On the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, it is time to lay the conspiracy theories to rest.
Since 1963, Americans have found it difficult to believe that one maladjusted loner, Lee Harvey Oswald, could have singlehandedly killed President John F. Kennedy. The president had many powerful enemies, the thinking goes; surely they were behind the assassination.
Even the U.S. government has had trouble letting go of the conspiracy idea. After the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone, a congressional committee in 1979 concluded that there was likely a second gunman.
The committee also said there was no evidence implicating the Soviet Union, the Cuban government, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the Mafia, the Secret Service, the FBI or the CIA.
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The committee based its conclusions on acoustics evidence from a police motorcycle’s microphone, but it never resolved the central problem that no positive evidence of a conspiracy — evidence that would stand up in court or that a competent historian would consider credible — has materialized.
No credible eyewitnesses saw a second gunman. The rifle found in the School Book Depository was Oswald’s. The only bullets found at the scene came from that rifle.
Oswald was a committed communist who had lived in the Soviet Union and admired Kennedy’s nemesis Fidel Castro. He had delusions of importance that would never be fulfilled by normal means.
Political assassination had been on his mind for some time; he used the same rifle in an earlier assassination attempt on right-wing ex-general Edwin Walker in Dallas.
Oswald also had opportunity. He conveniently worked at the School Book Depository. He was a former Marine marksman.
He was quickly apprehended, but his murder by Jack Ruby two days later fanned the fires of the conspiracy theorists, who assumed that Ruby had killed Oswald as a cover-up.
Theorists from Jim Garrison to Oliver Stone have woven complex scenarios to explain the plots of various groups or individuals to kill the president, but they remain just theories.
The most persistent questions associated with the assassination have revolved around the basic physics and geometry of the event: Is it possible that three bullets were fired from the Sixth Floor, with two of those shots causing the wounds to Kennedy and Gov. John Connally? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
Starting with pioneering 3D computer modeling by Dale Myers a decade ago and reaching a new sophistication with the laser-scanned scene reconstruction by Tony Grissim and Michael Haag (as detailed on a recent Nova documentary), science has shown not only that the second bullet — fired from the Sixth Floor — wounded both Kennedy and Connally, but also that the third bullet, which shattered the president’s skull, was consistent with a shot fired from the Sixth Floor, not the grassy knoll.
The Nova documentary likewise featured high-tech ballistics tests by Michael and Luke Haag showing that Oswald’s full-metal-jacketed Carcano bullet was quite capable of causing Kennedy’s and Connally’s wounds and emerging relatively pristine.
New forensics studies by teams from the Boston University Medical School and the Army’s Biophysics Lab also confirm that the nature of both men’s wounds was precisely what would have been caused by that bullet fired from that trajectory.
Recent acoustics studies have thoroughly discredited the always-controversial theory of a fourth gunshot. And for those who argue that Oswald could not have gotten off three shots in six seconds, there are ample YouTube videos showing otherwise.
All that remains is the unproven notion that Oswald somehow had been inspired or manipulated by parties unknown. But if Soviets or Cubans prodded or encouraged him (which they have vehemently denied), it scarcely changes the reality that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy.
Those who continue to insist upon a conspiracy have one thing in common: They fervently want it to be true. This disqualifies them as credible analysts of the event.
No serious law-enforcement official or historian — people whose professional reputations rest on an objective examination of evidence — can believe that there was more than one gunman in Dealey Plaza that day.
Gregg Cantrell holds the Erma and Ralph Lowe Chair in Texas History at TCU and is president of the Texas State Historical Association.