Chapter 15: The Tangled Web

An examination of the HSCA's trajectory analysis, and its dishonest treatment of the head wounds

The Tell-Tale Art

Once one gets past the shocking fact that the HSCA pathology panel couldn’t tell the back of Kennedy’s head from his forehead, one can begin to understand the incredibly confusing tangle of contradictory information that was the HSCA’s discussion and depiction of President Kennedy's head wounds.

When one looks through the various HSCA exhibits, in fact, one gets the distinct feeling one is walking through a house of mirrors. Unlike the Warren Commission's exhibits, which, while occasionally misleading—let’s not forget the Rydberg drawings—were at least for the most part consistent with one another, many of the HSCA's exhibits are not only in complete disagreement with one another, but with the Zapruder film and autopsy photos.

When one looks at Exhibit F-66--which we’ve already demonstrated was at odds with the autopsy photos--for example, one can quickly observe that it is also at odds with the Zapruder film. While Zapruder frame 313 shows the explosion of Kennedy’s skull occurring on the front half of his skull, F-66 shows it to begin behind his ear, at the rear of his skull. 

It should be acknowledged, however, that this exhibit, which seems to be in disagreement with every other exhibit, is absolutely correct on one pertinent detail: the drawing replicates Zapruder frame 312 and depicts Kennedy leaning forward 27 degrees at the moment of impact. Since the drawing has the bullet descending 20 degrees, one can take from this that the bullet ascended 7 degrees in Kennedy’s skull. If one projects 20 degrees backwards from Kennedy’s position at Z-312, moreover, one can create a trajectory that hits the school book depository within 20 feet of the sniper’s nest. This would be close enough for most not already skeptical.

The HSCA, on the other hand, apparently wanted something more precise. They hired a trajectory expert from NASA, Thomas Canning, and asked him to establish the precise locations of the shooter or shooters by connecting the wounds, establishing the positions of the victims at the time of the shots, and projecting backwards. When Canning looked at Zapruder frame 312, amazingly, he came to the conclusion Kennedy was leaning but 11 degrees forward.

Thus, the only HSCA exhibit that accurately depicts Kennedy’s position at Z-312 was ignored in favor of a calibration photo, a photo created for Canning using an anatomically accurate mannequin, which was placed in different positions and photographed until Canning could find one that supposedly matched Z-312.

This calibration photo is shown on the right side of the slide above. Look at it. Now, look at Zapruder frame 312, which I have placed on the left side of the slide.

Now ask yourself, do they match?  

I'm guessing you've said no. So what was Canning up to?


Mixed-up Confusion

Should one wonder if there were legitimate reasons for the HSCA to hire Thomas Canning, moreover, one need only compare two exhibits presented in the testimony of Dr. Michael Baden on 9-7-78. When one compares the trajectory drawing F-66 with F-58, the lateral view of Kennedy purportedly depicting his wounds, and rotates F-66 the 27 degrees necessary to present Kennedy’s nose even with his EOP (the bump on the back of his head) one finds that the bullet ascends 7 degrees in Kennedy’s skull in F-66, but descends 3 degrees in Kennedy’s skull in F-58. This means there is a 10 degree discrepancy between the two drawings.  Equally disturbing is that, while both entrances are the same distance from the lamda suture at the back of Kennedy’s head (where the parietal bone meets the occipital bone), the entrance on F-66 is lower. The suture moved with it. While one might counter that F-66 was drawn in haste and even depicted Kennedy’s ear and nose in the wrong position in comparison to the back of his head, this doesn’t really help support the accuracy of F-58, or any other exhibit published by the panel.

When one looks at Zapruder frame 312, one can notice a dark line running across the frame. This would appear to be a shadow in the gutter on the south side of Elm Street. Since this line appears to be even, and Elm Street was at a 3 degree decline, this would indicate that Zapruder’s film was created at a slight angle. This would indicate that any projections based on Z-312 should be adjusted by 3 degrees. This also means the 27 degree forward lean of Kennedy at Z-312 was really a 30 degree forward lean against the horizontal. While this means the bullet descent in F-66 should rightfully be 23 degrees, which would project back to a point roughly 6 feet above the roof of the school book depository, it means the bullet descent in F-58 should rightfully be 33 degrees, which would project right back to the sniper’s nest window, should the school book depository have been stacked atop a building identical in size!

The problems with establishing bullet trajectories to or from a head wound with no clear-cut exit have been noted by many, including Dale Myers. Larry Sturdivan, the HSCA’s ballistics expert, reflecting on the course of the bullet, has written: “the odd-shaped piece of a bullet is inevitably unstable and will develop some degree of lift that will curve its trajectory in tissue…Of the thousands of examples of yawed, deformed, and broken rifle bullets fired into gelatin tissue stimulant at the Biophysics Division lab and other similar facilities, none had a perfectly straight trajectory. Few are even close…The wound locations have no value in reconstructing the exit trajectory of a yawed or deformed bullet or bullet fragments.” In his testimony before the HSCA, Sturdivan was equally dismissive of using the head wounds to project back towards the sniper’s nest. He told them “no bullet goes straight when it enters a solid mass.” In their final report, the pathology panel concurred with Sturdivan, doubting their ability to accurately reconstruct the paths of intact bullets as well as fragments: “The panel is concerned as to the degree of accuracy attainable in determining the missile trajectory based on backward extension of a bullet track from within the body, particularly if precision within the range of a few degrees is required. An intermediate or high velocity bullet creates a temporary bullet track relatively larger than that of the bullet itself. This precludes reconstruction within the required degree of accuracy.”

While these statements can be taken as a disavowal by the doctors of the work of Thomas Canning, it should nevertheless be acknowledged that these very doctors made his job much harder by misinterpreting the autopsy photos and forcing him to try and link an entrance that was not an entrance to an exit that was not an exit. Just sayin'.

Canning's Believe It or Not!

Our spotlight returns to Thomas Canning, the HSCA’s trajectory analyst. While little is known of his hiring, it’s clear it came late in the game. While Canning is first mentioned in a 1-5-78 memo, a 2-27-78 HSCA executive session transcript reveals that chief counsel Robert Blakey was at that time pushing for the usage of the Rochester Institute of Technology at USC to not only test the photographs, but “to give us the measurements that we worried about—that is, where Kennedy was. They are very confident that they can reconstruct the President’s skull and project in whatever direction back from the head the projectory (sic—trajectory) analysis.”

And yet, even so, Canning is listed as a "photographer" on a list of people present during the medical panel's interview of Dr. Ebersole less than two weeks later (on 3-11-78). Well, this suggests that Canning's role was greatly expanded from its original conception, and that he had relatively little time to prepare for his 9-12-78 testimony.

