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The Kennedy Assassination

Nov. 20, 2013
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“The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was a cruel and shocking act of violence directed against a man, a family, a nation, and against all mankind.”

So begins the Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. But instead of determining without a doubt who shot JFK, the Warren Commission’s report launched a slew of questions about the shots fired in Dallas 50 years ago.

The report, released in September 1964, asserted that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman who fired from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza. According to the Commission’s investigation, Oswald fired three shots, two of which hit Kennedy from behind. One of the shots blasted through Kennedy’s neck and into Texas Gov. John Connally’s back, chest, wrist and left thigh. After the shooting, Oswald left the building, hopped on a bus and then a taxi, briefly stopped at his roominghouse, shot and killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, and walked to the Texas Theatre, where he was arrested.

Oswald was held in custody and questioned without an attorney for two days. Jack Ruby, who the Warren Commission says was also acting alone, fatally shot Oswald when he was being transferred to the county jail on Sunday morning, Nov. 24, 1963. The murder was captured on live TV.

Three years later, only 36% of Americans polled agreed with the Warren Commission’s findings that Oswald acted alone.

Ten years ago, the percentage of people who believe the Warren Commission dropped to about 25% of Americans polled.

This spring, an AP-GfK poll found that 59% of Americans polled believe a conspiracy brought down Kennedy, while only 24% believe that Oswald acted alone.

Why do the questions linger?


Is a Simple Answer the Best Answer?

Conservative Marquette University Professor John McAdams, a JFK conspiracy debunker, acknowledges that the evidence proving that Oswald acted alone is “circumstantial, but pretty strong.”

Even so, he believes the Warren Commission’s conclusions, which were rehashed and affirmed in popular books such as Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History and Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy.

McAdams told the Shepherd that questions remain about Kennedy’s assassination and the Warren Commission’s conclusions because “it’s more fun and psychologically satisfying to think there was a conspiracy. It turns into a parlor game.”

He said conspiracy buffs don’t want to believe that Oswald, a loner who sympathized with communists, acted alone because it doesn’t mesh with the importance of the assassination in our nation’s history.

“If you have a large effect, you want to have a large cause,” McAdams said.

But is the skepticism about the JFK assassination simply a psychological crutch?

Not so, says David Wrone, a recently retired history professor at UW-Stevens Point who is on the board of directors of the Assassination Records Review Board, which released records from the assassination during the 1990s. He’s also the author of The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination.

After decades of research, Wrone came to the conclusion that we don’t know for certain who killed Kennedy because the investigation, beginning with the initial law enforcement on the scene to the work of the Warren Commission, was so sloppy.

“I don’t know who shot Kennedy—I have no idea,” Wrone said. “And I don’t know because the crime was never properly investigated.”


Reviewing the Evidence

Wrone said he never believed that Oswald acted alone because the initial reports from Dallas don’t support that conclusion. He said that law enforcement released Oswald’s name as a suspect a mere 90 minutes after the shooting, and the presumption of his guilt colored the investigation.

“They presumed he was guilty, and that’s without knowing how many bullets struck Kennedy, where they hit him, what direction they came from,” Wrone said. “That’s without knowing anything about the autopsy, that’s without looking at any of the photographic film, without interviewing any witnesses who viewed the actual assassination and so forth. It was plucked out of the ether by the Dallas police.”

Contradicting the Warren Commission, Wrone said he believes that Kennedy was shot more than twice by at least two shooters, one of whom was not stationed in the Book Depository.

In fact, he said there’s a good case to be made that Kennedy was shot twice in the head, once from behind and once in the left temple, in quick succession by different types of guns. He also said that Kennedy hadn’t been shot in the back by a “magic bullet” that also hit Connelly, but from the front through the Adam’s apple.

“This is denied by people who believe the Warren Commission,” Wrone said. “It’s almost like a religious belief.”

Wrone called the investigation worse than sloppy and conducted by “junior-grade Keystone cops.”

Dealey Plaza was never treated as a crime scene, Wrone said, and investigators couldn’t even determine how many shots were fired.

“The government locked down on three because they have three empty cartridges in the sixth floor eastern-most window of the Texas School Book Depository that they found,” Wrone said. “And many people said three shots [were fired] although many, many people in Dealey Plaza that day said more than three. The head of the Secret Service thought it was a machine gun. So there are all sorts of questions.”

Wrone said medical, ballistic and photographic evidence cast doubt on the Warren Commission’s version of events, including Oswald’s guilt.

“The claim that Oswald shot him—that’s not backed up by evidence,” Wrone said. “I maintain that Oswald had nothing to do with the assassination whatsoever. That’s the rub. And people don’t want to go that way.”

Wrone said none of the evidence proved that Oswald brought a gun to the Book Depository that day; Oswald’s supposed palm print found on the rifle doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, either.

Even the Warren Commission had doubts about the palm print, Wrone said. Several palm prints had been taken from Oswald after he’d been taken in custody, and none of them have been accounted for. Wrone said experts at the time said that the metal of the rifle had been so porous and rough that a print couldn’t have been taken.

“So this was invented,” Wrone said of the palm print. “They wanted to get that sucker. So I think they just forged it.”

Wrone is convinced that Oswald did not kill Kennedy.

“I do not know who did it,” Wrone said. “And I maintain that nobody else does outside of the people who did it.”

Learn More About John F. Kennedy’s Life and Death


  • John F. Kennedy Tribute 2013: The Torch Is Passed: This tribute will feature music, poetry, art and video. Performers include Holly Haebig and Friends, Jahmes Finlayson, Mark Mantel, Mud River Lee, Ben Merens, Peter Blewett, Joann Chang, a painting by Phoenix Suvayas and more. Poet Jeanie Dean will serve as host and release her book, The Whole World Stopped: An Elegy for John F. Kennedy and the American Dream. The event begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Coffee House in Redeemer Lutheran Church, 631 N. 19th St. Donation: $5.
  • ‘Wisconsin Remembers John F. Kennedy’: This locally produced remembrance will air on Milwaukee Public TV Channel 10 at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 29. It can be viewed at any time at mptv.org.


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