Wednesday 22 November 2017

Fifty years on, 'Who killed JFK?' has become, for many, a macabre parlour game

Joe O'Shea

The most shocking political assassination of the 20th Century still fascinates and intrigues us. It was caught on film and sound, a fact that has, perversely, only given fuel to the confusion and conspiracy theories that still rage, 50 years on.

The closer you look at the facts, the more elusive and conflicting they become. It is a traumatic, world-shaking event viewed through a rapidly spinning kaleidoscope.

The theories range from the strangely convincing to the outlandish.

For instance, there are many who claim the shooter on the grassy knoll was Charles Voyde Harrelson, convicted Mafia hit-man and father of the actor Woody Harrelson.

Harrelson, who assassinated Federal Judge John Wood Jnr in Texas in 1979 and later died in prison, was said to be one of the 'three hobos' arrested in a train yard in Dallas on that day in 1963.

The story is that he was part of a pro-shooter team brought in to make sure JFK did not escape from Dealey Plaza alive. Charles Harrelson actually 'confessed' to killing Kennedy in 1980 and was said to have drawn accurate maps depicting the location of his team. But he later withdrew the claim.

What we do know for certain is that President John F Kennedy was struck by two bullets – one in the head, one in the neck – while riding in an open-topped car.

Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with killing him but was soon after killed by Jack Ruby. And a presidential commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren found that Oswald acted alone.

The bare facts of the case, as found to be true by the Warren Commission, have never convinced the public. A 2003 ABC News poll found that 70pc of the American public believed that Kennedy's death was the result of a broader plot.

Many point to the 'Magic Bullet', saying the trajectory of the fatal round proves it could not have come from Oswald's perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

This theory also holds that the relatively primitive, Italian-made bolt-action rifle said to be owned by Oswald could never have been used to fire three accurate shots over a long distance in 5.6 seconds (the time-frame is also disputed).

According to sworn testimony given to the Warren Commission, held in the immediate aftermath, ex-soldier Oswald was either a crack Marine Corps sniper or the worst shot in his platoon.

One factor in the continued popularity of conspiracy theories are the gaps in the Warren Commission's investigations and the conflicting findings of subsequent official and expert investigations.

The fact that the official enquiries and experts cannot even agree on the number of bullets and the basic time-line has created fertile ground for the more imaginative conspiracies, which ask the 'why' rather than the 'how' and usually dismiss the Lone Gunman Theory out of hand.

Was Kennedy killed by CIA agents acting either out of anger over the Bay of Pigs (the failed, CIA-backed attempt to invade Cuba) or at the behest of Vice President Lyndon Johnson?

The further we travel from that day in November, 1963, the less likely it is that a definitive, utterly convincing verdict will emerge.

Five decades on, 'Who Killed Kennedy' has become, for many, a macabre parlour game, endlessly played online and by those who refuse to believe that a mentally disturbed non-entity like Lee Harvey Oswald could have single-handedly changed the course of modern history.

Irish Independent

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