Kennedy chose to travel to Texas to smooth over frictions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and Don Yarborough (no relation) and conservative Texas governor John Connally. The visit was first agreed upon by Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (a Texas native), and Connally during a meeting in El Paso in June.
Kennedy later decided to embark on the trip with three basic goals in mind: 1.) to help raise more Democratic Party presidential campaign fund contributions; 2.) begin his quest for re-election in November 1964 and 3.); to help mend political fences among several leading Texas Democratic party members who appeared to be fighting politically amongst themselves since the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had barely won Texas in 1960 (and had even lost in Dallas). The trip was publicly announced in September 1963, the exact motorcade route was finalized on November 18 and publicly announced a few days before November 22.
Kennedy’s itinerary called for him to arrive at Dallas Love Field via a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. The motorcade route through Dallas – with Kennedy, Connally, and their wives together in a single limousine, and Johnson and his wife two cars behind – was intended to give Kennedy maximum exposure to local crowds before his arrival for a luncheon at the Trade Mart, where he would meet with civic and business leaders.
The Dallas Trade Mart was preliminarily selected as the site for the luncheon, and Kenneth O’Donnell, Kennedy’s friend and appointments secretary, had selected it as the final destination on the motorcade route. Leaving from Dallas Love Field, the motorcade had been allotted 45 minutes to reach the Trade Mart at a planned arrival time of 12:15 p.m. The itinerary was designed to serve as a meandering 10-mile route between the two places, and the motorcade vehicles could be driven slowly within the allotted time.
Special Agent Winston G. Lawson, a member of the White House detail who acted as the advance Secret Service Agent, and Secret Service Agent Forrest V. Sorrels, special agent in charge of the Dallas office, were the most active in planning the actual motorcade route. On November 14, both men attended a meeting at Love Field and drove over the route that Sorrels believed was best suited for the motorcade. From Love Field, the route passed through a suburban section of Dallas, through Downtown along Main Street, and finally to the Trade Mart via a short segment of the Stemmons Freeway.
Kennedy had planned to return to Love Field to depart for a fundraising dinner in Austin later that day. For the return trip, the agents selected a more direct route, which was approximately four miles, or 6.4 kilometers. The planned route to the Trade Mart was widely reported in Dallas newspapers several days before the event, for the benefit of people who wished to view the motorcade.
To pass directly through Downtown Dallas, a route west along Main Street, rather than Elm Street (one block to the north) was chosen, since this was the traditional parade route and provided the maximal building and crowd views. The Main Street section of the route precluded a direct turn onto the Fort Worth Turnpike exit (which served also as the Stemmons Freeway exit), which was the route to the Trade Mart, as this exit was only accessible from Elm Street. Therefore, the planned motorcade route included a short one-block turn at the end of the downtown segment of Main Street, onto Houston Street for one block northward, before turning again west onto Elm, that way they could proceed through Dealey Plaza before exiting Elm onto the Stemmons Freeway. The Texas School Book Depository was situated at the northwest corner of the Houston and Elm Street intersection.
Three vehicles were used for Secret Service and police protection in the Dallas motorcade. The first car, an unmarked white Ford (hardtop), carried Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, Secret Service Agent Win Lawson, Sheriff Bill Decker and Dallas Field Agent Forrest Sorrels. The second car, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, was occupied by driver Agent Bill Greer, SAIC Roy Kellerman, Governor John Connally, Nellie Connally, President Kennedy, and Jackie Kennedy.
The third car, a 1955 Cadillac convertible code-named “Halfback”, contained driver Agent Sam Kinney, ATSAIC Emory Roberts, presidential aides Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers, driver Agent George Hickey and PRS agent Glen Bennett. Secret Service agents Clint Hill, Jack Ready, Tim McIntyre and Paul Landis rode on the running boards.
On November 22—after a breakfast speech in Fort Worth, where Kennedy had stayed overnight after arriving from San Antonio, Houston, and Washington, D.C., the previous day—Kennedy boarded Air Force One, which departed at 11:10 and arrived at Love Field 15 minutes later. At about 11:40, Kennedy’s motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, running on a schedule about 10 minutes longer than the planned 45, due to enthusiastic crowds estimated at 150,000 to 200,000 people, and two unplanned stops directed by Kennedy.
