By DAVID TALBOT and VINCENT BUGLIOSI / TIME.COM
Yes. by David Talbot On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, Robert F. Kennedy—J.F.K.'s younger brother, Attorney General and devoted watchman—was eating lunch at Hickory Hill, his Virginia home, when he got the news from Dallas. It was his archenemy, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, of all people, who phoned to tell him. "The President's been shot," Hoover curtly said. Bobby later recalled, "I think he told me with pleasure."
For the rest of the day and night, Bobby Kennedy would wrestle with his howling grief while using whatever power was still left him to figure out what really happened in Dallas—before the new Administration settled firmly into place under the command of another political enemy, Lyndon Johnson. While the Attorney General's aides summoned federal Marshals to surround R.F.K.'s estate (they no longer trusted the Secret Service or the FBI)—uncertain of whether the President's brother would be the next target—Bobby feverishly gathered information. He worked the phones at Hickory Hill, talking to people who had been in the presidential motorcade; he conferred with a succession of government officials and aides while waiting for Air Force One to return with the body of his brother; he accompanied his brother's remains to the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he took steps to take control of medical evidence, including the President's brain; and he stayed coiled and awake in the White House until early the next morning. Lit up with the clarity of shock, the electricity of adrenaline, he constructed the outlines of the crime. Bobby Kennedy would become America's first J.F.K. assassination-conspiracy theorist.
The President's brother quickly concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, had not acted alone. And Bobby immediately suspected the CIA's secret war on Fidel Castro as the source of the plot. At his home that Friday afternoon, Bobby confronted CIA Director John McCone, asking him point-blank whether the agency had killed J.F.K. (McCone denied it.) Later, R.F.K. ordered aides to explore a possible Mafia connection to the crime. And in a revealing phone conversation with Harry Ruiz-Williams, a trusted friend in the anti-Castro movement, Kennedy said bluntly, "One of your guys did it." Though the CIA and the FBI were already working strenuously to portray Oswald as a communist agent, Bobby Kennedy rejected this view. Instead, he concluded Oswald was a member of the shadowy operation that was seeking to overthrow Castro.
Bobby knew that a dark alliance—the CIA, the Mafia and militant Cuban exiles—had formed to assassinate Castro and force a regime change in Havana. That's because President Kennedy had given his brother the Cuban portfolio after the CIA's Bay of Pigs fiasco. But Bobby, who would begin some days by dropping by the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va., on his way to the Justice Department, never managed to get fully in control of the agency's sprawling, covert war on Castro. Now, he suspected, this underground world—where J.F.K. was despised for betraying the anti-Castro cause—had spawned his brother's assassination.
As Kennedy slowly emerged from his torment over Dallas and resumed an active role in public life—running for U.S. Senator from New York in 1964 and then President in 1968—he secretly investigated his brother's assassination. He traveled to Mexico City, where he gathered information about Oswald's mysterious trip there before Dallas. He met with conspiracy researcher Penn Jones Jr., a crusading Texas newspaperman, in his Senate office. He returned to the Justice Department with his ace investigator Walter Sheridan to paw through old files. He dispatched trusted associates to New Orleans to report to him on prosecutor Jim Garrison's controversial reopening of the case. Kennedy told confidants that he himself would reopen the investigation into the assassination if he won the presidency, believing it would take the full powers of the office to do so. As Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once observed, no one of his era knew more than Bobby about "the underground streams through which so much of the actuality of American power darkly coursed: the FBI, CIA, the racketeering unions and the Mob." But when it came to his brother's murder, Bobby never got a chance to prove his case.
No. by Vincent Bugliosi I have found there are 32 separate reasons for concluding there was no conspiracy. Here are just a few of them:
After 44 years of investigation by thousands of researchers, not one speck of credible evidence has ever surfaced that groups such as the CIA, organized crime or the military-industrial complex were behind the assassination, only that they each had a motive. And when there is no evidence of guilt, that fact, by itself, is very strong evidence of innocence. Moreover, the very thought of members of the military-industrial complex (Joint Chiefs of Staff, captains of industry) or the CIA or organized crime actually plotting to murder the President of the U.S. is surreal, the type of thing that only belongs, if at all, in a Robert Ludlum novel.
I have found 53 pieces of evidence that point irresistibly to Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt. For example, the murder weapon was Oswald's; he was the only employee who fled the Texas School Book Depository after the shooting in Dealey Plaza; 45 min. later, he killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit; 30 min. after that, he resisted arrest and pulled his gun on the arresting officer. What's more, during his interrogation, Oswald's efforts to construct a defense—which included denying that he owned the rifle in question (or any rifle at all)—turned out to be a string of provable lies, all of which show an unmistakable consciousness of guilt. Only in a fantasy world can you have 53 pieces of evidence against you and still be innocent. Conspiracy theorists are stuck with this reality.
Even assuming that the CIA or Mob or military-industrial complex decided "Let's murder President Kennedy," Oswald would be among the last people in the world those organizations would choose for the job. Oswald was not an expert shot and owned only a $12 mail-order rifle—both of which automatically disqualify him as a hit man. He was also a notoriously unreliable and emotionally unstable misfit who tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists when the Soviets denied him the citizenship he sought. If the Mafia leaders, for instance, decided to kill the President of the U.S.—an act that would result in a retaliation against them of unprecedented proportions if they were discovered to be behind it—wouldn't they use a very professional, tight-lipped assassin who had a successful track record with them, someone in whom they had the highest confidence? Would they rely on someone like Oswald to commit the biggest murder in American history?
But let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that the cia or Mob decided to kill Kennedy and also decided that Oswald should do the job. It still doesn't make any sense. After Oswald shot Kennedy and left the book depository, one of two things would have happened, the less likely of which is that a car would have been waiting for him to help him escape down to Mexico or wherever. The conspirators certainly wouldn't want their killer to be apprehended and interrogated by the authorities. But the more likely thing by far is that the car would have driven Oswald to his death. Instead, we know that Oswald was out on the street with $13 in his pockets, attempting to flag down buses and cabs. What does that fact, alone, tell you?
Three people can keep a secret but only if two are dead. Yet we are asked to believe that in 44 years, not one word of the vast alleged conspiracy, not one syllable, has ever leaked out. Additionally, the motorcade route in Dallas, which took the President right beneath Oswald's window, wasn't even selected until Nov. 18, just four days before the assassination. Surely no rational person can believe a group like the CIA or the Mob would hatch its conspiracy with Oswald to kill Kennedy within only four days of the President's trip to Dallas.
To this day, the overwhelming majority of the American people (75%) have bought into the conspiracy idea. Their reasons vary widely: general mistrust of government; the desire to imbue Kennedy's death with deeper meaning than a random act of violence or a simple relish for intrigue. Despite the total lack of evidence, the story of a J.F.K. assassination conspiracy has captivated the nation for the past half-century and is likely to do so for many years to come.