Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination

Patrick Lynch - April 27, 2017

In the first two articles in this series, I looked at the reasons why Oswald did and why he did not shoot JFK. For the third and final article, I will examine some of the popular conspiracy theories surrounding the case. A former Los Angeles District Attorney believes over 200 people and more than 40 groups have been accused of involvement in the murder of President Kennedy. While I obviously won’t look at them all, I will examine several of the most commonly proposed theories. This is a very complex topic, and I won’t be able to cover everything, so please leave your own theories and ideas in the comments section.

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination
The Grassy Knoll. YouTube

1 – The Grassy Knoll

If you have even a passing interest in the whole Kennedy Assassination business, then you have unquestionably heard of ‘the Grassy Knoll’ theory. This is the suggestion that the fatal shots actually came from a grassy knoll on the northwest corner of Dealey Plaza. Approximately 40 people claim that they either heard shots from that location, smelled gunpowder or saw smoke.

Is it possible that every single one of them was either lying or mistaken? One of these witnesses is none other than Abraham Zapruder, creator of the legendary Zapruder Film. It’s not as these individuals were ignored as several of them were interviewed by radio or TV stations almost immediately after the shooting. Dozens of more interviews have been carried out by private researchers in the decades after the event.

Photos suggest there were up to 600 people in the area and there are official statements and witness testimony from approximately 200 of them. Incredibly, the Warren Commission only chose witnesses from the official statement and testimony category and ignored the other 400 people.

Three men who were standing on the front steps of the Depository at the time of the shooting claim the shots sounded as if they came from the general direction of the grassy knoll. This is odd since Oswald supposedly shot Kennedy from his sniper’s nest directly above the three men.

Although the Zapruder Film is the most famous video chronicle of the assassination, Orville Nix’s film could hold the answers to many key questions; if only we could find the original footage. It was last seen in 1978, and now his granddaughter is suing the U.S. Government for $10 million. The Nix film was shot from the opposite side of the presidential motorcade to Zapruder’s which means it captures the legendary grassy knoll area. In fact, you can see Zapruder in the movie when you enhance it.

The film was used by the Warren Commission in 1964, but when the House Select Committee on Assassinations ‘borrowed’ it in 1978, the original was never seen again. In a 1966 interview, Nix claimed that when the FBI returned the film, some frames were either ruined or missing. Some people suggest they see shadows of a gunman in the footage or puffs of smoke.

Holes in the Theory

President Kennedy was shot twice; once in the neck and once in the head. Zapruder captured the headshot in Frame 313 of his movie. Until 1975, this part of the film was not released to the public; then President Ford ordered the release (he served on the Warren Commission incidentally).

It is a horrifying image that also appears to show the existence of two gunmen; at least initially. In the frame, the blown-off piece of Kennedy’s head appears to go backward. In essence, it seems as if the first bullet hit Kennedy from behind but the second bullet hit him from the front. However, studies have shown that a nerve can explode when hit by a bullet. When CBS News studied the footage in 1975, it used sophisticated equipment and discovered something interesting. In Frame 312, the President’s head jolted forward slightly and much quicker than when it jolts backward in Frame 313. As a result, it seems likely that the bullet hit him from behind and pushed him forward; then a nerve ending exploded and pushed him backward.

The House of Representatives created a special committee to investigate the assassination in 1976. Using evidence from a Dallas policeman’s radio transmission audiotape (he escorted the motorcade), the House report suggested that four gunshots were fired and one of the shots came from the grassy knoll. However, the National Academy of Sciences analyzed the tape and concluded that some of the sounds were not gunshots. Furthermore, the cop wasn’t in the location claimed in the House report so even if there were extra gunshots, they did not come from the Grassy Knoll. Finally, some of the tape’s sounds occurred up to a minute after the assassination.

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination
James Files. Kennedy Assassination home Page

2 – Mob Murder

The idea that the assassination of Kennedy was a Mafia hit gained momentum in the 1970s when evidence emerged that the CIA used mobsters for its attempts to kill Fidel Castro. The mob had close links with Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald, so some conspiracy theorists suggest that Ruby killed Oswald to ‘silence’ him and ensure the mafia’s involvement remained a secret.

