Separated by 15 years that encompassed a tumultuous period in American history, the two official U.S. government investigations into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reached widely divergent conclusions. While they added significantly to the body of knowledge about the major players in the assassination, each seemed to raise new questions for every one answered. Here are brief summaries:
Formed soon after the assassination and chaired by U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, the commission published its report the following fall and stated in no uncertain terms that it was Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, who fired three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He also shot and killed Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit about 45 minutes later while attempting to flee, the commission concluded.
The commission hedged on the so-called “Magic Bullet” theory that asserted one bullet passed through the president’s throat and then struck Texas Gov. John Connally’s chest and wrist before lodging in his thigh. While there was a “difference of opinion” on the matter, the report concluded, there was no doubt among commission members that the three shots emanated from the book depository.
Concerning Oswald’s murder at the hands of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby two days later, the commission concluded the two men had never met and that it had found “no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.”
The commission faulted the Secret Service for not checking the motorcade route adequately for possible sniper’s nests and the FBI for not sharing what it knew about Oswald with the Secret Service before the assassination.
U.S. HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE ON ASSASSINATIONS
The committee was formed in the mid-1970s in the wake of the Watergate scandal and subsequent revelations about CIA activities — including information about the agency’s anti-Castro efforts not divulged to the Warren Commission.
Its conclusion was stunning, though tempered by its choice of language: Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” but investigators were unable to identify a second gunman or the extent of the conspiracy. The committee ruled out the Cuban and Soviet governments as well as the Secret Service, FBI and CIA; it didn’t rule out the possible involvement of individual members of organized crime or anti-Castro Cuban groups.
The finding was based on sound impulses from a motorcycle cop’s stuck microphone in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza that acoustics experts said recorded four shots, including one from the infamous “grassy knoll” that missed. The acoustics evidence has since been challenged, and the question is considered unresolved.
Given the benefit of hindsight, the committee criticized the Warren Commission for failing to adequately investigate the possibility of a conspiracy, though it conceded this was partly due to “the failure of the Commission to receive all the relevant information that was in the possession of other agencies and departments of the Government.”