Opinions Are Not Evidence

One thing that might impress somebody pondering the possibility of a conspiracy is the sheer number of people who believe in a conspiracy.  And not just the guy on the barstool at the corner pub, going on about the CIA and Area 51 between beers.  A lot of fairly important and substantial people have believed in a JFK assassination conspiracy.  One statement of this fact comes from Prof. Gerald D. McKnight, who responded to a review essay critical of conspiracy theories by asserting:


. . . the list of “conspiracy theorists” is both lengthy and impressive: President Lyndon Johnson (who on an off moment told his old friend and office aide, Marvin Watson, that JFK was a victim of a plot and the CIA was involved); President Richard Nixon (who called the Warren Commission “a hoax”); Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, William Attwood (JFK’s special adviser dealing with Cuba at the UN); Senator Richard Russell, Gary Hart and Richard Schweiker (both of the Senate Intelligence Committee); seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee and the Committee’s chief counsel, Robert Blakey; JFK associates Joe Dolan, Fred Dutton, Richard Goodwin, Pete Hamill, Frank Mankiewicz, Larry O’Brien, Kenny O’Donnell, and Walter Sheridan; Presidential physician Dr. George Burkley, CIA Director John McCone, James Rowley, head of the Secret Service.[1]


This list might seem especially impressive if we know that these are people in government.  They have inside connections.    So they must know the inside scoop, right?


Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that several people on the list don’t belong.  As we will see, Richard Nixon didn’t think the Warren Commission was a hoax, he thought the way the  political left had manipulated conspiracy theories to blame the right was a hoax.   We asked McKnight why he included CIA Director John McCone and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on the list.  He explained that both men knew that there was an “Oswald imposter” in Mexico City, and both men (along with the Warren Commission) conspired “to cover up the fact that Dallas was the work of more than one lone unhinged gunman.” [2]  So the claim that they where “conspiracy theorists” assumes they agreed with McKnight’s reading of the evidence about an “imposter.” There is no evidence either man did.

Did Richard Nixon Say the Warren Commission Was a Hoax?

It’s not clear why one should care what Richard Nixon thought of the Warren Commission, but conspiracy web sites frequently quote Nixon as saying that the Warren Commission was a “hoax.”  That claim came from the semi-respectable BBC, which filed a story in 2002 which discussed the release of a large batch of Nixon Oval Office tapes, and claimed:


In the . . . conversation, Nixon gave new fodder for conspiracy theorists who question whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the only shooter involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy.


Referring to the report by the Warren Commission, “it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated,” Nixon said. He did not elaborate why he questioned the report.[3]


Faced with something like this, one should instinctively ask “what exactly did Nixon actually say?  What was the context?”  Happily, Cable News Network posted a partial transcript of the Oval Office conversation.  The context was the shooting, in 1972, of George Wallace by Arthur Bremer.  The relevant passage reads as follows:


NIXON: Why don’t we play the game a bit smarter for a change. They pinned the assassination of Kennedy on the right wing, the Birchers. It was done by a Communist and it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated. And I respectfully suggest, can’t we pin this on one of theirs?


Presidential Aide CHUCK COLSON: Ah, he is obviously demented.


NIXON: Is he a left-winger or a right-winger?


COLSON: Well, he’s going to be a left-winger by the time we get through, I think.


NIXON: Ah, good. Keep at that. Keep at that. [4]


Thus the “greatest hoax” Nixon was referring to was the fact that the political Left blamed people on the political Right for the assassination, when the person who did it was a Communist.  Nixon, in fact, had considerable justification for saying that, as leftist authors like Harold Weisberg, Sylvia Meagher, and the omnipresent Mark Lane had, in the minds of many Americans, successfully placed the blame on groups such as the FBI, the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans and Texas Oilmen – all objects of hostility from the left.


Nixon, being relentlessly partisan and not encumbered by much in the way of political scruples, wanted to “play the game a bit smarter” and portray Bremer as a left-winger.   Nixon told Colson and aide H.R. Haldeman “Just say he [the shooter] was a supporter of McGovern and Kennedy.  Now, just put that out!  Just say you have it on unmistakable evidence.”[5]  Thus the real “hoax” here is the one Nixon intends to mount in the midst of the 1972 election campaign.  Nothing in the transcript mentions the Warren Commission as a hoax.

