We ex­am­ine the fresh ev­i­dence about that fate­ful day in Novem­ber 1963

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

Every­one ‘knows’ who shot JFK, but is the story re­ally that sim­ple? Nige Tas­sell ex­am­ines the clas­si­fied files re­leased by the US late last year for clues that might iden­tify whether any­one was pulling the strings in the shad­ows

It is his­tory’s ul­ti­mate mur­der mys­tery, one that – nearly 55 years on – has never been sat­is­fac­to­rily solved. At 11.38am lo­cal time, on 22 Novem­ber 1963, Air Force One landed at Love Field in Dal­las. On board was US Pres­i­dent John F Kennedy, vis­it­ing the Texan city in an at­tempt to boost his pop­u­lar­ity in the state ahead of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion the fol­low­ing year. Less than an hour later, a bul­let had shat­tered both skull and brain. But the iden­tity of who ac­tu­ally fired the fatal shot – and their mo­ti­va­tion for do­ing so – has been the sub­ject of deep con­jec­ture and study ever since.

Dur­ing 2017, more than 30,000 gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments con­cern­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion were re­leased into the pub­lic realm, ei­ther in full or redacted form. While they added more de­tail to the de­bate and filled in a few blanks, they didn’t join the dots to present an in­dis­putable ex­pla­na­tion. The case is still not closed, the fog sur­round­ing the tragedy still thick. But while the per­pe­tra­tor and their cause con­tinue to be spec­u­lated upon, the raw events of that fate­ful Novem­ber day are burned onto the col­lec­tive reti­nas of a na­tion.

The pres­i­dent was in Texas for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. In-fight­ing within the state Demo­crat Party found Kennedy and Vice-Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B John­son adopt­ing a united front to stymie this bleed­ing wound, caused by a con­flict be­tween two key Texan Democrats – Gover­nor John Con­nally and Se­na­tor Ralph Yar­bor­ough. The Democrats’ hold on Texas was flimsy and frag­ile. Kennedy, de­spite hav­ing the Texan John­son as his run­ning mate, had taken the state by fewer than 50,000 votes in the 1960 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. “If the gover­nor and the se­na­tor didn’t agree to a truce soon,” ob­served William Manch­ester, au­thor of the sem­i­nal The

Death Of A Pres­i­dent, “the na­tional ticket wouldn’t stand a chance there next fall. No party writes off 25 elec­toral votes, so both Kennedy and John­son were go­ing down to patch things up. They had to make a ma­jor pro­duc­tion of the trip.” In the end, it be­came a ma­jor pro­duc­tion of an as­sas­si­na­tion.


Kennedy knew the risk. Dal­las had a rep­u­ta­tion for po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, and the pre­vi­ous month, Arkansas se­na­tor J William Ful­bright had di­rectly ad­vised Kennedy to re­move it from his five-city Texas visit. “Dal­las is a very dan­ger­ous place,” he warned. “I wouldn’t go there. Don’t you go.”

Ful­bright wasn’t the only one to feel this way. When the Se­cret Ser­vice had driven the mo­tor­cade route four days ear­lier, lo­cal op­er­a­tive For­rest V Sor­rels re­alised the high-rise ar­chi­tec­ture of down­town Dal­las ren­dered those in the mo­tor­cade “sit­ting ducks”. Some 20,000 win­dows over­looked the route, 20,000 po­ten­tial sniper perches that even the best ef­forts of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity couldn’t com­pletely de­fend against.

Kennedy’s pop­u­lar­ity in the city was ex­ceed­ingly low. The lo­cal pa­per, the Dal­las Morn­ing News, was par­tic­u­larly vi­cious when it came to stir­ring po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent and ex­trem­ism. Its pro­pri­etor, Ted Dealey, had al­ready ad­dressed Kennedy at the White House a cou­ple of years be­fore in words of the barest can­dour. Dealey told the pres­i­dent what was re­quired at that time was “a man on horse­back to lead this na­tion, and many peo­ple in Texas and the South­west think you are rid­ing Caro­line’s tri­cy­cle”. The im­pli­ca­tion was far from dis­guised. Texas saw JFK as a soft-touch East Coaster, the fam­ily man, the lib­eral, keen to thaw the ice of the Cold War.

Even if, when wak­ing up in a Fort Worth ho­tel room on the last morn­ing of his life, Kennedy didn’t be­lieve he was en­ter­ing a caul­dron of distrust and hate,


page 14 of that day’s Dal­las Morn­ing

News told him oth­er­wise. It was a full­page ad­ver­tise­ment, its head­line iron­i­cally wel­com­ing the pres­i­dent to Dal­las be­fore ask­ing a dozen ques­tions of him, in­clud­ing one that sug­gested he was in col­lu­sion with the Viet­namese Com­mu­nist Party. “We DE­MAND an­swers to these ques­tions,” it read.

