Assassination of John F. Kennedy
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|Assassination of John F. Kennedy|
President Kennedy with his wife, Jacqueline, and Governor of Texas John Connally in the presidential limousine, minutes before the President's assassination.
|Location|| Dealey Plaza
|Date||November 22, 1963
12:30 p.m. ( Central Time)
|Target||John F. Kennedy|
|Attack type||Sniper style assassination|
|Weapon(s)||6.5 × 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle|
|Deaths||1 killed (President Kennedy)|
|Injured (non-fatal)||2 wounded ( Governor Connally and James Tague)|
|Perpetrator||Lee Harvey Oswald|
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC) on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally's wife Nellie, in a presidential motorcade. A ten-month investigation in 1963-64 by the Warren Commission concluded that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald before he could stand trial. Although the Commission's conclusions were initially supported by a majority of the American public, polls conducted between 1966 and 2003 found that as many as 80 percent of Americans have suspected that there was a plot or cover-up.
In contrast to the conclusions of the Warren Commission, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The HSCA found the original FBI investigation and the Warren Commission Report to be seriously flawed. While agreeing with the Commission that Oswald fired all the shots which caused the wounds to Kennedy and Connally, the HSCA stated that there were at least four shots fired (only three of which could be linked to Oswald) and that there was "...a high probability that two gunmen fired at [the] President." The HSCA did not identify any other person or group involved in the assassination besides Oswald, but they did specifically say the CIA, the Soviet Union, organized crime, and several other groups were not involved, although they could not rule out the involvement of individual members of those groups. Kennedy's assassination is still the subject of widespread debate and has spawned numerous conspiracy theories and alternative scenarios.
Route to Dealey Plaza
President Kennedy's motorcade route through Dallas was planned to give him maximum exposure to Dallas crowds before his arrival, along with Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally, at a luncheon with civic and business leaders in that city. The White House staff informed the Secret Service that the President would arrive in Dallas via a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to Dallas Love Field airport. The Dallas Trade Mart had been preliminarily selected for the luncheon and the final decision of the Trade Mart as the end of the motorcade journey was selected by President Kennedy's friend and appointments secretary Kenneth O'Donnell. Leaving from Dallas' Love Field, 45 minutes had been allotted for the motorcade to reach the Dallas Trade Mart at a planned arrival time of 12:15 PM. The actual route was chosen to be a meandering 10-mile route from Love Field to the Trade Mart which could be driven slowly in the allotted time.
Special Agent Winston G. Lawson, a member of the White House detail who acted as the advance Secret Service Agent, and Secret Service Agent Forrest V. Sorrels, Special Agent In Charge of the Dallas office, were most active in planning the actual route. On November 14, Lawson and Sorrels attended a meeting at Love Field and drove over the route which Sorrels believed best suited for the motorcade. From Love Field, the route passed through a portion of suburban Dallas, through the downtown area along Main Street, and finally to the Trade Mart via a short segment of the Stemmons Freeway. For the President's return to Love Field, from which he planned to depart for a fund-raising dinner in Austin later in the day, the agents selected a more direct route, which was approximately 4 miles (some of this route would be used after the assassination). The planned route to the Trade Mart was widely reported in Dallas newspapers several days before the event, for the benefit of people who wished to view the motorcade.
To pass through downtown Dallas, a route west along Dallas' Main Street, rather than Elm Street (one block to the north) was chosen, because this was the traditional parade route, and provided the maximal building and crowd views. The Main Street route precluded a direct turn onto the Fort Worth Turnpike exit (which served also as the Stemmons Freeway exit), which was the route to the Trade Mart, because this exit was accessible only from Elm Street. The planned motorcade route thus included a short one-block turn at the end of the downtown segment of Main Street, onto Houston Street for one block northward, before turning again west onto Elm, in order to proceed through Dealey Plaza before exiting Elm onto the Stemmons Freeway. The Texas School Book Depository was situated at this corner of Houston and Elm.
On November 22, after a breakfast speech in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy had stayed overnight after arriving from San Antonio, Houston and Washington, D.C. the previous day, the president boarded Air Force One, which departed at 11:10 and arrived at Love Field 15 minutes later. At about 11:40, the presidential motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, which was running on a schedule about 10 minutes longer than the planned 45 minutes, due to enthusiastic crowds estimated at 150,000-200,000 persons, and two unplanned stops directed by the president. By the time the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza they were only 5 minutes away from their planned destination.
Shooting in Dealey Plaza
At 12:29 p.m. CST, as President Kennedy's uncovered limousine entered Dealey Plaza, Nellie Connally, then the First Lady of Texas, turned around to President Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and commented, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you," which President Kennedy acknowledged.
