The limousine containing President Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connelly, and the Governor’s wife
It was a day the world will never forget. The 35th President of the United States, aged just 46, was shot dead in broad daylight – his head blown open as the motorcade in which he rode wound its way through Dallas, Texas.
In the years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the massive amount of interest in the events that took place that day – November 22, 1963 – has, if anything, only increased. We’ve all seen the famous footage of the motorcade, likely watched the tragic death of the President in full color, and perhaps even seen the grisly and harrowing JFK autopsy photos.
Some of us are also familiar with the many conspiracy theories that surround the assassination of President Kennedy – or at least some of them, for a quick search of the Internet makes it clear that there are probably far more theories out there than one person could easily absorb. In fact, you could almost argue that, like some morbid version of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, it’s possible to find conjecture linking just about every celebrity who was around at the time – as well as any number of non-celebrities – to a JFK conspiracy theory.
President John F. Kennedy
This list focuses on what we consider to be ten of the most incredible hypotheses connecting individuals to the shooting of the President; theories that, despite having been all but debunked in some cases, continue to have their adherents to this day. It’s like they say: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And yet, who knows? Perhaps some of these assassination theories actually contain a kernel of truth.
10. The Driver Did It
The motorcade, shortly before the assassination
Yes, that’s right, as this theory would have it, the man driving the limousine (carrying President Kennedy, the First Lady, the Governor of Texas, the Governor’s wife, and a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the President) casually turned around and shot JFK at point blank range in the head. All this in full view not only of the people in the car, but also the large crowd that had gathered to cheer and wave at the motorcade. And nobody actually saw this happen at the time. Well, nobody who was willing to say so, anyway. Most brilliant sleight of hand act ever?
Looking towards the grassy knoll after the shots were fired. On the ground are the Newman family, fearful that they are in the firing line.
Defenders of this theory claim that in the Zapruder film – the most famous footage of the assassination – you can clearly see William Greer, the limo driver, reach over his shoulder with a gun and take the shot that blew out the President’s brains. Naturally, they also claim that this would be even more obvious had not the original film been doctored – presumably by the CIA, who are often linked with the theory. Other key pieces of evidence that corroborate this version of events are also said to have been tampered with – including the President’s body itself. Or so the conspiracy theorists say.
Critics of the ‘Driver Did It’ theory contend that the so-called gun is actually nothing more than sunlight reflecting off the hair of the Secret Service agent in the passenger seat, Roy Kellerman. You can judge for yourself by looking at the footage in the video posted at the end of this article and in the many other versions of the Zapruder film on the Internet.
9. Umbrella Man
Umbrella Man is sitting next to the road sign (the man on the right)
Here’s a theory that’s bound to appeal to fans of James Bond or Get Smart: JFK was taken out not only by bullets, but also by a poison dart shot from an assassin’s umbrella. Yep, an umbrella.
The verifiably true part of the story is that as the limousine carrying President Kennedy passed by, a man proceeded to open a black umbrella he was carrying and pump it open and closed in the air. An odd thing to do, admittedly, particularly on a sunny day when no rain was falling.
And yet conspiracy theorists would have you think that the ‘Umbrella Man’, as he is known, was in fact discharging paralyzing darts from a cunningly disguised weapon to make the President a soft target. Either that or, somewhat less implausibly, he was signaling to gunmen that their mark was in position. Still, it’s hardly the most inconspicuous way to perform either underhand act.
Fifteen years after the assassination, a man came forward claiming to be the ‘Umbrella Man’, explaining that he was simply expressing a form of protest against former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler prior to WWII, Chamberlain having been known for carrying an umbrella. The reason he did so in front of JFK was that the President’s father had been the US Ambassador to Britain at the time. This in itself sounds like kind of a strange explanation – but more bizarre than umbrella darts? Maybe not.
8. Friendly Fire Theory
This is a hypothesis that could also be known as the ‘Oops, I Shot The President Theory’. In this version of the events, suggested by author Bonar Menninger and based on the conclusions of ballistics expert and sharpshooter Howard Donahue, Kennedy was shot in the head by Secret Service agent George Hickey, who was riding in the car to the rear of the President’s. Not as part of a grand conspiracy, mind you: it was just an accident, or so the theory would have you believe.
Despite how outlandish this notion might seem, it gained credibility because of Donahue’s credentials: he was on a team hired to recreate the suspected shooting of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald and was the only marksmen with the skills to show that it was possible for Oswald to have fired three shots by himself – somewhat ironic given Donahue’s later standpoint.
