(RNN) – Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas, TX, in an airplane, rode through the streets in a black limousine and left in a casket.
What happened between the time Air Force One took President Kennedy from Fort Worth, TX, to Dallas and when it took President Lyndon Johnson from Dallas to Washington, DC, is perhaps the most hotly debated event in American history.
Many of the facts of Kennedy's assassination are known and undisputed, but the answer to one question has eluded investigators since Nov. 22, 1963 – who fired the bullet that killed him? It's been 50 years since it happened, and the answer still remains controversial.
The Sixth Floor Museum occupies the location inside the former Texas School Book Depository building where the shot that killed Kennedy has been reported to have been fired. Nicola Longford has been the executive director of the museum for eight years and said the facts surrounding the assassination are clear, but the museum does not explicitly claim to have the answer.
"We know that Lee Harvey Oswald worked in the Texas School Book Depository and was here in the building on the day of the assassination," Longford said. "All the facts lead to him having been involved in shooting the president."
Witnesses said they saw a man in the window of the building pointing a rifle at the presidential motorcade and a bullet recovered from the leg of Texas Gov. John Connally was later matched through forensic analysis to a rifle owned by Oswald. Oswald's friend also claimed he carried a package with him into the building the day of the assassination that he claimed was curtain rods.
That's as close as the mystery has come to being solved.
Oswald was arrested and charged with murder shortly after Kennedy was assassinated, but it was for the murder of police officer J.D. Tippit. He was arrested at a movie theatre and was later charged with assassinating the president, but claimed he was innocent and was "a patsy."
That comment spurred many theories about the involvement of other people, but none could be substantiated or refuted by Oswald himself, who was shot and killed two days later on live television by Jack Ruby while being walked out in front of the media.
Longford said some of the theories surrounding the assassination have no basis in fact, but she nor the museum are willing to say which ones.
"Most of the theories can be easily debunked, but it's really up to people to make their own decisions," Longford said. "It can be very confusing, but I think the facts of the story are clear. I think the majority of people still believe there was a conspiracy, but many scholars and researchers have shifted their thinking of the time and they have come to accept that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman. However, the museum does not state that."
Colin McLaren is not among that group.
McLaren is the author of JFK: The Smoking Gun, a book released in conjunction with a documentary of the same name that first aired Nov. 3 on the television channel Reelz. McLaren's work promotes the theory that a Secret Service agent accidentally shot the president while reacting to the sound of the shots fired by Oswald.
The basis of the theory was formed when McLaren, a former police investigator from Australia, spent several years researching the assassination. He focused on reports of bystanders smelling gunpowder at street level, the conflicting performances by the bullets that struck Kennedy – meaning they were different types of rounds from different guns – and the inexperience of Secret Service agent George Hickey, who was equipped with an AR-15 despite having minimal experience with the weapon.
"As a detective, the lone gunman theory requires me to believe a man of average firearms expertise, carrying a clunky World War II surplus rifle with misaligned sights is going to take aim with all sorts of obstacles and wind in his face and get three accurate shots away in 5.6 seconds. I just couldn't go with the lone gunman theory," McLaren said. "That theory also requires me to believe that the three shots that Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly did get off were all from the same gun."
That's where McLaren said the theory falls apart because the first wound to Kennedy's neck was a clean entry and the bullet traveled through his body, the body and arm of Connally and lodged in Connally's leg, deformed, but intact.
If the bullet that struck Kennedy in the head seconds later was the same type of bullet, McLaren says the wound would be different than the one he actually suffered.
"The 6.5mm full metal jacket round is designed to pass neatly and cleanly through the body of a person," McLaren said. "The second shot gets JFK in back of the neck and it's clean as a whistle – perfect performance of Carcano 6.5mm full metal jacket round. The third round is totally different. It's devastating. That massive fist-sized wound seen on the Zapruder film is actually the work of a different bullet, and that bullet is a .223 hollow-point round, which is designed to explode violently on impact."
McLaren says the only place that bullet could have come from, due to the location of the wound, was from behind Kennedy, and ballistic evidence points to the Secret Service follow-up car where Hickey was. Hickey is also the only person in the vicinity with a high-powered rifle.
Photographic evidence does show Hickey with an assault rifle raised, though pinpointing the time is difficult because it was not captured on the film shot by Abraham Zapruder, which was the only video taken of the fatal shot.
Accepting that theory also requires believing the assassination was followed by a cover-up effort to convince the public Oswald was the assassin. McLaren believes it was done in an effort to keep the U.S. from looking incompetent to foreign governments.
"1963 was the height of the Cold War, and America had really taken it to the Russians and the Cubans, and Kennedy was looking good and strong. If it got out that the Secret Service had shot their own man, it's fair to say [Soviet Premier Nikita] Khrushchev and [Cuban Prime Minister Fidel] Castro would have made massive propaganda out of it," McLaren said. "The American administration would have been the laughingstock of the world for a long time, so it was in the interest of the small number of people who would have known about it to have closed ranks on that secret and protected the integrity of the U.S."
McLaren compared that to a 2006 incident at the United Nations where a Secret Service agent accidentally discharged a firearm near Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In that incident, the agency immediately admitted the mistake and apologized.
"Tensions between both nations were massive, but a few people saw it and the Secret Service made a strategic decision to apologize publicly," McLaren said. "That mistake could have been devastating. Would they have hushed [accidentally shooting the president] up in contemporary times? I doubt very much. We're a smarter, wiser, more suspicious people these days. It was all a bit different back then."
McLaren also claims the removal of Kennedy's body from Dallas before an autopsy could be performed, the manipulation of medical examiners at Bethesda Naval Hospital who conducted the autopsy and the lack of credence given to certain evidence in the Warren Commission report all point to an organized effort to absolve the Secret Service of any wrongdoing. That left Oswald to be used as a convenient fall guy.
McLaren isn't the first to propose the theory, and his allegations are far from the most outlandish. Other theories are Kennedy was shot by a shadowy figure on the infamous "grassy knoll" known as Badge Man, an unidentified assassin positioned in a storm drain below street level, his car's driver, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Joe DiMaggio. As the latter theory goes, the Yankee Clipper was upset at the Kennedys for their alleged involvement in the death of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, who died under controversial circumstances 15 months earlier.
The U.S. government even had its own conspiracy theory put forth by the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
The HSCA concluded in 1979, just as the Warren Commission did in 1964, Oswald was the lone gunman. But it said there was acoustic evidence that made it likely a second gunman fired a shot that missed.
Though it agreed with the Warren Commission that Oswald fired three shots and hit Kennedy twice, including the fatal shot to the head, it disagreed with the timeline and effectiveness of the first two shots.
Longford said the controversy only helps create interest in the assassination among people who weren't around to experience it for themselves.
"For young people, they like to solve the puzzle," Longford said. "They like not having all the answers. They want to go on a journey of discovery. It was a time of shock and unbelievable chaos, and there are still some questions that haven't been answered. As time passes, maybe the beliefs about who did what and why have changed, but there's still enduring interest – which I don't think will ever dissipate, even with the passage of time."
She also believes Kennedy himself drives most of the interest, and that another president might not have generated the same level of intrigue from the public.
"The characters involved with this complicated story are also curious and interesting," Longford said. "This was the age of television and they were such a vibrant and charming presidential couple. It was all on television. People sat through it. He was a president that inspired people to go out and make a difference in the world. Whether you like him or not, he inspired hope in many people of that generation. That seems to have been lost."
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