Conspiracy Theories

Jack's death devastated Bobby. Although their age had separated them as children, Jack's political career drew them together. Bobby had become one of his most trusted advisors. In the months after his brother's death, he found it difficult to accept that the assassination was the result of a single gunman. He came to believe that it was the work of Castro, the CIA, the Mafia, or Jimmy Hoffa. Bobby was not alone in his doubts. At first, Johnson believed that Kennedy's murder was the result of a revenge killing for the death of Diem, but he later came to believe that Castro was responsible.


Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the Kennedy assassination. It took nearly a year to analyze evidence and hear testimony from hundreds of witnesses. It released its report in September 1964, announcing its findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination.

Oswald's Murder

Just as Bobby and Johnson doubted that Oswald was solely responsible, the American people were not convinced. Although the September 1964 Warren Commission concluded that Oswald alone was responsible, the account was not enough to quiet doubts. What advanced the conspiracy theories even more was the surprising killing of Oswald.

On November 24, as he was being transferred to the county jail, an armed man in the crowd pulled out a gun and shot Oswald. It was both shocking and disheartening for many Americans, who wanted to know exactly why Oswald had shot the president. With Oswald's death, speculation arose that his murder was part of a conspiracy cover-up. One month after Kennedy's death, this belief was reflected in a poll that showed 52 percent of Americans believed in some sort of conspiracy theory.


“It's always seemed to me that John F. Kennedy's assassination marked a watershed in the history of America — and the world…. I've often wondered what the world would be like if those shots had not rung out in November 1963. I tell myself that much of the chaos we've experienced during the last forty years might not have happened, but of course, we'll never know.”

— Leonard Maltin, as quoted in “We'll Never Be Young Again”

Film Footage

This belief was in part spurred along by the film footage of Kennedy's assassination. The video recording, which was taken by an amateur filmmaker, was played and replayed to the point that many no longer believed the Warren Report's conclusions. The footage, according to many, indicated that there was another shooter. The film showed that when the bullet struck Kennedy in the back of his skull, his head moved backward. From this analysis of the footage, a belief emerged that the shooter was positioned in front of the limousine on a grassy knoll.

The Rockefeller Commission

In 1975, President Ford established the Rockefeller Commission to look into activities related to the CIA, which overlapped with Kennedy assassination theories. The Rockefeller Commission, headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, was also interested in the way Kennedy's head and body moved when he was shot. The commission's report focused in part on whether President Kennedy could have been shot by an assassin positioned in front of the limousine. The commission concluded that the movement of Kennedy's body when shot was consistent with the entry of a bullet from his rear or above him and to his right. “[I]f any other bullet struck the President's head,” stated Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, one of three doctors to extensively examine the autopsy photos and x-rays, “whether before, after, or simultaneously with the known shot, there is no evidence for it in the available materials.”

The Rockefeller Commission also tackled the issue of CIA involvement. One theory alleged that E. Howard Hunt of the CIA and Frank Sturgis, a former participant in government sponsored anti-Cuban activities, were directly involved in the assassination on behalf of the CIA. This theory emerged in 1974, two years after both men participated in burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate scandal. It was based on the belief that Hunt and Sturgis could be identified as two of the men in press photographs of six to eight vagrants taken into custody by the police after being found loitering in freight cars a half mile from the site of the assassination. The commission, however, was unable to substantiate the presence of either man in Dallas or confirm their identities in the photos.

The second theory alleged that the CIA was in some way connected to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. It was alleged that Hunt and Sturgis had ties with Oswald and Ruby because all men shared the common link of Cuba; each of them at one time had been involved in activities related to Cuba. The commission ruled out this theory. They could find no credible evidence to indicate that either man knew Oswald or Ruby.

Further Investigations

In 1979, another investigation began. This time, the Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives came to another conclusion. The committee concluded that while Oswald had fired three shots, two of which struck the president, there was a high probability that a second shooter may have fired at the president. The report also found that Kennedy's assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy. However, the committee was unable to identify those involved, but they did rule out the CIA, the Cuban government, anti-Castro Cuban groups, the Soviet Union, the FBI, the Secret Service, and organized crime. As for organized crime and anti-Castro groups, the committee noted that while as a group they were ruled out, individual members may have been involved. The committee's report, although it ruled out several conspirators, did manage to keep the conspiracy theories alive with its analysis.

To this day, conspiracy theories about Kennedy's death abound. In 1992, less than one-third of respondents polled believed the Warren Commission's conclusion. When Oliver Stone released his 1991 movie, JFK, a renewed batch of conspiracy theories emerged. Most likely, there will always be speculation as to whether Oswald plotted and carried out Kennedy's assassination alone.

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