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Top 8 Kennedy assassination theories

November 22, 2013 08:17 IST

Top 8 Kennedy assassination theories

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The time: 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963

Perched at a window, Lee Harvey Oswald takes aim at his high-value target. Three bullets shoot off his sniper rifle in a matter of seconds.

The first shot is deflected by an oak tree and ricochets off the pavement, slightly injuring a bystander. The second bullet hits the target, but not fatally. The third finishes the job.

He then flees the spot, but was arrested later in the day. Two days later, while being transferred to the county jail, Oswald is shot dead by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in full view of television cameras broadcasting live.

For 50 years, this is the story that we have been hearing about how John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated.

The Kennedy assassination has been the subject of intense suspicion and speculation. Even today, nobody knows for sure whether it was indeed Oswald who shot the president. Well, he did not live long enough to confess.

Over the years, many conspiracy theories have been woven. Let’s take a look at some of them.

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Image: Photograph showing Kennedy minutes before he was shot


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Was there a second shooter?

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Was there a second shooter?

Many witnesses to the assassination claim they heard shots coming from the now-infamous 'grassy knoll' on the north side of Elm Street.

It is said that the movement of Kennedy's head shown in the Zapruder film -- the most complete video ever of the assassination -- could have only been caused by a bullet from that direction, and that a storm drain on Elm Street had a mark on it consistent with such a shot.

Gordon Arnold, who came forward in 1978, claimed he was filming the motorcade from in front of the picket fence on the knoll when he heard two shots fired behind him.

Arnold said he immediately “hit the dirt” and that two policemen later confiscated his film. 

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Image: Frame 262 from Abraham Zapruder's 8mm film of JFK's assassination, Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963. President Kennedy's arms are raised, in a locked position, in front of him, after the first bullet has struck.
Photographs: Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

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Did the secret service agent shoot Kennedy?

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Did the secret service agent shoot Kennedy?

This theory states that Kennedy was accidentally shot in the head by Secret Service agent George Hickey as he responded to the gunfire from the car following the president's. 

The theory was first suggested by author Bonar Menninger and based on the conclusions of ballistics expert Howard Donahue.

Menninger went on to claim that the accident was covered up by Robert Kennedy and others and says that his theory supports accounts from witnesses close to the motorcade, who said they could smell gunpowder. Hickey unsuccessfully sued Menninger in 1995.

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Photographs: Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

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Was there a shooter in the storm drain?

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Was there a shooter in the storm drain?

In a 2007 interview, New York mob boss Tony Gambino said he believed an assassin shot Kennedy from inside a storm drain on Elm Street. He also claimed the conspiracy to kill Kennedy involved members of the US government and the Vatican.

Believers in the ‘Sewer Man’ sniper theory say the trajectory of the fatal shot meant it could only have been fired from a storm drain in front of the motorcade’s route. They believe the ‘Sewer Man’ could have worked alongside other assassins standing behind the fence on the grassy knoll, where another grate gave them an escape route into Dallas’s sewer system.

Another mafia man, Bill Bonano, claimed in his 1999 memoir Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story that mobster John Rosselli confessed to him in prison that he shot Kennedy from the storm drain on Elm Street.

Rosselli apparently stated that he was underground at the time with two colleagues. Rosselli has also been linked to an alleged CIA plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

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Photographs: Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

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Did the Cubans do it?

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Did the Cubans do it?

Since Kennedy tried to have Fidel Castro removed in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, this theory floats the possibility that Cuban leader Fidel Castro paid the president back in lethal spades. 

Surprisingly, President Lyndon Johnson was a proponent of this theory.

“Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first,” he told Howard K. Smith of ABC News in 1968.

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Image: Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Photographs: US Library of Congress

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... or was it the Russians?

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or was it the Russians?

The KGB had good reason to hate Kennedy: the humiliating conclusion of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Sniper Lee Harvey Oswald also had links with Soviet Russia, such as his travel there, his Soviet wife, and his reported contact with Soviet diplomats.

Some researchers also believe that the KGB was responsible for the death of one of JFK’s alleged mistresses, Mary Pinchot Meyer, who may have been able to expose their hand in the assassination.

One version of the story, as told by ex-Soviet intelligence officer General Ion Mihai Pacepa, stars Lee Harvey Oswald as a KGB agent “programmed” to kill President Kennedy.

According to Pacepa, the KGB actually tried to call off the assassination; unfortunately for JFK, however, the attempt to stop Oswald came too late. 

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Image: Lee Harvey Oswald and his Russian wife, Marina, in Minsk.
Photographs: Courtesy Warren commission

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Nobody's ruling out the CIA either

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Nobody’s ruling out the CIA either

This theory is based on the notion that a disenchanted branch of the CIA killed the president over his perceived failure to stem Communism.

It didn’t help that Kennedy was quoted as saying, “I want to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” 

The fact that Kennedy’s brother Robert effectively had authority over the CIA didn’t help when it came to strong disagreements between the president and the agency. And strangely enough, one of the disagreements was over the CIA’s policy of assassinating foreign leaders, such as Vietnam’s President Diem.

The theory goes further down the rabbit hole with speculation that Oswald was a covert CIA operative who was painted as a loner communist after all ties to his government past were erased.

Such is the popularity of, and belief in, this conspiracy theory that the CIA has a page dedicated to discrediting it on their website. They blame European leftists and the US media for spreading lies about their involvement. Yet despite this, widespread acceptance of the theory continues and is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

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Did Lyndon B Johnson have Kennedy killed?

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Did Lyndon B Johnson have Kennedy killed?

According to many conpiracy theorists, JFK’s vice-president feared that he was going to be dropped from the 1964 ticket and reacted by surreptitiously plotting the Kennedy assassination.

A former mistress said Johnson was planning Kennedy’s demise as early as 1960.

And adding further grist to the validity of conspiracy -- a 2003 Gallup poll found 20% of Americans believed that Johnson was involved.

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Image: Lyndon B Johnson became President after JFK's assassination
Photographs: Reuters

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The mafia did it!

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The mafia did it!

According to this theory, the American mob families had heavily invested in casinos and other lucrative investments in Cuba before Fidel Castro's communist revolution. The CIA too solicited the services of the mafia to kill Castro.

However, JFK refused to allow the CIA and American troops to attack Cuba thereby creating the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961.

One version of the theory has the CIA asking the mafia to carry out the Kennedy hit. In another version, the mob is paid to kill Kennedy by anti-Castro Cubans.

Many proponents of this conspiracy theory point to Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner with known mafia connections, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald two days after his arrest.

The Warren Commission cleared the mafia from involvement in any such plot. The House Committee on Assassinations found that the mafia was not involved in a conspiracy, but did not rule out that individuals with mob ties were part of the plot.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Photographs: Reuters
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