From Houston Street, the presidential limousine made the planned left turn to put it on Elm Street to allow it to pass to the Stemmons Freeway exit. As it turned on Elm, the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository. As it continued down Elm Street, shots were fired at President Kennedy; a clear majority of witnesses recalled hearing three shots. A minority of the witnesses did recognize the first gunshot blast they heard as a weapon blast, but there was hardly any reaction from a majority in the crowd or riding in the motorcade itself to the first shot, with many later saying they heard what they first thought to be a firecracker or the exhaust backfire of a vehicle just after the president started waving.
Within one second of each other, President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and Mrs. Kennedy, all turned abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, between Zapruder film frames 155 and 169. Connally, a World War II military veteran like the President (and unlike the President, a longtime hunter), testified he immediately recognized the sound of a high-powered rifle, then he turned his head and torso rightward attempting to see President Kennedy behind him. Governor Connally testified he could not see the President, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right, to his left). Connally testified that when his head was facing about twenty-degrees left of center, he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet, fired in a gunshot that Connally testified he did not hear the muzzle blast from. When Governor Connally testified to this, the doctor who operated on him measured his head facing direction at twenty-seven degrees left of centre. After Connally was hit he then shouted, "Oh, no, no, no. My God. They're going to kill us all!"
Mrs. Connally testified that right after hearing a first loud, frightening noise that came from somewhere behind her and to her right, she immediately turned towards President Kennedy and saw him with his arms and elbows already raised high with his hands in front of his face and throat. She then heard another gunshot and John Connally started yelling. Mrs. Connally then turned away from President Kennedy towards her husband, then another gunshot sounded and she and the limousine's rear interior were now covered with fragments of skull, blood, and brain matter.
According to the Warren Commission, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as President Kennedy waved to the crowds on his right with his right arm upraised on the side of the limo, a shot entered his upper back, penetrated his neck, slightly damaged a spinal vertebra and the top of his right lung, exited his throat nearly centerline just beneath his larynx, then nicked the left side of his suit tie knot. He then raised his elbows and clenched his fists in front of his face and neck, then leaned forward and towards his left. Mrs. Kennedy (already facing him) then put her arms around him in concern. Governor Connally also reacted after the same bullet penetrated his back just below his right armpit, creating an oval entry wound, impacted and destroyed four inches of his right, fifth rib bone, exited his chest just below his right nipple creating a two-and-a-half inch oval sucking-air chest wound, then entered just above his right wrist, impacted and cleanly shattered his right radius bone into eight pieces, exited just below the wrist at the inner side of his right palm, and entered his left inner thigh. The Warren Commission theorized that the "single bullet" (see single bullet theory) struck sometime between Zapruder frames 210 to 225, while the House Select Committee theorized it occurred exactly at Zapruder frame 190.
According to the Warren Commission, a second shot struck the President at Zapruder film frame 313 (the Commission made no conclusion as to whether this was the second or third bullet fired) when the Presidential limousine was passing in front of the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure (the House Select Committee concluded that the final shot was a fourth shot and that there were two shooters, one of whom missed). Each group concluded that this shot entered the rear of President Kennedy's head (the House Select Committee determined the entry wound to be four inches higher than the Warren Commission), then exploded out a roughly oval-shaped hole from his head's rear and right side. Head matter, brain, blood, and skull fragments, originating from Kennedy, covered the interior of the car, the inner and outer surfaces of the front glass windshield and raised sun visors, the front engine hood, the rear trunk lid, the followup Secret Service car and its driver's left arm, and motorcycle officers riding on both sides of the president behind him. Mrs. Kennedy then reached out onto the rear trunk lid. After she crawled back into her limousine seat, both Governor Connally and Mrs. Connally heard her say more than once, "They have killed my husband," and "I have his brains in my hand."
United States Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill was riding on the left front running board of the followup car, immediately behind the Presidential limousine. Hill testified he heard one shot, then, as documented in other films and concurrent with Zapruder frame 308, he jumped off into Elm Street and ran forward to try to get on the limousine and protect the President. (Hill testified to the Warren Commission that after he jumped into Elm Street, he heard two more shots.) After the President had been shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began to climb out onto the back of the limousine, though she later had no recollection of doing so. Hill believed she was reaching for something, perhaps a piece of the President's skull. He jumped onto the back of the limousine while at the same time Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat, and he clung to the car as it exited Dealey Plaza and accelerated, speeding to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Governor Connally, riding in the same limousine in a seat in front of the President and three inches more to the left than the President, was also critically injured but survived. Doctors later stated that after the Governor was shot, his wife pulled him onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound (which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung).
James Tague, a spectator and witness to the assassination, also received a minor wound to his right cheek while standing 531 feet (162 m) away from the Depository's sixth floor, far-eastern window, 270 feet (82 m) in front of and slightly to the right of President Kennedy's head facing direction, and more than 16 feet (4.9 m) below the top of the President's head. Tague's injury occurred when a bullet or bullet fragment with no copper casing struck the nearby Main Street south curb. When Tague testified to the Warren Commission and was asked which of the three shots he remembered hearing struck him, he stated it was the second or third shot; when the Warren Commission attorney pressed him further, Tague stated he was struck concurrent with the second shot.
