By Max Holland
On November 29, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson directed the Warren Commission to “evaluate all the facts” in the brutal November 22 murder of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, on a downtown Dallas street in broad daylight. Reduced to its bare essentials, the investigation sought answers to three fundamental questions: Who, why and how?
“Why” was entirely contingent on “who,” and that depended on “how.” Thus, the linchpin of the Warren Report—and every subsequent investigation—has always been precisely how Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza. That is the finding from which all the important answers flow; mishandle that question and the credibility of the entire report is undermined. The Warren Commission’s bungling of “how” is a primary reason why there have been so many residual doubts and conspiracy theories over the past 50 years.
In the 1964 Warren Report, just seven pages (of 888) reconstruct the shooting sequence. Three spent cartridges were found in the sniper’s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, corroborating the testimony of most ear- and eyewitnesses that three shots were fired. But after 10 months of investigation, the report did not present a compelling explanation of the sequence; instead it offered up three slightly different scenarios. In each, one of the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald fatally hit Kennedy in the head; another struck and passed through the president before hitting Texas Governor John Connally; and the third shot fired by Oswald…well, the commission could not say where that bullet went or even when it was fired. Depending on which of the three scenarios one favored, the total time span of the assassination ranged from as little as 4.8 seconds “to in excess of 7 seconds.”
The story of how the Warren Commission fumbled this pivotal question is long and convoluted, and only the barest outline can be presented here. The saga involved not just the lawyer-dominated commission and staff but also the FBI, the Secret Service and the media, primarily the then-mighty Time Inc. empire. The crucial element, of course, was the most famous movie ever taken by a cameraman, the 26-second-long Zapruder film.
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