This post began as a request, by poster Howard Rogers, to document my "journey" from a full-fledged believer in a JFK conspiracy (i.e. buff) to a firm believer in Oswald's lone guilt in JFK's 1963 assassination (i.e., Lone Nutter). These are my personal recollections. The topic of the JFK case has held my interest, as it has many participating in this newsgroup, at almost an obsessive level at times. The following are my honest recollections. However, I accept the fact that time does distort memories and it's true in my case just as it was in Mr. Frazier's case (sorry Barb J.). I'm sure that many of the buffs will jump on many parts of this piece, and challenge many of my conclusions. So be it. The purpose of this is not to convince anyone else, but to attempt to explain "why I believe what I believe". Take it for what it's worth.
The first book that I read about the JFK assassination was a summary of the Warren Commission report found in my junior high library. I wrote a history paper on the topic and basically copied the "official" line. I found the story very interesting, as it was the first time I learned about any of the details in JFK's death. Prior to that point, my family's copy of "Four Days" was the only record I'd seen of the tragedy in Dallas.
Immediately after that, in the 8th grade (which would have been in late 1975), I read my father's paperback copy of Rush to Judgement and was absolutely intrigued by the idea that what was taught in the history books and by the "government" may not be true. Eighth grade for me was also the mid-seventies with the post-Watergate mindset toward the government in general.
That book was followed up Acccessories After the Fact and Whitewash. After that, several friends and myself made it a hobby to talk for hours about the case and present possible solutions to the crime. It was an extremely interesting topic for me at the time because I thought that ordinary people would be able to solve the "crime of the century" that the government "obviously" covered up.
After that, I checked out every book, old "Life" magazine, and article about the assassination that I could. I thought that you could see a man shooting a rifle from the top of a car in an early "Look" magazine. It seemed totally believable that JFK was killed by a conspiracy, since so many witnesses (allegedly) died, so many witnesses claimed that there was a grassy knoll shooter (or so Lane and Meagher claimed) and there was great suspicion surrounding the medical evidence (or so I thought).
In 1976, Robert Groden appeared on the "Lou Gordon" show in Detroit to show the Zapruder film. This film was a pseudo investigative reporting show that normally had authors talking about UFO's, Bigfoot, the "Bermuda Triangle", and the like. In addition, Lou frequently had guests who focused on conspiracies of one type or another. Groden was quite young then and presented the Z film.
The sight of JFK slamming backward was quite stunning and left me with the unmistakable idea that he was hit from the front. In addition, Groden stopped the film toward the end where he claimed that the assassin was seen in the bushes (wearing a Gilligan hat and holding a rifle). I thought that Groden was a hero and that he was extremely brave for standing up to the "government".
After entering college in 1980, I read Summer's Conspiracy and a host of other books found in my university's library. It's amazing that I actually held an A- average in pre-med during my freshman year given the time that I wasted reading up on the JFK case.
The HSCA was also reaching conclusions during that period. I read the treatise on the "acoustic" evidence and thought that a conspiracy was clinched. All that remained was to find out which one it was.
The process of changing beliefs from my initial pro-conspiracy views to my current view that Oswald was guilty actually took many years. I think it's often a difficult thing for a person to admit that a "belief" was wrong; and belief in a JFK conspiracy was no exception.
The Doubts Begin
The first crack in the conspiracy belief was the entire issue of the frontal headshot that killed JFK. This was the primary thrust of Lane, Meagher, and Groden and the "grassy knoll" was the reported source of the fatal shot. Central to this belief was the reported view that several of the Parkland hospital emergency room doctors noticed a large wound in the rear of JFK's head. This was promoted as proof that the shot came from the front, and exited toward the rear. Supporting evidence was the Zapruder film that showed the rapid movement to JFK's left rear after the shot.
At first and even second glance, this theory seemed very plausible. A certain percentage of the witnesses thought that the shots came from the front. In the absence of autopsy photos, the view of the autopsy doctors had to be taken at face value. Furthermore, the movement of JFK's body after the shot seemed to clearly indicate the direction of the shot. After all, people fly backward when shot by bullets don't they? At least all of the Hollywood actors I saw shot in the movies did this. In addition, the doctors at Parkland hospital insisted that the shot hit JFK in the right "temple."
