During the half century since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may have heard about a few conspiracy theories.
Decades of investigations, hearings, documents, records, books and interviews have failed to satisfy conspiracy theorists with a definitive answer to the question: Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone when he shot the president?
At one time or another, doubters of the lone-gunman theory “have accused 42 groups, 82 assassins and 214 people of being involved in the assassination,” said author Vincent Bugliosi.
That’s a lot of paranoia.
So, when reporters, producers, or amateur historians are looking to check out the latest JFK conspiracy theory, they call Dave Perry. “People think I’m an anti-conspiracy guy,” Perry said recently at his Dallas-area home.
But there’s one theory that he’s not ruling out. More on that in a minute.
Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists, Perry said, come in all degrees of interest and levels of obsession. They may believe that the government was behind the 9/11 attacks or that the moon landings were fake. Those folks comprise the “off the wall” crowd. The others, he says, read the books, watch the documentaries and come to less extreme conclusions.
Ahead of today’s 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, a flood of books about the tragedy have been re-released, along with the publication of new books examining various conspiracies. The king of Kennedy conspiracy films, Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” has also been re-released on disc.
And Perry, a 70-year-old retired former insurance claims adjuster from Massachusetts, has been digging through JFK assassination records since 1976 to address those skeptics.
Doubters ask him to check out the odd stories that pop up: somebody claimed to be the Grassy Knoll shooter. Nope, he wasn’t. Perry says he located and verified the authenticity of Oswald’s long-lost wedding ring.
Perry guesses he spends a “couple hundred hours” each October and November doing research and consulting. After all that, you can imagine he’s heard a lot of theories.
Some conspiracy theorists believe “the oil people” may have organized a hit on the president; others suspect “people who didn’t like the way Kennedy handled civil rights.”
Perry shared five conspiracy theories he believes rank among the most popular:
- “LBJ had it done.”
Perry has shot this one down. “It’s based primarily on statements made by Madeleine Brown,” who Perry described as a “crackpot.” Brown—who died in 2002—claimed to have had an affair with Johnson. She also claimed that LBJ had attended a party with then former Vice President Richard Nixon, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and others the night before the attack. According to Perry, Brown said LBJ whispered into her ear, “After tomorrow, those Kennedys will never embarrass me again. That’s no threat. That’s a promise.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” said Perry, who said his research proved LBJ couldn’t have been at the alleged party that night, debunking Brown’s story.
- The “military industrial complex” did it.
Nope. That doesn’t wash either, said Perry. “The claim is that Kennedy was going to pull (American) troops out of Vietnam (and that) the military wanted to pour more people into Vietnam. That’s technically not correct. He talked about trying to resolve the situation, but he never made a claim that he was going to pull out of there.”
- “The mob” did it.
Sorry, said Perry, no veracity to that. “There’s at least three different groups that they claim independently did this: There’s the Chicago mob, the Miami mob, and the New Orleans mob. But it’s all hearsay.”
- “Oswald acted alone as part of an unknown conspiracy.”
It’s possible there were individuals who helped Oswald, but who weren’t part of any larger group or perhaps unaware of what he was planning. “Remember John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln and four were hung, including the first woman ever to be hung (by the federal government,) Mary Surratt,” he said.
- “The CIA did it.”
This is the conspiracy theory that interests Perry the most. “The problem is, of all of them, this is one I can’t debunk,” he laughs.
“Supposedly Kennedy was fed up with the shenanigans that the CIA was pulling,” Perry said. “He found out the CIA was trying to kill (Cuban leader Fidel) Castro, which is a fact. So the argument is that the CIA felt that Kennedy was going to disband them. And as a result of that, they were the ones that ordered the killing of Kennedy.”
Oswald was a supporter of Soviet-backed Cuba.
“We know Oswald was in the Russian embassy in Mexico City,” Perry said. “We even know who he talked to. But we don’t know what was said. Then a few weeks later, he shoots Kennedy.”
“It may have been something that they overheard involving him and the Russians. Or, maybe the CIA had Oswald on the payroll. He might have been a double agent.”
Is it possible that Russians ordered Oswald to do it?
Not likely, said Perry. The Russians would never have ordered Oswald to kill Kennedy because of his well-known links to Russia and his pro-Cuban sympathies. Russia’s leaders knew they would have been the first suspects, if they’d engineered an assassination by Oswald. It would have been an act of war, which could have triggered a nuclear attack.
“We need to know what happened in Mexico City,” Perry said.
The answer, he said, may be contained in still-classified CIA documents. The U.S. National Archives currently holds a number of unreleased CIA documents related to the assassination. Those papers are scheduled to be made public in 2017 as part of the 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act.
CNN’s Ed Lavandera and Jason Morris contributed to this report.