Some of the people on the list are there because of rather mild conspiracy-leaning speculation.

James Rowley

 Likewise, it is claimed by an absurdly unreliable book called Farewell America that “Ten hours after the assassination, [Secret Service Chief James] Rowley knew that there had been three gunmen, and perhaps four, at Dallas that day.”[6]  But Rowley told the Warren Commission that he knew of no evidence of a conspiracy.  And in a 1969 on-the-record oral history interview with the LBJ library, Rowley stated “[W]e had no credible information that there was a conspiracy.”[7]  The passage from Farewell America doesn’t even purport to be a quotation from Rowley, and is merely an unsourced assertion by the author.[8]

Mild Speculation

Some of the people on the list are there because of rather mild conspiracy-leaning speculation.  For example, William Attwood, a diplomat pursuing a back-channel rapprochement with Castro on behalf of the Kennedy administration speculated:


“If the CIA did find out what we were doing, this would have trickled down to the lower echelon of activists, and Cuban exiles, and the more gung-ho CIA people who had been involved since the Bay of Pigs. . . . I can understand why they would have reacted so violently. This was the end of their dreams of returning to Cuba, and they might have been impelled to take violent action. Such as assassinating the President.”


This is admittedly speculation, and Attwood isn’t claiming any actual evidence that any such thing happened.

Bobby Kennedy

Let’s also pass over, for the moment, the fact that many of these claims of conspiracy belief come from second- or third-hand hearsay.  Take, for example, Robert Kennedy.  On multiple occasions, RFK was asked publicly to comment on the case, or to supply an “on the record” answer, and he consistently upheld the Warren Report.  On March 25, 1968, he spoke at San Fernando Valley State College in Northridge, California, and confronted by student hecklers demanding an answer about his brother’s assassination said “I would not reopen the Warren Commission report . . . . I have seen everything that’s in there.  I stand by the Warren Commission.”[9]  Earlier, during a trip to Poland in 1964, RFK had been confronted by a student in Cracow who asked his about “your version of his [John’s] death.”  Bobby replied that his brother was killed by a solitary “misfit” who was dissatisfied “with our government and our way of life.”  Further: “There is no question that he did it on his own and by himself.”[10]

Robert Kennedy


In 1966, a New York researcher mailed out a survey, asking respondents their opinions about the assassination, to a long list of celebrities and eminent public figures.  One of the people who received the survey was then Senator Robert Kennedy.  The reply, on Kennedy’s Senate stationery, said “The Warren Report was prepared by highly competent and respected people after intensive study, and there is every reason to have confidence in their findings.”[11]


How do people like David Talbot deal with these statements?  They simply explain that Bobby was lying.  Had Bobby been elected president, he would have reopened the investigation, and discovered and prosecuted the real culprits, they say.


Although Talbot (and other authors) have produced multiple reports that Bobby suspected a conspiracy, there is absolutely no indication that he had any evidence of a conspiracy. Rather, he seems to have suspected that some of his own actions (vigorous prosecution of Mafia figures or the crusade against Castro) had backfired and caused his own brother’s death. Lacking any sort of evidence of conspiracy, repeated lies might be justified. It would be irresponsible for an admired public figure to encourage conspiracy talk without any evidence of an actual conspiracy.


With Teddy Kennedy, as with Robert Kennedy, his public statements supported the lone assassin conclusion.  This was the case with a form letter sent to people who wrote to him about the assassination in the 1970s, [12] and in a memoir published soon after his death in 2009, he explained that he had gotten a briefing on the case from Earl Warren, and was “satisfied then, and satisfied now.”[13]


So what we have here is something like John Kennedy’s public support for the Vietnam War, which conspiracists say was flatly at odds with his private resolve to get out and let the Communists take over.  There is, among conspiracists, a rather large number of people who are simply in thrall of Camelot.  But oddly, they insist that their heroes were blatantly lying and intentionally misleading the American public.

