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John F Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Essay Checker

Aliens. Masons. The Mob.

Body doubles. “Umbrella man.” An inside job.

Long before there was “fake news,” there was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the scores of conspiracy theories it ignited. One author estimated that conspiracy theorists have accused “42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people by name of being involved in the assassination.” According to a 2013 poll, no less than 62 percent of Americans believe there was a broader plot beyond just Lee Harvey Oswald on the sixth floor overlooking Dealey plaza in Dallas.

On Thursday, President Trump released 2,800 secret assassination files from the final batch held by the National Archives. But he also withheld thousands of pages of the most sensitive documents for at least another six months, after intense lobbying by the CIA, FBI and other agencies.

His decision disappointed historians and conspiracy theorists alike. Even so, thousands of people began combing through the files that were put online Thursday night, including more than a dozen Post editors and reporters. What they found were documents about spies and assassination plots that spanned decades and continents.

[ Strippers, surveillance and assassination plots: The wildest JFK Files ]

Will the files add any fuel to the conspiracy theories that have been burning for more than half a century, or deprive them of oxygen once and for all?

Here are a few of the most prevalent conspiracy theories on the assassination.

Multiple Gunmen

Perhaps the most enduring conspiracy theory owes its origins not to some crank in a tinfoil hat but rather to the U.S. House of Representatives.

A week after Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order creating the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy  — the Warren Commission, named after its chairman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Ten months later, the commission presented its findings: Oswald acted alone as did Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald two days after Kennedy’s assassination.


Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald from point blank range in a corridor of Dallas police headquarters on Nov. 24, 1963. (Bob Jackson/Dallas Times-Herald/AP)

In 1976  — after Watergate shook Americans’ faith in government, and after the emergence of the Zapruder film allowed the public to see the assassination for themselves — the House voted overwhelmingly to establish a Select Committee on Assassinations to reinvestigate the killing, as well as that of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968.

[ Zapruder captured JFK’s assassination in riveting detail. ‘It brought him nothing but heartbreak.’ ]

Like the Warren Commission, the House investigation found no evidence of Soviet, Cuban or CIA involvement in Kennedy’s assassination. But the committee did conclude that there was “probably” a conspiracy involving a second gunman on the now infamous “grassy knoll.”

That conclusion has since been discredited, including by high-tech recreations, but the damage was done.

This “great contradiction,” as one JFK scholar put it, created room for conspiracy theories to grow.

Umbrella Man

The most famous theory involving multiple gunmen centers on “Umbrella Man”: a figure seen mysteriously holding a black umbrella on the sunny day of Kennedy’s assassination. Some speculated that Umbrella Man had shot a poison dart into Kennedy’s neck, immobilizing him to allow for Oswald or others to deliver a kill-shot.

Oliver Stone’s conspiracy-fueling 1991 film “JFK” showed Umbrella Man sending signals to his fellow assassins.

[ You can thank Oliver Stone’s sensationalized 1991 movie for the JFK document release ]

The reality, however, was banal. In 1978, 15 years after the assassination, Louie Steven Witt told the House committee that he brought the umbrella to heckle — not murder — the president.


Louis Steven Witt, right, a Dallas life insurance salesman appears before the House Assassinations Committee in Washington, Sept. 25, 1978. Witt stated to the committee that he was at the scene of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas to heckle the President, not to signal a second assassin. The woman at the left demonstrating the umbrella is staff assistant Cyndi Cooper. (AP Photo/John Duricka)

“Has exhibit 405 ever contained a gun or weapon of any sort?” Robert Genzman, staff counsel to the committee, asked him as the committee compared Witt’s umbrella to conspiracy theorists’ diagrams of secret dart- or bullet-firing mechanisms.

“This umbrella?” replied a befuddled Witt.

“Yes.”

“No.”

Witt said he wasn’t even aware of the conspiracy theories over his umbrella until years later, and that it was “bad joke” aimed at Kennedy’s father that had monumentally backfired. (A black umbrella had been the trademark of Nazi-appeasing British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whom Joseph Kennedy had supported.)

“Umbrella Man,” a 2011 short documentary by filmmaker Errol Morris, explored how, under a microscope, the innocuous could appear sinister.

“If the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ had a category for people doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, I would be No. 1 in that position,” Witt told the committee, “with not even a close runner-up.”

