You'd think by now...

Fifty years to the day since the Kennedy assassination, we still don't really know who did it.

John F. Kennedy (photo credit: National Park Service/National Archives)
John F. Kennedy
(photo credit: National Park Service/National Archives)
Thirteen trillion years on, despite major advances in physics, astronomy, earth sciences and carbon dating, we still don’t know how the universe came into being. More than 65 million years on, we still aren’t sure why the dinosaurs disappeared. So a mere 50 years on, why should anyone expect to know conclusively who killed US president John F. Kennedy?
Sure, by this point on the time line there were human beings, with eyes and ears and a highly developed sense of logic and deduction. What’s more, there were marvelous tools for both catching life as it unfolded and communicating the images, sounds and information to others far and wide, a lot of it in real time. There was Abraham Zapruder and his Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 PD movie camera. There were network anchors, backed up by phalanxes of news crews in the field and capable of communicating with viewers or listeners instantaneously, after a curt and ominous “We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…” Yet 50 years down the road, we remain just as puzzled by “magic bullets” and grassy knolls, and more suspicious than ever that somebody, somehow, somewhere is pulling the strings – or at least manipulating others into putting a giant, nefarious plan into play.
The conspiracy theories began after Jack Ruby, a local strip-club owner, gained entry to the basement of the Dallas Police Department, where two days after the killing, accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to an armored car for the trip to a more secure lockup.
With an almost point-blank shot to the abdomen – on live, coast-to-coast TV – Ruby and his .38 caliber Colt Cobra sealed the suspect’s lips forever.
By this time there was talk that Oswald, a former marine who became disenchanted with the US and went to live for a time in the Soviet Union, had links to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. This was of no small interest to investigators, considering that the Bay of Pigs invasion, aimed at toppling the Cuban communist, had been launched on Kennedy’s watch. It could be assumed that Castro would want revenge.
Yet the idea of a conspiracy probably gained the most public traction only on March 6, 1975, when a bootlegged version of the 26.6-second film taken at the scene of the Kennedy assassination by home-movie enthusiast Zapruder was shown for the first time on live US television.
Previously, only stills from the footage had been released, and they did not include Frame 313, which showed the moment of impact of what is considered to have been the fatal shot to the president’s head. When included in the movie footage shown in the studio, there was an audible gasp from the audience, for never before had the public been privy to the complete Kodachrome gore of that day in Dallas.
Yet no less important was the fact that following the shot, although the impact and initial movements clearly indicate that the bullet probably came from behind, Kennedy, who by now was slumped forward and to his left, is shown rebounding to the rear. It is as if a projectile had struck him from somewhere in front – the best indication yet, at least for conspiracy theorists, that Oswald was not the only gunman.
By this time, over a decade after the assassination, Kennedy’s reputation had taken no less severe a hit, and it was reasoned that there was any number of individuals or groups that might have wanted him dead. Maybe it was the CIA.
The spooks had sponsored the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and Kennedy is seen as having left the invaders to their fate once things began to go wrong.
Maybe it was the Mafia. Mobsters had widespread gambling interests in pre-Castro Cuba and they were widely rumored to have provided some of the weapons to the Cuban exiles at the core of the invading force. In addition, it was by now no secret that Kennedy had been a womanizer, even while president, and soon after the broadcast of the Zapruder footage a woman came forward to say she had been not only Kennedy’s mistress, but the mistress of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.
Later, she even claimed that the president had been in touch with him.
Although some of the woman’s claims were denied and even debunked, more pieces had been thrown into the puzzle. Whether any of them fit or not, what was truly important was the fact they were now out there. This was so important that a Congressional panel ultimately called into question the findings of the Warren Commission, the board of inquiry established by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, which found that Oswald had acted alone.
As wild as these theories were, they don’t even come close to others for sheer lunacy. According to a report earlier this week in the Dallas Morning News, some claim that Kennedy was killed because he knew too much about UFOs, because he had angered Texas oil tycoons over plans to do away with an allowance that put millions in government funds into their pockets, or because Johnson feared he was going to be dropped from the Democratic ticket come 1964.
Even Israel is suspect. In one scenario the motive is anger at Kennedy because he wanted to block us from becoming a nuclear power. (Johnson would be a more amenable president, the logic goes.) In another, we wanted to get back at Kennedy’s blatantly anti-Semitic father. In another, Yitzhak Shamir, at the time a Mossad spook based in Paris, hired the triggermen. In still another, Menachem Begin was overheard plotting Kennedy’s demise with a prominent Jewish gangster from Los Angeles.
Supporting these theories is the usual lineup of Jewish suspects, in this case most notably Ruby, who, according to one theorist, had been a gunrunner for a pre-state Zionist underground. There is also Zapruder, who supposedly altered his film to make it fit in as much as possible with the government-approved lone-gunman scenario.
All of this ties in nicely with something I saw on the Internet this week: “Why are fire trucks red? Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is 12, and there are 12 inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sailed the seas, and in the seas are fish, and fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and the Russians are red, and fire trucks are always ‘russian’ around.”
Immediately after the assassination and the Warren Commission Report, I remember hearing somewhere that some of the evidence and testimony would be sealed for 50 years. I was in elementary school at the time and therefore cannot vouch for the accuracy of this claim, but it made enough of an impression to make me do the math. I’d be turning 60! That’s a long way off! I don’t know if I can wait that long! Perhaps for this reason, thoughts about the year 2013 have always occupied a small niche in the back of my head. Maybe the mystery would be put to rest. But here we are, and despite all the retrospectives in print and on television, the best we can do is say yes, Oswald probably acted alone, like any of the wackos or misfits we read about today who unleash carnage with guns or whatever in places both public and private.
For many, that’s a letdown.