Press conference held in a line-up room following President Kennedy's death
In Menninger’s otherwise fairly technical book, Mortal Error – which it has been suggested might explain why gunpowder was smelled by witnesses who were close to the motorcade – Donahue postulates that the accident was covered up by Robert Kennedy, among others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, former Special Agent Hickey tried to sue the publishers of the book for libel. The case was finally settled under undisclosed terms.
7. DiMaggio Did It
We’re not sure this one qualifies as a theory so much as it does as a wacky idea. The gist is that the late Joe DiMaggio, baseball legend and former husband of Marilyn Monroe, assassinated President Kennedy because – bonus conspiracy theory – the Kennedys were responsible for the death of his ex-wife.
Whether DiMaggio actually shot JFK himself or whether he used his influence to get someone else to do it is up for debate. And then some. Proponents of this theory present as ‘substantiation’ Joe D’s duck hunting hobby and ongoing love for Monroe. The critics – surely almost everyone on the planet – don’t really have to say anything.
Joe and Marilyn in happier times
This may be one of the nuttier (although not necessarily nuttiest!) of the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK, but that’s not to say that everyone who believes there is more to the President’s death than was officially published is crazy. In fact, there are many scholars and professionals in respected fields who believe the CIA, FBI, KGB, Mafia or any number of other organizations were involved in the assassination and subsequent cover-up. Some of them even support certain of the theories on this list. But not this one!
6. Jackie Did It
The President and Jacqueline Kennedy arrive in Dallas.
If anyone had the perfect opportunity to take out President Kennedy on that fateful day in 1963, it was the woman who was sat right next to him: his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy. A perfect opportunity if, that is, you discount the hundreds of witnesses who would have been focused intently on these same people at the time the President lost his life. The theory proposes that Jackie, in a move worthy of any assassin or illusionist ever to have existed, concealed the gun in a ‘lamb chop’ puppet she had been given along with a bunch of flowers until it was time, with extreme stealth, to fire the shot.
JFK and Jackie in the back of a (different) limo
Why would Mrs. Kennedy risk her life to kill her husband in the back of an open limousine? Many different motives have been proposed – from that of jealousy about the President’s alleged transgressions, to a desire to marry multi-millionaire Aristotle Onassis, to being pressurized by threats from conspirators.
Some even suggest the First Lady was either a militant Zionist or a sleeper CIA agent. Take your pick! And once again, the reason we don’t have anything even approaching evidence that Jackie killed her husband is that, supposedly, film and autopsy records have been tampered with. As with the Joe DiMaggio theory, most, if not all, experts haven’t spent too much time bothering to debunk the idea that Jackie did it.
5. The Three Tramps Theory
The three tramps being led to the police station
Soon after the assassination, the police arrested three tramps in the railway yard behind Dealey Plaza, not far from where President Kennedy was shot. Various photographers present at the time took photos of the police leading these men to the police station, thereby sparking one of the most popular JFK conspiracy theories ever. Oliver Stone even dramatized it in his 1991 movie.
At the center of this hypothesis are the alleged identities of the three vagrants, whom conspiracy theorists have claimed are any of a handful of CIA operatives or criminals – including the father of actor Woody Harrelson, who was a convicted hit man.
The Dal-Tex Building: some conspiracy theorists believe several of the shots aimed at JFK were fired from here.
Most of the evidence supporting the three tramps theory seems to rest on supposed experts studying the photographs of the arrested men and comparing them to whomever they’ve decided they must have really been. Adding fuel to the fire of suspicion, it was also noted that the men just didn’t look shabby enough to have been homeless – although this is perhaps really only true of one of them.
Many of these commentators made apparently convincing arguments. Until, that is, a journalist managed to find the arrest records and discovered that the detainees were, after all, just three tramps – two of whom were tracked down and interviewed (the other had died).
4. Storm Drain Shooter
The infamous storm drain in Dealey Plaza
Drains are incredible things. They channel away sewage, prevent streets from flooding with storm water and, according to this theory, provide assassins with both an angle from which to shoot the President of the United States, and a means of escape. Tony Gambino, of New York mob the Gambinos, contended in a 2007 interview that that’s exactly what happened in the JFK assassination, which he also claimed involved members of the government and the Vatican.