Shooting in Dealey Plaza
In this 2008 photo, arrows indicate the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository and the spot on Elm Street at which Kennedy was struck in the head. Right of the depository is the Dal-Tex Building.
Kennedy’s open-top 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible limousine entered Dealey Plaza at 12:30 p.m. CST. Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas, turned to Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and commented, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you”. Kennedy’s reply – “No, you certainly can’t” – were his last words.
From Houston Street, the limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm to provide access to the Stemmons Freeway exit. As it turned, it passed by the Texas School Book Depository, and as it continued down Elm Street shots were fired. About 80% of the witnesses recalled hearing three shots.
A small number of witnesses recognized the first gunshot (shortly after Kennedy began waving) for what it was, but there was little reaction from most in the crowd or riding in the motorcade. Many later said they imagined what they heard to be a firecracker, or a vehicle backfiring. Although some close witnesses recalled seeing the limousine slow down, nearly stop, or completely stop, the Warren Commission—based on the Zapruder film—found that the limousine had traveled an average speed of 11.2 miles per hour (18.0 km/h) over the 186 ft of Elm Street immediately preceding the fatal head shot.
Within one second of each other, Governor Connally and Mrs. Kennedy turn abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, beginning at Zapruder film frame 162. Connally, like Kennedy, was a World War II military veteran, and was a longtime hunter; he testified that he immediately recognized the sound as that of a high-powered rifle, and turned his head and torso rightward in an attempt to see Kennedy behind him. He testified he could not see Kennedy, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right to his left), and that when his head was facing about 20 degrees left of center, he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet that he did not hear fired. The doctor who operated on Connally estimated that his head at the time he was hit had been 27 degrees left of center. After Connally was hit, he shouted, “Oh, no, no, no. My God. They’re going to kill us all!”
Mrs. Connally testified that just after hearing a loud, frightening noise that came from somewhere behind her and to her right, she turned toward Kennedy and saw him raise up his arms and elbows, with his hands in front of his face and throat. She then heard another shot and then Governor Connally yelling. Mrs. Connally then turned away from Kennedy toward her husband, at which point another gunshot sounded, and both she and the limousine’s rear interior were covered with fragments of skull, blood, and brain.
According to the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Kennedy was waving to the crowds on his right with his right arm upraised on the side of the limo when a shot entered his upper back, penetrated his neck and slightly damaged a spinal vertebra and the top of his right lung. The bullet exited his throat nearly centerline just beneath his larynx and nicked the left side of his suit tie knot. He raised his elbows and clenched his fists in front of his face and neck, then leaned forward and left. Mrs. Kennedy, facing him, then put her arms around him in concern.
According to the Warren Commission’s single bullet theory, Governor Connally also reacted after the same bullet penetrated his back just below his right armpit. The bullet created an oval-shaped entry wound, impacted and destroyed four inches of his right fifth rib, and exited his chest just below his right nipple. This created a two-and-a-half inch oval-shaped air-sucking chest wound. That same bullet then entered his arm just above his right wrist and cleanly shattered his right radius bone into eight pieces. The bullet exited just below the wrist at the inner side of his right palm and finally lodged in his left inner thigh. The Warren Commission theorized that the “single bullet” struck sometime between Zapruder frames 210 and 225, while the House Select Committee theorized that it struck at approximately Zapruder frame 190.
According to the Warren Commission, a second shot that struck Kennedy was recorded at Zapruder film frame 313. The commission made no conclusion as to whether this was the second or third bullet fired. The limousine then passed in front of the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure. The two investigative committees concluded that the second shot to hit Kennedy entered the rear of his head (the House Select Committee placed the entry wound four inches higher than the Warren Commission placed it) and passed in fragments through his skull; this created a large, “roughly ovular” [sic] hole on the rear, right side of the head. Kennedy’s blood and fragments of his scalp, brain, and skull landed on the interior of the car, the inner and outer surfaces of the front glass windshield, the raised sun visors, the front engine hood, and the rear trunk lid. His blood and fragments also landed on the Secret Service follow-up car and its driver’s left arm, as well on the motorcycle officers who were riding on both sides of Kennedy just behind his vehicle.
Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill was riding on the left front running board of the follow-up car, which was immediately behind Kennedy’s limousine. Hill testified that he heard one shot, then, as documented in other films and concurrent with Zapruder frame 308, he jumped off into Elm Street and ran forward to board the trunk of the limousine and protect Kennedy; Hill testified to the Warren Commission that he heard the fatal headshot as he was reaching the limousine, “approximately five seconds” after the first shot that he heard.
After Kennedy was shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began climbing out onto the back of the limousine, though she later had no recollection of doing so. Hill believed she was reaching for something, perhaps a piece of Kennedy’s skull. He jumped onto the back of the limousine while at the same time Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat, and he clung to the car as it exited Dealey Plaza and accelerated, speeding to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
After Mrs. Kennedy crawled back into her limousine seat, both Governor and Mrs. Connally heard her repeatedly say, “They have killed my husband. I have his brains in my hand.” Mrs. Kennedy recalled, “All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him saying, ‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’ I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the brains in.”
Governor Connally and a spectator wounded
Governor Connally was riding in the same limousine in a seat directly in front of Kennedy and three inches more to the left than Kennedy; he was also seriously injured, but survived. Doctors later stated that after the Governor was shot, his wife pulled him onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound, which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung.
Bystander James Tague received a minor wound to the right cheek while standing 531 feet away from the depository’s sixth floor easternmost window, 270 feet in front of and slightly to the right of Kennedy’s head facing direction and more than 16 feet below the top of Kennedy’s head. Tague’s injury occurred when a bullet or bullet fragment with no copper casing struck the nearby Main Street south curb. A deputy sheriff noticed some blood on Tague’s cheek, and Tague realized that something had stung his face during the shooting. When Tague pointed to where he had been standing, the police officer noticed a bullet smear on a nearby curb. Nine months later the FBI removed the curb, and a spectrographic analysis revealed metallic residue consistent with that of the lead core in Oswald’s ammunition. Tague testified before the Warren Commission and initially stated that he was wounded on his cheek by either the second or third shot of the three shots that he remembered hearing. When the commission counsel pressed him to be more specific, Tague testified that he was wounded by the second shot.
Aftermath in Dealey Plaza
The limousine was passing the grassy knoll to the north of Elm Street at the time of the fatal head shot. As the motorcade left Dealey Plaza, police officers and spectators ran up the grassy hill and from the triple underpass, to the area behind a five-foot (1.5 m) high stockade fence atop the knoll, separating it from a parking lot. No sniper was found there. S. M. Holland, who had been watching the motorcade on the triple underpass, testified that “immediately” after the shots were fired, he saw a puff of smoke rising from the trees right by the stockade fence and then ran around the corner where the overpass joined the fence, but did not see anyone running from that area.
Lee Bowers was in a two-story railroad switch tower which gave him an unobstructed view of the rear of the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll. He saw four men in the area between his tower and Elm Street: two men who seemed not to know each other near the triple underpass, some 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 m) apart, and one or two uniformed parking lot attendants. At the time of the shooting, he saw “something out of the ordinary, a sort of milling around”, which he could not identify. Bowers testified that one or both of the men were still there when motorcycle officer Clyde Haygood ran up the grassy knoll to the back of the fence. In a 1966 interview, Bowers clarified that the two men he saw were standing in the opening between the pergola and the fence, and that “no one” was behind the fence at the time the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who had been sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, approached police to say that as the motorcade passed he heard a shot come from above, then looked up to see a man with a rifle take another shot from a sixth-floor corner window. He said he had seen the same man looking out the window minutes earlier. Police broadcast Brennan’s description of this man at 12:45, 12:48, and 12:55 p.m. After the second shot, Brennan recalled,[when?] “This man … was aiming for his last shot … and maybe paused for another second as though to assure himself that he had hit his mark.”
As Brennan spoke to the police in front of the building, they were joined by two Book Depository employees who had been watching the motorcade from windows at the southeast corner of the building’s fifth floor. One reported hearing three gunshots come from directly over their heads and sounds of a bolt-action rifle and cartridges dropping on the floor above.
There were at least 104 earwitnesses in Dealey Plaza who were on record with an opinion as to the direction from which the shots came. Fifty-four (51.9%) thought that all shots came from the depository building. Thirty-three (31.7%) thought that they came from either the grassy knoll or the triple underpass. Nine (8.7%) thought that each shot came from a location entirely distinct from the knoll or the depository. Five (4.8%) believed that they heard shots from two locations, and 3 (2.9%) thought that the shots originated from a direction consistent with both the knoll and the depository.
