The Conclusion of the House Select Committe on Assassinations:
President John F. Kennedy
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once simply defined
conspiracy as "a partnership in criminal
definition is adequate. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to set
out a more precise definition. If two or more individuals agreed
to take action to kill President Kennedy, and at least one of
them took action in furtherance of the plan, and it resulted in
President Kennedy's death. The President would have been assassinated
as a result of a conspiracy.
The committee recognizes, of course, that while the word "conspiracy"
technically denotes only a "partnership in criminal purposes,"
it also, in fact, connotes widely varying meanings to many people,
and its use has vastly differing societal implications depending
upon the sophistication, extent and ultimate purpose of the partnership.
For example, a conspiracy to assassinate a President might be
a complex plot orchestrated by foreign political powers; it might
be the scheme of a group of American citizens dissatisfied with
particular governmental policies; it also might be the plan of
two largely isolated individuals with no readily discernible motive.
Conspiracies may easily range, therefore, from those with important
implications for social or governmental institutions to those
with no major societal significance. As the evidence concerning
the probability that President Kennedy was assassinated as a result
of a "conspiracy" is analyzed, these various connotations
of the word "conspiracy" and distinctions between them
ought to be constantly borne in mind. Here, as elsewhere, words
must be used carefully. lest people be misled.1
A conspiracy cannot be said to have existed in Dealey Plaza
unless evidence exists front which, in Justice Holmes' words,
a "partnership in criminal purposes" may be inferred.
The Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was
not involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the President was,
for example, largely based on its findings of the absence of evidence
of significant association (2) between Oswald and other possible conspirators
and no physical evidence of conspiracy.(3)
The Commission reasoned, quite rightly, that in the absence
of association or physical evidence, there was no conspiracy.
Even without physical evidence of conspiracy at the scene of the
assassination, there would, of course, be a conspiracy if others
assisted Oswald in his efforts. Accordingly, an examination of
Oswald's associates is necessary. The Warren Commission recognized
that a first premise in a finding of conspiracy may be a finding
of association. Because the Commission did not find any significant
Oswald associates, it was not compelled to face the difficult
questions posed by such a finding. More than association is required
to establish conspiracy. There must be at least knowing assistance
or a manifestation of agreement to the criminal purpose by the
It is important to realize, too, that the term "associate"
may connote widely varying meanings to different people. A person's
associate may be his next door neighbor and vacation companion,
or it may be an individual he has met only once for the purpose
of discussing a contract for a murder. The Warren Commission examined
Oswald's past and concluded he was essentially a loner.4
It reasoned, therefore, that since Oswald had no significant
associations with persons who could have been involved with him
in the assassination, there could not have been a conspiracy.(5)
Ruby and Oswald, and other possible groups
With respect to Jack Ruby,2 the Warren Commission similarly found
no significant associations, either between Ruby and Oswald or
between Ruby and others who might have been conspirators with
him.(8) In particular, it found no connections between Ruby and organized
crime, and it reasoned that absent such associations, there was
no conspiracy to kill Oswald or the President.9
The committee conducted a three-pronged investigation of conspiracy
in the Kennedy assassination. On the basis of extensive scientific
analysis and an analysis of the testimony of Dealey Plaza witnesses,
the committee found there was a high probability that two gunmen
fired at President Kennedy.
Second, the committee explored Oswald's and Ruby's contacts
for any evidence of significant associations. Unlike the Warren
Commission, it found certain of these contacts to be of investigative
significance. The Commission apparently had looked for evidence
of conspiratorial association. Finding none on the face of the
associations it investigated, it did not go further. The committee,
however. conducted a wider ranging investigation. Notwithstanding
the possibility of a benign reason for contact between Oswald
or Ruby and one of their associates, the committee examined the
very fact of the contact to see if it contained investigative
significance. Unlike the Warren Commission, the committee took
a close look at the associates to determine whether conspiratorial
activity in the assassination could have been possible, given
what the committee could learn about the associates, and whether
the apparent nature of the contact should, therefore, be examined
Third, the committee examined groups, political organizations,
national governments and so on that might have had the motive,
opportunity and means to assassinate the President.
