November 20, 2013WHITEFIELD — One of the theories that is being aired in the days leading up to the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, was described by Bonar Menninger, a 1975 graduate of White Mountains Regional High School who commuted from Franconia. (Bonar is pronounced "Bonner.")
Menninger's book, "Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK," was published in 1992 by St. Martin's Press. The author fleshed out the theory, based on research by ballistics expert Howard Donahue, that Secret Service Agent George Hickey accidentally killed President Kennedy.
Donahue concluded after years of work that the agent was riding in the car directly behind the president, tried to stand up on its back seat, lost his balance, and accidentally discharged his gun, shooting Kennedy in the back of his head.
Although "Mortal Error" apparently did not sell well or make much of a journalistic splash back in 1992, Australian police detective, Colin McLaren, was intrigued and fascinated with the two men's work, which ultimately resulted in his writing his own book, "JFK: The Smoking Gun."
Donohue's theory is the basis of a two-hour-long Reelz special that uses the same title, "JFK: The Smoking Gun," which also seeks to debunk five other Kennedy conspiracy theories.
The made-for-TV Reelz special will be aired again several times in the coming days, as well as on Friday night.
His mother, Ann Catherine Menninger, who moved to Franconia in 1972 after she and her husband divorced, had not yet seen the film because she does not have a TV set, but in a telephone interview she proudly spoke of her son's achievements.
"Bonar moved to Franconia and went to WMRHS from 1973 to 1975," she said. He transferred from Topeka High School in Kansas and graduated in a class of 127 students, including six who finished early.
Menninger worked and traveled for four years after graduation and then earned a B.S. from William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.
Menninger recalled in a Monday phone interview from his Kansas City, Kan., home that he had not been a very good student in high school but in his senior year had enjoyed working on the monthly literary magazine the class produced under the guidance of its English teacher James "Jim" Hoverman.
"I really liked that people read what I wrote, and I was good at writing" Menninger said.
"I come to see my mom in Franconia nearly every year, and I still have great friends in the North Country," he added.
When asked how he feels about the attention that "Mortal Error" is now receiving, Menninger replied, "I'm gratified and pleased."
Reelz reports that by Nov. 18 some 4.1 million people had already watched the film that features both Menninger and McLaren.
Menninger, who now earns his living as a freelance writer, had his second book, "And Hell Followed With It: Life and Death in a Kansas Tornado" published in 2010 by Emerald Book Company.
Reelz has an interview with Menninger as part of its online promotion of the documentary.
When asked when he first learned about Donahue, Menninger replied that he was a reporter in 1988 with the Arlington, Va.-based "Washington Business Journal" and a private investigator who he was interviewing mentioned that he'd done some research into the Kennedy assassination and believed that a Baltimore gunsmith had figured out what happened.
Menninger then drove to Baltimore, Md., met Donahue and found him and his work credible.
When he was asked where he was when he first learned that Kennedy had been shot, Menninger replied, "I was in first grade in Topeka, Kansas. As it happened, I was home sick that day with my brother. My mom got the news from my uncle. She hung up the phone and immediately started to sob.
"So we turned on the TV and watched for the next two or three days straight. It was a dark and scary time, especially when you're so young and impressionable. The shock and sorrow didn't really start to lift until a few months later, when the Beatles came along."