Contradictory Theories

Let’s also overlook, for a moment, that these governmental “insiders” had different and often contradictory ideas about a conspiracy.  Lyndon Johnson, in an interview with Howard K. Smith said “I’ll tell you something about Kennedy’s murder that will rock you . . . . Kennedy was trying to get Castro, but Castro got to him first.”[14]  Likewise, Joseph Califano said that “I have come to share LBJ’s view [that Castro “got him first”]. . . . Over the years I have come to believe that the paroxysms of grief that tormented Robert Kennedy for years after his brother’s death arose, at least in part, from a sense that his efforts to eliminate Castro led to his brother’s assassination.”[15]  Nicholas Katzenbach, who served under Bobby Kennedy as Assistant Attorney General said: “My own feeling was that Bobby was worried that there might be some conspiracy and that it might be his fault. . . . It might very well have been that he was worried that the investigation would somehow point back to him.” [16]

Let’s also overlook, for a moment, that these governmental “insiders” had different and often contradictory ideas about a conspiracy.


But then other people blame other villains.  From Frank Mankiewicz, former press secretary to RFK: “I came to the conclusion that there was some sort of conspiracy, probably involving the mob, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, and maybe rogue CIA agents.”[17]  And there is Dick Goodwin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs: “We know the CIA was involved, and the Mafia. We all know that.” [18]  But, on the other hand, former Senator Richard Schweiker decided that “I now really think the assassination was basically a mob hit – it was the mob trying to get back at Kennedy for cracking down on the Mafia.” [19]  And long-time Kennedy staffer Joe Dolan said that “I think Johnson was part of the plot to kill the president.”[20]


Robert Blakey, Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee, famously did not blame the CIA – something that made him a huge number of enemies among conspiracists.  Blakey told “Frontline:” “If I posit the fact of a conspiracy, the one that is most plausible is that the Mob had a hand in it. It is a probability judgment based on all the evidence. It’s not the kind of thing that you'd take into court and try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt as a prosecutor.”[21]


So while all these people believe in a conspiracy, they can’t agree on who was involved.  What this suggests isn’t “inside knowledge.”  People with real, reliable information about a subject tend to agree.  But opinions can be all over the place, mere accidents based on what conspiracy books one has read, what documentaries one has seen on TV, and what forces in American society one happens to dislike.

Do These People Know Anything?

But there is a more fundamental question here.  Do any of these people actually know any secret and sinister things?  Remember, with the exceptions of LBJ and Burkley, none of the people on McKnight’s list are actual witnesses.    Dick Goodwin, who sounded so confident about “knowing” that the CIA and the Mafia were involved, admitted to author David Talbot “But [exactly] how you link those to the assassination, I don’t know.”  Talbot goes on to admit that (in Talbot’s words) “He never investigated the case himself.” [22] And Talbot admits that Joe Dolan “could not provide any evidence to support his assumption [of Johnson’s guilt].”[23]  So just how much weight does his opinion carry?


The “seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee” endorsed the Committee’s conclusions of a conspiracy because of the “acoustic evidence” – evidence which fell apart when subjected to peer review.


But maybe, merely because of their “insider” status, some of these people have had secret knowledge of sinister machinations.  Let’s examine a few cases, and see what we find.

Dr. George Burkley

Dr. George Burkley was a Navy Admiral and the president’s personal physician, and thus he was around in the ER at Parkland, with Kennedy’s body on the flight back to Washington, and in the room during the autopsy at Bethesda.  It would seem that he saw and knew a lot.


Thus it might seem important that on March 18, 1977, his personal lawyer talked by phone the HSCA Chief Counsel Richard Sprague and told Sprague that Burkley “has information in the Kennedy assassination indicating that others besides Oswald must have participated.”[24] Just what was this explosive information?  Nothing produced by the HSCA gives any clue.  But researcher Paul Hoch reported in the 5/31/87 issue of his newsletter Echoes of Conspiracy[25] “Dr. Burkley recently told a relative of his that he did think that Oswald must have been part of a conspiracy, because the way he and his family lived and traveled was indicative of financial support.”  Huh?  No altered wounds?  No wounds requiring a shot from the front?  No extra bullets?


The Warren Commission meticulously examined Oswald’s finances, and published the results.[26]  Maybe they got it wrong.  But if they did, Burkley was in no better position to know that than your eccentric cousin who has a whole bookcase full of conspiracy volumes and talks all the time about the Illuminati.

