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John F. Kennedy assassination

President John F. Kennedy

United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 PM Central time. He was on a campaign and support trip through the Southern United States in anticipation of the upcoming 1964 presidential election. Kennedy was fatally wounded by multiple gunshot wounds while riding in an open-top automobile. Texas Governor John B Connally was also severely injured in the same assassination attempt. Later that afternoon, U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States aboard Air Force One.

Table of contents
1 The Assassination
2 List of Witnesses to the Assassination
3 Investigations into the assassination
4 Security failures
5 The Zapruder Film
6 Conspiracy Theories
7 KGB disinformation
8 BBC 'Correspondent' programme in 2003
9 External Links

The Assassination

At 11:40 AM (U.S. Central standard time), President Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and the rest of the presidential entourage arrived at Love Field, then Dallas' only airport, in Air Force One. The original itinerary was for the president to proceed in a motorcade from Love Field through downtown Dallas, to the Trade Mart. The president was expected there for a luncheon at 12:30 PM.

Accompanying President Kennedy in the car were First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally's wife Nelly. The car was not equipped with a bulletproof top (none existed among the President's cars) - nor a covering of any kind.

An aerial view of Dealey Plaza,
path of the President's Limo
(Warren Commission Photo)

The motorcade travelled through nearly the entirety of downtown Dallas without incident. A short distance from the Trade Mart, the procession needed to travel through Dealey Plaza, and past the Texas School Book Depository.

At 12:30 PM, with the presidential limo travelling an average of 11.2 miles per hour through the plaza, at least two shots are known to have struck the occupants of the car. The Warren commission believed three were fired, all by Lee Harvey Oswald from the Depository. Two of them hit, one missed the car and its occupants. The first bullet that hit, called the 'magic bullet' by critics of the Warren report, was believed to have struck Kennedy in the back to exit at his throat, then to bounce to hit Governor Connally in the back and wrist. The subsequent bullet that hit, the shot fatal to Kennedy, struck him in the back of the head. From the evidence it is unclear whether it was the first, second, or third shot that missed.

Immediately after the shots were fired and the gravity of the situation became clear to the limo driver and the Secret Service, the limo sped off out of Dealey Plaza on its way to Parkland Hospital.

No radio or television stations are known to have broadcast the assassination live, as the area the motorcade was travelling through was not considered important enough to broadcast. KBOX-AM did recreate the sounds of the shooting for an LP record it released with excerpts of news coverage of that day, but it was not an original recording. Most media crews were, in fact, waiting in anticipation at the Trade Mart.

Lee Harvey Oswald left the Texas School Book Depository at approximately 12:33, through its front door. He was confronted by Dallas policeman Marrion Baker in the depository's lunchroom before, but vouched for by the superintendent of the building, Roy Truly. Meanwhile, a citywide manhunt for Kennedy's assassin began in earnest.

At approximately 1:00 PM, after a bus and taxi ride, Oswald had arrived at his boarding room and, according to his landlady, left three or four minutes after 1:00 PM. Shortly thereafter, Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit was shot less than one mile from Oswald's rooming house. The Warren Commission saw enough evidence to believe that Oswald shot Tippit at about 1:16 PM.

The situation at Parkland Hospital had deteriorated. Even as the press contingent grew, a priest had been summoned for Kennedy, as a Catholic, so that Last Rites might be performed. It had become apparent to those inside the hospital that President Kennedy was already dead. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was in emergency surgery.

According to the Warren Report, Lee Harvey Oswald had attempted to hide in the Texas Theatre at about 1:45 PM, doing so by ducking into the building without paying while the box office attendant was distracted. Police radio alerted nearby units to apprehend him as the suspected murderer of Patrolman Tippit. Fifteen officers in several patrol cars responded; when an arrest attempt was made inside the theatre, Oswald resisted arrest - in so doing assaulted and attempted to shoot Patrolman M. N. McDonald (in front of nearly a dozen witnesses).

The news of Kennedy's death was made official at 1:48 PM. Legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite passed along word of the tragedy on the CBS network, and, uncharacteristically, nearly wept on camera.

"From Dallas, Texas, the flash --- apparently official --- President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time a hour ago... ...Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the thirty-sixth President of the United States."

Cronkite remained in the network studio for another 72 hours straight after the assassination, delivering news related to the assassination. For approximately three days after November 22, all three major U.S. television networks remained fixed to news coverage. Most radio stations carried either news or 'beautiful music', in a show of respect. Some have pointed to the John F. Kennedy assassination as a coming of age of sorts for television news.