There is certainly a reason why the mafia would want JFK dead. His brother Robert had launched a crusade against organized crime so it is hardly inconceivable that the mob would take retribution in one of the worst ways imaginable. Also, the mafia had casinos in Cuba that were doomed because of Castro’s regime. They wanted him gone so they could go back to making money and were furious that Kennedy was taking little or no action.

A former mobster named James Files took responsibility for the assassination in a ‘confession’ in 1994. According to Files, he met Oswald in Louisiana in 1962 and the following year, Chicago Mafia leader Charlie Nicoletti supposedly ordered Files to murder the President.

On the morning of the assassination, Files met Jack Ruby and two other men in Fort Worth before arriving at Dealey Plaza at 10 am with Nicoletti. The gangster shot the President from behind the grassy knoll while Nicoletti shot from the Dal-Tex Building. Files claim it was his bullet that hit Kennedy in the head. While this fanciful account would mean there were more than three shots fired, there is a little problem with Files’ story; research shows he was in Chicago on the day of the shooting.

A slightly less absurd story involving the mob revolves around the role of Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who shot Oswald on November 24, 1963. The Warren Commission assumed that Ruby was just another lone gunman without performing any detailed research into his background. In their 1981 book ‘The Plot to Kill the President‘, Robert Blakey and Richard Billings suggested that Ruby’s murder of Oswald was typical of a hit by an organized crime syndicate. They needed to silence the assassin, so Ruby was sent to carry out the hit.

Ruby had strong links not only to organized crime but also to the political establishment and even the local police. He was a narcotics informant for the cops which might explain how he was allowed access to the police basement where he shot Oswald. The House Select Committee on Assassinations found that while Ruby was not a ‘member’ of a criminal gang, he did have associations with underworld figures. Moreover, his murder of Oswald was a premeditated act. Ruby died of cancer in 1967, so we’ll never know the real story.

Holes in the Theory

First of all, if Ruby killed Oswald to silence him, it means Oswald was part of the mob conspiracy, and there is no evidence of this whatsoever. The apparent impersonation of Oswald in Mexico City was one of the most important events to occur in the weeks leading up to the assassination, but there is nothing that suggests the mob was involved in it. I don’t even need to address the claims made by James Files because they are obviously nonsense.

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination
Oswald after his arrest. CBS Detroit

3 – A CIA Hit

This is among the most popular theories and probably the most difficult one to debunk. The supposed reason is certainly plausible because there is a lot of truth to it. Kennedy was apparently sick of the CIA’s attempt to kill Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The President’s administration was not overly concerned about Cuba, and members of the CIA blamed Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs failure in 1961. Perhaps they were worried that Kennedy would be re-elected in 1964 and further frustrate their efforts to deal with Cuba. Maybe prominent CIA members felt that the President would disband them in the near future?

The key to uncovering the truth about the assassination could lie in documents outlining Oswald’s visit to Mexico City. The answer is potentially contained in classified CIA documents; there is still a huge amount of paperwork related to the assassination that has never been released to the public. This documentation will apparently be released in late 2017, so maybe we’ll be closer to the truth.

Remember, Oswald was supposedly in Mexico City between September 27 and October 3, 1963, even though he was seen at a meeting in New Orleans on September 25/26. It is impossible for him to have reached Mexico City so quickly which suggests he was impersonated; for what purposes we can’t ascertain. Oswald spoke to the Cuban Consulate and the Russian Embassy while he was there, but his goal was likely to obtain citizenship to one of these countries. Some conspiracy theorists believe Oswald was a CIA operative, but there is no evidence.

In 1995, John Newman, a former executive of the National Security Agency and Intelligence Officer with the U.S. Army, published evidence that both the FBI and CIA tampered with their files on Oswald before and after the assassination. He also claimed that both agencies withheld information that outlined the threat Oswald posed to the President. Newman named James Angleton, the CIA chief of counter-intelligence, as one of the key figures in the murder.

The FBI released around 40,000 files relating to the assassination in 1977. These documents included a memorandum which claimed President Johnson told his advisor, Marvin Watson, that he was convinced a CBI plot was to blame for the death of Kennedy.

Holes in the Theory

Conspiracy theorists love pointing to shadowy government agencies to explain unusual occurrences and few organizations are murkier than the CIA. It is the bogeyman of the intelligence community and has been linked with a variety of political assassinations. If you believe the CIA was behind the murder, it means you think it hired its own man or else Oswald was involved.