View from behind the fence on the grassy knoll
Other believers in the ‘Sewer Man’ sniper base their conclusions on their own ballistics research, with the implication that the trajectory of the fatal shot meant that it could only have been fired from a storm drain in front of the motorcade’s route (with possible support from one or more other snipers located behind a fence on the grassy knoll, where a grate also provided a means of escape into Dallas’s sewer system).
Some have even climbed into the sewers to see if all this was possible – conspiracy theorist researchers being nothing if not committed! On the other hand, more skeptical investigators seem to show that there was no way Kennedy could have been hit from this location, since the car had not driven far enough, and a sewer assassin would not have been able to see his target at the time the shots were fired. What do you think?
3. Black Dog Man
Polaroid taken by Mary Moorman
If you look carefully at this photo – taken a split second after the fatal head shot – you may be able to discern a humanoid shape behind the fence, on the right hand side at the top of the steps. This figure has been dubbed ‘Black Dog Man’ because at first glance it looks a little like a canine of said color.
Close-up highlighting ‘Black Dog Man’
Most people accept that, unlike some other questionably interpreted shadows in this Polaroid, Black Dog Man was human. However, it is the identity of that person which is controversial. Conspiracy theorists postulate that the silhouette belongs to one of JFK’s mysterious assassins. Others are certain it is the outline of a young black woman who witnesses saw eating lunch with a companion nearby.
This couple has, unfortunately, never been identified; they would certainly seem to be people with the capacity to shed some light on the incidents that occurred that fateful day in 1963. That said, considering some of the crazy ideas that surround the assassination, perhaps it’s understandable that they may have wanted to stay out of the spotlight.
2. Badge Man
Detail from the Moorman Polaroid showing ‘Badge Man’
If you look very carefully at the Moorman Polaroid again (see last slide but one), behind the wall and to the right of the stairs (and Black Dog Man), you may be able to make out bushes and shadows. But that’s because you’re not looking hard enough, according to the adherents of this theory. What they see when they train their eyes on the same spot is a uniformed man with a badge who has just fired a gun – the smoke or muzzle flash of which is visible. Such a reading fits in well with the popular ‘shooter on the grassy knoll’ explanation for the assassination, and specifically the notion that Dallas police officers were responsible for JFK’s death. Skeptics, meanwhile, merely see light reflecting off a soda bottle.
A speculative colorized version of the Badge Man close-up
This particular Polaroid, taken by amateur photographer Mary Moorman, has been blown up, enhanced, colorized and analyzed an astonishing number of times. Some researchers even claim that there is not one man in the shadows but three. However, in the view of JFK assassination researcher Dale Meyers, “the Badge Man figure, if truly a human being of average height and build, was located 32 feet behind the fence line and elevated 4.5 feet above the ground – an unreasonable and untenable firing position.”
1. Suspicious Witnesses
Closer view of the grassy knoll picket fence
Many people have lamented that there were no witnesses to what really took place on the grassy knoll the day JFK was assassinated. Gordon Arnold, who came forward in 1978, claims he was that eyewitness. According to Arnold, he was filming the motorcade from his position in front of the picket fence on the knoll when he heard two shots fired from above and behind him. He says he immediately “hit the dirt” – as you would under the circumstances. He also claimed that two policemen confiscated his film and ordered him to leave the area.
In the years since the assassination, at least one other person has also come forward to state that they had film or cameras confiscated. Since all the evidence is missing, however, such stories – and those of others who saw suspicious activities or heard shots from the grassy knoll – are difficult to prove one way or another.
A crowd listens to a radio for news about JFK after the shooting.
Of course, these unproven accounts are a boon for conspiracy theorists, since it is possible to find someone who claims to be a witness to just about any of their hypotheses. It is therefore probably a good idea to keep in mind the words of reporter Hugh Aynesworth, who spoke to people just seconds after the shooting had occurred:
“I remember interviewing a young couple where the guy was telling me that he had seen this and he had seen that, and his wife said, ‘You didn’t see that! We were back in the parking lot when it happened!’ Even then! And, of course, we’ve seen that in abundance since.”
We will probably never really know the full story of what happened the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. No doubt the conspiracy theories will continue to develop, and perhaps even multiply over time. Maybe, if you’re feeling inventive, you could even come up with one of your own! As the above examples show, there’s no theory too implausible if you have a bit of imagination.
Here’s the Zapruder film. Check it out and see what conclusions you come to!