Prologue: Diving Down the Rabbit Hole of the JFK Assassination
If you take a dive down the rabbit hole that is the Assassination of President John F Kennedy, one of the first things you notice is just how much information there is to digest. There are at least one hundred disputed issues. And each one of those topics has its own cast of characters. Some of the witnesses present important testimony that paints accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman, while others provide arguments either in defense of Oswald, or in favor of there being additional suspects – or, a conspiracy.
Of all of these witness stories, the one that was most surprising – and disturbing - to me is the story of Ralph Leon Yates.
Yates picked up a hitchhiker on the Wednesday before the assassination on the highway near Oswald’s rooming house. The hitchhiker asked Yates to give him a ride to work. On the drive there, the hitchhiker, who brought with him a brown paper sack that he said had curtain rods in it, asked Yates if he thought President Kennedy could be killed from the top of a building or a window high up.
Yates then dropped the hitchhiker off at his place of work - the Texas School Book Depository. Later that day Yates told a co-worker about the interaction he had with the hitchhiker. A few days later, after the President had been killed, Yates saw Oswald on television and believed that he was a “dead ringer” for the hitchhiker Yates picked up. Yates then came forward to the authorities about what he had seen, thinking that he had given Oswald a ride two days before the assassination.
But it turns out that Oswald was already working in the School Book Depository on that Wednesday and had been all morning. So, it wasn’t possible that Yates picked up Oswald. Still, after being given multiple lie detector tests by the FBI, Yates passed each one. After three interviews, the director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, personally ordered Yates to be re-tested on the polygraph machine. (SAC [Special Agent in Charge] Dallas from Director, FBI (105-82555),” January 2, 1964. JFK Record Number 180-10033-10242.) When Yates again passed the lie detector test, the FBI agents told him that they didn’t think he was lying, but because Yates believed something that could not be true, he would need to be involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. The FBI then sent this father of 5 to Woodlawn Hospital for the Mentally Ill, permanently ruining Yates’s life.
The story of Ralph Yates has a lot of common elements with other points of the assassination. First, there is the argument defending the Warren Report – since it is proven by his timecard that Oswald was in the building, we know for sure that Yates did not pick up Oswald. Second, there is the conspiracy intrigue – It obviously seems like this man - who Yates says looked like Oswald - is trying to impersonate Oswald. If Yates just saw some random guy, why on earth would J Edgar Hoover personally care about it that much? Then, there is the confusion: You have to either be okay with the cognitive dissonance of what happened since there IS a lot of evidence that points to Oswald (like, maybe this is just a weird anamoly?), or the other path is to wonder why there was an Oswald look a like and what that could mean for the overall case.
Ralph Yates, like so many other disputed areas of the JFK assassination, is an opportunity for different people to make different inferences. Whether you shrug this story off or point to it as evidence of conspiracy is based on your own life experience and worldview. And in large part, the inferences you are able to draw are based on your answer to an uncomfortable question: is it even possible that a motivated group of people could have perpetrated the crime of the century to kill the president of the United States of America and get away with it?
JFK Assassination Still A Mystery
Perhaps no other case in American history has been studied – and argued about – more than the assassination of John F Kennedy. Today, people think about JFK assassination research in terms of “conspiracy theorists” versus Oswald did it alone Warren Report defenders.
But, if the Warren Commission was wrong and there was some other scenario than Lee Harvey Oswald killing the president and Officer JD Tippit alone, then that means the crime of the century is currently an unsolved homicide.
While the Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, most people are not aware that the United States Congress through the House Select Committee on Assassinations reopened the JFK case and concluded in 1978 that Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter (just as the Warren Report had said), but that there was also likely another shot fired from the front by an unknown person. That means the most current official government story about the JFK assassination is unsolved conspiracy.
That rings true with the view of the American public as well. In a weird way, the JFK assassination is one of the few topics that bring people together across ideological lines. According to a 538 survey, the existence of multiple shooters in the JFK assassination is a belief held by 59% of Democrats, 61% of Republicans, and 70% of independents.
Of course, public opinion is not the same thing as conclusive evidence. And there are legions of Warren Report defenders out there to provide counter-evidence to each claim by Warren Report critics. People like Gerald Posner, Vincent Bugliosi, Bill O’Reilly, and a lot of people who go hard on the comment sections in JFK Facebook Groups, believe that Oswald acted alone and it is not a close call. The news media also continues to reinforce the notion that the Warren Report has proven to be correct.
This podcast is focused on analyzing the evidence and determining, for each evidentiary question within the JFK Assassination, what is the most likely thing that happened?
My audacious goal is to uncover the objective truth about the assassination of John F Kennedy to the maximum extent that it is possible. Specifically, the first big question we must answer is “Was the Warren Report right that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?”
Disclaimer: I Haven’t Solved JFK
Let’s talk about the name of this podcast: Solving JFK. I received a well-deserved mini backlash on Twitter when I dropped the name of this podcast. I get it. It sounds like I am saying, “I HAVE SOLVED THE JFK ASSASSINATION. FINALLY, SOMEONE SMART AND AWESOME HAS LOOKED AT THIS CASE! AND NOW WE KNOW THE DEFINITIVE TRUTH!” But, that’s not what I mean at all.