Anthony Summers (Conspiracy) actually did a lot to change my view about the direction of the head shot as did Wayne County (Michigan) medical examiner, Werner Spitz. Summers repeated the HSCA conclusions that the two large bullet fragments found in the front of the limo were linked to the Carcano using Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) and that autopsy photo's showed an entrance wound in the back of JFK's head. Spitz, on a local TV show (the same Lou Gorden program), was also questioned on the evidence and proclaimed, quite convincingly, that the shot came from the rear, that the wounding was consistent with a high powered rifle wound, and the backward movement of JFK's could be easily explained. Werner stated that the destruction of the brain could often result in an uncontrollable spasm that could explain JFK's movement.
The last straw --destroying my belief in the frontal headshot -- was actually looking at the Zapruder film in detail and in slow motion. I taped a JFK assassination special aired in the early 80's (I believe it was the "Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald") and after watching the sequence around Z313 over and over, could easily see that the president's head burst open to the front and right. It was also very clear (gruesomely) that a large flap of JFK's scalp hung down from the large exit wound. When watched in slow motion, it was clear that the shot hit and exited, the president's head moved forward, and then (and only then), did his head and body whip back to the rear. I came to believe the Spitz was correct, that the shot came from the rear, and that there was no exit wound visible (in the Zapruder film) in the rear of JFK's head. I came to believe that the Parkland doctors were essentially fooled by the fact that tissue pooled at the back of JFK's head (he was laying on his back) and made it look like a lot of blood was present there. Also, Jackie Kennedy closed up the large flap of bone and scalp at the exit wound and JFK's thick hair hid the massive wound from those doctors. The bottom line was that the Zapruder film showed exactly what happened at the moment of the fatal shot.
Even though I now believed that the fatal headshot came from the rear, at this point, I still believed that a conspiracy existed
The "Acoustics Evidence"
One of the most persuasive pro-conspiracy books that I read at the time was Anthony Summer's Conspiracy. He painted a picture of an Oswald with intelligence ties that were likely manipulated to "blame" the left. This book, published in 1980, relied heavily on the recent work of the HSCA and especially the "acoustics" evidence presented at the 11th hour of the committee.
Summers presented the "acoustics" evidence as a "scientific certainty". He called it a "tour de force". The question of this book was not "if" but "which one" when it came to a conspiracy. According to Summers, the dictabelt recorded four shots, three from the back, and one from the corner of the grassy knoll fence. Summers supplemented the acoustics record with the Willis picture that he claimed showed a "figure" behind the fence where the acoustics analysts placed the shooters.
I was certainly convinced by this book. But I was really disappointed by the meager treatment that Summers gave this startling information. Instead of focusing on obscure, and potentially unreliable recollections of Oswald, I thought that Summers should have gone for the jugular, and present the Zapruder film synchronized with the acoustics evidence to solve the issue of when the shots were fired, once and for all. However, Summers didn't do that, and actually tended to agree (while presenting the dissenting view, for sure) with the SBT, which I thought was bogus at the time. I had thought that the SBT was bogus because (1) I didn't think that the bullet could hit both men and remain that "pristine" and (2) a "Life" magazine depiction of the frames after 220 showed, to me, the men reacting at different times.
So I decided to perform the experiment myself. But it really bugged me that Summers missed such an obvious point. If two permanent records of the assassination really existed, essentially a movie and a soundtrack, why not synchronize the two and present the full record? I was soon to find out.
Summers presented the shots as occurring (with zero as a reference) at 1.66 seconds, 7.49 seconds, and 8.31 seconds after the first shot. Shots 1, 2, and 4 were said to come from behind and shot 3 from the "grassy knoll".
Since I had already convinced myself that the fatal shot at Z313 came from behind, and that it occurred after the other wounds were sustained by the two men, I decided to synchronize the film, to the soundtrack myself. What I computed (based on 18.3 frame / sec.) was that the shots occurred at Z152, Z191, Z298, and Z313. That was surprising. My original premise was that different bullets hit JFK and Connally. But my shock was that the acoustics record indicated that both men were hit way before they disappeared behind the sign on Elm street. That didn't make sense. Connally was obviously not hit until (I thought at the time) Z230 or so. It just didn't add up.
