Texas, The Plains States

Single Gun Theory: Visiting the Kennedy Assassination Site

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JFK motorcade, an image at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas

A visit to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas gets you thinking about the Kennedy assassination, one of the most fascinating events in American history.  Who did it, and why?

In the parking lot of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, freelance tour guides wrangle tourists onto the grassy knoll and make wild claims about the Kennedy assassination. “51 people saw two gunmen shoot the president from this spot!”

The obvious question: “And none of them went to the police?”

“Some did, but their testimony was suppressed. Others were intimidated into silence. At least one was killed.”

On the wooden palisade fence that tops the knoll, the graffiti artists have scrawled their opinions, one reads: “About this spot. Bang! Bang!”

And the tourists eat it up.

Texas School Book Depository, where the shot that killed Kennedy was fired

From the Sixth Floor corner window of the Texas School Book Depository came the shot that changed the nation.

The Mother of All Conspiracy Theories

The Kennedy assassination is one of the most fascinating events in American history. The national consensus of opinion changes from generation to generation. Right after the event, as we rode the last waves of post-World War II optimism, we were willing to believe what they were telling us, that a single gunman was responsible.

But as the upbeat attitude of the late 1950’s and early 60’s gave way to the cynicism of the 70’s, conspiracy theories abounded. By the late 1980’s we were growing weary of all that, eager to the return to a more positive view of the nation and ourselves, and by the late 90’s that evidence was refuted. Now in the age of Trump when a lie is as good as the truth were back to believing in conspiracy theories again. But the Kennedy assassination is unique. Arguably, it is the mother of all conspiracy theories, the one that set the bar.

View from the sixth floor window where Oswald shot Kennedy.

This is the view from the Sixth Floor window. This is the angle Oswald had. He surely shot JFK from here. But was he alone?

It’s hard to believe now but as recently as ten years ago the popular view was that a single gunman killed Kennedy.  Stephen King, in his 2011 bestseller, 11/22/63, revisited the controversy in fiction and came to the same conclusion, stating, “It is very, very difficult for a reasonable person to believe otherwise.” But  to feel comfortable with that conclusion you’ll have to ignore some pretty troubling facts, and if you think the Sixth Floor Museum is going to help you tie it all up with a neat bow, think again.

A Pristine Bullet, Mysterious Recordings, and Swapped Photos

Among the oddities the Sixth Floor Museum doesn’t shy away from examining is “the pristine bullet”. That lethal projectile, the bullet that allegedly killed the president and struck governor John Connelly of Texas, did a marvelous thing. It passed through 15 layers of clothing, 7 layers of skin, and approximately 15 inches of tissue, burrowed through a necktie knot, removed 4 inches of rib, and shattered a radius bone, yet somehow came to rest on the gurney of the wounded Connelly intact, neither blunted or dented.

Frame from the Zabruder film showing Kennedy being shot.

This frame from the Zabruder film shows the bullet slamming into Kennedy’s head. Question: Is that the back of his head, or the front? (Click any picture to enlarge).

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The Warren Commission, tasked with getting to the bottom of the assassination back in 1964, insisted the bullet was one of only three fired from Oswald’s gun, the only shots fired. But there is ample evidence there were others. Acoustical evidence exists of shots fired from the grassy knoll, backed up by the testimony of three credible eyewitnesses who reported hearing gunshots coming from that area.

What’s more, the location of the fatal wound is in dispute.  The Warren Commission concluded that the bullet struck Kennedy above the right shoulder and passed through his neck, a trajectory that aligns with Oswald’s perch. But Robert McClelland, a doctor at Parkland Hospital where the autopsy was performed, testified that the back part of Kennedy’s head was blown out, with tissue missing, a finding consistent with an exit wound, suggesting that the fatal bullet was fired from the front, in the direction of the grassy knoll.

Kennedy autopsy photo showing wound at the back of the head.

