4 Unanswered Questions Surrounding the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

March 12, 2018

On November 22, 1963, shots rang out over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, and within minutes President John F. Kennedy was dead. Despite the subsequent investigations—including the Warren Commission report in 1964, The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979, countless books, documentaries and articles—many mysteries remain surrounding the assassination of JFK. Here are four things we still don’t know.

1. Why did Lee Harvey Oswald kill Kennedy?

The Warren Commission (formerly The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy) concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he brought his Carcano Italian infantry rifle to the Texas Book Depository and shot the President and Texas Governor John Connolly. But what was his motivation? Most likely it was Oswald’s supposed Marxist leanings: He attempted defection to the Soviet Union in 1959; he tried to open a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba activist committee in New Orleans to support Fidel Castro; and he traveled to Mexico City in September 1963 to obtain entry to Cuba to aid the revolution there. But none of those actions ultimately explain the assassination. Two days after his arrest, Oswald was shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, and he died in Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same hospital as Kennedy.

2. Was there more than one shooter?

As soon as the shots were heard, witnesses disagreed about their direction. Did they come from behind the motorcade or from the grassy knoll area in front…or both? Although the seven members of the Warren Commission (including then-Congressman Gerald Ford) concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots alone without any co-conspirator, in 1979 the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that four shots were probable. Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK” famously floated the phrase “back and to the left” suggesting the fatal shot came not from the Texas Book Depository but instead from in front. By 2013, 62% of Americans believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted as part of a broader plot, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

3. Who was the Babushka Lady?

Of all of the documentary evidence capturing the assassination, one person’s photos have never come to light—those of the Babushka Lady. Seen in the famous Zapruder film, as well as other video and photos of the day, a woman wearing a headscarf holds a camera in front of her face as the motorcade passes by. Although a woman named Beverly Oliver in 1970 claimed to be her, there is little evidence to support her assertion that she was wearing the headscarf. Any photos taken from that perspective remain a mystery.

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4. How much did the CIA know about Oswald?

Fifty years after the Warren Commission’s report, CIA Chief Historian David Robarge acknowledged what many professional and amateur investigators suspected: Under the direction of John McCone, the CIA had covered up details about its knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald. Also, the CIA chose not to report its own assassination plots against Fidel Castro, which may have provided more insight into Oswald’s motivations or led the investigators to find other suspects. Thanks to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act of 1992, many documents have been released to the public giving insight into the investigations. Records released in 2017 confirm that the CIA knew more than it claimed about Lee Harvey Oswald, including the fact that he met with Valeriy Kostikov, “a member of the Soviet KGB assassination department.” However, thousands of pages remain redacted over security concerns, and only the President has the power to release them to the public.