Or learn to work with others... Jim DiEugenio, in his chapter on the HSCA in The Assassinations (2003), noted that May 2 and May 23 1978 memos from HSCA staff members Jane Downey and Andy Purdy, respectively, described Canning's difficulty in working with Dr. Baden, and his opening up a back channel to Dr.s Loquvam and Weston. A 7-24-78 memo from Mark Flanagan goes even further, and reports that Baden and Canning had split into "two schools of thought" on the location of Kennedy's large head wound. 

This was reflected in Canning's testimony. Although he was introduced by Blakey as an over 30 year employee of NASA and as an expert in flight trajectory, Canning's testimony is as problematic as can be, forcing one to ask the question: can brilliant men really be this stupid?

Of course, when one reflects that Canning was given the authority to disagree with the Forensic Pathology Panel, and had the right to move or re-interpret President Kennedy’s wounds at his discretion, one might rightly wonder whether Canning was in fact far from stupid, and was in truth hired more as a salesman than as a scientist. 

Even so, when one compares the various exhibits prepared by the HSCA, and Canning’s final conclusions, the HSCA house of cards meets a hurricane. While Canning found that Kennedy was leaning forward anywhere between 11 and 18 degrees (from the road surface, which was descending at 3 degrees across the plaza) at frame 190, he was quite insistent Kennedy’s head was leaning forward at precisely 11 degrees (from Zapruder, who was standing on a flat pedestal, and thus 8 degrees from the road surface) at frame 313. Since he decided to go with a forward lean of 14 degrees for frame 190, based upon the previously mentioned 11 to 18 degrees he interpreted as Kennedy’s forward lean in the Croft photo taken at Z-161, this meant then that he believed Kennedy was leaning slightly forward at frame 190, was hit in the back, and then sat up before being hit in the skull at 313. This is exactly the opposite of what the Zapruder film reveals. ANYONE who has seen the film can tell you that Kennedy reaches towards his neck, slumps forward, and then gets shot in the head. Since the eyewitness testimony is filled with references to Kennedy slumping after first being hit, moreover, it would appear Canning believed Kennedy somehow slumped upwards in his seat.

The Croft photo and Z-312--which Canning used to determine Kennedy's forward lean at Z-313, are presented on the slide above. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could actually believe that Kennedy was leaning further forward in the Croft photo than he was at Zapruder frame 312, and yet that is exactly what Canning’s analysis contends. First, there is the Croft photo--the western edge of the school book depository can be seen in the background, and Kennedy's back is in line with it, and not leaning forward from it. And second, there's Z-312, in which Kennedy is clearly both bent forward from the waist, and bent over at the neck. Is it possible that single-assassin theorists, including historian John McAdams, who promote Canning’s conclusions, honestly believe Kennedy was leaning further forward in the Croft photo than in frame 312? I can't see how.

While one might rightly point out that my comparison of 14 degrees to 8 degrees (from the road surface) or 17 degrees and 11 degrees (in 3-D space) reflects a comparison of the forward lean of Kennedy’s torso versus the forward lean of his head, it is obvious that Kennedy’s head is bent far more forward of his body at Z-312 than in the Croft photo. Since this is so, well, then, in order for Kennedy’s head to be leaning forward only 8 degrees from the street at Z-312, his head would have to be tilted further backwards from his torso than in the Croft photo. It’s not. It's just the opposite. As a result, one can only conclude Canning was either incompetent, insane, or a liar.


When one re-reads Canning's report with an eye on this issue--the forward lean of Kennedy at the moment he was first hit versus the forward lean of Kennedy when struck in the skull, moreover, it's hard not to come away with the feeling he was using doublespeak...that he was being deliberately vague and confusing...that he was trying to hide the uncomfortable fact his findings indicated Kennedy was leaning forward before being hit, then sat up slightly, only to be struck in the head (IOW, the exact opposite of what is shown in the Zapruder film).

Two excerpts from Canning's conclusions are presented on the slide above. Note that he uses terms such as "true vertical", which would seem to be in line with "as viewed by Zapruder", but which is not, as "true vertical" does not include the slope of the street, while "as viewed by Zapruder" does include the slope of the street. Note that he never comes out and says the panel concluded Kennedy is leaning forward 14 degrees against the street in the Croft photo, and instead offers that when one adds in the 4 degrees of the downward slope of the trajectory within the body, and the 3 degrees of the downward slope of the street, that he was leaning forward 18 to 25 degrees and that the panel decided to use 21 degrees. 

It's clear he's obfuscating. 

At least I hope so...

Forward Lean Comparison

Canning's mistake regarding the forward lean of Kennedy (or deception, let's be real) is made even more obvious by comparing Exhibit F-46 from the testimony of Dr. Baden on behalf of the pathology panel, with Exhibit F-141 from Canning's testimony. Exhibit F-46, depicting the forward lean required for the single-bullet theory to work, depicted the president leaning twice as far forward as he was in the Croft photo, which Canning said supported the theory. And that's just the half of it, or less. More embarrassing by far is that the forward lean in Exhibit F-46 is also much greater than the forward lean in Canning's Exhibit F-141, a "calibration photo" purportedly matching Kennedy's position at Z-312, that bares little resemblance to Kennedy's position at Z-312.

Yep, you got it. The exhibit created by the HSCA to depict the trajectory of the back wound created before Kennedy leaned forward in the Zapruder film, was more accurate as to Kennedy's position after he leaned over than the exhibit created by a NASA rocket scientist showing Kennedy's position after he leaned over. What's left is right. What's black is white.

Oh, by the way, here's news from the For What It's Worth Department: animator Dale Myers also believes Canning's work on the head wounds was seriously in error, and has concluded that Kennedy is pitched forward 27 degrees at frame 312 of the Zapruder film.

Holy smokes, we agree on something!  


The Big OOPS

When one looks at the exhibits Thomas Canning presented in his testimony and report, one can only be amazed that so many take his trajectory analysis seriously. Seriously flawed, yes, but serious evidence that the shots all came from the school book depository? Afraid not. To begin with, there was Exhibit F-137. Canning described this exhibit as follows: “If one draws a line straight from the in-shoot wound in the right lateral projection, it turns out to be very close to 90 degrees relative to the external facial axis…” From this it’s obvious this exhibit was supposed to depict a flat trajectory through a skull in the upright position. Problem is that the trajectory was neither flat nor the skull in the upright position. That the skull in the diagram was not upright is made clear by comparing it with the calibration photo created by Canning to represent Zapruder frame 312 and the supposed position of Kennedy’s skull at the time of the headshot. The slope of the top of the head is so similar on the two exhibits that at first I thought F-137 was designed to represent the skull at Z-312. A close reading of Canning’s testimony, however, reveals that F-137 is supposed to be an upright skull while the head in the calibration photo is supposed to be pitched forward 11 degrees. That the forward pitch is indistinguishable between the two should have alerted someone that something was wrong.

