On 22 November 1963, President John F Kennedy was shot dead as he took part in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas. Soon afterwards a man named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and accused of having shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas school Depository building . Even though Oswald refused to co-operate and denied all knowledge of the assassination, he was formerly charged the next day, on the 23 November. However, he never stood trial as just two days later Oswald himself was shot dead by Jack Ruby, a Dallas night club owner, as he was being taken from police headquarters to court.
As Jack Ruby went to prison and the police had no longer a suspect to question, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, set up a committee led by chief justice Earl Warren, to conduct an official investigation into Kennedy’s murder. They were under immense pressure by the public to come up with a conclusion. On 24 September 1964, the Warren Commission finally issued a report of their findings. They concluded that President Kennedy was murdered by a single gunmen, Lee Harvey Oswald.
There were numerous reasons why the Warren Commission came to this conclusion, varying from Oswalds background and most predominantly the hard evidence there was against him. In fact, there was a substantial amount of evidence that linked Oswald to the murder weapon and the crime scene which, undoubtedly helped a great deal in his conviction. The main evidence against Oswald was a unique Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, which was recovered on the sixth floor of the school depository building and had allegedly been used for the shooting.
Witnesses claimed that three shots had been fired. Three spent cartridges were found alongside the rifle. Ballistics proved that the fragments from two bullets that were recovered from the Presidents limousine and from the wounds of Kennedy and Governor Connally, came from the same unusual type of rifle, made in Italy during the Second World War. Forsenic evidence also linked Oswald to the weapon. Fibres found on the rifles stock matched those on a shirt Oswald was wearing when he was arrested.
Oswalds palm prints were also found on the underside of the gun barrel. His prints were found on a part of the rifle that was exposed only when it was taken to pieces. In an attempt to conceal the weapon, Oswald may have brought it to the building in pieces and then assembled it there. Police also recovered a brown paper bag on the sixth floor of the depository building. Oswald prints were also found on this paper bag, inside of which were traces of oil from the rifle. Two eyewitnesses recalled seeing Oswald with this brown paper bag on the morning of 22 November.
Lillie Mae Randall, a neighbour, stated that Oswald had carried a long package in a paper bag from his house that morning. As well as this, one of Oswalds own work colleagues, Buell Wesley Frazier, who had given him a lift to work that day, claimed that he too had seen Oswald carry a large paper bag to the depository on the morning of the assassination. Both witnesses stated that the package Oswald had been carrying was 22-23 inches long, roughly the size of the rifle. The evidence slowly mounted up. Next, the ownership of the rifle was traced to Oswald.
His wife, Marina, confirmed that Oswald had owned a rifle similar to the murder weapon that he kept in the garage of their house. However when the garage was searched, the rifle was missing! I believe that this made a substantial difference in the investigation, as Oswalds own wife had provided conclusive evidence against him. When captured, Oswald was carrying a forged identity card in the name of A J Hidell. Enquiries were at one began at local gun stores of whether a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle had been purchased within the past year by anyone named Oswald or Hidell.
Soon a mail order supplier came forward with records to prove that a similar rifle had been purchased by a certain A Hidell. The address given on the receipt was Oswalds and the gun had been sent to his PO Box, which he had recently rented. Experts later also verified that the signature on the on the order form had been in Oswalds handwriting. This strengthened the investigation a great deal, as it was almost certain that the murder weapon had belonged to Oswald. Some thought that Oswald had purchased the weapon using a false Id and had rented a PO Box in order to cover his tracks.
Despite his efforts, it obviously hadn’t worked and had actually made the whole situation seem more suspicious than it maybe was. As well as these links to the murder weapon, the Warren Commision also established links between Oswald and the crime scene, the Texas school book depository building, where Oswald had been working for six weeks previous to the assassination. Therefore he probably knew the building quite well. His prints were found on the boxes on the sixth floor of the building. There were also many eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen Oswald on the sixth floor of the depository, prior to the murder.
Charles Givens stated that he saw Oswald on the sixth floor, acting suspiciously, at 11:55, about 35 minutes before the shooting. Another man called Arnold Rowland who was on Elm Street just before the motorcade was about to arrive, described a man fitting Oswald description who he claimed was standing on the sixth floor holding a rifle. He believed that it was a secret service agent and thought nothing more of it. Howard Brennan selected Oswald from an identity parade as the man bearing the closest resemblance to a rifleman he saw at the sixth floor window.