The Warren Commission additionally concluded that three shots were fired and said that “a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together”.
After Oswald’s supervisor at the depository reported him missing, police broadcast his description as a suspect in the shooting at Dealey Plaza. Police officer J. D. Tippit subsequently spotted Oswald walking along a sidewalk in the residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff (three miles from Dealey Plaza) and called him over to the patrol car. After an exchange of words, Tippit got out of his car; Oswald shot Tippit four times, emptied the bullet casings from his gun, and fled.
Oswald was subsequently seen “ducking into” the entrance alcove of a store by the store’s manager, who then watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the Texas Theatre without paying. The store manager alerted the theater’s ticket clerk, who telephoned police at about 1:40 p.m. Officers arrived and arrested Oswald inside the theater. According to one of the officers, Oswald resisted and was attempting to draw his pistol when he was struck and restrained.
Oswald was charged with the murders of Kennedy and Tippit later that night. He denied shooting anyone and claimed he was being made a “patsy” because he had lived in the Soviet Union.
On Sunday, November 24 at 11:21 a.m. CST, as Oswald was being escorted to a car in the basement of Dallas Police headquarters for the transfer from the city jail to the county jail, he was fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The shooting was broadcast live on American television. Unconscious, Oswald was taken by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy had died two days earlier; he died at 1:07 p.m. Oswald’s death was announced on a TV news broadcast by Dallas police chief Jesse Curry. An autopsy later that day, by Dallas County Medical Examiner Earl Rose, found that Oswald had been killed by a gunshot wound to the chest. Arrested immediately after the shooting, Ruby said that he had been distraught by Kennedy’s death and that killing Oswald would spare “Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial”.
An Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone soon after the assassination. The recovery was filmed by Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV.
This footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano, and photographic analysis commissioned by the HSCA verified that the rifle filmed was the one later identified as the assassination weapon. Compared to photographs taken of Oswald holding the rifle in his backyard, “one notch in the stock at [a] point that appears very faintly in the photograph” matched, as well as the rifle’s dimensions.
The rifle had been purchased, secondhand, by Oswald the previous March under the alias “A. Hidell” and delivered to a post-office box he had rented in Dallas. According to the Warren Report, a partial palm print belonging to Oswald was also found on the barrel, and fibers found in a crevice of the rifle were consistent with the fibres from the shirt Oswald was wearing when he was arrested.
A bullet found on Governor Connally’s hospital gurney and two bullet fragments found in the limousine were ballistically matched to this rifle.
Kennedy declared dead in the emergency room
In a death certificate executed the following day, Kennedy’s personal physician, George Burkley, recited that he arrived at the hospital some five minutes after Kennedy and – though Secret Service personnel reported that Kennedy had been breathing – immediately saw that survival was impossible. The certificate listed “gunshot wound, skull” as the cause of death.
Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC) after heart activity ceased. Father Oscar Huber administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Huber told The New York Times that by the time he arrived at the hospital Kennedy had died, so that he had to draw back a sheet covering Kennedy’s face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Kennedy’s death was announced by White House Acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff at 1:33 p.m. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was taken to emergency surgery, where he underwent two operations that day.
Members of Kennedy’s security detail were attempting to remove Kennedy’s body from the hospital when they briefly scuffled with Dallas officials, including Dallas County Coroner Earl Rose, who believed that he was legally obligated to perform an autopsy before Kennedy’s body was removed. The Secret Service pushed through and Rose eventually stepped aside. The forensic panel of the HSCA, of which Rose was a member, later said that Texas law made it the responsibility of the justice of the peace to determine cause of death and to determine whether an autopsy was needed. A Dallas County justice of the peace signed the official record of inquest, as well as a second certificate of death.
A few minutes after 2:00 p.m, Kennedy’s body was taken from Parkland Hospital to Love Field. His casket was loaded into the rear of the passenger compartment of Air Force One in place of a removed row of seats.