Aftermath in Dealey Plaza
The Presidential limousine was passing a grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street at the moment of the fatal head shot. As the motorcade left the plaza, police officers and spectators ran up the knoll and from a railroad bridge over Elm Street (the Triple Underpass), to the area behind a five-foot (1.5 m) high stockade fence atop the knoll, separating it from a parking lot. No sniper was found. S. M. Holland, who had been watching the motorcade on the Triple Underpass, testified that "immediately" after the shots were fired, he went around the corner where the overpass joined the fence, but did not see anyone running from the area.
Lee Bowers, a railroad switchman sitting in a two-story tower, had an unobstructed view of the rear of the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll during the shooting. He saw a total of four men in the area between his tower and Elm Street: a middle-aged man and a younger man, standing 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) apart near the Triple Underpass, who did not seem to know each other, and one or two uniformed parking lot attendants. At the time of the shooting, he saw "something out of the ordinary, a sort of milling around," which he could not identify. Bowers testified that one or both of the men were still there when motorcycle officer Clyde Haygood ran up the grassy knoll to the back of the fence. In a 1966 interview, Bowers clarified that the two men he saw were standing in the opening between the pergola and the fence, and that "no one" was behind the fence at the time the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who was sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, notified police that as he watched the motorcade go by, he heard a shot come from above, and looked up to see a man with a rifle make another shot from a corner window on the sixth floor. He said he had seen the same man minutes earlier looking out the window. Brennan gave a description of the shooter, which was broadcast to all Dallas police at 12:45 p.m., 12:48 p.m., and 12:55 p.m.
As Brennan spoke to the police in front of the building, they were joined by Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr., two employees of the Texas School Book Depository who had watched the motorcade from windows at the southeast corner of the fifth floor. Norman reported that he heard three gunshots come from directly over their heads. Norman also heard the sounds of a bolt action rifle and cartridges dropping on the floor above them.
Estimates of when Dallas police sealed off the entrances to the Texas School Book Depository range from 12:33 to after 12:50 p.m.
Of the 104 earwitnesses in Dealey Plaza who are on record with an opinion as to the direction from which the shots came, 54 (51.9%) thought that all shots came from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository, 33 (31.7%) thought that all shots came from the area of the grassy knoll or the Triple Underpass, 9 (8.7%) thought all shots came from a location entirely distinct from the knoll or the Depository, 5 (4.8%) thought they heard shots from two locations, and 3 (2.9%) thought the shots came from a direction consistent with both the knoll and the Depository.
Additionally, the Warren Commission said of the three shots they concluded were fired that "a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together."
Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald, reported missing to the Dallas police by Roy Truly, his supervisor at the Depository, was arrested approximately 70 minutes after the assassination for the murder of a Dallas police officer, J. D. Tippit. According to witness Helen Markam, Tippit had spotted Oswald walking along a sidewalk in the residential neighbourhood of Oak Cliff, three miles from Dealey Plaza. Officer Tippit had earlier received a radio message which gave a description of the suspect being sought in the assassination and called Oswald over to the patrol car. Helen Markam testified that after an exchange of words, Tippit got out of his car and Oswald shot him four times. Oswald was next seen by shoe store manager Johnny Brewer "ducking into" the entrance alcove of his store. Suspicious of this activity, Brewer watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the nearby Texas Theatre without paying. Brewer alerted the theatre's ticket clerk, who telephoned police at about 1:40 pm.
According to one of the arresting officers, M.N. McDonald, Oswald resisted arrest and was attempting to draw his pistol when he was struck and forcibly restrained by the police. He was charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Officer Tippit later that night. Oswald denied shooting anyone and claimed he was a patsy who was arrested because he had lived in the Soviet Union. Oswald's case never came to trial because two days later, while being escorted to a car for transfer from Dallas Police Headquarters to the Dallas County Jail, he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, live on American television. Arrested immediately after the shooting, Ruby later said that he had been distraught over the Kennedy assassination and that killing Oswald would spare "…Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial."
A 6.5 × 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone soon after the assassination of President Kennedy. The recovery was filmed by Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV. This footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano, and it was later verified by photographic analysis commissioned by the HSCA that the rifle filmed was the same one later identified as the assassination weapon. Compared to photographs taken of Oswald holding the rifle in his backyard, "one notch in the stock at [a] point that appears very faintly in the photograph" matched, as well as the rifle's dimensions.
