Who Killed JFK?
by Carl Oglesby
Odonian Press, 1992, paper
Although he has become a legend, John
Fitzgerald Kennedy was hardly the most popular president in history
when he was gunned down in November, 1963. In the previous six
months alone, the Secret Service had reviewed over 400 threats
to his life. Three of these were serious enough to entail changes
in his security routine.
He was loathed by anti-Castro exiles,
other rightwingers, the Mafia and even some of his own government
agencies. In attempting to figure out who murdered him, it is
important to understand who hated him, and why.
The stolen election
The seeds of that hatred were planted
in the 1960 election that brought Kennedy to the presidency. The
Democrats stole that election from Republican candidate Richard
Nixon by tampering with the vote in two states. In Illinois, Mafia
boss Sam Giancana arranged for 10,000 votes to be cast for John
F. Kennedy "from the graveyard." In Texas, the political
machine of Kennedy's running mate, Lyndon Johnson, arbitrarily
disqualified about 100,000 votes.
As a result, 51 electoral votes that should
have gone to Nixon went to Kennedy. Had they been added to Nixon's
total, he would have squeezed into the presidency by one electoral
Yet JFK quickly forgot his debts to Giancana
and Johnson. Early in his presidency, he and his brother Robert
established a special Justice Department strike force aimed at
eradicating organized crime in the US. By the summer of 1963,
JFK seemed ready to dump Johnson from his 1964 reelection ticket
because Johnson's long-time personal secretary, Bobby Baker, had
been implicated in a scandal involving federal farm subsidies.
The Bay of Pigs
Soon after the 1960 election, JFK made
new enemies. In 1960, President Eisenhower's last year in office,
a force of 1400 anti-Communist Cuban exiles was assembled to overthrow
Fidel Castro. JFK allowed this force to invade Cuba in April 1961.
But when it landed at the Bay of Pigs, it found it had underestimated
the extent of Castro's support.
Pinned down on the beach, the invaders
appealed to Kennedy for US air and naval support. He refused,
leaving them to be taken prisoner by Castro's forces. This embittered
all those involved in the anti-Castro cause, including the Mafia,
which wanted its Cuban casinos back.
Kennedy then retaliated against those
in the CIA he felt had misled him about the strength of anti-Castro
sympathy in Cuba. He told a high official that he would "splinter
the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds."
His purge removed CIA Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director General
Charles Cabell (the brother of the
mayor of Dallas) and Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell.
Kennedy went on to ransom the Bay of Pigs
prisoners for tractors, and promised them another try at overthrowing
Castro. Then, in October 1962, he surrounded Cuba with a naval
blockade and forced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove
his missiles. After the Missile Crisis (as it was called), JFK
abandoned the anti-Castro movement altogether. He closed its training
bases in Florida and Louisiana, promised the USSR he would respect
Cuba's sovereignty and began to negotiate for improved relations
with Castro himself.
Needless to say, JFK's handling of the
Cuban situation did nothing to win over the right wing, nor Kennedy's
critics in the military. He further alienated them in his relations
with the USSR.
Khrushchev's reading of the Bay of Pigs
"fiasco" (as it came to be called) was that JFK was
an ineffectual leader who could easily be pushed around. This
point of view was reinforced by JFK's failure to react when, in
1961, the Soviet Union built a wall across Berlin, dividing the
city, and threatened to attack the Western allies if they stayed
JFK did "stand up to the Russians"
during the Missile Crisis but then, less than a year later, he
signed a limited nuclear test-ban treaty with Moscow, which made
the right wing think that he accepted Communist control over Eastern
Europe and the Baltic States and was surrendering in the Cold
The Vietnam War
Even worse, by the fall of 1963, JFK was
ready to cut his losses and pull out of Vietnam. Since South Vietnam's
government was so unpopular, Kennedy saw no chance of a US victory
without an impossibly large commitment of resources. He sent a
high-level fact-finding mission to Vietnam, and it proposed the
withdrawal of 1000 US troops by the end of the year and the phase-out
of US military forces by the end of 1965.
Kennedy's critics believed that his endorsement
of this proposal virtually guaranteed that the whole of Southeast
Asia would fall to the Communists.
The civil rights movement
For all these reasons, Kennedy had infuriated
the right throughout the country. But what particularly galled
those in the South was his encouragement of the civil rights movement.