Vice-President Lyndon Johnson had accompanied Kennedy to Dallas and been riding two cars behind Kennedy’s limousine in the motorcade. At 2:38 p.m., with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, he was administered the oath of office by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes aboard Air Force One shortly before departing for Washington.
Kennedy’s autopsy was performed at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, between about 8 p.m. and midnight EST. It was performed at a naval hospital at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy, on the basis that President Kennedy had been a naval officer during World War II.
Kennedy’s body was flown back to Washington, D.C., and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. The following Sunday his coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the United States Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands of people lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington in Virginia.
No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live. Most media crews did not ride with the motorcade, but were instead waiting at the Dallas Trade Mart in anticipation of Kennedy’s arrival there. Members of the media who were with the motorcade were riding at the rear of the procession.
The Dallas police were recording their radio transmissions over two different channels. Channel One was used for routine police communications, while Channel Two was dedicated to the motorcade; until shots were fired, most traffic on the second channel was Police Chief Jesse Curry’s updates on the motorcade’s location.
Kennedy’s last seconds of traveling through Dealey Plaza were recorded on silent 8 mm film for the 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination. This famous film footage was taken by garment manufacturer and amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, and became known as the Zapruder film. Frame enlargements from the Zapruder film were published by Life magazine shortly after the assassination. The footage was first shown publicly as a film at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, and on television in 1975. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, in 1999 an arbitration panel ordered the United States government to pay $615,384 per second of film to Zapruder’s heirs for giving the film to the National Archives. The complete film, which lasts for roughly over 26 seconds, was valued at $16 million.
Including Zapruder, 32 photographers are known to have been in Dealey Plaza that day. Amateur movies taken by Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore, and photographer Charles Bronson captured the fatal shot, although at a greater distance than Zapruder did. Other motion picture films were taken in Dealey Plaza at or around the time of the shooting by Robert Hughes, F. Mark Bell, Elsie Dorman, John Martin Jr., Patsy Paschall, Tina Towner, James Underwood, Dave Wiegman, Mal Couch, Thomas Atkins, and an unknown woman in a blue dress on the south side of Elm Street.
Still photos were taken by Phillip Willis, Mary Moorman, Hugh W. Betzner Jr., Wilma Bond, Robert Croft, and many others. Ike Altgens, a photo editor for the Associated Press in Dallas, was the only professional photographer in Dealey Plaza who was not in the press cars.
Motion pictures and photographs taken by some of these people show an unidentified woman, nicknamed by researchers Babushka Lady, apparently filming the motorcade around the time of the assassination.
Previously unknown colour footage filmed on the assassination day by George Jefferies was released in February 2007. The film was shot over 90 seconds before the assassination, several blocks away. However, it gives a clear view of Kennedy’s bunched suit jacket, just below the collar, which has led to varying calculations of how low in the back Kennedy was first shot.
After the Dallas Police arrested Oswald and collected physical evidence at the crime scenes, they held Oswald at their headquarters, questioning him all afternoon about the shootings of Kennedy and Tippit. They intermittently questioned him for approximately 12 hours between 2:30 p.m., on November 22, and 11 a.m., on November 24. Throughout, Oswald denied any involvement with either shooting. Captain Fritz of the homicide and robbery bureau did most of the questioning; he kept only rudimentary notes. Days later, he wrote a report of the interrogation from notes he made afterwards. There were no stenographic or tape recordings. Representatives of other law enforcement agencies were also present, including the FBI and the Secret Service, and occasionally participated in the questioning. Several of the FBI agents who were present wrote contemporaneous reports of the interrogation.
On the evening of the assassination, Dallas Police performed paraffin tests on Oswald’s hands and right cheek in an effort to establish whether or not he had recently fired a weapon. The results were positive for the hands and negative for the right cheek. Such tests were unreliable, and the Warren Commission did not rely on these results.
Oswald provided little information during his questioning. When confronted with evidence that he could not explain, he resorted to statements that were found to be false.
On December 9, 1963, the Warren Commission received the FBI’s report of its investigation, which concluded that three bullets had been fired—the first hitting Kennedy, the second hitting Connally, and the third hitting Kennedy in the head, killing him. The Warren Commission concluded that one of the three shots missed, one passed through Kennedy and then struck Connally, and a third struck Kennedy in the head.
