Chapter 16b: Digging in the Dirt

In which I review the wound ballistics literature and come to a surprising conclusion

Blasts From The Past

Let's go back to the beginning of all this wound ballistics stuff, with Swiss scientist Theodor Kocher. Kocher was the first to use soap, and gelatin, to simulate tissue, and study the effects of various kinds of ammunition on this simulated tissue. He also helped design the first full-metal jacketed ammunition. He later became a Nobel Prize-winning surgeon. 

The 1895 edition of Principles of Forensic Medicine, a top British text of its day, while discussing tests performed by Kocher in 1874-1876, reported: "Kocher showed that if a bullet was fired into a skull containing water, not only would the sutures burst, but this bursting would be greatest on the side of the entry of the bullet..." 

Now, this is already interesting. Note first that the pressure is most marked on the side of the bullet's entry, as opposed to the middle of the bullet's trajectory, a la Sturdivan. Note as well that the skulls burst by Kocher, via a build-up of internal pressure, burst at the skull's sutures, while Sturdivan has Kennedy's skull breaking into pieces mid-bone, and these pieces then flying off into space.

Well, it's happening already. That nagging thought...that the consensus to be derived from the wound ballistics that first Olivier and then Sturdivan...were blowing smoke...

Other blasts from the past only amplify this thought. The 1896 Annual Report of the U.S. Secretary of War, found online, presents the autopsy protocols of three men struck in the skull by bullets fired from the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. These bullets were larger and more powerful than the bullets fired from the presumed assassination rifle. 

The first of these protocols, written by Surgeon L.M. Maus, describes the wound of an apparent suicide victim, with the doctor estimating that the rifle was fired from but one foot away, with the bullet entering the left forehead and exiting from the top of the head. The doctor describes the large wound of both entrance and exit as being 16 cm long by 14 cm wide, which would make it slightly larger than the measured size of Kennedy's wound. He notes, however, that some of this missing bone was still adherent to the lacerated scalp, and that, once this bone was put back into place, the defect was only 6 cm by 6 cm. Hmmm... This was far smaller than the defect on Kennedy's skull, according to most everyone to see this defect, and roughly 1/3 the size of the four bone fragments discovered in the car or in the plaza, that were subsequently photographed or x-rayed. Hmmm... This was a bullet more powerful than the bullet striking Kennedy, fired from just a foot away...and yet it blasted away far less skull at its entrance and exit combined than the bullet striking Kennedy is purported to have blasted away upon exit.

The second protocol, written by Surgeon Alfred C. Girard, describes the wounds of an escaping prisoner shot in the back of the head from but 90 feet away. (Figure 104, a photo of this prisoner's skull, can be found on the slide above.) Girard reports that "a furrow corresponding to the injury to the dura mater was plowed through the right hemisphere, in the region of the superior convolution, about half an inch deep.Well, this is surprising, as the bullet striking Kennedy, and, according the HSCA panel, traveling on an almost identical trajectory, created a laceration 4.5 cm below the vertex of the brain. 

Hmmm. 4.5 cm below the vertex of the brain is about 3.2 cm (or 1 1/4 inches) deeper in the brain than a half an inch... That the damage to this brain was far less than the damage to Kennedy's brain is further demonstrated by Girard's conclusion that "Death was evidently caused by the concussion, as no vital parts of the brain were injured and the hemorrhage was not considerable." Hmmm. If that doesn't make one doubt that a bullet entering the purported cowlick entrance on JFK would behave as it purportedly did, I don't know what will.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. (No pun intended.) No, what's important here is that we realize that the size of Kennedy's entrance and exit wounds was out of alignment with what one would normally expect for a through and through wound from the presumed assassination rifle. The entrance on the back of this prisoner's skull (1/2 inch above and to the right of the junction of the occipital and right parietal bones) was reported to be a 1 by 1/2 inch oval wound, and the exit on the front of his skull (2 inches forward of the coronal suture and one inch to the right of the midline) was reported to be 1 1/2 inches long by 3/8 inches wide. 

Now let's convert and compare--the entrance on this skull was roughly 12 by 25 mm, as opposed to the 6 by 15 mm entrance on Kennedy. This makes it roughly 3.3 times as large. And the exit on this skull was roughly 37 by 9 mm, as opposed to the supposed 170 by 100 mm exit on Kennedy. This makes it about 2% as large. The exit on Kennedy's skull was purported to be around 5% as large as the exit, when the entrance on this skull--which, it should be pointed out, is presented in the early wound ballistics literature as a typical wound for this kind of rifle--was purported to be roughly 90% as large as the exit. Gulp. This suggests the exit on Kennedy's skull was roughly 45 times larger than should be expected, should it have been the exit of a through and through shot from front to back as purported. (Now, to be clear, I suspect the 17 by 10 cm measurement in the autopsy report is an exaggeration, and includes bone that was damaged but remained on the skull prior to autopsy, but that's an argument for another day, and another chapter.)

The third protocol was also written by Girard, and describes the wounds of another suicide victim. The bullet this time left both a small entrance and a small exit, even while badly fracturing the calvarium. Notes Girard: "The enormous distension of the skull was striking; skin intact except a small circular opening 2 inches back and 2 inches above the right orbit; and a similar one at the junction of the left temporal and lower third of the parietal region. The head felt like a bag of detached bones. Blood flowed from the nose and ears." Well, this is already very interesting. The structural damage to this skull was, as expected, considering that this bullet was more powerful than the bullet striking Kennedy and considering that it was fired at point blank range, greater than the damage to Kennedy's skull, but the top of the head did not explode and the exit was much smaller than Kennedy's. Girard notes further "The actual place of entrance could not be distinguished among the debris...The place of exit was a distinct, small round hole one-fourth by five-sixteenths of an inch at the junction of the squamous portion of the temporal bone and the inferior border of the parietal bone, about 2 inches from the posterior inferior angle." Girard goes on to theorize that the small size of the entrance and exit of this bullet and the lack of comminution of the skull came as a result of the "slight resistance offered by the temporal bone." This, of course, suggests that bone offering more resistance, such as the occipital bone, would lead to larger fractures. 

So why were the fractures on the back of Kennedy's head so minor in comparison to those by the supposed exit?  

In sum, then, the protocols published by the Secretary of War in 1896 provide reasons to doubt the Warren Commission's conclusions in 1964 and the House Select Committee's conclusions in 1979.

And we're just getting going... Read on.

In Wounds in War, published 1898, William Flack Stevenson reported on a series of tests performed under the guidance of Dr. von Coler, at the suggestion of the German Minister of War. These tests were designed to study the wound ballistics of full metal jacket ammunition. This ammunition was designed to not expand and therefore not break up within the body, and thereby create less gruesome wounds on its primary target. The steel or copper-jacketed Mauser bullets fired in these tests were for the most part .311 caliber, and weighed 227 grains. They had an initial velocity of 2,034 fps. These bullets were more powerful than those fired in Oswald's weapon. Nearly 1,000 shootings of animals and dead men were studied, along with the suicidal or accidental shooting of 22 living men. Stevenson reported that "In bullet wounds of the head at very short ranges, the entrance and exit wounds can be defined as such: the roof of the skull is broken up, and the sutures burst open, but the lines of fracture follow no regular order: the scalp for the most part preserves its continuity and shows apertures only at the entrance and exit holes, from which brain matter protrudes. Even at 110 yards diminution of the destruction is observed: the extent of the injury is not so visible outside: but if the skull can be handled, the shattering of its roof and sides can be distinctly felt, and the splinters perceived to crepitate against each other. Brain matter protrudes at the exit wound, but rarely at the entrance side.

Thus, at 88 yards one would not expect an explosion of the skull and scalp at the point of the bullet's greatest release of energy, as subsequently proposed by Larry Sturdivan.

But Stevenson didn't stop there: "From range to range, as distance increases, a regular and steady decrease occurs in the amount of damage to the bony roof. Zones of splintering around the entrance and exit holes continue, but lines of fracture unconnected with these apertures, though present, become less numerous. From 1100 yards the lines of fracture are radial about the entrance and exit holes, and at 1760 yards they begin to cease to be observed, though one line of fracture which joins the apertures is always apparent up to this distance. At 1320 yards splintering around the entrance and exit holes is still fairly extensive: but at 1760 yards a clean-pierced entrance hole was first observed in a full skull, similar in all respects to one seen in a skull from which the brain had been removed."

Stevenson's description of the damage to the brain is also intriguing: "The destruction which occurs to the brain itself from bullet hits is, at short ranges, enormous. This is evidenced not only in the immediate neighbourhood of the bullet track, but throughout all the mass of the brain, a considerable quantity of which is driven out through the entrance and exit apertures. As the range increases the injury to the brain diminishes so rapidly that even at 110 yards the bullet may make a small cylindrical channel through it."

Thus, the damage to Kennedy's brain is also unexpected. Why, after being struck from 88 yards, was there still so much damage to the brain?

And its not as if these books were out of line with what one will find in other books from this era. They were the rule and not the exception. 

