by Bob Dudney                            
                   Special to the Times Herald                     
Editor's Note: Bob Dudney, a former reporter for the Dallas Times  
Herald, has written hundreds of articles about the investigation   
of President Kennedy's assassination. He has covered               
congressional inquiries on the subject, has interviewed dozens of  
people connected with it, and has examined thousands of            
government documents.                                              
     The shots fired in Dealey Plaza on a sunny Dallas day 20      
years ago still reverberate in a bizarre way: the belief that      
President John F. Kennedy's assassination resulted from a          
     There is a deep, almost theological assumption by some        
Americans that the President was the victim of conspirators who    
still roam at large. The conclusion is strange because there is    
no solid evidence to support it--and significant reasons to        
believe it is false.                                               
     There is no denying the difficulty of accepting the Warren    
Commission's verdict on the events of Nov. 22, 1963--that a        
down-and-out, 24-year-old ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, with  
no outside assistance, murdered the most glamorous, powerful man   
in the world at the time.                                          
     But no matter how strong the unwillingness to believe, the    
evidence in the case demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that   
there was no plot. Undermining the scores of conspiracy theories   
that have cropped up over the years are three crucial factors:     
     - The scientific, eyewitness and medical data establishing    
that Oswald shot Kennedy.                                          
     - The absence of uncontroverted evidence linking Oswald to    
other conspirators.                                                
     - The lack of evidence to suggest that Oswald was             
unwittingly manipulated by others.                                 
     So long as these elements remain unshaken, claims that a      
sinister plot was afoot that November day will amount to nothing   
more than speculation.                                             
     Nevertheless, theories about the active involvement of        
others in the assassination thrive and multiply. Their             
proponents--some skilled and some not, some sincere and some not   
--have produced dozens of books, films and articles that purport   
to reveal the "full" treachery of events in Dallas two decades     
     In fact, from the volume and variety of conspiracy theories,  
one might conclude that the possibility of a conspiracy had never  
been officially probed. The theories discount thousands of         
documents and millions of investigative man-hours devoted to that  
question by the Warren panel, the FBI and the CIA in 1963 and      
1964; the Rockefeller Commission in 1975; the Senate Select        
Committee on Intelligence in 1975 and the House Committee on       
Assassinations in 1977-1978.                                       
     The list of "suspects" the theories implicate is extensive.   
Among them: The Soviet KGB; anti-Soviet exiles; Fidel Castro;      
pro-Castro Cubans in the United States; anti-Castro Cubans;        
loyalists of slain South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem; right    
wing fanatics; left wing Marxists; the Mafia; rogue Texas oilmen;  
labor unions; Southern white racists; the Dallas Police            
Department; the CIA; the FBI; the Secret Service; the Chinese      
communists; reactionary Army officers; and Jewish extremists.      
     But it is not enough to demonstrate that some group stood to  
benefit from the murder. Theorists must establish participation    
of two or more people in the murder. This they have not done.      
     Each theory alters the nature of Oswald's role in the death,  
but the possible changes are necessarily limited. The principle    
theories are:                                                      
     Oswald is innocent: Adherents of this contention maintain     
that law enforcement officials--cynically or through honest        
error--settled on Oswald as the assassin even though there was no  
reliable evidence against him. They say Oswald could have          
exonerated himself at a trial had he not been killed by Dallas     
nightclub owner Jack Ruby.                                         
     Challenging this theory is an abundance of evidence.          
Scientific testing and physical evidence found at the scene show   
that shots were fired at Kennedy's limousine from a sixth-floor    
window of the Texas School Book Depository building.               
     Oswald worked in the building at Elm and Houston. He was      
seen leaving it shortly after the shooting. Crates were found      
stacked by the sixth-floor window as an apparent gun brace.        
Oswald's fingerprints were on the crates. The morning of the       
assassination, Oswald was seen carrying a long, paper-wrapped      
object into the building. Wrapping paper found near the window     
bore Oswald's fingerprints.                                        
     A rifle was found hidden between boxes in the building. A     
bullet and the bullet fragments removed from Kennedy, Connally     
and the limousine ballistically matched the rifle. Oswald's palm   
print was found on the rifle. The rifle, purchased from a Chicago  
mail order house, had been shipped to a Dallas post office box     
rented by Oswald. A photograph showed Oswald holding a rifle       
identical to the one found.                                        
     Proponents of this theory retort that all of the evidence     
was fabricated and put credence in Oswald's post-arrest            
declaration that he hadn't killed anyone.                          