Richard Russell

Richard Russell was a long time senator from Georgia and one of the “lions” of the chamber, and Lyndon Johnson, for excellent reasons, wanted him on the Warren Commission. [27]  Less than a week before the Commission released its findings, Johnson talked with Russell in a phone conversation and discussed the Commission’s work.  The conversation starts with Johnson asking Russell why he left town so quickly.


Johnson: Why did you get in such a rush?


Russell: Well, I was just worn out, fightin’ over that damn report.


Johnson: Well, you oughta [have] taken another hour and gone to get your clothes.


Russell: No . . . No. Well, they were trying to prove that [the] same bullet that hit Kennedy first was the one that hit Connally . . . went through him and through his hand, his bone, into his leg and everything else. Just lot of stuff there . . . I hadn’t . . . couldn’t . . . didn’t hear all the evidence, and cross-examine all of them but I did read the record and so I just, ah . . . I don’t know. I was the only fella there that even . . . practically, that suggested any change whatever in what the staff had got up. This staff business always scares me. I like to put my own views down. But we got you a pretty good report.


Johnson: Well, what difference does it make which bullet got Connally?


Russell: Well, it don’t make much difference. But they said that . . . that the Commission believe[s] that the same bullet that hit Kennedy hit Connally. Well, I don’t believe it.


Johnson: I don’t either.


Russell: And so I couldn’t sign it. And I said that Governor Connally testified directly to the contrary, and I’m not gonna approve of that. So I finally made ‘em say there was a difference in the Commission, in that part of ‘em believed that that wasn’t so. ‘Course, if a fella was accurate enough to hit Kennedy right in the neck on one shot, and knock his head off in the next one when he’s leanin’ up against his wife’s head and not even wound her . . . why, he didn’t miss completely with that third shot. But according to that theory, he not only missed the whole automobile but he missed the street. Well, a man a good enough [sic] shot to put two bullets right into Kennedy, he didn’t miss that whole automobile . . . .


Johnson: Hmmm.


Russell: – nor the street. But anyhow, that’s just a little thing, but we –


Johnson: What’s the net of the whole thing? What it say? [sic] That Oswald did it, and he did it for any reason?


Russell: Well, just what he was a general misanthropic fella . . . that he’d . . . had never been satisfied anywhere he was on earth, in Russia or here, and that he had a desire to get his name in history and all. I don’t think you’ll be displeased with the report. It’s too long, but it’s a . . . whole volume.


Johnson: Unanimous?


Russell: Yes, sir.


Johnson: Hmm.


Russell: I tried my best to get in a dissent, but they’d come ‘round and trade me out of it by givin’ me a little old thread of it.[28]


So why did Russell disbelieve the Report?  Quite simply because he believed John Connally, who thought he was hit by a bullet different from the one that hit Kennedy.  And also, because he didn’t believe Oswald could have fired a shot that missed the entire limousine and supposedly even the street.[29]  Regardless of whether these are good or bad arguments, they don’t show any “inside information.”  They are, in fact, merely ordinary conspiracy arguments.

Regardless of whether these are good or bad arguments, they don’t show any “inside information.”  They are, in fact, merely ordinary conspiracy arguments.


Russell was hardly a particularly conscientious Commission member.  He attended fewer of the hearings than any other member. Earl Warren (the Chairman) was present for all or part of the testimony of all 94 witnesses who actually testified before the Commission, Gerald Ford was around for 70 of the 94, and Allen Dulles for 60. Russell heard the testimony of only 6.[30]  Russell’s cluelessness is obvious in some of his conversation with Johnson.  Repeating one passage from above:


Johnson: Well, what difference does it make which bullet got Connally?


Russell: Well, it don’t make much difference.


Huh!!??  It “don’t make much difference?” It makes, as virtually any conspiracy theorist will tell you, a whole world of difference.  Johnson’s response to Russell saying he doesn’t believe the single bullet theory (“I don’t either”) is probably best read as LBJ humoring his buddy and former Senate colleague.  Johnson has even less inside “dope” from the Commission than does Russell and could hardly, at this point, have had any view, positive or negative on the Single Bullet Theory.


But While his comments to Richard Russell are probably just to humor a powerful senator, LBJ himself came to believe that a conspiracy had killed Kennedy. Johnson found out that the Kennedy administration was running a “damned Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean” and apparently inferred that Castro did Kennedy in out of self defense. Johnson expressed this view in a 1969 interview with Walter Cronkite (see at the left).


