Two men are shot from behind, in public, and in broad daylight. One of the victims is killed immediately; the other will survive.
Several witnesses either saw or heard the shooter. Everyone agrees it was a rifle. A general description of the "person of interest" is given to the police.
About an hour later, in a neighborhood some distance from the shooting, a police officer signals a man walking across the street. The man matches the description of the person of interest. The man approaches the squad, pulls out a handgun, fires several shots at the officer, and runs away. The officer is dead and the police descend on the neighborhood.
About 30 minutes later, the shooter is captured by the police, subdued after a brief struggle, and taken to police headquarters. In the meantime, the police enter the building where the witnesses saw the sniper. They find a rifle and expended bullet shells. They secure the crime scene.
The police connect the dots. The suspect in the police-officer killing works at the building where the other shooting originated. He matches the description of the sniper.
The investigation intensifies. Records show that the person of interest bought the rifle. His fingerprints are on the rifle, and on boxes in the room where the weapon was found. Ballistics match the expended bullets and the suspect's rifle.
A co-worker says the suspect brought a long package to work that morning, claiming there were curtain rods in the brown paper bag. The police search the suspect's house, and find a picture of him posing with the rifle.
Next, a background check. Although he is only 24, the suspect has a history of mental issues and unusual social and political views. He was also trained in the military to shoot high-powered rifles.
The police are convinced they have the man who committed both crimes. They have eyewitnesses who place the suspect at both murder scenes. They connect the suspect to both murder weapons. They believe it's an open-and-shut case, and they charge the person with two counts of murder and a bundle of related crimes. It is all handled in a day or two.
But People of the State of Texas v. Lee Harvey Oswald never goes to trial, and we have spent the last 50 years spinning tales and conjuring theories to answer the question: "Who really killed President John F. Kennedy?"
At least I have. I was 12, in 7th grade, when class was interrupted by Walter Cronkite's announcement: "This just in … President Kennedy … was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Central Time."
Like many of us, I could not believe — I refused to believe — that a single crackpot could have killed the president. There has to be more to it than a series of horrible coincidences. Only sinister forces could put out the light that was JFK.
I became an assassination conspiracy addict. Starting with Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment, I devoured everything I could read or watch in order to figure out the "truth" about the assassination. The grassy knoll, the single-bullet theory, the CIA, Castro, the KGB, the Zapruder film, the mob, Oliver Stone, FBI cover-up. Oswald was a patsy, and Jack Ruby was directed by some puppet-master to silence Oswald. On and on and on. I have spent years mulling over what really happened in Dallas that sunny Friday.
November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination. Already the city of Dallas is preparing for the invasion of conspiracy theorists. I promise you there will be dozens of TV, newspaper, Internet, and blog specials re-living the events and positing all sorts of reasons explaining why Oswald didn't do it, or if he did it, why he was part of a conspiracy.
Take this advice from a recovering addict: Don't waste your time. Lee Harvey Oswald was a pathetic, unbalanced, and very angry young man. But even in the case of a nobody loser like Oswald, man can meet moment. Had the weather not cleared up that day, or had the motorcade not passed in front of the Texas School Book Depository, this man would not have met his moment. Oswald changed history in the few seconds it took to snap off three gunshots from that 6th floor warehouse window. But he did it alone. There was no conspiracy.
So when the 50th anniversary re-examinations begin pouring out, I will change the channel and watch the football games.