Problem Management — speculation
Conspiracy

Selecting a hospital pathologist to perform a medico-legal autopsy ... and evaluate gunshot wounds is like sending a seven year old boy who has taken three lessons on the violin over to the New York Philharmonic and expect him to perform a Tchaikovsky symphony. He knows how to hold the violin and the bow, but he has a long way to go before he can make music.
— Dr. Milton Helpern, leading US forensic pathologist in 1963
There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead. ... The thing I am concerned about, and so is [Deputy Attorney General] Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin. ... the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.
— J. Edgar Hoover — secret memo after Oswald's death
It was important to show the world that America is not a banana republic, where a government can be changed by conspiracy.
— John J. McCloy, Warren Commission member
I was writing and I needed to be free, creative. I was working on a non-fiction version of the Warren report.
— Woody Allen — 1968

There are many theories about conspiracies to assassinate JFK, and though possible, it's unlikely that any of them are the truth. What they all do have in common though, is that they are complicated and deal with very specific details while leaving many larger questions unanswered.

Or perhaps there was really more than one independent conspiracy; evidence supporting any one theory tending to discredit the others.

Either way, none of these pre-assassination conspiracy theories will be considered here, beyond noting that even though Oswald really did have contact with Russia, the CIA, Cuba, and anti-Castro Cuban exiles, none of these groups took him seriously, and he would hardly have been anyone's first choice as a sniper.


Even a cursory examination of the evidence shows why so many people found it necessary to develop these theories. The Warren Commission Report has more holes and discrepancies in it than even some of the more crackpot conspiracy theories. And that, perhaps, is a clue to the whole issue.

At the time of the assassination Cold War tensions were high. Whether it was true or not, the White House didn't want the public to think that Cuba or Russia had been involved. FBI agents were directed to follow the theory that Oswald acted alone, and given their evidence, the Warren Commission arrived at the desired conclusion. This post-assassination conspiracy is generally accepted and no longer considered as only a theory.


But we'll consider a different post-assassination conspiracy, one that neither denies nor claims that Oswald acted alone.

Some Facts

If you are familiar with types of bullets and know that what most people call automatics are actually semi-automatics, you can skip this section.

Ammunition

Ammunition (shell, cartridge) typically consists of:

There are three main types of bullets:

Rifles

There are several types of rifles:

When carrying or storing rifles, many people keep an empty shell casing in the breech. This keeps dirt or other contamination from entering the mechanism.

Some Evidence

Witnesses

Witnesses report hearing three shots, Bang [pause], Bang, Bang.

At the sound of the first shot, Kennedy is reported to have said that something had hit his face.

Several people in cars in the procession reported smelling gun powder, as did some spectators.

Book Depository

The room in the building where Oswald fired from contained two empty shell casings by the window, and one farther away.

The abandoned rifle was a bolt-action Carcano, loaded with 6.5 mm full metal jacket shells.

The rifle had a shell in the breech, ready to be fired.

Assassination

The first shot missed. Some spectators received minor facial wounds, likely from concrete splinters when the bullet hit the road or curb.

The second shot entered Kennedy's upper back and exited through his throat. It then passed through the back of the front seat and entered Governor Connally's back and exited though his chest. It then passed through his right wrist, and finally lodged in his left thigh. The bullet was later found to be intact and only slightly deformed.

The third shot entered the back of Kennedy's skull. The upper-right front of the skull then opened up and literally exploded.

A silent 8 mm colour home movie (the Zapruder film) recorded the assassination. Zapruder himself requested that frame 313 not be made public, and it was withheld until a time when the subject was less sensitive. This frame shows blood and brain matter flying 10 to 20 feet straight up into the air.

Secret Service

George Hickey was the junior member of the team assigned to the cars immediately following the Kennedy limousine. His normal duties were more menial tasks such as ensuring that the cars were clean and spotless. So while the rest of the team went out for a night of Dallas entertainment, he remained behind and got up early to perform his duties.