Two of Johnson’s aides were interviewed by CBS in for a 1975 documentary, and they recounted what they heard LBJ say.


Since “it don’t make much difference” in Russell’s mind, it’s not surprising that he tells Johnson that “we got you a pretty good report” and “I don’t think you’ll be displeased with the report.”  Russell doesn’t see the Single Bullet Theory as an integral, indispensable part of the puzzle without which the whole thing is a logical shambles.


This conversation, however, is Russell’s view at one point in time.  After the issuance of the report, Russell was vigorously tutored (“manipulated” is probably a better word) by conspiracy theorist Harold Weisberg.  Weisberg lobbied Russell and fed him documents.   He also pandered to Russell’s discontent over the fact that his reservations about the Single Bullet Theory were sanitized both from the Report itself, and from the minutes of the September 18th Commission meeting.[31]  By 1970, Russell was a conspiracist, telling the Atlanta television station WSB-TV:


I think someone else worked with him (on the planning). . . .


There were too many things . . . the fact that he was at Minsk and that was the principal center for educating Cuban students . . . some of the trips he made to Mexico City and a number of discrepancies in the evidence, or as to his means of transportation; the luggage he had and whether or not anyone was with him . . . caused me to doubt that he planned it all by himself. [32]


Richard Russell

Note that everything Russell mentions is a standard piece of buff lore, the grist of a hundred conspiracy mills.  Some are absurd (the “missing luggage”) or pretty arcane (Minsk and the “Cuban students”), but none reflects any inside knowledge Russell gained from his service on the Warren Commission.


Russell, quite simply, became a buff.


Interestingly, even in 1970, Russell held to the conclusion that Oswald was the lone shooter of Kennedy. “I think that any other commission you might appoint today would arrive at that conclusion,” he told WSB-TV. [33]

Evelyn Lincoln

Evelyn Lincoln was the extremely loyal, extremely efficient personal secretary of President John Kennedy.  Like a lot of other Kennedy Administration insiders, she had strong opinions.  According to her biographer:


Evelyn greatly disliked Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, being harshly critical of both. She once told me that President Johnson had seen her on TV severely criticizing his decisions on the Vietnam War and said: “I ought to throw that black-haired bitch into the Potomac.”


It is not surprising, therefore, that Evelyn Lincoln viewed the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a political coup d’état, carried out by Lyndon Johnson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the resources of the Central Intelligence Agency. She insisted it was the first successful coup in American history.

Evidence? There was none, even when I asked why she believed it. It came down to the fact that Evelyn was convinced, and that was that. This is not to dismiss the validity of intuition, however, for intuition often holds truth.[34]


Maybe intuition sometimes holds truth, but it’s often merely an expression of prejudice, bias, rationalization or wishful thinking.

Jack Ruby

Jack Ruby

Conspiracists, convinced that Jack Ruby was indeed part of a conspiracy to “silence” Oswald – and likely a conspiracy to kill JFK – will of course view anything that Ruby has to say as indicating genuine “inside knowledge.”  Thus when it becomes obvious that Ruby believed that Lyndon Johnson was part of the plot, this becomes “evidence” against LBJ.


Before the Warren Commission, Ruby begged to be taken to Washington so that he could argue his innocence to Johnson.   But he came to believe that Johnson was part of a Kennedy assassination conspiracy.   In a letter he wrote when he was in jail – which was later smuggled out and sold at auction – Ruby said:


I walked into a trap the moment I walked down that ramp Sunday morning.  This was the spot where they could frame the Jew, and that way, all of his people will be blamed as being Communists, this is what they were waiting for.  They alone had planned the killing, by they I mean Johnson and others. . . .