But that’s just the beginning. When one considers that a flat trajectory through a skull pitched forward 11 degrees would project backwards at an 11 degree angle through the air, one can’t help but wonder why Canning’s exhibit F-139 depicting the head wound trajectory displays a 13 ½ degree descent through Kennedy’s head on the close-up insert. Even worse, it has a 17 degree descent from the window next to the sniper’s nest into the car on the longer view. As the FBI measured a 15 degree angle from the sniper’s nest to Kennedy for the Warren Commission, one should wonder how Canning could project an 11 or 17 degree angle to the adjacent window.  

That something is wrong becomes even more clear when one looks at Figure II-12 in Canning’s final report. Despite the fact that Canning revised his estimation that the bullet had a flat trajectory through the skull, realizing that a 5 degree descent through a skull pitched forward 11 degrees would project back 16 degrees to just above the sniper’s nest, he failed to lift the rear projection of the trajectory the 5 degrees one would expect on Figure II-12. Inexplicably, he lifted it just one degree from 17 to 18. The close-up trajectory of 13 ½ degrees through the head stayed the same. Since neither the 17 degrees in F-139 nor the 18 degrees in II-12 are mentioned in Canning’s testimony or report, it seems probable these were just mistakes related to his using drawings not properly made to scale. That these were not made to scale can be demonstrated by comparing the official measurements of the headshot from the sniper’s nest—265 feet through the air from a 60 foot elevation (for a ratio of 4.4 to 1), with the drawing in F-139, which has a distance to elevation ratio of only 3.7 to 1, even though the trajectory led back within a few yards of the sniper’s nest.  Disturbingly, when asked in his testimony if the diagram was made to scale, Canning said “yes”.  While I hesitate to accuse the man of deliberate mischief, that he changed the backwards trajectory from Kennedy’s wounds from 11 degrees in his testimony to 16 degrees in his report and had the point at which this trajectory hit the face of the school book depository change by only 10 feet or so in the exhibits he submitted to the committee, smells like a dead rat left inside a gym locker over summer vacation. The 5 degree increase in slope should have raised this location by nearly 30 feet. (A partial explanation for how he got away with this is offered in the "Forgotten Angle" section later in this chapter.)

When one looks at the HSCA Final Assassinations Report published by Bantam Books, one finds additional cause for concern. In this report, which, prior to the internet, was the only work by the HSCA widely available to the public, exhibits F-122 and 139 were re-printed, even though Canning had since modified the trajectories on display. (F-122 was a photo of school book depository with overlapping trajectory circles.) Presumably, no one noticed that Canning had updated his trajectories. Or maybe someone, like the parade of fans stalking Woody Allen in his film Stardust Memories, just liked the early ones better.

Shrunken Head Analysis

When Thomas Canning testified before the HSCA on September 12, 1978, he presented them with HSCA Exhibit F-137, and told them “The diagram on the left is actually generated from a tracing of a pre-mortem x-ray that had been taken of the President’s head, so that one is a true scale representation of the President’s skull.” Six months later, when he submitted his final report, however, he presented them with a nearly identical diagram. Nearly identical but not identical. Either this second diagram is a complete sham or Canning lied in his testimony.

As already mentioned, in F-137, Canning depicted a flat trajectory through the skull. Since Dr. Michael Baden had presented F-58, with a slight trajectory through the skull, to the committee only days before, it is embarrassing but not suspicious that Canning might present his exhibits as planned, and then make a few changes in his final report.  A footnote on page 35 of the HSCA trajectory analysis addresses this issue: “The interpretation of the head wounds used in defining trajectory reported in testimony on September 12, 1978 differs from this report because the final illustration from the Forensic Pathology Panel showed the exit wound to be 1 centimeter lower than the entrance, rather than level with it as had been concluded earlier.  Thus, the resulting trajectory is somewhat steeper.”  Fair enough.  The problem is with the other footnote on that page:  “The above conclusions differ to some extent from the testimony given by Thomas N. Canning…In each case, the differences reflect new information or analysis resulting from work concluded subsequent to the presentation of preliminary findings at the hearing.”  Well, as Dr. Michael Baden submitted F-58, depicting a slight descent within Kennedy’s skull, 5 days before Canning testified, this footnote would appear to be a lie.   

But it gets worse. Since the pathology panel determined that the bullet descended 1cm in Kennedy’s skull, and since they decided it exited on the coronal suture connecting the frontal and parietal bones, this meant the bullet would have to have been heading on a greater left to right trajectory through the skull. As the coronal suture, viewed from the front, runs at roughly a 55 degree angle in this stretch, an exit 1 cm lower and on the suture would also be an exit slightly more forward and approximately 8 mm further to the right on the skull. This meant that Canning would have to recalculate both his vertical and horizontal trajectories.The 5 degree greater decline in Kennedy should have made Canning lift his trajectory circle pointing back to the school book depository by 20 feet or more. He lifted it far less. It should also have led him to move the circle considerably to the east. If we take a 4 degree increase in left to right angle and project it backwards onto the face of the school book depository, which is at a 45 degree angle to the trajectory, we find the movement is magnified to 6 degrees, approximately 24 feet. The trajectory circle in F-137, however, would appear to be less than that distance from the east side of the school book depository. Therefore, this mere 1 cm movement of this exit wound should have forced Canning to move the center of his trajectory circle across the street to the top floor of the Dal-Tex Building, roughly three windows north of Elm and Houston. Instead, well, he found a way to keep the bullet on its former trajectory, but still have it exit further to the right on Kennedy’s skull.

He shrank Kennedy’s skull! On II-6 the length of the bullet’s passage through the skull is identical to F-137, even though it exits further forward on the skull. A comparison of F-137 and II-6 in which the 11 cm passage through the skull is made to match demonstrates that the skull in II-6 is indeed 6.67% smaller. What’s worse, since the distance from the EOP to the in-shoot supposedly remained 9 cm, this would indicate Kennedy’s skull was not only shrunk, it was crushed, as the reduction in size occurred laterally. 

But Figure II-7 wasn’t any better.  In order to maintain that the bullet traveled the same distance through a 6% smaller skull and still exited on the coronal suture, Canning moved the suture forward on the skull. So much for preserving the “true scale representation of the President’s skull”

The Forgotten Angle

Should one still have trouble believing that the HSCA trajectory analysis, performed jointly with NASA, was a complete sham, one need only look at the Moorman photo and reflect on Kennedy’s severe pitch to his left. While Canning’s interpretation of the calibration photo acknowledged Kennedy was leaning 15 degrees to his left, a careful reading of Canning’s report reveals that this 15 degrees was 15 degrees from Zapruder, and that Zapruder was elevated 10 degrees from Kennedy, standing on a flat pedestal. This indicates that Kennedy was actually leaning 25 degrees to his left when compared to true vertical. A few degrees of this might have been caused by the road surface, which appears to be slanted ever so slightly towards the middle of the plaza. (If someone has measured this, please let me know.) In any case, this 25 degree lean is supported by Kennedy’s appearance in the Moorman photo. Ironically, it would appear to be one of the few correct measurements made by Canning.