According to analysts, there is a “95% chance” that the autopsy photos of Kennedy’s fatal wound have been switched.

In the 1990’s the Assassination Records Review Board’s chief analyst for military records said he was “95% certain” that the autopsy photos in the National Archives, the ones showing the wound at the back of the neck, had been switched.

Everywhere you look, there are suspicious anomalies. And then there are the weird coincidences.

A Friend of the Family

Here’s one for you. Lee Harvey Oswald, by all accounts a nobody, a loser with no friends and no influence, was a palling around in the days leading up to the assassination with George de Mohrenschildt, a wealthy Russian ex-pat. Who is George de Mohrenschildt, you ask. Well, among other things, a close friend of the Bouvier family. So close, in fact, that he used to bounce 3-year old Jackie on his knee.  That’s right, that Jackie, the one who grew up to become first lady, the wife of JFK.

Mohrenschildt eventually cracked up and committed suicide, but before he did, he managed to confess that he had been directed by a CIA operative to meet with Oswald in the days before the assassination.  Then, according to a government led investigation, he succumbed to despair and shot himself – less than 48 hours after giving his confession.

Lee Harvey Oswald

In this famous picture of Oswald holding the murder weapon he is seen holding up a newspaper, which fixes him in place and time, a peculiar thing for an aspiring assassin to do.

Oswald himself claimed he had been nothing more than a patsy. It was one of the few things he was able to say before he was gunned down by a disgruntled club owner named Jack Ruby a little more than 48 hours after the assassination.

Improbable Deaths

Ruby had been thinking he would get off with a relatively light charge of “murder without malice”, but he got the book thrown at him  and was convicted of first degree murder and given the death penalty.

No long after, imprisoned and desperate, Ruby told reporters, “Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred.” In a later interview with psychiatrist Werner Teuter, he said, “I was framed to kill Oswald.” Ruby died in prison of cancer. He claimed his enemies, who were trying to silence him, had injected him with cancer cells. He died a mere three years after killing Lee Harvey Oswald, taking his secrets with him. And his was not the only untimely death.

Untimely deaths cluster around the Kennedy assassination like birds on a wire, so many that the House Select Committee on Assassinations set out in 1978 to investigate what they called the “statistically improbable number” of deaths of people associated with the event.

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Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald.

Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby later told a pyschiatrist, “I was framed to kill Oswald.”

Among those who perished within a few years of the assassination were Lee Bowers, one of the eyewitnesses who testified he heard shots coming from the grassy knoll; he died in a car crash.  John Garrett Underhill, a former CIA agent who expressed his conviction that Kennedy had been killed by a small clique in the CIA, killed by a gunshot wound to the head, death ruled a suicide. And Rose Cherami, a stripper in Jack Ruby’s club who tried to warn authorities that Kennedy was about to be killed in advance of the assassination. She was struck by a car, supposedly while hitchhiking.

Strange Coincidences and Questionable Evidence

All of this is examined and detailed at the Sixth Floor Museum. Housed on the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository in the same place where Oswald fired his fateful shots, the museum is surprisingly frank and balanced in laying out the history and controversy of the assassination.

Arranged in roughly chronological order, beginning with the rise of Kennedy as a candidate, his election to the presidency, his early days in office, proceeding through the politics of the time and into the events leading up to the moment when the presidential motorcade entered Dealey Plaza, the museum incorporates a fascinating combination of photos, video, artifacts and static exhibits to paint a comprehensive picture of the assassination and its aftermath. It draws no conclusions of its own but leaves it up to each visitor to draw his own conclusions. I knew where I was coming down.

Sixth Floor Museum, the corner where Oswald shot Kennedy.

At the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, a museum goer ponders the glassed off corner where Lee Harvey Oswald hid among stacks of boxes to shoot the president.