Af­ter the 13-minute flight from Fort Worth to Dal­las, Kennedy and his wife Jackie as­sumed their seats in the Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal con­vert­ible that would take them on a cir­cuitous route through the city be­fore a lunch en­gage­ment at the Dal­las Trade Mart. Sat in front of them were Gover­nor Con­nally and his wife Nel­lie. The rain of that morn­ing had dis­ap­peared and the sky was now a per­fect blue. Had the in­clement con­di­tions con­tin­ued, the Lin­coln’s roof would have been in po­si­tion, quite pos­si­bly avert­ing the tragedy to come.

As the mo­tor­cade made its way into the city, the re­sponse of the cit­i­zens of Dal­las seemed warmer than ex­pected to an un­der-fire pres­i­dent. Not that Kennedy, the dec­o­rated war vet­eran, was al­low­ing him­self to get rattled by any dan­ger. At the junc­tion of Lem­mon Av­enue and Lomo Alto Drive, he or­dered the car be stopped, then got out and ca­su­ally greeted some school­child­ren. By the time the mo­tor­cade reached Main Street, the down­town crowds started to se­ri­ously thicken.

Main Street took the pro­ces­sion on an ar­row-straight course through the heart of the down­town area, be­fore the cars at the front of the 17-ve­hi­cle pro­ces­sion turned right onto Hous­ton Street and then ne­go­ti­ated a sharp, 120o cor­ner onto Elm Street. At this point, as it made the tight turn in front of the Texas School Book De­pos­i­tory, the mo­tor­cade re­duced its speed to lit­tle more than walk­ing pace.

Con­spir­acy the­o­rists later pounced on this slight de­tour as be­ing de­lib­er­ately man­u­fac­tured so as to bring the mo­tor­cade within shoot­ing dis­tance, but it was ac­tu­ally out of ne­ces­sity. Had they con­tin­ued on Main Street, a traf­fic is­land would have blocked their pas­sage up onto the high­way and to­wards the Trade Mart for that lunch re­cep­tion.

Now out of the canyon of sky­scrapers and into the sun­shine, the mo­tor­cade was greeted by much sparser crowds, on­look­ers dot­ting the open, grassy ar­eas of Dealey Plaza. Then, on the stroke of 12.30pm, came the first bang, thought by most by­s­tanders to be one of the mo­tor­cade’s ve­hi­cles back­fir­ing. But it was a ri­fle shot. It missed, ric­o­chet­ing away from the pres­i­dent af­ter hit­ting a tree. The sec­ond bul­let found its mark, pass­ing through Kennedy’s neck and wind­pipe, then ex­it­ing his throat, af­ter which it wounded Gover­nor Con­nally. It caused Kennedy to lurch for­ward, his hand on his throat. Then came the third bul­let, a dev­as­tat­ing shot that caused im­mense head trauma.


The re­ac­tion was in­stant. The crowd hit the ground as if lev­elled by a sud­den wind, while Se­cret Ser­vice agents ral­lied to the pres­i­dent’s car. One – Clint Hill – leapt onto the Lin­coln’s boot as it ac­cel­er­ated away. Jackie Kennedy climbed out of her seat and to­wards the back of the car, ei­ther to as­sist Hill or to re­trieve a por­tion of her hus­band’s skull. Two cars back, Vice-Pres­i­dent John­son’s own se­cu­rity de­tail in­stantly cov­ered the sec­ond-in­com­mand. Mean­while, the pres­i­dent’s Lin­coln was speed­ing off to­wards the high­way. Six min­utes later, it ar­rived at Park­land Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal. Had he been a mere civil­ian, Kennedy would have been de­clared dead on ar­rival. It would be an­other 24 min­utes un­til a Park­land physi­cian called his death.

The man­hunt was on and it wasn’t long be­fore an em­ployee of the Texas

Plac­ard-wav­ing with pro­test­ers min­gle well wish­ers wait­ing for JFK’s mo­tor­cade Anti-Kennedy leaflets were dis­trib­uted around Dal­las ahead of the pres­i­dent’s visit All smiles ear­lier in the day, Kennedy leaves a theatre in Fort Worth

Kennedy in the mo­tor­cade next to his wife Jackie; seated in front are Gover­nor John Con­nally, who would be se­verely wounded, and his wife Nel­lie

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