By Steven Martin Kensington
Almost 54 years after the assassination of 35th President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy, new documents have been released about the event. The documents were originally meant to be held classified for 75 years, until 2039, but after the JFK Records Act passed U.S. Congress in 1992, this became 25 years after the act was passed. In other words, the date of the release decreased by about 21 years. However, the U.S. President could prevent the release of some of the documents if he certifies that (1) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and (2) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure. He decided to withhold some hundred documents under pressure from the FBI and CIA.
What We Already Knew
Who killed Kennedy?
It is commonly agreed that the murderer of JFK was 24-year-old Former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. The three shots fired toward the president’s car during his motorcade downtown Dallas, Texas, came from the Texas School Book Depository, with an angle the picture shows below:
Oswald worked in that building as a $1.25/h employee. His co-worker, Charles Givens, testified that the last time he saw Oswald was on the 6th floor 35 minutes before the assassination, and not seen again until after the shooting. He was the only employee reported missing at the time. The previous day he had been to Irving, Texas, where he commonly visited his wife Marina on weekends, supposedly to buy some curtain rods. He left behind his wedding ring and $170 dollars and took with him a large paper bag, which he claimed included curtain rods. Later investigations concluded with that that package actually contained an Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle, which he had purchased the previous March under the alias “A. Hidell.” After the assassination, investigations found the rifle on the 6th floor of that building. The assassination was filmed, and a photographic analysis verified that it was the murder weapon. The Warren Commission, launched by President Lyndon Johnson investigating the Kennedy assassination, claimed a partial palm print of Oswald had been found on the barrel of the gun and a tuft of fibers in a crevice of the rifle being consistent with the fibers and colors of the shirt Oswald was wearing. Oswald denied any shooting, and when presented with the evidence, he claimed it was forged.
Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?
Oswald had a psychiatric assessment in 7th grade at a juvenile reformatory, where the psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs described Oswald as “immersed in a vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which [Oswald] tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations.” Dr. Hartogs also detected a “personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive aggressive tendencies” and recommended him getting continued treatment. When in 4th grade he took an IQ test in which he scored 103, and on achievement tests from grade 4 to 6, he did twice best in reading and twice worst in spelling. His reading abilities came to good use for him, dedicating himself as a Marxist in his diary at age 15, saying he “was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature.”
He was described as withdrawn and temperamental by several of the people who knew him as a child, and at age 12, he struck his mother and threatened the wife of his half-brother with a pocketknife. Oswald quit school for the final time at age 17, having resided at 22 different locations and attended 12 different schools. He then enlisted to the Marine Corps on October 24, 1956, getting his half-brother John Pic to sign his forms because he was underage. Pic later testified that the enlistment was motivated by “wanting to get from out and under … the yoke of oppression from my mother.”
During his time in the Marine he tried teaching himself Russian, and was invited to take a proficiency exam in spoken and written Russian in February 1959, and was nicknamed Oswaldskovich for his pro-Soviet sentiments. He rated poor in understanding of spoken Russian, but did better at reading and writing. He quit the Marines on September 11 the same year, claiming his mother needed care.
He then travelled to the Soviet Union through France, the United Kingdom and Finland, and in the latter buying a Soviet visa and crossed the Soviet border at Vainikkala. His visa was only valid for a week, so he informed his guide of his desire to become a Soviet citizen. His request was denied, and soon before his Intourist guide came to escort him out from the country, he inflicted a minor, but bloody wound to his left wrist in his bathtub, according to his diary, because he wished to kill himself in a way that would shock her. The departure was delayed, and the Soviets put him in a Moscow hospital under psychiatric observation until October 28, 1959. Oswald kept insisting on becoming a Soviet national, until January 1961, when he wrote in his diary that “I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough.” He then requested his U.S. passport back from the embassy, and later moved back to his hometown of Dallas.
On April 10, 1963, he attempted to kill a retired U.S. Major General, Edwin Walker, and his wife testified that it was because Oswald considered him to be the leader of a “fascist organization.” The “fascist organization” supposedly being the John Birch Society.
On May 29 the same year he passed out a lot of “Fair Play for Cuba” leaflets in New Orleans, a month after having moved there on April 24. These leaflets were supportive of Cuban Fidel Castro. He continued with this the next week.