Lyndon Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One, by Judge Sarah T. Hughes following the assassination of John F. Kennedy

Back at Air Force One, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the next president of the United States. Against common procedure (the murder of the President was still a state crime, under Texas jurisdiction) Kennedy was removed from Parkland Hospital and put directly onto Air Force One, rather than undergoing an examination by the local coroner. Considerable effort was made to put his coffin into the seating area of the plane, rather than the cargo hold (as all involved concurred would be unthinkable); several seats were removed from the plane to make this possible.

Late in the evening of November 22, Oswald was charged with single-handedly assassinating Kennedy. He denied shooting Kennedy to reporters, stating, "I didn't shoot anyone" and, "I'm just a patsy." Two days later, long before Oswald could face trial, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald while he was being transferred to a different jail - while millions watched on national television. Investigation revealed that the attempt to move Oswald from one jail to another was done with poor security procedure and poor advance judgement. Despite appropriate plans being drawn up to a covert move of Oswald, the press was told where he would appear so the transfer could be covered on television - based on a promise the police made to the press.

A nation mourns

Across the United States, the Kennedy assassination brought normal activity to a halt. The New York Times reported on November 23 that in New York, the news spread by radio, television, even word of mouth; men and women wept openly. So many phone calls were placed in the New York phone exchange that operators were forced to refuse calls. People instinctively clustered in department stores and prayed; Broadway cancelled its Friday night shows. Traffic in some areas came to halts as the news of Kennedy's death spread literally from car to car. A small, unguided anger against 'Texas and Texans' was reported from some individuals.

Many sporting events were cancelled on that Friday and into the following weekend. NFL football was not cancelled that weekend, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle later called that the biggest mistake he ever made.

John F. Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on November 25.

List of Witnesses to the Assassination

The following are some important witnesses to the assassination: A complete list of witnesses can be found here.

Almost 90 percent of the witnesses claimed to hear only 3 shots or less. Only a few witnesses claimed to hear more than 3 shots, the rest were unsure.

Investigations into the assassination

Many people dispute the claim that Oswald was the assassin (or sole assassin), or believe that he was part of a conspiracy. The first official investigation of the matter, the Warren Commission, was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 29, 1963 to investigate the assassination. It was headed by Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. It eventually reported its conclusion that Oswald assassinated Kennedy and, further, that he acted alone. The theory that Oswald acted alone has been informally dubbed the lone gunman theory. The proceedings of the commission were secret, and some of its files have yet to be released to the public, further fuelling speculation about the assassination.

A later official investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, during the late 1970s, concluded that President Kennedy had been assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. This conclusion was largely based on an analysis of a Dictabelt audio recording which was claimed to contain the sound of the shots fired at Kennedy's motorcade, as recorded by a motorcycle police officer's radio. The analysis claimed to have detected, to a near certainty, the sound of one more gunshot than would fit within the official version of the facts - a total of four.

This conclusion (and thus, the conclusion of the Select Committee) was later contested by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences (Ramsey Panel). The panel claimed that the suspected fourth shot on the Dictabelt recording really occurred about a minute after the assassination. But an analysis published in Science and Justice 2001 used a different synchrony on the police-radio audio records to show the National Academy of Sciences panel may have erred, making the shot noises real 'to a 95% certainty'.[1] A BBC/ABC study in 2003 believed that the tape recording was done too far away from the assassination to be useful. A recent analysis sponsored by Court TV, determined that the tape was acutally a recording that took place after the shooting, and that the supposed gunshot sounds did not match test gunshot recordings fired on Dealey Plaza any better than random noise.[1]

The Dictabelt recording is a very contested piece of evidence in the Kennedy assassination; studies concluding that the Dictabelt recording was crucial to reach a conclusion, or irrelevant, both exist.

Hundreds of studies of the evidence in the Kennedy assassination have been performed over the years - they have reached as many conclusions about what happened and why. From the Dictabelt recording, eyewitness accounts, testimonials, physical evidence...nearly every "important" piece of evidence has been questioned and counter-questioned since the assassination.

Security failures

The Secret Service (and general security surrounding the President) as it existed in 1963 was very lax by today's standards, and made it much easier for an assassin to kill the President. The Warren Commission's Report, chapter 8, goes to some length to detail flaws in Secret Service security at the time of the assassination. Procedures in place and events of the day presented large holes into which Lee Harvey Oswald, or any potential assassin, could slip. These included:

In short, the ease with which Kennedy was assassinated may as easily be explained by the simple failure of a government organization to see a problem, as by any conspiracy theory.

As one might imagine, significant changes occurred within the Secret Service organization as a direct result of the Kennedy Assassination and the Warren Commission's report, such that a recurrence was much less likely.

