TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — 60 years ago, on Nov. 18, 1963, President John F. Kennedy became the first sitting president to visit Tampa. The city has been tied to the 35th president ever since, as conspiracy theories circled in the following decades alleging Tampa’s connection to his assassination.
Four days before Kennedy was shot while riding in his convertible in Dallas, thousands of Tampa residents lined the streets to watch the presidential motorcade roll through the city and travel down Kennedy Boulevard. A historical marker was erected along the same road, at Lykes Gaslight Park, in 2013 to commemorate the occasion.
Kennedy flew in to MacDill Air Force Base, where he was welcomed by Tampa Mayor Nick Nuccio and U.S. Senator George Smathers. He gave speeches at Al Lopez Field and the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.
He spoke before a crowd of 4,500 people at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
“If we can work in harmony, if we can understand each other’s problems and position,” Kennedy said. “If we can respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, then surely the business of mankind will prosper and we will move ahead in a secure world, one where there is opportunity for all.”
The city of Tampa may have a more sinister connection to the Kennedy assassination.
In 2017, newly-released FBI files revealed a Plant City man, Daniel Alarcon, who was 16 years old at the time, sent the agency a photo of Kennedy posing with a man resembling his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. That photo later appeared in an issue of Florida Catholic.
When WFLA caught up with him decades later, Alarcon said he did not remember speaking to the FBI.
The Kennedy assassination files also pointed to Oren Potito of St. Petersburg, whom the FBI said was well-connected with various right-wing groups. In a 1964 speech documented by the FBI, Potitio said Jack “Ruby” Rubenstein, who murdered Oswald, had access to the Dallas parade route ahead of time and gave it to him.
Potitio alleged Rubenstein was a communist who infiltrated the Dallas Police Department on the grounds that, according to Potito, only the police and U.S. Secret Service agents had access to the route. He claimed Rubenstein obtained the information and arranged for Oswald to take a job at a building along the route in order to carry out the assassination.
The man also pushed a conspiracy theory that is still cited today, saying there was a second shooter who was never apprehended. Ultimately, Potitio’s accusations were never corroborated with other evidence. The Warren Commission determined Rubenstein acted alone in killing Oswald and could not connect it to any broader conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy assassination.
Tampa has also found itself embroiled in conspiracies surrounding Kennedy’s death. For decades, various theories have circulated implying the local mafia leaders had something to do with it.
Santo Trafficante Jr. was a well-known mafia figure from Tampa. A long-time attorney and friend, Frank Ragano, claimed that before the mobster’s death in 1987, Trafficante revealed that he was involved in ordering Kennedy’s murder.
Ragano’s son, Chris, told WFLA in 2017 that his father heard the confession from Trafficante as they were driving down Bayshore Boulevard just days before his death. He claimed Trafficante told his father, in Sicilian, that they should have killed Robert Kennedy instead.
The theory is that the mafia was angry with the Kennedy family because the organization used their influence to have him elected as president, and then after he took office, Robert Kennedy helped prosecute mafia members as U.S. Attorney General.
Scott Deitche, author of “Cigar City Mafia,” extensively researched the connections between Kennedy, Trafficante and other mafia figures. He interviewed Ragano’s wife about Trafficante’s confession and told WFLA in 2017 that the theory could have some merit.
“I think there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to back up some involvement in the conspiracy,” Deitche said.
Trafficante was called to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, but was never officially connected to the assassination.