With all these witnesses supporting each others claims, it was difficult to dismiss them and this reinforced their investigation even further. However the events that took place afterwards, played an important part in Oswalds conviction. This incident was another murder, this time of a policeman, Officer J D Tipppit, who was shot through the head at point-blank range. A witness, Mrs Helen Markham, stated that Tippit had stopped to question a man who produced a gun and shot Tippit before running off.
Oswald was charged for Tippit’s murder as ballistics confirmed that the spent cartridges found beside Tippit’s body were of the type used in the . 38 Smith and Wesson revolver found on Oswald when he was arrested. Mrs Markham also identified Oswald from an identity parade as the murderer. This incident indicated that Oswald was indeed capable of murder. There also didn’t appear to be any clear motive for the murder and the police presumed that Oswald had panicked and had shot Tippit when he had stopped to question him. But why had Oswald panicked?
He may have been on edge if he had just murdered the President and could have overreacted! All this evidence against Oswald and the overwhelming number of eyewitnesses that had come forward, was enough to find Oswald guilty of murder at the time. However, the Warren Commission also investigated Oswalds background and found that he was a strange and enigmatic figure. It was evident that he had a fairly unstable and troubled past, which to most people accounted for his behaviour and the manner in which he had allegedly murdered the President.
As a child he had been brought up in a single parent family, moving all over the country and living in various places. From aged 20, for a short period of time he had served in the US Marines. Here he may have learnt how to handle and use weapons such as rifles. Colleagues who had worked with him said that during this period, Oswald learnt how to speak Russian and read a lot of Communist literature. In fact, on 31 October 1959, he gave up his US citizenship and stayed in the Soviet Union where he met his wife and had his first child.
However, after expressing a desire to return to the USA, he was allowed back in1962. Despite this, he now strongly believed in communism. He began making some dangerous friends due to this and joined various left-wing political groups. Again he indicated his propensity for violence when he attempted to assassinate General Edwin Walker who was a right-wing extremist and therefore from the opposite political spectrum. If he wasn’t afraid to assassinate Walker then, it was believed that he certainly wouldn’t be hesitant to assassinate the President.
This incident showed that he was more than capable of murder! After returning to the USA, Oswald had also joined an undercover communist organization “Fairplay for Cuba Committee,” who were sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government in Cuba. However, Kennedy had approved an invasion of Cuba in order to overthrow Castro and this government, known as the ‘Bay of Pigs’ affair. Once more, this indicated that there was a conflict of ideas between the President and Oswald, who, as we know, wasn’t afraid of speaking out about his beliefs.
This may have been Oswalds motive for murdering Kennedy, a democratic leader who was against communism and an opponent of Castro’s. Despite all this hard evidence and information that the Warren Commission had compiled against Oswald, there was still an abundant amount of evidence that remained inconclusive. However, the Warren Commission were under a great deal of pressure from the public to come up with a verdict about Kennedy’s assassination. Therefore they did not feel the need or have the time to investigate any further and as a result their conclusion was without doubt a hasty one.
But it has to be considered that their only suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was dead and it was difficult for them to conduct a thorough investigation without a suspect to interrogate. As a result they only had a limited amount of evidence which was most likely why so many questions remained unanswered. Kennediy’s assassination was so sudden and cold-blooded, that it left the world in immense shock and disbelief. Naturally people wanted someone to blame, to bring the guilty party/parties to justice.
When Oswald was arrested and people became aware of his background, most Americans were convinced that he was responsible. Oswald was the perfect person to blame, to them Kennedy’s murder could only have been the act of a motiveless man – a man like Oswald, an outcast bearing a grudge and seeking notoriety. The Warren Commission may well have been influenced by public opinion as they undoubtedly wanted the public to be satisfied and by concluding that Oswald was guilty, they were doing just that.
By blaming Oswald they were blaming an eccentric, a misfit, someone not representing a true American. Therefore, American society couldn’t be blamed for this tragedy and its image as a peaceful nation could not be harmed in the eyes of the world. For now the American public were content with the Warren Commission’s verdict, that it was a lone-nut assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had murdered their President! But the truth is that no one will ever be sure about the events that took place on the morning of 22 November 1963.