An Inside Job

Another persistent belief is that American officials were somehow involved. One theory is that the fatal bullet actually came from the driver of Kennedy’s own car as he attempted to fire upon Oswald.

“If you look at a really bad copy of the Zapruder film, it will look like William Greer, the driver, reached over his shoulder with a gun and shot Kennedy in the head,” John McAdams, author of “JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think about Claims of Conspiracy,” told The Daily Beast. “But his hands were on the steering wheel the whole time, it only looks differently in a very bad copy of the Zapruder film.”

A more widespread conspiracy theory is that the CIA — and even Lyndon B. Johnson — were nefariously involved.


Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president aboard Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963, as his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, and a stunned Jacqueline Kennedy look on. (Cecil Stoughton/White House)

Although experts have rejected it as “ridiculous” and “contrived,” the conspiracy theory was nonetheless central to Oliver Stone’s film. It has also been pushed by another Stone: Roger Stone, the political consultant and Trump confidant who lobbied the president to release the final documents.

“I realize that delving into the world of assassination research and a belief in a conspiracy will lead some to brand me as an extremist or a nut, but the facts I have uncovered are so compelling that I must make the case that Lyndon Baines Johnson had John Fitzgerald Kennedy murdered in Dallas to become president himself and to avert the precipitous political and legal fall that was about to beset him,” Stone wrote in his 2013 book, written with Mike Colapietro, “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.”

(The book, which accuses Johnson of complicity in at least six other murders, also quotes Richard Nixon — Stone’s former boss — as saying “Lyndon and I both wanted to be President, the difference was I wouldn’t kill for it.”)

Sean Cunningham, a history professor at Texas Tech, said no evidence supported the theory.

“Johnson makes for a good story and is an easy way to explain things,” he told the Daily Beast.

Cubans and Soviets

Of all the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s murder, there is one that is most likely to be boosted or debunked by the newly disclosed records.

As reported by The Washington Post’s Ian Shapira, experts believe many of the 3,100 previously unreleased files relate to Oswald’s six-day trip to Mexico City two months before the assassination. Some believe Oswald received his orders from Soviet or Cuban agents while in Mexico City.


Lee Harvey Oswald is led down a corridor of the Dallas police station for another round of questioning after Kennedy’s assassination. Oswald, who denied any involvement in the shooting, was formally charged with murder. (AP Photo)

Oswald had moved to the Soviet Union in 1959, spending two and a half years there before returning to the United States when his minor celebrity as an American defector faded. In September of 1963, he traveled to the Mexican capital, visiting both the Cuban and Soviet embassies in apparent attempt to move to one of the communist countries.

[ Oswald’s chilling final hours before killing Kennedy: An eerie calm ]

“One Soviet official whom Oswald purportedly contacted, Valeriy Kostikov, was not only a KGB officer but also was believed to have worked for the KGB’s Department 13, which the CIA report described as ‘the department charged with sabotage and assassination,'” The Post reported in 1993, when a previous round of documents were declassified.

That has left historians keen to know what the last batch of records will reveal about Oswald’s movements and meetings in Mexico City.

“I’ve always considered the Mexico City trip the hidden chapter of the assassination. A lot of histories gloss right past this period,” Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter and the author of a book on the Warren Commission, told Shapira. “Oswald was meeting with Soviet spies and Cuban spies, and the CIA and FBI had him under aggressive surveillance. Didn’t the FBI and CIA have plenty of evidence that he was a threat before the assassination? If they had acted on that evidence, maybe it wouldn’t have taken place. These agencies could be afraid that if the documents all get released, their incompetence and bungling could be exposed. They knew about the danger of Oswald, but didn’t alert Washington.”

According to some conspiracy theories, American intelligence agencies knew of Oswald’s plot and allowed it to happen because they wanted Kennedy out of the way.

The CIA and the FBI investigated supposed Cuban and Soviet involvement but found nothing. The Warren commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations also both ruled out Cuban or Soviet involvement. Experts have also cast doubt on a Cuban or Soviet plot, pointing to the fact that both countries considered Kennedy easier to work with than his vice president.

According to one conspiracy theory, when Oswald moved to the Soviet Union, the KGB trained a look-alike who assumed his identity and, eventually, killed Kennedy. The man behind the theory even convinced Oswald’s widow to allow him to unearth the corpse.

