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JFK assassination: 50 years ago today the conspiracy theories began

November 22, 2013|By Morgan Little

It was the assassination that launched a thousand conspiracy theories. Soon after President John F. Kennedy was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, the "who killed Kennedy?" debate began, and 50 years later, it continues.

There have been books, movies and television shows devoted to the topic. Never mind the official ruling of the Warren Commission, that fact-finding committee established by the U.S. government. The majority of Americans -- 61% -- believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

That contradicts the commission’s conclusion that Oswald, and Oswald alone, planned and carried out the killing of the president.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the shooting, rekindling  speculation about the “true” identity of Kennedy’s killer, which, depending on whom you ask, could be the KGB or lizard people.

Below are some of the top theories. There tends to be in many theories a mix of fact, presumption, rumor, falsehood and even gymnastic leaps of logic.  But each, at one point or another, has been seen to hold water -- if not by authorities then by conspiracy theorists.

Organized crime

It’s been revealed the government had several ties to organized crime in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the particular aim of removing Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. Many conspiracy theorists have taken this revelation and from it concluded that organized criminals, displeased with Kennedy’s inability to eliminate Castro, played a role in his eventual assassination.

A report filed to the Select Committee on Assassinations concluded several prominent criminal leaders had motives to assassinate Kennedy. For example, New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello was targeted by Robert Kennedy’s anti-crime crusade; however, no concrete evidence exists proving the mob’s involvement.

Furthermore, the committee discounted the possibility of organized criminal involvement, though it admitted “the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.”

The same panel concluded Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald as he was being transported by officials, although a minor criminal, was acting out of " 'genuine shock and grief' and strong affection for President Kennedy and his family.”

Photo: Nikita Khrushchev, seen in 1961. (Associated Press)

The Soviet Union

The most obvious scapegoat of them all, the Soviet Union, and Kennedy had sparred several times already during the president’s first term, with the two nearly going to war during the Cuban missile crisis. After the Soviet Union left Cuba, the theorists suggest, the nation set out to bring about Kennedy’s death.

Oswald’s complicated history with the Soviet Union muddies the water further, as he defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 before returning to the U.S., in June of 1962. Oswald was long sympathetic to communist causes and visited the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City seven weeks before the shooting.

But FBI sources within the Soviet Union have documented the response to the shootings in Russia. Apparently caught unaware, the Soviets scrambled to identify those responsible and gather extensive intelligence about the new president, fearing any unpredictable elements.

Col. Boris Ivanov, chief of the KGB in New York City, reportedly went so far as to label the assassination a problem for the organization and directed resources toward discovering who was responsible and mitigating any fallout.

fidel castro
Photo: Fidel Castro, seen in 1961. (Alan Oxley / Getty Images)

Fidel Castro

The theory the Kennedy assassination was sponsored by Cuba is based on a simple “eye-for-an-eye” equation: The CIA tried several times during Kennedy’s administration to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro so,  in exchange, Castro provided the means for Oswald to kill Kennedy.

Speculation was fueled by the testimony of Clare Boothe Luce, former ambassador and wife of Time publisher Henry Luce.

She claimed she had received a call the night of the assassination from a member of an anti-Castro group. Oswald had allegedly approached the group with the offer to kill Castro, but upon further inspection of Oswald’s past, her source said they had learned  Oswald was a hired gun for the Cuban government.

Oswald also visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, though what he did there is disputed.

But both the Warren Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations found no evidence of Cuban involvement, and attempts to discover Luce’s sources were in vain.

But even LBJ alluded to Castro’s possible involvement, telling ABC reporter Howard K. Smith,  “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first,” in 1968.

Photo: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president after JFK's death. (Getty Images)

Lyndon B. Johnson

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