The committee, therefore, directly introduced the hypothesis
of conspiracy and investigated it with reference to known facts
to determine if it had any bearing on the assassination.
The committee examined a series of major groups or organizations
that have been alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to
assassinate the President. If any of these groups or organizations,
as a group, had been involved in the assassination, the conspiracy
to assassinate President Kennedy would have been one of major
As will be detailed in succeeding sections of this report,
the committee did not find sufficient evidence that any of these
groups or organizations were involved in a conspiracy in the Kennedy
assassination. Accordingly, the committee concluded, on the basis
of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet government, the
Cuban government, anti-Castro Cuban groups, and the national syndicate
of organized crime were not involved in the assassination.
Further, the committee found that the Secret Service, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency were
not involved in the assassination.
Based on the evidence available to it,
the committee could not preclude the possibility that individual
members of anti-Castro Cuban groups or the national syndicate
of organized crime were involved in the assassination. There was insufficient evidence, however, to support a finding
that any individual members were involved. The ramifications of
a conspiracy involving such individuals would be significant,
although of perhaps less import than would be the case if a group
itself, the national syndicate, for example, had been involved.
The committee recognized that a finding that two gunmen fired
simultaneously at the President did not, by itself, establish
that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the President. It is
theoretically possible that the gunmen were acting independently,
each totally unaware of the other. It was the committee's opinion,
however, that such a theoretical possibility is extremely remote.
The more logical and probable inference to be drawn from two gunmen
firing at the same person at the same time and in the same place
is that they were acting in concert, that is, as a result of a
The committee found that, to be precise and loyal to the facts
it established, it was compelled to find that President Kennedy
was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy. The committee's
finding that President Kennedy was probably assassinated as a
result of a conspiracy was premised on four factors:
1) Since the Warren Commission's and FBI's investigation
into the possibility of a conspiracy was seriously flawed, their
failure to develop evidence of a conspiracy could not be given
2) The Warren Commission was, in fact, incorrect in concluding
that Oswald and Ruby had no significant associations, and therefore
its finding of no conspiracy was not reliable.
3) While it cannot be inferred from the significant associations
of Oswald and Ruby that any of the major groups examined by the
committee were involved in the assassination, a more limited conspiracy
could not be ruled out.
4) There was a high probability that a second gunman, in
fact, fired at the President. At the same time, the committee
candidly stated, in expressing its finding of conspiracy in the
Kennedy assassination, that it was "unable to identify the
other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy."
The photographic and other scientific evidence available to
the committee was insufficient to permit the committee to answer
these questions In addition, the committee's other investigative
efforts did not develop evidence from which Oswald's conspirator
or conspirators could be firmly identified. It is possible, of
course, that the extent of the conspiracy was so limited that
it involved only Oswald and the second gunman. The committee was
not able to reach such a conclusion, for it would have been based
on speculation, not evidence. Aspects of the investigation did
suggest that the conspiracy may have been relatively limited,
but to state with precision exactly how small was not possible.
Other aspects of the committee's investigation did suggest, however,
that while the conspiracy may not have involved a major group,
it may not have been limited to only two people. These aspects
of the committee's investigation are discussed elsewhere.
If the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy was limited
to Oswald and a second gunman, its main societal significance
may be in the realization that agencies of the U.S. Government
inadequately investigated the possibility of such a conspiracy.
In terms of its implications for government and society, an assassination
as a consequence of a conspiracy composed solely of Oswald and
a small number of persons, possibly only one, and possibly a person
akin to Oswald in temperament and ideology, would not have been
fundamentally different from an assassination by Oswald alone.4
[Select Page note to return to Text]
(1) It might
be suggested that because of the widely varying meanings attached
to the word "conspiracy," it ought to be avoided. Such
a suggestion, however, raises another objection the search for
euphemistic variations can lead to a lack of candor. There is
virtue in seeing something for what it is, even if the plain truth
Commission devoted its Appendix XVI to a biography of Jack Ruby
in which his family background, psychological makeup, education
and business activities were considered. While the evidence was
sometimes contradictory, the Commission found that Ruby grew up
In Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants; that he lived in a home
disrupted by domestic strife,6 that he was troubled psychologically
as a youth and not educated beyond high school; and that descriptions
of his temperament ranged from "mild mannered" to "violent."7
In 1963 Ruby was 52 and unmarried. He ran a
Dallas nightclub but was not particularly successful in business.