In 1901, Dr. George H. Makins published Surgical Experiences in South Africa, 1899-1900. This was subtitled "Being Mainly a Clinical Study of the Nature and Effects of Injuries Produced by Bullets of Small Calibre." As much of the book was taken up by an extended discussion of the behavior of the new class of smaller, metal-jacketed bullets, of which the 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano round was a member, it was, yes indeed, true to its name. And yet, while listing the various kinds of head wounds he'd observed or heard about in South Africa during the Boer War, Makins comes to: "those in which large portions of the skull and scalp were actually blown away. I never witnessed one of these myself, but I recall two instances described to me by officers who lay near the wounded men on the field. In one the frontal region was carried away so extensively that, to repeat the familiar description given by the officer, 'he could see down into the man's stomach through his head.' In a second case the greater part of the occipital region was blown away in a similar manner, and this was of especial interest as the wounded man was seen to sit up on the buttocks and turn rapidly round three or four times before falling apparently dead. The observation offers interesting evidence of the result of an extensive gross lesion of the cerebellum. In the absence of exact information, it may well be that such injuries as the two latter were produced by some special form of bullet, but as both were produced while the patients were lying on the ground, and therefore especially liable to blows from ricochet bullets, I am inclined to attribute both to this cause."

Yes, you read that right. Most of the wounds observed by Makins in South Africa came courtesy 7.0 Mauser ammunition. These bullets weighed 173.3 grains and were fired at a muzzle velocity of 2262 fps. This made them about 10% more powerful than the 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition purportedly used to kill Kennedy. And yet Makins NEVER saw a large gaping hole of exit on a skull like the one observed on Kennedy's skull--the one Sturdivan and his ilk would like us to believe is typical for this kind of ammunition. And it's even worse than that. Makins was so surprised by the two wounds similar to Kennedy's observed by others that he assumed they came courtesy "a special bullet" or a "ricochet."

And Makins wasn't the only surgeon returning from South Africa to report on the wound ballistics of the newly-developed full-metal jacket ammunition (which had been made standard by agreement at the Hague Convention of 1899)... 

An October 25, 1902 article in The Lancet by Dr. L.G. Irvine proves even more damaging to the subsequent claims of Olivier and Sturdivan. In this article, Irvine, a surgeon with the South African Field Force, noted his "direct personal observations" regarding "30 cases of gunshot wounds of the skull and brain which came under my care or that of several of my colleagues in the military hospitals of South Africa." He then presented two of these cases. Case 1 was a suicide, in which the muzzle of a .303 caliber rifle was held against the skull, and the "explosion of the cordite was superadded to the effect of the bullet." Irvine notes "Practically the whole of the vault of the skull was broken up into six or seven loose fragments, roughly held together by the scalp, and the scalp itself was ripped completely across from the entrance wound in the right anterior temporal region to the exit wound in the left parietal area. From the exit wound a considerable area of bone had been carried out. The vault, indeed, was literally "blown to pieces," although the base of the skull, beyond some fissuring, was practically intact. The brain was utterly destroyed."

Well, this was not unlike Kennedy's wound. More damage to the brain, yes. But the same kind of damage to the skull. 

Now consider Case 2. This was the case of a girl accidentally killed by the accidental discharge of a Lee-Metford rifle at three paces. The notes on this case reveal: "The entrance wound in the malar bone showed no sigh of fissuring, the bullet having drilled a clean small hole. The skin showed no sign of singeing. The exit wound in the occipital bone, a little to the right of the protuberance, was larger, freely admitting the forefinger, and there was a zone of stellate fissuring around this, but this fissuring did not run into the vault and there were no loose fragments. Some bone debris was found in the track of the bullet through the brain, which was rather more than an inch in diameter. The scalp wounds corresponded in size to those in the bone." Irvine then summarized: "the general integrity of the skull and the scalp was preserved."

He then concluded: "The two cases, it seems to me, are useful as standards and are of value medico-legally. In Case 1 the weapon was discharged in contact with the head and in Case 2 at the short distance of three paces. The size of the bullet and the explosive charge were absolutely alike, the weapons being very nearly identical. The striking difference between the extreme degree of destruction manifested in the one and the comparatively localized character of the injuries in the other must therefore have been due to the fact that while in the first the direct explosive effect of the cordite was superadded to the mechanical effect of the bullet in the second the effect of the bullet alone was present. There has been a good deal of loose talk during the war of heads that have been blown to pieces and of explosive bullets and the like. Hence I think that these cases form a useful basis for discussion. I do not believe that the Mauser or Lee-Metford bullet by itself, even at very close range, will 'blow the top of the head off.'"

So there you have it. From a surgeon who'd witnessed firsthand the destruction brought about by bullets roughly 20% more powerful than the bullet believed to have killed Oswald. Such ammunition would not blow the top of the head off. (The British .303 bullet is presumed to have weighed 174 grains and to have been fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,500 f/s.) Damage to the skull to the extent Kennedy's skull was damaged was only rarely encountered--and only then when encountering a skull which was fired upon with the muzzle of the rifle pressed against the head. 

This brings us then, to Gunshot Injuries, by Dr. Louis Anatole La Garde (first published in 1911 and revised in 1916). Two photographs from this classic are displayed on the slide above. The first is of a skull of a man shot in the back of the head, with the bullet exiting his forehead (note: this was the prisoner whose death was first detailed by Girard in 1896), and the other is of a skull of a man shot in the forehead, with the bullet exiting the back of his head. In both photos, the entrance of the bullet on the skull is considerably larger than the entrance on Kennedy's skull, and the exit considerably smaller. In both photos, large skull fractures stretch forward from the entrance location. Neither of these skulls, for that matter, demonstrates a disruption at the center of the skull from the explosion of a temporary cavity, as one would expect from reading Larry Sturdivan's book, The JFK Myths. This is incredibly problematic for those, as Sturdivan, who claim Kennedy's wounds to be pretty much what one would expect should a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet strike someone on the back of the head, from a distance of 88 yards.

Still, one might venture that the bullets striking these men transmitted far less energy, and thus created a much smaller temporary cavity in the brain, than the bullet striking Kennedy. But this just isn't true. The bullet striking the skull in Figure 104 was reported to be a Krag-Jorgensen .30 caliber, jacketed bullet. This bullet weighed 220 grains, as compared to the 160 grains of the bullets to Oswald's gun, and traveled at an initial velocity of 2000 fps, as compared to the reported 2165 fps of bullets fired by Oswald's rifle. It was also fired at an escaping prisoner from 90 feet away, barely one-third the distance of the sniper's nest from Kennedy at frame 313 of the Zapruder film (which was reported to be 265 feet).  

Let that sink in. The bullet in this shooting was 37.5 % heavier than the bullet striking Kennedy, traveling around the same speed, and on a similar trajectory through the skull. So why didn't this bullet burst the prisoner's skull open in the middle, and send large bone fragments sailing across the sky?

The other skull featured in Gunshot Injuries confirms there's a problem. The bullet striking the skull in Figure 105 was a .45 caliber bullet, weighing 500 grains, fired from a Springfield Rifle, with an initial velocity of 1301 fps. This bullet was fired at a cadaver from a simulated 250 yards. A chart found on a webpage devoted to the Springfield Rifle, reports that this bullet would be traveling around 1075 fps at 250 yards. This suggests that the bullet striking the skull in Figure 105, all things being equal, transmitted only about 10% less energy to the brain and skull than the bullet striking Kennedy, while creating a permanent cavity nearly twice as large. Shouldn't this skull also have burst open? Shouldn't this skull have left as large an exit?

The most palatable explanation, of course, is that all things weren't equal, and that the bullet striking Kennedy exploded, and thereby transmitted more of its energy to the brain. One can then contrast that the bullets striking these two men did not explode, and that they in fact continued on to strike other objects. This explanation, however, is undercut by Larry Sturdivan himself and his assurance that at the "actual point of exit" the bullet striking Kennedy had lost only "a small amount of mass." Hmmm... As it's hard to see how an exploding bullet could lose only "a small amount of mass," it seems clear that Sturdivan, not unlike Dr. Baden and his HSCA colleagues, doesn't actually believe the bullet exploded. As Sturdivan contends that fragments from this bullet cracked the windshield of the limo, and that another dented the metal trim, and that still another chipped concrete more than 200 feet past Kennedy's location at frame 313, moreover, it seems clear he believes that, not only did the bullet not expend all its energy in the brain, but that it had plenty in reserve. 

Well then why did Kennedy's skull erupt mid-trajectory, when skulls struck by more powerful bullets on a similar trajectory did not? 

Or, more to the point, could it be that what Sturdivan thought was mid-trajectory, was not actually mid-trajectory, but the impact point for a bullet creating a "gutter" wound?

Let me explain. While the first articles on the Second Boer War focused on the less severe skull wounds received by those shot with full metal jacket ammunition, as opposed to lead bullets or dum-dum bullets, the articles written in the years after the Second Boer War began to tell a different story, and relate that full metal jacket bullets, when striking a skull at an angle, could be every bit as explosive as non-jacketed bullets. 