. . . [R]ead the book Texas Looks at Lyndon [sic] and you may learn quite a bit about Johnson and how he has fooled everyone. . . . In all the history of the U.S., never has a president been elected that has the background of Johnson.  Believe me compared to him I am a Saint . . . .[35]


Likewise, in a note to Jim Martin, Ruby said:


This country has been overthrown by Nazis.  Johnson is a Nazi, the worst sort, that is why they won’t let anyone come talk to me.  They know that I know too much and don’t want me to talk to anyone.[36]


As Ruby was leaving one public hearing he said to a reporter who had a microphone aimed at him “If Adlai Stevenson had been Vice President, there would have been no assassination.” [37]

If he didn’t know that LBJ was a conspirator when he testified to the Warren Commission, there was no way he could find out later. That is, unless “find out” means reading the same books thousands of other Americans were reading and contemplating the fact that LBJ had, after all, been the chief beneficiary of the murder.


Quite simply, Ruby’s opinion changed over time.  The book A Texan Looks at Lyndon discussed Johnson’s rather shady and corrupt history in Texas politics.  Like millions of other Americans, Ruby came to believe that LBJ was part of a plot.  But he insisted until his death (and in a literal death-bed interview conducted in Yiddish), that he had never been part of any conspiracy.


If he didn’t know that LBJ was a conspirator when he testified to the Warren Commission, there was no way he could find out later.  That is, unless “find out” means reading the same books thousands of other Americans were reading and contemplating the fact that LBJ had, after all, been the chief beneficiary of the murder.  Where LBJ was concerned, Ruby was simply a buff.

Other People Whose Opinions Don’t Matter

Police Chief Jesse Curry

Dallas police chief Jesse Curry was pretty much “away from the action” while his officers were “breaking the case” and arresting Oswald.  And he was utterly ineffective in controlling the press madhouse on the third floor of the Dallas Police Headquarters.  But, hey, he has opinions just like anybody else.  Curry has stated (in a 1978 BBC documentary):


I think there’s a possibility that one [shot] could have come from in front of him.  We’ve never been able to prove it, but just in my mind and by the direction of his blood and brains from the president from one of the shots, it would just seem that it would have to be fired from the front rather than behind. [38]


Curry is here making reference to the experience of motorcycle cop Bobby Hargis.   Hargis was riding his motorcycle to the left and right off the rear bumper of the presidential limo.  According to Josiah Thompson, when Kennedy was hit in the head “This debris [from the President’s head] hit Officer Hargis with such force that he told reporters the next day, ‘I thought at first I might have been hit.’” [39]  Other conspiracy books and videos have picked up the “such force” statement and quoted it as though Hargis said it, but in fact the “such force” business comes from Thompson, and not Hargis.


Staffers from the Jim Garrison investigation interviewed Hargis about this, and he said that


Well, that right there is what I’ve wondered about all along, but see there’s ah – you’ve got to take into consideration we were moving at the time, and when he got hit all that stuff went like this, and of course I run through it. [40]


Hargis told virtually the same thing to researcher Clint Bradford, saying “When [JFK] was shot in the head, it splashed up, and I ran into all that brain matter and all that. It came up and down, all over my uniform.” [41]  He gave a virtually identical account to the Texas Monthly in 1988. [42]


Asked directly by a Garrison investigator “Would you say that he was hit in the rear of the head, the side of the head, or the front of his head?,” he replied “If he’d got hit in the rear, I’d of been able to see it. All I saw was just a splash come out on the other side.”


Hargis, like other Dealey Plaza witnesses (Abraham Zapruder and Bill Newman come to mind) appears to have been making unwarranted assumptions about wound ballistics.  But what he saw (what he inferred is just an opinion) was the “splash come out on the other side.”  Given that he was riding to the left rear of Kennedy, the “other side” would have to be the right side, or the front.

The argument that Hargis’ experience indicates a shot from the front is a staple of conspiracy books.


In fact, when one takes an inventory of every “gore” witness in Dealey Plaza, one has to conclude that it was a god-awful mess.  Brain matter landed on Hargis on Kennedy’s left, on James Cheney, the motorcycle cop to Kennedy’s right, on the back of William Greer, the driver of the presidential limo, and on the visors of the limo.[43]  Particularly hard hit were Governor and Mrs. Connally, sitting directly in front of Kennedy.  John Connally saw brain tissue covering the interior of the limo, and “one chunk of brain tissue as big as almost my thumb.” [44]  Nellie said the shower of brain matter felt “like spent buckshot.” [45]


The argument that Hargis’ experience indicates a shot from the front is a staple of conspiracy books.  And Hargis described his experience to the Warren Commission and to various interviewers over the years.  So Curry isn’t basing his opinion on any covert, inside information.  Just like everybody else, he has an opinion or two.