The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known unofficially as the Warren Commission, was established on November 29, 1963, by President Johnson to investigate the assassination. Its 888-page final report was presented to Johnson on September 24, 1964, and made public three days later. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing Kennedy and wounding Connally, and that Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald. The commission’s findings have proven controversial and been variously criticized and supported by later studies.
The commission took its unofficial name, “The Warren Commission”, from its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren. According to published transcripts of Johnson’s presidential phone conversations, some major officials were opposed to forming such a commission, and several commission members took part only with extreme reluctance. One of their chief reservations was that a commission would ultimately create more controversy than consensus, and those fears ultimately proved valid.
All of the Warren Commission’s records were submitted to the National Archives in 1964. The unpublished portion of those records was initially sealed for 75 years (to 2039) under a general National Archives policy that applied to all federal investigations by the executive branch of government, a period “intended to serve as protection for innocent persons who could otherwise be damaged because of their relationship with participants in the case”. The 75-year rule no longer exists, supplanted by the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and the JFK Records Act of 1992.
Ramsey Clark Panel
In 1968, a panel of four medical experts appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark met to examine photographs, X-rays, documents, and other evidence. The panel concluded that Kennedy was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind, one traversing the base of the neck on the right without striking bone, and the other entering the skull from behind and destroying its upper right side. They also concluded that the skull shot entered well above the external occipital protuberance, which was at odds with the Warren Commission’s findings.
The United States President’s Commission on CIA activities within the United States was set up under President Gerald Ford in 1975 to investigate the activities of the CIA within the United States. The commission was led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and is sometimes referred to as the Rockefeller Commission.
Part of the commission’s work dealt with the Kennedy assassination, specifically the head snap as seen in the Zapruder film (first shown to the general public in 1975), and the possible presence of E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis in Dallas. The commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Sturgis was in Dallas at the time of the assassination.
The Church Committee is the common term referring to the 1975 United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, to investigate the illegal intelligence gathering by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the Watergate incident. It also investigated the CIA and FBI conduct relating to the JFK assassination.
Their report concluded that the investigation on the assassination by FBI and CIA were fundamentally deficient and that facts that may have greatly affected the investigation had not been forwarded to the Warren Commission by the agencies. The report hinted that there was a possibility that senior officials in both agencies made conscious decisions not to disclose potentially important information.
United States House Select Committee on Assassinations
As a result of increasing public and congressional skepticism regarding the Warren Commission’s findings and the transparency of government agencies, House Resolution 1540 was passed in September 1976, creating the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to investigate the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The committee investigated until 1978, and in March 1979 issued its final report, concluding that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The chief reason for this conclusion was, according to the report’s dissent, the subsequently discredited acoustic analysis of a police channel dictabelt recording. The committee concluded that previous investigations into Oswald’s responsibility were “thorough and reliable” but they did not adequately investigate the possibility of a conspiracy, and that Federal agencies performed with “varying degrees of competency”. Specifically, the FBI and CIA were found to be deficient in sharing information with other agencies and the Warren Commission. Instead of furnishing all information relevant to the investigation, the FBI and CIA only responded to specific requests and were still occasionally inadequate. Furthermore, the Secret Service did not properly analyse information it possessed prior to the assassination and was inadequately prepared to protect Kennedy.
Concerning the conclusions of “probable conspiracy”, four of the twelve committee members wrote dissenting opinions. In accordance with the recommendations of the HSCA, the Dictabelt recording and acoustic evidence of a second assassin was subsequently reexamined. In light of investigative reports from the FBI’s Technical Services Division and a specially appointed National Academy of Sciences Committee determining that “reliable acoustic data do not support a conclusion that there was a second gunman”, the Justice Department concluded “that no persuasive evidence can be identified to support the theory of a conspiracy” in the Kennedy assassination.
Although the final report and supporting volumes of the HSCA was publicly released, the working papers and primary documents were sealed until 2029 under Congressional rules and only partially released as part of the 1992 JFK Act.
JFK Act and Assassination Records Review Board
In 1992, the popular but controversial movie JFK renewed public interest in the assassination and particularly in the still-classified documents referenced in the film’s postscript. Largely in response to the film, Congress passed the JFK Act, or “President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992”. The goal of the legislation was to collect at the National Archives and make publicly available all of the assassination-related records held by federal and state government agencies, private citizens and various other organizations.
