Without doubt it's the most controversial subject of all time. Over fifty years after US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on 22 November 1963, conspiracy theorists around the world are still trying to prove that there was more to that fateful day than met the eye or what was later released as the 'official' version of events. But those who think that the conspiracy theories began years after the official 'Warren Commission' findings, or with the Oliver Stone movie 'JFK', may be interested to know that the idea that President Kennedy was not felled by a lone gunmen began almost immediately.
And on 9 February 1964, 'TODAY' magazine in the UK published one of the first full-length articles on the assassination and asked the question "Did two gunmen cut down Kennedy?". Reporter Larry Ross asked a crack shot of world repute to test what the magazine then called an 'astonishing theory' about the death of President Kennedy. And the publication boasted "No matter what the official findings may yield (for the 'Warren Commission' were still in the process of investigating the assassination), this expert view on the murder that shook the world cannot be ignored".
There have been many more theories and many more explanations since this article was published and new evidence is constantly, if not always accurately, being presented. From a modern-day point of view the article offers nothing new to hardened theorists but is reproduced here purely for its historical value.
When Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of a Dallas Police Station nearly three months ago, there were Americans who said he should be given the Congressional Medal.
They were convinced that Oswald had assassinated their President. They did not doubt that he was the man whose shots horrified the world and shamed the State of Texas.
But today, can they be quite so sure?
Could there have been more than one assassin that day last November when for an awful moment the world stood still?
For weeks I have been sifting every available fact. And I am prepared to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, the mixed-up, ex-Marine, may have tried to murder Governor John Connally who was in the presidential car. But I am by no means convinced that his was the finger on the gun which sent John Fitzgerald Kennedy toppling, mortally wounded, into the arms of his wife.
It is true that he owned the murder weapon, a Carcano rifle. It is true that his palm prints were found on it and on the cartons in the room from which the shots are said to have been fired. Certainly three empty shells were found by that sixth floor window and Oswald was the only one known to have been on the floor at that time. Admittedly tests showed that he had fired a gun just before the assassination and ballistics tests indicated that the murder bullets had come from Oswald's rifle. But despite this circumstantial evidence, the case of Oswald remains defogged with mystery which Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade has yet to explain.
There is the question of the trajectory of the bullets which passed through the President. A United Press report, on November 24th, based on White House sources stated: "Staff doctors at the Parkland Hospital in Dallas said the sniper's bullett pierced the mid-section of the front part of his (Kennedy's) neck and emerged from the top of his skull. He bent forward, turned his head and was struck in the skull by the second bullet."
Pictures of the scene, and the testimonies of witnesses and the F.B.I. indicate that the President's car was well past Oswald's position when the bullets were fired. So Oswald was about twenty yards ABOVE, seventy-five yards behind and slightly to the right of the President when he was alleged to have fired.
How, then, did the first bullet hit the presidents neck in the front and travel UPWARDS through his head? The film of the assassination shows that the President clutched at his throat when hit by the first bullet, indicating that this was the first point of impact. He then turned and slumped towards Mrs Kennedy on his left. Yet the second bullet hit him on the RIGHT side of the head and travelled clear through, according to a White House medical officer.
When he turned to the left, the LEFT side or back of his head would have been facing Oswald, not the right side which received the bullet. The situation is confused further by a report I received from Dr Robert B. Shaw, one of the three doctors who examined the dead President. He contradicts the Parkland report. He wrote to me: "The first bullet struck the President in the back of the neck at the region of the second thoracic vertebrae and emerged from the front of his neck, piercing his trachea. The third bullet struck the President on the left side of the head in the region of the left temporal region and made a large wound of exit on the right side of the head."
Add to this muddle two reports from pathologists in the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland, where the autopsy was performed and confusion borders on chaos.
Their findings have yet to be published officially, but reliable sources say that their first report indicated that the President was struck in the right back shoulder, then in the head. The throat wound, they said, had been caused by a fragment of this bullet which "literally exploded in Kennedy's head." But a later report says that they maintain that the president was shot on the right side of the head, that a fragment deflected downwards out of the neck, and the bullet emerged from the left side of the head.
Personally, having studied the evidence carefully, I believe that the fatal shots came from the front of the car.
Police officers, secret service men and other eye-witnesses bear out this theory. One of them, a Mr Truly, said: "I looked around and concluded the shots had come from farther down the street."