Dr. Robert Shaw

Dr. Robert Shaw was a thoracic surgeon who worked to repair John Connally’s badly wounded chest.  Interviewed by NOVA in 1988, he expressed doubt about the Single Bullet Theory.  He said:


I couldn’t quite understand why a bullet going through the president’s neck, coming from the right and above, exiting out through his throat would then zig and zag to strike the governor who was sitting directly in front of the president.  It would seem to me that the bullet would have struck the governor on the left side of his chest, rather than the right side of his chest. [46]


Alright, that was his opinion.  But what did he know about the positions of John Kennedy and John Connally in the limousine?  He didn’t see the motorcade.  All he could know was what he read or saw in some documentary or was told by somebody.  But, like most everybody else, he had opinions.

Dr. Robert McClelland

Like Shaw, McClelland was a Parkland doctor.  But McClelland was intimately involved in the attempt to resuscitate John Kennedy.  Some of his observations are bona fide witness testimony.  For example, he believed he saw cerebellar tissue oozing from Kennedy’s head wound.  This would indicate a wound quite low in the back of Kennedy’s head, which might suggest a shooter from the Grassy Knoll.  The best evidence (the autopsy photos and x-rays) says that McClelland is wrong about this, but he is in fact a witness.


Where other stuff is concerned, it’s a different matter.  In front of a rapt group of medical students, he explained why he believes in a conspiracy:


He explains that too many things don’t add up. Doctors at Parkland reported seeing the president’s body put into a coffin with a blanket over it. But that it somehow got into a body bag by the time it got to Washington. He says he’s from East Texas and has seen enough deer hunting to know a body moves in the direction of the bullet. That the president moved backward because he was shot from the front.


He mentions an odd phone call the operator at the emergency room got when Oswald was in surgery. Someone claiming to be from the White House inquired about Oswald’s condition. He talks about a British documentarian’s theory that three hitmen flew from Corsica to Marseille to Mexico City and drove across the border and up to Dallas to murder the president. [47]


Oops!  The “body bag” business comes from the bizarre theory of author David Lifton, who claimed that Kennedy’s body was stolen, mutilated to give the impression that all the shots came from behind, and then delivered to the official autopsy at Bethesda.  The business about the Corsican hitmen comes from a 1988 documentary called “The Men Who Killed Kennedy.”  Soon after it first aired on the U.K., the theory was blown out of the water when it was found that all three of the supposed “hit men” had ironclad alibis for the day of the assassination.


McClelland was a pretty good surgeon.  But he was a lousy historian.  His opinions on these matters are just no good.

Are There More?

Yes, quite a few. Vince Palamara’s “Conspiracy Beliefs (and Denials) In High Places” is a set of notes outlining various officials (mostly Secret Service agents) who believed in a conspiracy.

So, Do Opinions Matter?

Pierre Salinger

Quite simply, it doesn’t matter if somebody is a Washington insider.  Washington insiders believe all kinds of crazy things about all kinds of issues.  Kennedy’s own Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who endorsed the Warren Report’s conclusions in 1966, [48] by 1996 was claiming that TWA Flight 800, which exploded shortly after taking off from JFK airport, was shot down by a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser.  This gave rise to the term “Pierre Salinger Syndrome” defined as believing that everything one finds on the Internet is true. [49]   This was not the first case of Salinger believing wacky things.  He insisted that the 1988 downing, over Lockerbie, Scotland, of Pan Am flight 103 was caused by a US Drug Enforcement Agency operation that went badly awry. [50]


Of course, an actual expert opinion might be worth paying attention to. If you are sick, it’s best to follow your doctor’s advice. The doctor is a bona fide expert. But the people we have discussed aren’t experts, even if they have some “connection” with the case. Even the opinions of a real witness are worth little if the witness has become merely a buff, repeating things he or she has read or heard. These are just folks with opinions.

[1] Gerald D. McKnight, “Conspiracies in Recent American History,” Historically Speaking, Volume 10, Number 1, January 2009, pp. 43-44.

[2] E-mail from Gerald McKnight, dated August 2, 2009.

