The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest man ever elected as president. His inaugural speech was like a wake-up call to the entire nation, challenging them to strive toward higher goals, not just to dream about how the country could be but how, working together, citizens could make their dream come true.
Kennedy’s speech became one of the most famous speeches ever made. This is one page of a handwritten draft. Notice the date in the upper right corner.
The Kennedys were the very picture of youth, vitality, wealth and glamour. Mrs. Kennedy set the standard for style, wearing designer fashions.
John Kennedy was the second oldest son born into a wealthy Irish Catholic family in Boston, Massachusetts. His father served as an ambassador to England when John was a teen.
In World War II, JFK became a hero when his PT-boat was cut in half and he swam to safety, saving the life of one of his shipmates in the process.
JFK was known for his intelligence (He had won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for his book, Portraits in Courage.) and his wit, but the public loved to see him with his children.
Civil Rights Vietnam
Urban Renewal Bay of Pigs
Poverty Cold War
Education Cuban Missile Crisis
Because of a political feud brewing within the Democratic Party in Texas, President Kennedy was asked to come for a visit and try to settle the arguments. He was warned by aides and security personnel that he might be walking into a bee’s nest. Kennedy’s determination to stop segregation and the failure at the Bay of Pigs had made him many enemies in the south.
• 11:37 a.m.: Air Force 1 landed at Dallas Love Field. The president and the first lady, Jackie, were with Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird.
A crowd of 200,000 people welcomed the president's open top limousine as the motorcade passed through downtown on the way to a banquet for 2,600 at the Dallas Trade Mart.
• limousine as the motorcade passed through downtown on the way to a banquet for 2,600 at the Dallas Trade Mart. 12:30 p.m.: The president was fatally shot as he smiled and waved to the crowd. Texas Governor John Connally was wounded.
• limousine as the motorcade passed through downtown on the way to a banquet for 2,600 at the Dallas Trade Mart. 12:32 p.m.: A clerk named Lee Harvey Oswald was seen in the second-floor lunchroom of the Texas School Book Depository, a textbook distribution building facing the plaza. About 35 minutes before, Oswald had been spotted on the sixth floor.
• limousine as the motorcade passed through downtown on the way to a banquet for 2,600 at the Dallas Trade Mart. 1 p.m.: President Kennedy was pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital, sending shockwaves around the world.
• limousine as the motorcade passed through downtown on the way to a banquet for 2,600 at the Dallas Trade Mart. 1:12 p.m.: Witnesses send police into the Texas School Book Depository where they discovered a barricade of boxes, three bullet cartridges and a paper bag by a corner window on the 6th floor. Minutes later they found a rifle stuffed between boxes near the staircase.
This evidence, along with fingerprints and palm prints found on two boxes, later led them to Oswald, who had started working at the depository the month before. Investigators also searched the rail yards and grassy knoll at one end of it. No evidence was found there.
• on two boxes, later led them to Oswald, who had started working at the depository the month before. Investigators also searched the rail yards and grassy knoll at one end of it. No evidence was found there. 1:18 p.m.: Patrolman J.D. Tippit was shot in a section of the city south of downtown. Within the hour, Oswald was caught at the Texas Theatre after a witness said he saw him at the Tippit shooting. Police quickly tied him to the Tippit murder and the assassination.
• on two boxes, later led them to Oswald, who had started working at the depository the month before. Investigators also searched the rail yards and grassy knoll at one end of it. No evidence was found there. 2:38 p.m.: Vice President Johnson took the oath of office as president aboard Air Force One, with Mrs. Kennedy at his side.
Oswald was shot and killed while he was being transferred from the city jail to the county jail.
The shooter, Jack Ruby, was a local nightclub owner. Ruby was later convicted and sentenced to death. The verdict was overturned on appeal. In January 1967, as Ruby waited for a second trial, he died of cancer…at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
…And from the moment Ruby shot Oswald, the idea that JFK’s assassination was a conspiracy took seed.
On Nov. 29, 1963, exactly one week after the shooting in Dallas,President Johnson appointed a special commission, led by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination. Eleven months later on Sept. 24, 1964, the Warren Commission published its report which concluded that Oswald acted alone when he killed JFK. Questions about errors and omissions in the Warren Report lead to more official investigations.
Some believe that Oswald never shot Kennedy at all. They base this on:
The “magic bullet theory” says that only one bullet hit Kennedy from the back, exited out the front of his neck and then continued on to hit Gov. Connally in the back, wrist and leg. The bullet eventually “fell out” of Connally's leg and was found on his stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
As you can see from this diagram, the bullet would have had to perform some acrobatics to have passed through the bodies of two people as well as through the back of Gov. Connally’s seat.
