JFK Assassination: The Facts and Theories
Other Key Figures
Here are thumbnails of some of the other key figures in the Kennedy assassination:
Born to a reasonably well-off Cuban farm couple, Castro was educated by Jesuits, studied law and married into one of the island nation's wealthiest families. Yet he was a revolutionary by age 21 and dedicated himself to the overthrow of the U.S.-friendly dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
As a young rabble-rouser, Castro was a reform-minded nationalist, not a Communist. He was imprisoned in 1953 but was allowed to go into exile in Mexico two years later. He returned to his homeland in 1956 and led a guerrilla war that led to Batista's overthrow on January 1, 1959.
The CIA under President Eisenhower began formulating a plan to invade Cuba and assassinate Castro, and the scheme carried over into the Kennedy administration. The CIA apparently went so far as to employ hired Mafia assassins to carry out the plot.
But the plot stalled, and in 1962 President Kennedy approved a CIA-led invasion at Bay of Pigs, Cuba—a notorious U.S. failure and debacle.
Increasingly, the United States grew convinced that Castro was playing footsy with the Soviet Union, its Cold War archenemy. U.S. fears that Russia would use Cuba—just 90 miles from Key West, Florida--as a staging ground for nuclear warheads led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, a seven-day staredown between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Castro endures today at age 78, having outlived the Soviet Union and outlasted 10 U.S. presidents.
Lyndon Johnson was a pragmatist. For one thing, he was smart enough to know that he didn't know everything—a trait that not all politicians share.
Born in 1908 west of Austin, Texas, he taught high school, then went to Washington in 1931 to work as secretary for a newly elected congressman. Before he was 30, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937 to replace a Texas congressman. He served 11 years there and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, where he became an influential dealmaker as majority whip, minority leader and, in 1955, majority leader.
Johnson and Kennedy, the top candidates for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, agreed to become running mates and pool their support. The deal paid off as they eked out a victory over the Republican ticket of Nixon-Lodge.
Johnson was sworn in as America's 36th president two hours after the assassination of Kennedy. He was elected to the office in 1964 but stepped aside in 1968. He died on his ranch in 1973.
Jim Garrison/Oliver Stone
Garrison was the New Orleans district attorney who in the late 1960s announced he had "solved" the Kennedy assassination. He brought conspiracy charges against a Louisiana businessman, but the man was acquitted by a jury in less than an hour after a 34-day trial that was as much a circus as a legal proceeding.
Garrison spent 12 years as district attorney and later was elected a Louisiana appeals court judge. But he had slipped into relative obscurity by 1991, when filmmaker Stone released J.F.K., which treated the prosecutor as a hero battling a sinister government. (He had a bit part in the film, which was based on one of three books Garrison wrote about the assassination.)
He died in 1992.
As the New York Times wrote in his obituary, "Many public officials and assassination experts dismissed Mr. Garrison's theories as bizarre, irresponsible and an effort to get publicity. But interest in his accusations continued among assassination buffs as doubts grew about the accuracy and completeness of the official findings."
Zapruder, 59, a Dallas clothing manufacturer, was among the throng on Dealey Plaza on the day of the Kennedy assassination. His firm, Jennifer Juniors Inc., operated out of a building opposite the Texas School Book Depository.
A camera buff, he set up his Bell & Howell Zoomatic 8 mm on a foot-high concrete abutment adjacent to the "grassy knoll" of Dealey Plaza to record moving images of the president's visit to Dallas.
Some 75 amateur and professional photographers were shooting the Kennedy motorcade as it passed the Book Depository. But his timing, the quality of Zapruder's camera and the clarity of images from his elevated vantage point made his footage an invaluable, albeit horribly graphic, historical record.
He shot 26 seconds of film at 18.3 frames per second. The first 7 seconds show the lead motorcycle escort. After a pause, the last 19 seconds show Kennedy and Connally being shot. Images from those 354 frames appeared in a special edition of Life magazine that was on newsstands just days later.
Both believers and doubters in the lone-assassin construct use the Zapruder film to bolster their arguments.
Zapruder, who died in 1970, and his heirs earned a fortune from the film. Zapruder was paid $150,000 from Life magazine, and his family was paid nearly $1 million in various usage rights before 1996, when the film was seized by the U.S. government. In 1999, an arbitration panel ordered the government to pay the family $16 million for the film, which is now housed in the National Archives.
Commander James Humes
Although his name is not as widely known as other Kennedy assassination figures, Dr. Humes played a big role in the perpetration of conspiracy theories.
He was the military doctor who performed the Kennedy postmortem at Bethesda Naval Hospital—an autopsy that professional pathologists later called a "forensic disaster."
Humes, then 38, was chief of anatomic pathology at the hospital and director of the laboratories at the National Medical Center.
Yet the Kennedy case was his first gunshot-wound autopsy, and he did a slipshod job. He later said he had been ordered only to look for bullet fragments, not to conduct a full forensic pathological exam.
Photos taken during the exam were dark and amateurish. Humes said he discarded his notes kept during the autopsy because they were bloody.
Humes retired in 1967 and became clinical professor of pathology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He died in 1999.
Scores of writers have taken on the Kennedy assassination case. Some were serious researchers, some were cranks, and some were shysters. Nearly any JFK book can be assured of sales-inducing publicity, and that fact is not lost on publishers. Among the noteworthy authors:
- David S. Lifton. His 1981 book, Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, remains a favorite of conspiracy theorists.
- James Garrison. The New Orleans DA touted his own theory and tooted his own horn in On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy.
- Patricia Lambert. A conspiracy believer, she took on Garrison and Stone in her 1999 book False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK.
- Gerald Posner. Many conspiracy believers still gnash their teeth at the mention of Posner's Case Closed, a 1995 bestseller that attempted to debunk conspiracy theories and offered a self-assured version of the lone-gunman scenario.
- Jim Marrs. The Dallas journalist brought together a compendium of conspiracy theories, including some far-out varieties, in his 1989 book, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy.
- Harrison Livingstone and Robert Groden. Their book High Treason: The Assassination of JFK & the Case for Conspiracy was originally published in 1980 and updated with new "evidence" of a conspiracy in 1996.