The problems associated with this lean become clear when one looks back at the frontal views of the head wounds. Since Canning initially testified that the bullet headed left to right and that the entrance and exit of the bullet were on the same level, a 25 degree rotation to the left will lift the exit to a point above the entrance. Considerably above the entrance. A quick measurement using Canning’s own diagram tells us that the exit in F-147, once adjusted for the leftward lean, was in fact 1.6 cm above the entrance. Based upon Canning’s own calculations that a 1 cm drop within the skull represented a descent of 5 degrees, this meant that the bullet causing the wounds in F-147 in fact ascended 8 degrees within the skull. Since Canning’s interpretation of the calibration photo held that Kennedy was only leaning forward 11 degrees, this meant that Canning, when taking into account the leftward lean, should have determined that Kennedy was killed by someone on the ground, somewhere behind him on Elm Street, as Elm Street descends 3 degrees throughout the Plaza.

Only not so fast... Yep, it seems I, too, am prone to overlook things that run counter to my thesis. (I'm writing this in 2013 as a correction to what I'd written a half a decade earlier.) The calculation cited above was correct under the presumption Kennedy was staring straight forward when struck. But Canning made no such presumption. No, as we shall see, he claimed Kennedy's head was turned sharply left. Well, think about it, the turning of his head to the left while leaning sharply to his left would both lift the entrance wound on the back of his head in 3-D space and lower the exit wound on the front of his head. But would this turn to the left provide enough of a lift of the entrance when compared to the exit to bring the wounds in alignment with the sniper's nest, 14 degrees above?  I don't know. When one looks at Exhibit F-147, from Canning's testimony, on the slide above, and visualizes the skull turning to its left, however, it does indeed appear that there will be a point where the inshoot on the back of the head (which rests at the line between the two skulls) passes slightly above the outshoot on the coronal suture, which would be in keeping with Canning's analysis.

Of course, as we've seen, Canning later lowered the outshoot. By lowering the outshoot, the presumed angle of descent within Kennedy's skull could only get bigger. This was inescapable. Perhaps this explains, then, why Canning shrunk Kennedy's skull in his final report when compared against his testimony. By doing so, he could not only avoid changing the left to right trajectory that oh-so conveniently pointed right back to the east end of the school book depository, but minimize the drop of the outshoot created by the turn of Kennedy's head to its left...that might otherwise lift the rearward trajectory of the bullet to a point above the sniper's nest.

The Ten Degrees of Misinformation

After noting that both F-66, the Ida Dox Drawing depicting the bullet trajectory through the skull, and F-137, the trajectory analysis depiction of this same passage, were pitched forward 10 degrees when compared to the other exhibits, I was at a loss. After all, both the HSCA’s exhibit F-58, and the drawing of Dr. Lawrence Angel, a renowned expert on the human skull, presented the skull in a basically upright manner, with the bump at the back of the head (the EOP) in line with the end of the nose. Both of these exhibits appeared anatomically correct, in line with other depictions of skulls online and in anatomy books.  So why are exhibits F-66 and F-137 not in line with these drawings? While I was immediately suspicious, I was unable to determine how and why such a mistake could be made. After all, by depicting a 10 degree greater descent through Kennedy’s skull  it would force Canning to project Kennedy’s wounds up onto the roof or above, a fate that was only avoided through Canning’s bizarre interpretation of frame Z-312..

Upon re-reading the testimony of both Canning and Ms. Dox, however, I found an answer to the first part of my question—the how. It seems President Kennedy's lateral x-rays were used in the creation of both F-66 and F-137.  Upon close inspection, furthermore, I discovered that the skull in these x-rays was already pitched forward ten degrees (or more).  Larry Sturdivan, in an online review of the autopsy materials created after his 2004 trip to the archives, said that his measurements of the President’s teeth in the un-cropped postmortem x-ray indicated that “the head is tilted forward about 5 degrees in the published lateral view.”  So I’m not alone in my assertion that the lateral isn't upright.   

Ironically, this led me to be more suspicious about the second part of the question—the why.  When one looks at the pre-mortem x-ray, which was entered into evidence as Exhibit F-297, one can’t help but notice the crop.  For some reason, the face and jaw have been removed. This was supposedly done for the Kennedy family’s privacy.  Since Kennedy’s face is viewable on the A-P x-rays, however, and these were entered into evidence, this makes little sense.  What’s more, since the x-rays of Kennedy’s jaw and teeth were used to confirm the authenticity of the x-rays, and were released as public exhibits during the testimony of Dr. Lowell Levine, the decision to crop the x-rays is indeed curious. Could the x-rays have been cropped in order to confuse those most likely to study them, the conspiracy "buffs" so despised by the "experts"?

Perhaps.  As I said at the introduction to this review of the evidence, I discovered more mistakes related to incompetence than to anything sinister.  It turns out that the proper positioning of a skull in a lateral x-ray has little correlation to the anatomically correct position used by illustrators in anatomy books.  According to Medical Radiographic Technic, an x-ray machine guidebook put out by General Electric in 1943, the central ray of a lateral x-ray is centered on the mid-point between the frontal bone and occipital protuberance, and the interorbital line (an imaginary line connecting the eye sockets) is made vertical.  In other words, the head is situated to get as pure a profile shot as possible.  NOTHING is said about framing the x-ray so that the skull on the film appears in an anatomically upright position.  It could very well be then that Canning and Dox assumed this was done and created their exhibits under an incorrect assumption.  And we all know what happens when we assume things…


Calibration Photo/Z312 Comparison

When one looks at the calibration photo prepared for Thomas Canning to demonstrate the President’s actual position at frame 312,  one can sense how desperate Canning was to find a position for the President’s skull where a trajectory would point back to the school book depository. 

On the calibration photo, most noticeably, the President’s right shoulder is lifted far off the back seat of the limo, resulting in a turn of his whole body sharply to its left. That this 27 degree turn makes it possible for a bullet traveling 8 degrees right to left to enter near the mid-line of the President’s skull and exit from the right side of his head at the location picked by the pathology panel would have to be taken as more than a coincidence. That this turn is greatly exaggerated can be demonstrated by simply projecting Mrs. Kennedy into the calibration photo. When one creates a comparison where the heads are the same size one can see that while the President in Z-312 is looking just to the right of the first lady, the President in the calibration photo is looking just to the left.

