It’s been 50 years since shots rang out in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, signaling the end of a presidency and a life, and the birth of the mother of all conspiracy theories.
Though the Warren Commission ruled John F. Kennedy’s assassination the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the gunman’s death the independent actions of Jack Ruby, flaws in the report and contradicting testimony of eye witnesses—many of them dead before their time in the years after the assassination—gave way to conspiracy theories that have persisted in the 50 years since the assassination.
Contributing to the conspiracy theories is Jim Marrs’ list of “mysterious deaths” (he was working from a list first authored by Penn Jones Jr.) that occurred during or after the Warren Commission investigation. His list includes at least three Oklahomans:
Harold Russell was employed by Johnny Reynolds Used Car Lot in Dallas and he was there, with his boss, Warren Reynolds, when decorated police officer J.D. Tippit was murdered just a few blocks away after stopping Lee Harvey Oswald about 45 minutes after Kennedy’s assassination.
Both Russell and Reynolds saw Tippit’s killer flee and followed him, according to the Warren Commission Report. The men, at first, did not identify the killer as Oswald; later, Russell confirmed in a sworn affidavit to the Warren Commission that the man was indeed Oswald. “Reynolds did not make a positive identification when interviewed by the FBI, but he subsequently testified before a Commission staff member and, when shown two photographs of Oswald, stated that they were photographs of the man he saw,” according to the Warren report. (Two days later, according to Penn Jones Jr., Reynolds was shot in the head.)
A few months later, Harold Russell returned to his hometown, David, Oklahoma. According to an account by Penn Jones Jr., published on John McAdams’ Kennedy Assassination website: “On July 23, 1965, Russell, 53, went out of his mind while on a party with friends. He was crying and telling his friends that he was going to be killed and that he had to be hidden. People at the party called the police. A policeman answered the call, he hit Russell in the head with a pistol and Russell died a few hours later in a Sulphur, Oklahoma, hospital.” His cause of death, according to Penn Jones Jr.’s 1984 article, “Disappearing Witnesses,” was listed as “heart failure.”
Jack Zangetty (also referred to as Zangretty and Zangretti) was the manager of a $150,000 modular motel complex near Lake Lugert, Oklahoma, when, on November 23, 1963, he remarked to some friends: “Three other men—not Oswald—killed the president.” He also said, according to Penn Jones Jr.: “A man named Ruby will kill Oswald tomorrow, and, in a few days, a member of the Frank Sinatra family will be kidnapped just to take some of the attention away from the assassination.”
Two weeks later, Zangetty was found floating in Lake Lugert with bullet holes in his chest. Another JFK assassination site identifies Zangetty (Zangretti) as “a mob figure and the manager of “The Red Lobster” at Lake Lugert.”
Lou Staples was a Dallas radio announcer who spent a significant amount of airtime theorizing about the Kennedy assassination. According to Jim Marrs, he told friends he would “break” the assassination case. He died May 13, 1977 near Yukon, Oklahoma, in a wheat field he intended to be the site of his future home. According to Penn Jones Jr.: “Lou’s death was termed suicide, but the bullet ending his life entered behind his right temple and Lou was left handed.” Jones contended Gary Underhill, William Pitzer, and Joe Cooper were also victims of suicide by “wrong-hand” shots to the head.
John McAdams has refuted Jones’ and Marrs’ claims, writing: “When one looks at the evidence, without speculation, it is clear that this was a suicide. The Oklahoma medical examiner concluded that Staples committed suicide, Staples was under the influence of alcohol, and an apparent suicide note was found. Would conspiracy theorists ask us to believe that the medical examiner was in on the assassination cover-up or that those who killed Staples were ‘good enough’ to fake a suicide, yet shot Staples on the ‘wrong’ side?”
Though not the victim of a “convenient death,” Oklahoma City attorney Clyde Watts had a connection to the Kennedy assassination—he was Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker’s attorney. Walker, a right-wing conservative who aided Tulsa evangelist Billy James Hargis in the founding of the fundamentalist movement, was a near victim of Lee Harvey Oswald’s. Both Walker and Watts testified to the Warren Commission about Oswald’s attempt to assassinate Walker, whom, according to Oswald’s wife, Marina, Oswald considered a fascist, seven months before Kennedy was killed. The rifle Oswald allegedly used in his attempt to murder Walker was the same one found in the Texas School Book Depository.