Bonar Menninger

Mortal Error, Bonar Menninger

St. Martin’s, 1992, 361 pages, C$29.99 hc, ISBN 0-312-08074-3

I did not kill JFK!

I was born in 1975. There is no way that I could have been the one who pulled the trigger on Kennedy. No, no, absolutely not. Trust me.

But even if I’m clearly not guilty, some people seem to have a fascination with what happened during six seconds in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. Witness the books, the movie, the alleged conspiracies surrounding the events. According to a Time poll, much more than half the population thinks that the official version of the events does not truthfully describe what really happened.


Without going into details, one could easily bring up that the average American feels that the JFK assassination was a disturbing event that should not have happened: A conspiracy to kill the president then does bring back order in a chaotic situation. Joe Sixpack, once again satisfied by the immutability of the universe against him, settles back in his chair, mumbles something like “damn government” and switches the channel to a football game.

But conspiracies are fascinating. Watching authors twist every available fact, deny other author’s evidence, propping their own pet theories… it should be an Olympic event.

There are many, many books on the JFK assassination. I have carefully avoided most of them, but Mortal Error attracted my attention, if only for the unusual theory presented in its pages.

Briefly put: Oswald did mortally wound the president. But the “exploding head” shot was accidentally fired by a secret agent carrying an AR-15 (Civilian M-16) in the follow-up car.


No Mafia, no Cubans, no grassy knoll, no Marilyn Monroe with a sniper rifle, no aliens… Mortal Error almost disappoints by its lack of excitement. But what it misses in excitement, it makes up in believability. Mortal Error‘s thesis comes from Howard Donahue, a certified ballistic expert. The book shows how Donahue establishes his theory. From trying to prove the lone-gunman scenario to the progressive discoveries leading up, finally, to the last pieces of evidence falling in place… the account is meticulous, and well-researched. It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of an accidental shot.

Being convinced is another matter entirely. Books like Mortal Error are scantly more than propaganda in their own favour. Everyone’s got a theory, and all the other ones are wrong. Still, Donahue’s hypothesis is strangely compelling. It explains the government’s alleged cover-ups and doesn’t involve any highly improbable conspiracies. It also appeals to the universal principle of irony, and Murphy’s law. What can beat that?

It’s an interesting work. I appears solid and plausible, for all that’s worth. I’m not a JFK buff, so my perceptions aren’t dulled by interminable repetitions of the same arguments. Still, it makes for entertaining reading. As the jacket blurb suggests, it’s one of the sanest theories around. As long as anyone keeps a sense of perspective and skepticism about the whole matter…