Said to have been taken between the second and third shots fired at Kennedy, this photo shows the agents on the right side of the follow-up vehicle turning to look back towards the sound of the shots.

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Home-grown celebrity crime writer Colin McLaren has had a lot of publicity for his new book on the JKF assassination. Some have described it as a new theory – a claim not made by McLaren. In fact it’s a restatement (perhaps with some new evidence we have yet to see) of a theory developed by US journalist Bonar Menninger who in turn based it on the work of Howard Donahue, a ballistics expert. It was first published in 1992 as ‘Mortal Error: The shot that killed JFK’.

It’s an accidental cause theory, rather than a conspiracy theory. It doesn’t contradict the ‘Oswald lone nut gunman’ theory put forward by the Warren Commission (later thrown into doubt by the House Select Committee on Assassinations) so much as helpfully supplement it by providing an innocent second gunman to tidy up some of the more egregious improbabilities and defiances of the evidence, promoted by the notorious Warren Commission.

Essentially the Menninger version has it that President Kennedy and Governor Connolly were hit by Oswald firing from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository. This, however, wasn’t the shot that actually killed the president. The fatal shot was fired, accidentally, by Special Agent George Hickey, who was riding in the back seat of the follow-up security vehicle.

Menninger summarised his theory like this: “Hickey reaches down and grabs the AR-15 off the floor, flips off the safety and stands up on the seat, preparing to return fire. But his footing is precarious. The follow-up car hits the brakes or speeds up. Hickey begins to swing the gun around to draw a bead on Oswald, but he loses his balance. He begins to fall. And the barrel happens to be pointing toward Kennedy’s head. And the gun happens to go off.”

What did Hickey have to say about the events? Here’s his statement, made the day after the assassination:

“Just prior to the shooting the Presidential car turned left at the intersection and started down an incline toward an underpass followed by 679X [the follow-up car in which Hickey was riding]. After a very short distance I heard a loud report which sounded like a firecracker. It appeared to come from the right and rear and seemed to me to be at ground level. I stood up and looked to my right and rear in an attempt to identify it. Nothing caught my attention except people shouting and cheering. A disturbance in 679X caused me to look forward toward the President’s car. Perhaps two or three seconds elapsed from the time I looked to the rear and then looked at the President. He was slumped forward and to his left, and was straightening up to an almost erect sitting position as I turned and looked. At the moment he was almost sitting erect I heard two reports which I thought were shots and that appeared to me completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession that there seemed to be practically no time element between them. It looked to me as if the President was struck in the right upper rear of his head [this is the shot that Menninger believes Hickey himself fired]. The first shot of the second two seemed as if it missed because the hair on the right side of his head flew forward and there didn’t seem to be any impact against his head. The last shot seemed to hit his head and cause a noise at the point of impact which made him fall forward and to his left again. Possibly four or five seconds elapsed from the time of the first report and the last.

“At the end of the last report I reached to the bottom of the car and picked up the AR-15 rifle, cocked and loaded it, and turned to the rear. At this point the cars were passing under the over-pass and as a result we had left the scene of the shooting. I kept the AR-15 rifle ready as we proceeded at a high rate of speed to the hospital.”

In other words – giving Hickey the benefit of the doubt – he never actually got the rifle up into a shooting position until the follow-up vehicle was under the railway overpass – which was long after the instantly fatal, head shot – and then he turned to the rear, away from the presidential limousine.

Hundreds of bystanders witnessed the events but did anybody else see Hickey stand up with the AR-15 in his hands until after the third shot? Well, no. One credible streetside witness – SM Holland, whose account tallies well with Hickey’s – believed there were four shots of which at least two came from the grassy knoll in front of the President’s car. He said he saw Hickey stand up, but didn’t report seeing a gun in his hands. Another, Senator Yardborough, riding in the car following the President’s, smelled gunpowder shortly after the shooting and two other witnesses thought the shots came from near the presidential limousine but these observations are consistent with a gunman on the grassy knoll.

McLaren’s new-old theory provides a sort of useful fallback position for the lone gunman theory, but frankly, I don’t think it’s got legs.

  • I don’t believe he did it.

  • ram

    Complete nonsense. The AR-15 didn’t exist yet. The Carcano rifle alleged to have been used by Oswald could not hit the broad side of a barn so there is little doubt Oswald DID NOT shoot Kennedy. The choice of announcing Carcano rifle was used was probably to telegraph to the Soviets that this was an inside job and the CIA knew the Soviets had nothing to do with it.

  • Rick

    Dear ram

    The AR-15 used by military and para-military since 1959

    I agree with you about the Carcano, and the retired Australian Federal Police detective (see above article) did conclude one shot hitting the pavement well clear of the vehicle. I adhere to the “freak accident” theory committed by George Hickey.

  • First of all the AR-15 absolutely did exist and was given to the SS to field test. Read the Warren report. The chief of the SS admitted it as well as Hickey. So ram, you are a fool and an uninformed one at that. I believe wholeheartedly that this is how it went down. If you look back at all the shenanigans that went on with the SS illegally taking the body away from the Dallas medical examiner, the fragmented bullet in Kennedys head and all the rest it makes total sense. This was a mistake that the SS had to cover up and that’s where the conspiracy begins and ends.

  • Frank

    Not only did the AR 15 exist, it had plenty of problems with trigger sensitivity. There are pictures of Hickey with the AR in his hands as Clint Hill is bounding onto the rear bumper of the Kennedy limo. This contradicts Hickey’s testimony that he grabbed the rifle only after the last round was fired by Oswald. Also SA Lawson testified that he saw Hickey with the weapon in his hands and had the impression that Hickey had fired. What left him with that impression? Hickey was a poorly trained agent who had only recently been appointed to the SS after being a guard at the Bureau of the Mint and Whit House Police. The question is not whether hickey fired the fatal shot but rather what events transpired after the fact that enabled a cover up by the secret service.