His acquaintances included a number of Dallas police officers
who frequented his nightclub, as well as other types of people
who comprised his clientele.
committee found associations of both Ruby and Oswald that were
unknown to the Warren Commission.
(4) If the
conspiracy were, in fact, limited to Oswald the second gunman,
and perhaps one or two others. the committee believes it was possible
they shared Oswald's left-wing political disposition. A consistent
pattern In Oswald's life (see section A 5) was a propensity for
actions with political overtones. It is quite likely that an assassination
conspiracy limited to Oswald and a few associate was in keeping
with that pattern.
Further, it is possible that associates of
Oswald In the Kennedy assassination had been involved with him
in earlier activities. Two possibilities: the attempt on the life
of Gen. Edwin A. Walker in April 1963 and the distribution of
Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature in August 1963. With respect
to the Walker incident, there was substantial evidence that Oswald
did the shooting (section A 5), although at the time of the shooting
It was not sufficient to implicate Oswald or anyone else. It was
not until after the Kennedy assassination that Oswald became a
suspect in the Walker attack, based on the testimony of his widow
Marina. Marina's characterization of Oswald is more consistent
with his having shot at Walker alone than his having assistance,
although at the time of the shooting there was testimony that
tended to indicate more than one person was involved, Further,
it is not necessary to believe all of what Marina said about the
incident or to believe that Oswald told her all there was to know,
since either of them might have been concealing the involvement
According to a general offense report of the
Dallas police, Walker reported at approximately 9:10 p.m. on April
10 1963, that a bullet had been fired through a first floor window
of his home at 4011 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas. Detectives
subsequently found that a bullet had first shattered a window,
then gone through a wall and had landed on a stack of papers in
an adjoining room. In their report the detectives described the
bullet as steel-jacketed of unknown caliber.
Police located a 14-year-old boy in Walker's
neighborhood who said that after hearing the shot, he climbed
a fence and looked into an alley to the rear of Walker's home.
The boy said he then saw some men speeding down the alley in a
light green or light blue Ford, either a 1959 or 1960 model. He
said he also saw another car, a 1958 Chevrolet, black with white
down the side, in a church parking lot adjacent to Walker's house.
The car door was open, and a man was bending over the back seat,
as though he was placing something on the floor of the car.
On the night of the incident, police interviewed
Robert Surrey, an aide to Walker. Surrey said that on Saturday,
April 6, at about 9 p.m., he had seen two men sitting in a dark
purple or brown 1963 Ford at the rear of Walker's house. Surrey
also said the two men got out of the car and walked around the
house. Surrey said he was suspicious and followed the car, noting
that it carried no license plate.
If it could be shown that Oswald had associates
in the attempt on General Walker they would be likely candidates
as the grassy knoll gunman. The committee recognized however,
that this is speculation, since the existence, much less identity,
of an Oswald associate in the Walker shooting was hardly established.
Further, the committee failed in its effort to develop productive
leads in the Walker shooting.
With respect to the Cuba literature incident,
Oswald was photographed with two associates distributing pro-Castro
pamphlets in August, 1963. As a result of a fight with anti-Castro
Cubans, Oswald was arrested, but his associates were not. Of the
two associates, only one was identified in the Warren Commission
investigation (Warren Report. p. 292). Although the second associate
was clearly portrayed in photographs (see Pizzo Exhibits 453A
and 453B. Warren Commission Report, Vol. XXI, p. 139), the Commission
was unable to identify him, as was the case with the committee.
[Select Footnote to return to Text]
States v. Kissel, 218 U.S. 601, 610 (1910).
2. See Report
of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President
Kennedy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964),
3. Id. at
4. Id. at
5. Id. at
6. Id. at 780.
7. Id. at 786.
8. Id. at
9. Id. at
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