The previous March, the Carcano rifle had been bought by Oswald under the name "A. Hidell" and delivered to a post-office box Oswald rented in Dallas. According to the Warren Commission Report, a partial palm print of Oswald was also found on the barrel of the gun, and a tuft of fibers found in a crevice of the rifle was consistent with the fibers and colors of the shirt Oswald was wearing at the time of his arrest.
A bullet found on Governor Connally's hospital gurney, and two bullet fragments found in the Presidential limousine, were ballistically matched to this rifle.
President Kennedy declared dead in the emergency room
The staff at Parkland Hospital's Trauma Room 1 who treated President Kennedy observed that his condition was " moribund", meaning that he had no chance of survival upon arriving at the hospital. Dr. George Burkley, the President's personal physician, stated that a gunshot wound to the skull was the cause of death. Dr. Burkley signed President Kennedy's death certificate.
At 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC), after all heart activity had ceased and after Father Oscar Huber had administered the last rites, the President was pronounced dead. "We never had any hope of saving his life," one doctor said. Father Huber told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. President Kennedy's death was officially announced by White House Acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff at 1:33 p.m. CST (19:33 UTC). Kilduff was acting press secretary on the trip because Pierre Salinger was traveling to Japan with half the Cabinet, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was taken to emergency surgery, where he underwent two operations that day.
A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. CST (20:00 UTC), President Kennedy's body was placed in a casket and taken from Parkland Hospital and driven to Air Force One. The casket was then loaded aboard the airplane through the rear door, where it remained at the rear of the passenger compartment, in place of a removed row of seats. The body was removed before a forensic examination could be conducted by the Dallas County Coroner, who had jurisdiction. At that time, it was not a federal offense to kill the President of the United States, although it was a federal crime to conspire to injure a federal officer while he was acting in the line of duty. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who became President upon President Kennedy's death, and had been riding two cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, refused to leave for Washington without President Kennedy and his widow.
At 2:38 p.m. CST (20:38 UTC), Vice-President Johnson took the oath of office on board Air Force One just before it departed from Love Field, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side.
The autopsy was performed, beginning at about 8 p.m. and ending at about midnight EST at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The choice of autopsy hospital in the Washington, D.C. area was made at the request of Mrs. Kennedy, on the basis that John F. Kennedy had been a naval officer.
The state funeral took place in Washington, DC during the three days that followed the assassination.
The body of President Kennedy was brought back to Washington, D.C. and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, the late President was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Recordings of the assassination
No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live because the area through which the motorcade was traveling was not considered important enough for a live broadcast. Most media crews were not even with the motorcade but were waiting instead at the Dallas Trade Mart in anticipation of President Kennedy's arrival. Those members of the media who were with the motorcade were riding at the rear of the procession.
The Dallas police were recording their radio transmissions over two channels. A frequency designated as Channel One was used for routine police communications. A second channel, designated Channel Two, was an auxiliary channel, which was dedicated to the President's motorcade. Up until the time of the assassination, most of the broadcasts on this channel consisted of Police Chief Jesse Curry's announcements of the location of the motorcade as it wound through the streets of Dallas.
President Kennedy's last seconds traveling through Dealey Plaza were recorded on silent 8 mm film for the 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination. This famous film footage was taken by garment manufacturer and amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, in what became known as the Zapruder film. Frame enlargements from the Zapruder film were published by Life magazine shortly after the assassination. The footage was first shown publicly as a film at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, and on television in 1975. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, an arbitration panel ordered the U.S. government to pay $615,384 per second of film to Zapruder's heirs for giving the film to the National Archives. The complete film, which lasts for 26 seconds, was valued at $16 million.
Zapruder was not the only person who photographed at least part of the assassination; a total of 32 photographers were in Dealey Plaza. Amateur movies taken by Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore (shown on television in New York on November 26, 1963), and photographer Charles Bronson captured the fatal shot, although at a greater distance than Zapruder. Other motion picture films were taken in Dealey Plaza at or around the time of the shooting by Robert Hughes, F. Mark Bell, Elsie Dorman, John Martin Jr., Patsy Paschall, Tina Towner, James Underwood, Dave Wiegman, Mal Couch, Thomas Atkins, and an unknown woman in a blue dress on the south side of Elm Street. Still photos were taken by Phillip Willis, Mary Moorman, Hugh W. Betzner Jr., Wilma Bond, Robert Croft, and many others. The lone professional photographer in Dealey Plaza who was not in the press cars was Ike Altgens, photo editor for the Associated Press in Dallas.
An unidentified woman, nicknamed the Babushka Lady by researchers, might have been filming the Presidential motorcade during the assassination. She was seen apparently doing so on film and in photographs taken by the others.
Previously unknown colour footage filmed on the assassination day by George Jefferies was released on February 19, 2007 by the Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas. The film does not include depiction of the actual shooting, having been taken roughly 90 seconds beforehand and a couple of blocks away. The only detail relevant to the investigation of the assassination is a clear view of President Kennedy's bunched suit jacket, just below the collar, which has led to different calculations about how low in the back President Kennedy was first shot (see discussion above).