I then tried to synchronize the time-line using the third (frontal) shot as the fatal headshot at Z313. The results weren't better. I was left with shots at Z167, Z206, and Z313 and one later than the fatal hit. Again, I found frustration since the action just couldn't be linked to the time frame established by the acoustics evidence. What was presented, as "a scientific certainty" couldn't even pass a simple, preliminary examination. This basic fact really made me start questioning the entire set of "facts" presented by the "conspiracy buffs". My government had just completed spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a study that concluded that the acoustics evidence "proved" a conspiracy. But this same evidence couldn't be matched to the Zapruder film. Furthermore, it was obvious that the conspiracy writers like Summers danced around this point or avoided the obvious and simple question. My conclusions certainly didn't match those of Robert Groden who later wrote in High Treason (page 262) "When the fourth shot matched the head shot, no other shots aligned to a verifiable action on the film. But when the third shot was matched up, every other impulse matched an action on the film exactly". I obviously didn't come to the same conclusion.
It was at this point that the doubt in the conspiracy myth really began in my mind. If this was the type of sloppy analysis that the "experts" were performing, what else had they missed? The Mark Lane and Sylvia Meagher frontal head shot was proven wrong (in my mind) and now this? I decided to look into my preconceived beliefs a little deeper. I didn't believe in the SBT for example. Why? Because it was "obvious" to me that a bullet couldn't hit two men and remain "pristine". But did I know anything about ballistics or weapons? Not really. At the time (early 80's), I had never even fired a gun and nobody in my family even hunted or owned weapons. My entire knowledge of the subject was the fiction portrayed on TV and in the movies and the pictures of "mushroomed" bullets shown in Field and Stream (I was a fishing fanatic at the time). I decided to learn a lot more about the topic and also met a friend who was very "in" to shooting and hunting. That started my interest and education on that topic. What that educational process would teach me regarding the SBT, the Mannlicher Carcano, and the ballistics of the JFK case would have been shocking to me in 1983.
The Single Bullet Theory
First of all, I learned that full-metal-jacket (FMJ) rifle bullets are expressly designed not to expand in order to conform to the wartime Geneva protocols. Furthermore, FMJ's were specifically forbidden for hunting many types of animals, including deer in many areas since they tend to "punch through" and create a wound that kills slowly, resulting in the potential loss of the animal. I also learned, from an excellent book written by Jim Carmichael, about concepts such as sectional density and that parameter's impact on bullet penetration. Finally, I read a paper written by Howard Donahue (later to write, with a co-author Mortal Error) that was given to me by my brother. He knew that I was interested in the JFK case and gave me this paper that he was given. Donahue was hired by my brother's law firm as an expert witness in a firearm liability case and my brother got to meet him and talk to him about his ideas. This paper was very interesting to me especially in its treatment of the single bullet theory. Donahue maintained that not only was the single bullet theory possible; it was completely likely. "What Heresy!" was my initial thought! This was one of the most clear-cut "jokes" in the WC report! Every pro-conspiracy book jumped all over that theory and just plain dismissed it. And here was a real firearms expert saying that the bullet behaved just as designed. Amazing. However, the more I read this paper, the more his logic started making sense. Some of my other reading on shooting topics led me to an article written by a guy discussing Dr. Fackler's work evaluating the effect of various bullet types on human tissue. The article was written to debate the relative merits of different rifle and pistol ammunition and relied on scientific testing, not the usual "Guns and Ammo" pseudo-advertisements promoting the latest shooting product. The part of this article that I remembered most was the conclusive evidence that nearly every type of projectile "tumbles" or "yaws" after entering human tissue. There were examples of the wound tracks (through simulated tissue) from rifle projectiles of many different calibers. The behavior was similar in most examples given. All projectiles tumbled and a few fragmented into several pieces, resulting in increased wounding.
So I discovered that the single bullet "was" possible and the WC claim that the bullet was tumbling when it hit Connally's back "did" have merit. I was still troubled by the fact, however, that the Z film seemed to show the men hit at different times. To resolve that question, I took the same approach that the pro-conspiracy authors took toward the WC report; skepticism. I soon started to see that the pro-conspiracy authors were so hung up with trying to "prove" that a certain section of the "official" report was wrong that they failed to test their own theories.
