(NewsNation) — The cold-blooded murder of the leader of the free world during the darkest days of the Cold War was a tragedy amplified by John F. Kennedy’s vision of Camelot.
He was the first television president. People empathized with him as a doting dad and the loving husband of a beautiful wife.
Even his political rivals admired him as an effective, charismatic politician. The murder of JFK endures as an epic American tragedy — a scar on history. Mothers and fathers brought their children to Dealey Plaza in their Sunday best to greet the president and welcome him to Texas.
Instead, what they witnessed was a brutal execution. It was an event that was witnessed the world over and shared in horror by hundreds of millions of people.
They were all asking the same question: Was this a conspiracy? Or was this a lone shooter? Some kind of crazed gunman who acted alone?
The evidence increasingly points to another gunman behind the fence on the grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza.
NewsNation presents firsthand witnesses and investigators who’ve reinvestigated the case. There is a disturbing possibility that what happened in Dallas 60 years ago has been concealed in a cover-up — concealing the unthinkable.
President Kennedy’s grim rendezvous with destiny began on Nov. 22, 1963.
President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy took to Texas by storm as they crisscrossed the Lone Star State to unify the Democratic Party and kick off Kennedy’s 1964 reelection campaign. The celebrated couple flew into Dallas Love Field on Air Force One, where a Lincoln Continental convertible waited to take them and Texas Gov. John B. Connally Jr. through crowds in downtown Dallas.
While covering streets and sidewalks, the crowd was several rows deep at many points.
President John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was shot once in the neck and then again in the back of the head.
This is the official version of what happened: Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald used a rifle to shoot President Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The first bullet pierced Kennedy in the back of the neck exiting through his throat before striking Gov. Connally.
Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumped on top of the limo and pushed Mrs. Kennedy back inside the vehicle and covered her and the president. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Hospital.
Thirty minutes later, President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.
Shocked supporters rushed to Parkland Hospital crying, hugging and grieving the loss as police tracked down the alleged assassin.
Lee Harvey Oswald would be arrested in a movie theater less than an hour later.
Less than an hour after shooting Kennedy, Oswald shot and killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit. Shortly afterward, Dallas police found Oswald hiding in a movie theater where he was arrested and charged.
Two days later, as live television covered Oswald moving through the basement of the Dallas Police Department headquarters, Oswald was shot by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
After conducting roughly 25,000 interviews and chasing down thousands of leads, the FBI said it concluded that Oswald acted alone. The Warren Commission, established by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate Kennedy’s death, spent nearly a year studying the assassination, compiling an 889-page final report. It agreed that Oswald acted alone.
On the day of Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C., within days of the assassination, there was a young man and his girlfriend in the crowd, watching the awful procession unfold. His name is Josiah Thompson. He’s a private investigator and former university professor who has devoted much of his life, nearly 60 years, to investigating the assassination. His mind is as sharp today as it was back then about what he believes really happened on that terrible day in Dealey Plaza.
Thompson doesn’t believe that the American public definitely knows who killed President Kennedy. He believes there were at least two shooters and possibly three.
“There were two volleys of shots,” said Thompson. “One of those shots was fired too close to the other two to have come from Oswald’s rifle.”
“The overall scenario as to what happened is a very professional hit,” said Thompson. “Now, the government officials who are faced with this and who have the assassination of the president on their hands, they may not have had anything to do with this. And undoubtedly, most of the government officials who were involved in investigating the Kennedy assassination had nothing to do with it.”
Does Thompson believe there is a cover-up of what actually happened on Nov. 22, 1963?
“Yes, decisions were made. We can’t have the president of the United States assassinated by person or by persons unknown. That’s not a stable position for our society to embrace. So we’ll fix it a little.”
Thompson doesn’t know if his theories were ever presented to the Warren Commission. But he believes credible doubts about the commission’s theory remain.
“I think if (Oswald) had a defense attorney equipped with the evidence that we have now, any jury would have acquitted Oswald because he couldn’t have done it. He can’t be in two places at the same time,” Thompson argues.
To this day, the government is still resisting the release of some records relating to the assassination.
“I think that’s largely just agency stupidity, that government agencies are very reluctant to have any of their documents released to the press, for God knows what reason,” said Thompson. “Look, the secret to the Kennedy assassination is not sitting on some piece of paper in a government file. It just doesn’t, folks.”
NewsNation correspondent Evan Lambert has been digging into the declassified files. But more importantly, he’s been asking the question: Why have some of those files still not been released?
For nearly 60 years, the American public had no idea who sent this June 22, 1962 memo. It came from a CIA employee regarding the agency’s secret operation to read the mail of Lee Harvey Oswald. Monitoring of Oswald ran from 1960 to 1962.
But questions have persisted for years. The person who wrote the memo was Reuben Efrain, according to one of the last batches of JFK assassination files released by the U.S. government at the end of June 2023.
The documents don’t explain Efrain’s significance but reveal him to be a spy, noting of Oswald: “Efrain is a former American who defected to the Soviet Union.”