After arresting Oswald and collecting physical evidence at the crime scenes, the Dallas Police held Oswald at the police headquarters for interrogation. Oswald was questioned all afternoon about both the Tippit shooting and the assassination of the President. He was questioned intermittently for approximately 12 hours between 2:30 p.m., on November 22, and 11 a.m., on November 24. Throughout this interrogation Oswald denied any involvement with either the assassination of President Kennedy or the murder of Patrolman Tippit. Captain Fritz of the homicide and robbery bureau did most of the questioning, keeping only rudimentary notes. Days later, he wrote a report of the interrogation from notes he made afterwards. There were no stenographic or tape recordings. Representatives of other law enforcement agencies were also present, including the FBI and the Secret Service, and occasionally participated in the questioning. Several of the FBI agents present wrote contemporaneous reports of the interrogation.
During the evening of November 22, the Dallas Police Department performed paraffin tests on Oswald's hands and right cheek in an apparent effort to determine, by means of a scientific test, whether Oswald had recently fired a weapon. The results were positive for the hands and negative for the right cheek. Because of the unreliability of these tests, the Warren Commission did not rely on the results of the test in making their findings.
Oswald provided little information during his questioning. When confronted with evidence which he could not explain he resorted to statements which were found to be false. Dallas authorities were not able to complete their investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy because of interruptions from the FBI and the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby.
The FBI was the first authority to complete an investigation. On November 24, 1963, just hours after Oswald was fatally shot, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that he wanted "something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin." On December 9, 1963, only 17 days after the assassination, the FBI report was issued and given to the Warren Commission. Then, the FBI stayed on as the primary investigating authority for the commission.
The FBI stated that only three bullets were fired during the Kennedy assassination; the Warren Commission agreed with the FBI investigation that only three shots were fired but disagreed with the FBI report on which shots hit Kennedy and which hit Governor Connally. The FBI report claimed that the first shot hit President Kennedy, the second shot hit Governor Connally, and the third shot hit President Kennedy in the head, killing him. In contrast, the Warren Commission concluded that one of the three shots missed, one of the shots hit President Kennedy and then struck Governor Connally, and a third shot struck President Kennedy in the head, killing him.
Criticism of FBI
The FBI's murder investigation was reviewed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979. The congressional Committee concluded:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation adequately investigated Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination and properly evaluated the evidence it possessed to assess his potential to endanger the public safety in a national emergency.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a thorough and professional investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation was deficient in its sharing of information with other agencies and departments.
Criticism of Secret Service
Sgt. Davis, of the Dallas Police Department, believed he had prepared stringent security precautions, in an attempt to prevent demonstrations like those marking the Adlai Stevenson visit from happening again. The previous month, Stevenson, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, was assaulted by an anti-UN demonstrator. But Winston Lawson of the Secret Service, who was in charge of the planning, told the Dallas Police not to assign its usual squad of experienced homicide detectives to follow immediately behind the President's car. This police protection was routine for both visiting presidents and for motorcades of other visiting dignitaries. Police Chief Jesse Curry later testified that had his men been in place, they might have been able to stop the assassin before he fired a second shot, because they carried submachine guns and rifles.
An investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1979 concluded that "the Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties." The HSCA stated:
- That President Kennedy had not received adequate protection in Dallas.
- That the Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated, or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas.
- That the Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.
The HSCA specifically noted:
No actions were taken by the agent in the right front seat of the Presidential limousine [ Roy Kellerman ] to cover the President with his body, although it would have been consistent with Secret Service procedure for him to have done so. The primary function of the agent was to remain at all times in close proximity to the President in the event of such emergencies.
The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known unofficially as the Warren Commission, was established on November 29, 1963, by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination. Its 888-page final report was presented to President Johnson on September 24, 1964, and made public three days later. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of President Kennedy and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone in the murder of Oswald. The Commission's findings have since proven controversial and been both challenged and supported by later studies.
The Commission took its unofficial name—the Warren Commission—from its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren. According to published transcripts of Johnson's presidential phone conversations, some major officials were opposed to forming such a commission, and several commission members took part only with extreme reluctance. One of their chief reservations was that a commission would ultimately create more controversy than consensus, and those fears proved valid. The Commissions were printed off at Doubleday book publishing company located in Smithsburg, Maryland.
Ramsey Clark Panel
In 1968, a panel of four medical experts appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark met in Washington, D.C. to examine various photographs, X-ray films, documents, and other evidence pertaining to the death of President Kennedy. The Clark Panel determined that President Kennedy was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him, one of which traversed the base of the neck on the right side without striking bone and the other of which entered the skull from behind and destroyed its upper right side.
