The Death of JFK, Part 1: Five Things We Now Know

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of AmericaThe 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is quickly approaching on November 22nd.  And we’ve already been subjected to panel discussions, new books, letters to editors defending the Warren Commission, letters to editors condemning the Warren Commission, and a spate of films yet to come.  The divide between those who believe Lee Harvey Oswald solely responsible and those who believe that a conspiracy resulted in the death of JFK has never been more gaping.  But this is a good time to step back and look at how far we’ve come since 1963, which claims/theories from both sides have been rendered null and void and which have stood the test of time.

First, we need to accept the fact that nearly all is theory and speculation about this tragic event. Regardless of how many times the late Arlen Specter tried to convince us that the lone bullet theory is now lone bullet fact, he was wrong. It is still just a theory. Just like the theories that involve the Mafia, Cuban freedom fighters, the CIA, Lyndon Johnson. They are all just that: speculation, at best, informed speculation.


Lee Harvey Oswald never went to trial. As then Dallas police chief Jesse Curry once told the Dallas Morning News, ““We don't have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle, and never did. Nobody's yet been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand.” The Warren Commission was not a substitute for a trial by jury. It was comprised of government officials, some of whom had their own agendas. We will never know how that trial might have turned out. Too many questions remain unanswered, and too many claims on both sides of the controversy just don’t hold water.

Let’s get another thing straight: conspiracies do exist. Regardless of how many journalists, both veterans and those still wet-behind-the-ears, make fun of conspiracy theorists, people conspire every day to break the law. Yes, sometimes such theories are out there on the fringe. But history shows that they do happen, even within the government. As a primer for those who have forgotten that character assassination is no argument at all, let’s remember Watergate and Iran-Contra. They were criminal conspiracies. People went to prison.  Those who talk of “tin foil hats” to mock conspiracy theorists need to return to being legitimate journalists and quit acting like kids on playgrounds calling people names. If you want to refute a claim, do it with facts.

A trio of blog posts can only scratch the surface, but I hope they can give a hint of the vast spider-web that surrounds the JFK assassination today.  So, to get started, here are Five Things We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then:

1) Whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole person responsible for John Kennedy’s death or whether he was, as he phrased it, “a patsy,” the cornerstone of the Warren Commission findings was laid on November 25, 1963 by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach in a memo, which surfaced in the 1970s, written to LBJ aide Bill Moyers: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”

This was the same day as JFK’s funeral. Oswald was barely cold. No true investigation had really gotten off the ground. And yet, here we have the conclusions that will be drawn by the Warren Commission all laid out.  Although Warren Commission apologists try to talk their way out of this memo, it’s nearly impossible to explain away Katzenbach’s statement, made within 72 hours of the assassination. A fair and objective reading of the memo shows that, for whatever reason, Katzenbach either knew that Oswald was guilty or was willing to accept that conclusion, without an investigation.  And that is the question.  How could anyone be so certain that Oswald alone was guilty before any investigation had really begun?

2) Former President Gerald Ford did admit in an AP interview that they moved the location of the wound in Kennedy’s back to better fit the single bullet theory.  Make all the excuses you want, but they altered evidence.  There is nothing laudable or proper in that.

Lee Harvey Oswald, posing with firearms in his backyard/ via the Mary Ferrell Foundation archives


3) The famous photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald holding a rifle in his backyard, dissected and argued over for years, are not fakes. Marina Oswald Porter has acknowledged that she took the photos at Oswald’s insistence. Why? We will most likely never know. But this is one where the conspiracy theorists reached just a little too far.

4) According to Jefferson Morley, former Washington Post reporter, and co-founder of  “The most important thing we know now that we didn't know even 20 years ago is just how closely the agency's [CIA] counterintelligence staff and anti-Castro operatives watched Oswald in the years, months and weeks before JFK was killed. The CIA funded the anti-Castro student group that publicized Oswald's pro-Castro activities in August 1963. When Oswald appeared in Mexico City in October 1963 his visit was reported to Langley where six top CIA officers collaborated on a cable assuring the Mexico City station that Oswald was “maturing.” The undercover officer who handled Oswald's anti-Castro antagonists, George Joannides, was called out retirement 15 years later to serve as the CIA's principal liaison with the House Select Committee on Assassinations—and he hid his role in the events of 1963 from investigators again. His files and records about key CIA personnel who figure in the JFK story remain classified until at least 2017.” 

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States of America5) We now know that the following highly-placed people disbelieved the Warren Report in whole or on key points:  President Lyndon B. Johnson, Senator Richard Russell, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, Senator John Sherman Cooper, Rep. Hale Boggs, Kenny O’Donnell (former assistant to President Kennedy), President Richard Nixon, Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, just to name a few.  This should give everyone pause.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Next time, a look at Oswald’s marksmanship and the Secret Service shooter theories.

Oswald image via HSCA Exhibits archive at Mary Ferrell Foundation.

When Tony Hays isn’t traveling the world, teaching students, and adopting puppies, he takes time out to write the Arthurian Mystery series from Tor/Forge.

See all posts by Tony Hays for Criminal Element.

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