Let's return to Gunshot Injuries, by Dr. Louis Anatole La Gard. La Gard noted that gutter fractures were "especially common with the use of steel-jacketed bullets" and went so far as to say they were "characteristic of jacketed bullet wounds." He even presented the chart below, created from data supplied by Dr. Stevenson during the Boer War. 

So, yes, it's true. Full-metal jacket rifle bullets do not "normally" pierce the skull and create separate entrance and exit wounds, as believed by so many. Of the 136 skull wounds studied by Stevenson, 76 of them failed to have a separate exit. Gutter wounds were so commonplace, in fact, that more than half the survivors of gunshot wounds to the head observed by Stevenson had received some sort of gutter wound. 

And it wasn't that gutter wounds, in which a bullet failed to perforate the brain, and instead created a gutter along its surface, were by nature more mild than non-gutter wounds. Oh, no, quite the opposite. As shown above, 19% of those receiving gutter wounds died as a result. And of those that died, many of them received wounds far more gruesome than one would expect from a through and through wound of the head. 

In Fractures and Dislocations, published 1915, Dr. Miller E. Preston wrote: "The completely jacketed high-velocity projectile, such as used in the army, may penetrate the head with a minimum of trauma: the wound of entrance is small and clean-cut; the wound of exit is only a trifle larger." He then warned: "Any projectile either low or high in velocity is likely to produce extensive comminution when the skull is struck a glancing blow." 

Thus, Preston not only contradicts Sturdivan's assertion that the temporary cavity created by this kind of ammunition would be significant enough to explode skull into the sky, he suggests that the angle of the bullet's entrance could be the actual cause of the extensive damage seen on Kennedy.

And it wasn't that Stevenson, La Gard and Preston were outliers. Canadian Army doctor Edward A. Archibald, confirmed Stevenson's data, and La Gard's assertion regarding the prevalence of gutter wounds. In 1916's Canadian Medical Association Journal, he noted that the "great majority" of head wounds observed by him at the General Hospital in Paris were "tangential" wounds, and described a "broad shallow gutter" in one such wound, which he attributed to either a high-velocity bullet or shell fragment.

And it wasn't as if this new-found discussion of gutter wounds put an end to the discussion of through and through rifle wounds. 

Treatise on Fractures in General, Industrial, and Military Practice, published 1921, further damages Sturdivan's argument Kennedy's wounds were as expected. Here, Dr.s John Roberts and James Kelley presented the findings of yet another German doctor, Ernst von Bergmann, who had fired a "hard lead, steel-mantled bullet" from a "small calibre arm and had an initial velocity of 2,000 feet per second." This could very well have been Oswald's rifle. Anyhow, von Bergmann fired upon what we can only hope were cadavers, and found "that with the modern, hard-shell, high velocity bullet at short range, the skull cap, together with the scalp covering it, is torn off. At a range of 50 meters there is a wound of entrance and one of exit, the scalp is preserved, and the skull held together, although the latter was broken into many fragments. At 100 meters there is less destruction of the skull; and the lines of fracture are arranged radially, in part encircling the bullet holes like a bending and bursting fracture. The diameter of the wound of exit is about 20-30 mm...

Hmmm... It seems more than just a coincidence that this supports von Coler's findings that a skull hit by a bullet like the one striking Kennedy would fracture but not explode into the sky. It also seems more than a coincidence that this description fits the wounds seen on the skulls above almost perfectly, and that Kennedy's skull suffered far more damage. 

This metaphorical trip through Google's stacks confirms then that the damage to Kennedy's skull was not as expected, and that Sturdivan's explanation for Kennedy's wounds just doesn't pass muster.

And it should lead us to wonder if, yessiree, Kennedy's head wound wasn't a gutter wound, or tangential wound--a wound of both entrance and exit.  

6.5mm Military Rifle Wounds

As demonstrated over the last few chapters, the wound ballistics of most every rifle known to man has been studied, and has been written up sometime somewhere. 

This realization led me to a question, and a quest. 

Had anyone besides Dr. Olivier studied the wound ballistics of a 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle? And, if so, where could I find such a study?

This led me, then, back to where so many quests have ended--UCLA. Specifically, the bio-med stacks. 

And so one bright day at UCLA I spent hour after hour combing through old Military Surgeon Magazines in search of a report, any report, on any World War II battle between the allied forces and Italy, in hopes of reading first-hand descriptions of Mannlicher-Carcano wounds. And failed.

But my efforts were not in vain. I was able to find studies of wounds caused by similar rifles, and these helped convince me that the Clark Panel and HSCA’s purported wound of entrance near the cowlick was far from the “typical entrance wound” they described in their report, and that the official explanation for Kennedy's large head wound was in fact incorrect. Insultingly so.

Of particular help was a World War II report by Dr.s Ashley Oughterson, Harry Hull, Francis Sutherland, and Daniel Greiner on allied casualties in Bougainville, Fiji. This report was published in Wound Ballistics, by the Medical Department of the Army, and featured the autopsy protocols of more than one hundred soldiers. Many of these soldiers died after being shot by Japanese 6.5mm rifles. Other online articles I found revealed that these Japanese Arisaka rifles fired a bullet slightly smaller than the bullets fired by Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano but that their bullets traveled slightly faster, imparting an almost identical amount of energy into the wound. (The articles I found indicated the Arisaka bullet weighed 139 grains and traveled at 2395 fps and the Mannlicher-Carcano bullet weighed 160 grains and traveled at 2200 fps.)  If any ballistics experts out there disagree with these numbers or with my assumption of a similarity between Arisaka and Carcano wound ballistics, please let me know.

The doctors summarized their findings regarding the effects of rifle ammunition on the head as follows: "Head.—Head wounds produced by rifle fire were characterized without exception by extensive destruction of the brain and skull. Laceration, massive herniation, or total absence of large portions of the brain were the usual findings. Large areas of bony skull and scalp were frequently avulsed with shattering or widespread comminution of the residual portions of the skull. Ofttimes, bone fragments were driven deep into the brain tissue. Perforating skull wounds were more common than gutter wounds. Frequently, long, stellate fracture lines radiated across the base of the skull. Extensive damage was sometimes observed in one hemisphere of the brain, when the traversing missile track lay entirely in the opposite hemisphere. All these findings were interpreted as additional evidence in support of the modern hypotheses of wound production by high-velocity missiles.

Well, so far, so good. From this summary it sounds like the doctors would have claimed Kennedy's head wound was a typical wound. 

Unfortunately, a closer inspection of the autopsy protocols proves this not to be the case.

The autopsy protocols of those dying from 6.5 mm bullet wounds to the head follow. These refer to the bullets as .25 caliber, which wasn't quite true. According to Bolt Action Rifles, by Fred de Haas and Wayne Zwoll, "much erroneous information circulated about that "small caliber Jap rifle" during WWII, with many believing its 6.5 mm bullets, which were .263 caliber, to be only .25 caliber. These protocols have been arranged in order of shot distance. For the sake of brevity, references to wounds other than head wounds have been removed.  

