Kennedy assassination after 50 years: Case never closed

Before we get started … What happened 50 years ago was a tragedy, and we ought to pause a moment and mourn the loss of our president. Even if this happened before our time. This was a terrible day in American history, and sometimes the grievous injury to the nation and to the Kennedy family can get lost in the discussion of bullet trajectories and frame 313 of the Zapruder film and so on.

Here’s my new essay on the Kennedy assassination. Nothing controversial here! I’m not sure if I should read my e-mail today, though … I’m notoriously a Lone Nut guy, or an LN, as they say in the business. In the minds of the serious researchers, I’d probably need to spend many more years or intense mining of the archives to rise even to the lowly status of “dabbler.”

I recently went to Dealey Plaza in Dallas for the first time. Here are a few random thoughts:

1. There were three home movies of the assassination in addition to the famous one by Abraham Zapruder. The best of them is the Nix film. It’s striking how much imagery from 11/22/1963 was in black-and-white, which, combined with the kind of stodgy fashions of Dallas, give the event the look of something happening in the 1930s or 1940s. But this was the television age, and cameras were cheap, and there are countless photographic images and movies from that day, much of it captured in “Pictures of the Pain,” by Richard B. Trask, a fine book I bought at the gift shop of the Sixth Floor Museum.

2. There are actually two gift shops. Go figure: In America we know how to capitalize on something. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a top-flight enterprise, and I was surprised by the high quality of the main exhibit. The curator, Gary Mack, was generous in showing me around Dealey Plaza. The museum also has a reading room downstairs for serious research, and librarian Krishna Shenoy showed me a ton of material I’d never seen before.

3. Lee Harvey Oswald left his wedding ring that morning in a cup on the dresser. This was a guy who wasn’t coming home, Gary Mack told me. Mack believes that Oswald’s actions after the assassination provide compelling evidence of his guilt. Some of this you know, some of it you may not know: Oswald went to the cafeteria immediately after the shooting and bought a soda. A cop pulled a gun on him, but a supervisor said, He’s okay, he works here. The cop moved on. Oswald went to leave, and a fellow employee said the president had been shot. Oswald said nothing in response (!). Then a reporter asked where he could find a pay phone, and Oswald helped him out.

Oswald walked several blocks (didn’t stick around to see what the fuss was about), jumped on a bus that was heading back toward Dealey Plaza and the crime scene. Traffic got snarled. Oswald got off the bus and walked to the train station, grabbed a cab, headed toward his rooming house and got out of the cab two blocks away (in case the cops had already cased it?). He ran inside, said nothing to the surprised housekeeper, grabbed something from his room and left.

Soon after, a police officer named J.D. Tippit, who had heard the description of the suspected assassin (a man named Howard Brennan said he saw Oswald fire from the window), spotted Oswald and  got out of his patrol car to talk to him. Oswald shot Tippit three times, then started to walk away, then went back and shot Tippit again just to make sure.

Soon after that fatal shooting, a shoe store owner saw a man acting strangely. He followed Oswald and saw him duck into the Texas Theater (that strip of Jefferson is still remarkably unchanged after half a century, including the theater) while the ticket-taker wasn’t looking. He told the ticket-taker that this guy was up to no good, and she called the police. They swarmed the place (as did some quick-on-their-feet news folks). Storming the theater, they turned on the lights and confronted Oswald, who hit an officer and pulled a gun. The officer grabbed the gun and kept it from firing. Oswald was hauled away, and there’s a great photo of him being manhandled outside of the theater.

All of which makes clear that Oswald was no criminal mastermind. He probably developed his plan to kill President Kennedy sometime that week after the motorcade route was published in the paper. He went the day before the assassination to Irving, Tex., to fetch his rifle and conceal it in a paper bag, claiming to a friend that he was just getting curtain rods. Gary Mack’s conclusion: Oswald’s actions after the JFK shooting prove that he was the shooter.

4. You will never be able to rule out a conspiracy because it is the nature of conspiracies to be hidden.

[more to come….]

 

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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Joel Achenbach · November 18, 2013