fair, most of the books on the assassination come to different conclusions as to "who did it and why" and Stone's is just one of those views. He may be proved right one day, but the facts as they present themselves today (and as I know them) do not seem to best support his conclusions.
And here's a warning: if you ask these questions of someone who writes back and tells you he/she knows who killed Kennedy, don't believe them. No one (except those who were involved) knows for sure who did it. If any of the researchers really did know beyond a shadow of a doubt who did it, they would have published a blockbuster of a book, naming names, recounting confessions, and detailing facts in a way that would leave all of us absolutely sure. No one has done this. It may well be that no one will ever do it.
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- Do you believe there is any connection between the death of President Kennedy and the death of his brother Robert Kennedy?
This depends on what you mean by "connection." Were both assassinations events that shattered the feelings and hopes of many Americans? Yes. Were both assassinations politically motivated? Yes. Did both assassinations take from us visionaries who had the ability to inspire and motivate people even who did not agree with them on social or political issues? Yes. So in these ways, the events are "connected." However, if you are asking me if somehow the same people were responsible, then I couldn't possibly say. Among other reasons, I have not investigated the death of Robert Kennedy to any depth. And more to the point, I have no definitive knowledge as to who specifically planned or carried out the assassination of John Kennedy -- though I have my own private theories concerning to whom the evidence points -- so there is no way to make any such "connection."
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- What has become of Lee Harvey Oswald's family?
The widow of Lee Oswald has re-married and still lives, to the best of my knowledge and memory, somewhere in Texas. Her new married name is Marina Oswald Porter. She was interviewed extensively at the time of the release of Oliver Stone's film JFK, so you could look up some of those interviews and read of her life since the assassination.
Here is an interview with Lee and Marina's daughters, Rachel Oswald Porter and June Oswald Porter:
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- From where do you think the shots were fired at President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
Sam Holland, who was on the railroad overpass in front of the President's car at the time of the shooting, was positive there were at least four shots, and he said he knew where one of them came from: "I know where that third shot came from — from behind the picket fence, close to the little plaza.” When asked if he was sure that’s where the shot came from, he adamantly replied, “There’s no doubt in my mind! There’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind. In the statement that I made in the Sheriff’s office immediately after the shooting, and in the statement that I made to the Warren Commission, I made it very plain there was no doubt in my mind that there was definitely a shot fired from behind that picket fence.”
(The picture above is a frame from the filmed interview of Holland, showing him standing behind the picket fence on the Grassy Knoll showing from where he asserted at least one shot was fired. The full interview by attorney Mark Lane may be seen at the bottom of this section. For their honesty and courage to tell the truth despite intense and sometimes malicious pressure not to do so, there is a small coterie of people associated with the assassination who have become heroes of mine. Mr. Holland is at the top of that list.)
Forensic research, photographic and acoustical evidence, eye-witness testimony, the laws of physics, and common sense all indicate that at least one shot (the fatal shot that hit the President in the head) came from in front of him and to the right. Even the House Select Committee on Assassinations admitted this fact, even though they would not go so far as to rule out the possibility of "coincidence" — that two people totally unconnected to each other might have been firing at the President at the exact same time and in the exact same location. The best candidate for the location of the shot that came from in front is a small hill in the northwest corner of Dealey Plaza that has come to be known as the Grassy Knoll. I have stood there many times, behind the wooden fence at the top of the Knoll, and understand how perfect a location that would have been. Who and how many were there, I do not know. To the best of my knowledge, only those who were responsible know the answer to those questions.
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- What is your opinion on the unnatural deaths of many of the witnesses to the assassination?
The odds against 18 material witnesses to various aspects of the assassination dying under suspicious circumstances within a year and a half of the event have been calculated, supposedly by experts, as something close to one-hundred-trillion to one (100,000,000,000,000:1). In saying that, however, all the experts can accurately conclude is that it would have been a coincidence of extraordinary proportions for this to have happened by chance. However, coincidences do occur, even ones as extraordinary as this one would have been. No one has ever been able to link the death of even one of these witnesses to a "player" in the assassination. Unless and until that happens, this has to remain an interesting, serious, but otherwise irrelevant part of the case. Stick to the facts.
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- Do you believe President Lyndon B. Johnson was involved in Kennedy's death?
The idea that Lyndon Johnson in some way conspired in the planning of the assassination of John Kennedy is not a new one. People have speculated about this almost from the beginning. (It is, after all, standard investigative procedure in a murder case to ask "Who benefits?") But I have never seen anything but the most flimsy circumstantial and speculative "evidence" that pointed in that direction. However, did Johnson know in advance that others were going to kill Kennedy? There is some generally credible evidence that tends to show he might have done. By extension, if he knew in advance and did nothing to try to prevent it, then using legal definition one might make a case that he was (in that way) "involved."
