President John F. Kennedy’s assassination remains the topic of the nation’s most widespread and enduring conspiracy theories, and many Americans won’t easily accept the premature passing of the boy-turned-man who saluted his coffin. If no definitive sign of mechanical failure emerges from the wreckage of his Piper Saratoga, the temptation to invent fantastical conspiracies will grow among those thus prone. Individuals will suddenly remember seeing flashes in the sky; they’ll have noticed mysterious-looking foreigners hanging around the airport before his departure; his failure to file a flight plan will be invested with all manner of meanings. And the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board has already warned that its inquiry could take six to nine months will give the most imaginative conspiracy buffs plenty of gestation time. Even before the wreckage of his aircraft is recovered from the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, radio call-in shows and Internet message boards are awash with outlandish suggestions of how and why John Kennedy may have died — and even whether he died. Such conjecture, as Kennedy himself told us, is for many a means of accepting the unacceptable.
Conspiracy theories about his death will abound, and John Kennedy Jr. would have expected nothing less. "What better way to give meaning to random and confounding events than to bind them, through conjecture, as fruits of a shadow plot," he wrote last year in a special issue of his magazine, George, exploring the place of conspiracy in modern American folklore. "It can be comforting, when one is blindsided by a pitiless ‘act of God’ to assign responsibility to those made of flesh and blood."