A few things are known for sure. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, 34 years old and dressed in a U.S.-made knock off of a pink Chanel suit, was looking at her husband’s face with concern from inches away when a bullet shattered his head.
After that horrible moment, Jackie had to pull herself together, give Jack the funeral he deserved. She assumed that her husband’s enemies had killed him. A week after the assassination, she and her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy confided in a friend, William Walton. They said they believed Dallas was the work of a high-level domestic plot, meaning JFK’s enemies on the political right.
But mostly Jackie didn’t want to think about who killed Jack. She was close to insane with grief, clutching to her brother-in-law who was devastated as well. She was often suicidal. And so Jackie fades from the crime story. The men who dominate the discussions of JFK conspiracy theories are often united in ignoring the views of the woman closest to the crime.
Jackie Kennedy recovered with the understanding that, if nothing else, she had to protect her children and give them some semblance of a normal home. She would say publicly that that accused assassin Lee Oswald was “a silly communist,” a curiously brittle judgment of the man who supposedly destroyed her husband and her life.
And then we learn this in the new Jackie Kennedy biography by Barbara Leaming (via Jacqueline Kennedy’s Struggle After J.F.K.’s Assassination | Vanity Fair):
“The next morning brought unsettling news. It was reported in the press, erroneously, as it would turn out, that the Warren Commission’s findings were expected to show that, contrary to much previous opinion, the first bullet had struck both the president and the governor and that the last of the three shots had gone wild. That certainly was not how Jackie remembered it.”
In other words, the Warren Commission adopted an account of the gunfire in the Dallas crime that contradicted Jackie’s recollection. The Warren Commission wanted her and the world to believe that her husband and Governor John Connally had been hit by the first shot fired at the presidential motorcade. That was what Commission attorney Arlen Specter concluded, the scenario came to be known as the Single Bullet Theory.
Jackie didn’t believe it. Nellie and John Connally, also sitting in the limousine, never believed it. Until the end of their lives, the Connallys said without the slightest equivocation that the first shot hit the president in the back, the second shot hit Connally in the back, and a third shot from behind killed JFK.
The problem with the Warren Commission
The official version, written by Specter, a clever and ambitious lawyer, requires rejecting the testimony of the three people closest to the event itself: Jackie Kennedy, Nellie Connally and John Connally. Yes, let us agree that witnesses to close gunfire can be unreliable. But the Warren Commission report didn’t say that. The report made the issue seem beyond dispute which bullet hit whom. It wasn’t.
Jackie never had to say exactly what she recalled about the murder of her husband. When she came before the Commission to testify, Chief Justice Warren treated her as a friend, not a witness. She spoke for nine minutes and was excused. No one dared ask her the ghastly question, which direction did the fatal shot came from? Perhaps she didn’t know. She certainly didn’t want to know.
Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the senior doctors in Parkland Hospital, had a more objective view of the causes of Kennedy’s head wound. He was among the doctors who tried to resuscitate JFK within minutes of the shooting in Dealey Plaza. With Jackie standing outside, McCelland.was looking down at the wound in the president’s head. He saw a large blowout wound in the back of the head, created by a bullet coming from the front. (You can read Dr. McCelland’s account here.)
In her later years, Jackie didn’t concern herself with the tawdry story of Jack’s death. She knew who had killed her husband. His enemies.
After Bobby was killed in June 1968, she knew for sure. Jackie fled the United States, married her long-time friend Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping magnate who had dated her sister. He was a billionaire, a self-made modern day pirate who commanded vast fleets of ships. He could surround her with a security force and she could lead the life of a cosmopolitan lady and mother safe from the brutality of America.
What did Jackie Kennedy think caused her husband’s death? In 140 characters or less.