The Turning Point

Given the strange coincidences, the lost and tampered with evidence, the suppressed and strangled testimony, to arrive unequivocally at the conclusion that a single nitwit loser, acting alone, assassinated JFK is a little like saying that nobody on Wall Street was responsible for the financial shenanigans that led to the Great Recession. You have to make a concerted effort to believe that. You have to be allergic to the facts.

The pristine bullet explored at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

The pristine bullet. The Sixth Floor Museum doesn’t shy away from examining controversial aspects of the assassination.

Indeed, the Kennedy assassination stands as the pivotal moment in American history when the people of the United States went from trusting their government to suspecting it of things dark and nefarious. Vietnam added another layer to the cake, and Watergate put the bride and groom on top, but the Kennedy assassination caused the batter to rise.

Kennedy’s Bitterest Enemies

Cuban exiles captured at the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Kennedy’s refusal to provide air support resulted in the killing and capture of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.

So who was behind the murder of the nation’s 35th president?  Conspiracy theories offer up everyone from the Soviets to LBJ, but the most plausible hypothesis is that the CIA, working in concert with anti-Castro Cubans and the mob, offed the president.

The reasons are manifest. First, Kennedy made bitter enemies of the anti-Castro Cubans and the CIA when he refused to provide air support to bail out the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy was never wholeheartedly behind the invasion, having inherited it from the previous administration, so when it went sour, he was not about to call in air strikes, which would’ve led to an all out war with Cuba and most likely, by extension, the Soviets, thereby kicking off World War III.

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View from the grassy knoll at the Kennedy assassination site in Dallas.

View from the grassy knoll. The second car is approximately where Kennedy was when the shots were fired.

Kennedy was having none of it, so the anti-Castro invasion force was killed and captured, giving a black eye to the CIA, who had advocated for the invasion, and to the anti-Castro Cuban community in South Florida, who despised Kennedy for betraying them.

Second, the Kennedy administration was in hot water with the mob, who had supported JFK’s run for the presidency, just as they had supported his father, Joe Kennedy, throughout his rise to power. The Kennedy fortune was made on the basis of questionable activities, and the Kennedys had been tight with the mob at various points in the past. What’s more, the mob went to the mat for Kennedy during the election, bringing in the labor vote for JFK and tipping the election in his favor. So how did the Kennedys repay their criminal compatriots? By declaring an all out war against organized crime.

Dealey Plaza reflecting pool and Texas School Book Depository in background.

Dealey Plaza today, a quiet place to stop and contemplate what happened here, and what it means.

In the CIA and the mafia, Kennedy had made enemies of the people most capable of murdering him. Then came November 22nd, 1963.

A shot rang out in Dallas, and America became a different country, a country forever divided between people desperate to believe a sanitized view of America, and those willing to believe that a powerful, influential elite is out to destroy the hopes and dreams of the nation in pursuit of their own agendas.

The Sixth Floor Museum is worth a visit if for no other reason than it makes you stop and think.

Then again, maybe it doesn’t, because doing so might be just a little too scary.

But, really?

Check it out…

Sixth Floor Museum in DallasThe Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

411 Elm Street
Dallas, TX  75202
214.747.6660

Previous stop on the odyssey: Deckers, CO //
Next stop on the odyssey:  Abilene, KS

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About the author:  Malcolm Logan is a freelance writer who specializes in US travel and US history, designing driving tours, seeking out interesting destinations and exploring US adventure travel.  He can be reached at malcolm.logan@rcn.com
Image Credits:
Kennedy motorcade, Public Domain; Former Texas School Book Depository, Malcolm Logan; View from the sixth floor window, Malcolm Logan; Fatal shot, Public Domain;  Kennedy autopsy photo, Public Domain; Lee Harvey Oswald, Public Domain;  Jack Ruby Killing Lee Harvey Oswald, Public Domain; Sixth Floor Museum display, Malcolm Logan; Pristine bullet, Public Domain; Captured Cubans at the Bay of Pigs, Public Domain; View from the grassy knoll, Malcolm Logan; Dealey Plaza, Malcolm Logan
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