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- What books or other sources do you recommend for someone interested in learning more about the assassination?
You might begin by reading my article called "Good Bye to All That," in which my co-author and I detail the reasons that we have given up researching the case, and in which we attempt to bring some of the current issues related to the investigation into focus. In roughly a chronological order, here are some other suggestions:
- As for other sources, of course the book which started it all is the Report of the Warren Commission, published in 1964, in which the governmental agency detailed the case for naming Oswald the lone assassin. No research into the case is complete without understanding the tenets (and flaws) of this investigation. A good companion to this book is the Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), published in the late 1970s, in which (finally) a governmental agency admitted the possibility of a conspiracy in the case.
- The "grandfather" of all books critical of the Warren Commission is Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment. It is still today, in my opinion, the best "primer" on the issues of the case; after reading it you will have all of the major points of the critics in your grasp. Lane wrote it from the perspective of a legal "brief for the defense" of Oswald, and as such it presents in readable but categorical form all of the things that point to Oswald's innocence.
- Lane followed this up over ten years later with a volume that still resonates with possibilities, especially among those who believe that elements of the American intelligence community may have had a hand in planning the assassination. The book Plausible Denial details Lane's lawsuit (with surprising results) in which he attempted to demonstrate that Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt was a key planner of the assassination. My review of that book can be found on the Web.
- One of the key figures in Lane's Plausible Denial was a woman called Marita Lorenz. Here is what I wrote about her book Marita in 1993: "Among those on the shadowy fringe of the assassination now coming forward to write their own books is Marita Lorenz, whose short volume Marita purports to tell 'one woman's extraordinary tale of love and espionage from Castro to Kennedy.' To call Lorenz controversial is brilliant understatement. She claims to have ridden with future Watergater Frank Sturgis in the car that delivered the assassination guns to Dallas, where they were met by paymaster E. Howard Hunt. While Mark Lane relied on her heavily in his book Plausible Denial, her further claim that Frank Sturgis tried to kill her in the 1970's is rebutted rather effectively by Gaeton Fonzi in his current volume [see below]."
- Another really excellent "primer" volume is Anthony Summers' book Conspiracy, most recently updated and re-published under the title Not In Your Lifetime. Summers, a British journalist, is a superb writer and is scrupulously fair in his reporting. He was one of the first authors to point to the fact that Oswald either was, or thought he was, working for some aspect of American intelligence in the months prior to the assassination. The implications of that on the murder of the President are, of course, enormous.
- Though his official investigation into the assassination is either highly praised or roundly criticized, former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison very much believed elements of American Intelligence participated in the assassination. He wrote two powerful books you might wish to consult: On the Trail of the Assassins (the book that intrigued Oliver Stone into making the movie JFK) and A Heritage of Stone.
- There is, of course, a series of theories which assert that the American Mafia killed the president. If you wish to explore this area, you might consult one of two books written by G. Robert Blakey. One is called The Plot to Kill the President and the other is Fatal Hour: The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. Blakey was chief counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and his knowledge of the subject is unquestioned. There is also a book which came out in 1993 by John H. Davis called The Kennedy Contract.
- Finally, a superior book that helped shape my own research and understanding is the detail-oriented but brilliantly readable The Last Investigation by researcher Gaeton Fonzi. As can be seen on the cover illustration at right, The New York Times praised this book, noting that “Historians and researchers consider Mr. Fonzi’s book among the best.”
In 1993, I had this to say about the book: "Fonzi's style is never sensational or out of focus; he is the epitome of the rational, understated authority whose conclusions the nay-sayers will be hard pressed to fault. As a journalist, he asserts nothing more than his wish to set the record straight, and that record paints a picture that is at once gritty, exciting, deceit-filled, and seamy. In short, The Last Investigation is a singular milestone in the understanding of America's odyssey from before Dealey Plaza until today." My full review of this book can be found on the Web.
- What is the importance or significance of “The Raleigh Call”?
The “Raleigh Call,” as it has come to be known, concerns a telephone call that Lee Oswald is alleged to have attempted to make from the Dallas Jail to a man named John Hurt in Raleigh, North Carolina. John David Hurt was a military counterintelligence agent during World War II, and that fact alone was enough to raise all sorts of suspicion about what the connection between him and Oswald may have been. While we may never know for certain how Oswald came to have Hurt’s name and telephone number, G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, told me that his people researched the call, that they were ultimately convinced the story was legitimate, and that they were certain that Oswald really did attempt to make the call. For a complete narrative of the events surrounding the call, and a summary of what we know about the Raleigh Call incident, see the information I have posted on my Web site.
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