An interesting point about this photo.   On one of the footnotes in his report, Canning defends the changes from his testimony by re-stating his probably false claim that the doctors moved the wounds on him after his testimony. He goes on to say “The remaining revisions resulted from the availability of a superior enhanced reproduction of Zapruder frame 312 for comparison with the calibration photographs.”  This undoubtedly indicates he changed his interpretation of the calibration photo between his testimony and his report. The numbers given in each instance, however, were exactly the same: In both cases, Canning asserted that Kennedy was turned 25 degrees from Zapruder, was tilted 11 degrees forward, and was leaning 15 degrees to his left. This footnote makes me wonder if someone has changed Canning’s testimony. If Canning originally said the calibration photo demonstrated Kennedy to be leaning forward 15 degrees, for instance, this might explain both the strange footnote cited above and the failure of F-139 to match the 11 degree descent implied in Canning’s testimony. In any event, Canning’s interpretation of Zapruder frame 312 is clearly, and incredibly, wrong...

Dale Myers is another writer/researcher who rejects the accuracy of this calibration photo. While creating his computer simulation/cartoon he ignored Canning and developed his own interpretation of the President’s position at Z-312. When he projected backwards from the HSCA outshoot back through the in-shoot in the cowlick, however, Myers found that the trajectory led back to someone hanging in space, well above the Dal-Tex Building. He determined from this that there was no clear outshoot and acknowledges on his website that his depiction of the head-shot is not based upon a precise alignment of the wounds. ABC, of course, failed to point this out in their Beyond Conspiracy special presenting Myers’ work.

And, incredibly, they weren't the first to play this game with Myers' animation... In 1998, Gus Russo, author of Live By the Sword, made similar use of Myers' animation, and, was even less honest re Myers' conclusions about the head wound trajectory. Despite the fact that Myers claimed the head wound trajectory could not be accurately identified, and pointed high up in the air, Russo not only cited the HSCA study--which Myers acknowledges is bogus--as evidence the head shot was fired from the sniper's nest, he told his readers that "Myers' work is conclusive that the wounds track back to the sixth floor window..."

What rubbish!

But I digress.


A Nose is a Nose Analysis

When Congressman Christopher Dodd pointed out to Canning during his testimony that the calibration photo depicted Kennedy turned far more sharply to his left than in Z-312, Canning delivered a surprising response: “I can assure you the images play games with you…For instance, the dark lapel of Mrs. Kennedy’s blue blouse has a notch which is in close juxtaposition with the President’s nose.  The notch makes it look as if the President’s nose extends much further than it really does…On the other hand, when we account for where other pink and blue elements are and behind the President’s face we conclude that his facial profile is well to the left of its apparent position when only a cursory examination is the basis.”

According to the book Mortal Error, Canning said much the same thing to ballistician Howard Donahue when he contacted Canning and questioned his analysis.

When one looks at the whole Zapruder film, however, and keeps their eye on Kennedy’s nose, one can see that Kennedy’s nose is exactly where it is in Z-312 for many frames beforehand, and that it would be very hard to confuse his nose for Jackie’s ever-moving clothing.  From this it would seem obvious that Canning spent too much time staring at Z-312 and talked himself into believing he was looking at Jackie’s clothing.  Perhaps he realized that if it was Kennedy’s nose he was looking at, then Kennedy wasn’t turned far enough to his left to allow a bullet to enter his cowlick and exit his right forehead on a straight trajectory from the sniper’s nest.  Indeed, it seems Canning himself knew his interpretation of Z-312 would be controversial, for the last section of his report reads like a pre-planned alibi: “Serious impediments to accurate interpretation of the photograph (Z-312) were occasioned by the extremely complicated background to the President’s face resulting from Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit and dark blue blouse and by the interior surface of the left side of the limousine. These problems were overcome in part by a computer-enhanced version of Zapruder frame 312.”

While it’s tempting to say that if Canning really believed the nose in Z-312 was Jackie’s blouse, then he must have swallowed the Kool-Aid, I will refrain from such a cheap shot.  Due to his NASA background, one might logically assume that instead Canning swallowed some TANG.


Mary Moorman Photograph Analysis

When one looks at the Polaroid photograph taken by eyewitness Mary Moorman just after the headshot one finds further reason to disbelieve the HSCA’s trajectory analysis.  While Moorman’s photo clearly reveals the back of Kennedy’s head, the HSCA’s analysis is clear that her photo should have shown the side of Kennedy’s head.

The HSCA exhibits show that they concluded the limousine was turned 8 degrees to the right of a straight line coming from the sniper’s nest at the time of the fatal headshot. The calibration photo reflects that Kennedy was turned roughly 27 degrees to his left. From this the HSCA could conclude that a bullet fired from the sniper’s nest and entering near the middle of the back of Kennedy’s head and exiting near his temple would be traveling roughly 19 degrees to his right.  Canning’s trajectory analysis backed this up, stating that the left to right angle across Kennedy’s skull connecting his wounds was 18.6 degrees.  All the ducks seemed to be in a row.  But what if the bullet didn’t travel in a straight line?  Since accepting this possibility would leave the door open for conjecture that the fatal head shot came from somewhere other than the TSBD, that would have been troublesome for the HSCA. 

And what if it can be demonstrated that Kennedy was not turned 26.6 degrees to his left?

Since Mary Moorman’s photograph shows Kennedy in line with the back tire of the limo and the stairs on the grassy knoll, one can fairly accurately place both her position on the grass and the timing of her photograph.  Consequently, most have her taking her photograph between Z-315 and Z-316.  Ironically, she can be seen in the Zapruder film snapping her photograph in the far left area of the sprocket holes in frame Z-315.  The limousine has scarcely passed her. Since the limousine was heading away from Moorman at 40 degrees left of her view, and since Kennedy was supposedly turned 27 degrees from the direction of the limousine, this means that In Canning’s analysis, Kennedy should have been only 23 degrees removed from profile to Moorman.  As you can’t even see his face in the photograph, it would appear he wasn’t really turned that far.

But what if he’d changed his head position between 312 and 315?


More Moorman Photo Analysis

To be sure the angle of Kennedy’s head hadn’t changed between Z-312 and Z-315, one need only to look at the photos side by side and note the position of his ear.  A turn to the left or the right would change the position of his ear relative to the rest of his head.  As there appears to be little change, one can assume his head did not turn upon immediate impact of the bullet. 

