So, much of my reading for CBR has come via audiobooks. Sadly, my work schedule has changed recently, thus depriving me of much of the time I have to listen to books, so I expect there’s no way I’m going to achieve my goal this year. But I’m still here, though, so I guess all is still well.
I’m going to get this out of the way up front: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. 9/11 was the result of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists hijacking airliners. Chemtrails aren’t a thing. Everyone (barring medical issues) should vaccinate their children. And JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was a lone gunman killed by a two-bit thug with delusions of grandeur.
So McLaren had an uphill climb with me. It would take compelling evidence to shift my opinion on what I consider to be a fairly settled issue.
The basic theory proposed here is that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman, and that he fired two shots from the Texas School Book Depository. The first shot missed his target, ricocheted off a curb, and sent fragments flying into Kennedy’s car. The second shot was the supposed “magic bullet” that went through Kennedy’s neck before hitting Governor Connally in the front seat. The infamous third shot (which went through Kennedy’s skull), McLaren contends, did not come from Oswald, but was instead an accidental discharge from the Secret Service agent in the trailing car, George Hickey.
It sounds crazy. But Hickey (despite being an inexperienced rookie) was the only agent to draw a weapon, and he supposedly fell shortly after doing so. The theory goes that when he stumbled, he accidentally fired his AR-15, and it just so happened to be aimed directly at the back of the president’s head. The numerous incidents of odd behavior from investigative agencies in the Parkland hospital and afterward are explained as a cover-up on the part of the Secret Service, which had been embarrassed already by late night partying (sound familiar?) and other incidents. Self preservation led them to cover up their complicity in the death of the president.
McLaren relies heavily on the work done decades earlier by Howard Donahue (detailed in the book Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger), and the theory is fairly compelling. But his evidence comes down to two key points: eye witness accounts which claim that there was smoke around the motorcade (and the smell of cordite) and the extreme damage caused by the third bullet.
In the first case, Oswald can’t account for the appearance of smoke or smell of gunpowder (he was too far away). Further, the potential existence of fireworks during the parade or car exhaust from the motorcade are discounted as reasons for the smoke (because…reasons, I guess).
In the second …. McLaren argues that the explosive impact of the third shot is indicative of a frangible round, a bullet (like a hollow point) designed to explode on impact. This is in contrast to full metal jacketed rounds that are designed to cleanly pass through the body (like the second shot). Oswald used full metal jacket ammunition, so, according to McLaren, the third, explosive, shot had to come from somewhere else.
The Secret Service used frangible ammunition.
Getting back to my earlier point, the evidence McLaren lays out for his theory is not nearly enough to convince this skeptic.
For starters, McLaren dismisses eye witness accounts that don’t fit his narrative. You can’t have it both ways. Either eye witnesses are reliable or they aren’t (which is frequently the case). And if they are, then you have to carefully consider the accounts. McLaren doesn’t. He only takes seriously those accounts which leave open a window for his shoe-horned theory.
For instance, no one saw Agent Hickey fire his weapon. No one in the motorcade. No one in the crowd. There isn’t one single person who said then, or came forward later to claim, that this happened. There is only the statement that Hickey was the only person at ground level to have a gun, so the first instinct for at least one person was that he was firing back. But no one saw that happen.
But a number of people certainly noticed Agent Hickey holding his weapon aloft mere yards from the president.
That doesn’t square.
Also, much is made of the trajectory of the third shot. McLaren asserts that it had to have come from behind and to the left of the president, rather than above and to the right, because of examinations of the skull done by medical staff, but he also makes a big deal about how the Secret Service prevented the doctor at Parkland from doing an adequate job of inspecting Kennedy’s body, let alone performing an autopsy. Which is it? Are his observations reliable or were they rushed and incomplete?
Because if the assumptions about the bullet’s trajectory are even slightly off, the whole theory unravels.
There are so many things like this about this book. And, I suppose, conspiracy theories in general. Some discrepancies are noticed, an explanation that doesn’t square with the popularly held narrative is found, and a conspiracy is born.
The problem is that maybe there is no discrepancy. Or maybe there are discrepancies because the real world is messy and confusing. The question shouldn’t be, “can everything be perfectly explained” but “does our understanding fit within the framework of known quantities.”
In order for the theory proposed here to work, you have to disregard known quantities.
Like the fact that full metal jacket rounds test fired into skulls have been shown to explode on impact. Full metal jackets can be relied on to make clean wounds when they pass through soft tissue (like Kennedy’s neck). Add bones to the mix, and that can change. Encase that soft tissue in bone (like the skull), and, well, you have JFK.
For all my criticisms of this book (and I could keep going), it is a compelling theory. Colin McLaren was a notable Australian detective, so he had the experience and knowledge to be credible. And he is certainly dismissive of the Jim Garrison-type conspiracy nuts so often associated with the JFK assassination.
But for all his protestations, this is still a conspiracy theory. Proceed with caution.