In October 1962, JFK sent federal marshals
and troops to force the integration of the University of Mississippi.
In the summer of 1963, he supported a bill that would guarantee
the right to vote and access to all public accommodations for
every citizen, regardless of color-the most aggressive legislative
attack on segregation since the Civil War.
The trip to Texas
Given the number of JFK's enemies-the
CIA, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cubans, the Republicans, southern
racists, the military and even his own vice-president-and all
the threats against his life, it is hardly surprising that Kennedy's
proposed trip to Texas in the fall of 1963 was hotly debated within
the White House.
Texas, and Dallas in particular, were
strongholds of the far right. There was even some chance that
the entire Texas Democratic party might bolt to the Republicans
in the 1964 election-especially if Johnson were dumped from the
Virtually everyone in the Texas Democratic
party- from conservatives like LBJ and Governor John Connally
to liberals like Senator Ralph Yarborough- argued that Kennedy
had to come down and face his critics personally. But other advisers
were not so sure. Given the mood of the state, a trip to Texas
seemed too risky.
Only three weeks before, Adlai Stevenson,
Kennedy's ambassador to the United Nations, had been manhandled
by a hostile crowd in Dallas. On November 4, a Texan member of
the National Democratic Committee, Byron Selton, wrote Robert
Kennedy that a prominent Dallas businessman called JFK "a
liability to the free world" and urged that the trip to Texas,
or at least the Dallas leg of it, be cancelled.
But if he didn't go. would he lose the
Democrats in Texas? And if he lost them there, what would happen
in the rest of the South? How could he hope to win reelection
in 1964? So he decided that he and Jackie would take a two-day
trip to Texas, visiting San Antonio. Houston. Fort Worth and Dallas.
Investigations have been thwarted by the
number of material witnesses who died in the first few years after
the assassination and in periods of renewed interest in the case
during the 1970s.
... many key witnesses ... died at strategically
important moments. Here are a few of the more interesting cases:
* Gary Underhill, a CIA agent who claimed
the CIA was involved in the JFK assassination, died of a gun shot
to the head in May 1964. H is death was ruled a suicide.
* Guy Banister, a former FBl agent and
acquaintance of Oswald, died of an apparent heart attack in June
1964. Files containing information on his anti-Castro activities
were missing by the time authorities reached his office.
* Mary Meyer, a mistress of JFK's during
the White House years and the estranged wife of CIA veteran Cord
Meyer, was murdered in October 1964 in a park in Washington, DC.
Cord Meyer was a fishing companion of CIA counter-intelligence
chief, James Jesus Angleton, who seized Meyer's diary after her
* C.D. Jackson, senior vice president
of Life magazine, died of unknown causes in September 1964. Jackson
arranged for Life to buy the Zapruder film soon after the Dealey
Plaza shooting and then locked it away. (The film was not widely
seen by the public until it was shown on ABC's Goodnight America
* Rose Cheramie, a prostitute and striptease
dancer in Ruby's Dallas nightclub, died in a Texas hit-and-run
accident in September 1965. Two days before the assassination,
she told police in Louisiana she overheard two Latin men plotting
to kill the president.
* Dorothy Kilgallen, a prominent columnist
and TV personality, was ruled a suicide by drug overdose in November
1965. She had just completed a lengthy interview of Ruby in prison
and told friends privately that she was about to "break"
the JFK case.
* David Ferrie, a militant anti-Castroite
and associate of Oswald and Banister, died of an apparent brain
embolism in February 1967. He was just about to be arraigned for
conspiracy in the JFK assassination by New Orleans District Attorney
Jim Garrison, whose investigation convinced him that the CIA was
* Eladio Del Valle, a friend and political
comrade of Ferrie's, was shot at close range the day after Ferrie's
death. Garrison had been trying to find Del Valle for questioning.
* Hale Boggs, House majority leader and
a member of the Warren Commission, was killed in a plane crash
in Alaska in 1972. He had begun to express public doubts about
the Warren Commission's findings.
* J.A. Milteer, the far-right Miami activist,
died when his heater exploded in February 1974. As mentioned above,
he predicted an attempt on JFK's life and the capture of a scapegoat
shortly before events in Dealey Plaza-and a man looking a lot
like him was picked up by the police that November afternoon.