[3] Kevin Anderson, “Revelations and gaps on Nixon tapes,” Online at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1848157.stm

[4] “CNN Inside Politics,” Aired February 28, 2002.  Online at: http://www-cgi.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0202/28/ip.00.html

[5] Kevin Anderson, “Revelations and gaps on Nixon tapes,” Online at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1848157.stm

[6] James Hepburn (pseud.) Farewell America, 1968,  p. 301. [see also High Treason by Livingstone & Groden, 1998 edition, p. 128] On Farewell America see: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/fa.txt

[7] 5H484, Interview of 1/22/69.

[8] James Hepburn (pseud.) Farewell America, 1968,  p. 301.

[9] Associated Press dispatch of March 25, 1968.  Online at: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/bobby2.txt, Published in (for example) the Arizona Republic, March 26, 1968.  See also Talbot, Brothers, pp. 357-358.

[10] Washington Post, June 29, 1964.

[11] David Talbot, Brothers, pp. 315-316.  This looks for all the world like the sort of form letter that congressional offices send out in large numbers.  Such letters, of course, do constitute “on the record” official statements.

[12] FBI 62-109060 JFK HQ File, Section 190, 123.

[13] “Kennedy memoir reveals remorse over accident,” Associated Press, September 3, 2009.  Online at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32667388/ns/politics-edward_kennedy_19322009/

[14] Family Weekly, September 12, 1976.

[15] Joseph A. Califano Jr.,  Inside: A Public and Private Life, p. 126.

[16] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 277.

[17] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 312.

[18] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 303.

[19] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 381.

[20] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 439.

[21] Transcript, “Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?” PBS, Aired November 16, 1993.  Online at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/programs/transcripts/1205.html

[22] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 303.

[23] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 439.  Talbot adds “And there is nothing to indicate that Robert Kennedy shared his suspicion [about Johnson].”  

[24] Archive Document Number 180-10086-10295 (“Memo to File re: Burkley”).

[25] Vol. 9, No. 1

[26] Warren Commission Report, Appendix XIV, “Analysis of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Finances from June 13, 1962 through November 22, 1963.

[27] Max Holland, The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, pp. 149-159

[28] Max Holland, The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, pp. 250-251

[29] In actuality, several witnesses saw a bullet hitting the street, although Russell was probably unaware of that.

[30] Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, New York: Vintage Books, 1992, p. xxx

[31] Harold Weisberg, Never Again, Chap. 18

[32] The Washington Post, Monday, June 19, 1970, p. A3

[33] The Washington Post, Monday, June 19, 1970, p. A3

[34]  Evelyn Lincoln, My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy, Introduction by Francis McGuire.

[35] Penn Jones, Jr. Forgive My Grief, Volume 1.  Midlothian, TX: The Midlothian Mirror, 1966, p. 65.

[36] Garry Wills and Ovid Demaris, Jack Ruby.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1967, p. 248.

[37] Op. cit. p. 249.

[38] British Broadcasting Corporation, “The Assassination of President Kennedy: What Do We Know Now That We Didn't Know Then?” (aired on U.S. TV in 1978), online at: video/Curry.mp4

[39] Six Seconds in Dallas.  New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1967.  p. 100.

[40] Interview with Hargis by Tom Bethell and Al Oser, August 7, 1968.  Archives Record Number 180-10096-10005.

[41] Post to alt.assassination.jfk, February 27, 1999.

[42] Nick Patoski, “The Witnesses,” Texas Monthly, November 1998, p. 138

[43] “Kennedy’s Head Exploded: The ‘Gore’ Witnesses in Dealey Plaza” [Based on a Compuserve Post by Todd Wayne Vaughan].  Online at: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/exploded.htm

[44] 4H133

[45] 4H147

[46] “NOVA: Who Shot President Kennedy?” Princeton, NJ, Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1992.

[47] Michael J. Mooney, The Day Kennedy Died,” D Magazine, October 27, 2008. 

[48] David Talbot, Brothers, p. 315.

[49]Jeffery Reid, “‘Pierre Salinger Syndrome’ and the TWA 800 conspiracies,” CNN.com, Monday, July 17, 2006.  Online at: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/07/12/twa.conspiracy/index.html

[50] Hella Pick, “Pierre Salinger,” The Guardian, Monday 18 October 2004.  Online at:

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