Efrain also wrote in his report that a letter from Oswald’s mother sent to Oswald and his wife in Minsk may be of interest to other CIA employees and the FBI.
“The letter tells us Lee Harvey Oswald was interested in reading George Orwell, the author of a dystopian novel about a surveillance society,” said journalist and historian Jefferson Morley. “That private belief is intercepted by an illegal CIA surveillance operation. And the CIA takes notice and says, ‘We’re interested in this guy.’”
Disclosures from the National Archives as part of the 1992 JFK Records Act shine a light on the facts about the assassination — unknown to the majority of the public — some even to this day.
Like this memo written by CIA officer Donald Heath Jr. in 1977.
He describes getting orders to investigate another theory of the Kennedy assassination that differed from the lone gunman story. He writes that in the days after Kennedy’s murder, he and other agents were asked by superiors to question sources about — and this is just one example: “Cuban exiles or Cubano-Americans you consider to be capable of orchestrating the murder of President Kennedy.”
“In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, at a time when the White House, the FBI, the Dallas Police, the Secret Service and all of the national media, we’re saying, ‘Don’t worry, folks. It was one guy alone who did it.’ The CIA itself did not believe it,” Morley said.
According to the National Archives and Records Administration, an estimated 320,000 documents regarding President Kennedy’s assassination have been reviewed. Of those, 99% have been released, just over 4,600 are still fully or partially secret, about half under the purview of President Joe Biden. The other half is kept secret for other reasons, like court orders, grand jury rules and limits prescribed to those who donated the records. Many are still being withheld by the CIA.
“People are going to be suspicious. And not crazed conspiracy theorists, but like a lot of people think the government knows something that they’re not telling us,” Morley said.
The film that changed everything
Robert Groden, the man who copied the infamous Zapruder film and leaked it for international consumption, claimed he did it because he believed the CIA had a role in Kennedy’s murder.
The Zapruder film is perhaps the most important vision showing what happened at the very moment of the Kennedy assassination. It’s graphic, and it’s very confronting, but we don’t know a lot of what the person who shot it saw through the viewfinder.
That person of course was Abraham Zapruder. He was a very private man and didn’t want to give very many interviews. But one person who did secure an interview with him was Marvin Scott, a journalist with NewsNation affiliate WPIX in New York.
“How did you come to be standing on this grassy knoll with your camera being the only man who got the account, the full account, of this horrible assassination?” asked Scott in the decades-old interview.
“Well, first of all, I believe I wouldn’t have had the pictures at all,” said Zapruder. “It wasn’t for my secretary, Mrs. Rogers, who made me go home and get the camera — I didn’t have a camera with me at all that morning — she assisted to go home and get the camera.”
Zapruder checked out three spots before finally positioning himself at the lower left corner of the grassy knoll in front of the book depository. It was a perfect vantage point to film Kennedy’s motorcade.
“Started on motorcycles. Then the car approached, and Jacqueline and the president are waving. And as it came in line with my camera, I heard a shot. I saw the president leaning over to Jacqueline,” said Zapruder. “Then the second shot came and then I realized I saw his head open up and I started yelling, ‘They killed him! They killed him!’ And I continued shooting until he went under the underpass. It’s left in my mind like wounded.”
The Warren Commission relied on Zapruder’s film heavily in reaching their conclusion that Oswald acted alone. But the film has also fueled multiple conspiracy theories. The footage was not widely seen until it made its TV debut on Geraldo Rivera’s show, “Good Night America,” in 1975.
Shortly after the public saw the assassination themselves, Congress voted to establish a select committee to reinvestigate the assassination. The committee’s conclusion was that there was “probably a second gunman who shot from the grassy knoll right behind where Zapruder was standing when he shot the film.”
But Zapruder, the man who captured history for the nation, says he did not hear a second gunman.
“Do you feel the shots perhaps came from behind the fence or behind you on the grassy knoll?” Scott asked Zapruder.
“No,” said Zapruder. “As a matter of fact, I heard some comments about this and I went back to the place where I stood when I shot the speeches and looked to that wooden fence that we’re talking about. I believe it’s about between 30 and 35 feet away where I was standing. I believe I would have heard a different sound, a shot coming from my right ear.”
Zapruder died in 1970, a quiet, unassuming man who never expected to be immortalized, particularly by a horrible moment in history.
“He was extremely shy and he tried his darndest to stay away from the media,” recalled Scott. “And the best way to describe it is as his granddaughter describes it in her book ’26 Seconds.’ I pleaded and used good old-fashioned charm to convince him to do the interview. It took about 15 to 20 minutes, he kept pleading, He grew up in Brooklyn. I was a kid from The Bronx. So I engaged them in conversation talking about New York. And I say ‘Come on, Mr. Z. You can’t turn away a kid from the other borough.’ And we seemed to bond after a while.”
