JFK assassination: 60 years on, are we nearer the truth? 2
Kennedy (left) sat smiling in the back of the limousine just moments before his assassination in Dallas in November 1963. Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

JFK assassination: 60 years on, are we nearer the truth?

From Oliver Stone's "JFK" to the upcoming "Assassination," filmmakers and writers have long tried to uncover the truth behind John F Kennedy's assassination.
John Silk | Nov 22 2023

As the first shot was fired upon the motorcade driving through Dallas on November 22, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy clutched at his throat. Seconds later, his head rocked back as he received the fatal blow.

Kennedy's shocking assassination was famously captured on 8mm color film by amateur filmmaker Abraham Zapruder. Having filmed from a prime position on the route of the motorcade, Zapruder's graphic footage of Kennedy receiving two separate gun shots frames endless books, documentaries and movies about his assasination.

The footage has also allowed some to entertain the idea that suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a then 24-year-old former marine, did not act alone. The Warren Commission, the body that investigated the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's death, adjudicated that Oswald fired three shots from the nearby Texas School Book Depository and that the second and third shots hit Kennedy’s neck and head. 

Now, 60 years since the day that shook the world, many continue to question the origins of those history-defining gun shots. 

For example, upcoming film "Assassination," to be helmed by Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino, John Travolta, Viggo Mortensen, Shia LaBeouf and Courtney Love, will explore the theory of the Chicago mob's connection with Kennedy's assassination.


Diverse assassination theories

Scripted by two-time Oscar nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner, David Mamet, "Assassination" tells of how Chicago mobster, Sam Giancana, ordered the hit on President John F. Kennedy for trying to bring down organized crime — after the mob helped put JFK in the White House.

Perhaps the most well-known theory was explored in Oliver Stone's 1994 epic, "JFK." Kevin Costner played New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who discovered there was more to the Kennedy assassination than the Warren Commission had concluded. Garrison and his team theorized Oswald was an agent of the CIA and was framed for the assassination.

Kennedy was seated behind Texas Governor John B. Connally and beside his wife Jacqueline, moments before his assassination
Kennedy was seated behind Texas Governor John B. Connally and beside his wife Jacqueline, moments before his assassination. Image: Cinema Publishers Collection/imago images

Oswald spent time in the USSR, leading many to speculate over Moscow's influence. Some books have speculated the influence of Cuba, with Kennedy keen to remove the communist revolutionary Fidel Castro from power.

The FBI and the man who succeeded Kennedy as president, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), have also had the finger pointed at them.

"The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ" is a book penned by Roger Stone, a Donald Trump associate, which posits that Kennedy's successor had worked with mobsters and US intelligence to kill the president.

Many of these speculative books and films have been released on or near significant anniversaries of Kennedy’s death, including Stone’s book, which came out 50 years after the assassination in 2013.


Final witness speaks after decades of silence

In September this year, The New York Times honed in on the account of Paul Landis, one of the secret service agents who was just feet away from Kennedy when he was shot.

Landis' account, included in a forthcoming memoir, challenges the "single-bullet theory" of the Warren Commission that one of three bullets pierced the neck of Kennedy before hitting Texas Governor John B. Connally sitting in the front seat, injuring his back, chest, wrist and thigh. 

Landis was never interviewed by the Warren Commission, a startling fact given his proximity to the event.

The now 88-year-old has remained silent on the matter for 60 years. Until now.

He writes in his book, "The Final Witness," released last month, that he does not want to promote conspiracy theories regarding Kennedy's death. However, if he refutes the claim that one bullet could have caused so much damage, it would mean Oswald was not the only shooter.

Meanwhile, the 1993 book "Case Closed" by Gerald Posner concludes that "Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone."

Oswald was shot dead just two days after Kennedy's assassination by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. The Warren Commission found no evidence that Ruby had been involved in JFK's assassination; nor that his killing of Oswald was part of a cover-up.

Ruby shot Oswald on live TV
Ruby shot Oswald on live TV. Image: Globe-ZUMA/picture alliance

In December of 2022, the US National Archives released 13,173 documents relating to the assassination of JFK.

The move meant 97% of documents related to the assassination have now been made public. It followed a similar release of files by the Trump administration in 2017.


A never-ending story

The Kennedy family appears to have been cursed. Whether it be JFK's younger brother Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated as he embarked on a presidential campaign in 1968, or youngest brother Edward Kennedy, whose own political ambitions were scuppered after leaving the scene of a car accident which caused the death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Then there was the plane crash that saw John F. Kennedy Jr., the son and namesake of the former US president, die when the light aircraft he was flying crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on July 16, 1999.

Kennedy Jr. had attended his father's funeral in 1963 at the tender age of three, saluting the casket in an innocent yet inadvertently powerful gesture that would become an iconic image.

John F. Kennedy Jr salutes his slain father in one of the iconic images of the 1960s
John F. Kennedy Jr salutes his slain father in one of the iconic images of the 1960s. Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

From extra-marital affairs with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, his war-time heroics, support for civil rights, and prescient vows to head to the moon, Kennedy has never failed to fascinate —  especially in death.

60 years since the president was slain in his open limousine, speculation over the motive for his death could well continue for decades to come.

As "JFK" director Oliver Stone once said of the idea that Oswald acted alone. The American public "never accepted it. They smell a rat."