It seems almost irreverent to sully the memory of this fine man by debating yet another conspiracy-style theory, yet 50 years after his death controversy still surrounds the president’s murder.
It has been difficult to lay the case to rest when so many questions remain unanswered, and there have been calls to exhume President Kennedy’s body in order to finally uncover the truth.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, described by some as "the last true president the US has ever seen", was assassinated 50 years ago today, on November 22nd 1963. The event will be commemorated in Dallas by civic leaders who have arranged an hour-long ceremony called "The 50th". The service intends to "set a solemn, dignified and understated tone as we commemorate the life, legacy and leadership of President John F Kennedy," mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement. "There will be speeches, hymns, a flypast and a moment of silence at 12.30pm, the time of the shooting. "
The level of security at the event will be very high, and all attendees have been subject to background checks by Dallas police. Demonstrators and conspiracy theorists will not be welcome.
It is understandable and entirely appropriate for the authorities to wish to maintain a reverent atmosphere at the memorial service, as its primary objective should be to remember a great life that was ended far too soon. Yet, for those groups such as The Washington-based Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA), to be denied the opportunity to remind the public that this case is, in their eyes, far from resolved is very frustrating.
COPA, who are described by their executive director, John Judge, as the "serious end of the research community", have been allowed to gather at a nearby parking lot, and will hold a period of silence at 12:30pm. They will then be escorted by police into the plaza after the official ceremony is over. COPA’s view is that they are still investigating an unsolved murder, and that denial of this fact dishonors the memory of the murdered president.
The official version of events released by the Warren Commission states that former marine Lee Harvey Oswald found a vantage point on the sixth floor of his workplace, the Texas School Book Depository, and shot Kennedy using a 6.5mm Italian rifle. He was alleged to have fired several shots at the presidential motorcade as it proceeded down Elm Street, two of which hit their target in the back and the head.
"Most of us feel that Oswald is not responsible, he was a patsy," said Judge, who considers that the restrictions are "a denial of free speech" and that the ceremony will just cover the true facts. "This is a PR event, they know the press is coming at that moment to that place and they want to control the message."
COPA members will show their feelings by wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan: "50 years in denial is enough. Free the files. Find the truth."
COPA are certainly not alone in their beliefs, and the evidence to support a cover-up seems to gather weight with every passing year. Matthew Smith, a British author, has called for Kennedy’s body to be exhumed to allow a thorough analysis using the latest forensic techniques. Smith believes that Kennedy was the victim of a military-style ambush by several assassins, and his claim is supported by Cyril Wecht, America’s former top pathologist who was once in charge of the US academy of forensic sciences.
Smith, a retired college lecturer and author of a new book entitled "Who Killed Kennedy", has spent years scrutinising all of the available facts, and is now convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have perpetrated the US president’s murder.
Mr Smith writes in his book : “First, the members of the Kennedy family who have records placed in their protection must reveal those for public scrutiny."
“Second, as painful as it may be, President Kennedy’s remains must be exhumed and re-examined, this time by the top pathologist in the nation. We will then learn about the direction of the gunfire, which will result in a decision on whether a new, thorough investigation is warranted."
Wecht has written the forward for Smith’s book, in which he states that "it is not at all ghoulish to talk about exhuming the dead body when there is a question of murder and the need to determine who committed the act." It was Wecht who made the shocking discovery that the president’s brain was missing when he examined highly sensitive autopsy evidence: President Kennedy’s brain was not buried with his body, but was stored in a container and locked away in the National Archives, but three years after his death it was found to be missing.
It has been suggested that the brain may have been stolen by Kennedy’s brother, Robert, to prevent disclosures about the medications he was taking when he died. Information gathered by historians has revealed that the president was taking a cocktail of drugs – codeine, demerol, and methadone – to combat a string of medical problems as well as for anxiety and sleep disorder.
Smith believes, however, that the brain was stolen in order to further obfuscate the facts of the investigation. Examination of the brain would confirm whether or not the president was actually shot in the back of the head as would have been the case had Oswald been the shooter, or from the front as conspiracy theorists claim. Smith thinks that there was a shot to the back of the head which did come from the sixth floor of the depository or another nearby building, but that Oswald was not the shooter.
The author puts forward a theory that there were two other shots from different positions on a grassy knoll to the front and right of the presidential Lincoln car, and that the first bullet hit Kennedy in the throat. The fatal shot, according to Smith, came from another assassin on the knoll and entered the right temple before exiting out of the rear of his head.
This was concurred by a witness at the scene who reported that the president had a gunshot wound to his temple, and also by a member of the medical team who worked on Kennedy at the Dallas Parkland Hospital, who reported seeing a round hole entry point by the temple. That fact was never properly recorded, however; the post-mortem examination on the president’s body should have been carried out in Dallas, where he was killed, but instead it was flown to Washington and the autopsy carried out at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Mr Smith said: “An examination of the skull would establish whether a bullet did enter his head at the temple, which would disprove the theory that the fatal injury came from behind."
Unless a full investigation is conducted, and that includes the exhumation of the president’s body, it appears that the conspiracy theorists will never be satisfied. The official story has now stood for 50 years, but the drive to uncover the truth remains as strong now as it was half a century ago.
Even the official memorial in Dallas seems to lack conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald was the perpetrator. A plaque erected by the Texas Historical Commission on a corner of the Book Depository, bears the inscription: "On November 22, 1963, the building gained national notoriety when Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed President John F. Kennedy from a sixth floor window as the presidential motorcade passed the site."
The word "allegedly" has been roughly underscored by an unknown hand, and its presence confirms that the official theory has not been widely accepted.
At the end of the day, enough loose ends remain untied to keep conspiracy theorists’ fingers busy for many years to come, and it appears that they are not operating without support. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61% of the American public still doubt the official explanation that Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president, and an Associated Press poll conducted in April this year concluded that 59% of Americans do think there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
There may be those who consider that it is disrespectful to perpetuate the investigations and that the president should be left to rest in peace, but there is also a valid argument that John Fitzgerald Kennedy deserves to find justice before his soul can rest.
"We’ve won the debate. Most people want what we’re calling for, all the files released, a further investigation," said Judge. "Our history has basically been stolen from us by this secrecy. I think the military-industrial complex had a great deal to do with the Kennedy assassination. I don’t think a hoopla event gives you a catharsis. I don’t know how you celebrate the life of JFK and refuse to solve his murder."
Smith echoes Judge’s sentiments and summarised his views thus:
“These would appear to be the essential steps towards this country coming to terms with the nagging questions which have plagued it since Friday, November 22, 1963. Until then, there can be no expectation of truth for the living, nor justice for the dead.”