JFK Assassination Theorists

When Jack Ruby killed Oswald two days later, he acted alone, motivated by patriotism and a desire to spare Jackie K a traumatizing return to Dallas for Oswald's trial. The commission found no evidence of a conspiracy. It dismissed rumors that Oswald and Ruby knew each other, or that Oswald was an agent, employee, or informant of the FBI or the CIA. In perhaps its most controversial finding, it said there was "very persuasive evidence...to indicate" that JFK and Gov. John Connally (who rode beside his wife in a jump seat directly in front of the president and was also hit) were struck by the same bullet, Commission Exhibit 399, which allegedly traversed the president's neck, then ripped through Connally's chest and wrist and on into his thigh. Bullet 399 was found, scarcely scratched or deformed, on Connally's stretcher at Parkland Hospital. (Many critics say it was planted there.) The Single-Bullet Theory was championed by commission assistant counsel (later U.S. senator) Arlen Specter, who has been a routinely demonized figure because of his role in formulating it. In Post Mortem, the ever-wrathful Weisberg writes that the commission staff pinned down The Truth while young Specter "indulged his guilty lust to sire" this "parthenogenic monster." Anti-Warren doubters call 399 the Bastard or the Magic Bullet.

The earliest conspiracy-theory surge came from Europe. Thomas Buchanan, an expatriate American living in England, devised one of the first widely known suspicion scenarios. (It was answered in the Report.) In Who Killed Kennedy?, 1964, he said that a Mr. X, a Texas oil baron, had JFK murdered as part of a larger plot to gain control of the global oil market. A panel of British and French intellectuals, including Bertrand Russell, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Jean Paul Sartre, signed on to a European "Who Killed Kennedy Committee." (When Jean Paul's involvement came to the attention of

J. Edgar Hoover in a 1964 FBI memo, our domestic-intelligence czar scribbled in the margin, "Find out who Sartre is.")

In the U.S., a new wave of doubt followed the release of the Warren Report. Mark Lane, a New York lawyer, positioned himself as Oswald's defense attorney, pestered the commission with highly publicized antics, and published Rush to Judgment in 1966. This critique was a best seller, as was Edward Jay Epstein's Inquest, which offered a peek at the workings and behind-the-scenes squabblings of the commission. (Among other things, Inquest showed that the commission was divided on the Single-Bullet Theory.) By the end of 1966, enough controversy was afloat to inspire Esquire to publish a theory roundup.

The first-generation researchers tended toward police-detective analysis of the flaws and evidentiary puzzles of the Warren Report. (A few major topics: whether the Single-Bullet Theory squared with the images in the Zapruder film, the famous home movie of JFK's murder, shot during the grisly moments by Abraham Zapruder, a small businessman who stood on a concrete wall on the grassy knoll as the motorcade went by; the strange, seemingly bungled autopsy of JFK performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital that night; and reports by earwitnesses who claimed to have heard shots coming from the knoll.) Even so, plenty of full-blown conspiracy theories were around back then. Esquire listed, among others: Racist Theory (anti-Civil Rights rednecks whacked JFK); Cuba-Framed Theory(proposed by Fidel Castro, who said Oswald, who had reportedly tried to defect to Cuba, was used to make him look bad); Manchurian-Candidate Theory (the Soviets brainwashed Oswald); Fall-Guy Theory (CIA-FBI-Army puppeteers used O); and Mafia Theory (a French writer, Serge Groussard, speculated about a conspiracy involving "the Al Capone gang," Ruby, Oswald, and Tippit).

In 1967 news of Jim Garrison's probe hit the papers, causing a major media sensation. Garrison charged that Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman, plotted with anti-Castro Cubans and right-wingers - including a freaky, totally bald man named David Ferrie, who sported a monkey-hair wig and painted-on eyebrows - to kill the president. Ferrie would have been indicted, too, but he was killed, or committed suicide, or died of natural causes (it depends on who's talking) a week after Garrison's investigation was made public. Garrison said the CIA was deeply involved in JFK's death. Citing Cui Bono Theory ("Who Benefits?"), he strongly suggested that LBJ was in on it, as well. American journalists turned against Garrison over the next two years - his enemies called him a publicity hound who brought a fraudulent case to trial - and in 1969 Shaw was acquitted after a speedy deliberation. (Much more about all this shortly.)

The Garrison trial hurt the critics' credibility. (Lane, Penn Jones, Jr. - author of the Forgive My Grief series, which fixated on alleged mystery deaths of numerous people connected to the assassination - Mort Sahl, and other Dealey Plaza Irregulars were embarrassingly at large in New Orleans in an advisory role.) The buffs made a comeback by the mid-Seventies, though, thanks to several factors. Wide public exposure to the Zapruder film (Geraldo screened it on Good Night, America in 1975) convinced many citizens and members of Congress that the fatal head shot had to have come from the front and right of the president - i.e., from the grassy knoll - because it shows JFK's head lurching backward and to the left. Congressional investigations (notably the Church Committee, which exposed the strange CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro) and Watergate (which made anything seem possible) ushered in the modern era of theorizing, which is often marked by exceedingly complex talk of high-level, multiplayer, intelligence-agency-driven cabals.

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