Anthony Summers, 1980
Book Review by Molly Lundquist
For those who love murder mysteries, Conspiracy is one of the all-time greats. It's the unsolved story of who killed President John F. Kennedy—and it is not a work of fiction.
I first learned of Conspiracy over 30 years ago in 1980. Robert MacNeil, then co-anchor of the PBS news show, was so shaken after reading it that he devoted an entire news program to its contents—an unheard of precedent. I happened to be watching that evening.
Conspiracy attempts to prove what many have long believed—that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone gunman. The book, in fact, raises serious doubt as to whether Oswald even pulled the trigger.
Summers' book dovetailed with the work of Congress's Assassinations Committee.* The CAC had recently published its own 1,000-page report, which presented striking evidence of a joint plot—by the mafia and Cuban extremists—to kill Kennedy.
Like a crime writer follwing his craft, Summers lays out the empirical evidence used to convict Oswald in the public's mind—then shows how little of it stands up to scrutiny.
Summers next traces the complex web of Oswald's connections with a host of strange, shadowy characters connected, in one way or another, to fringe elements of the FBI and CIA—individuals working with Cubans and the mafia to overthrow Fidel Castro—all of whom detested Kennedy. As Summers shows, the mafia and Cuban militants were the two groups who had "the motive, means, and opportunity to kill the president." All they needed was a "lone crazy." Someone like Oswald.
Summers came to believe, as did the CAC, that Oswald may have been involved with some branch of U.S. intelligence, most likely as an off the books "cut-out." Yet the relationships were so tangled, the author wonders whether Oswald even understood whom he was working for. When arrested, Oswald insisted he was "just a patsy"—and there's evidence to suggest he might have been.
Exhaustively researched—and at times dizzying for all its detail—Conspiracy is a gripping tale. The connections it makes, and the conclusions it draws, are chilling. By the time you reach the final page, you'll wonder how it could be that the questions raised by Summers over 30 years ago still remain unanswered.
Of course, the conspiracy theroy is still highly controversial. One of the most prominent refutations is Four Days in November (2007) by Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor of the Charles Manson case.
*Formal name: The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976-78).
See our Reading Guide for Conspiracy.
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