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The Kennedy Assassination: Conspiracy Theories & the Warren Commission

By Anne Cullison. Nov 20, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History

On November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Houston, Texas. This tragedy is forever seared into the country's consciousness. But what really happened?

In anticipation of the 1964 election, President Kennedy began visiting swing states to woo supporters for his reelection campaign. On November 21, he and Mrs. Kennedy commenced a two day, five city tour of Texas. Texas was an important state for Kennedy, and as such he planned a trip to Dallas, even though US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been attacked there by political extremists only a month before.

Kennedy_PDAfter a rainy morning in Fort Worth, Kennedy and his entourage made the quick trip to Dallas. As he entered his convertible, the rain stopped and the plastic bubble top was left off. The procession left the airport for the ten mile route that went through downtown Dallas on the way to the Trade Mart where the President was scheduled to speak.

All along the route to the Trade Mart, excited people lined the streets and waved to the Kennedys. As the car passed the Texas School Book Depository, at around 12:30 PM, gun fire was heard throughout Dealey Plaza.

President Kennedy was struck in the neck and head, and Texas governor, John Connally, was struck in the chest. While Connally was quickly transported to the nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, nothing could be done to save the President. At 1:00 PM, President Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a recently hired employee at the Texas School Book Depository, was arrested and charged with the fatal shooting of the President of the United States and a Dallas patrolman. On Sunday morning, during the transfer of Oswald from police headquarters to the county jail, a local nightclub owner named Jack Ruby, shot and killed Oswald.

Newly named President Johnson ordered a full examination of the events leading to the death of President Kennedy. The result of the investigation was The Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. The report stated that Lee Harvey Oswald was in fact the lone gunman who shot Kennedy, and that there were no other perpetrators.

ford_report_warren_commissionBut is that true?

The assassination of President Kennedy is among the most controversial cases in modern American history. Decades of investigations, hearings, documents, records, books and interviews have failed to satisfy most conspiracy theorists with a definitive answer. At one time or another, 42 groups, 82 assassins and 214 people have been accused of involvement in Kennedy's murder.

Here are five of the most common conspiracy theories:

  1. President Johnson ordered the assassination - Many Texans disliked Johnson, and some created the story that he wanted to become president by killing Kennedy. No evidence has been found to corroborate the idea, however. 
  2. It was the military industrial complex - Some claim that Kennedy was preparing to pull troops from Vietnam and that the military assassinated Kennedy to prevent him from doing so.
  3. The Mob - Others have argued that New Orleans mob godfather Carlos Marcello arranged the assassination. Mob leaders were supposedly angry with Kennedy for failing to overthrow Castro who had closed many of their casinos in Cuba. Marcello allegedly confessed to the assassination while in prison.
  4. Oswald acted alone as part of an unknown conspiracy- In 1979, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) reviewed prior investigations and concluded that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy" and even that there was a "high probability that two gunmen" were involved. Four of the twelve committee members disagreed.
  5. The CIA did it- This conspiracy is one of the most complicated because of the conflict of interests that developed with the Warren Commission. The story is that Kennedy wanted to disband the CIA due to their attempts to assassinated Castro. The CIA ordered the assassination of Kennedy to prevent him from doing so. Former head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, was appointed to the panel for the Warren Commission, which determined that Oswald acted alone.

Despite the proliferation of conspiracies around Kennedy's assassination and the dissatisfaction of some with the findings of the Warren Commission, the Warren Commission's report - a 888 page document - remains the most complete and exhaustive investigation into the death of President Kennedy. Yet the report is more than just a wealth of information about the assassination, it has also become an important piece of history. As such, first editions of the report are sought and valued by collectors worldwide.

More about the Warren Commission

Anne Cullison
Lover of all things books. Spends her time chasing three rambunctious children and enjoys picking up books to read as soon as they fall asleep.


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