Occam, a 14th century logician and Franciscan friar, and the Warren Commission would have you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Occam contends that when there are two competing theories, or explanations for something, the simpler one is better than the complex one.
It’s called Occam’s Razor and Stan Wilczek Jr., assistant professor of management in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP), believes it makes perfect sense, especially when applied to the tragic events that played out 50 years ago in Dallas, Texas.
“No one wants to believe that one insignificant person such as Lee Harvey Oswald could change history like that, thereby leaving room for conspiracy theories,” said Wilczek, “but the simplest explanation—in this case, Oswald acted alone— is the right one.”
For those who support conspiracy theories based on eyewitness testimony, Wilczek contends that “eyewitness testimony is not reliable. Look how many convictions, based on that kind of testimony, have been overturned, sometimes decades later, by DNA tests.”
Some would contend the use of DNA in crime-solving affirms Occam’s Razor. Wilczek wouldn’t argue, but the former nuclear engineer differs from Occam and the Warren Commission in one respect—the size of their imaginations.
Wilczek is an XL.
How else can you explain why this self-proclaimed Occam Razor subscriber and lone gunman theorist penned a book about the Kennedy assassination that is filled—as the jacket of the book describes—with “secrets, seductions, sex, lies, cover-ups, and conspiracies.”
“I love writing fiction,” said Wilczek, author of Last Witness, his fourth mystery-thriller. “For much of my career as an engineer, everything I wrote was checked and sometimes double and triple checked for accuracy. That’s how it was working in the nuclear industry. With fiction, which is sometimes described as a bunch of lies, I can write whatever I want. The creativity becomes endless.”
The book opens Nov. 22, 1963, with 4-year-old Reece Landis and his father anxiously anticipating a glimpse of the president as his motorcade moves toward them in downtown Dallas. They are just 20-feet from Kennedy’s limousine when shots ring out. Fast forward to present day and Landis is a 54-year-old faculty member at Syracuse University “who is still haunted and obsessed with what he saw in Dealey Plaza that day,” said Wilczek.
Unlike the person his imagination created, Wilczek’s memories of that infamous day are sharp. A 10-year-old sixth grader, he recalls his teacher being “visibly shaken” when informing the class that Kennedy had been shot.
He also has vivid memories of the incredulous event that happened two days later.
“I was glued to the TV and remember watching Oswald getting shot,” said Wilczek, whose birthday (Nov. 25) coincided with Kennedy’s funeral.
However, his fascination with Kennedy can be traced back even further, to the pre-Camelot days, when JFK debated Nixon in the run-up to the 1960 presidential election.
“I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking part in air raid drills, and the speech Kennedy gave,” explains Wilczek. “All of that had an indelible effect on me.”
So, too, did the hundreds of books he read on Kennedy and the assassination.
“My bookshelf is full of conspiracy theories,” he said.
Wilczek started the book “I always wanted to write” about a year ago, but admits that he spent years researching the topic. “I pushed really hard because I wanted to have it published before the 50th anniversary of the assassination. The words just flowed out of me; I could not stop writing.”
Before he knew it, he had written 70,000 words, the length of each of his three other novels. And he still wasn’t finished.
“I was having too much fun, but realized then that I had to bring closure to it,” said Wilczek. “It took another 20,000 words to do so.”
While the assassination serves as lynchpin of Last Witness, there are a number of sub-plots at work. A love story evolves over time and the implications of Alzheimer’s Disease are also brought into the book.
“Landis is convinced his mother knows something about what happened that day, but she has Alzheimer’s and when he speaks with her, he’s never certain if it’s actually her or the Alzheimer’s talking.”
Like his creator, Landis does not put any stock into conspiracy theories, having rejected 200 brought before him by students taking part in a summer seminar he has conducted annually for 20 years—until now.
“Landis not only uncovers a conspiracy, but finds that he may have been linked to it,” said Wilczek.
While Last Witness is a work of fiction, it doesn’t ignore some cold, hard facts, particularly about Oswald, that Wilczek’s painstaking research uncovered.
“A Russian expatriate helped Oswald get his job in the Texas School Book Depository building. Ironically, he also knew Jackie Kennedy’s aunt,” explained Wilczek. “A year before the assassination, Oswald worked for a company in Dallas that the U.S. Army contracted with to develop film captured by U-2 spy planes. Apparently, Oswald was working for that company during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a Marine, he served in Japan and had access to classified information about spy plane flights over the Soviet Union. Three weeks prior to the assassination, the FBI visited Oswald’s apartment and had a conversation with his wife, Marina.”
Wilczek concedes these facts and hundreds more will continue to fuel conspiracy theories, but they haven’t changed his mind.
Note: Wilczek will discuss Last Witness and his transition from nuclear engineer to novelist at the next Community Luncheon Series presentation Wednesday, Jan. 22, at noon in the Gannett Room. Watch for further details.