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Ron Palenski took a break from sports business on a recent trip to Dallas to look at a story that continues to fascinate and intrigue Americans.
In the land of the gun, there's one story that won't go away. Every morning, crowds of people wait patiently for the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas to open. In blocks of 20 or so, they're allowed up to the sixth floor of what used to be the Texas School Book Depository building.
From 10am to 4pm, there's a constant flow of people, young and old, attracted to the building by a gun crime that was said to have changed America forever.
It was from a sixth-floor window of the depository, a warehouse for school text books, that Lee Harvey Oswald shot then United States president John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963.
Kennedy was the fourth American president to have been assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881) and William McKinlay (1901). None of the other three led to so many inquiries and so much enduring speculation.
The sixth floor still has the appearance of a warehouse but added to it are various artefacts and story boards related to Kennedy's brief presidency and violent death. Oswald's eyrie is presented as it was said to have been that autumn lunchtime when he pulled the trigger three times on the Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano bolt-action rifle he had bought by mail order. Cartons are stacked as if to conceal a gunman waiting at the window, just as they were at the time.
The museum presents the Kennedy story matter-of-factly and objectively. It reports the findings of the 1964 Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone and that one shot missed, one penetrated the bodies of both Kennedy and the Texas Governor, John Connally, and the other blew most of the right side of Kennedy's head away.
But it also notes that in 1978, a House of Representatives investigation into the killings of Kennedy and Martin Luther King found there was evidence of a fourth shot and that Kennedy was killed "probably" as the result of a conspiracy.
And it records, too, some of the many conspiracy theories that have never allowed the story to die: the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, the Mafia, the Russians, the Cubans, the left wing, the right wing, Kennedy's successor Lyndon Johnson ... all have been blamed at some time or another. For a time, one poll in the 1970s said that 80% of Americans believed Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy. That fell in the 1990s but by 2013, it was back up to 61%, probably because of social media.
On the day I was there, a teenage student from Iowa was visiting with her mother. They were equipped with cameras and tape measures and studied in laborious detail the crucial path of the presidential motorcade as it turned from Houston St into Elm and headed through Dealey Plaza towards the triple underpass. On the right of the motorcade was the much talked-about "grassy knoll", the name given by a Secret Service agent to the gently banking lawn flank of the plaza. This area, most conspiracy theorists believe, was where a second shooter was. It was to Kennedy's right.
The information available at the museum is comprehensive. Outside, unofficial information is also available. Enterprising men known as panhandlers approach individuals and groups and tell them their version of events for a price. I paid $5. They point out things the museum doesn't: crosses painted on the gentle slope of Elm St that mark where the presidential car was when each of the two shots hit; a picket fence behind which a second shooter was said to have hidden; where other various conspirators were standing when the motorcade came by.
President Donald Trump's release of assassination documents, and the promise of still more, set off a frenzy of renewed speculation. It is known and conceded that agencies, especially the FBI and the CIA, obfuscated and withheld evidence from both government inquiries. The difference of opinion is why they did. One view is they did so to protect sources or methods of operation or simply not to embarrass themselves; the other is they withheld evidence because it would incriminate them.
No credible investigator has been able to find, let alone sustain, even circumstantial evidence pointing to anyone other than Oswald. Evidence that has at one time or another suggested someone else could have been involved in the killing - such as a motorcycle transmissions tape that convinced the House committee there was a second shooter - has proven to be misinterpreted.
It is a compelling truism that events that do not happen cannot leave any evidence.
If Oswald was not the "patsy" he claimed to be, the question of why he killed Kennedy is the most difficult to answer. Indeed, it is impossible to answer; it is possible to only speculate, and there has been speculation since his arrest in the Texas Theatre just over an hour after the killing. The Warren Commission's conclusion remains as valid as it ever was: "Many factors were undoubtedly involved in Oswald's motivation for the assassination, and the Commission does not believe that it can ascribe to him any one motive or group of motives".
"Out of these and the many other factors which may have moulded the character of Lee Harvey Oswald there emerged a man capable of assassinating President Kennedy."
The "why" can never be known and because it cannot, people who want an answer have invested the great American tragedy with a range of unproven, and probably unprovable, conspiracy theories.
Perhaps the best answer was offered by William Manchester, who was the Kennedy family's preferred author to chronicle the assassination. He wrote Death of a President. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1992, Manchester wrote that he shared the yearning of people who desperately wanted to believe Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.
"To employ what may seem an odd metaphor, there is an aesthetic principle here," he wrote. "If you put six million dead Jews on one side of a scale and on the other side put the Nazi regime - the greatest gang of criminals ever to seize control of a modern state - you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals. But if you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn't balance. You want to add something weightier than Oswald. It would invest the president's death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely. Unfortunately, there is no evidence whatever that there was one."
Ron Palenski is a Dunedin journalist and author.