Best-Selling Author Bonar Menninger Has the Answers to Our Questions About JFK: The Smoking Gun
10.10.13 by Mandy
After decades of research, ballistics expert Howard Donahue came to some solid conclusions about the death of JFK. Though he found the process of writing a book daunting, he teamed up with author and journalist Bonar Menninger and together the pair collaborated to produce the international best seller Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK. The book inspired retired detective Colin McLaren to conduct his own research on the JFK assassination, and the result is the upcoming REELZ documentary JFK: The Smoking Gun. We asked Menninger some questions about his work. Check schedule for chances to watch and see what Menninger had to say below:
How did you first hear about Howard Donahue’s research on the JFK assassination?
I was a reporter with the Washington Business Journal, based in Arlington, VA, in 1988. I was doing a story about a private investigator. At the end of the interview, he mentioned that he’d done some research into the assassination and said he believed a Baltimore gunsmith had figured out what happened. I was intrigued and wanted to know more.
What made you decide to take on the project of turning his investigation into the book Mortal Error?
After that interview, I called Howard Donahue and made arrangements to drive up to Baltimore to meet him. He seemed credible and competent and extremely knowledgeable about ballistics and firearms. His theory seemed plausible. The evidence was compelling and it had the ring of truth. So I figured if ever there was a book to write, this was it.
It’s clear from the documentary that you find the story about which shot killed JFK to be a tragic one. How did you feel about writing a book that identifies George Hickey as the shooter?
Obviously I had mixed feelings. Hickey was innocent of any intentional wrong-doing and was attempting to do his job. I’m sure he suffered greatly through the years, and I knew I was going to make that a lot worse. But I had a job to do. Very early on, I wrote him to see if he would talk to me. I basically told him that if he could explain why this couldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t do the book, and this would be an opportunity to put Donahue’s theory to rest once and for all. But he never responded. So I kept going.
Donahue’s investigation literally went on for decades. What was it that kept Donahue going after so many obstacles?
Howard was tenacious. Plus he had a natural curiosity and an amazing ability to see things others missed. He could also take seemingly disconnected facts and assemble them into a coherent whole. I think he stayed with his investigation because it was something he was very good at. I don’t believe he was in it for any personal glory or recognition, but simply because he enjoyed working on a problem that needed to be solved.
What essentially makes the investigation seen in JFK: The Smoking Gun different from others of its type?
The ballistic evidence that Donahue developed, combined with the careful scrutiny of the witness testimony and reliance on law enforcement techniques that McLaren contributed, has produced a powerful and compelling picture of the events in Dallas.
Why does the Kennedy assassination continue to be so intriguing for so many people?
Because it remains the greatest unsolved mystery in American history. Plus, when you experience a major tragedy, you can frequently spend the rest of your life trying to understand what happened and why.
Did you ever believe the single gunman theory presented by the Warren Commission?
No, I was like most people of my generation. I didn’t trust the government.
Is there any one piece of evidence that stands out the most as being inconsistent with the findings of the Warren Commission?
The ballistics evidence is powerful, but the fact that so many people in the motorcade immediately smelled gunpowder is most intriguing to me. There is no way it could have come from the 6th floor of the Book Depository, nor is it likely that it could have come from the grassy knoll, given the wind direction and the physical impediment of the book depository itself. Even more telling is the police officer who smelled gunpowder from a Stimmons Freeway overpass 100 yards northwest of Dealey Plaza. He was upwind of the shooting, but still smelled gunpowder a couple of minutes after the shooting -- after the presidential limo and follow-up car had passed beneath him.
What analysis from the Warren Commission was the most flawed, in your opinion?
The Warren Commission’s analysis of the head wound is a joke. The problems with the trajectory, the radical differences between the bullet’s performance and the ammo Oswald was using, the entrance wound smaller than the diameter of Oswald’s bullets – all these key facts were completely ignored by the Warren Commission. This suggests either gross incompetence or knowing deception.
Do you think the Secret Service should have revealed the part they played in Kennedy’s death immediately after it happened? Should they admit it now?
It’s understandable that they would want to keep this under wraps, but the country probably would be better off today had it known from the outset what happened. I would be amazed if they would admit it now, given bureaucracies’ instinct for self-preservation. But I think it would be great if an individual with knowledge about the case decided it was time to step forward.
If the story had been released earlier, before the conspiracy theorists started to run wild, do you think it would have received the attention that it’s due?
Hard to say. The conspiracy theories began pretty quickly after the assassination.
Why do you think this simple, straightforward theory on the death of Kennedy has largely been ignored?
Donahue’s conclusions are too ordinary. People want to believe that there was a great evil afoot that day, given the magnitude of the loss. Psychologically, it is easier to accept a conspiracy than the possibility that it may have been a simple accident.
Where were you when you found out that Kennedy had been shot?
I was in first grade in Topeka, Kansas. As it happened, I was home sick that day with my brother. My mom got the news from my uncle. She hung up the phone and immediately started to sob. So we turned on the TV and watched for the next two or three days straight. It was a dark and scary time, especially when you’re so young and impressionable. The shock and sorrow didn’t really start to lift until a few months later, when the Beatles came along.