For example, many conspiracy authors suggested that JFK was hit in the front of the throat and in the back. They claim that the bullet that hit JFK in the back penetrated only a few inches and then stopped and the bullet that hit JFK in the throat "ranged downward and did not exit". That explanation seemed a little strained at first. It became downright unworkable when I realized that a rifle bullet hitting a human neck would penetrate the entire structure and its momentum would prevent a 90-degree turn into the chest cavity. In contrast, I once shot a wild boar with a 30-06 rifle containing "hunting" or expanding bullets from a range of approximately 60 yards. That bullet punched right through the animal killing it nearly instantly. A wild boar is a "thick" animal with a heavy hide. Yet, a bullet supposedly hit JFK in the back and penetrated only 1-2 inches? That didn't make sense. The initial hypothetical solution was a so-called "squib" load that was launched at a lower velocity due to a defective cartridge. That theory became unworkable after I began reloading my own ammunition and discovered first hand how much the point of aim can change with different velocities. If the velocity was reduced to the point where it would barely penetrate, I concluded that the projectile would (1) get stuck in the barrel or (2) miss the target completely and fall far short (on the trunk of the limo). Therefore, skepticism applied toward a conspiracy theory resulted in me dismissing it due to lack of feasibility.
I was still, at this point, hung up on the fact that JFK and JC appeared to be reacting at different times in the Z film. While I still didn't have my own copy (other than that videotape that was not numbered) I did have access to an old Life Magazine that covered the section when Connally was shot. What impressed me the most was that Connally adamantly insisted that he was hit by the second, not the first shot. But how could that be? JFK was hit by the first shot (an article of faith) but the trajectory for that first bullet was troubling. First of all, the basic question was "where did it go?" If the wound was way down on JFK's back, like the crude drawing done by Humes suggested, and the exit wound was in the throat, then the bullet had to be "rising" when it hit JFK. That led me to consider a frontal entrance and a back exit. However, that theory went up in smoke (gunsmoke?) when I discovered that there was no damage to the seat or trunk limo. A bullet penetrating JFK from the front would certainly hit these surfaces. The fatal blow to that theory was the fact that the back wound was on the right side of JFK's body while the throat wound was central. A frontal shot would have to be fired from just left of center or right on the triple overpass. Another possibility was a shot fired from down low, from the Daltex building where a blow-up of the Altgens photo supposedly placed a "straight line" object that "could" have been a rifle. However, the same photograph resulted in me dismissing that theory as unworkable since the geometry of the limo was very clear. A shot from the 2nd floor of the Daltex building would still be descending. A shot that penetrated JFK would hit something or somebody in the car I concluded. Sitting right in front of JFK in the Altgens photo was John Connally, already reacting to a bullet.
The final piece of the puzzle was the timing. Why would JFK begin reacting earlier in the film than Connally? The clincher for me was watching the Zapruder tape over and over again. I began to detect the fact that both men actually "were" moving in concert. Just after the limo emerges from behind the sign, something "dramatic" occurs; JFK throws out his arms and Connally slumps forward. This occurs so rapidly, and in such coordination, that I began to suspect that a single bullet could have hit them at that point. Finally, the most powerful evidence was seeing the Zapruder film on the big screen in Oliver Stone's JFK. I thought I could actually "see" the bullet cutting through both men at that point. Of course I couldn't actually see the flight of the bullet, but I could "see" the sequential ripple of action between the two men. I concluded that the first shot heard by Connally did not hit him, but also that it did not hit JFK either due to the factors listed above.