He returned to Dallas on October 2, and got a job at the Texas School Book Depository, which I described above. After FBI agents had visited his wife’s home a couple times, he visited the Dallas FBI office 2-3 weeks before the assassination wanting to see Special Agent James. P. Hosty, and when told he was not available, Oswald left a note saying “Let this be a warning. I will blow up the FBI and the Dallas Police Department if you don’t stop bothering my wife. If you have anything you want to learn about me, come talk to me directly. If you don’t cease bothering my wife, I will take the appropriate action and report this to the proper authorities.”
On November 22, the day of the assassination, he was reported to have been making a phone call on the first floor between 11:45 and 11:50 am, and read a newspaper after the call was finished. Janitor Eddie Piper testified that he spoke to Oswald at 12:00 p.m. Bonnie Ray Williams, another co-worker, was on the sixth floor until 12:10 p.m., and claimed to not see anyone there, though he also said that “some boxes in the southeast corner may have prevented [me] from seeing deep into the sniper’s nest.” Three shots were heard 20 minutes later, and the fourth successful assassination of a United States President had just taken place.
Oswald descended through the rear stairwell and encountered police officer Marrion L. Baker, who had his gun drawn. The officer was accompanied by Oswald’s supervisor, who identified him as an employee and let him pass. Baker claimed Oswald didn’t look “nervous” or “out of breath.” And the clerical supervisor for the depository, Mrs. Robert Reid, claimed she saw that he was “very calm” on the second floor with a Coke in his hands. Reid informed Oswald of the assassination and he responded with some mumbling she could not understand. Oswald left the building at 12:33, “just before police sealed it off.”
He boarded a bus seven minutes later, but requested a transfer due to heavy traffic and took a taxicab to his rooming house, where he, according to his housekeeper Earlene Roberts, immediately went to his room “walking pretty fast,” and left a few minutes later with a jacket he was not wearing earlier. She last saw him at a bus stop. He was seen walking at approximately 1:15 p.m. by J. D. Tippit, a Dallas Patrolman. Tippit drove up alongside Oswald because he resembled the description by Howard Brennan, who witnessed the shooting. They exchanged words, before Tippit exited his car at around 1:15 p.m, and Oswald shot and killed him with four shots. The bullet fragments from Tippit’s body were too damaged to be to be identified as having been shot from Oswald’s revolver, so it could not be made conclusive assessments from them.
Oswald was later seen by Shoe store manager Johnny Brewer, who testified that he had been suspicious of Oswald “ducking into” the entrance alcove of his store, so he watched him up the street and saw him enter a nearby theater without paying. Calling the police at 1:40 p.m., they later found Oswald sitting in the rear of the theater. Oswald seemed to surrender, saying “Well, it is all over now,” and shot an officer, then striking him, though the officer struck back and disarmed Oswald. On the way from the theater, he shouted that he was a victim of police brutality.
Oswald was formally assigned at 7:10 p.m. with the murder of officer Tippit, but at 1:30 a.m., he had also been arraigned for the murder of President Kennedy. After the interrogation, Oswald declared to reporters in a hallway that “I didn’t shoot anybody. They’ve taken me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I’m just a patsy!” During his two days at Dallas Police Headquarters, he was interrogated several times, admitting he went to his rooming house, changing clothes, and arming himself with a .38 revolver after leaving the depository, but he still denied killing both Kennedy and Tippit, and denied owning a rifle though presented with photos of him holding one. He also denied knowing anything about “A. J. Hidell.” In his last interrogation, he claimed that he was “working on an upper floor when the shooting occurred”, then went downstairs where he encountered Dallas motorcycle policeman Marrion L. Baker.
Oswald didn’t want to be represented by any lawyers except of John Abt, chief counsel to the Communist Party USA or lawyers associated with the American Civil Liberties Union. Abt was unavailable. When asked if Oswald was a communist, he responded “No, I am not a communist. I am a Marxist,” whatever his distinction may have been.
Later that day he was being escorted to an armored car to be transferred to a county jail. He was then suddenly shot abdominally by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby from the crowd. Oswald was taken to the same hospital Kennedy was in two days earlier, and died at 1:07 p.m.
Who was Jack Ruby?
Ruby had a troubled childhood and adolescence, and was arrested for truancy at age 11. He often skipped school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research, and as a young man acted as a business agent for a local refuse collector union that later became part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
Ruby served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the second world war, and worked as an aircraft mechanic there from being drafted in 1943 to being discharged in 1946 as a Private First Class. He moved to Dallas in 1947 and went on to manage nightclubs, strip clubs, and dance halls.
