JFK’s assassination: Jesse Ventura and John Tunheim debate the theories

One gunman or two? A single bullet? Two? Three? Grassy knoll, book depository or both?
One gunman or two? A single bullet? Two? Three? Grassy knoll, book depository or both?


One gunman or two?

A single bullet? Two? Three?

Grassy knoll, book depository or both?

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy Jr., and the theories about exactly what transpired are still multiplying. And a whopping 80 percent of Americans suspect a plot or coverup.

The host of the TruTV show “Conspiracy Theory,” former Gov. Jesse Ventura, has a theory involving the CIA, two Oswalds and the late Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt.

U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim, who chaired the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board, the congressionally mandated panel that reviewed and declassified millions of pages of documents relating to the assassination, isn’t sure we’ll ever know the whole truth.

John R. Tunheim
Hubert H. Humphrey School
John R. Tunheim

“If someone walked into the back of this room today and said, ‘I killed JFK,’ the general reaction would probably be, ‘Prove it,’ ” he said.

Standing room only
The two men appeared before a standing-room-only crowd at a lunch-hour panel on the enduring mystery held at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs moderated by Professor Larry Jacobs.

To say their discussion was far-ranging is to put it mildly, but they agreed on a handful of things.

One: The sluggish disclosure of records relating to the investigation of the assassination signals a need for greater government transparency.

Two: The investigation by the Warren Commission, a body of not exactly neutral political figures charged with reviewing sloppy, decidedly pre-CSI evidence was a hot mess.

Three: It seems most unlikely the Warren Commission got it right when it concluded that a single bullet traveled through JFK’s upper back, lung and throat, nicked his tie, traveled on into Texas Gov. John Connelly’s back, out his chest, into and then back out of his wrist and finally into his thigh – “completely unscathed,” Tunheim noted.

Ventura’s theory: Investigators were led astray
Ventura would have people believe investigators were deliberately led astray to cover up the CIA’s responsibility. Evidence was arranged by inside plotters to point to Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, and then to Jack Ruby as an independent avenger.

Jesse Ventura
Hubert H. Humphrey School
Jesse Ventura

“Isn’t it interesting that in the ’60s all these figures were killed by lone nut assassins?” he said.

After a detailed review of the JFK assassination conspiracy oeuvre, the former governor circulated two sets of photos he said showed both Oswald and a look-alike. He also described trying and failing, using the same bolt-action rifle that fired at least one lethal shot, to replicate the shooting as cast by Warren Commission.

The governor’s theory – based on documents declassified by Tunheim’s board, whose work Ventura described as “fabulous” – is too convoluted to be easily retold here; conveniently, it’s laid out in detail on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. 

For his part, Tunheim was categorical about just one thing: Oswald was the shooter who killed JFK.

Did he conspire with anyone, and if so, who and why? “People need to decide for themselves,” he said.

Documentation lost
Not only did law enforcement bungle the initial investigation, he said, reams of documentation was either never found or disappeared between the commission’s 1964 report and the appointment of the review board he served on in 1992.

The Zapruder film is authentic, he opined, but audio recordings from microphones attached to police escorts’ motorcycles that appear to have recorded six shots are impossible to synchronize – with each other or the film – well enough to trust.

Most problematic, Dallas police (assassinating a president was not a federal crime in 1963) quit investigating once they collared Oswald, which happened almost immediately. And of course, Oswald was gunned down 44 hours later.

Plus, Kennedy’s autopsy was done poorly, Tunheim continued, by three inexperienced pathologists who were tripping over a couple dozen observers and whose original notes were inexplicably burned. By the time the review board got to the pathologists’ records, only 15 of 85 photos were to be found.

“Virtually all” of the 60,000 documents reviewed by the panel are now public, the judge added. “Some remain closed because they disclose methods of protecting the president or intelligence gathering.”

Plenty to fuel theories
There’s plenty in the documents reviewed by the board to fuel most of the popular conspiracy theories, he said. Organized crime was much more powerful at the time, and many of its kingpins were on the federal payroll as anti-Castro agents.

“The most significant piece of evidence supporting a link to organized crime is, two words, Jack Ruby,” Tunheim said.