The United States President's Commission on CIA activities within the United States was set up under President Gerald Ford in 1975 to investigate the activities of the CIA within the United States. The commission was led by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, and is sometimes referred to as the Rockefeller Commission.
Part of the commission's work dealt with the Kennedy assassination, specifically the head snap as seen in the Zapruder film (first shown to the general public in 1975), and the possible presence of E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis in Dallas. The commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Sturgis were in Dallas at the time of the assassination.
Church Committee is the common term referring to the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, to investigate the illegal intelligence gathering by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the Watergate incident. It also investigated the CIA and FBI conduct relating to the JFK assassination.
Their report concluded that the investigation on the assassination by FBI and CIA were fundamentally deficient and the facts which have greatly affected the investigation had not been forwarded to the Warren Commission by the agencies. It also found that the FBI, the agency with primary responsibility on the matter, was ordered by Director Hoover and pressured by unnamed higher government officials to conclude its investigation quickly. The report hinted that there was a possibility that senior officials in both agencies made conscious decisions not to disclose potentially important information.
United States House Select Committee on Assassinations
As a result of increasing public pressure caused partly by the finding of the Church Committee, the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.. and the shooting of Governor George Wallace. The committee was both controversial and divided amongst themselves. The first chairman, Thomas N. Downing of Virginia retired in January 1977 and was replaced by Henry B. Gonzalez on February 2, 1977. Gonzalez sought to replace Chief Counsel Richard Sprague. Eventually both Gonzalez and Sprague resigned and Louis Stokes became the new chairman. G. Robert Blakey was then appointed Chief Counsel and his deputy Robert K. Tanenbaum resigned soon afterwards.
The Committee investigated until 1978, and in 1979 issued its final report, concluding that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee concluded that previous investigations properly investigated Oswald's responsibility but did not adequately investigate the possibility of a conspiracy, and that the Warren Commission presented its conclusions too definitively. The Committee also found that the FBI and CIA were deficient in sharing information. Furthermore the Secret Service did not properly analyze information it possessed prior to the assassination and was inadequately prepared to protect the President.
Although the HSCA concluded that President Kennedy was "probably" assassinated as the result of a conspiracy it did not offer the name of any person or group it thought had conspired with Oswald. Instead the HSCA listed several organizations that it did not think were involved, including the governments of the Soviet Union and Cuba, organized crime groups and anti-Castro groups, but noted that it could not rule out the involvement of any individuals of these groups.
Four of the twelve committee members wrote dissenting opinions. Chris Dodd did not think that Oswald fired all three shots from the depository and wanted more investigation into the matter. Three other members did not think there was a second shooter or a conspiracy. According to Robert W. Edgar the committee was swayed at the last minute by the introduction of acoustic analysis of a Dictabelt recording of radio transmissions made by the Dallas Police Department. Prior to that a draft of the committee's report said "the available scientific evidence is insufficient to find that there was a conspiracy." The final report said: "Scientifically, the existence of the second gunman was established only by the acoustical study, but its basic validity was corroborated or independently substantiated by the various other scientific projects." Three dissenters, Edgar, Devine and Sawyer, were not convinced by the Dictabelt analysis. Subsequent examinations of the recording by the National Academy of Sciences, by the FBI, and by the Justice Department disputed the Dictabelt evidence, and in turn the NAS's analysis was contested by Donald Thomas, see Dictabelt evidence relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The HSCA made several accusations of deficiency against the Secret Service, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA and the Warren Commission. The accusations encompassed organizational failures, miscommunication, and a desire to keep certain parts of their operations secret. Furthermore, the Warren Commission expected these agencies to be forthcoming with any information that would aid their investigation. But the FBI and CIA only saw it as their duty to respond to specific requests for information from the commission. The HSCA found the FBI and CIA were deficient in performing even that limited role.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations was conducted mostly in secret. They issued a public report but much of its evidence was sealed for 50 years under Congressional rules. In 1992, Congress passed legislation to collect and open up all the evidence relating to Kennedy's death, and created the Assassination Records Review Board to further that goal.
Sealing of assassination records
All of the Warren Commission's records were submitted to the National Archives in 1964. The unpublished portion of those records was initially sealed for 75 years (to 2039) under a general National Archives policy that applied to all federal investigations by the executive branch of government, a period "intended to serve as protection for innocent persons who could otherwise be damaged because of their relationship with participants in the case.” The 75-year rule no longer exists, supplanted by the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and the JFK Records Act of 1992. By 1992, 98% of the Warren Commission records had been released to the public. Six years later, at the conclusion of the Assassination Records Review Board's work, all Warren Commission records, except those records that contained tax return information, were available to the public with only minor redactions. The remaining Kennedy assassination related documents are scheduled to be released to the public by 2017, twenty-five years after the passage of the JFK Records Act. The Kennedy autopsy photographs and X-rays were never part of the Warren Commission records and were deeded separately to the National Archives by the Kennedy family in 1966 under restricted conditions.