* Clay Shaw, whom Garrison brought to
trial as a prime suspect in a JFK conspiracy, died of cancer in
August 1974. Unable to prove Shaw's CIA connections, Garrison
saw him acquitted in 1969. But just a year after Shaw's death,
a high-level CIA defector, Victor Marchetti, confirmed Shaw's
ties to the agency.
* Sam Giancana, Mafia boss of Chicago,
was shot to death in the basement of his home while in the Federal
Witness Protection Program in June 1975. At the time of his murder,
Giancana was scheduled to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee
on the ClA's alliance with the Mafia in an attempt to kill Castro.
* John Roselli, a Mafia lieutenant of
Giancana's, was dismembered, stuffed into an oil drum and dropped
into the ocean off Miami in July 1976. Roselli was the Mafia's
contact man for its assassination projects with the CIA and was
scheduled for a second appearance before the Senate Intelligence
Committee when he was killed.
* George de Mohrenschildt, who befriended
Oswald in Dallas, was found dead of a gunshot wound, deemed self-inflicted,
in March 1977. Two hours before his death, an investigator for
the House Assassinations Committee came to interview him about
the JFK case, but de Mohrenschildt was not at home. In a manuscript
found afterwards, de Mohrenschildt supported Oswald's view of
himself as "a patsy."
* Charles Nicoletti, also on the House
Committee's witness list, was shot three times in the back of
the neck in the parking lot of a suburban Chicago shopping center
in March 1977-less than 48 hours after de Mohrenschildt's death.
Nicoletti was said to have been a "handler" (that is,
supervisor) of Mafia assassins in the ClA-Mafia plots.
* Carlos Prio Socarras, a president of
pre-revolutionary Cuba, was found dying of a pistol shot in April
1977, just six days after Nicoletti was gunned down. Prio's death
was ruled a suicide. He, too, was on the House Committee's witness
list because of his alleged links to Jack Ruby and anti-Castro
We may never know for sure if these key
witnesses were murdered to keep them silent. But there is no doubt
these deaths have significantly hindered the official investigations
and the public's understanding of what took place at Dealey Plaza
on November 22, 1963.
Evidence of a cover-up
The evidence that there was a cover-up
is just as impressive as the evidence that there was a conspiracy
in the first place. Here is a brief run-down, including a couple
of points not mentioned above:
* Oswald's description was broadcast over
police radio within fifteen minutes of the assassination. No one
knows how this description was obtained.
* No interrogation records were kept for
those arrested at Dealey Plaza, or for Oswald.
* The pictures of Oswald holding a gun
appear to be faked.
* JFK's body was removed from Dallas before
an autopsy could be performed there.
* JFK's corpse left Dallas wrapped in
a sheet inside an ornamental bronze casket. It arrived at Bethesda
Naval Hospital in Washington in a body bag inside a plain casket.
* The autopsy photographs of JFK's wounds
differed radically from the descriptions of the doctors at Parkland
* A whole tray of evidence, including
what was left of the president's brain, remains missing from the
The pristine condition of "the magic
bullet" suggests it was planted.
* Numerous films made by witnesses to
the event were confiscated.
* Many more witnesses have died than would
normally be expected, many in mysterious circumstances.
* Both the FBI and the CIA concealed important
evidence from the Warren Commission.
* Critical data unearthed by the Warren
Commission in 1964 and the Assassination Committee in 1978 is
still classified secret.
Who was involved?
If there was a conspiracy to kill JFK,
who was involved in it? Since secrecy pervades the case, and since
so many witnesses have died, it is impossible to say with certainty,
but the following six scenarios describe the most basic possibilities.
Two related theories propose that Nikita
Khrushchev, humiliated by the 1962 Missile Crisis, instigated
the assassination. One proposes that Oswald was directed to kill
JFK by Valery Kostikov, a Mexico City Soviet embassy official
and reputed KGB assassin overseer. The second proposes that the
KGB captured Oswald during his stay in Russia and then sent an
impersonator back to the US to kill the president.