     But claims that the incriminating rifle photo was doctored--  
with Oswald's head superimposed over another man's body--were      
dispelled by Marina Oswald's confirmation that she took the        
picture. And claims that Oswald's rifle was planted in the room    
after the assassination were refuted by ballistic tests that       
showed it fired the deadly shots.                                  
     Given the problems with claims of planted evidence, some      
theorists have argued that there must have been a "planted         
Oswald," or Oswald impersonator on the scene. This contention,     
however, has been difficult to reconcile with the Oswald           
fingerprints and palmprints found on the evidence.                 
     Two years ago, conspiracy theorists, successfully pressed     
for the opening of Oswald's grave to show it contained an          
imposter--probably a Soviet agent. Subsequent examination,         
however, determined the body was the "real" Lee Harvey Oswald.     
     Oswald had accomplices: Faced with the weight of evidence     
indicating Oswald's guilt, quite a few conspiracy theories have    
contended he was only one of those involved.                       
     Some theories assert that a person or persons helped put      
Oswald in position to shoot the President. They leave unexplained  
why Oswald would need such help. As an employee of the book        
depository, he had easy access to the building. After the          
shooting, according to witnesses' testimony, he sought no help in  
fleeing and left downtown Dallas by city bus and then a taxi.      
     Moreover, it would seem unlikely that accomplices could have  
helped get Oswald a job that put him on the motorcycle route.      
Oswald got his job at the depository on Oct. 15. White House       
planning for the President's motorcade route did not begin until   
Nov. 4, and the map of the route was not published until Nov. 19.  
     Somewhat more credible is the contention others provided      
secret financing, planning, direction or encouragement for the     
murder that Oswald carried out.                                    
     In this scenario, the chief suspect over the years has been   
the Soviet Union. After all, Oswald defected to Russia in 1959.    
He married a Russian woman, Marina Prusakova, in 1961. He was a    
vociferous Marxist. Even after he returned to the United States    
in June 1962, Oswald had several fleeting contacts with Soviet     
     However, no evidence of Soviet complicity has been found.     
Investigators who combed Oswald's effects discovered no            
unexplained funds, no code books, no messages--nothing to suggest  
a Soviet hand in Oswald's actions. Also, had Oswald been           
recruited as a Soviet agent, the Russians would not have been      
likely to allow him to defect, as he did--thereby exposing his     
relationship with them.                                            
     The other top suspect has been Cuba. Oswald admired Fidel     
Castro; he was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in     
the United States; he visited the Cuban embassy in Mexico City a   
few weeks before the assassination, seeking a travel visa to that  
country. Because the CIA was backing assassination plots against   
Castro at the time, some speculate that Castro may have            
retaliated through Oswald.                                         
     But, as with the theory of Soviet involvement, there is no    
evidence. At one point, there did appear to be some. A young       
Central American informant told U.S. authorities he saw Oswald in  
the Cuban embassy, talking to two other men, one of whom was       
conversing in Spanish. Later, he said, Oswald supposedly received  
$6,500 to kill an important person. Under questioning, however,    
the informant admitted he had never seen Oswald and had            
fabricated the transaction, wishing to stir up American hatred     
for Castro's Cuba. Subsequently, he retracted his retraction.      
Finally, he failed a lie-detector test. Anyway, Oswald did not     
speak Spanish.                                                     
     Another account suggesting possible Cuban involvement was     
provided by a Cuban exile who testified before the Warren          
commission. She said two Hispanic men and an Anglo man they        
identified as "Leon Oswald" came to her Dallas apartment 28 days   
before the assassination. She said they spoke vaguely of Cuban     
revolutionary plans before she turned them away. She identified    
Oswald in television film as the man she had seen, but federal     
investigators said they do not believe it was him. They said they  
believe that at that time, Oswald was traveling from his New       
Orleans home to Mexico in his quest for a Cuban entry visa.        
     The most publicized theories involving Oswald accomplices     
are those that have featured other gunmen.                         