  • Case 10: A Fijian soldier, peering over the edge of an open foxhole to fire at the enemy, was struck by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet fired from a distance of 15 yards. He was killed instantly at 1400 hours on 1 April 1944. Examination revealed a perforating wound of the head and multiple wounds of the extremities. The head wound of entry (3.7 cm. in diameter) was located at the inner canthus of the left eye and the exit wound (8.7 cm. in diameter) at the vertex of the skull. The skull was comminuted, and there was almost complete destruction of the left half of the brain. 
  • Case 2: A Fijian soldier, while on patrol, was standing behind a tree when he was struck by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet fired from a distance of 20 yards. He was killed instantly on 31 March 1944. Examination revealed a perforating wound of the head. The entrance wound (0.5 cm. in diameter) was situated over the lateral border of the right supraorbital ridge and the exit wound (1.2 cm. in diameter) over the occipital bone. Stellate fractures of the frontal and occipital bones radiated from both perforations. The frontal and parietal lobes of the brain were perforated, and the cerebellum was grooved.
  • Case 11: A soldier of the 129th Infantry was crouching and moving forward in a skirmish line when he was struck by a Japanese .25 caliber bullet fired from a distance of 20 yards. He was killed instantly at 1300 hours on 24 March 1944. Cursory examination revealed an extensive gutter wound 15 x 10 cm. involving the left temporal, occipital, and parietal regions. Large portions of these bones and underlying brain were absent. Extensive comminution of the remaining cranial vault was present.
  • Case 8: A soldier of the 129th Infantry, 37th Division, was standing on his bunk in an open tent in battalion headquarters firing at the enemy, when he was struck by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet fired from a distance of 25 yards. He was killed instantly at 0630 hours on 24 March 1944. Examination revealed a gutter wound (5 x 2½ cm.) of the left parietal region. Brain tissue exuded through the perforation in his helmet. Lacerated brain tissue, portions of the frontal and parietal lobes, was herniated through the wound. Marked subgaleal hemorrhage was present. The cranial vault was comminuted by stellate fractures. Both hemispheres of the brain were extensively lacerated. A mushroomed .25 caliber bullet was found in the right anterior fossa.
  • Case 20: A soldier of the 129th Infantry was sitting on a log holding a flamethrower when he was struck in the head by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet fired from a distance of 75 yards. His perforated helmet was found lying on the ground. He was killed instantly at 1130 hours on 27 March 1944. Examination revealed a gutter wound 17.5 x 4 cm. involving the right temporal and frontal regions. There were deep lacerations of the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes. Disorganized brain tissue filled the wound. Extensive comminution of the cranial vault was found. 
  • Case 25: A soldier of the 129th Infantry was standing in an open foxhole when he was struck by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet fired by a sniper from a distance of 75 yards. His helmet was perforated. He was wounded in action at 1430 hours on 24 March 1944 and died 5 hours later, despite shock therapy. Examination revealed a gutter wound (15 x 7½ cm.) occupying the right parieto-occipital region. Portions of these bones as well as the underlying cerebral hemisphere were absent. A small metal fragment was recovered from the remaining brain tissue and was identified as part of the jacket of a .25 caliber Japanese bullet. The right lateral ventricle was filled with blood. Petechial hemorrhages were present in the left half of the brain. Stellate fracture lines coursed through the bones of the vault.
  • Case 59: A soldier of the 24th Infantry, while running forward in a skirmish line, was struck by .25 caliber Japanese machine gun bullets fired from a distance of 75 yards. He was killed instantly at 1100 hours on 14 April 1944. Examination revealed multiple wounds. (One) bullet struck the left side of the face producing a gutter wound 12.5 x 3.7 x 0.25 cm., which destroyed the left temporomandibular joint. 
  • Case 17: A soldier of the 129th Infantry, while walking up a jungle trail, was struck by a Japanese .25 caliber bullet fired from a distance of 100 yards. He was killed instantly at 1320 hours on 24 March 1944. Examination revealed a perforating wound of the head. The wound of entrance (2.5 cm. in diameter) traversed the right infraorbital ridge; the exit wound (3 cm. in diameter) was located in the left parieto-occipital region. When the body was received, the helmet had not been removed and brain tissue was extruded over its surface. 
  • Case 5: A Fijian soldier, while on patrol, peered over a ridge and was struck in the head by a .25 caliber Japanese machine gun bullet fired from a distance of 150 yards. He was killed instantly at 1000 hours on 26 March 1944. Examination revealed a gutter wound (6.5 x 2.5 cm.) in the center of the forehead with a portion of the frontal bone blown away. Fracture lines radiated through the temporal, parietal, and occipital bones. Both frontals and the right temporal lobes were lacerated. A bullet was recovered from the right temporal fossa. 
  • Case 18: A U.S. soldier was standing in a cleared area digging a foxhole when he was struck in the head by a .25 caliber bullet. The shot was fired by a Japanese sniper at a distance of over 150 yards. The soldier was killed instantly at 1500 hours on 26 March 1944. Examination revealed a perforating wound of the head. The entrance wound (0.6 cm. in diameter) was posterior to the left mastoid process, and the exit wound (1.2 cm. in diameter) was at the outer canthus of the right eye. The bullet coursed in a superior and anterior direction and perforated the atlas; it then crossed the foramen magnum and severed the brain stem at the lower level of the pons. The track continued through the base of the skull, right ethmoid, and right orbit to the point of exit. 
  • Case 19: A U.S. soldier, while on duty as a sniper in the jungle, peered over a protecting log and was struck in the head by a .25 caliber bullet. The shot was fired by a Japanese sniper from an unknown distance. The soldier was killed instantly on 24 March 1944. Cursory examination revealed a penetrating wound of the skull, with the wound of entrance in the left orbit. A compound comminuted fracture of the skull with marked brain destruction was present. (NOTE: while this entrance wound was not measured, it was photographed, and revealed to be many times the purported size of the entrance on the back of Kennedy's head.)
  • President Kennedy: The President of the United States was shot while driving down the street in an open limousine. The shot was believed to have been fired from a distance of 90 yards. The doctors at his autopsy claimed that a 1.5 x .6 cm entrance wound was found low on the back of his head, and that a 17 x 10 cm exit wound was found on the top of his head above his right temple. They also claimed that the right side of his skull was largely fractured. 

Notice anything? Surprisingly, 6 of the 11 bullets discussed in the autopsy protocols didn’t leave easily distinguishable entrances and exits on the skull, but left large “gutter” or "tangential" type wounds of both entrance and exit. Even if one were to exclude the "gutter" wounds of cases 8, 20 and 25 under the dubious assumption the perforation of these soldier's helmets led to the creation of the gutter, 3 of the 8 remaining bullets created "gutter" wounds.  

Now note the comparative size of the entrance and exit defects. If one excludes the three bullets first striking helmets, the entrance on Kennedy's skull was comparatively small, the third smallest of 8. While the exit in Kennedy's skull wasn’t measured until the scalp was reflected and parts of his skull fell to the table, the autopsy photos taken before the measurements and the size of the skull fragments found outside the body reveal an exit of at least 5 x 10 cm stretching from the top of Kennedy’s head to his temple. This proves that it, too, was unusual. It is, in fact, far larger than any non-gutter wound observed in the Bougainville Campaign, outside the one observed on Case 10, created by a rifle over 200 feet closer to its victim. As we don't know at what point in the autopsy the wound on Case 10 was measured, moreover, it remains quite possible that the 8.7 cm measurement for this wound was also taken after bone fell to the table. If so, then it too was much smaller than the 17 x 10 cm wound measured on Kennedy after his scalp had been reflected.

So why was the exit wound on Kennedy's head so...big?

The thought occurs that the wound on Kennedy's head only appears to be larger than expected, and that the reality is that the wounds attributed to the Japanese 6.5 mm ammunition in the Bougainville Campaign were smaller than expected. No, scratch that. We've already studied some old reports proving Kennedy's wound was far larger than expected. And besides, Dr. James Beyer dispensed with this notion in the first chapter of Wound Ballistics, the book put out by the Army in which the Bougainville Campaign study was first discussed. He wrote:

"The 6.5 mm. (0.256 in.) (fig. 9) bullet, especially one made with a gilding metal (an alloy of copper and zinc) jacket, when it hit a target had an explosive effect and tended to separate, leaving the entire jacket in the wound while the bullet went on through. Small globules of lead scattered through the wound and embedded themselves elsewhere in the flesh. This condition was the result of the fact that the rear-section walls of the bullet jacket, which was filled with a lead core, were thinner than the forward walls. The sudden stoppage of the high-velocity bullet when it hit an object produced a tendency to burst the rear walls causing an "explosion." The lead core, which had a greater specific gravity, penetrated, leaving behind the relatively lighter jacket from which it had been discharged. The bullets made with cupronickel jackets had more of a tendency to retain their lead cores because of the greater tensile strength of the alloy when compared with the strength of the gilding-metal-jacketed bullet.

The unusually large exit wound openings often found with this caliber bullet were due to the natural instability of the bullet and possibly to its being fired from inferior weapons. Similarly, there were elliptic entry wounds, a result of the "keyholing" effect of bullets hitting with their sides."

So, the wounds created by 6.5 mm ammunition in the Bougainville Campaign were "unusually large." And yet still not nearly as large as the wound received in the Dallas Campaign... Hmm...

While some will say that the small entrance/large exit on Kennedy’s skull came as a result of the 6.5 mm bullet’s breaking up, this small entrance/large exit anomaly was not, as near as can be determined, replicated in the tests performed at Edgewood Arsenal in 1964. While it is indeed a characteristic of soft-nosed hunting ammunition to enter a skull and break up while passing through the brain, these 1964 tests showed that bullets like those fired in Oswald’s gun were not likely to break up in the brain. These tests showed that the 6.5 mm bullets fired in Oswald’s gun, moreover, were, unlike their Japanese counterparts, among the most stable ever tested. This means that the bullet striking Kennedy, should it have entered the skull intact, would most probably not have tumbled, and, if it did, would most probably not have fragmented. Ballistics researcher Howard Donahue claimed he'd asked Dr. Alfred Olivier, who'd supervised the 1964 tests, this very question, and that Olivier had told him that most of the bullets he'd tested had broken into but two or three large fragments. That's it. 

So why did the bullet striking Kennedy, which would not explode inside the brain and could only have exploded upon impact with his skull, explode into far more pieces than the similar-sized bullets used in Olivier's tests?

And why was no spatter from the back of JFK's head visible in frame 313?

Was it because the wound created at frame 313 did not begin on the back of the head, but exactly where it is shown on the film? 

And was it, in fact, a tangential wound of both entrance and exit?

I mean, there's not an absence of evidence here, but the evidence of absence. As we've seen, full-metal jacket ammunition has been, since its development, closely associated with gutter or tangential wounds. 

