Friday, November 22, 2013

The Kennedy Assassination - A Friendly Fire Theory

Fifty years ago today, the world came to a standstill while it digested the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy.  As a young lad, I can quite clearly remember much of the news coverage of that day and the following days, largely because I was absent from school because of an illness.  I can still remember walking through K-Mart and seeing the coverage by the major television networks.  Since that time, one of my "hobbies" has been researching the Kennedy assassination and trying to understand what alternative scenarios are plausible, given that the scenario presented by the Warren Commission seems, in hind sight, to be rather unlikely.

One of the most interesting but little discussed scenarios involves a "friendly fire" incident.  In this scenario, one does not have to invoke a "foil hat conspiracy" that involves the Chicago Mafia or the military-industrial complex, rather, a simple accident could explain the untimely death of President Kennedy.

Decades ago, ballistics and firearms expert Howard Donahue proposed a theory that Secret Service agents in the car following the Presidential limousine may have accidentally shot the President.  According to Mr. Donahue's theory, Lee Harvey Oswald was able to fire twice at the President with the first shot showering the car with fragments that slightly wounded Kennedy.  Owald's second shot then struck Kennedy in the back of the neck, passed through the front of his neck and then went on to injure Texas Governor John Connally (the Single Bullet Theory).  Seconds later, the shot that killed the President was fired from the follow-up Secret Service vehicle.  This shot was fired by 40 year old Secret Service Agent George Hickey Jr. after he picked up and cocked his automatic Colt AR-15 from the floor of the car in response to the sound of gunfire.  When the motorcade came to a sudden halt, Agent Hickey accidentally pulled the trigger, firing a bullet at the back of Kennedy's head.

Here is a photograph showing the Secret Service follow-up vehicle immediately behind the President's limousine just before it enters Dealey Plaza:

Here are several of the arguments for this theory:

1.) The bullet that caused Kennedy's fatal head wound behaved like a high-velocity frangible bullet.  Oswald used medium-velocity, non-frangible ammunition.  Secret Service Agent Hickey was seen with an AR-15 rifle around the time that the head shot was fired; the AR-15 fires high-velocity, frangible ammunition.

2.) Witnesses in Dealey Plaza reported that there were two shots fired nearly simultaneously, far too fast to have been fired from Oswald's bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.

3.) The reported diameter of the bullet wound on the back of Kennedy's head was 6.0 millimetres compared to the 6.5 millimetre ammunition used in Oswald's Carcano rifle.

4.) The damage to the windshield on the President's limousine was too high to have been caused by a projectile fired from the sixth floor of the School Book Depository.

5.) Witnesses at street level reported the smell of gunpowder, particularly in the northwest corner of Dealey Plaza.  Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough who was riding in the second car behind the Presidential limousine reported that he smelled gunpowder in the street and that it clung to the car throughout the race to Parkland Hospital.  One of the accompanying motorcycle policemen, Officer B. J. Martin also recalled " ... you could smell the gunpowder ... you knew he wasn't that far away. When you're that close you can smell the powder burning ... Why, you can smell the gunpowder ... right there in the street.

Interestingly, in 1995 Secret Service Agent George Hickey sued Bonar Menninger, the author of the 1992 book "Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK", a book about the "friendly fire" accidental shooting of the President but the case was dismissed because the judge in the case ruled that the time between the filing of the suit and the publication of the book was beyond the one-year statute of limitations.  After an appeal, the publishers of the book, St. Martin's, paid Agent Hickey an undisclosed sum of money.  In case you are interested, here is a link to the Hickey suit against St. Martin's with a detailed list of the erroneous claims made in Menninger's book.

George Hickey passed away in 2011.

While I think that this theory is more than a bit of a stretch, it is unique in its complete lack of a conspiracy, a rather rare commodity in the world of JFK assassination theories.  That, however, does not necessarily make it more plausible.  Unfortunately, as shown here, fifty years on, the majority of Americans still believe that President Kennedy's death was a conspiracy:

It is our skepticism about government openness that has kept the JFK assassination conspiracy theorists in business for five long decades.  With the current level of mistrust in government now, one can only imagine how many conspiracy theories would exist if there were another high profile political assassination today.


  1. This is an interesting suggestion, but when you say "it is unique in its complete lack of a conspiracy", I will have to disagree. The conspiracy would be found in the cover-up after the shooting. I think that someone would have eventually ratted Hickey out, in reality.

  2. The only person who would have known what happened (if it happened) would be Hickey, when he checked how much ammo he had left in his gun and realized a shot had been fired. But even he would would most likely just second guess himself he would figure he must have left out a round when he loaded the gun. How did he not realize he fired a shot? It's possible with everything going on around him he thought someone else near him fired and vise versa to those around him, once everything calmed down they may not have brought it back up as they were all in shock about the president just being killed.

  3. Howard Brennan (page 63, WCR) was a witness to a man firing a rifle toward the president's car out a window in the SE corner of the Texas Schoolbook Depository building. Warren commission exhibit 477 shows Brennan's own writing on a picture that shows the area from which he viewed the man and in which part of the bldg he saw the shooter. Brennan identified himself in the Zapruder firm, which corroborated his statements about where he had been standing. Amos Euins corroborates Brennan's account. Robert Jackson does also.

    I could go on, but it seems like this anniversary and this event brings out the burning desire to justly explain it. Some huge force must have caused this! But really, it was a guy with a rifle shooting from a building. And a lot of people witnessed it.

    Portland, Oregon

  4. I don't think it's skepticism about government openess that's kept the Kennedy assassination "alive" for half a century. It's the official declaration that one dude did it all -- followed by the many independent attempts to duplicate that feat; all of which have failed.

    Could Mr. Hickey have contributed to the known shot count? Yes--but I wouldn't expect him to own to it (I certainly wouldn't; would you?). I would expect, if "one of our own" had been involved accidentally, a strong desire to suppress the truth, even on the part of those who believed (believe) that ONE dude could not have done what we all know was done that day in Dealey Plaza