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Fifty years ago this Friday, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shocked the nation and changed the course of history. Today, many still doubt the circumstances around the tragic event and continue to search for answers.
Philip Shenon, a former New York Times investigative reporter and respected author, this week spoke at Philadelphia University about the revelations in his new book, “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination,” and some of the controversies still surrounding this tumultuous time.
“It is the greatest detective mystery story of our lifetime,” Shenon said when asked why people are still interested in details of the JFK assassination and why conspiracy theories still abound.
During the course of his research, Shenon came away with new insights into the most-celebrated murder of modern times. “This is a big change in my own thinking about the assassination, that maybe Kennedy’s death was preventable,” Shenon said. “Perhaps it could have been prevented if somebody had just connected the dots.”
Shenon spoke to a packed crowd of students, faculty, staff and community members on Monday, Nov. 18 in the Paul J. Gutman Library, which is also the site of the University’s new exhibition, “Single Bullet: Arlen Specter & The Warren Commission Investigation of the JFK Assassination.”
“Single Bullet” is the first exhibition of The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 22.
Shenon said he began the five-year project reluctantly because he felt the market for books on the Kennedy assassination was already saturated. Once underway, however, the project quickly expanded when several sources pointed him to a wealth of evidence that had been overlooked by or withheld from the official Warren Commission investigators. “This became over time, in many ways, the rewriting of the history of the assassination,” Shenon said during the talk moderated by Law and Society Program Director Evan Laine.
Though Shenon does not refute the Warren Commission’s conclusion—that one shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was responsible for the 1963 assassination—his book explores additional evidence that raises questions about Oswald’s visit to Cuban and Soviet embassies during a visit to Mexico several months before he shot JFK.
“I went into this project never associating the Kennedy assassination with Mexico City,” Shenon said. “But it turns out to be an important link.”
As detailed in Shenon’s book, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who spearheaded the investigative commission, refused to hear the testimony of Silvia Duran, an employee in the Cuban consul’s Mexico City office who interacted with Lee Harvey Oswald as he tried to obtain a visa to defect to Cuba, because she was a communist. Shenon, however, did find and speak to her while researching his book.
“My book is full of stories of the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] withholding information, lying to the Warren Commission,” Shenon said. “Of course, what we now know is the CIA did have a tremendous reason to withhold information.” Including the fact, he said, that they had Oswald under surveillance at the time of JFK’s trip to Dallas.
“So we have the CIA covering up their incompetence,” Laine said. “We have the FBI covering up their incompetence.”
Shenon also pointed to numerous incidences where evidence was either withheld from the Warren Commission or destroyed with little oversight. He said, for instance, that the doctor who performed President Kennedy’s autopsy destroyed all his notes used to write the final autopsy report for fear the bloodstained notes would end up as some macabre relic. “The destruction of evidence is an enormous theme in my book,” Shenon said.
Shenon’s first book, “The Commission: What We Didn’t Know About 9/11,” tackled the investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a New York Times reporter, he covered the Pentagon, Justice Department and State Department and reported from more than 60 countries, including several war zones.
“Single Bullet: Arlen Specter & The Warren Commission Investigation of the JFK Assassination,” which runs through April 11, 2014, is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. To schedule individual or group tours, call 215-951-0489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.