Bonar Menninger was a journalist on the Kansas City Business Journal. He took a keen interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and for many years worked on a book on the case with Howard Donahue, a retired ballistics expert from Towson, Maryland,
Menninger's book, Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK, was published in 1992. In the book Menninger claims that Kennedy was killed by Secret Service agent George Hickey, who, riding in the car directly behind the president, tried to stand up on the backseat of the car, lost his balance, and accidentally discharging his gun into the back of Kennedy's head.
The book was based on the following evidence: (1) S. M. Holland saw Hickey lose his balance when he stood up during the firing; (2) AR-15 rounds are encased in thin copper and tend to break up upon impact, as did the shot that struck John F. Kennedy in the head; (3) A Mannliher-Carcano bullet would not break up when it hit a target; (4) Ralph Yarborough and other witnesses smelled gunpowder soon after the shooting, indicating that at least one shot had been fired from street level; (5) Two witnesses, Austin Miller and Royce Skelton, thought one of the shots came from near the presidential limousine and (6) Howard Donahue argued that the bullet's trajectory that hit Kennedy in the head suggested it came from Hickey's gun. sidearms."
In April, 1995, George Hickey sued St. Martin's Press about what was said about him in Menninger's book, Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK. His lawyer, Mark S. Zaid: "We're trying to stop this now while Hickey's still alive... He doesn't want his grandchildren growing up and hearing other children say, Hey, your grandfather killed the president of the United States." According to Zaid: "We settled the case then but only if it included an apology from the publisher that would send the message to most reasonable people that the theory was flawed."
George Hickey died in 2011. Aware that he could no longer be sued, Bonar Menninger worked with Colin McLaren, a veteran Australian police detective, to make a documentary, JFK: The Smoking Gun, repeating the claims.
This time, one of those theories will be played out in federal court in Baltimore, where a former U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to protect John F. Kennedy on the day of his death nearly 33 years ago is suing for libel.
A little-known book called Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK claims the agent slipped and accidentally pulled the trigger of his high-powered AR-15 rifle, striking Kennedy in the head Nov. 22, 1963.
It's a theory - first advanced by a ballistics expert from Towson - that just won't go away.
"We're trying to stop this now while Hickey's still alive," said Mark S. Zaid, an attorney for former agent George W. Hickey, 73. "He doesn't want his grandchildren growing up and hearing other children say, "Hey, your grandfather killed the president of the United States."
Hickey is seeking untold damages from St. Martin's Press in New York. He also wants an apology, preferably printed on full-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, his lawyer said.
It's not likely Hickey will see an apology anytime soon.
"The case is utterly without merit," said David N. Kaye, chief attorney for St. Martin's.
Hickey's suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, says "Mortal Error" is simply false, and other Kennedy assassination experts agree. Published in 1992, the 350-page book recounts the day of the assassination and focuses on the actions of Hickey.
Written by Missouri-based journalist Bonar Menninger, the book claims that when Hickey heard the first volley in Dallas' Dealey Plaza that day, he pulled out an AR-15 assault-type rifle while standing in a trailing Cadillac outfitted for the Secret Service.
The first shot by Lee Harvey Oswald (according to Mortal Error) hit the pavement. The second -- the so-called "magic bullet" -- struck Kennedy in the neck. At that point, Hickey lost his balance in the Cadillac, "Mortal Error" claims, and he accidentally pulled the trigger, hitting the president in the head.
The lawsuit - which does not name Menninger as a defendant - says Mortal Error is "replete with false and misleading defamatory statements and innuendos.'' The suit says the book libels Hickey by accusing him of a crime - negligent homicide for shooting Kennedy - and by claiming that the agent has participated in a deliberate coverup for three decades.
The lawsuit quotes numerous passages from the book, calling them libelous and saying they were published with "reckless disregard" of the truth.
"So Hickey reaches down and grabs the AR-15 off the floor, flips off the safety and stands up on the seat, preparing to return fire," one passage reads. "But his footing is precarious. The follow-up car hits the brakes or speeds up. Hickey begins to swing the gun around to draw a bead on Oswald, but he loses his balance. He begins to fall. And the barrel happens to be pointing toward Kennedy's head. And the gun happens to go off."
Hickey, who lives in Abingdon, declined through his lawyer to discuss the case. Menninger did not return a call to his home in Kansas City, Mo. But Howard Donahue, the ballistics expert responsible for the theory, said Wednesday that he still stands by it.
Many conspiracy theorists unhappy with the official account of the assassination of John F. Kennedy have pointed to evidence they believe shows that the president was shot twice, from different directions.
Now a new documentary has come up with a new twist on the conspiracy theory, claiming that a Secret Service agent was the man who fired that shot... by accident.
JFK: The Smoking Gun claims that George Hickey, a Secret Service man riding in the car behind Kennedy, accidentally fired his weapon on November 22, 1963.
It alleges that a cover-up was then carried out to save the blushes of the agency whose main role is to protect serving and former U.S. leaders - leaving the many loose ends that have long raised suspicions.
It is said that as much as 75 per cent of the American public do not believe the official account of the Kennedy assassination.
The new documentary is based on the work of Colin McLaren, a veteran Australian police detective who has undertaken a four-year investigation into the killing.
His theories are based on the work of Howard Donahue, who spent two decades probing the assassination and whose work was presented in the book Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK, by Bonar Menninger.