An important advocate of the Kostikov
theory was the CIA's chief of counter-intelligence operations,
James Jesus Angleton. Either because he wanted to provoke a Soviet-American
clash or because he really believed it, Angleton strenuously maintained
that the KGB was behind the Kennedy assassination. In fact, the
intensity of his conviction led to one of the most bizarre subplots
in the entire JFK case and nearly destroyed the CIA from the inside
Early in 1964, a KGB officer named Yuri
Nosenko, who had been informing to the CIA for more than a year,
decided to defect and come to the United States. Nosenko had worked
in the KGB bureau that kept the file on Oswald. He stated that
he knew for a fact that Oswald was not under the control of the
But Angleton thought Nosenko was a "mole"-a
fake defector whose real mission was to misinform the CIA. Angleton
imprisoned Nosenko in a CIA safe house and pressured him in every
way short of physical torture to deny what he had said. This situation
led to a virtual war within the CIA, and ultimately resulted in
Angleton's downfall and Nosenko's vindication.
The Soviets-did-it theory explains why
the Warren Commission developed its implausible lone-assassin
conclusion. According to Warren's Memous, Johnson had called him
to the White House to tell him of "rumors floating around
the world" that the Soviets might have been responsible,
that if this were known "it might lead us into war,"
perhaps even a nuclear war, and that as many as 40 million people
might die. Warren's Memoirs imply that the real job of the Warren
Commission was to quiet any suspicion of Soviet guilt.
But the Soviet theory raises more questions
than it answers. Why would the USSR risk nuclear war to promote
LBJ, a much more militant Cold Warrior than JFK? Why would the
Soviets trust Oswald? And how could Oswald's mother and brothers
have been deceived by an Oswald double? (In 1981 Marina and Marguerite,
Oswald's mother, were sufficiently persuaded by the theory to
exhume Oswald's body. Dental records proved that the body buried
in Oswald's grave was, in fact, Oswald's.)
Another theory, popular among right-wingers
and anti-Castroites (among them, US ambassador to Mexico Thomas
Mann, columnist Jack Anderson and Mafia lieutenant John Roselli)
accuses Fidel Castro of engineering the assassination. In this
scenario, Castro either recruited Oswald as the assassin or turned
around a hit squad that had been sent to kill him, sending them
back to shoot JFK.
This theory has certain strengths. Like
the Soviet theory, it suggests a motivation for the Warren Commission's
cover-up-to protect the world from the consequences of learning
about a Communist-directed assassination. Castro had a motive:
The CIA had sponsored Mafia attempts against his life, and he
had warned JFK that these attacks might "boomerang."
But this theory is also implausible. As
Castro pointed out in a 1991 interview on NBC, Cuba had been improving
its relations with JFK ever since the Missile Crisis and had nothing
to gain by putting Johnson in the White House. Further, Cuba would
have suffered extreme consequences if such a plot had been discovered.
Finally, if Oswald were the assassin,
how was he recruited by Castro? Although Oswald had passed out
pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans, he did not associate with
any other pro-Castro groups and had never visited Cuba.
In its final report of 1979, the House
Assassinations Committee theorized that the assassination might
have been masterminded by New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello.
This view was endorsed by the committee's Chief Counsel, G. Robert
Blakey, and Richard Billings in their 1981 book, The Plot to Kill
the President, which suggests that two Mafia hitmen were involved-Oswald,
firing from the book depository and another, still unknown, firing
from the grassy knoll.
Marcello certainly had sufficient motive.
Despite the Mafia's crucial help getting JFK elected in 1960,
Marcello was apprehended and deported only a few months after
JFK took office. Upon reentering the US and successfully contesting
his deportation, Marcello threatened JFK's life and spoke of getting
"a nut" to kill him.
Clearly the Mafia would not have used
someone as inexperienced as Oswald as an assassin, so if he was
involved, it must simply have been as a patsy. And clearly the
Mafia could not have done the job all by itself, since that would
not explain the government cover-up. One possibility is that it
blackmailed the government, demanding a cover-up in exchange for
keeping secret the CIA's hiring of Mafia assassins to kill Castro.
But more likely, it was simply hired to do the job.
A five-part TV series, The Men Who Killed
Kennedy, which first aired in this country on the A&E cable
network in the fall of 1991, provided testimony from two sources
which sought to indicate that three hitmen from the Corsican Mafia
had been hired to do the job by the US Mafia.
