By Rob Burgess
— Editor’s Note: November is the 35th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre (Nov. 18), the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22) and the 35th anniversary of the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone (Nov. 27.) This is the second in a series of three columns exploring each.
The Umbrella Man. The Badge Man. The Black Dog Man. The Babushka Lady. The Three Tramps. The Magic Bullet. The Wink. The investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas — which turns 50 on Friday — carries with it its own specialized nomenclature, as research possibilities remain ever-increasing. In his 2007 behemoth, “Reclaiming History,” Vincent Bugliosi estimated “close to 1,000 books have been published on the assassination.”
To accept the Warren Commission’s 1964 version, you must believe a lone shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, fired three shots at the passing motorcade from a rusty, 23-year-old Italian bolt-action rifle with a broken sight, the second of which hit the president once and Texas Gov. John Connally thrice before being found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital, the bullet nearly pristine.
You must ignore Connally’s and other ear- and eyewitnesses’ contradictory testimony.
You must accept the final, fatal shot was not fired from the so-called Grassy Knoll in the front. Believe it if you can; it’s not easy.
“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,” wrote new President Lyndon Baynes Johnson’s assistant attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach, in a Nov. 25, 1963 memo to special assistant, Bill Moyers.
The commission may have tried to achieve this, but the 1975 first-ever public television airing of Abraham Zapruder’s film, shows no simultaneous Connally/Kennedy reaction and the fatal head shot throwing JFK’s body violently back and to the left, not forward. The fallout led to the formation of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, which found a conspiracy likely.
Some researchers now claim the final shot came from a storm drain. Others maintain the body of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit — the man Oswald was originally arrested for shooting — was used as a stand-in for JFK’s autopsy photos. A few say the final shot was an accidental Secret Service ricochet misfire. There are even rumors of a poison dart being fired from a bystander’s umbrella in an effort to paralyze the president, making him easier to hit.
I would dismiss these theories, but authorities have destroyed evidence, silenced or overlooked witnesses and left credible leads unexplored.
Oswald’s murderer, Jack Ruby, begged the commission to take him back to Washington, fearing for his life in Texas. “If you don’t take me back … you will see the most tragic thing that will ever happen,” he said. “I won’t be around for you to come and question me again.” They refused, and Ruby died three years later.
On Nov. 24, 1963, Commander James Humes threw his original JFK autopsy notes into his fireplace. After Oswald’s murder, FBI agent James Hosty — on orders from his superior, J. Gordon Shanklin — flushed a note Oswald left him two weeks before the assassination.
The assassination is maddening. On this very desk sits a 7-inch stack of four assassination books. I am getting close to the end of “Crossfire” by Jim Marrs (1989) and have been reading parts of Bugliosi’s 1.5 million-word, 5.6-pound, 1,612-page opus. The other night, I fell asleep halfway through re-watching Oliver Stone’s 189-minute 1991 picture, “JFK.” I’ve watched: all nine (!) parts of the ITV series “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”; the 1999 History Channel program “The Warren Commission”; the 2003 BBC feature “Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy”; and another BBC production, 1978’s “The Killing of President Kennedy.”
After all this, I can only close the book on one murder: that of my spare time.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.