Did Lee Harvey Oswald Actually Act Alone?
On Friday November 22, 1963, southwest of the intersection of streets Elm and Houston in Dallas, Texas, hundreds witnessed one of the most infamous murders in history. The assassination of President Kennedy lasted about four seconds, during which he sustained two gunshot wounds. One shot hit him in the neck, or upper back, and the other, the fatal shot, entered his head causing massive damage to his skull and brain. Why would anyone want to kill the president? And more importantly, who? Given the suspicious official report of the assassination, eyewitness accounts, and a film which documents the events, it becomes apparent that President John F. Kennedy was not assassinated by a lone gunman.
Early in his term, Kennedy was widely supported by almost everyone. In fact, a poll showed that 83% of all Americans supported his performance as president. However, by 1963 that figure had dropped to below 61% (Waggoner 10). Kennedy's term was due to end in April of 1964 and he wanted to regain support in the South - specifically Dallas - where his opposition was the strongest.
The South was composed primarily of conservatives who disapproved of Kennedy's "liberal" policies on key issues affecting the nation. He was open to solving old problems with new solutions - an idea which conservatives usually don't go for - but his new solutions weren't always successful (11). What enraged the South further was Kennedy's active involvement in civil rights issues. He thought blacks should be treated equally and the southerners still perceived them as inferior.
The United States' turbulent relations with Cuba also didn't sit well with the conservative southerners. Castro had made ties with the Soviet Union and any aggression which was to occur would most likely take place in the Southern U.S., just ninety miles from Cuba. In 1962, relations with Cuba worsened when it was discovered that the Soviets were storing nuclear missiles in Cuban silos. Kennedy ordered Soviet premier Khrushchev to remove all of the missiles or the U.S. would respond with force. Six days later, he complied. This incident also cost Kennedy support. Groups like the John Birch Society and Minutemen thought that he should have been more forceful and not have promised to keep U.S. troops out of Cuba, and they weren't quiet about wanting him out of office either (15).
If trying to gain support from anti-Castro extremists and southern conservatives wasn't difficult enough, Kennedy had another group to worry about. The U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, made stopping organized crime a priority. By 1963, it was apparent that the Kennedy Administration was winning the battle. The president allowed Robert to fund the Justice Department causing it to quadruple in size, making it more efficient in obtaining evidence for prosecutors (16). As a result, more criminals were being convicted than ever before. With organized crime on the decline, it was certain that many "gangsters" wanted the president dead.
With all of these possible suspects on hand, it makes one wonder why investigators didn't pursue any possible leads. About two hours after the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was taken into custody. Before Oswald was able to testify, he was, himself, gunned down by a nightclub owner named Jack Ruby. Ruby was known to have connections with the Mafia, which leads some to believe that he was hired to "silence" Oswald (38). However, the Warren Commission, established by President Johnson to investigate Kennedy's assassination, gave no indication that there was a conspiracy. They claimed that the rifle belonging to Oswald, found in the book depository building, and the empty bullet casings that were discovered under a window on the sixth floor, were conclusive evidence. "The commission has concluded that the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Conally were fired from the sixth floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository building" (18). The commission's 800 page report discussed only Oswald and his troubled background. They ignored what little evidence was at hand and even contradicted their findings several times. Although this still remains the official report of Kennedy's murder, it is believed by many that the commission wanted to find Oswald guilty.
If the assassination of Kennedy was one of the most viewed murders in history, it makes one wonder what the witnesses might have actually seen. Some did report having seen a rifle barrel extending outside of a window from the depository. Assuming that the rifleman must be protecting the president, one man said to his wife, " 'Do you want to see a secret service agent?' 'Where?' she asked. 'In that building there,' " he said (Manchester 150). Others, who were closer to Kennedy, thought that at least one shot had come from the north, one hundred yards south of the depository. As stated by writers David S. Lifton and David Welsh, "Sixty-four witnesses indicated that the shots
originated from forward of the motorcade, from the vicinity of the Grassy Knoll, lending further credence to the physical evidence that President Kennedy was hit from the right front" (Waggoner 18). Also, a motorcycle policeman who rode near the left rear bumper of the president's limousine saw pieces of Kennedy's skull fly back and fall to the left. If the fatal shot had struck from behind, then the impact of the bullet should have thrown skull fragments forward (18). A doctor who participated in the autopsy was asked whether a bullet could have struck the president from the front. He replied, " 'Yes, it is conceivable' " (Manchester 222). With witnesses stating that shots were fired from both the rear and the front, it further supports the possibility that more than one assassin was involved.
However, eyewitness accounts aren't always concrete proof, but a video documenting the entire event, can be. A bystander named Abraham Zapruder had his home video camera filming the president at the time of his assassination, but what was filmed was of such poor quality that little of it could be useful in the mid sixties. Now, several years later, a young filmmaker, Robert Groden, obtained the twenty-two second film. Through optical printing techniques, Groden cleaned up the film and zoomed in on the president at the exact moments the shots were fired (O'Toole 46). The result is a graphic contradiction of the official claim that the shots struck Kennedy from behind. President Kennedy's body is driven backward and to the left, which indicates that at least one bullet came from ahead and to the right - the site of the Grassy Knoll. In addition, the video shows fragments of skull and brain fly out of the back of Kennedy's head, supporting the eyewitness account of the motorcycle policeman (46).
Although just viewing Kennedy's body in the film seems conclusive in itself, what is most intriguing is the fact, and it is a fact, that Oswald could not have fired all three bullets by himself. When Groden slowed the Zapruder film down to individual frames, capturing the precise moment that each shot was fired, it was proved that all three bullets were fired in a time span of just four seconds. This doesn't seem relative off hand, but it takes even the world's best marksman, which Oswald certainly was not, 2.3 seconds to fire a bolt-action 6mm rifle, the type of rifle registered to Lee Harvey Oswald which was found in the Texas book depository (48). This means that, at his very best, Oswald would have required at least six seconds to expel all three rounds.
Therefore, a possible explanation might be that two gunmen participated in the assassination, with Lee Harvey Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and an unknown assassin somewhere in the vicinity of the Grassy Knoll. The first shot was probably fired by the unknown assassin, who missed his target. The second shot being fired by Oswald which entered Kennedy's upper back and exited his neck, and the third and fatal shot, was again fired by the unknown assassin. All rounds being shot in quick succession within a four second time frame. Not necessarily the way it happened, but this is a scenario which does seem to fit the facts.
Serious questions about the assassination are asked even today, more than forty-five years later, and concrete answers cannot be given. Of the hundreds of witnesses who saw and photographed the murder, it still remains unsolved. But why? One investigator, Josiah Thompson, has said that most murders, even those that aren't witnessed, eventually narrow down to one explanation that most people can accept as the truth (Waggoner 21).
However, just the opposite has happened with the investigation of the Kennedy assassination. The more people learn about it, the greater amount of evidence they find to confuse the situation even more. But one thing is certain. On November 22, 1963 Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.