More than 50 years after it happened, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy remains a regular topic of discussion. Among those who remember both, only the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, matched the lingering psychological trauma inflicted by the events of November 22, 1963.
It can be safely said that no event created and retained as many conspiracy theories as those spawned in Dallas a half century ago and spread throughout the world. Today, huge majorities believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.
Some of the theories are preposterous. Claims of shots originating from the legendary “Grassy Knoll” or the fatal shot being accidentally fired by a Secret Service agent have kept the conspiracy industry thriving for decades.
I recognize my place in the minority view of agreeing with the findings of the 888-page Warren Commission report that Oswald acted alone. For the first time, something has come to light giving me pause about who knew what and when. Others who believe in Oswald as a lone wolf should take note of W. David Slawson.
Slawson was a young Denver lawyer in 1964 when he was hired to investigate possible foreign conspiracies for the Warren Commission. Earlier this week Politico ran a story by Philip Shenon, author of the 2013 book, A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, who re-introduced Slawson. (The book came out in paperback this week.)
Shenon spoke extensively with Slawson during the past few years, seeking comments on declassified FBI and CIA documents surrounding the president’s murder. Slawson acknowledged he was seeing some of these documents for the first time, including a vital 1964 letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the Warren Commission.
Hoover’s letter told of Oswald’s September 1963 trip to Mexico City and the Cuban diplomatic compound, where he was overheard saying, “I’m going to kill Kennedy.” Somehow Hoover’s letter, and other documents, were withheld from Slawson and other investigators.
Now 83 years old, Slawson still firmly believes Oswald was the lone shooter and the Warren Commission Report presented good-faith conclusions based upon what commissioners and staff were allowed to know at the time. Now that he realizes he and his colleagues were denied the chance to see all pertinent documents at the time, he feels a cover-up occurred.
He is not out there talking about multiple shooters and “magic bullets.” He believes the accounts of those on the scene that day, especially the Secret Service, who never wavered in their assertion the shots came from the School Book Depository building.
I have had the good fortune to speak multiple times with Agent Clint Hill, who jumped on the back of the limousine when the shots rang out that day. He and surviving agents Paul Landis and Win Lawson can confirm the single shooter scenario and debunk many of the other theories.
The agents know what happened on that day, but precious few have the facts on what transpired both before and after the assassination. We have little reason to challenge the opinion of Slawson. Combined with the recently discovered documents, he also spent decades as a respected law professor at the University of Southern California.
In 1977 he testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations about his work on the Warren Commission. If the committee had Hoover’s letter, they would surely have confronted Slawson with it then. This committee was out to make a case for a conspiracy and this document would have bolstered their premise.
The bottom line is the government had a motive to keep such an explosive document bottled up. Its exposure would reveal the president’s safety was not at the top of their “to-do” list.
Full candor requires me to reveal Slawson’s belief that Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president’s own brother, had some role in withholding Hoover’s letter and other documents. This may seem counterintuitive, but Slawson is convinced the attorney general sought to protect JFK’s secret CIA plans to assassinate Fidel Castro.
“This is a man I once had admiration for,” Slawson told Shenon about RFK.
We once thought the idea of our government telling us things other than the truth was inconceivable. In addition to the Kennedy assassination, Slawson recounted Vietnam, Watergate and Iran-Contra as examples of government obfuscation or wrongdoing on a large scale.
Slawson and Shenon make a strong case for either government malfeasance or manipulation of the Warren Commission findings. One shooter assassinated President Kennedy, but not everyone was a straight shooter with the subsequent investigation.
Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.