The JFK Act also mandated the creation of an independent office, the Assassination Records Review Board, to review the submitted records for completeness and continued secrecy. The Review Board was not commissioned to make any findings or conclusions regarding the assassination, just to collect and release all related documents. From 1994 until 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board gathered and unsealed about 60,000 documents, consisting of over 4 million pages. Government agencies requested that some records remain classified and these were reviewed under section 6 criteria of the JFK Act. There were 29,420 such records and all of them were fully or partially released, with stringent requirements for redaction.
A staff report for the Assassinations Records Review Board contended that brain photographs in the Kennedy records are not of Kennedy’s brain and show much less damage than Kennedy sustained. Boswell refuted these allegations. The board also found that, conflicting with the photographic images showing no such defect, a number of witnesses (at both the hospital and the autopsy) saw a large wound in the back of Kennedy’s head. The board and board member, Jeremy Gunn, have also stressed the problems with witness testimony, asking people to weigh all of the evidence, with due concern for human error, rather than take single statements as “proof” for one theory or another.
All remaining assassination-related records were scheduled to be released by October 26, 2017, with the exception of documents certified for continued postponement by succeeding presidents under the following conditions: “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defence, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” There was some concern among researchers that significant records, particularly those of the CIA, might still remain classified after 2017. Although these documents may include interesting historical information, all of the records were examined by the Review Board and were not determined to impact the facts of the Kennedy assassination. President Donald Trump said in October 2017 that he would not block the release of documents. On 26 April 2018, the deadline set by President Trump to release all JFK records, he blocked the release of some records until October 26, 2021.
Many conspiracy theories post that the assassination involved people or organizations in addition to Lee Harvey Oswald. Most current theories put forth a criminal conspiracy involving parties as varied as the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military, the Mafia, Vice President Johnson, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the KGB, or some combination of those entities.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Gallup polls have also found that only 20–30% of the population believe that Oswald had acted alone. These polls also show that there is no agreement on who else may have been involved. Former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi estimated that a total of 42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people had been accused in various Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
Reactions to the assassination
The assassination evoked stunned reactions worldwide. The first hour after the shooting was a time of great confusion before the President’s death was announced. The incident took place during the Cold War, and it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the United States. There was also concern whether Vice President Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.
The news shocked the nation. People wept openly and gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the United States dismissed their students early. Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.
However, there were also instances of Kennedy’s opponents cheering the assassination. A journalist reported rejoicing in the streets of Amarillo, with a woman crying out, “Hey, great, JFK’s croaked!”
The event left a lasting impression on many worldwide. As with the preceding attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941, and, much later, the September 11 attacks, asking “Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.
Artifacts, museums and locations today
The plane that served as Air Force One at the time of the assassination is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink suit, the autopsy report, the X-rays, and President Kennedy’s blood-stained clothing are in the National Archives, with access controlled by the Kennedy family. Other items in the Archives include equipment from Parkland Hospital trauma room; Oswald’s rifle, diary, and revolver; bullet fragments; and the windshield of Kennedy’s limousine. The Lincoln Catafalque, on which Kennedy’s coffin rested in the Capitol, is on display at the United States Capitol Visitor Center.
In 1993 the three-acre park within Dealey Plaza, the buildings facing it, the overpass, and a portion of the adjacent railyard – including the railroad switching tower – were incorporated into the Dealey Plaza Historic District by the National Park Service. Much of the area is accessible by visitors, including the park and grassy knoll. Elm Street is still an active thoroughfare; an X painted in the road marks the approximate spot at which the shots struck Kennedy and Connally. The Texas School Book Depository and its Sixth Floor Museum draw over 325,000 visitors annually, and contains a re-creation of the area from which Oswald fired. The Sixth Floor Museum also manages the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial located one block east of Dealey Plaza.
At the direction of the deceased president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, some items were destroyed by the United States government. The casket in which Kennedy’s body was transported from Dallas to Washington was dropped into the sea by the Air Force, because “its public display would be extremely offensive and contrary to public policy”. The Texas State Archives has the clothes Connally was wearing when he was shot. The gun Ruby used to kill Oswald later came into the possession of Ruby’s brother Earl, and was sold in 1991 for $220,000.