This pretty much demolishes the so-called “jet effect” theory, as proposed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez. The “jet effect” holds that the force of brain matter exploding from Kennedy’s pressurized skull was significant enough to fling his whole body backwards, as seen in the frames following Z-313. Well, if the “jet effect” from matter exploding from the right temple of Kennedy’s head was strong enough to push his body it should also have been strong enough to turn his head. If you turn your head slightly to your left and apply the slightest pressure to your right temple area it will turn your head further to the left. And yet there is little change in Kennedy’s position between Z-312 and Z-315. Even worse, for Alvarez’ theory, the Moorman photos show Kennedy’s head is turned too far to its right, when compared to the HSCA’s trajectories. If there really was a “jet effect” it would mean then that Kennedy had started out looking nearly straight ahead, but if he’d been looking straight ahead, a bullet entering near the midline of his skull on an 8 degree right to left trajectory would have exited out near his left eye, and not his right temple. If anyone knows of any reason why the “jet effect” would fail to move the skull until after all the ejected brain matter was long gone, I’d appreciate the explanation.

When one turns a skull 23 degrees from profile, the perspective of Moorman on Kennedy should he really have had his head turned 27 degrees to the left within the limousine at Z-312, one can see that the skull is not far from profile, with the ear almost in the middle and the left side of the face visible.  When one turns the skull the degree I theorize Kennedy was actually turned, 36 degrees, the ear moves closer to the face and more of the right side of the head becomes visible. When one realizes none of Kennedy’s face is visible in the Moorman photo, due at least in part to Kennedy’s hair being draped to his left, it becomes clear that this new perspective makes a lot more visual sense than Canning’s trajectory analysis. A quick measurement of the relative positions of the ear within the two theories is convincing, assuming the anatomic models used are similar to Kennedy. While Zapruder frame 312, after the frame is rotated 30 degrees so that his skull is made upright, depicts the back of Kennedy’s ear at roughly 50% the horizontal distance between the tip of his nose and the far back of his head, and our new perspective is in close agreement, the Canning perspective depicts the ear at only 39% of the distance.  The head is turned too far to the left. 

If one should continue to doubt that a NASA scientist could screw up to such a degree, one should sit back and consider that by deciding Kennedy’s head was turned 27 degrees to his left, Canning also decided that Kennedy was more in profile to Moorman, to the extent that Kennedy was turned only 23 degrees from her at the time of her photograph. Since, as part of this same analysis the HSCA determined Kennedy was turned from Abraham Zapruder by approximately 25 degrees at frame 312, this means the HSCA determined that Kennedy was turned further away from Zapruder at frame 312, where he’s almost in profile, than he was from Moorman at the time of her photograph, which doesn’t even show his face! When one considers that the limousine was still heading towards Zapruder at 312, and reached exact profile around 315, this means that Kennedy was turned an additional two degrees away from Zapruder at 315, or 27 degrees. And yet Kennedy’s horribly-damaged head in the Zapruder film at 315 is still obviously more in profile than in the Moorman photo, even though it should be turned 4 degrees further away!

By now, it should be clear that virtually every exhibit created for the trajectory analysis was misleading, and most all  the conclusions in Thomas Canning’s report false. This leads one to ask “But how could this have happened?  If the HSCA had hired Canning in order to move things around and make a case for Oswald as a lone assassin, why did the Committee turn around and find a conspiracy was likely?  The answer is I’m not sure. Researcher Jim Di Eugenio reveals in his article The Sins of Robert Blakey that somewhere in his investigation Canning stopped listening to Dr. Baden, the head of the forensic pathology panel, and started a back-door channel to two of its more conservative panelists, Dr. Loquvam, who was quite demonstrative in his urging that all disputes between panelists be kept off the record, and Dr.Weston, who’d already confirmed Oswald’s sole guilt on a 1975 CBS special. Canning’s frustration with Baden and in general is confirmed by his January 1979 letter to chief counsel Robert Blakey.  In this letter, Canning complained of the adversarial staff lawyers and the difficulty of getting “quantitative data—and even consistent descriptions—from the forensic pathologists.”  That Canning was not diabolical, but simply sloppy, seems to be confirmed by this letter, as Canning recorded the date as 1978 when it was in fact 1979.  

Further understanding of Canning’s errors comes from studying his testimony. First of all, Blakey introduced Canning by telling the audience that “the trajectory analysis itself was a joint effort between the committee and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. An engineer with NASA Space Project Division, Tom Canning, constructed the final product from information provided by the committee from its various panels.” Hmm, so the man has no experience with wound ballistics but has nevertheless been tasked by a government agency dependent on congress for survival with creating “product,” based on information given to him by the committee.  Doesn’t exactly sound like an independent search for truth, now does it? Canning’s own words tell the rest of the story: when asked by Congressman (later Senator) Dodd, about the small size of his trajectory circles (the area from which a shot was most likely fired--derived through rear-projection of a path between two known wound locations), Canning admitted his circles were much smaller than would normally be created by a forensic pathologist, whom he described as overly “conservative.” This indicates that Canning felt he had a new bold approach whereby he could accurately pinpoint the location of a shooter to a far greater degree than any of his more-experienced colleagues. One wonders then if this “boldness” was a factor in Canning’s employment, if not a prerequisite, since it clearly was not his experience. Just as troubling as Canning’s over-playing his hand is that Dodd’s request for more “conservative” exhibits, which included the areas of the Dal-Tex Building which fell within the trajectory circles, went unheeded. The final report was printed and distributed using Canning’s admittedly bold exhibits, without any conservative or thorough exhibits for balance.

An overall view of the HSCA may also be enlightening. While the HSCA eventually found for a conspiracy, this was based on last-minute testimony that a recording of the assassination revealed more shots than Oswald could have fired alone, and a subsequent confirmation of this testimony from a separate group of experts. This means that until the last minute, as late as December, 1978, three months after the public hearings, the HSCA was heading towards the conclusion that Oswald acted alone. Is it any wonder then that the medical exhibits and trajectory exhibits, most prepared for testimony many months before the final report, were so bold in their attempts to show there was only one shooter? The men who prepared these exhibits had reason to believe that this was what the HSCA was looking for: convincing proof that Oswald acted alone. No one wanted another investigation. 


Windshield Fragment Trajectory

One final reason to doubt the HSCA trajectories comes from a close inspection of the Warren Commission and HSCA exhibits depicting the fatal head shot. Significantly, they all place Kennedy near the middle of the limousine, directly contradicting the Zapruder film, which shows Kennedy, sitting on the far right side of the limousine, slumped slightly to his left. It is Mrs. Kennedy that moves towards the President, and not the President who moves closer to Mrs. Kennedy.

This confused me until I began to wonder if this movement placed the exit wound more in line with the crack found on the windshield.  Since the bullet fragment found in the seat directly below the crack was the nose of the bullet believed to have hit Kennedy in the skull, this only made sense.