He went to Cuba in 1959, supposedly to visit a friend, Dallas gambler Lewis McWillie, who was an associate of Mafia boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. A British journalist who was imprisoned in Cuba at the time testified that Ruby had met directly with Trafficante on those visits. Trafficante was imprisoned after Fidel Castro came to power.
It has been indicated that Ruby had been involved with underworld activities of illegal gambling, narcotics and prostitution. Kenneth Dowe, a Dallas disc jockey, testified that Ruby was known for “precuring women for different people who came to town.”
During the assassination, Ruby was in the advertising offices of the Dallas Morning News, five blocks away from the building Oswald was in, placing the weekly advertisement for his nightclub as he was informed of the assassination around 12:45 p.m., and left the offices before 1:30 p.m. White House correspondent Seth Kantor testified that he had seen Jack Ruby in the Parkland Hospital at around 1:30 p.m., and that Ruby asked him if it would be a good idea to close his nightclubs for the next three nights because of the tragedy.
The Warren Commission dismissed this testimony, saying it must have occurred during a span of a few minutes before and after 1:30 p.m., since evidence was presented by telephone company records that showed both people making calls around then. The House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA) reexamined the testimony in 1979 and claimed Kantor was “probably not [mistaken of the conversation].” Kantor used years of research on the case after his testimony was dismissed by the Warren Commission. Ruby returned to the Carousel club around 1:45 p.m., informing employees of closing the club for the evening.
As District Attorney Henry Wade said in a press conference that Oswald was a member of the anti-Castro Free Cuba Committee, Ruby corrected him by pointing out that that’s “the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization.”
Two day after Kennedy was assassinated, as described, Oswald was being escorted at 11:21 a.m. CST to an armored car to be transferred to county jail. Jack Ruby entered the basement of the Dallas police headquarters via either the Main Street ramp or a stairway accessible from an alleyway next to the Dallas Municipal Building. As Ruby stepped out from a crowd of reporters, he fired a single round from his .38 revolver into Oswald’s abdomen, killing him. The event happened live on the NBC, with millions of viewers. Ruby was then subdued and detained.
As his attorney Tom Howard asked Ruby if there were anything he could think of that might damage his defense, he responded that it would be a problem if the name “Davis” came up, telling him that he “had been involved with Davis, who was a gunrunner entangled in anti-Castro efforts.” Seth Kantor speculated for years of whether this could have been CIA-connected mercenary Thomas Eli Davis III.
Ruby was convicted of murder with malice and sentenced to death on March 14, 1964. He was granted a retrial, and in October 1966, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction and death sentence since he should have been changed to another Texas county than the one in which the high-profile crime had been committed. During the six months following the assassination of Kennedy, he asked repeatedly to talk to the Warren Commission, which at first showed no interest. Ruby asked the commission several times to take him to Washington D.C., and said that “my life is in danger here,” adding “I want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here.” He claimed he wanted to convince President Lyndon Johnson that he did not partake in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
As arrangements were underway for the new trial in February 1967, he was admitted to the Parkland Hospital in December 1966, suffering from pneumonia. Doctors found out the next day that Ruby had cancer in his liver, lungs and brain, and died three weeks later. Kennedy, Oswald and Ruby, the three “main characters” of the event, all died in that same hospital.
In March 1955 he claimed during a news conference that “Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives. The people who had so much to gain, and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I’m in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world.” He was asked by a reporter on whether these were people in very high positions and responded yes.
Al Maddox, Dallas Deputy Sheriff, also claimed “Ruby had told me, ‘they injected me for a cold.’ He said it was cancer cells. That’s what he told me, Ruby did. I said you don’t believe that bullshit. He said, ‘I damn sure do!’ [Then] one day when I started to leave, Ruby shook hands with me and I could feel a piece of paper in his palm… [In this note] he said it was a conspiracy and he said … if you will keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, you’re gonna learn a lot. And that was the last letter I ever got from him.”
In January 1964, the New York Times reported of the disclosure of experiments “in which persons were injected with living cancer cells without their knowledge,” so the claim that Ruby was injected with cancer cells by people in high positions around the previous year is not as inane as it may seem.
Shortly before his death, Ruby had told his psychiatrist, Werner Teuter, that the assassination was “an act of overthrowing the government” and that he knew “who had President Kennedy killed.” He added, “I am doomed. I do not want to die. But I am not insane. I was framed to kill Oswald.”