The Grassy Knoll Shot(s)
With the frontal head shot, the SBT, and the "acoustics" evidence blown away, it was still possible to have a conspiracy in the assassination. The conspiracy authors promoted the idea of a grassy knoll shooter heavily as "proof" in a conspiracy. However, was there really a shooter up there? My first trip to Dallas occurred in the 1986 time frame. Of course, I made a point of seeing Dealey Plaza. My initial reaction was quite shocking; the place was so small. The grassy knoll was just a little hill and backed up to a parking lot that was wide open. Standing behind the fence, where the conspiracy authors placed a gunman, I couldn't help realizing that my entire flank was exposed. How could a shooter select such a spot? There's not really much cover up there and anyone standing on the knoll (there were several people) would be able to see you up there. Furthermore, I stood exactly where Zapruder stood and found that the fence was just a few feet away. Standing in that spot was eerie because that view of Elm Street had been burned in to my mind from the Zapruder film. But it certainly was close to the supposed grassy knoll shooter. Since, at this time, I'd finally acquired some real practical knowledge of shooting, I wondered how the people on the hill or in Zapruder's location would have any question about the source of a shot. As anyone who's ever been to a real firing range will tell you, rifles are exceptionally loud. This noise would even be more pronounced if you happen to be standing forward of the muzzle. The witnesses seemed confused, however. Some people claimed that the shots came from the front, while the majority claimed that they came from the rear. This indicates a response to echo's caused by the many concrete structures and buildings in the area. Also, pictures of witnesses on the knoll don't show them reacting to a loud shot a few feet behind them. Instead, it shows one man running up the hill toward the fence. If a person really heard rifle fire coming from there, why would he run toward the shooter? I was also struck by the fact that the TSBD building was not that big and that I could clearly see the 6th floor window when I stood on the south side of Elm Street. This is where Howard Brennan stood and identified Oswald as the shooter. A person could be easily identified from the location; it just wasn't that far. Furthermore, as it became late evening, I stood in the street right where JFK was hit in the head and looked back toward the Book Depository. Again, it just wasn't that far.
Oswald a Patsy?
Believing in the SBT or dismissing the idea of a grassy knoll shot does not disprove a conspiracy. I did think it was possible that Oswald was still framed but the "real" shooter did fire from the TSBD. The conspiracy authors all give credence to the theory that Oswald was not on the 6th floor and that he was somehow an innocent bystander. However, that theory dissipated also when I learned that Oswald denied carrying "curtain rods" into work that day. Why would an innocent man, who didn't carry a rifle into work that day deny such an obvious alibi? Also, I re-read witness recollections of the Tippet shooting, and they certainly seemed to implicate Oswald. Why would an innocent man flee, and then kill a cop? Most troubling, however, was his behavior upon his capture. First, he tried to shoot the arresting officer and then didn't cooperate with the police at all. He wore a defiant smirk and challenged the interrogating officers to "figure it out for themselves." In other words, he didn't act like an innocent man.
Oswald Participating in a Conspiracy?
The final possibility that I considered was that Oswald did shoot JFK but was involved in a conspiracy designed to put the blame on Cuba. Conspiracy and other books have emphasized Oswald's reported intelligence linking especially when he was in New Orleans. Other books tell stories of Oswald attracting attention to himself in the months leading up to the assassination. The Odio incident also was very troubling. Was Oswald a pawn of the anti-Castro Cubans or was he really a leftist?
Frankly, if Guy Banister and David Ferrie (as Garrison thought) were behind the plot and if Oswald was participating with them, then a key element to the conspiracy would be the public exposure of Oswald as a Castro supporter. Another element, and the element that I could never, ever get to fit, was placing Oswald in a location where he had the means to carry out his mission. Unfortunately, the time-line and the conspiracy chain breaks at this point. The conspiracy authors just tend to skip over the part where Oswald finds work at the Depository. It's hardly mentioned. However, how could Oswald be participating in a plot to kill JFK for a period of many months, including the time he lived in Louisiana, and leave the critical sniper location up to a neighbor of Ruth Paine? The story of how Oswald found that job just a little over a month before the assassination was one of the last nails in my conspiracy coffin. I just could not accept the fact that a coffee klatch of ladies was somehow involved in the conspiracy of our lifetime. Oswald's acquisition of that job was totally innocent. Period. It was a chance event, he could have just as easily found work sweeping floors in a company on the other side of town. Because of this, and because his rooming house landlord testified that he "hardly ever went out at night", I tended to dismiss the intelligence angle. Instead, I believe that a more realistic scenario has Oswald as the initiator of contacts with the exile radicals. Just as Oswald approached Bringuier in New Orleans to establish his credentials as an "infiltrator" of anti-Castro groups, it would not be a stretch to have him getting in contact with the people who visited Odio. If the Odio sisters were mistaken (I believe that they were) or if it really was Oswald, it still does not necessarily show a conspiracy since Oswald could have been attempting a penetration of that group. It would also explain why these people apparently thought Oswald was crazy and didn't want anything more to do with him.
Jack Ruby; Does killing Oswald Prove a Conspiracy?
The killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby when Oswald was in police custody has driven most of the conspiracy hypotheses. It sure seemed like an attempt to "silence" a potential witness. Ruby's shady background and his ties with reputed mobsters also raised much suspicion. However, this theory fell apart in my mind for two reasons; (1) the timing of the shooting and (2) Ruby's reaction after the shooting. Ruby was at the Western Union office near the police station just before the shooting and after Oswald was scheduled to be moved. The delay in moving Oswald was due to typical confusion around the circus like atmosphere and because Oswald insisted on changing his sweater just before the transfer. By all accounts, Ruby entered the basement just seconds before the shot was fired. If Oswald had kept his original clothes on, or if the police would have gotten him down two minutes quicker, Ruby would not have been in position. That hardly seems like a mob ordered "hit". Furthermore, the officers who arrested Ruby testified that he seemed very proud of his actions and implied that he would get a hero's welcome for having "guts". He reportedly was very shocked when told that he had committed a serious crime and would not be set free as a conquering vigilante. Because of those two factors, I believe that Ruby acted impulsively and was not in the pay of anyone else.
The Implausibility of a Conspiracy
By this time (early 90's) I had pretty much come to the conclusion that Oswald killed JFK and acted alone. I also started to see how ludicrous many of the conspiracy theories were. Many authors, like Robert Groden weave complex plots involving the "right wing," the "military industrial complex," "oil men," the "Dallas Police Department," the "autopsy team," the "CIA," and claim that most of the important physical evidence was destroyed, forged, or somehow manipulated. It seemed almost humorous to me to accuse the government of pulling off a "perfect crime" when they have a hard time keeping the roads from crumbling. We've all heard the acronym SNAFU, which refers to "Situation Normal, All Fouled (the polite version) up." That acronym came out of the US military and can be applied to any large bureaucracy. The buffs (as I now will refer to them) insist that elements of this bureaucracy can act in concert, in complete coordination and be able to manipulate evidence perfectly without any mistakes that could give away their plot. As I became more experienced and knowledgeable regarding government, I discovered that the level of animosity in various governmental groups that is expressed towards other governmental groups is just huge. The interdepartmental rivalry often makes the cat and dog exchange seem mild. I learned that the FBI hates the CIA and vice versa. The Treasury Department doesn't like Justice who don't like State, etc., etc. There is tremendous rivalry; both for dollars and prestige and ultimately power. In my view, there is just no way that these federal agencies, not to mention local agencies who traditionally distrust and dislike all feds could conspire to kill JFK. It's just not plausible when you start listing the number of people and groups that would have been "in on" the plot. Add to this mix, the plausibility of a "hit" in broad daylight with a large number of eyewitnesses and you're left with an unworkable scenario. If people in the government wanted to get rid of Kennedy, all they had to do was leak a story of "fiddle and faddle's" escapades with JFK in his White House swimming pool. They didn't have to bring 14 different and competing governmental agencies together, actually shoot him, invent technology that didn't exist yet to forge the Zapruder and autopsy photos then kill a few bit-playing witnesses.
The Physical Evidence
I won't spend a lot of time here. The physical evidence all points toward Oswald's guilt. It was his rifle, the ammunition matched his gun, and a photograph of him holding the rifle (backyard photo) and actual fingerprints also tie him to the weapon that he denied even owning. That's pretty open and shut. Other than that, you have his pistol, the match to the primer marks on the discarded .38 cartridges, and his physical location in the Texas Theater. The medical evidence, when analyzed properly, also shows two shots to the back of JFK; one in the back of the head and one in the upper back that punched through his throat. Again, pretty cut and dried. Reading too much into the autopsy report is an interesting mental exercise. However, I tend to believe that the medical experts that examined ALL of this material for the HSCA got it right.
In conclusion, I used to believe in a conspiracy but "reformed" after applying a healthy dose of "common sense" to my beliefs. My "conversion" resulted from applying the same critical analysis techniques that the "buffs" used to attack the Warren Commission report. It also involved personal visits to the crime scene (now totaling over 6) and independent research on shooting and ballistics. It also involved seeing the most vociferous buffs such as Robert Groden, David Lifton, and Oliver Stone for what they are; Hucksters with an Agenda. I kick myself now for ever believing in them at all.