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JFK conspiracy theories still grip Dallas, 50 years on

Cecil Stoughton. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Fifty years on from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 59% of Americans are still seeking the “truth” behind his mysterious death. In Dallas, which attracts millions of curious visitors every year, conspiracy theories abound. FRANCE 24 reports.


Dealey Plaza – the spot in Dallas where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 – has remained largely unchanged for the past 50 years.

From the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots that would alter the course of America’s history, and that of the world.

Less than two hours after the shooting, Oswald had been captured and was taken to Dallas police headquarters, where he was charged with the murder of Kennedy. But two days later, Oswald had been shot dead himself, by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby, as he was being transferred to a county jail.

Half a century has passed since then, but time has done little to satisfy the questions of those who distrust the official version of events. A poll conducted in April this year by the Associated Press-GfK showed that 59% of Americans believe Oswald did not act alone in killing the president.

Photograph of JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Texas governor John Connally and his wife riding in the fated Dallas motorcade on November 22, 1963.
Photograph of JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Texas governor John Connally and his wife riding in the fated Dallas motorcade on November 22, 1963.

One of those is Deborah Conway, a Dallas resident who is committed to finding what she calls “the truth” about the assassination of JFK. “I do believe there was more than one shooter; I also think there was a conspiracy,” she told FRANCE 24.

“They wanted to change our government, they didn’t like the way that Kennedy was leading our country. Maybe they thought he was naïve, young, wet behind the ears... I think they chose to eliminate him.”

In 1978 the Select Committee on Assassinations of the US House of Representatives reviewed the evidence related to Kennedy’s death and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at the motorcade but that there was a “high probability that two gunmen fired” at the president, citing “acoustical evidence”.

The committee concluded that “President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”, but added: “The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.”

‘We’ve forgotten who Kennedy was’

For others, the case has been closed since the government-commissioned Warren Report into the assassination was published in 1964.

“We’ve been so distracted by tales of grassy knolls, conspirators, multiple gunmen, the CIA, the FBI, the Russians, the Cubans, [former president] Lyndon Johnson and Texas oilmen … that we’ve forgotten who John F. Kennedy was,” said historian James Swanson.

“We’ve got to remember that on November 22, a wife lost her husband, two children lost their father, and America lost its president,” he told FRANCE 24. “Kennedy was a war hero, a veteran; he sacrificed his life for his country. He believed in American exceptionalism and American greatness.”

Patty Rhule of the Newseum museum in Washington, D.C., echoed Swanson’s thoughts. “President Kennedy has a legacy far beyond the fact that he was assassinated. He was the first president born in the 20th century, he was the youngest president elected. And he brought a youthful idealism to this country, he challenged us to head to the Moon,” she said.

Tourist attraction

In Dallas, Kennedy’s perplexing death vastly overshadows his actions during his short three years as president.

His assassination has proven an unlikely source of tourism in the city, bringing in around $15 million each year.

Visitors can take a tourist bus along the same route as the president's doomed convertible, buy a replica of Jackie Kennedy's jewels, or pick up a facsimile copy of one of the local papers from the day after the assassination.

An abundance of “truthers” are drawn to the city’s main sites hoping to share their conspiracy theories with the thousands of visitors who arrive in Dallas every day.

But on Friday, when the city commemorates the president’s death with an official ceremony, the ‘truthers’ will be excluded from their usual turf.

Described by Mayor Mike Rawlings as “solemn, dignified and understated,” the ceremony is expected to focus on the “life, legacy and leadership of President John F Kennedy,” rather than his death.

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