Journalist Seth Kantor later wrote in his Who Was Jack Ruby that “It would not have been hard for the mob to maneuver Ruby through the ranks of a few negotiable police [to kill Oswald.]” David Scheim presented evidence in his Contract of America that Mafia leaders Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante, Jr., as well as organized labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, ordered the assassination of President Kennedy, citing particularly the 25-fold-increase in out-of-state calls from Jack Ruby to associates of these crime bosses the months before the assassination.
A lot of information has already been presented in the information we have available, but some major questions which require further elaboration are:
• What was Oswald’s motive?
• What was Ruby’s motive?
• How did Ruby enter the Oswald transfer?
• Who are the people Ruby claimed to be connected with?
The Major Questions Discussed Based on Previous Knowledge
What was Oswald’s motive?
The Warren Commission claimed that “he sought for himself a place in history – a role as the ‘great man’ who would be recognized as having been in advance of his times. His commitment to Marxism and communism appears to have been another important factor in his motivation.” They concluded with that he was acting alone.
The HSCA, however, concluded with that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy,” based on an audio recording of the shooting suggesting an additional shot, which again suggested a second gunman, though the committee was “unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” One-third of the members of the HSCA dissented from the conclusion. The acoustic evidence has since been discredited, as a panel of twelve scientists appointed by the National Academy of Sciences had unanimously concluded in 1982 that the evidence was “seriously flawed”; recorded after the President had been shot; and did not indicate additional gunshots. The conclusions were published in the journal Science.
A Gallup Poll taken in 2013 showed that 61% of Americans believed that Kennedy were killed in a conspiracy, with only 30% thinking Oswald acted alone.
Further hints for his motive have not been observed during the analysis of previously available public documents.
What was Ruby’s motive?
Ruby claiming to have been framed has been discussed above, but before that, he claimed to have done it because he was “distraught over the President’s death;” to “help the city of Dallas redeem itself in the eyes of the public;” and “spare Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial.”
When TV newsman Vic Robertson Jr. saw Ruby on the night of the assassination, he said Ruby “appeared to be anything but under stress or strain. He seemed happy, jovial, was joking and laughing.” Another person who testified, Announcer Glen Duncan, claimed Ruby “was not grieving,” but rather “happy that evidence was piling up against Oswald.”
Ruby was accused by several associates as a man only doing things for publicity or money, and could not imagine Ruby doing anything out of patriotism, and, according to a Dallas reporter who knew Ruby well, Tony Zoppi, “One would have to be crazy to entrust Ruby with anything as important as a high-level plot to kill Kennedy since he couldn’t keep a secret for five minutes… Jack was one of the most talkative guys you would ever meet. He’d be the worst fellow in the world to be part of a conspiracy, because he just plain talked too much.” Seth Kantor also testified that Ruby may have tampered with evidence while at Parkland.
Here it seems pretty much up to whose narrative you trust more. If you believe Ruby’s story, he was framed and was part of a mass conspiracy; and if you believe his former associates, he couldn’t’ve kept a secret for a second due to his talkativity, and the story would only have been made up for publicity. In any case, it’s a bit suspicious that he suddenly had gotten cancer in three organs after saying he had been injected with cancer cells, and there having been confirmed such experiments around those years.
How did Ruby enter the Oswald transfer?
The HSCA opined in its 1979 Final Report:
…Ruby’s shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act, in that it involved at least some premeditation. Similarly, the committee believed it was less likely that Ruby entered the police basement without assistance, even though the assistance may have been provided with no knowledge of Ruby’s intentions… The committee was troubled by the apparently unlocked doors along the stairway route and the removal of security guards from the area of the garage nearest the stairway shortly before the shooting… There is also evidence that the Dallas Police Department withheld relevant information from the Warren Commission concerning Ruby’s entry to the scene of the Oswald transfer.
They did not, to the extent of my knowledge, discuss who could have assisted Ruby in getting this access.
Who are the people Ruby claimed to be connected with?
Ruby was known to be acquainted with both the police and the Mafia. The HSCA stated that he had known Chicago mobster Sam Giancana and Joseph Campisi since 1947. A PBS Frontline investigation reported that Sam and Joe Campisi were leading figures in the Dallas underworld in 1963, and that he had been seen with them on several occasions. The Campisis were lieutenants of Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, who had reportedly talked of killing President Kennedy.