On Oct. 4, 1981, an exhumation team in Fort Worth, grimly discovered that Oswald’s concrete vault had cracked and that the body was badly decomposed, but enough remained inside the dark brown suit for authorities to analyze.

“We, both individually and as a team, have concluded beyond any doubt, and I mean beyond any doubt, that the individual buried under the name Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill Cemetery is, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald,” announced Assistant Dallas County Medical Examiner Linda E. Norton.

The Mob

In the days after his brother’s assassination, Robert Kennedy had a horrible feeling that the killing was his fault.

“Robert Kennedy had a fear that he had somehow gotten his own brother killed,” according to biographer Evan Thomas. “That Robert Kennedy’s attempts to prosecute the mob and to kill Castro had backfired in some terrible way, had blown back, as the intelligence folks say.”


Jackie Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., leave the Capitol, followed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and his sister Patricia Kennedy Lawford on Nov. 24, 1963.

There is no public evidence of an organized crime plot against the president, however, and experts again discount the idea.

Ralph Salerno, a former New York City Police detective who investigated mafia involvement in the assassination for the House committee, said he reviewed “thousands of pages of electronic surveillances of organized crime leaders all over the United States” at the time of the assassination and heard nothing suspicious.

“We even came across a few sympathetic remarks about the president,” he told ABC. “‘No, they killed the wrong one.’ ‘They should have shot his brother.’ ‘That little SOB.’ ‘He’s the guy who’s giving us a hard time.’”

Ted Cruz’s dad

Not one to shy away from conspiracy theories, then-candidate Trump himself had a hot take on the assassination he delivered to Fox News last year.

Trump, who was at the time battling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for the Republican presidential nomination, claimed that his opponent’s father, Rafael Cruz, had been spotted with Oswald before the shooting.


On Nov. 6, 2012, Republican Ted Cruz celebrated his election to the U.S. Senate with his father, Rafael Cruz, right, at a party in Houston. (David J. Phillip/AP)

“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald being, you know, shot,” Trump said during a telephone interview. “I mean the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this? Right? Prior to his being shot. And nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don’t even talk about that — that was reported. And nobody talks about it.”

Trump appeared to be referencing an April 2016 National Enquirer article headlined  “Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination!” The story contained a photo that, according to the tabloid, showed Oswald and Rafael Cruz distributing pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans in 1963.

Even after clinching the nomination, Trump stuck by the widelydiscreditedstory.

“All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer, there’s a picture of him [Rafael Cruz] and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast,” Trump said. “I had nothing to do with it. This was a magazine that frankly in many respects, should be very respected. They got O.J. They got [John] Edwards. They got this. I mean, if that was the New York Times, they would have gotten Pulitzer prizes for their reporting.”

Read more Retropolis:

Strippers, surveillance and assassination plots: The wildest JFK Files

JFK’s last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht

How America mourned John F. Kennedy: Images of grief for a fallen president

Zapruder captured JFK’s assassination in riveting detail. ‘It brought him nothing but heartbreak.’‘

‘Foul traitor’: New JFK assassination records reveal KGB defector’s 3-year interrogation

The day anti-Vietnam War protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon

CLAIM

List describes a number of amazing coincidences that can be found between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

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ORIGIN

Not long after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the a list of seemingly amazing coincidences between the two men’s lives appeared, and it has been widely and continuously reprinted and circulated ever since:

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Both were shot in the head.

Lincoln’s secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theatre.
Kennedy’s secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Both successors were named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are comprised of fifteen letters.

Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

Despite the seemingly impressive surface appearance, several of these entries are either misleading or factually incorrect, and the rest are mostly mere superficial coincidences that fail to touch upon the much more substantial differences and dissimilarities that underlie them.

Let’s examine them one at a time:

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

First of all, we have to note (in regard to this and subsequent entries) that two similar events taking place 100 years apart is no more of an “amazing coincidence” than if those events had occurred 92 or 105 years apart; it’s only something we take note of and think special because of our non-logical fascination with round numbers.

In this particular case, the statement is literally true as worded: both Lincoln and Kennedy were first elected to Congress one hundred years apart. Aside from that minor similarity, however, their political careers bore little resemblance to each other.