This led me to wonder what would happen if one projected back from the windshield fragment itself, at the 8 degrees which would presumably lead back to the school book depository. This trajectory led back to the President’s position several inches closer to the door than depicted by the HSCA, or as re-enacted by the FBI for the Warren Commission. So why had they moved him further to his left than necessary?

I then realized that this movement of Kennedy’s body to its left by a foot or so along with Canning’s excessive turn of Kennedy’s head to its left allowed for the nose of the bullet to traverse the right side of the President’s skull and continue on to hit the windshield, in a straight line. A proper placement of Kennedy in his seat, taking into account a slight slump to his left, however, reveals that the trajectory from the position of Kennedy’s wound to the crack on the windshield was greater than the 8 degrees of the bullet coming from the TSBD. This means the bullet, if it had come from the TSBD, was slightly deflected to its left upon exit, which makes little sense if it had indeed traveled through the President’s skull in a straight line, as Canning maintained.

Even worse, the bullet as tracked by Canning would leave Kennedy’s skull still heading 16 degrees downwards, which makes no sense considering that the nose of the bullet ended up hitting the windshield at the same level or slightly higher than its supposed exit from Kennedy’s skull.  Not that this bothered Canning all that much. He told the HSCA: “I noted qualitatively that damage to the windshield of the car appeared to be in reasonable directional alignment but did not appear to be particularly in good slope alignment. But I did no quantitative work in that line.”

Adding to the significance of this fragment’s hitting the windshield is that there was a second bullet fragment, a portion of the copper jacket including the copper base, which landed in the front seat after striking a metal strip above the windshield. The discovery of this fragment is a problem for the official story for several reasons. The book Medicolegal Investigation of Death, by the Clark Panel’s Dr. Russell Fisher and the HSCA’s Dr. Werner Spitz, discussed the separation of a copper jacket from its lead core as follows: “Sometimes the jacket of a bullet separates from the core upon impact…In such cases the jacket and the core each assume separate paths. Whereas the core may leave the body, the jacket very seldom does.” So, if a copper jacket fragment “very seldom:” traverses a body, why should we conclude one traversed a skull heading downwards and then changed directions upon exit?  

We shouldn’t. Certainly there’s a reasonable explanation out there for why the two largest bullet fragments ended up on the front seat of the limo…we just have to find it…


Brain Trajectory Analysis

When one compares the Warren Commission trajectory, the HSCA trajectory, and the damage to Kennedy’s brain one finds another mystery to ponder. Neither trajectory makes much sense. While one of the reasons given by the HSCA pathology panel for accepting the Clark Panel’s location for the entrance wound was that they determined by looking at the autopsy photos that “the posterior-inferior portion of the cerebellum” was “virtually intact…It certainly does not demonstrate the degree of laceration, fragmentation, or contusion (as appears subsequently on the superior aspect of the brain) that would be expected in this location if the bullet wound of entrance were as described in the autopsy report,” the entrance in the cowlick makes even less sense. For one, a bullet entering the cowlick with the skull leaned as far forward as at Z-312 would have to traverse the brain just beneath the skull for a distance before exploding upwards; this seems unlikely, as the strong impact of a fragmenting bullet with the skull almost on edge would almost certainly guarantee a large “gutter” wound of both entrance and exit and rule out the small oval entrance identified in the autopsy photos. For two, a bullet entering the HSCA’s entrance would enter the skull at a point further forward than 20% of the brain, and yet still somehow create a channel running just right of the mid-line of the brain for the length of the brain. For three strikes and out, even though a fragmenting bullet is reputed to leave a trail the shape of an ever-widening cone, the greatest damage apparent in the only released drawing of the brain appears to the left of the HSCA trajectory, with the largest section of intact brain directly in its path. 

The Warren Commission trajectory is nearly as unworkable. A bullet entering just right of the EOP at frame 313 would almost certainly strike cerebellum, which was reportedly undamaged.  While there were extensive lacerations of the brain, they were not reflective of the passage of a fragmenting bullet from low on the occipital lobe to high on the frontal lobe. Outside of the three autopsy doctors, I’m unaware of any medical doctor looking at the photos of the brain and coming away from the archives convinced a bullet could have entered low and exited high.

The only WC or HSCA expert currently defending the low entrance is, ironically, the HSCA’s Larry Sturdivan, who originally testified in support of the high entrance. In his book, The JFK Myths, he explains that fragmenting bullets will sail upwards and leave a curved trajectory. While this could very well be, he offers little in the way of explanation as to why the cerebellum remained intact.  Even if one concedes the entrance could have been higher than the cerebellum, it still wouldn’t explain why the area of the cerebellum closest to the entrance wasn’t damaged, as there were areas significantly above the entrance that were destroyed. Sturdivan also acknowledges that a “Gutter wound extends from tip of occipital lobe to tip of frontal lobe,” but fails to note that by his own study much of this bullet exited mid-trajectory. Similarly, Sturdivan’s trajectory is tainted by his interpretation of the “mystery” photo, which suggests that a fragment exited Kennedy’s forehead, where not one of the dozens who saw Kennedy’s wounds reported an exit. If Sturdivan were to hold, as the HSCA, that this presumed exit was that of the nose of the bullet, moreover, he would have a difficult time explaining why this bullet, having entered near the EOP, traveled 5 degrees right to left (based on a 17 cm length for Kennedy’s skull). This 5 degree right to left angle through the skull, when taken in conjunction with the fact Kennedy’s skull was turned at least 14 degrees to his left at Z-312, along with the bullet’s 3 degree or more ascent within the skull, would project back to a shooter lying on the ground 10-20 yards behind the President’s right shoulder.  Perhaps this is why Sturdivan refuses to identify the beveled bone as an exit. Instead, he leaves its identity a mystery and asserts that the nose of the bullet curved significantly upwards within the skull while traveling at better than 1,000 feet per second. 

Surprisingly, there is some support for Sturdivan's current belief that the beveled piece of bone in the foreground of the mystery photo, while appearing to reflect the passage of a bullet, does no such thing. During the 1992 ABA mock trial of Oswald, Dr. Roger McCarthy, who'd been conducting test firings on human skulls in anticipation of his appearance, testified: "Skulls are very inhomogeneous--by that I mean they've got different layers and they've got different form and they are not a homogeneous material that is all the same, that always responds to the same impact. In fact, some of the skulls we shot--and this is another one that I shot--actually developed a beveled wound, with a knockout, and it wasn't anywhere near the bullet."


The Canal Canal

In August 2006, while browsing the many online forums relating to the assassination, I was surprised to find that John Canal, an ardent proponent of the low skull entrance measured at the autopsy, was citing the damage to Kennedy’s brain as evidence for this low entrance.  This was surprising because the HSCA medical panel listed the lack of damage to Kennedy’s brain nearest this entrance as a reason to believe the actual entrance was four inches higher. I re-read the autopsy report to see if Canal had any basis for his statements.