The panel declassified documents showing that two of Ruby’s employees told the FBI at the time that they had seen Oswald and Ruby together more than once: “That didn’t make it to the Warren Commission,” he added.

Ventura’s Howard Hunt theory? Tunheim refused to discount it. The former CIA operative’s supposed deathbed confession to his son, he said, is “going to have to go into the bucket of things that people need to weigh for themselves.”

Nor would he criticize the theorists. “The books, and people like the governor, will help them decide.”

To judge by the dizzying array of JFK assassination books carried by audience members as they filed out of the auditorium, the debate is guaranteed a 49th year and likely many more.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/22/2011 - 08:28 pm.

    I read Gerald Posner’s book “Case Closed” a few years back and I was convinced that all of the conspiracy theories and multiple shooter theories were just nuts. Then a couple of years ago, I read that Posner himself was caught up in some plagiarizing scandal in which he ended being represented by of all people, Mark Lane, one of the pre-eminent conspiracy theorists on the assassination. I haven’t gone back to revisit where all of this is. Like many people, I’m fascinated by the whole thing.

    It would be interesting to read a credible refutation of Posner’s book, if one exists. Just because the plagiarized in one thing doesn’t mean his work on the Kennedy assassination is wrong.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Wells on 11/22/2011 - 11:06 pm.

    JFK was the best defender of the middle class since FDR. JFK was brutally murdered.

    We need to reopen the investigation. We cannot allow the parties to this crime be successful.

  3. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 11/23/2011 - 12:27 pm.

    How coincidental that reams of documents somehow disappeared, that the autopsy was done poorly and the notes were burned, and, of course, once the police got their man, they quit investigating. A number of people associated with this murder, including a police officer and others, were also, coincidentally, killed soon after the assassination.
    I have never believed the official reports and record. It didn’t seem plausible to me at the time, and it appears even less plausible today. With so many records destroyed, how will we ever find the truth?

  4. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 11/23/2011 - 12:46 pm.

    Ventura? What is he trying to sell now?

  5. Submitted by Lance Groth on 11/23/2011 - 05:19 pm.

    The most convincing thing I’ve seen in support of multiple shooters (aside from seeing Kennedy’s head blown apart from a shot to the front and right – sorry, nothing will convince me that the kill shot came from behind) is a scene in “The Men Who Killed Kennedy” – a documentary which was shown on the History Channel, I believe.

    It has to do with a man who was fresh out of army boot camp and was on a short leave before being shipped off to duty. He was in Dallas, and heard the president’s motorcade would be passing through, so he took a position on the overpass under which Kennedy’s car would pass hoping to get a good look. He was shooed off the bridge by security people in suits, and ended up on the grassy knoll – originally behind the fence and shrubs, but was shooed out of there by a cop in uniform. He ended up in front of the fence and off to the side a bit. He told investigators after the fact that as he was watching the motorcade, he heard a shot come from behind him and to his left – behind the picket fence. Having just recently completed live fire training in boot camp, he said there was no doubt that he heard a rifle shot close behind him. He said he turned, and saw the cop and another man in an overall holding a rifle in firing position. He said his story was brushed off because the focus was already on Oswald, and no one believed him. For 40 years he swore his story was true, but no one believed him. Then, on the documentary, they showed him a photo taken from across the street, that had been digitally enhanced to bring out more detail. Out of the leaves of the shrubs, etc., emerged clearly the outline of a man in a cop’s peaked hat, with a badge on his chest and a patch on his sleeve. Next to him was anonther human outline, with a bright flash in front that certainly looks like a muzzle flash. In front of those figures and to the right is a man in what appears to be military uniform, looking over his shoulder at the other two. This was the soldier in question – who nearly started weeping that at last there was some proof that he had been telling the truth all those years.

    It’s in the documentary – anyone can go view it. If the digital enhancement is legit, that clinches it for me.

    I also think it likely, based on a documentary done by a fellow in Britain, I think (viewable on Youtube – can’t remember what it’s called) that RFK was killed by the same people who were behind his brother’s assassination. Sirhan Sirhan didn’t fire the killshot – it’s tough to shoot a man from behind when you’re standing a few feet in front of him.

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