Lincoln was an Illinois state legislator who, outside of his election to a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives, failed in his every attempt to gain national political office until he was elected President in 1860, including an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1854, a unsuccessful bid to become the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 1856, and another unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1858.

Kennedy, on the other hand, enjoyed an unbroken string of political successes at the national level when he entered the political arena after World War II: He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946, re-elected to the House in 1948, re-elected again in 1950, won a U.S. Senate seat in 1952, was re-elected to the Senate in 1958, and was elected President in 1960.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

It’s hardly surprising that two men who (as noted above) both achieved their first political successes at the national level a hundred years apart would also ascend to the Presidency a hundred years apart. This “coincidence” is even less surprising when we consider that presidential elections are held only once every four years. Lincoln couldn’t possibly have been elected President in 1857 or 1858 or 1859 or 1861 or 1862 or 1863, because no presidential elections were held in those years. Likewise, Kennedy couldn’t possibly have been elected President in the non-election years of 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, or 1963. So, even though both men were politically active at the national level during eight-year spans when they might have been elected President, circumstances dictated that the only years during those spans when they both could have been elected were exactly one hundred years apart.

We’re also supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men’s being elected exactly one hundred years apart, but we’re supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences: Lincoln was born in 1809; Kennedy was born in 1917. Lincoln died in 1865; Kennedy died in 1963. Lincoln was 56 years old at the time of his death; Kennedy was 46 years old when he died. Lincoln was shot in April; Kennedy was assassinated in November. Lincoln was killed on the 14th day of the month, Kennedy on the 22nd. Also unmentioned is the fact that Lincoln was re-elected to a second term as President, but Kennedy was killed before the completion of his first term. No striking coincidences or convenient hundred-year spans in any of those facts.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Surely this is the most trivial of coincidences, especially when one considers that the average length of presidential surnames is 6.64 letters. No mention is made of the fact that the two men’s first names contain different numbers of letters, and that Kennedy had a middle name (Fitzgerald) while Lincoln had none.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Saying that Lincoln and Kennedy were both “particularly concerned with civil rights” is like saying that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were both “particularly concerned with war,” or that Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan were both “particularly concerned with economics.” Those weren’t subjects these men had evinced a particular overarching interest in; those were issues they were forced to deal with due to events currently taking place in the U.S. which were beyond their control.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Another statement that, while literally true, encompasses events that were completely different in circumstance and nature.

All of Lincoln’s children were born before he entered the White House, and the Lincolns actually lost two children, not just one (although only one died during Lincoln’s tenure as President). Edward Lincoln died of tuberculosis in 1850, just before his fourth birthday, and the Lincolns’ eleven-year-old son Willie succumbed to typhoid at the end of their first year in the White House.

JFK and his wife, on the other hand, were the rare Presidential couple still young enough to be bearing children after entering the White House, and a premature child born to Mrs. Kennedy in 1963 died two days later.

Other substantial differences not mentioned: The Lincolns had four children, all boys, only one of whom lived past his teens. JFK and his wife had three children, two boys and a girl, two of whom survived well into adulthood.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Another non-surprise. Absent all other factors, the odds were already an unremarkable one in seven that both killings would have occurred on the same day of the week. (No, the odds are not one in forty-nine; that’a common mistake made by statistical novices.)

Both were shot in the head.

This “coincidence” is another one which is exceedingly trivial in nature. The only two types of shots which reasonably assure a dead victim are chest shots and head shots, so two assassinations committed by head shots aren’t the least bit coincidental — especially when one considers that since both Lincoln and Kennedy were shot from behind and while seated, their assassins had no other practical choice of target.

And the “coincidence” here is even less surprising when we note the substantial differences: Lincoln was killed indoors with a small handgun at point blank range; Kennedy was shot outdoors with a rifle from several hundred feet away.

Lincoln’s secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to Ford’s Theatre. Kennedy’s secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.

This is one of those coincidences that isn’t a coincidence at all; it’s simply wrong. John Kennedy did have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln (who may or may not have warned him about going to Dallas), but one searches in vain to find a Lincoln secretary named Kennedy. (Lincoln’s White House secretaries were John G. Nicolay and John Hay.)

