Over the last few years, as I’ve researched John F. Kennedy’s assassination, nothing has bothered me more than the casual presumption from otherwise bright people that – yes, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. In fact, this presumption is the basis for Stephen King’s novel and multi-part Hulu movie, 11.22.63.The hero goes back in time to stop Oswald which will presumably save JFK. Of course, King's book is science fiction, but I’m always surprised at the respectable non-fiction where the LHO presumption also crops up,.
One example is a recent issue of the New Yorker, where Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Dexter Filkins, reports on Killing a King, a book about the assassination of Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. At the very top of the piece, Filkins writes, “When Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy…” For me, the very certainty of that statement is like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. However, it’s no accident that Filkins puts the JFK presumption in this article, because Ephron’s book investigates a prominent conspiracy about Rabin’s assassination propagated by right-wing Israelis. He also reported on this theory in a segment for the NPR radio show, This American Life. Let me say from the top, that like Ephron, I don't believe the Rabin conspiracy theory. But unfortunately, to debunk it, Ephron turns to Lucien Haag, a frequently cited resource for those who believe Oswald was JFK's lone assassin. Haag is not a forensic scientist. Instead, he dubs himself a “Criminalist — Firearms and Trajectory Examiner,” and yet he has been used as an authority on JFK ballistic evidence by other distinguished programs like PBS’s Nova. He takes the bullet fragments pulled from the President and matches them with the nearly whole bullet that had been fired from Oswald’s Manlicher-Carcano rifle and then was mysteriously found on a stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital. To link the Manlicher fragments together, Haag repeatedly cites Neutron Activation Analysis and makes it the equivalent of a ballistic fingerprint. However, this analysis was itself thoroughly debunked in two research papers by real scientists: first in the Journal for Forensic Sciences in 2006 and then in The Annals of Applied Statistics in 2007. Besides removing a linchpin of the Lone Assassin theory, these papers upended convictions for hundreds of prisoners across the nation (see “FBI’s Forensic Test Full of Holes,” Washington Post, November 18, 2007). Yet, incredibly, this thoroughly discredited science remains alive with conspiracy deniers like Haag and those otherwise credible but credulous reporters who use him as a resource. Neutering Neutrino Activation is not the only way to exonerate Oswald as the shooter. There’s also compelling witness testimony that was either altered or suppressed by Warren Commission investigators and I’ll get to that in my next post.