     These various versions have assassins firing from other       
windows in the depository building; from the Dal-Tex building;     
from sewer drains, a grassy knoll near Dealey Plaza, the railroad  
bridge over Elm, Main and Commerce streets and the Dallas County   
Courthouse roof; and firing with silencers or automatic weapons.   
     The arguments surrounding these claims:                       
     - One-man, one-bullet: The first shot that wounded Kennedy    
in the neck did not also hit John Connally, as the Warren          
Commission concluded. Rather they were struck by individual        
bullets simultaneously, requiring that there be two shooters. A    
team of experts, including a National Aeronautics and Space        
Administration engineer, conducted an exhaustive study of this     
question in 1978. The panel's conclusion: It is not only           
possible, but almost certain that Kennedy and Connally were hit    
by the same bullet.                                                
     - Filmed accomplices: Photographs of Dealey Plaza taken at    
the time of the assassination show a dim form behind a wall on a   
grassy knoll to the right and in front of the presidential         
limousine. However, investigators found no spent cartridges,       
weapons or footprints in this area. A panel of photography         
experts concluded in 1978 that the images on the film were         
     Films and photos also show a man in Dealey Plaza opening and  
closing a black umbrella. Conspiracy theories suggest he was       
signaling gunmen or that some weapon was hidden in the umbrella.   
But at a hearing of the House Assassinations Committee in 1978, a  
mild-mannered Dallas insurance worker identified himself as the    
mysterious "umbrella man" and said he was only trying to harass    
     - Head movement: The famous Zapruder film of the              
assassination clearly shows President Kennedy's head lurching      
backward when it was struck by the fatal gunshot. If the shot had  
come from behind, conspiracy theorists reason, the impact would    
have driven the President's head forward. Nonetheless, a panel of  
medical experts concluded in 1978 that Kennedy's head wounds were  
caused by a shot from the rear. Moreover, a panel of               
wound-ballistics scientists concluded that the backward motion     
was caused by the sudden tightening of the President's neck        
     - Tape-recorded sounds: Sound transmitted through the         
microphone of a motorcycle patrolman in the motorcade, and         
recorded at Dallas police headquarters, shows four noise           
"spikes." At the behest of the House Assassinations Committee in   
1978, three acoustical experts conducted three test gunshot        
firings in Dealey Plaza, compared the sounds and concluded it was  
95 percent certain that four shots had been fired. The Warren      
Commission had concluded that no more than three shots had been    
fired from the window. The source of the previously unknown one,   
the acoustical experts said, was the grassy knoll area.            
     The finding was the first scientific evidence supporting a    
conspiracy theory and stirred an uproar. But it, too, was later    
discounted. Twelve experts assembled by the National Research      
Council reviewed the tapes and concluded the "spikes" were         
actually recorded about a minute after the assassination.          
     The Assassinations Committee also grappled futily with the    
prospect of a likely colleague for Oswald. "The question is with   
who," said one member of the now-defunct committee. "If there's a  
conspirator, then who could it have been? We asked ourselves over  
and over: What associates did Oswald have, where was there         
evidence of conspiracy? We found none."                            
     Oswald was manipulated: These theories suggest that Oswald,   
and perhaps other operatives, were unknowingly influenced in       
their actions.                                                     
     There can be only one reasonable candidate to mastermind      
such a project--the KGB. It would have been the only organization  
with the scientific means and the extended access to Oswald. Even  
some Warren Commission lawyers and CIA members briefly toyed with  
the possibility. Because Oswald spent some time in a Soviet        
hospital while residing in Russia, there was the suspicion he      
might have been brainwashed.                                       
     Once again, the problem is that there is no evidence to       
suggest Oswald was brainwashed. Moreover, the CIA believes KGB     
"mind conditioning" techniques at the time were primitive.         
     Surely, it is impossible to rule out the prospect of a        
conspiracy in the assassination. The Warren Commission itself did  
not do so. "Because of the difficulty of providing negatives to a  
certainty," the panel said, proving there was no conspiracy        
"cannot be established categorically." However, the panel said,    
"if there is any such evidence it has been beyond the reach of     
all the investigative agencies and resources of the United         
     Twenty years later, that is still the case.