Then Burke met Fitzy, a former shoeshiner on the Paramount lot in the 1960s who had polished John Wayne's boots and Frank Sinatra's wingtips, and soon it all made sense.
Burke's interest in the presidential killing had been sparked when he was living in Newton as a child and he found a book about the tragedy. As the years went on and Burke grew up and moved from Newton to West Roxbury and then Braintree, he remained unsatisified by the various accounts – the Warren Commission, Congressional investigations, media reports.
"There's people who think the mafia did it, Lyndon Johnson did it, Casto did it, the Texas oilmen did it," Burke said in a recent interview. "It was frustrating."
And so when he met Fitzy – a fictional character, weathered by beer and hand-rolled cigarettes and since deceased – at an Irish bar in Boston, Burke "was finally able to pull all the pieces together," as he writes in a postscript to his novel How Hollywood Killed JFK: Starring Elvis Presley, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra – A Twisted Tinseltown Tale of Power, Greed & Revenge.
In Burke's novel – available on HowHollywoodKilledJFK.com – exhaustive research into the facts surrounding the assassination, and the lives of Sinatra, Wayne, Presley and JFK nemesis Richard Nixon, combines with Fitzy's revelations to unveil an entirely different take on that November day in Dallas.
Nixon is reeling from the 1960 election loss, Sinatra is jilted by the Kennedy family after they dropped him following his help during the campaign, Wayne, a right-wing acting legend, yearns to direct, and Presley is sick of shallow movie roles and wants something with more depth. Howard Hughes, Ed Sullivan and Marilyn Monroe make appearances as well.
"I couldn't have written it without Fitzy," Burke said. "As the facts unraveled it became obviously clear that this is what happened."
Burke spent much of his time writing the book at Thayer Public Library, near where he lives. He finished his first draft less than two years ago and shopped his work to an agent, but eventually went with Amazon after working over the draft many times with friends and several professional editors.
One particular slice of history especially pulled it all together, Burke said.
On Dec. 21, 1970, Elvis Presley unexpectedly paid a visit to President Nixon at the White House. Presley was, as Burke describes it, inebriated and began poking around the Oval Office for mementos to give to his friends and family. He also criticized the Beatles and gave Nixon a powerful present.
Presley offered as a gift to the president a World War II-era Colt .45 pistol, which today is on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA. A photograph of Presley and Nixon shaking hands in the Oval Office is one of the most requested items from the U.S. Library of Congress and its image was a key force in driving Burke to his understanding of how Hollywood killed JFK.
"That gun was literally the smoking gun," Burke said.