Peruse the openings on Chicago stages this past week and you'll stumble across the provocatively named "Assassination Theater." The company's goals are as eyebrow -raising as its name.
"If I've done my job," said AT founder and investigative journalist Hillel Levin, "people will leave the show finally knowing who really killed JFK."
With "Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century, " Levin said he'll prove President John F. Kennedy's death was not the work of lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. It was instead a conspiracy with roots in Chicago's western suburbs and the highest levels of government.
‘(JFK's) assassination was a kind of theater, staged to put the blame on only one actor who was, in fact, part of a much larger production," Levin said.
We'll note here that Levin has a long and illustrious career as an investigative journalist. His work has been published in magazines including New York magazine, Playboy and Chicago magazine, where he had a stint as an editor. He's authored numerous well-received books, including 2007's "When Corruption Was King," (with attorney Bob Cooley), an exhaustively detailed exploration of the legal maneuvers that kept Chicago's top mob bosses in power. Earlier this summer, CNN cited Levin's book "In With the Devil" in a piece on serial killers. All of which is to say you can't dismiss Levin as a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nutter.
It was a 2007 Playboy article about Chicago mob kingpin Tony "The Tuna" Accardo that started Levin on the trail of the "real story" behind JFK's assassination. Levin lived a few doors down from the River Forest, Ill. house Accardo called home for years. After Accardo's home was burgled. Levin became intrigued, curious about robbers who were audacious (or stupid) enough to target a guy known for taking a baseball bat to the skulls of those who crossed him.
"Accardo wasn't called ‘Joe Batters' because he loved baseball," Levin pointed out drily.
Playboy eventually published Levin's account of the burglaries, "Boosting the Big Tuna," and Levin moved on to other projects. Until, that is, he got a call from one of his key sources, a retired FBI agent named Zachary Shelton.
"Zach said something like ‘OK, now you need to tell the real story,'' Levin said. "I was like, ‘what real story?' And Zach said, ‘the story of how the mob killed JFK.' And who told them to do it."
Levin spent seven years digging into that story, downloading government reports, tracking down interviewees, and poring over the infamous Warren Report commissioned by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the wake of JFK's assassination. When Levin finished, he was convinced that the official version of JFK's death was a sham. He also knew that publishing his findings would open him up to ridicule.
"There's been a concerted effort over the years to demonize and ridicule anyone one who believed anything other than the official story of how JFK died," Levin said. "‘Conspiracy' has been turned into a dirty word.
"But you look at it now, and the Warren Report doesn't hold up under even the most rudimentary examination," he said. "Read the documents that've been made public since JFK died. You see that there's no possible way this was a one-man job. The info is all out there now. We didn't have the Internet in 1963, we didn't have access to a lot information. Now we do, and that makes the truth more obvious than it ever was."
"Look," he said, "I don't want to give away the play here. But the script is taken from public record, stuff that's been declassified over the years. There's also a huge smoking gun. Huge. If you don't walk away from this show convinced that Oswald wasn't a lone gunman, well, I haven't done my job."
"Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century" runs through Nov. 7 at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St. in Chicago (second floor). Tickets are $49, $39 students and seniors. For more information, go to assassinationtheater.com or call 800-838-3006.
Photos by Michael Brosilow