So how is it that Humes, Finck, Olivier, Baden, Petty, and Sturdivan et al have failed to discuss gutter or tangential wounds in their testimony before the government? 

I mean, it's not as if the medical community as a whole forgot about these wounds following WWII. 

Here's proof. The close identification of gutter or tangential wounds with jacketed ammunition led Dr.s Sherman et al, of the L.A. County-USC Department of Neurosurgery, to note in a 1980 Western Journal of Medicine article on gunshot wounds to the brain involving civilian ammunition that "Our experience did not reflect any tangential wounds to the head with the massive brain guttering and soft tissue loss as described in the military literature."

And it's not as if these wounds are no longer observed. Unfortunately, the rise of the assault weapon in recent decades has led many a forensic pathologist to become familiar with the wounding capabilities of full-metal jacketed bullets. In his popular text Gunshot Wounds (1998), Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio notes that in recent years he'd had "extensive experience" with AK-47 ammunition and that this had led him to conclude that "Tangential and shallow (superficial) perforating wounds of the head are extremely mutilating. Evisceration of part or all of the brain is common."

(Perhaps it should be explained here that while some online medical dictionaries define a "gutter" or "tangential" wound as one that leaves a furrow in the skin without actually breaking the skin, the "gutter" wounds discussed in older publications are actually quite gruesome. Thankfully, Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck, Vol.1 (1999) clears this up, and reports that these more severe wounds, in which the bullet leaves a gaping hole, have been distinguished from their less destructive cousins, and are now referred to as "class 3" gutter wounds.) 

In any event, it's disappointing, to say the least, that none of the government's experts mentioned gutter wounds in their testimony, if only to offer us a reason to believe Kennedy's large head wound was not such a wound. 

Still, that's not to say no one mentioned them. 

Tangential Wounds Comparison

Let's revisit the words of the doctor who first inspected Kennedy's large head wound, Dr. William Kemp Clark...

Just hours after the assassination, Dr. Clark told the nation at a press conference that the wound "could have been a tangential wound, as it was simply a large, gaping loss of tissue." And from there his resolve grew stronger. Over the next few weeks, in interview after interview, Dr. Clark repeated such claims and was considered so credible that as late as December 23, 1963, Medical Tribune and Medical News was still reporting that the fatal bullet struck "a tangential blow that avulsed the calvarium and shredded brain tissue as the bullet left the skull on a glancing course."

Dr. Clark was just not one to back down. Months after he'd been told the conclusions reached at autopsy, in fact, Dr. Clark told the Warren Commission that, in his impression, the large head wound was a--drum roll, please--"tangential wound." To his eternal credit, moreover, Dr. Clark also told the Warren Commission why he suspected as much. On March 21, 1964, he testified that if a bullet “strikes the skull at an angle, it must then penetrate much more bone than normal, therefore, it is likely to shed more energy, striking the brain a more powerful blow. Secondly, in striking the bone in this manner, it may cause pieces of the bone to be blown into the brain and thus act as secondary missiles. Finally, the bullet itself may be deformed and deflected so that it would go through or penetrate parts of the brain, not in the usual line it was proceeding. Dr. Clark had thereby testified that, in his opinion, the injury to Kennedy's brain was more extensive than would be expected if the bullet had simply entered low on the back of the head. As he only inspected the brain at the large defect, moreover, he had  testified that, in his opinion, a bullet had transited the skull along the surface of this defect, i.e., that this defect did not appear to be the exit for a bullet entering elsewhere. He'd also voiced his suspicion that splinters of bone had been blown into the brain at this location.

Now, we should probably note here that Dr. Clark never really wavered from his suspicion that the wound was "tangential." While he testified to the Warren Commission that the wound could be other than a tangential wound, he only did so after being asked one of Arlen Specter's infamous leading questions...

Mr. SPECTER - The physicians, surgeons who examined the President at the autopsy specifically, Commander James J. Humes, H-u-m-e-s (spelling); Commander J. Thornton Boswell, B-o-s-w-e-l-l (spelling), and Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, F-i-n-c-k (spelling), expressed the Joint opinion that the wound which I have just described as being 15 by 6 mm. and 2.5 cm. to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberant was a point of entrance of a bullet in the President's head at a time when the President's head was moved slightly forward with his chin dropping into his chest, when he was riding in an open car at a slightly downhill position. With those facts being supplied to them in a hypothetical fashion, they concluded that the bullet would have taken a more or less straight course, exiting from the center of the President's skull at a point indicated by an opening from three portions of the skull reconstructed, which had been brought to them---would those findings and those conclusions be consistent with your observations if you assumed the additional facts which I have brought to your attention, in addition to those which you have personally observed? 
Dr. CLARK - Yes, sir. 

Well, jeez Louise. Specter may as well have asked him "If the doctors said something could be black would you agree it could be black?" As Clark's acceptance of the "official" story was conditional on both Specter's false description of Kennedy's position at the time of the head shot ("with his chin dropping into his his chest") and his false description of the trajectory from the entrance observed at autopsy to the large defect on the top of Kennedy's skull ("a more or less straight course"), it's clear that Clark never really agreed with what Specter was selling. 

Unfortunately, he rarely spoke on the subject after his testimony. Perhaps we now know why.

I mean, it's not as if Clark's assessment could be rejected out of hand. In 20th Century Arms and Armor, published 1996, military historian Dr. Stephen Bull, while discussing the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, defends that the rifle was capable of causing Kennedy's wounds. He asserts, not inaccurately, that the rifle was capable of being fired fast enough and with enough accuracy to kill Kennedy as proposed by single-assassin theorists. He also recites a lot of the nonsense spewed by Dr. Baden in his book Unnatural Death, and debunked in chapter 13b of this book. Where Bull really slips up, however, is in his description of the second shot to hit Kennedy. He writes: "A second shot clipped the top of the President's skull, shattering it, and broke against the front windscreen strut." The official story on this bullet, of course, is that it did not clip Kennedy's head, but pierced it, exiting only after traveling four inches or so through the brain. That Bull, having written a number of books on WWI and WWII weaponry and tactics, thinks Kennedy's large head wound was created when a bullet "clipped" the top of his head, is, one can only assume, supportive that such "clippings" do occur.  

The Tell-Tale Splinters 

Now, let's dig a bit deeper, and discuss one of the over-looked bits of Clark's testimony--that the impact of the fatal bullet, if it did indeed strike tangentially, may have caused "pieces of the bone to be blown into the brain and thus act as secondary missiles."

Now he wasn't just making stuff up. It has long been noted that a tangential impact on the skull can break splinters of bone from the skull's inner table. To wit, the caption to a photograph taken at the Army Medical Museum after the Civil War, and found in a collection of civil war medical reports available from BACM research, relates "The specimen is an excellent illustration of that variety of fracture of the skull, in which the outer table remains intact, and the thinner and more friable vitreous table is splintered: an accident resulting always, it is believed, either from a shock of a projectile striking the cranium very obliquely, or else from a comparatively slight blow from a body with a large plain surface." 

So, the question, then, is if splinters of this kind were found in Kennedy's brain (or, rather, would have been found had the autopsists sectioned his brain).

And the answer is...yes. Here's Dr. Finck, in his January 1965 letter to his superior, Gen. Blumberg, reporting on his inspection of the brain: “No metallic fragments are identified but there are numerous small bone fragments, between one and ten millimeters in greatest dimension, in the container where the brain was fixed.” 

And this wasn't the last time Finck slipped up and admitted bone fragments were mixed in with the brain. 

Here is his 2-24-69 testimony in the trial of Clay Shaw. He has just been asked about a 20 by 13 mm (which he translates as 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch) rectangular object near the base of Kennedy's brain, which the Clark Panel had noticed in their then-recent study of the autopsy photos and had described in their report. (This brown rectangular object would later be dismissed as a blood vessel, but one never knows.)

Q: Now, Colonel, can--You previously testified that you did a lot of work at the autopsy table in the area of this particular head wound. Can you tell me why you can't tell me what this 3/4 inch x 1/2 inch rectangular-shaped whatever it is, what it was in the President's brain?
A: At this time I can't interpret this. There are numerous bone fragments produced by this explosive force in the head leading to many bone fragments and I can't positively identify this structure you are referring to.
Q: Did you find any bone fragments this size?
A: Where?
Q: In the brain.
A: I don't recall.

It seems entirely too much a coincidence then that all the large head wounds affiliated with 6.5 mm ammunition in the Fiji Campaign were tangential wounds, and that the first doctor to inspect Kennedy's large head wound thought it was a tangential wound, and that having skull fragments blown into the brain is symptomatic of a tangential wound, and that numerous bone fragments were found in the bucket with Kennedy's brain. 

Now, you might think "So what? Bone fragments are routinely found where gun-shot victims' brains are fixed."

But this isn't exactly true. 

In their 1978 Journal of Neurosurgery article Civilian Gunshot Wounds of the Brain, Drs. Vincent DiMaio and Joel B. Kirkpatrick discussed 42 fatal gunshot wounds in which the fatal shot was fired by revolvers and .22 rifles. They also did something fairly unique in the wound ballistics literature--they recorded for each wound whether or not bone splinters had been blown into the brain. 

