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Review: All right, who really killed JFK?

One book cautious, another incomprehensible

By L.D. Meagher

One book cautious, another incomprehensible

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Lyndon Baines Johnson

(CNN) -- Forty years later, and there are still questions about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The intervening decades have seen the rise of an entire industry dedicated to providing answers -- lots of answers, many conflicting.

Indeed, one could select virtually any two books on the assassination at random and find in them a wealth of contradictions. So where to look for The Truth?

Historian David R. Wrone believes it can be found in 486 frames of 8mm film -- the most famous home movie in the history of photography. "The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination" (University Press of Kansas, 400 pages) is Wrone's meticulous examination of what appears in those 486 images.

Within those frames, he concludes, reside the facts that destroy the conclusions of the Warren Commission.

"The evidence on frames 337 and 338 of the Zapruder film could alter the course of American history. ... In fine color detail these two frames clearly show the back of President Kennedy's head undamaged, with his clothing intact and unbloodied. It proves that the shot that caused the president's massive head wound came from the front and that there was no shot in the back of the head, thus affirming two or more assassins conspired to kill him."

Wrone writes carefully, building his analysis brick by brick. His prose is academic, which may be off-putting to the casual reader. But his research is quite thorough and his conclusions are compelling. The author explores many issues related to the film, including its authenticity.

But if you want to know who conspired to kill Kennedy, this is the wrong place to look. Wrone specifically limits his examination to what the Zapruder film shows. It does not show anyone firing in Dealey Plaza.

A conspiracy led by Lyndon Johnson?

A conspiracy led by Lyndon Johnson?

Unfettered by such careful analysis, another author claims to know not only who killed Kennedy, but also who ordered the killing. His title says it all: "Blood, Money & Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K." (Hanover House, 480 pages) by Barr McClellan, a former partner in the law firm that represented Lyndon Johnson.

McClellan is making a bid for entry into the circle of conspiracy theorists that advance the so-called "deep politics" model, which blames corruption at the core of virtually all American institutions for misdeeds ranging from the killing in Dallas to Watergate to Iran-Contra. He claims "inside information" that lays bare the JFK plot, spearheaded by the head of his former law firm, long-time Johnson associate Edward Clark.

Alas, McClellan offers only the barest hints of what "inside information" he gleaned, apparently from conversations with yet another of his former partners who had no role in the events at Dallas. Instead, he fabricates scenarios he never witnessed and invents conversations he was not party to in order to weave his yarn.

Anything resembling evidence is relegated to sometimes-incomprehensible footnotes, and a jumble of photos and documents included as an appendix. And what evidence there is would be laughed out of any court in the world.

"Blood, Money & Power" is just the kind of book Warren Commission defenders point to when they issue blanket denunciations of all conspiracy theories. McClellan does little to support his case when he intones, "The total lack of evidence sometimes proves as convincing as a written record."

This book won't even stand up to the scrutiny of the "deep politics" crowd. The editor of a "deep politics" journal has already retracted his dust jacket endorsement and now dismisses it as a mishmash of factual errors and outright fiction.

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