Who really killed JFK? A bevy of books battle it out

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Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Beyond that, a huge cottage industry of conspiracy theories thrives in the wake of conflicting “evidence” about JFK’s killer or killers. Here are a handful of books that call into question the Warren Commission’s verdict that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. 


"A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination," by Philip Shenon (Henry Holt and Co., $32)

Former New York Times reporter Philip Shenon set out to write a definitive insiders' account of the Warren Commission based on the recollection of its lawyers. He's done that but also asserts that much of the truth about John F. Kennedy's assassination had not been told and much had been covered up or "shredded, incinerated or erased."

Mr. Shenon writes of senior officials at the CIA and FBI hiding information from the panel to conceal what they knew of the threat posed by Lee Harvey Oswald, identified by the commission as being the lone assassin. Additionally, Mr. Shenon alleges that important witnesses to events surrounding the assassination "were ignored or were threatened into silence."

His conclusion is that official secrecy can be blamed for conspiracy theories that proliferate, even a half century after the "cruel and shocking act."


"Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy" (Revised and updated), by Jim Marrs. (Basic Books, $24.99)

This 612-page tome provides every conceivable conspiracy theory in the JFK assassination. Oliver Stone used the book, first published in 1989, as a basis for his controversial 1991 film "JFK." If you want a book examining and explaining every person, every place, every possible scenario associated with what occurred Nov. 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza and its aftermath, this is for you.

In detail that alternates between fascinating and plodding, Mr. Marrs recounts the lead-up to the assassination and the murder itself. And then he provides a Who's Who of those who had "Means, Motives and Opportunities" to kill JFK -- Oswald, the Soviets, the Cubans (pro- and anti-Castro), the Mafia, the CIA, the FBI, "rednecks and oilmen," and the military.

Mr. Marrs concludes that JFK was killed "in a military-style ambush orchestrated by elements within the U.S. government that included the military with the active assistance of organized crime. Pressure from the top thwarted any truthful investigation. It was an American coup d'etat."


"The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ," by Roger Stone (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95).

Republican political consultant Roger Stone writes that Lyndon B. Johnson was "vicious, mean-spirited, vengeful, aggressive, arrogant, abusive, sex crazed ... the descriptions of his vile actions go on and on." That said, he was also a murderer, Mr. Stone asserts.

Oswald was a patsy and the true killer was LBJ hatchet man Malcolm "Mac" Wallace, Mr. Stone writes. In fact, Johnson and Wallace also were involved in killing six other people, including Oswald, the book alleges.

LBJ's motive, according to Mr. Stone, is that he was within days of being dropped from the 1964 Democratic national ticket for financial corruption. But once Kennedy was killed, planned media exposes and an ongoing Senate investigation of Johnson's financial misdeeds were "deep-sixed," Mr. Stone claims.

As the "driving force," behind the assassination, Johnson used his connections to the CIA, the FBI, organized crime and right-wing Texas oilmen "to escape an untimely end in politics and to seize even greater power," Mr. Stone writes.

LBJ and co-conspirators finalized plans for the assassination in Fort Worth on Nov. 21, 1963, Mr. Stone alleges. Relying on the memoir of Johnson's longtime mistress, Madeleine Duncan, Mr. Stone quotes Johnson as telling her, "After tomorrow, those SOBs will never embarrass me again. That's no threat, that's a promise."


"JFK: The Smoking Gun," by Colin McLaren. (Hachette Australia, $29.99).

Colin McLaren, a former Australian detective, conducted a "four-year forensic cold-case investigation" precipitated by Bonar Menninger's 1992 weak-selling book "Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK" about the research of ballistics expert Howard Donahue.

The theory presented there and here is that a "terrible accident" occurred when Secret Service Agent George Hickey, riding in the follow-up car behind JFK's limousine and tasked with sniper duty, grabbed a Colt AR-15 in reaction to Oswald's shots from the Texas School Book Depository. When the Secret Service car lurched, Hickey accidentally pulled the trigger, hitting JFK in the head, killing him.

Mr. McLaren argues the bullet that hit the president's head exploded on impact, scattering bullet fragments. That indicated it was a frangible round such as a hollow point or soft point round -- the kind of ammunition used by Secret Service agents and not by Oswald. A two-hour documentary of the same title has been broadcast on Reelz.

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

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