The rest of the team stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning and got only a couple hours sleep before they resumed work. The Warren Commission specifically reprimanded their conduct. By the time the procession was to begin, all were hung over and some still drunk.

As a result, Hickey ended up being selected to ride in the lookout position, seated on the back of the rear seat of their convertible. An AR15 assault rifle was kept out of sight near his feet.

Autopsy

The autopsy reports a 6 mm hole in the back of the skull. It also reports finding particles of metal and metallic fragments within the skull.

Some Problems

Oswald publicly denied having killed the President. He himself was killed two days later and there is no record of his version of events.

This was at the height of the cold war, and America must not look weak. Only those witnesses whose stories supported the theory that everything was done by Oswald acting alone were re-interviewed, and only their testimony was presented to the Warren Commission.


Texas law required that an autopsy be conducted, but Secret Service officers removed the body from the hospital by threat and force and took it to Washington D.C.

The autopsy in Washington was performed by a hospital pathologist, who would look for causes of death, not by a forensic pathologist, who would look for evidence of crime.


The coffin that entered the plane in Dallas was not the same one that had been taken from the hospital. There is no clear chain of custody with respect to any evidence from the body.


Press photographers and others that attended the autopsy had all their photographs confiscated by government agents for use as evidence. These photos were never presented as evidence nor were they returned, and they are now presumed lost.

After the autopsy, Kennedy's brain disappeared.


Oswald was not an excellent marksman. Seven months earlier, he had tried to assassinate General Edwin Walker at his home, but had missed and hit a window frame. This was not a result of a moving target or unexpected circumstances, but of poor marksmanship.

In Dallas, Oswald's first shot was from very close range, but somehow completely missed the entire car. The second shot hit the President in the upper back, even though the target was much farther away. The third shot was at a great distance, but incredibly, was a perfect head shot.

The delay between the first two shots was needed for the bolt-action rifle to be reset and aimed, but the third shot came much too soon after the second to allow this.

The third shot had presented a very visible demonstration of its success (Zapruder frame 313), and the car was heading away at high speed. There was no question that Kennedy was dead and that a a fourth shot would be at an impossible target. Even so, before discarding the rifle and fleeing the building, Oswald had taken the time to eject the empty shell casing and load a new shell in preparation for another shot.


When passing through a skull, a bullet will leave a hole that is slightly larger than the bullet, not smaller. Yet the autopsy reported a 6 mm hole and Oswald's bullet would have left one at least 7 mm. It doesn't sound like much of a difference, but when seen two dimensionally, it is 36% larger in area. Compare: . The medical examiner would not have mistaken a 7 mm hole for 6 mm.


People in cars following the Kennedy car reported smelling burnt gun powder, yet the wind was blowing toward the Book Depository building, not away from it.

Discussion

It's very obvious why people jumped at conspiracy theories right from the beginning. The facts didn't match the official conclusions, officials weren't behaving as they should, and it appeared that the government was trying to cover up the fact that Oswald hadn't acted alone but had been part of a conspiracy.

But why would the government try to cover up a conspiracy? Just asking that question leads to more conspiracy theories about the government itself's being part of the plot to assassinate JFK.

As fun as such conspiracy theories might be to consider, few are believable. They require too much complexity to explain, leave too many questions unanswered, and require far too many people to be involved.


Some things are obvious and believable though.

Oswald's rifle did not fire the fatal shot

There was a cover-up

Possible Explanation

Photographs of site were later observed to show a traffic light that appears to have a small hole in the backing plate. If we consider one obvious cause of this, other pieces of the puzzle simply fall into place:

This scenario answers so many questions and ties up so many loose ends:

It also explains events following the shooting:

So yes, there was a real conspiracy associated with the JFK assassination. But it was not necessarily a conspiracy that led to the assassination, rather a conspiracy that started spontaneously after and as a result of it.