Friendly Fire

Conspiracy theories: The Secret Service Theory.

Secret service agents were pawns in a grand scheme to kill the president. Working on orders from higher-ups—the FBI or the vice president—they (a) provided lax security in Dallas so that sharpshooters would have a clear shot and/or (b) hijacked the body as part of an elaborate scheme to alter the corpse, scuttle the autopsy, and cover up the whole affair.

Believers

Authors David Lifton (Best Evidence) and Bonar Menninger (Mortal Error).

Strange Details

• Into the wee hours on the morning of the assassination, Secret Service agents drank Everclear at the Cellar, a rowdy beatnik club in Fort Worth whose owner, Pat Kirkwood, was an acquaintance of Jack Ruby’s.

• Secret Service agents Winston Lawson and Forrest Sorrells, who chose the motorcade route, rode in a covered sedan in front of the president’s convertible.

Reasons to Believe

• Although plans for a presidential motorcade in Miami four days before the assassination were scrapped when a right-wing extremist told a police informant that Kennedy would be shot “from an office building with a high-powered rifle,” few precautions were taken in Dallas: Buildings along the motorcade route were not secured, lookouts were not posted, and the presidential limousine’s “bubble top” was removed.

• Against regulations, the Secret Service chose a motorcade route that required a 120-degree turn, an angle that forced Kennedy’s limousine to slow to a crawl as it passed the book depository building and turned onto Elm Street.

• Rather than having four motorcycles stationed on each side of the president’s limo, as Dallas police chief Jesse Curry had suggested, Agent Lawson ordered that only two motorcycles be on each side and that they remain by the rear bumper.

• After the first two shots were fired, Agent William Greer, Kennedy’s driver, briefly applied the brake rather than the accelerator, allowing the presidential limousine to come to a near standstill right before the third and fatal shot was fired.

• At Parkland Hospital on the afternoon of the assassination, agents forced their way past Dallas medical examiner Earl Rose with the president’s coffin in hand, insisting that the autopsy would be performed not in Dallas, as required by state law, but in Washington, D.C.

Reasons Not to Believe

• Could all of the seventy Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president in Dallas have turned against him—and kept silent about such a conspiracy for 35 years?

• Since the president’s coffin was never left unattended on Air Force One, the corpse could not have been tampered with.

Recent Developments

Interest in the Secret Service’s possible connection to the assassination was revived by Menninger’s 1992 book, Mortal Error, which claims that Agent George Hickey fired the third and fatal shot while riding in the presidential follow-up car. According to Menninger’s thesis, when Hickey reached for his AR-15 upon hearing shots, he slipped off the safety, lost his balance, and accidentally pulled the trigger.

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