The results were somewhat surprising. Bone splinters were detected in but 16 of the 42 brains (or 38%). Even more revealing, they were detected in but 13 of the 30 brains (43%) in which the revolver or rifle had been held against the skull...which means that bone splinters were blown into but 3 of the 12 brains (25%) in which the weapon was not held against the skull. The weapon and range of fire related to these 3 were as follows: a .32 Smith and Wesson fired from 5 feet, a .38 Special fired from 5 feet, and a .38 Special fired from 10 feet. The most powerful weapon recorded in the study, moreover, was a .45 caliber automatic pistol, which fired a bullet almost 50% larger than the bullet purported to kill Kennedy. This weapon was used in two homicides, from presumed ranges of 15 and 30 feet. And yet no bone splinters were detected in the brains of either of these victims! 

Now, to be clear, here's why this is important: 

1) While finding bone splinters in the brain is not that unusual, DiMaio's study suggests one would not expect to find bone splinters in the brain of a man killed from the distance Kennedy was killed.

And 2) One would expect to find bone splinters in Kennedy's brain, however, should the supposed exit defect on his skull have actually been a tangential wound of both entrance and exit.

And 3) Bone splinters were found in the bucket with Kennedy's brain.

Now, here's the kicker. DiMaio and Kirkpatrick's 1978 study of the 42 brains didn't merely report on the existence of bone splinters in the brain, it also reported on where they were found. It revealed: "The direction of impaction of the bone chips does provide conclusive evidence of the direction of the shot, since in no case were bone chips deflected into the brain parenchyma from exit wounds." It then concluded: "Bone chips are frequently impacted into the brain from the entrance wound. The secondary paths produced by bone chips provide conclusive proof of the direction of a fatal shot, since they always originate from the entrance wound." 

And it's not as if this was something DiMaio claimed and soon came to regret. Here he is in Gunshot Wounds (1998): "The presence of bone chips at one end of the bullet track through the brain provides conclusive evidence of the direction of the shot; in the author's experience, no bone chips are found in the brain parenchyma adjacent to the exit wound."

Well, this is the ballgame, folks. 

The blowing of numerous small bone fragments, or splinters, onto and into the surface of Kennedy's brain would have to have occurred at the large defect by Kennedy's temple, where bone was missing and never recovered. The two suspected entrances at the back of the head, after all, were barely the circumference of the bullet, and far too small to account for "numerous fragments between one and ten millimeters in greatest dimension." 

And, yes, I know that it's technically possible for numerous fragments of varying size to have exploded from the small defect on the back of Kennedy's head. A 6 mm by 15 mm entrance on the skull could represent as many as 90 one mm bone fragments, or 9 ten mm fragments, which could be mixed and matched into "numerous fragments between one and ten millimeters in greatest dimension." But let's not be daft. This was a round-nosed bullet after all. It was not a sledge-hammer. Many if not most of the bone fragments dislodged by the bullet's 15 mm wide tunnel along the back of the skull would have been pushed aside of the much smaller hole where the bullet finally entered, and much of that which made it into the skull would have been wiped off upon entrance into the skull on the membranous lining of the skull, or dura--which was not retained, or stored in the bucket inspected by Finck--and some of that which made it past the dura would have been flushed back out of the brain by an initial explosion, and then steady flow, of blood. 

And, yeah, I know this is all theoretical. But bear in mind DiMaio's hard data. Thirty guns were held against thirty heads. Thirty triggers were pulled. And thirty bullets tore through thirty skulls. And yet, seventeen of the thirty brains receiving these bullets failed to reveal any bone splinters along the wound track. 

This exposes the conjecture that "numerous fragments between one and ten millimeters in greatest dimension" could have derived from an entrance wound but 6 by 15 mm as desperate conjecture, poorly-reasoned conjecture. One might even say grasping at straws. 

One can only conclude, then, that Kennedy's fatal wound was, almost certainly, a tangential wound, and that Dr. Clark's first impressions were correct. 

Large Defect Analysis

Still more reasons to suspect the fatal bullet struck tangentially come from studying the Zapruder film. When one projects a bullet traveling downwards at 12 degrees (15 degrees from the sniper’s nest minus the 3 degree slope of the street) onto Z-312, one finds that a bullet fired from the sniper’s nest and just missing the back of Kennedy’s head would most logically strike him directly above his ear, where Zapruder frames 313 and 337 reveal the large wound to begin. Since, as we’ve seen, Kennedy’s skull was tilted 25 degrees to its left, this means the presumed impact location above the ear was at the very top of his skull, and directly in the line of fire. Not surprisingly, a nose of a bullet striking Kennedy’s skull and breaking up in this location might continue on to hit the windshield without traversing the right side of his skull. When one looks closely at Zapruder frame 313, moreover, it becomes obvious that there is a large bone fragment (almost undoubtedly the Harper fragment, the largest bone fragment found outside the limousine) flying upwards from the President’s skull at a right angle to a trajectory from the school book depository. As any pool player will tell you, this would be the expected trajectory of a fragment exploding from an impact with a bullet just barely hitting the President on the right top of his head. 

It is ironic, then, that the HSCA actually considered the possibility the large head wound was a tangential wound, but rejected it due to the fact such a wound would be unlikely for a shot fired from the grassy knoll. That's right. They were that close. On page 226 of Volume 7 of the HSCA's report is a 12-22-78 letter from radiologist David Davis noting that in light of the HSCA's acceptance of the acoustic evidence suggesting a shot had been fired from the grassy knoll, he and Dr. Michael Baden had considered the possibility the fatal shot had come from the knoll. From their discussions, moreover, they concluded that it was possible the large head wound was a tangential wound inflicted from the side if the top of Kennedy's head was tilted 22 degrees away from the bullet. As the knoll location pondered was in fact 15 degrees above Kennedy at the time of the head shot, however, they were forced to conclude Kennedy would have to have been leaning 37 degrees to his left for a tangential wound to result. And this they could not accept.

While we can agree with them on this point, or agree to disagree, it is nevertheless enlightening that Dr. Baden considered such a thing, as this indicates he felt Kennedy's large head wound was otherwise consistent with a tangential wound. 

There is reason, in fact, to suspect that many other forensic experts share this appraisal. In 2009, legendary forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, along with forensic scientist Elaine Pagliaro, and forensic psychologist Katharine Ramsland, published The Real World of a Forensic Scientist. Rave reviews by forensic experts Cyril Wecht, Michael Baden, Fredric Rieders, James Starrs and Ronald Singer graced its back cover. These reviewers had obviously been provided copies well prior to publication. If they'd noticed any obvious mistakes then, we can only assume, they'd have said so, and these mistakes would subsequently have been corrected. And yet, on page 147, while briefly discussing the Kennedy assassination as an example of a case where forensic examiners disagree in their interpretation of the facts, the writers reported that a "shot entered Kennedy's right temple and exited through his skull." 

It "entered Kennedy's right temple!" Not the back of his head. And "exited through his skull!" This strange use of words doesn't specify a separate exit, or even a direction of fire. Hmmm... Are we to assume from this that no one involved in the writing or reviewing of this book noticed this? 

I don't know. It seems quite possible, however, that this detour from the official story went right over everyone's head because it sounded so reasonable, and that it sounded so reasonable because it was something they'd secretly suspected was true.

Driven Down

Perhaps then we should take a closer look at the movement of Kennedy’s head after the impact of the head shot. As the skulls in Dr. Olivier's tests always but always moved in the direction of the bullet, perhaps this can tell us from which direction the bullet was fired.

As a measurement of the length of Jackie Kennedy's arm in frames 312 and 313, from her elbow to the back of her husband's head, indicates that more arm was visible in 313, and thus, that her husband's head moved forward, one can safely assume the fatal shot came from behind. But that's only half the story.

While there has been a seemingly endless argument between some old school conspiracy theorists, who insist Kennedy’s head flew back-and-to-the left after the bullet’s impact, and nearly everyone else, who note that his head first flew forwards, both sides of the issue miss an important fact: the primary movement of Kennedy’s head in the first few frames after the bullet’s impact was downward. His head dropped approximately 2 inches in 1 ½ frames of the Zapruder film. As a hard impact low on the back of a man’s head in the location of the bullet entrance described at autopsy would most logically pop the front of his head upwards a bit, I believe this downward movement suggests instead that Kennedy was hit on top of his head just above his right temple.

Here is a gif file, found online, demonstrating this downward movement. 

Now, is this proof? Not remotely. But it's undoubtedly helpful that my study of the medical evidence is supported by my study of the Zapruder film, and vice versa.