The supplementary autopsy report signed by Dr. Humes on December 6, 1963 reports the damage to Kennedy’s brain as follows: “Following formalin fixation the brain weighs 1500 gms. The right cerebral hemisphere is found to be markedly disrupted. There is a longitudinal laceration of the right hemisphere which is para-sagittal in position approximately 2.5 cm. to the right of the midline which extends from the tip of the occipital lobe posteriorly to the tip of the frontal lobe anteriorly. The base of the laceration is situated approximately 4.5 cm. below the vertex in the white matter. There is considerable loss of cortical substance above the base of the laceration, particularly in the parietal lobe. The margins of this laceration are at all points jagged and irregular, with additional lacerations extending in varying directions and for varying distances from the main laceration.” 

Sure enough, by claiming that the laceration began 2.5 cm to the right of the mid-line, the same distance as the bullet entrance on the skull, the supplementary report supported that the brain damage came from the bullet creating this low entrance. 

I was still not convinced this laceration lined up with the skull entrance, however. I looked up the word “longitudinal.”  “Longitudinal: The word comes from the Latin longitudo meaning length. Hence, longitudinal means along the length, running lengthwise.” Since the brain is longer from back to front than it is tall, the back to front direction is "longitudinal.” This interpretation is confirmed by the doctors' use of the word “para-sagittal,” which means running parallel to the sagittal suture, the suture running from back to front along the middle of the top of the skull. The doctors' use of these terms implies that the bullet track ran straight across the brain. This is made even more clear when one realizes Humes only gave one measurement for the distance of the laceration below the vertex, the top of the brain within the skull. This 4.5 cm measurement is, of course, far too small to suggest that a bullet entered near the hairline and traveled upwards within the brain. Consequently, the only possible explanation I could come up with that would make the brain damage described by Humes compatible with the low bullet entrance is that Humes and Boswell, career pathologists, became confused as to the location of the vertex, and incorrectly assumed the far back part of the parietal lobe was the vertex. But this is not supported by the subsequent statements of the Clark and HSCA Forensic Pathology panels...

Here is what they had to say… The Clark Panel: “The right cerebral hemisphere is extensively lacerated. It is transected by a broad canal running generally in a posterior-anterior direction and to the right of the midline. Much of the roof of this canal is missing as are most of the overlying frontal and parietal gyri. In the central portion of its base can be seen a gray brown rectangular structure measuring approximately 13 x 20 mm. Its identity can not be established by the Panel”. The HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel: On the right cerebral hemisphere is an anterior posterior cylindrical groove in which the brain substance is fragmented or absent. This groove extends from the back of the brain to the right frontal area of the brain and contains within the depths of its central portion a grey brown rectangular area. The majority of the panel considers this to be a blood vessel in the Sylvian fissure.”

As neither panel noted a laceration rising from low on the occipital lobe to the middle of the frontal lobe, the Warren Commission's trajectory must be rejected. Unless one is to believe, as Canal, that the subsequent panels lied to conceal damage to the brain supporting that Oswald acted alone, one should conclude that Dr. Humes’ 2.5 cm from the mid-line measurement of the brain laceration (what I stupidly refer to as the Canal Canal) was just a coincidence, or more probably, the result of his stretching things a little to try and make the evidence add up.

There is something to this, by the way---trying to make things add up. One of the great complaints about the medical evidence is that the weight given for Kennedy's brain at the Supplemental Exam--1500 gms--is just too much. Some take from this that Kennedy's brain had been swapped out, and that a substitute brain had been studied in its place. 

Such thoughts go too far, in my opinion. In The Assassinations (2003) Dr. David Mantik and Dr. Cyril Wecht argued that this brain weight was too small, while supplying data suggesting it may very well have been correct. They wrote that the upper limit of normal for a an adult male brain is 1605 gms. Kennedy was a larger than average man, whose brain could very well have been at that limit, or perhaps even larger. (The brain of William Pitzer, a Bethesda Hospital employee whose death aroused much speculation, is reported to have weighed 1625 gms upon removal.) Mantik and Wecht then wrote that soaking the brain in formalin would increase its weight by a mean of 8.8%, and that injecting the brain with formalin would increase its weight by a mean of 5.7%. Both procedures were purported to have been performed on Kennedy's brain.

Well, let's do the math. If these procedures increased the weight of the brain by 14.5% (8.8 plus 5.7), as seems reasonable, Kennedy's presumably 1605 gm brain would have weighed as much as 1837 gms. But it only weighed 1500 gms. This suggests then that roughly 18% of the brain was missing.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. The autopsists, when asked for an estimate, said that roughly 33 % of the brain was missing. Something seems to be awry. But then look again. Although the means of the weight increase from formalin soaking and infusion were 5.7 and 8.8%, respectively, the highs were 19.2 and 31.8%, respectively. That's a 50% increase, when taken together. A 1605 gm brain, if soaked and infused with formalin, then, could have weighed as much as 2400 gms, more than the 2250 gms needed to correlate to the 1500 gm weight of the brain with the doctors' recollection a third of the brain was missing.

But was there so big an increase? Probably not. It seems likely that the two procedures would overlap somewhat, and that the largest increase from performing both procedures would be smaller than the sum of the largest increase from performing each of the procedures. The fact remains, however, that a perfectly reasonable combination of a larger than average beginning weight for Kennedy's brain, a  smaller than estimated 33% loss of brain matter from the shooting, and larger than expected weight increase from the formalin can be found, and that this combination of factors makes the 1500 gm weight provided for Kennedy's brain, well, perfectly reasonable.

Let's try these on for size. Suppose Kennedy's pre-mortem brain weighed 1500 gms. (This is not unreasonable in that the brains of Anna Nicole Smith, Vladimir Lenin, J.D. Tippit, Michael Jackson, Brittany Murphy, Martin Luther King, Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Oswald, Dale Earnhardt, David Ferrie, Christopher Wallace, Janis Joplin, Dylan Klebold, and River Phoenix were reported to have weighed 1300, 1340, 1350, 1380, 1400, 1400, 1410, 1440, 1450, 1450, 1480, 1490, 1490, 1500, and 1540 gms, respectively.) Suppose the doctors over-estimated the amount that was missing, and that only 20% was missing. That's a 1200 gm brain. Suppose then that the formalin procedures added 25% onto this weight. These are all reasonable adjustments. And yet they arrive at the supposedly impossible number of 1500 gms. 

Sometimes what seems impossible is well within the grasp of the possible.

In the chapters to follow, then, I will continue on this course and try to make the evidence add up. Hopefully, it won't be too much of a stretch.