Several pieces of evidence and documentation are described to have been lost, cleaned, or missing from the original chain of evidence (e.g., limousine cleaned out on November 24, Connally's clothing cleaned and pressed, Oswald's military intelligence file destroyed in 1973, Connally's Stetson hat and shirt sleeve gold cufflink missing).
Jackie Kennedy's blood-splattered pink and navy Chanel suit that she wore on the day of the assassination is in climate controlled storage in the National Archives. Jackie wore the suit for the remainder of the day, stating "I want them to see what they have done to Jack" when asked aboard Air Force One to change into another outfit. Not included in the National Archives are the white gloves and pink pillbox hat she was wearing.
Assassination Records Review Board
The Assassination Records Review Board was not commissioned to make any findings or conclusions. Its purpose was to release documents to the public in order to allow the public to draw its own conclusions. From 1992 until 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board gathered and unsealed about 60,000 documents, consisting of over 4 million pages. All remaining documents are to be released by 2017.
From the day of the assassination, many Americans suspected that a conspiracy, and not a lone gunman, was responsible for President Kennedy's death. Polls taken that day through November 27, 1963 by Gallup showed 52 percent believing "some group or element" was behind the assassination.
Before the Warren Commission issued its report which concluded Oswald acted alone, several books had already been published suggesting a conspiracy was behind the assassination. Within a few months of the assassination, lawyer Mark Lane, who had been hired by Oswald’s mother Marguerite to represent Oswald’s interests before the Warren Commission, had formed his Citizens' Committee of Inquiry on the assassination and was speaking in the United States and Europe in early 1964, challenging the work of the Warren Commission, even before it had published its findings.
Upon the publication of the Warren Report in September, 1964, only a minority 31.6 percent of Americans rejected the conclusion that Oswald had acted alone, with 55.5 percent accepting the Report's conclusion. But since then, public opinion has consistently shown majorities, often large majorities, believing a conspiracy had been in place. In 1966, Lane's Rush to Judgment was published, spending six months on The New York Times best-seller list. The book accused the Warren Commission of "being biased towards its conclusions before the facts were known," and cited evidence found within the 26 volumes of the Warren Report and in his interviews with witnesses which seemed to suggest bullets coming from multiple directions striking the president and hence a conspiracy. The Freedom of Information Act was also passed that year, which had the effect of permitting researchers greater access to once-secret government files, particularly those connected to the Warren Commission..
Many researchers were now investigating the assassination, most of whom believed the Warren Report was at best inaccurate and at worst a lie. In July 1966, in commenting on Edward Jay Epstein's book Inquest, which focused on the inner workings of the Warren Commission, Richard N. Goodwin became the first of Kennedy’s inner circle to publicly call for a review of the Warren Report. That November, former assistant to the president and Pulitzer-prize winning author Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. called on Congress to initiate a new inquiry. That same month, Life magazine called for a new investigation as did The Saturday Evening Post the following January. The New York Times, in an editorial dated November 25, 1966, did not call for a re-investigation, but said that the Warren Commission and its staff should address "the many puzzling questions that have been raised... There are enough solid doubts of thoughtful persons."
In 1967, Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson was published. The book was the first to focus on many technical aspects not previously discussed by other authors, such as firearms, bullet trajectories, medical and photographic evidence. Thompson, who was a consultant to Life magazine, had unique access to a first-generation print of the Zapruder film and was the first to suggest that President Kennedy was struck by two near-simultaneous bullets to the head, one from the rear, the other from the right front.
That March, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison announced he would prosecute local businessman Clay Shaw for the murder of President Kennedy, and, galvanized, many Warren Commission critics descended on New Orleans. Public interest in the trial was high, with a Harris poll that May showing nearly two of three Americans saying they were following the investigation. The same poll indicated 66 per cent believed there was a conspiracy, compared to 44 percent who believed that in a Harris poll done in February.
Garrison was also notable for being among the first to assert that there were two conspiracies: The first conspiracy being the one which engineered the assassination of the president; the second conspiracy being the deliberate cover-up by the Warren Commission to hide the true facts of the assassination.
Shaw was acquitted in March, 1969, and the conspiracy movement was dealt a blow as Garrison’s trial was widely seen as a debacle, with many researchers denouncing Garrison as a fraud and megalomaniac. Further, as conspiracy theorist Robert Anson put it, because of Garrison, "bills in Congress asking for a new investigation were quietly shelved." Nevertheless, the trial opened new avenues of investigations for the movement, particularly with previously unexplored New Orleans connections and links of others to Oswald.
