By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The theorists' big payoff came in 1977, when the House Select Committee on Assassinations began to reinvestigate the murders of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the next two years, the committee took hits from many directions - Warren Report boosters thought it was a waste of time; anti-Warren Report forces thought its work was watered down by congressional enemies. In 1979 the House Select reported its findings. Among the most important: It chided American intelligence agencies for withholding information from the Warren Commission but concluded that neither the Secret Service nor the FBI or CIA were involved, as organizations, in the assassination. Relying on acoustic analysis of a police Dictabelt recording that had been made when the shots rang out, it concluded that a fourth shot had been fired at JFK by a second gunman (possibly from a spot high on the grassy knoll), but it missed. (A different scientific panel reversed this in 1982. The matter is now in a state of perpetual dispute.) It also said, however, that Oswald fired all the shots that hit JFK, and that the Single-Bullet Theory was correct after all. House Select named a possible suspect for the Man Behind It All: Carlos Marcello, a New Orleans Mafia kingpin who had been harassed by Robert F. Kennedy's Justice Department. His probable motive dated to 1962, when mob-busting RFK had U.S. immigration officials hijack Marcello and dump him in Guatemala. From there he was bounced to El Salvador and suffered a painful, two-month odyssey before making it back to the States. Ed Becker, a Las Vegas private investigator, told the committee that in September of 1962 Marcello told him, "Don't worry about that little Bobby son of a bitch. He's going to be taken care of." But why go after JFK? Marcello allegedly cited Tail-of-the-Dog-Theory: If you cut off the dog's tail, the dog will keep biting. Cut off its head, and the whole dog dies, tail and all.
The committee found credible but "tenuous" evidence linking Oswald to figures (including Ferrie) "having a relationship...with Marcello's crime family," and it passed the detective's hat to the Justice Department, which didn't do much and officially closed the books on the case in 1988.
Critics have mixed feelings about the assassinations committee. Some call it a vindication of their efforts; others dismiss it as a second whitewash that put all the blame on the Mafia to deflect attention from the CIA. (Another line of thought is that G. Robert Blakey, the committee's chief counsel, simply had a pro-mob-did-it bias because of his background as an organized-crime fighter in RFK's Justice Department.) Since then, Mafia Theory - and the even more popular Renegade Intelligence Agents/Mafia/Anti-Castro Cubans/Disgruntled Military Men Theory - have become the theory equivalents of Bigfoot. They've flattened everything in their path but remain essentially unprovable. Over the years, many individuals have been blamed for JFK's death: Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Khrushchev, French drug kingpins, mob figure Santos Trafficante, and mob figure John Roselli, among others. Numerous crossfire scenarios have been cooked up, naming dozens of possible gunmen (by real name or code name). The number of shots generally ranges from three to nine, with riflemen studding Dealey Plaza like cloves on a Christmas ham. One buff, Massachusetts architect Robert Cutler, regularly publishes an elaborate drawing of who stood where when the shots were fired. But as a general rule, it is now more fashionable to concentrate on the bigger picture than on Dealey Plaza arcana. For some buffs, this sort of thing has been forever tainted by the overzealous efforts of too many lovable crackpots like Cutler.
Another common tendency among researchers is to look dimly on revisionist histories of JFK that portray him as a gung-ho Cold Warrior, an unprincipled cocksan, or an otherwise less-than-perfect figure. Last summer, for example, Ulric Shannon - the Great Rosy-Cheeked Hope - chided a Canadian reporter who asked him if JFK's affairs with the likes of mobster Sam Giancana's girlfriend Judith Exner or Marilyn Monroe might be relevant to his assassination. "You mean his alleged affairs," Shannon snapped. One exception to this line of thinking is Robert Blakey. In The Plot to Kill the President (1981, with Richard Billings), Blakey argues that JFK's affair with Exner was his "fatal flaw, the error in judgment for which the gods would demand their due." This view recently received a boost in a series of articles by Conspiracy author Anthony Summers in which Exner claims that she carried money between Kennedy and Giancana.
Oliver Stone, of course, picked Grand-Cabal Theory, which subordinates the mob to evil intelligence operatives. Crossfire is a grand-cabalist text, and while you really should read all of it to judge Marrs's evidence on its merits, a peek at his summary chapter gives you the basic idea. Marrs believes Kennedy was so chastened by the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the unpromising prospects in Vietnam that he had decided to stop his aggressive Cold Warriorin' and bring the boys home by 1965, work toward detente with the Soviet Union, and even extend peace feelers to Cuba. By the beginning of 1963, Marrs writes, JFK's overly liberal policies had angered too many powerful forces - the military, the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, big business, right-wingers, the mob - and a "decision was made at the highest level of the American business-banking-politics-military-crime power structure" to kill him "by means of a public execution." This civics lesson would serve notice to future presidents with similar ideas. On November 22, JFK stumbled into an elaborate ambush, with three volleys of shots - at least six bullets in all, possibly nine - fired by riflemen in the Texas School Book Depository, on the grassy knoll, and perhaps on the roof of the Dallas County Records Building. Oswald was exactly what he claimed to be during his incarceration: a "patsy" who did not comprehend the bizarre drama swirling around him. He probably didn't fire any shots. Jack Ruby, who murdered Oswald during O's transfer from city jail to the county jail, prevented him from telling what he knew, on orders from above. Who was the mastermind? Marrs ducks that, but his belief in Kennedy's Nam repentance leads him to suspect the man who oversaw that war's tragic escalation.