More evidence supporting frontal shots came from a newspaper report on December 7, which stated: "After the shooting a small unexplained hole was found in the windshield of the presidential vehicle, which could have been caused by a bullet." On the other hand, all reports agree that the bullet which hit Governor Connally pierced his back. The bullet was obviously travelling on a downward slope and could well have come from Oswald's position. Were there, then, at least two assassins-Oswald at his window and another man in front, possibly hidden in the underpass? The front man's shot could have hit the President below the Adam's apple and also have been the signal for Oswald to fire his first shot into Governor Connally's back. The front man's second shot could have hit the President in the right side of his head. But even this does not explain how the first bullet could go off at an angle of about ninety degrees after it hit the President's neck and go up through the top of his head.
I put these points to Captain J. S. Wooster, of the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a man who has won Dominion Inter-services Rifle Shooting Championship four times in recent years. He has spent almost a lifetime studying, lecturing and competing in the field of small arms weapons and shooting. He told me: "At a range of one hundred yards a bullet from a Carcano rifle would go through thirty inches of solid oak. There is no doubt that solid bullets fired at this range would go through a man's head and some distance farther until they hit another solid object." He thought the difference between the medical evidence and Oswald's firing position was "absolutely fantastic" and could offer no account for it.
From his experience in the last war and extensive hunting, Captain Wooster said a solid bullet entering a human or animal skull leaves a small entry hole and a much larger exit hole. Thus the small hole in the mid-section of the neck, stated by physicians to be just under the adams apple, would seem to have been the entry point for the first bullet. A much larger wound was reported in the top or back of the President's head, showing this to be the exit point. Wooster thought that the impact would have knocked the President right off his seat, if it had hit him from behind. The impact of a frontal shot, however, would have been partly absorbed by the car seat supporting the President's back, tending to leave his body upright. But the trajectory of the bullets is by no means the only mystery.
Four bullets were found - one in the President's body, one on the floor of the car, one lodged in Governor Connolly's thigh and one lying on a stretcher on which the President was placed after he was taken to hospital.
Yet everybody seems to agree that only three shots were heard! And -even more amazing- the police say ballistic reports prove that all the bullets came from Oswald's rifle.
When I put this point to Captain Wooster he said: "If the doctors were right and reported correctly as saying that the bullets went through the top and side of the President's head, then they would never have been found in or near that moving vehicle or in his body, much less on the stretcher." That the medical men were right about both shots being lethal head wounds were corroborated by the F.B.I. on December 3. They reported: "Either of the two shots which hit President Kennedy could have killed him."
But let us assume for a moment that by some freak those bullets did not travel farther than the car. Would it have been possible for Oswald to have fired them all in such a short time? Captain Wooster did not think so. And to test his theory he set up two targets at a range of one hundred yards. Using a Model 98 Mauser bolt-action rifle with a four-power telescopic site which, he said, had a bolt action speed almost identical to Oswald's Carcano, he fired at the first target, shifted his aim to the second target for the second shot, then back to the first target for the third shot. The first target represented Kennedy, the second Connally. The manual actions involved unloading the empty shell, reloading, sighting and firing.
The Captain's time by stopwatch from the first to the third shot in a sitting position and bracing the rifle was 6.5 seconds, 5.5 seconds and 5 seconds for three tests. Lying down, his time was 6 seconds and 5 seconds for two trials. All his shots hit the target.
Although he is in the world championship class for rapid fire rifle shooting, even Captain Wooster found it difficult to match Oswald's accuracy. And Oswald was certainly no champion.
When he left the marines over four years ago, he had barely qualified in the sharpshooter class, which is considered well below the expert or championship shooting levels. According to an Irving gunsmith, Oswald did not even take in the gun to have the telescopic site mounted until October 30, twenty three days before the crime. In fact, the only evidence that he had had some recent shooting practise came from two men who told the F.B.I. they had seen him at a Dallas shooting range. Yet he is accused of hitting two moving targets with three shots faster than the champion Captain Wooster could hit two static targets.
The presidential car was moving at 12½ miles an hour. If the time between the first and third shots was five seconds, the car would have moved 30½ yards. As Captain Wooster said: "To think a man of Oswald's reported proficiency could do that kind of accurate shooting at moving targets in five seconds is utterly fantastic." But even estimates of four or five seconds may be too high. Stopwatch timing of the shots heard on the Universal Pictures newsreel indicate that only 3.1 seconds elapsed from the first to the third shot.
No man alive could shoot so fast with such a rifle.