And it sure is interesting that I'm not the first to suspect Kennedy was hit at the supposed exit...from behind. On March 6, 1975, Robert Groden showed the Zapruder film on TV for the first time. In his subsequent book JFK: The Case For Conspiracy, published January 1976, Groden wrote that at frame 313, "A shot hit Kennedy from behind, by all appearances, in the right temple." And this wasn't a one-time slip-up. The book Government by Gunplay, published March 1976, featured a short essay by Groden entitled A New Look at the Zapruder Film. Here, he claimed that at frame 313 "A shot hits John Kennedy from behind in the right temple." 

That's right. Robert Groden, whose analysis of the Zapruder film helped launch a congressional investigation, and whose name has become synonymous with the grassy knoll, initially claimed Kennedy was killed by a shot from the rear... And not only that, but that this shot impacted at the supposed exit...

And no, I'm not kidding. While it's true Groden felt a shot hit Kennedy from the front a split-second later, he saw no evidence for this in frame 313, and assumed the movement of Kennedy's head between frames 312 and 313 and the simultaneous explosion of blood and brain was best explained by a bullet's impacting near Kennedy's right temple...from behind.

This is precisely as has been 

Elastic Recoil Revealed

Since the Zapruder film shows Kennedy's head going back and to the left after the fatal head shot, conspiracy theorists have long held this means the shot came from the front. This has not impressed single-assassin theorists, however, who just love to point out that Kennedy's head initially goes forward. These theorists also love to use supposedly scientific explanations, e.g. the "jet effect" and the "neuro-muscular response," to try and explain Kennedy's subsequent movement backward.

When I started suspecting that the head shot hit Kennedy at the supposed exit, on the other hand, one of the first things I did was slap myself at this exit location from behind, to see if this impact would re-create Kennedy's movements. To my surprise, it did.  

I subsequently learned that there is a certain elastic recoil in muscle tissue. You stretch it out far enough, and it snaps right back on its own. Some runners learn to use this to their advantage. This led me to believe that Kennedy was struck along the top of his head, his head was driven down, his chin hit his chest and his head sprang back up from the recoil of his neck muscles.

In July 2007, researcher Gil Jesus alerted the Education Forum to a number of videos he found online, depicting head shots. One of these was news footage of a hostage-taker getting killed by a sniper. The shot came in from the man's right. The man's head turned to his left, traveling with the bullet. Then snapped back to his right, facing the sky as he fell to the ground. Not enough fluid was ejected from his head to create the "jet effect." His body failed to stiffen as in a neuro-muscular response. (Stills from this video are on the slide above.)

Kennedy contorts in a similar manner, only more vertically. This is consistent with his getting hit more towards the top of his head, at the supposed exit. 

A longer version of this video, proving that the shot came in from the right, is now available here

It's time we watch the Zapruder film. As you watch the film below, ask yourself: is there any evidence the bullet struck Kennedy on the BACK of his head? Is there any evidence it struck him from in FRONT? Just watch the film. If one divorces oneself from what one's been told about the direction of the head shot, I suspect you'll come to agree that the film suggests a shot hit Kennedy on the top of his head above his right temple...from his right, and from behind.

(Note: the following gif file was posted by Gerda Dunkel on the JFK Assassination Forum on July 6, 2012. You may want to skip ahead, as it is quite gruesome. But it demonstrates the downward, then back, motion of Kennedy's head better than smaller images.)

Should one continue to doubt such a shot occurred, and insist that the “back-and-to-the-left” movement of Kennedy’s skull could only have come from the front, I suggest a simple test. I’ve done it way too many times. Lean forward 30 degrees…tilt your head 25 degrees to your left… and SLAP the top of your skull above your ear downwards, and see what happens. NO. I'M KIDDING. Don’t do this!!! It hurts a bit. Take my word for it, instead,--your head will bounce right up and throw your body backwards, exactly as Kennedy’s did in the frames after the fatal headshot. (And no, I'm not just making this up. This unique attribute of tangential hits is mentioned in the online paper Wound Ballistic Simulation by Jorma Jusilla, presented at the University of Helsinki:  It states “A tangential hit also causes a torsion motion of the head which can cause serious injuries.  According to Funk and Wagnall’s, the word “torsion” means “The act of twisting.” I say that in case you might need to look it up. I did.)

In retrospect, the mystery over the cause of Kennedy’s back-and-to-the-left movement should have been solved a long time ago. All the debate over the “man behind the picket fence,” the “jet effect” and “neuro-muscular response” would have been unnecessary if someone used some common sense back in 1964. People knew the bullet broke up. People knew that bullets normally pierce a body without imparting enough energy into the body to throw it one way or the other. People knew that, on the other hand, a bullet striking tangentially, creating a gutter wound, and breaking up, could impart enough energy upon impact to slap a person one way or the other. People knew as well that the Zapruder film showed Kennedy being slapped back into his seat. The problem, one can only guess, is that the people knowing these things were not the same people. 

The movement of Kennedy's head in the Zapruder film, when taken in conjunction with evidence previously discussed, including and especially that no bloody back spatter emanates from the back of Kennedy's head in the film, strongly suggest the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 struck his skull at the supposed exit, most probably from behind.

Still skeptical?  Then let's take a closer look at the Zapruder film. This gif was also created by Dunkel.

Image result for jfk gif

And here's a closer and slower look.

Note that the only spray of blood to cross the back of the head comes from the large defect, and that no spray comes from the back of the head itself.

Still skeptical? Then let's take an even closer look, only slowed way down, and with the large defect cropped off.

The explosion is at the top of the head, and not the back of the head.

And let's not forget there was another film of the head shot, taken from opposite Zapruder...

Here, then, is the head shot as seen in the film of Orville Nix. This clip jostles back and forth, so that one can view the head shot with the head moving backward and when moving back into place. While this creates the illusion of two head shots, it also confirms what already seems obvious: the explosion was at the top right side of the head...exactly where it is in the Zapruder film.  

Well I think that proves it. We should have listened to Bobby Hargis. Hargis, who rode a motorcycle in the motorcade to the left of Mrs. Kennedy, not only witnessed the head shot from quite close, but reported within days of the shooting that Kennedy "got hit in the side of his head, spinning it around." 

He was on it from the beginning. But no one was paying attention. Some apparently wanted his words to suggest Kennedy was shot from the front, and so ignored the key part of his statement: that the bullet's impact imparted a spinning motion to Kennedy's head. Such a motion, as we've seen, is entirely consistent with the creation of the tangential wound described by Dr. Clark.

But is there any way we can further clear this up, and scientifically determine the direction of the bullet?

Behold the Harper Fragment

Yes. A study of the Harper fragment can help us make such a determination.

On 11-23-63, William Harper found a large skull fragment on the Dealey Plaza infield. He subsequently showed it to his uncle. His uncle, who happened to be a doctor, brought the fragment in to a local hospital the next day and showed it to some of his colleagues. He then gave it to the FBI. Strangely, no one knows for sure what happened to it after this. There is evidence that the FBI, after running some tests, gave the fragment to Kennedy’s personal physician, Dr. Burkley, on 11-27. It is fairly clear as well that even though the autopsy doctors had yet to finish their supplemental autopsy report on 11-27, and even though Dr. Burkley was in contact with the doctors during this time, he somehow failed to tell the doctors of the fragment’s existence. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, however, in his testimony before the Warren Commission, mentioned that “a medical student or somebody in Dallas” had found a skull fragment in the street on the day after the assassination. As Hill continued on with the Kennedy family after the assassination, this could be an indication that Dr. Burkley did in fact give the fragment to the family. The HSCA concluded that Bobby Kennedy acquired the fragment and either destroyed it or buried it along with his brother’s brain and tissue slides.

It is from the HSCA interview of one of Dr. Harper’s colleagues, Dr. A. B. Cairns, a pathologist, and the photographs Harper’s colleagues made available to researchers, that we’ve come to learn most of what we think we know about the Harper fragment. Dr. Cairns told the HSCA that he believed the fragment came from the occipital bone, down near the spine. There is reason to doubt this, however. The Harper fragment was the largest skull fragment found outside the limousine. While an early FBI report claimed the fragment was found 25 feet behind Kennedy's location at the time of the head shot, this claim was made when Harper would have assumed the wreaths stacked up near the grassy knoll steps marked Kennedy's location when hit. Harper's subsequent actions support that he'd made such an assumption. Going back to the 1960's, he has marked the location where he found the fragment on numerous maps, and has consistently claimed he found the fragment on the grassy infield of Dealey Plaza across from the grassy knoll steps--a location roughly a hundred feet forward of Kennedy’s location at frame 313 of the Zapruder film. Since frame 313 of the Zapruder film shows a large skull fragment flying upwards from the front half of Kennedy’s skull, and heading forwards of the limousine, moreover, we have strong reasons to believe the Harper fragment is this fragment, and that it exploded from the top of Kennedy's skull.

And that's not just my opinion. Dr. Lawrence Angel, Dr. Joseph Riley, and Dr. Randy Robertson, among others, place the bone in the parietal area, above the right ear. This means that the fragment was adjacent to where I suspect the bullet first struck Kennedy. That Dr. Cairns reported “grayish discoloration” indicative of “lead-caused damage” on the outside of the fragment, then, would seem too much a coincidence, particularly in that researcher John Hunt was able to locate an x-ray of the fragment in the National Archives, and identify a small bit of metal (presumably lead) on the fragment, right by the discolored edge. (Hunt showed this to a receptive audience at the 2003 Wecht Conference in Pittsburgh.)