There is no concrete evidence linking Oswald to the CIA, and if they hired him, surely they would have equipped him with something more efficient than the old rifle he supposedly used? Also, if they wanted to ‘silence’ him after the event, they wouldn’t have waited two days to do it. If it was another CIA Operative, where did he fire from? The grassy knoll? The Depository? Some other building?

Also, JFK reportedly mended fences with the agency and apparently began to enjoy a close relationship with it. Just a few weeks before the assassination, Kennedy defended the CIA over allegations of misconduct in Vietnam; stating that: “I think they have done a good job.” The idea that Oswald was recruited by the CIA is intriguing, but to this day, no one has submitted conclusive evidence of any contact between him and the agency.

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination
LBJ Sworn in aboard Airforce One after JFK was assassinated. Pinterest

4 – Lyndon B. Johnson Ordered the Killing

I would say that this is one of the most shocking conspiracy theories, but those familiar with the case know that it isn’t. An author named Phillip F. Nelson even wrote a book about it titled ‘LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination.’ Nelson claimed that Johnson was manic-depressive and his aides knew he struggled with bipolar disorder. Indeed, the book is a hatchet job on Johnson who apparently murdered several people that ‘got in his way.’

Regarding the assassination, Johnson ensured that the hard evidence found in the limousine and on Kennedy’s body was wiped clean. Nelson suggested that Johnson was caught in a web of legal and political problems that would not only see him removed from the vice presidency, but also thrown in jail. As a result, the only way to save his political career and even his liberty was to assassinate the current President and assume the mantle. With the help of the Cuban exile community, the Mafia, intelligence community renegades and international assassins, he formulated a plan. Nelson also asserted that J. Edgar Hoover was involved because he was worried about being removed from his position should Kennedy be re-elected.

Regarding the assassination itself, Johnson and his team chose Dealey Plaza as the ideal location because it could house several snipers. While Kennedy was allegedly contemplating removing American forces from Vietnam in 1965 after re-election, Johnson was happy to allow the U.S. to continue the war. Nelson even claims that the famous Zapruder movie was altered to show that the President was only shot twice from behind. After the murder, Johnson interfered with the autopsy and ensured vital evidence was destroyed.

ABC broadcasted tapes recorded months after the President’s death in which his wife, Jacqueline, revealed her belief that Kennedy was murdered by Johnson with the aid of Texan tycoons.

Madeline Brown, who claimed to have had an affair with Johnson, said that LBJ attended a party with Hoover and several other individuals on November 21, 1963, the night before the shooting. Brown said that Johnson whispered something shocking in her ear; that after tomorrow, the Kennedys would never embarrass him again. He also said it was a promise, not a threat.

Holes in the Theory

Many historians have a less than complimentary attitude towards Johnson who has been described as ‘power hungry’; the kind of man who would do anything to get what he wanted. He desperately wanted to become President, but the Civil Rights issue meant it would be tough for a Southerner like Johnson to take the main seat in the Oval Office.

Johnson allegedly helped Kennedy win the crucial state of Texas in the 1960 election in exchange for the vice-presidency. Now he was one step away from the Presidency; it was a matter of getting rid of Kennedy and assuming the mantle. It is clear that Johnson had motive and perhaps even opportunity but did he order the assassination?

The testimony of Madeline Brown is roundly dismissed by experts because she was a ‘crackpot’ as Johnson wasn’t even at the meeting she spoke about. Others suggest that the notion of LBJ masterminding a plot against Kennedy was a fiction created by Texans who disliked Johnson because he was a crook. While some aspects of Nelson’s book (and other books written on the topic) are compelling, a lot of it is pure guesswork, supposition and possibly even fantasy.

If it was an elaborate conspiracy hatched by Johnson which apparently involved dozens of people, what is the likelihood of there being no leaks over 50 years on?

Murder of a President: 5 Fascinating Conspiracy Theories about the Kennedy Assassination
Khrushchev meets Kennedy. Newsweek

5 – The Communist Connection: JFK Was Murdered by the KGB

While the Communist conspiracy angle is not as well-trodden as some of the others, plenty of literature has been written about the possibility. The Soviet Union had one obvious motive; to gain revenge for the embarrassment of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In ‘Programmed to Kill,’ Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-level intelligence officer to ever defect from the USSR, wrote that the KGB ordered the assassination, blamed the Americans, the Kremlin covered everything up and the KGB had ties with Oswald.