Take a closer look at this bullet. For a bullet to pass through dense bones and thick upholstery, it would have to bear dents and scratches. This bullet is in nearly perfect condition which led experts to believe that it cannot possibly be the same bullet that the Warren Commission claimed was responsible for so many wounds.
For Oswald to have been the lone shooter, all three shots that the Warren Commission said were fired would have been fired from in back of the limousine.
But Gov. John and Mrs. Connally were positive that the governor was hit by a second shot. They have never wavered in this.
Mrs. Connally told LIFE magazine in an interview in 1966. "As far as the the first two shots go, my memory is divided into four distinct events. First I heard the shot, or a strange loud noise - I'm not that expert on rifles - back behind us. Then next I turned to my right and saw the President gripping at his throat. Then I turned back toward John (Gov. Connally), and I heard the second shot that hit John...I must have been looking right at him when it hit because I saw him recoil to the right...so you see I had time to look at the President after he was already hit, then turn and see John hit by a second shot. Then of course, he slumped and I reached to pull him toward me."
For the Connallys to be right about the sequence and direction of the shots, the shot that hit President Kennedy in the neck and seconds later, the fatal shot, would mean:
One of the bystanders jamming Elm Street that day for a glimpse of the president was a man named Abraham Zapruder. He had brought along his home movie camera. What Zapruder shot is the only known film of the entire assassination, a silent 8mm color recording of the Kennedy motorcade before, during, and immediately after the shooting.
In two major investigations into the assassination -- the Warren Commission in 1963-1964 and House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977-1978 – the film was used to answer questions about how the shooting happened.
Ballistic experts have examined the Zapruder film and used it to trace what they believe is the trajectory (path) each bullet followed. Many believe that the front shots came from a grassy knoll with a high fence separating it from the rail yard.
In a murder investigation, there are certain steps that police would take – examining blood spills, taking fingerprints, examining the deceased’s clothing, etc. – which were never done in Dallas. Perhaps because the murder of Oswald came so quickly after the assassination that police let some parts of the investigation slide. Or perhaps the Dallas Police Department was just as stunned as the rest of the nation and in their frantic efforts to arrest the assassin they rushed to some wrong conclusions.
Here are some things we will never know and why: direction of the shots, the shot that hit President Kennedy in the neck and seconds later, the fatal shot, would mean:
Governor Connally’s suit and other personal belongings he wore that day were evidence but they were never examined. Why? Vice President Johnson had Connally’s suit sent to the dry cleaners and Connally’s Stetson hat and the gold cufflink from his shirtsleeve are missing.
Any investigation into the autopsy performed at Bethesda, which was so flawed that it has been called a “tragedy”, would prove inconclusive. Why? Forensic autopsy photos are missing, the original draft of the autopsy report may have been destroyed, and the president’s brain is missing.
What ELSE could go wrong? which was so flawed that it has been called a “tragedy”, would prove inconclusive.
A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. following an argument between Dallas police and Secret Service agents, JFK’s body was taken from Parkland Hospital and driven to Air Force One. The body was removed before undergoing a forensic examination by the Dallas coroner, which was against Texas state law (the murder was a state crime, and occurred under Texas legal jurisdiction.) Why? Vice President Johnson had ordered that the autopsy be performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
Minutes after President Kennedy was pronounced dead, Vice President Johnson, along with his wife and later, Mrs. Kennedy – all eyewitnesses to the assassination – took off in Air Force One to return to Washington, D.C. None of them had even been questioned by the Dallas Police.
Will We Ever Know What Really Happened? President Johnson, along with his wife and later, Mrs. Kennedy – all eyewitnesses to the assassination – took off in Air Force One to return to Washington, D.C. None of them had even been questioned by the Dallas Police.
From 1976 to 1979, an investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations was conducted and its official conclusion was that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy as a result of a probable conspiracy. Would a new investigation clear Oswald? Would it lead us to the conspirators?
In 1964, President Johnson ordered the Warren Commission documentations to be sealed against public availability for 75 years (until 2039). In 1992, Congress overturned this by enacting the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 which orders all documents related to the assassination that have not been destroyed to be released to the public by no later than 2017.
And on May 19, 2044, the 50th anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, if her last child has died, the JFK Library will release to the public a 500-page transcript of an oral history about John F. Kennedy given by Mrs. Kennedy before her death in 1994. But the question remains – will we even know then?