Ruby went to Joe Campisi’s restaurant the day before Kennedy were assassinated. Ruby also asked the Campisis to come see him after he was arrested for the shooting of Oswald. Joe Campisi visited him in jail for ten minutes on November 30.
An investigation into Ruby’s Cuban related activities was terminated by Howard P. Willens – the third highest official in the Department of Justice – who helped organize the Warren Commission. A Tony Accardo allegedly asked Jack Ruby back in 1946 to go to Texas with some Mafia associates to “make sure that Dallas County Sheriff Steve Gutherie would acquiesce to the Mafia’s expansion into Dallas.” An FBI report suggested that Willens’ father was the next door neighbor of Tony Accardo in 1958.
This connection has been duly criticized, most notably by Ruby’s prosecutor, Bill Alexander, rejecting any suggestion that Ruby was part-and-parcel of organized crime, and said that the “conspiracy theorists” based it on the claim that “A knew B, and Ruby knew B back in 1950, so he must have known A, and that must be the link to the conspiracy.”
Oswald gave no further information of the people he claimed to be connected with other than them being in “very high positions,” but perhaps information about the Campisis and Carlos Marcello could give us some more hints.
What We’ve Learned
Despite it being released around 2800 new documents, there’s frankly not a lot of groundbreaking information to be found here, or even many relevant ones. There were some big findings outside of the Kennedy assassination case, like CIA plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro, and Lyndon B. Johnson allegedly being a member of the KKK in the earlier days of his political career, but of the few notable relevant findings, there were:
• A man in a New Orleans bar tried betting $100 that Kennedy would be dead within three weeks, two weeks before the assassination. The guy who saw him could not describe the man beyond being “a working man.”
• Soviet authorities denied recruiting Oswald for civil service, claiming he “showed little interest in Marxism,” and was a “neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else.”
• Oswald called the Soviet embassy in September 28 and October 1, 1963, to talk to Valeriy Vladimirovich Kotikov, a Soviet KGB officer, to “learn if the Soviet Embassy had received a reply from Washington concerning his request.” The writers of the document did not have any information about what this request was, but it was regarding a telegram he had sent to Washington earlier. It was confirmed “the request” had been sent, but no response had been made.
• There was a rumor that Oswald had deposited five thousand dollars in a bank in the United States. Details were not provided.
• FBI received a call in their Dallas office on November 23 from a man saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald. The FBI warned the Dallas police and ordered them to increase their protection, “however, this was not done.”
• Officials in the Communist Party in the Soviet Union believed “there was some well-organized conspiracy on the part of the ‘ultra-right’ in the United States to effect a ‘coup’.”
• KGB claimed in late 1965 to be “in possession of data purporting to indicate [that] President Johnson was responsible for the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy.”
• FBI’s Dallas division was looking for Oswald before the assassination.
• An anonymous person called the senior reporter of Cambridge News 25 minutes before the assassination to say that the reporter “should call the American Embassy in London for some big news” and then hung up. The Cambridge reporter had never received a call like that before.
There’s not a lot more answers to the big questions here, but there are certainly some hints. Several people seemed to foresee the event; FBI had been warned by the people who claimed to plot killing Oswald the day before; and KGB claimed to have information tying LBJ to the conspiracy of killing Kennedy.
The Independent, however, did a rather fascinating discovery:
The records … reveal a deposition given before the presidential Commission on CIA Activities in 1975 by Richard Helms, who had served as the agency’s director. After a discussion of Vietnam, David Belin, and attorney for the commission, turned to whether the CIA was involved in Kennedy’s killing.
“Well, now, the final area of my investigation relates to charges that the CIA was in some way conspiratorially involved with the assassination of President Kennedy. During the time of the Warren Commission, you were Deputy Director of Plans, is that correct? Belin asked.
After Helms replied that he was, Belin than asked: “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent…”
Then suddenly, the document cuts off.
They did not provide any link to the document cited.
The remaining documents have been set under review for the next 180 days, and the new deadline for the release of more of the documents is April 26, 2018.
https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/docid-32263509.pdf [Call from “committee organized to kill Oswald]
https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/docid-32204484.pdf [Soviets denounce Oswald and claim the assassination to be a conspiracy perpetrated by the ultra-right or LBJ]
https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/docid-32364160.pdf [Oswald spoke to the Soviet embassy a few months before assassination.]
https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/docid-32197130.pdf [Dallas police looked for Oswald before assassination]
https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/docid-32389606.pdf [British newspaper “warned in advance”]