I chose Solving JFK for a title because I view the case as a puzzle to be solved by anyone who is interested – not just me. And if you are listening to this podcast, we are actively looking for the corner pieces at this point.
My objective, like many before me, is to find the truth. Almost every book that I have come across in the JFK Assassination literature is either a “conspiracy” book or a “lone gunman/Warren Report defender” book. These authors have a position on all of the disputed issues in the case, and they want to sell their position to you.
Of course, this makes sense. Many of these authors have spent their lives reviewing the evidence and they believe they have solved it. Why should they waste time establishing facts that don’t support their theory of the case? My lack of knowledge about this case is an asset in a way because I’m willing to start from square one.
Without a doubt, there are generations of JFK researchers who came before me and thousands of people who are alive today who know more about the JFK Assassination than I will ever know.
Where my approach is different is that I am not deciding to make a case for conspiracy or against conspiracy from the outset. I am merely analyzing and comparing the arguments of each side to see who is most plausible on each little disputed issue - in my opinion. I don’t know all of the answers in advance. This is a journey where I’m gonna follow the evidence wherever it leads me.
The other unique thing I am trying out is the idea of crowdsourcing information. This case has so many tangents to travel down and paths to explore that there’s no way I can get it right by myself. That’s why I’ll be asking what I got wrong and what information I left out that is relevant to a given issue each week. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org and at the end of the season, before making ultimate conclusions, we’ll do a rebuttal episode or two to correct any mistakes I made and balance out the record.
Having said all of that, in the interest of total transparency, my interest in this case was stoked by thinking that there WAS a conspiracy, but not being able to figure it out. I can’t just turn off the doubts that I have about the Warren Report. But, I can objectively review the record and consider all of the arguments about every issue with an open mind. So, while I haven’t Solved the JFK Assassination. I really would like to and I am going to try with this podcast.
My Journey To JFK Assassination Researcher
I’ve been interested in the JFK assassination since the first time I heard about it in school. What drew me in was the 1) vivid and terrifying Zapruder film showing Kennedy’s head explode combined with 2) Oswald being shot 2 days later by Jack Ruby.
So it was no surprise that, as a student teacher, when given the opportunity to dive in to an American History subject, I chose the JFK assassination. At that time, I concluded that the Warren Report, at a minimum, had serious problems. But there were just too many competing theories for who did it if not Oswald as the lone nut. It was overwhelming.
Cuba. Russia. Anti Castro Cubans. Mafia. The military. LBJ. Texas oil. Fbi. Secret service. Cia. That’s 10 theories.
I walked away from the several books and documentaries I read at the time resigned to thinking the assassination would never be solved. It was just too complicated. Too many witnesses. Too many experts. Too many cops and secret service agents and Dallas police officers to keep up with. And most of all, too many potential bad guy conspirators to keep up with.
I gave up my shallow inquiry into the JFK assassination after that week of student teaching in the Spring of 2004. I was going to law school and trying to start a life. I didn’t have time to read thousands of pages about a true crime that may or may not have been solved. Besides, there were professional journalists whose job it is to find out what really happened. I was sure that eventually some intrepid reporter would break the real story.
Then, three years later when I was finishing law school, I read a story about a deathbed confession by a former CIA agent who was infamous for being one of the Watergate burglars: E Howard Hunt. According to Hunt, the chief conspirators of the JFK assassination were LBJ, at least 4 specific CIA officials, and the leader of a group of Cuban exiles. (There are many people who believe Hunt’s confession is self-serving and unreliable. We’ll dive deeper into examining what he said if our examination of the Dallas evidence does not point to Oswald alone.)
I was struck by the fact that this man, Hunt, who was indisputably a CIA agent for his entire career, was saying that the assassination of JFK was a conspiracy at the highest levels of government. Deathbed confession or not, I wondered what motivation E Howard Hunt would have to say such a thing - in what he believed to be the final days of his life - if it were not true. What kind of person decides to leave this world with a momentous lie?
The Hunt story was very intriguing. And my interest in the JFK case was again stoked. But, I didn’t get around to following up on it at the time because I was lost in the exhaustion of studying for the bar exam. Solving JFK would have to wait.
The Catalyst For My Caring About The JFK Assassination
In 2017, when President Trump gave the green light to release most (not all) of the JFK records, I was back in the game. As the new records came out, I dove in and tried to see what I could learn, which led me down a path of reading every credible JFK assassination book I could find - both conspiracy and lone gunman theories. Then, when the pandemic hit, I had time to organize my research outline and think about how to pursue this podcast. Surely, there must be a discoverable objective truth that I could find by immersing myself in the facts of the case and using the skills I have learned as an attorney to help assess whether Oswald acted alone, as the Warren Commission claimed.
I began to wonder how it was possible for everyone on the news to believe that Oswald acted alone when we know that the majority of us believe there was a conspiracy? At that point, I realized that if I was going to find out what happened, it would not come in the form of a story on television news.