New evidence emerged in 1991 that J. Edgar
Hoover knew of a Mafia murder contract on JFK as early as September
1962 but never informed the Secret Service. According to Texas
attorney Mark North, Hoover-a bitter foe of many of Kennedy's
policies-was worried that Kennedy would enforce his mandatory
retirement in 1965. North says that Hoover had earlier attempted
to blackmail Kennedy with FBI evidence of his philandering, including
JFK's sharing of a girlfriend with Mafia boss Sam Giancana.
Another theory claims that JFK was assassinated
by the Cowboys-wealthy and powerful Southwesterners who share
national power in an uneasy balance with the more liberal East
Coast political establishment, the Yankees. In this scenario,
Oswald was manipulated into the role of patsy and was not an assassin.
The strong point of the Cowboy theory
is that, as we have seen, many Texans were murderously angry at
JFK by the summer of 1963. He had scaled back the oil depletion
tax credit, disciplined General Edwin Walker and was, rumor had
it, considering dumping another Texan, Lyndon Johnson, from his
There is at least one major weaknesses
to this theory-if the Cowboys were planning to murder the president,
why would they virtually advertise their intentions in advance?
The Mongoose team
The theory that seems most popular among
researchers-Jim Garrison, Mark Lane, Fletcher Prouty, Robert Groden,
David Lifton and Jim Marrs among them-is that the assassination
was organized "off the reservation" by rogue agents
associated with Operation Mongoose.
Mongoose was the code-name for programs
JFK set up in the Defense Department, CIA and State Department
after the Bay of Pigs to coordinate anti-Castro activities - some
of which were aimed at overthrowing him by political and economic
means, others at assassinating him outright. To carry out the
JFK killing and to cover up their own involvement, Mongoose rogues
set up Oswald, a low-level Naval intelligence agent, as a patsy
and planted false clues pointing to Cuba, the Soviet Union and
This scenario also provides a clear motive
for assassination. Mongoose members-particularly those in Task
Force W, a CIA portion of the team - were angry at JFK for his
retreat from the Bay of Pigs and what they perceived as his concessions
to Communism. As they saw it, LBJ's foreign policy would be a
This theory also explains how an official
investigation could be thwarted and how Oswald, if he were a US
intelligence operative in contact with Mongoose members, could
have been framed. The difficulties lie not in the theory itself
but in the impossibility of evaluating it without obtaining information
now classified secret by the US government.
The most extreme theory traces the assassination
to a group in the Defense Department that emerged around Werner
von Braun and the Nazi rocket scientists the US military imported
into the country illegally and against specific orders, and installed
at Huntsville, Alabama at the end of WWII-the famous Operation
During the same period, the US government
also absorbed a network of Nazi spies headed by Nazi General Reinhard
Gehlen. "The Gehlen Org" (as it came to be called) worked
within the US government to promote Nazi aims and to protect and
resettle Nazis from Europe. In fact, the CIA was built around
the Gehlen Org.
This theory postulates an incredible degree
of fascist corruption within the US intelligence services. But
one person who lends it plausibility is Clay Shaw, the New Orleans
businessman District Attorney Jim Garrison tried for conspiracy
in 1968 (and failed to convict). An exit poll of the Shaw jury
indicated that Garrison lost his case because he was unable to
prove that Shaw was connected to the CIA.
But the year Shaw died ( 1974), a book
by a highly placed CIA defector, Victor Marchetti, revealed that
the CIA helped Shaw in his legal struggle with Garrison. This
may explain why the governors of three states refused to honor
Shaw's New Orleans-based International
Trade Mart was connected to the shadowy European firm, Permindex,
which was kicked out of France in 1962 on suspicion of involvement
in the attempted assassination of French president Charles de
Gaulle. Permindex's board of directors included von Braun and
many well-known European fascists. Some experts say Permindex
was a front for the postwar international Nazi underground known
as the Odessa.
What can be done
That is far from an exhaustive list of
the theories that have been put forward during the almost thirty
years since Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps the most plausible
of them is that some elements of the Mongoose team and the Mafia
pulled the job off together, with the involvement of people in
other government agencies.
One thing, at least, is clear: the assassination
must have been an inside job. Aside from all the anomalies in
the government's behavior, how could outsiders have gotten away
From day one, the government has acted
as if it wanted the whole thing over and done with-and with the
fewest possible disturbing implications.