The assassination, Kuntzler says now, “is the pivotal event of my life.” But it wasn’t until 1991, when a friend sent him a video documentary on the conspiracy theory, that he began studying it in earnest. He bought Crossfire, by assassination theorist Jim Marr. And the first set of The Men Who Killed Kennedy. He spent the next four years buried in evidence. Finally, he says, “I came to two conclusions: Lee Harvey Oswald killed no one — neither Dallas police officer Jefferson Davis Tippit nor President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And that the government had restructured evidence to bring it in line with their version of events.”
Anyone who’s been schooled in Kennedy conspiracy theories is familiar with their common touchstones. The clumsy, bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald allegedly used to fire three shots in six seconds. The Grassy Knoll. The “Umbrella Man.” The “Babushka Lady.” The three tramps. “Back, and to the left.”
Kuntzler knew about these too. And, like many Americans (about 70 percent, according to several polls), he harbored deep suspicions that they could be plausibly woven together into an account of conspiracy, of whatever size or scope. Still, he says, “I hadn’t crossed the line to understand.”
In his 20s, Kuntzler had supported seemingly populist Texas Democrat Lyndon Johnson. He campaigned for him in 1964, heading into the Deep South with stacks of “LBJ for the USA” stickers. Nearly 40 years later, a friend gave Kuntzler a copy of Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, the third of a proposed four-volume biography of this very complex politician.
THE GAY RIGHT: Clay Shaw (top) and David Ferrie (bottom) allegedly set up Oswald through the CIA.
“One third of the way through, I realized that Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the assassination,” Kuntzler says plainly. “I learned that he was utterly corrupt. He was always on the take. That he had an overpowering ambition for being president, and he would stop at nothing.”
Later, Kuntzler tracked down Barr McClellan’s book Blood, Money & Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K. in an Atlanta bookstore, which confirmed his suspicions. The scales dropped from his eyes. The disparate parts of the assassination synthesized into a coherent whole, each actor’s role and motive crystal clear.
• LBJ helped put the plot into motion and was apprised of its workings. He “was largely a bystander, but he was a beneficiary.”
• J. Edgar Hoover threw in his hat because of Kennedy’s plans to oust him as FBI chief.
• The CIA brass was incensed by Kennedy’s plan to scale back the agency to the size envisioned by Harry Truman.
• The Texas oil industry was furious about Kennedy’s desire to reduce the lucrative oil-depletion allowance.
• The Mafia, who’d helped JFK win the 1960 election, was apoplectic at his brother Robert’s redoubled efforts to smash organized crime as attorney general.
• Cuban exiles, still smarting from the Bay of Pigs disaster and being sold out to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis, were also mad.