He suggested that the Soviet leader at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, plotted the murder only to change his mind. However, the KGB was unable to ‘deprogram’ Oswald who carried out the assassination. Critics of Pacepa’s work say his case is predominantly circumstantial and scoff at the notion that the KGB couldn’t stop Oswald since they had months to kill him if they wanted.

There is also a suggestion that Oswald betrayed the United States by providing the USSR with state secrets. The pilot of the U-2 flight downed in May 1960, Gary Powers, believes that Oswald could have provided the Soviets with the information they needed to shoot the plane. When he lived in the Soviet Union, Oswald would have had plenty of chances to communicate with the KGB. The suggestion is that he was somehow ‘programmed’ to murder the President through the use of propaganda. Given his aggressive mentality and pro-communist stance, the KGB would have found it easy to brainwash the hapless Oswald.

That Oswald was a communist sympathizer is no secret. After all, he lived in the Soviet Union for a couple of years and applied for Soviet and Cuban citizenship at different stages in his life. He believed communism was the way forward and applied for citizenship to both communist nations in Mexico City on September 28, 1963. There is a suggestion that Oswald was impersonated while he was there; an issue I already covered.

Holes in the Theory

Pacepa wrote that Oswald tried to kill Edwin Walker in a ‘dry run’ and persists with the idea that he left Marina a note. There is no strong evidence to link Oswald to the Walker murder attempt, and there have long since been doubts over the authenticity of the note that mysteriously appeared after the assassination.

Most of Pacepa’s work is made up of fanciful suggestions with little or no evidence to back it up. Again, the fact that Oswald used a low-quality rifle helps dispel any notions of KGB interference. Surely they would want to equip their ‘secret assassin’ with something a lot more accurate to ensure the job was done correctly?

While the USSR was certainly angry over what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinating the American president was an extraordinary risk. If the plot was uncovered, a war was inevitable.

Oswald apparently met a Soviet diplomat named Valeriy Kostikov in Mexico City. Kostikov was suspected of being a member of the KGB assassinations department so any meeting with him would raise alarm bells. The trouble is, there is a strong possibility that the man who met him was, in fact, an imposter. In other words, it is another theory that lacks sufficient evidence.

The events of November 22, 1963, will never be forgotten. The trouble is, no one knows for sure why JFK was assassinated nor do we know the culprit. Lee Harvey Oswald could well be the killer although there is enough evidence to suggest he was possibly the victim of a frame-up. Most legal experts agree that had Oswald stood trial, the weight of evidence against him would be insufficient to warrant a guilty verdict. Jack Ruby prevented us from finding out.

The events surrounding the assassination read like a very complex mystery crime thriller. Both sides of the argument continue to plead their case; but the truth is, a definitive answer will probably never be reached.


Sources For Further Reading:

History Ireland – Forty Years On: Who Killed JFK?

Reuters – New Footage Of JFK In Dallas Released

AARP – 50 Facts About the JFK Assassination

Orlando Sentinel – In Shadows Of Missing Film May Lie Clue To JFK Killing, Coverup

Poughkeepsie Journal – Wanted: The ‘Other’ JFK Assassination Film

ABC News – Study: Shot Was Fired From ‘Grassy Knoll’

BBC – JFK Assassination: Questions That Won’t Go Away

Slate – JFK Assassination: Killing Conspiracy

History – Why the Public Stopped Believing the Government about JFK’s Murder

Biography – Did the Mob Kill John F. Kennedy?

The Washington Post – What The Mob Knew About JFK’s Murder

ABC News – Organized Crime Expert Sees Mob Connections

National Public Radio – Documents Offer Insight Into Soviet View Of JFK Assassination

Military – Vietnam Vet Oliver Stone Still Thinks the CIA Killed JFK

ABC News – JFK Assassination Files Reveal Hoover’s Frustration Over Oswald’s Death, Soviet Reaction

USA Today – JFK Conspiracy Theorist Points Finger At LBJ

Hindustan Times – JFK Assassination: From Strange Call To Why KGB Suspected President Johnson

Ion Mihai Pacepa – Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination

New York Time Magazine – Was Oswald a Spy, and Other Cold War Mysteries

DMagazine – Did Oswald ACT ALONE?

History Collection – The Aftermath of the JFK Assassination