The Zapruder Film

Kennedy's motorcade trip through Dealey Plaza was recorded on silent 8mm film before, during, and immediately following the assassination by amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, in what became known as the Zapruder film. Many witnesses reported hearing almost simultaneous shots from more than one direction, and seeing smoke from another location, called "the grassy knoll", positioned in front of the motorcade at the time of the assassination. Many feel the Zapruder film supports this theory, as it shows Kennedy first slumping forward in his seat, as though he were shot from behind, and then being flung backward in his seat, as though shot from the front. The Nobel-prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez has demonstrated, however, that the motions of Kennedy's body may well be consistent with shots fired solely from the Texas School Book Depository. Others have observed that contrary to movie special effects, bullets do not convey enough momentum to throw a human body about; violent movements of persons who have been shot are largely due to nerve damage.

Conspiracy Theories

The security around Kennedy's motorcade was not sufficient - a conclusion that the Warren Commission and other investigations confirm. Some believe that the lack of security suggests that the CIA, Secret Service or some other agent or agencies were actively involved in the assassination, rather than simply negligent.

Many people have pointed to the Warren Commission's 'magic bullet' as unlikely. Some ballistic evidence has suggested that such a bullet trajectory was possible, but this particular point is a source of much contention and disagreement, and a reason by some to discredit this portion (or other portions) of the Warren report. [1]

The presidential limo was immediately cleaned and repaired instead of being secured as possible ballistic evidence. Kennedy's body was also immediately taken to Washington, rather than examined by the local coroner first.

These events can be interpreted as negligent or malicious, but no confirmed evidence has emerged and withstood scrutiny, that actually confirms a conspiracy. There are as many conspiracy theories about how and why Kennedy was killed as there are groups or individuals with the motive to do so.

Just a sampling of these conspiracy theories follows:

Disproving (to absolute certainty) any given conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination (or, conversely, proving that the Warren Commission's findings were 100% correct) may never be possible. Doing either would require 'evidence' that hasn't emerged in 40 years and is somehow so compelling that all sides can agree to agree upon it. Given the realistic likelihood of this, the real motive behind Kennedy's death (and to a lesser extent, how the murder was accomplished) may never be agreed upon.

This has led to the creation of a number of ironic or otherwise less than serious theories, including the 'No Bullets Theory' theory which states that "Kennedy's head did that on its own."

KGB disinformation

After the end of the Cold War, KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin claimed that the KGB had fabricated evidence as part of a disinformation campaign designed to generate distrust of the CIA and US Government among the American people. In his book The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (co-authored with Christopher Andrew) he claims the KGB forged a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to implicate the CIA in the assassination of JFK.

BBC 'Correspondent' programme in 2003

A BBC Correspondent programme, broadcast on 23 November 2003, using exact computer generated images based on the Zapruder film, and using exact placings of Kennedy and Connally in the car at the moment when both were hit, suggested that the wound suffered by Connally matched exactly the entry point that would have occurred had a bullet passed through Kennedy, exited the President's neck and hit Connally. The trajectory led directly to the location from which it was claimed Oswald had fired. Kennedy, due to his back problem, regularly hunched in an unusual posture, with his back raised and neck slightly forward, a position shown in the Zapruder film moments before the shooting, and which is perceived as undermining the claim by magic bullet critics that to enter his neck the bullet would have had to swerve up at an impossible angle. The film shows Kennedy leaning forward slightly with his neck as a result below, not above, his shoulder-blade line. Based on the exact trajectory line shown, the speed of the bullet fired by Oswald's gun, the movements of both men when hit, the timescale within which they reacted (and movements on Connally's jacket immediately prior to Connally's reaction, which indicate something had hit him a fraction of a second earlier) the programme concluded that it was 100% certain that the gunman was located where Oswald had been, that the magic bullet could only have been fired from there, that the bullet entered Kennedy's back, entered and exitted his neck, then hit Connally in the back before exiting near his nipple and hiting his wrist, the only point at which the bullet hit bone. It concluded and that both men had with absolute certainty been hit by the same bullet. In addition it was physically impossible for Connally to have have been shot at that spot in his body except through the President, as Kennedy was directly in the path of the trajectory line from the window to Connally.

In addition on the programme, the computer animator, Dale Myers, using all known film of the assassination, demonstated that the "open microphone" which supposedly recorded four shots, could not have been at the location it had to be to have recorded an accurate reflection of the number of shots, free from distortion, echoes from nearby buildings or other noise. The motorcycle cop who supposedly recorded the shots on an accidentially open microphone was in fact 170 yards from the only location where an accurate recording of the number of shots could have been made at the moment when the shooting took place. Film footage also showed the cop at a considerable distance from the motorcade, the President's car and the Texas School Book Depository seconds before the shooting, a distance from the necessary location for accurate recording that even at top speed he could not in the timespan reach. The programme concluded that "there is no doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy. There is every doubt that he had accomplices."

See also: Jim Garrison, JFK (movie)

External Links