The 22nd November is the anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy; one of the most shocking events of the twentieth century. It’s something I’ve been interested in ever since I was a boy and I’ve collected many books about the subject.
I’m still fascinated by the mystery: Did Lee Oswald shoot the President? Did he act alone? Why did Jack Ruby shoot Oswald? Was the CIA involved? Very few of those questions will ever be answered but it’s clear that the findings of the Warren Commission, the investigative body set up by President Lyndon Johnson are not definitive. Indeed the senate investigation in the 1970’s concluded that the President was assassinated ‘probably’ by a conspiracy. Even so, no attempts to investigate further or take action have been made. If you want to find out more, what should you read? Well, there are numerous books on the subject you might try but here below are three key and classic books you need to read:
Rush To Judgement by Mark Lane
This was one of the first books to take a critical look at the Warren Commission report and say, ‘hang on, some things don’t add up here!’ Lane deals with a lot of the minutiae of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald’s activities.
One interesting element to me was the murder weapon; the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bought through mail order and sent to a post office box that Oswald rented under a false name. The gun was oily. The scope on the gun was not aligned properly, in fact the FBI found that it could not be aligned at all and had to add metal shims in order to align the scope, meaning that it was test fired by the FBI in a condition that was not available to Oswald!
The first officer to find the rifle even signed an affidavit that the rifle was a Mauser and not a Mannlicher-Carcano! Quite a mistake for an American police officer who would surely be familiar with firearms.
Six seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson
Thompson argued in favour of a conspiracy by analysing the Zapruder film of the assassination. In the film shot by local businessman Abraham Zapruder the last two shots come close together, meaning that one of them could not have come from Oswald’s rifle because it took 1.7 seconds to eject the used cartridge and make ready to fire again. This clearly occurred to the people in the Warren Commission as one of its members (Arlen Specter, a lawyer not a forensic expert) put forward the so called ‘single bullet theory’ which argued that a single bullet hit President Kennedy in the back, exited his throat and then struck Governor Connelly who was sitting ahead of Kennedy in the Presidential limousine.
This bullet was found on a stretcher in almost pristine condition which many commentators have asserted means it could not have passed through two bodies and inflicted so much damage.
In 1979 the Select Committee on Assassinations heard evidence of tests that showed the firing could have taken place in only 1.66 seconds per shot. Oswald’s original rifle however, was in too poor a condition to be used for the tests and another was substituted. Even so, none of the test shooters were able to replicate Oswald’s marksmanship despite Oswald being at best only a reasonable shot. An interesting, readable and thoughtful book but rather rare.
Best Evidence by David Lifton.
This is an excellent book in many ways. It’s not just about the assassination itself, the author spends a lot of time describing his personal fascination in the Kennedy case and how his interest has evolved and developed. He has followed the growth of theories and new revelations over the years and made efforts to meet and interview many of the witnesses involved.
Lifton puts forward an argument that is a little unbelievable, certainly to me, that Kennedy’s body was spirited away and the injuries changed to fit in with the theory that Oswald shot Kennedy from the rear. The doctors at Parkland Hospital all clearly state that Kennedy had a massive exit wound in the back of his head indicating a shot from the front but the autopsy report concluded Kennedy was shot from the rear.
I can understand where Lifton was coming from, the autopsy result and recollections of medical staff at Parkland clearly don’t match, but altering the President’s body? I don’t think so. The President’s body would have had to have been pried from the Secret Service who were with it from Dealey Plaza, to Parkland, and Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Some of those whom Lifton interviewed claimed a helicopter landed and the President’s body arrived, implying it came by helicopter when in fact it came by motorcade in an ambulance with the First Lady aboard. One interviewee stated that at Parkland Hospital the body was wrapped in sheets and placed in a coffin. Another spoke of taking the President’s body out of a body bag at Bethesda so clearly these accounts do not match up.
This book also did a lot to help me reconcile the workings of the Warren Commission. It is often dismissed by many people as a cover up but in fact the Warren Commission reacted to the evidence presented to it by the FBI as any other court or legal body would do: It processed the assassination according to the evidence.
Did anyone see someone shooting from the grassy knoll? No. Did anyone see a shooter in the Texas schoolbook depository? Yes. Was a rifle found in the sniper’s nest at the Texas School Book Depository? Yes. Was it delivered to a PO box belonging to Lee Oswald? Yes.
As you can imagine, the Warren Commission found Lee Oswald guilty of the assassination. What else could they do? However, many people not heard or dismissed by the commission heard gunfire and shots from the grassy knoll.
One Police Officer dropped his motorcycle and ran up there only to encounter a scruffy man looking like an auto mechanic. The man had Secret Service credentials and the officer let him go. There were no Secret Service there that day. They were all in the motorcade or waiting at the Trade Mart where the President’s next stop should have been, so who was the man? What was he doing there on the grassy knoll?
As you read more and more about the assassination, more stories like that come to light and the accumulated weight of these revelations is what fuels the enduring mystery. I do love a mystery and my interest in the JFK assassination, like Lifton’s has endured for a long time.
I’m not sure just how to describe to you just how fascinated I am in this story but if you’ve seen that part in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall, where Woody is trying to seduce someone but finds himself consumed by thoughts about the assassination then you’ve got the idea.
To find out more about the assassination try the JFK Lancer website at http://www.jfklancer.com
On a less serious note, here’s the Woody Allen clip:
If you enjoyed this post why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.