Scott believes, based on what Zapruder and others told him about that day, that there was a single shooter and that shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald.
“The reason being, (Zapruder) told me they heard two distinct shots, and they came from the left and rear of where they were standing, which would have been the Texas School Book Depository building,” Scott said.
In the mid-1960s, Life magazine bought the Zapruder film. The man who processed that film, Robert Groden, was so shocked by what he saw on the film, he kept his own copy.
And when, to his disappointment, Life magazine only ran single shots from the film in their magazine report, he decided it was important to come forward. Seeing that film convinced him that there was something suspicious about Kennedy’s killing. He’s written multiple books, participated in multiple documentaries, and he’s just as convinced today as he was back then: This is and was a massive conspiracy.
“Absolutely. There was more than one shooter.”
“My answer to that question usually is not Lee Harvey Oswald. He couldn’t have been not involved at all. It’s hard to say he wasn’t a shooter,” Groden told NewsNation.
Groden matched the sounds of the shots that he claims you hear on the police radio with the Zapruder film.
“We found that there were more shots than the government admitted to,” claims Groden.
If there’s one piece of evidence that Groden believes discredits the lone gunman theory, it’s physics.
“The president is struck in the head. We have to go to the second law of physics, Newton’s Law of Physics, which is a transfer of momentum. The bullet hits him in the head and throws him backward into the left.”
A policeman gave evidence on the day of the assassination that he confronted a man when he ran around behind the fence, thinking he’d heard shots coming from that direction.
“I published photographs of that guy up there,” said Groden. “He was photographed, but no one’s been able to identify him.”
“Oswald was a CIA agent”
“The CIA wanted the war in Vietnam to escalate, the president (Kennedy) was going to end the war. He said that he was going to end the war, right after the next election in 1964. If that had happened, the CIA would have lost a tremendous amount of authority over world politics,” said Groden. “They were making a lot of money off the Vietnam War. They had a lot of backing for the things they were doing around the world. John Kennedy was going to end all of that. It would have would have cost the CIA a fortune, and a lot of their influence.”
New revelations from Secret Service agents
One would think 60 years on, if there was another piece of film that showed what happened on the day of Kennedy’s killing, we’d be allowed to see it. But incredibly, there was another film shot by a guy named Orville Nix on the grass in Dealey Plaza.
It’s just six seconds of silent, eight-millimeter footage from the moment that changed the course of American history. The President being shot, the first lady climbing onto the trunk and also a film from a clearer angle by Zapruder.
But standing across from Zapruder in this area of Dealey Plaza was a Dallas maintenance worker named Orville Nix and his footage was the only angle facing the Kennedy motorcade and the area known as the grassy knoll.
Grainy still frames from copies of the Nix film had been examined for decades. But could these images, enhanced in the 70s, be those of a second gunman?
Days after the tragedy, Nix sold his film to United Press International (UPI) but when they gave it back to him, they gave him a copy and no one seems to know what happened to the original.
Gayle Nix Jackson, the granddaughter of Orville Nix is suing the National Archives, accusing the government of mishandling the film. She refused an interview due to the suit, but told NewsNation:
“I’ve been on this quest since 1988. I so hope we find truth and answers and my grandfather’s film.”
A House committee subpoenaed the original Nix film from UPI in 1978. That review concluded the assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy with a high probability that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.
Patricia Hall, now 71 years old, was 11 in 1963 and knew Oswald as a tenant in her grandmother’s rooming house. Hall now owns the home and offers tours for extra income.
She also thinks the Nix film could hold answers but believes government forces worked to prevent that long ago.
“I think the actual evidence that would take us to the smoking gun has already been destroyed,” she said.
Paul Landis was a 28-year-old Secret Service agent in Kennedy’s motorcade on November 22, 1963.
He was quite literally standing on the running board of the limousine directly behind President Kennedy. He found a cartridge from that Mannlicher–Carcano rifle fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.
That discovery begs the question: if Landis found the cartridge in the back of the car, where did the other bullet come from that was found in Gov. Connally’s thigh?
“I’m telling you what I did was I picked that bullet up, took it into Trauma Room One and placed it by the president’s feet. That’s a fact,” Landis told NewsNation.
In previous statements that Landis provided in the 1960s, he never said he went into the trauma room with Mrs. Kennedy.
“Well, I had said Mrs. Kennedy went into the room, I just didn’t say that I followed her in. When we wrote the statement, it was after we’d had a weekend, basically four days lack of sleep, and telling the story it in my statement, I just didn’t see, or I guess I didn’t feel, it was important. I just said she went in she came out I was how I was reporting it,” said Landis.
Investigator Josiah Thompson still has his doubts that we’ll ever get the answers about the killing of America’s 35th president.
“I want to tell you I’m giving up,” said Thompson. “I’m giving up at this point. I’ve done what I can. I’m 88 years old and my wife and I are going to go off and have some fun now.
“Do you think we’ll ever get an answer?” Thompson is asked.
“No. No,” he said.