Lone nut vs conspiracy Amherst library program examines Kennedy assassination

AMHERST – Who killed Kennedy? Fifty years have passed since the assassination of our 35th president and people are still asking that question.

And no wonder. A year after John Fitzgerald Kennedy took that fateful trip to Dallas, the Warren Commission decided Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

Then, in 1979, a House committee concluded that there were two gunmen and that a conspiracy was likely.

Over the years, enough books have been written about the assassination to fill a small library.

At the center of the mystery was a nation shocked and horrified when the young, handsome president, smiling with happiness at his warm reception in Texas, was dead a second later from a massive head wound.

Christopher Daley hadn’t yet been born in 1963, but he remembers his father, a “hardscrabble Irish guy,” weeping at each Nov. 22 anniversary.

So Daley turned himself into a buff, who over the past year “has eaten, drank and slept” the Kennedy assassination. The result is a multimedia slide show he gave at the Amherst Public Library last week.

Beginning with a colorful history of the era, the show is crammed with photographs, diagrams, witness statements, autopsy evidence and videos of sites in Dallas, as well as the Zapruder amateur film.

Possible conspiracies – between the FBI, the CIA and the Mafia; the Mafia only; or the government only – are examined. Did Vice President Lyndon Johnson have a hand in the conspiracy?

Did Communists, from Cuba or the Soviet Union, have Kennedy killed? Each of the possibilities are examined.

The assassination also needs to be understood in the context of the fear of Communism, which was spreading throughout the world “like a disease that had to be stopped at all costs,” Daley said.

A Cuban connection?

What also needs to be understood is Cuba, “the Las Vegas of the Caribbean” before the Castro revolution, and the role of the Mafia in creating a place where there was devastating poverty beside wealth and glamour – “a recipe for revolution,” he said.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, when many of the American-backed Cuban invaders were killed or captured, Kennedy learned to distrust the CIA and fired its director, Allen Dulles, who was later picked for the Warren Commission. Daley suggests that these facts could be related to the assassination. So could the Kennedy brothers’ “rabid dog” attacks on organized crime and Teamsters’ head Jimmy Hoffa funneling union money to casinos, and even Kennedy’s wish to lower the oil depletion allowance.

The question of a lone gunman versus a conspiracy is examined and Daley scrutinizes the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

What was Oswald doing in Russia? Why was the avowed Communist, who once tried to renounce his U.S. citizenship, allowed to re-enter the U.S. with no questions asked, and why did he move to Texas in October 1963 and get a job at the Book Depository?

“This brings us to Dallas,” said Daley, who read aloud witness statements that seem to support the idea of another shooter, on Dealey Plaza’s grassy knoll, along with Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Secret Service role?

Why did the Secret Service not enforce its own protocols during the limousine ride, allowing it to go as slow as 8 mph and neglecting to have snipers on rooftops?

Why was witness William Newman not called before the Warren Commission? Was it because he maintained the bullet that hit Kennedy’s head came from the front, not the back?

Then there is Lyndon Johnson – a man “obsessed with power,” Daley said. Johnson accepted the job of vice president because he thought he could take over but then found that Kennedy’s people mocked him as “Rufus Cornpone,” and he saw his power slipping away.

The CIA is “still holding on to 1,500 documents,” Daley said, so eventually there may be some answers, but right now there are many more questions than answers.

Who was Jack Ruby and why did he murder Oswald and why did the Dallas Police Department permit a circus atmosphere that allowed that murder to happen?

Why did Johnson have the limousine stripped and Texas Gov. Connally’s suit dry cleaned?

Daley, who called the Warren Commission’s report “a slap-dash job,” said the commission mostly “stuck with people who stayed with the story of the lone nut, the single assassin and the ‘magic bullet’ that went through Kennedy and struck Connally.

“Fifty years later, I leave it up to you,” he told the audience that filled the library’s Johnson Reading Room.

Daley is a history teacher in Kingston, Mass., and his website, “Historical Presentations,” lists his other slide shows, including “The Lincoln Assassination,” “The Roaring Twenties,” “Lizzie Borden,” “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Irish Need Not Apply.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or at kcleveland@cabinet.com.