President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago this Thursday, and the details of what happened that day in Dallas remain unresolved after all this time. The ambiguity presented by the famous Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination (notably the “back and to the left” motion of Kennedy’s head after he gets shot), the shooting of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald two days after the JFK assassination, and a wide range of powerful enemies make the JFK assassination a tantalizing mystery that still fascinates five decades later.
So who killed JFK, and why? Here are some of the many theories on the JFK assassination:
1. Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone
Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24 year-old ex-marine and communist sympathizer, had defected to the Soviet Union four years before JFK’s death, then moved back to the U.S. two and a half years later. He was arrested for killing both JFK and a nearby police officer, 45 minutes before JFK was shot. Oswald himself was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby, a Dallas club owner. Oswald acting alone is the simplest and most accepted theory on JFK’s assassination. Five government investigations tagged Oswald as Kennedy’s killer.
For some, however, that’s merely where the story begins.
2. The Grassy Knoll or the Storm Drain Shooter
Play a word association with any American, especially one over 30, and say “grassy knoll.” Odds are the response is “JFK” or something related to the JFK assassination. Many conspiracy theorists believe that the shots that killed JFK were fired from the grassy knoll nestled by some trees alongside Elm Street, where JFK was shot. Eye witnesses and the Zapruder film are the main bases for this theory.
The storm drain is a lesser known theory. In this one, the shooter killed JFK from one of four storm drains on Elm Street or neighboring Main Street (one of these storm drains is right next to the grassy knoll). The “sewer man” theory, as it’s called, is backed up by Mafioso Bill Bonano, who claims in his 1999 memoir that fellow mob member John Rosselli confessed to Bonano in prison that he shot JFK from a storm drain on Elm Street.
3. The Driver or the Secret Service Guard
According to one bizarre JFK conspiracy theory, Kennedy was assassinated by his own driver, William Greer. Some claim to have spotted Greer holding a gun in a picture taken moments before JFK was shot. Others counter that the “gun” was just the sun reflecting off the hair of the secret service member in the passenger seat.
A more interesting theory is that George Hickey, a secret service agent running alongside JFK’s motorcade accidentally shot the president in the head. This theory alleges that there was an assassination attempt, presumably from Oswald, which Hickey was responding to, and in the process he accidentally shot JFK. It’s an interesting theory, but it sounds a little too much like xckd’s 9/11 truther spoof, where someone alleges that one of the towers fell due to a government conspiracy, and the other one was from an unrelated terrorist attack.
So, those are the people that might have actually shot JFK, but why? Did they act alone, or was it a much larger plot from a powerful organization.
4. The Mafia
JFK came into office with a promise to fight organized crime. Some believe that triggered a promise from organized crime to fight him. Mobster Carlos Marcello was one of many who were facing trial at the time of JFK’s assassination, and he confessed to cellmate Frank Van Laningham that he ordered the JFK assassination in 1980. According to Lamar Waldron’s The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination, Marcello had two hit men flown in from Europe, who shot JFK from the grassy knoll. Some mafia theories also involve Jack Ruby, who had to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he could reveal anything.
5. The Cubans
The Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba nearly ignited a war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, especially Cuban President Fidel Castro, were at an all time high. Lee Harvey Oswald was a known Castro supporter, and some have speculated that Cuban officials or even Castro himself ordered the killing. Castro brought up a good point when asked about this: the U.S. is a capitalist giant regardless of whether JFK or his replacement, Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) was president. Why swap one for the other?
6. The Russians
Lee Harvey Oswald spent almost three years in the U.S.S.R. and some JFK assassination conspiracy theories allege that Oswald had ties to the KGB. These theories point to a visit Oswald made to the Russian embassy in Mexico, two months before the JFK assassination.
7. The CIA/FBI
The CIA and/or FBI have been implicated by some conspiracy theorists. The idea is that the agencies ordered JFK’s assassination, didn’t adequately protect JFK, then obstructed the investigation. Immediately after JFK’s death, local officials wanted to do an immediate autopsy, but the Secret Service wanted to fly JFK back to Bethesda Naval Hospital and they forced the matter by drawing their guns.
Yes, JFK’s own Vice-President is a popular target for conspiracy theories. After all, who gained the most from JFK’s assassination? Rumors were flying that JFK was preparing to drop Johnson from the ticket as he prepared his reelection campaign. LBJ, the theory goes, went from the discard pile to President of the United States. A book by former President Nixon aide Roger Stone alleges that Nixon believed this theory.
So, what do you believe. Oswald? Someone else? Single madman or giant conspiracy? Fifty years after the JFK assassination, we still have more questions than answers.