The more important point is that since Presidents are frequent recipients of assassination threats, they rarely make any public appearances without somebody’s warning them of potential danger. Only on the extemely rare occasions when a tragedy actually occurs do we later take note of the warnings; in all other cases the failed “prophecies” are quickly forgotten. (Lincoln received “an unusual number of letters about plots to kidnap or assassinate him,” said to have numbered at least eighty, yet none of those plots were enacted.) Nor does anyone think to mention other attempts at kidnap or assassination that were not preceded by any recorded warnings to the victims. (Lincoln was shot at on at least one other occasion.)

Yes, Lincoln was warned not to go to Ford’s Theatre by persons concerned for his safety, just as he had been warned not to visit Richmond a week earlier, and just as he had been warned not to attend his own inauguration in 1861. Obviously, only one of the myriad of warnings he received throughout his four years in office was on the mark. Likewise, Kennedy was warned not to visit San Antonio the day before his trip to Dallas (and undoubtedly before a host of other appearances as well), but only the last warning he allegedly received is considered significant, because it coincidentally happened to come true. As various “psychics” have demonstrated, if you make enough predictions, one of them is eventually bound to come true; the public remembers only that and forgets about all the others failed predictions.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.

A dubious use of the term “Southerner.” John Wilkes Booth was undeniably a Southern sympathizer, but he was born in Maryland, which (along with Delaware) was the northernmost of the border slave states and remained part of the Union throughout the Civil War. Additionally, Booth spent a good deal of his life in the North and “thought of himself as a Northerner who understood the South.”

Oswald was nominally a Southerner by virtue of his having been born in New Orleans; he spent his youth being shuttled between Louisiana, Texas, and New York before finally joining the Marines. But Oswald’s “Southerness” is of no real import, because, unlike Booth, Oswald was not motivated by a regional affiliation.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Both Lincoln and Kennedy were “succeeded by Southerners” because both had Southerners as vice-president, another fact hardly surprising considering the historical circumstances of their times. Lincoln was a Northern Republican running for re-election while the country was in the midst of a civil war and needed a Southerner and a Democrat to balance the ticket, hence his choice of Tennessean Andrew Johnson. Kennedy, represented New England and therefore needed a vice-presidential candidate who could appeal to the populous Southern and Western regions, hence his choice of a Southwesterner, Texan Lyndon Johnson.

The identification of Andrew Johnson as a “Southerner” is also a bit problematic here. Although Johnson was born in North Carolina and spent his adult life in Tennessee (both slave states), Johnson was also the only Southern senator who refused to follow his state when it seceded and remained loyal to the Union.

Both successors were named Johnson.

Given the high frequency of “Johnson” (literally “son of John”) as a surname in both Lincoln’s and Kennedy’s time, this “coincidence” should be no real surprise to anyone.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

Another hundred-year coincidence that is hardly surprising, since nearly all American politicians have attained high office (President or Vice-President) while in the 50-70 age range (and Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson were, obviously, contemporaries of Lincoln and Kennedy, respectively). It’s time again to point out that there’s nothing “coincidental” about events merely because they somehow involve the number 100. If we sifted through all the Lincoln/Kennedy data, we could produce multiple instances of events involving the number 17 or 49 or 116, but nobody would consider those “coincidences” because they don’t yield nice round numbers that have any significance to us, even though they’re all just as “coincidental” as the number 100.

And once again, let’s consider all the differences between the two Johnsons, such as that one hailed from North Carolina while the other was from Texas, or that one supported slavery while the other championed civil rights, or that one was never elected President in his own right while the other won the biggest presidential landslide in history, or that one was impeached while the other wasn’t, or that one became President at the end of a war while the other became President at the beginning of a war.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Another coincidence that is no coincidence because it’s plain wrong: Booth was born in 1838, not 1839. His birthday is typically fudged by a year to make it fit a predetermined pattern.

Both assassins were known by their three names.

Another “coincidence” of dubious veracity. John Wilkes Booth was often billed as “J. Wilkes Booth” or simply “John Wilkes” (primarily to distinguish himself from his father and brother, both named Junius, and his brother Edwin, all three of whom were also actors), and as a prominent actor, his name was already familiar to the general public at the time of Lincoln’s assassination.