The year 1973 saw the release of the film Executive Action starring Burt Lancaster, the first Hollywood depiction of events surrounding the assassination. In the film, three gunmen shoot President Kennedy in a conspiracy led by right-wing elements and military/industrial interests. That year also saw the formation of the Assassination Information Bureau. The influential group spoke to ever-growing audiences at hundreds of colleges throughout the United States, urging a reopening of the investigation, and was ultimately instrumental in the realization of that goal in 1977.
In March 1975, Good Night America broadcast, for the first time, the Zapruder film, with an audience of millions watching. Almost immediately, with the film showing a backward snap of President Kennedy’s head, indicating to many a shot from the right front and hence a conspiracy, there were new demands for a re-investigation. The findings of the Rockefeller Commission that year and the Church Committee the next year added impetus to calls for a new inquiry, which was realized by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) from 1977 to 1979. That investigation concluded President Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."
While the HSCA’s conclusion was welcomed by many in the conspiracy community, the HSCA’s inability to name any players in the conspiracy they identified, and their actions in sealing much of their documentation, left many in the community frustrated.
Numerous books, television shows and articles continued to appear. Writing in 2007, Vincent Bugliosi said, "close to one thousand books" had been published on the subject of the assassination, of which "over 95 percent" were pro-conspiracy. Some notable books to 1990 were Anthony Summer’s "Conspiracy," David Lifton's best-selling Best Evidence, both published in 1980, and Henry Hurt’s Reasonable Doubt in 1985. They remain prominent in the conspiracy community to this day. The Summer and Hurt books recite many of the prominent conspiracy theories to that time, while Lifton argues that President Kennedy’s wounds were altered before the autopsy to frame Oswald. Jim Marrs published Crossfire in 1989, the same year High Treason, by Robert J. Groden and Harrison Livingstone was published. The latter book argued the autopsy photos were altered to give the appearance that wounds were caused by shots from a single gunman.
By the late 80s, interest in the subject among the general public was waning. One theory for this from writer Pete Hamill was that by 1988, "an entire generation had come to maturity with no memory at all of the Kennedy years." In 1991, Oliver Stone's film JFK introduced the subject – and many of the attendant conspiracy theories – to a new generation of Americans. The sudden renewed interest in the assassination led to the passage by Congress of the JFK Records Act in 1992. The Act created the Assassination Records Review Board to implement the Act’s mandate to release all sealed documents related to the assassination. Thousands of documents were released between 1994 and 1998, providing new material for researchers.
To date, there is no consensus on who, among many players, may have been involved in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Those often mentioned as being part of a conspiracy include Jack Ruby, organized crime as an organization or organized crime individuals, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, the KGB, right-wing groups or right-wing individuals, President Lyndon Johnson, pro- or anti-Castro Cubans, the military and/or industrial groups allied with the military.
Reaction to the assassination
The assassination evoked stunned reactions worldwide. Before the President's death was announced, the first hour after the shooting was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.
The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early. Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday's home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having "killed the President."
The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking "Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy's assassination" would become a common topic of discussion.
Artifacts, museums and locations today
The plane serving as Air Force One is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio where tours of the aircraft are offered including the rear of the aircraft where President Kennedy's casket was placed and the location where First Lady Mrs. Kennedy stood in her blood stained pink dress while Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President. The 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Equipment from the trauma room at Parkland Memorial Hospital where President Kennedy was pronounced dead, including a gurney, was purchased by the federal government from the hospital in 1973 and stored by the National Archives at an underground facility in Lenexa, Kansas. The First Lady's pink suit, the autopsy report and X-rays are stored in the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland and access is controlled by a representative of the Kennedy family. The rifle used by Oswald, his diary, bullet fragments, and the windshield of Kennedy's limousine are also stored by the Archives. The Lincoln Catafalque, which President Kennedy's coffin rested on while he lay in state in the Capitol, is on display at the United States Capitol Visitor Centre.
The three acre park within Dealey Plaza, the buildings facing it, the overpass, and a portion of the adjacent railyard including the railroad switching tower were designated part of the Dealey Plaza Historic District by the National Park Service on October 12, 1993. Much of the area is accessible to visitors including the park and grassy knoll. Though still an active city street, the spot where the presidential limousine was located at the time of the shooting is approximately marked with an X on the street. The Texas School Book Depository now draws over 325,000 visitors each year to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza operated by the Dallas County Historical Foundation. There is a re-creation of the sniper’s nest on the sixth floor of the building.
Some items were intentionally destroyed by the U.S. government at the direction of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy such as the casket used to transport President Kennedy's body aboard Air Force One from Dallas to Washington which was dropped by the Air Force into the sea as "its public display would be extremely offensive and contrary to public policy." Other items such as the hat worn by Jack Ruby the day he shot Lee Harvey Oswald and the toe tag on Oswald's corpse are in the hands of private collectors and have sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auctions.
Jack Ruby's gun, owned by his brother Earl Ruby, was sold by the Herman Darvick Autograph Auctions in New York City on December 26, 1991, for $220,000.