Chance, Not Conspiracy, In The Death Of JFK
Kenneth A. Rahn
19 November 2003
We Americans have been deluged for decades by tales of conspiracy in JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963. As a result, most of us believe that it happened that way. But the facts are very different—Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy alone, then two days later Jack Ruby shot Oswald alone. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the assassination, it is essential to hear the real story of the assassination.
Parallel strands of chance brought President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald together. Oswald moved to Dallas just when the Texas School Book Depository was hiring seasonal workers. He needed work badly, and one of his wife’s neighbors had a brother who had just started work there. She suggested that Oswald try it, too. His wife’s landlady got him an interview the next day, and he was hired. He began on October 16th, weeks before a motorcade through Dallas had been decided on.
Kennedy was brought to Oswald by three strokes of chance. The first was the last-minute cancellation of Kennedy’s honorary degree by Texas Christian University in Forth Worth. That created a slot only partially filled by a breakfast event there. To complete the schedule JFK decided on a motorcade in Dallas, the second stroke of chance.
The third stroke was choosing the venue for the luncheon on the 22nd. Kennedy and the Secret Service preferred one location, but Governor Connally insisted on the Dallas Trade Mart and won out. With the first location, the motorcade would have passed through the middle of Dealey Plaza at high speed and with Mrs. Kennedy between Oswald and JFK. The new site required driving slowly along the edge of the plaza, in the opposite direction and right in front of the depository. This brought Kennedy within easy shooting range and made him a slower, unshielded target. The route first appeared in the papers only three days ahead of time.
Although these sequences of events were improbable, they were no more so than any sequence we could name. Unpredictable events occur every minute every day, but we focus on the tiny fraction that yield spectacular results. We should not forget all the public events where presidents have not been shot, including Kennedy’s six previous motorcades on the same trip.
Oswald and Ruby were also drawn together by parallel strands of chance. Oswald was brought to Ruby by two unforeseeable delays in his 10 a.m. transfer from City to County Jail, one for an hour’s further interrogation by the chief postal inspector—who skipped church at the last minute to see whether he could help the police—and another by Oswald’s last-minute request for a dark sweater for TV.
Ruby was drawn to Oswald when he decided to close his nightclubs for the weekend because of the assassination. That threw his dancers out of work. One of them called him Sunday morning for $25 for food and rent. Ruby went downtown to wire her the money. With his favorite dog Sheba in the car, he left home an hour after Oswald should have been transferred. He wired the money and walked over to the police station, where he had noticed a small crowd outside. Arriving just as a truck came up the ramp and distracted the guard, he ducked into the basement. When Oswald appeared a minute later, Ruby lunged forward and shot him with the pistol he routinely carried to protect the large amounts of cash he usually kept on his person ($2000 that day). Save for every event in these two unplanned series, Ruby could not have killed Oswald. Extraordinary sequences to be sure, but with no room for conspiracy.
Clearing Oswald and Ruby removes the major impetus for thinking conspiracy. But couldn’t there have been some level of conspiracy? If not, then two important predictions follow. All evidence offered for conspiracy will fail, and conspiracy theories proposed anyhow will vary widely in specifics because they are all ungrounded in reality.
The evidence for conspiracy has in fact failed. JFK’s dramatic rearward lurch (Oliver Stone’s famous “back and to the left”), purportedly caused by a shot from the Grassy Knoll, starts too late and develops too slowly to be from a bullet. The “magic,” or “pristine,” bullet, too “undamaged” to pass through both men, was deformed in precisely the manner expected for jacketed bullets hitting flesh. (It also had such overwhelming penetrating power that it was used for decades to hunt elephants.) The ephemeral shooter on the knoll turns out to be the product of echoes, confusion, and overactive imagination applied to single grainy print. The acoustical evidence allegedly revealing a shot from the knoll was actually recorded by a microphone miles away from Dealey Plaza.
Also as predicted, conspiracy theories have been all over the map. In more than 100 conspiracy scenarios over the last 40 years, theory-makers have claimed there were anywhere from 3 to 10 shots fired by 2 to 6 gunmen working for 30 to 40 different combinations of instigators. They fired rifles, pistols, and even poison darts out of umbrellas. They shot from the depository, the adjacent Dal-Tex Building, the knoll, the railroad overpass, the roofs of at least two buildings, a storm drain, the curb, and even from inside the presidential limousine. They worked independently or in teams under radio control. Nearly 70 people were said to be in Dealey Plaza for nefarious purposes, leaving room for hardly anyone else. Sponsors include Cuba, Russia, China, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Great Britain, Israel, the Jews, the Protestants, the Catholics, the Mafia, oil-rich Texans, the FBI, the CIA, the left wing, the right wing, and the “invisible Nazi substructure.” Such chaotic thinking is the hallmark of ungrounded fantasy. It should come as no surprise that the JFK conspiracy case is going nowhere, despite loud claims to the contrary. After 40 years of unremitting search, the critical evidence remains largely as it was days after the assassination: JFK was killed by two bullets fired from Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle.
Forty years of failed speculation are enough. It is time to admit there was no conspiracy and there was never any serious evidence for it. The real story of the assassination is this: Kennedy was killed by one misfit guy, a cheap but effective rifle, a good vantage point from the building where he worked, and a run of fortuitous events.
It is over. We must realize that this horrible event was not some evil plot. It was the product of chance, not conspiracy.
The author is Professor Emeritus at the University of Rhode Island. Co-signed by Steve Barber, John Cahill, Jean Davison, Joe Durnavich, Joel Grant, Martin Kelly, David Reitzes, Rob Spencer, and Larry Sturdivan (in alphabetical order). The group represents 200 years of study into all the facts of the JFK assassination.