Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Bob Ries sat in the back corner of the church parking lot reading a newspaper during the church’s yard sale.
The discarded sections form a pile on the ground, blown off his card table and trapped between his feet and table legs. Four copies of his book, “Who Really Killed Kennedy? The Conspiracy,” remain untouched in front of a hand-drawn map of President John F. Kennedy’s fateful Dallas motorcade route.
People trickle into Community Lutheran Church’s parking lot, browsing the vendors selling used books and electronics, discarded toys and homemade objects. Ries, a Las Vegas resident, attends the church and hopes to sell his book. After an hour, a man in a tie-dye shirt approaches.
“They finally admitted a second shooter,” the visitor said.
“There were at least three,” Ries said starting his five-minute lecture on the topic. “... It was a farce. If you want to learn the truth, you should read my book.”
“I believe you. I just get frustrated,” the visitor said. “I don’t want to read any more. I just listen.”
That’s the problem, Ries explains after the visitor leaves. “Nobody is aware of all the facts I have.”
Tom Stone is an English professor at Southern Methodist University, where he teaches a class on JFK conspiracies. As of 20 years ago, Stone said, author Gerald Posner estimated there had been 2,000 books written on the topic. Although Stone doesn’t know whether the figure is accurate, he knows countless more books about the topic are published every year with little new to say. Everybody has their own theory about America’s most famous conspiracy.
“Doubts pile on doubts until they become legitimate in people’s minds, whether they’re legit or not,” Stone said. “After a while, a case in some ways – as far as forensic evidence goes – that is seemingly simple becomes overwhelmingly complicated.”
Ries’ theory involves a plot with the mob, CIA, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Dallas Police Department and then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson to kill Kennedy. They then blackmailed members of the Warren Commission - a government committee appointed to investigate the assassination - to find Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. No one has tied together all of the alleged co-conspirators' motives, but Ries says he has.
Ries, 71, admits he’s a nobody adding his voice to the cacophony of people shouting conspiracy, but he believes he has the truth of what happened Nov. 22, 1963, in his 126-page self-published book. For the past 12 years, he has made it his mission to make the government reopen the case.
“Every movement starts with one person, then a few people, and if it has merit, it spreads to a whole lot of people,” Ries said. “Well that’s the path I’m on. … I’ll keep trying for the rest of my life.”
All he needs is for somebody to listen.
• • •
The day Kennedy died, Ries didn't give much thought to a conspiracy.
He was 21 years old, a recent business graduate of Winona State College working as a fire-standards evaluator in Minneapolis. He thinks he found out in the elevator after lunch, but the details of his day have faded over time like an old picture. Instead, he frames it around history.
What he does remember is watching the news nonstop for three days as the events unfolded. Then he moved on.
He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, going on two tours to the Mediterranean – the best days of his life – and graduated with an MBA from the University of Chicago. He didn’t think about the assassination as he taught eight business courses at Winona State University and Southwest University.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Mark Lane’s assassination conspiracy bestseller “Rush to Judgment,” caught Ries' attention. What he found forever changed his outlook on that day in 1963.
“It made me disgusted and disappointed,” Ries said. “It made me say, ‘We need to get the truth out there.’”
History and politics were always his passion, said Ries' sister Lin Diaz. His mind acts like a history book index, Diaz said, so it was not a surprise that he decided to research the assassination. The family has encouraged him from the start and believes in his mission.
“Our family is pretty accepting of his theory,” Diaz said. “We haven’t discouraged anything about it. We say, ‘Yeah go for it.”
Ries researched the assassination two or three days a week for five years, diving into the subject with an academic interest and a pursuit for truth. One book led to another, which led to 26 more and trips to Winona to conduct research at a federal depository library. Each item he read poked more holes in the case against Oswald.
How could he be in the lunch room one minute after the shooting? How did the Dallas Police find him so easily? How could his rifle bullet make an entrance wound that large in Kennedy’s head?
Ries read the Warren Commission report twice, the pages marked with dozens of neon Post-it notes pointing out contradictions. He also met a man named Harlan “Hawk” Jensen, who claimed to have served with Oswald in the CIA mind-control program, MKUltra.
The assassination lit a fire in Ries as he struggled through layoffs at various jobs. He sat down in 2006 and wrote his book in three months. He spent $1,500 to have it published after being turned away by 15 book agents. He considers it his life's accomplishment.
“This might be the capstone on my life,” Ries said. “When I look at the years I have left, if this breaks through, this is my capstone.”
He knows people might think he’s another nut shouting conspiracy, but he said anyone who has read his book agrees with his conclusion.
“The only way we can root out corruption is to start telling the truth,” Ries said. “People might say, ‘Oh you’re nuts,’ but I say I’m right.”
• • •
These days, there isn’t a week that goes by that Ries doesn’t think about the assassination.
Recently, the abundance of 50th anniversary specials about the assassination airing on television has him thinking about it even in his sleep, stirring him awake, his mind racing with thoughts of how much the specials got wrong. He watches each one with his wife, Maria, flabbergasted at what he calls the lies and untruths they perpetuate.
“What really gets me upset is that I’ve not seen recently a TV program saying Oswald didn’t do it,” Ries said. “What I have seen are programs saying he did it. To me that says the CIA is still behind it.”
Maria has been at Ries' side supporting him since they met six years ago. She’s read his book twice and reads everything he researches.They don’t keep any Kennedy artifacts, but they often have discussions on the topic.
“When I met him and learned that he wrote the book, that really interested me a lot,” Maria Ries said. “I absolutely believe what he wrote.”
Now that Ries is retired, he’s spent more time trying to spread information about his book. It gives him a purpose that his other pursuits – reading, his walks and watching his beloved Minnesota Timberwolves – don’t.
He has sent copies of his books to reporters, cable networks, Sen. Harry Reid and even President Barack Obama, asking them to read it and call him. Ries did the same with the National Geographic Channel, urging it to invite him on the air to debate political commentator Bill O’Reilly during his special on the assassination.
Ries travels with copies of his book in the trunk of his car. The book is available for sale to anyone interested. He’s sold about 15 copies to friends, people he meets in stores and at his church, each time urging them to email Reid to encourage him to read the book.
Ries' dream is to receive a call from Obama asking him to head up a committee to reinvestigate the case and exhume Kennedy’s body for an autopsy. He's confident that if Obama, Reid and others take the time to read his book and talk to him, they'll see he has found the truth. No one has called Ries back, but he vows to keep trying.
“If I fail, at least I’ve tried,” Ries said. “I have realized that I might fail.”
• • •
The church yard sale is almost over, and Ries has sold only one book.
Cars have begun to pull into Community Lutheran Church’s parking lot as people pack the tents and tables and unsold goods, and leave. Only a few people remain browsing the booths.
Ries plans to wait until the end. He picks his newspaper up again. He knows the event wasn’t worth it.
“I don’t know if I’ll do this again,” Ries said.
Throughout the day, he urged 10 people to read his book and then email Reid. They all listen, adding their own theories, but most choose not to buy. “I’ve heard so many truths,” one woman told him. “It’s a whole conspiracy, but we’re never going to know (the truth),” Curtis Herzog said after speaking with Ries.
Three promised to return with money, but Ries has heard that before. He sold his only book this day to a young boy captivated by the assassination.
As Ries begins to pack up, a church member recognizes Ries from a church book fair and asks him for two more copies of the book for friends. The church member has read Ries' book and said it opened her eyes. Ries smiles, filled with new hope.
“That’s what keeps me going,” Ries said. “She sees it’s a good book.”
All he needs is for somebody to listen.