Lee Oswald was generally referred to simply as “Lee” (not “Lee Harvey”) before Kennedy’s assassination, and he was completely unknown to the general public until his arrest. The common usage of his full name only came about after the assassination, because his habitual employment of false names (including several variations on his real name) and his possession of forged identification cards made it difficult for the Dallas police to initially identify him, so they used his full name for specificity.

Both names are comprised of fifteen letters

Coincidence? Neither their first nor last names have the same number of letters. And why should it be significant that both assassins had the same number of letters in their full names when the same wasn’t true of Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or of Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Baines Johnson?

Once again, perhaps we should focus on the substantive differences between the two men: Booth was born into a prominent family and, like his father, was a well-known, popular, gregarious actor. Oswald was born (and lived most of his life) in near poverty-level circumstances, never knew his father (who died two months before Oswald was born) and was an obscure, moody malcontent who never had any close friends or a steady job. Oswald was married with two children; Booth had neither wife nor offspring. Oswald enlisted in the Marines, but Booth kept a promise to his mother not to join the Confederate army.

Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse. Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

Another “coincidence” that is both inaccurate and superficial.

Booth shot Lincoln in a theater of the type where live stage shows are held, then fled across state lines before being trapped and killed in a tobacco shed several days later.

Oswald shot Kennedy from (not in) a textbook warehouse, then remained in Dallas and was caught and taken alive in a movie theater a little over an hour later.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

Another superficial similarity with much more significant underlying differences, and a potentially dubious use of the word “assassinated.”

After Booth shot Lincoln, he fled the scene and eventually (with a co-conspirator, David Herold) crossed the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia, eluding capture for a total of eleven days before federal troops finally discovered him to be hiding on a farm belonging to Richard Garrett and surrounded the barn in which he and Herold were sleeping. The two men were ordered to surrender: Herold complied, but when Booth failed to drop his weapon and come out, the barn was set ablaze. A trooper named Boston Corbett, who was watching Booth through a gap in the barn’s siding, shot the assassin. Whether Corbett can be said to have “assassinated” Booth is problematic — the deeply religious Corbett sometimes claimed that he had shot Booth because “Providence directed” him to do it, or because he “did not want Booth to be roasted alive,” but he also testified that he shot Booth because he “saw [Booth] in the act of stooping or springing and concluded he was going to use his weapons.”

Oswald left the warehouse from which he shot Kennedy and was arrested in a movie theater a little over an hour later by police officers who had no idea who he was. (Oswald was initially arrested only for the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, whom he shot while in flight; his connection to the Kennedy assassination was not established until later.) Oswald was captured alive and remained in custody for two days before being gunned down by Jack Ruby, a private citizen.

Other differences: Booth was shot in the back in the neck and lived for another three hours; Oswald was shot in the abdomen and died within minutes of his arrival at Parkland Hospital.

A month before Lincoln was assassinated he was in Monroe, Maryland. A month before Kennedy was assassinated he was in Marilyn Monroe.

This is a latter-day addition to the list and nothing more than a salacious joke. Even as a humorous coincidence it fails the test, as Marilyn Monroe died well over a year before Kennedy’s assassination.


So what are we to make of all this? How do we account for all these coincidences, no matter how superficial they may be, and why do so many people find this list so compelling?

The coincidences are easily explained as the simple product of mere chance. It’s not difficult to find patterns and similarities between any two marginally-related sets of data, and coincidences similar in number and kind can be (and have been) found between many different pairs of Presidents. Our tendency to seek out patterns wherever we can stems from our desire to make sense of our world; to maintain a feeling that our universe is orderly and can be understood. In this specific case two of our most beloved Presidents were murdered for reasons that make little or no sense to many of us, and by finding patterns in their deaths we also hope to find a larger cosmic “something” that seemingly provides some reassuring (if indefinite) rhyme or reason why these great men were prematurely snatched from our mortal sphere.

FeedbackSources

Fact Checker:David Mikkelson

Published:12 June 1999

Updated:22 November 2017

Sources:

Donald, David Herbert.   Lincoln.
    New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.   ISBN 0-684-80846-3.

Posner, Gerald.   Case Closed.
    New York: Random House, 1993.   ISBN 0-679-41825-3.

Walker, Dale L.   Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West.
    New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1997.   ISBN 0-312-86848-0.

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