“Any concerted plan that placed Lee Harvey Oswald in the gunner’s seat,” wrote Norman Mailer in “Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery,” “would have had to have been built on the calculation that he would miss.” Yet Mailer, whose research took him back to the city of Minsk, where Oswald had lived under constant KGB surveillance while in the Soviet Union, said he believed Oswald was likely to have been the perpetrator.
The void left by John F. Kennedy’s death has been partially filled over the past five decades by an unending stream of theories concerning the seemingly bizarre circumstances of his murder. Loose ends and inexplicable phenomena are everywhere. Conspiracy buffs are quick to latch on to the botched security preparations by the Secret Service and FBI and the hasty cleanup of the presidential limousine and destruction of other key forensic evidence after the shooting.
Bonar Menninger’s 1992 book, “Mortal Error,” claims that JFK was shot by Secret Service agent George Hickey Jr., who while riding in “Queen Mary,” the follow-up car, fumbled his AR-15 rifle in response to hearing shots and accidentally discharged it, hitting and killing the president. That, proponents of this theory argue, explains why the government was “complicit” in the coverup.
Much, too, has been made of the unexplained deaths of people rumored to have knowledge of the assassination. Perhaps the most famous of these was Dorothy Kilgallen, showbiz columnist and panelist on the popular CBS quiz show “What’s My Line?” After interviewing Jack Ruby in prison, Kilgallen reportedly claimed to friends she had new information that was “about to blow the JFK case sky high.” The 52-year-old Kilgallen was found dead in her bed at home on Nov. 8, 1965, just 12 hours after a live TV appearance, from “undetermined” causes, possibly a drug overdose.
As far as the potential suspects for the killing, we have organized crime/International Brotherhood of Teamsters union; pro- and anti-Castro Cuban factions; the Soviet KGB; the CIA, FBI or other U.S. intelligence agency; the Dallas Police Department; Texas oilmen; a banking cartel; U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson; former Vice President Richard Nixon; and former CIA Director and later President George H.W. Bush.
For more off-the-wall theories, there are Louis Steven Witt, the “Umbrella Man” who stood in Dealey Plaza on a sunny afternoon holding his open umbrella to “heckle” JFK; baseball player Joe DiMaggio (ex-husband of actress Marilyn Monroe with whom JFK was rumored to have enjoyed a romantic dalliance); first lady Jacqueline Kennedy; the Israeli Mossad; the South Vietnamese; and unrepentant German Nazis.
Assuming two or more shooters were involved — and some theorists claim a “volley” of as many as 11 shots were fired — it’s been theorized that the fatal head shot came from the roof or another floor in the Texas School Book Depository (other than the sixth-story window); the neighboring Dal-Tex Building; behind the stockade fence above the grassy knoll; from the railway overpass; from the storm drain on Elm Street; and by a “special CIA-developed weapon” fired by William Greer, the driver of JFK’s limousine.
More recently, flamboyant ex-pro wrestler and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura took up the JFK assassination on Nov. 19, 2010, on a cable TV show called “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura.” Ventura’s show was discontinued after 22 episodes over three seasons, but he is reportedly considering a run for the presidency in 2016 as an independent candidate.
The conspiracy theorists have not been without their debunkers. Writing in The Times Literary Supplement of December 14, 1967, Oxford University academic John Sparrow described reading the wave of conspiracy books that challenged the Warren Commission report as a “painful experience.”
“They seek to discredit the Commission’s conclusions on vital points (e.g., the source of the shots) simply by calling to attention differences of opinion among the observers; they think they have undermined a conclusion supported by overwhelming evidence (e.g., that Oswald murdered patrolman J.D. Tippit) if they have demonstrated the unreliability of some of the witnesses. … They treat blunders on the part of officials as proofs of dishonesty. … And they point to improbabilities as invalidating the explanations given in the Report, when their own explanations of the same facts are … far more difficult to believe,” Sparrow wrote.
“Worst of all (they) repeatedly fail to distinguish between a good point and a bad one and refuse to abandon arguments that have shown to be without foundation,” he wrote.
Washington Post columnist George Will described Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK” as a “celluloid diatribe,” and “cartoon history” by an “intellectual sociopath, indifferent to the truth.”
“The through-the-looking-glass premise of this movie,” Will wrote, “is: Proof of the vastness of the conspiracy is that no one can prove it exists.”
He then went on to describe Stone’s film as “an act of execrable history and contemptible citizenship by a man of technical skill, scant education and negligible conscience.”