That a bullet broke up at this location should not have come as a surprise, moreover. Dr. Humes' and Dr. Boswell's assistant at the autopsy, James Curtis Jenkins, was interviewed by Andy Purdy for the HSCA on 8-29-77. Purdy's notes on this interview reflect that Jenkins told him that the bullet creating the large head wound "entered the top rear quadrant from the front side." Jenkins would subsequently explain how he came to this suspicion. He told writer Harrison Livingstone in the early 1990's that "just above the right ear there was some discoloration of the skull cavity with the bone area being gray and there was some speculation that it might be lead."

And this wasn't a one-time claim on Jenkins' part. Jenkins told William Law much the same thing in 1993. On November 22, 2013, at the JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas, Jenkins shared his recollections of what happened fifty years before with a small audience. I was in that audience, actually two audiences--one in the afternoon and one late at night--and took notes. When discussing this discoloration, Jenkins said he heard Dr. Pierre Finck tell Dr. Humes "that may be lead from a bullet." And that's not all. Jenkins also said that his impression upon viewing Kennedy's skull and x-rays was that fractures radiated out from the temple. Jenkins said that this impression, fueled by Finck's words, stuck with him throughout the autopsy, to such an extent that after the completion of the autopsy he "went home with the knowledge that the wound (he meant bullet) that killed the President entered here (he pointed to his temple) and exited here (he pointed to the top of his head)." He said he was surprised to find out later that the doctors had concluded that this wound--the one "in front and a little bit above the right ear"--was actually an exit.

Now, some discussion is in order. It seems obvious from Jenkins' statements that he was describing a lead smear adjacent to the large defect, and not a small hole by the temple. If he was describing a small hole, after all, how could he turn around and say the doctors said this was an exit? No such exit was described in the autopsy report!

In any event, his recollections changed. in 2018, a 76 year-old Jenkins released his book At the Cold Shoulder of History, and suddenly began claiming the exit defect was on the far back of the head, and that a small entrance was by the temple. That this is nonsense is perhaps best demonstrated by recalling Jenkins' previous claims to David Lifton, in Best Evidence. There, Lifton summed up his interview with a 38 year-old Jenkins by claiming "Since Jenkins didn't see a frontal entry wound, he assumed that it had been blown away when the bullet struck." So...Jenkins told Lifton he didn't see an entrance...and that he had assumed it was blown away. such case, the lead-smear by the temple Jenkins presumed marked an entrance would have to have been adjacent to the large hole on Kennedy's head, which would, in turn, have to have been on the top of his head by his temple--and NOT on the far back of his head at the level of his ears, where the elderly Jenkins moved the wound.

We should recall here as well that lead was also observed on the large triangular bone fragment found on the floor of the limousine, and that the outward beveling of the skull at this location helped convince the autopsy doctors the large defect on top of Kennedy's head, from whence this fragment derived, was in fact an exit. In his online review of the autopsy materials, written after his 2004 visit to the National Archives, Larry Sturdivan discussed these deposits in some detail. Sturdivan observed: "The lead fragments on this bone could not have been secondary deposits, stuck by clotted blood. As this fragment was dislodged in the explosion, the fragments had to be deposited into the surface of the bone by the bullet core.” This led him to conclude: “Lead deposits inside the cratered area indicates that the bone had already cratered before the core scraped by. This may mean that the leading surface of the bullet fragments was jacket… Well, heck. Sturdivan had thereby admitted it was possible the bullet broke up at this location, and not after striking the windshield strut, as purported by Dr. Baden.

It's nice to find there's something on which we agree. That similar lead deposits have been noted on the Harper fragment, moreover, add considerable weight to my suspicion these two bone fragments comprise the vast majority of the large defect the autopsy doctors concluded was an exit.

But there's a problem with their conclusion. The grayish discoloration on the Harper fragment is on the outside of the fragment. This suggests that the bullet broke up while entering the skull above the ear, and not while exiting. That the "lead deposits inside the cratered area" observed by Sturdivan were observed on X-rays, whereby one could not tell whether the fragments were on the inside or outside of the skull, and that NO photographs were taken of the large fragment studied by Sturdivan, moreover, suggests the possibility the large defect determined to be an exit was really an entrance, and that the photographic proof for this was either deliberately not recorded, or subsequently destroyed. 

But one needn't go that far, as it seems quite possible, likely even, that the supposed exit on the x-ray studied by Sturdivan was in fact an exit.

As incredible as it may seem, the Harper fragment supports this possibility. It offers compelling evidence that Kennedy’s large head wound was a tangential wound of both entrance and exit. The underside of the fragment reveals internal beveling, indicative of a bullet entrance, towards the back, and external beveling, indicative of an out-shoot, towards the front. (The triangular fragment studied by Sturdivan would presumably represent another portion of this outshoot.)

As the in-shoot and out-shoot run along the bottom edge of the Harper fragment, moreover, an upward lift of bone until it snapped off along its edge, spinning upwards, can easily be imagined... and seen... as such an explosion is forever captured in Z-313.

Keyhole Analysis

So let's go back and nail this down... Gutter wounds, or tangential wounds, are symptomatic of 6.5 mm military ammunition. Dr. Clark thought Kennedy's large head wound was a tangential wound.

So, was there anything about Kennedy's head wound to suggest Clark was right?

Yes. Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck (1999) reports that "class 3" gutter wounds are associated with "keyhole entrance" wounds?

Well, what's a keyhole entrance wound?

External Beveling of Entrance Wounds by Handguns, a 1982 article in The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology discusses keyhole entrances in detail. Intriguingly, this article was written by HSCA medical panelist Dr. John Coe, only three years after his HSCA experience. Coe wrote “In the grazing wound of the skull showing external beveling, there is an elongated perforation of the bone in which one end of the perforation resembles the usual entry wound, while the opposite end of the defect has the external beveling associated with an exit wound. The most common explanation is the bullet, by penetrating the bone tangentially, is split or shaved. One portion of the bullet proceeds into the cranial vault, while the second portion is deflected outward, exiting the bone almost immediately after its penetration of the outer table. This deflected portion, in leaving the bone, produces external beveling in the usual manner.”

Now, is it just a coincidence that the lower edge of the Harper fragment (in Dr. Angel's orientation) appears to match the characteristics of a “keyhole” lesion representing both entrance and exit? Is it also a coincidence then that this “keyhole” seems to be running 6 degrees from left to right across the skull, which matches the angle leading back to the Texas School Book Depository we’ve already calculated? (The Moorman photo reveals that Kennedy’s head was turned 14 degrees to his left. Since the school book depository was 8 degrees to his right at Z-312, this could indicate the bullet traveled 6 degrees to the right along his skull.)

Let's read on. Medicolegal Investigation of Death, by the Clark Panel’s Fisher and the HSCA’s Spitz, also discusses keyhole lesions: “A shot fired at a curved part of the head at a shallow angle often causes a typically inward-beveled entrance hole adjacent to an outward-beveled exit hole, producing a keyhole-shaped defect in the skull. A fragment of the slug shaved off by the bone at the entrance hole may penetrate the brain…Fracture of the orbital roofs…are occasionally seen in the cases of keyhole type wounds involving the top of the head or forehead. Eyelid hemorrhage on the same side may result from the seepage… Hmmm... As the description of the fractured orbits (eye sockets) and hemorrhage on the eyelids could have been taken from Kennedy’s autopsy report, and as the shaved off fragment of a bullet hitting tangentially would appear to be the best explanation for the bullet “slice” visible on Kennedy’s x-rays, it seems quite possible that Fisher, Spitz, and even Coe were writing about Kennedy’s death, whether they realized it or not.

Although Coe’s article was written specifically about handgun wounds, and Spitz and Fisher were more equipped to write about low-velocity gunshot wounds than high-velocity gunshot wounds, there is reason to believe, moreover, that keyhole wounds can be created by both low-velocity ammunition and high-velocity ammunition. In his 1999 book Gunshot Wounds, Dr. Vincent Di Maio discusses keyhole wounds of the bone in much the same language as Coe, then adds "In a less common variant of keyhole wounds, the bullet does not split but enters the cranial cavity intact. This type of keyhole wound is common with full-metal jacketed bullets." Full-metal jackets are most normally associated with military rifle ammunition, and are not normally associated with low-velocity handgun ammunition.

Dr. Douglas S. Dixon also associates “keyhole” wounds with rifle ammunition. In Management of Gunshot Wounds, he writes: “In head wounds inflicted by large caliber handguns, rifles, and shotguns especially at closer ranges, the forces which accompany the projectile form a large temporary cavity that causes the skull to expand greatly. Reconstruction of the bony fragments may reveal the previously discussed configurations of beveling, keyhole lesions, or pattern of intersecting fractures; this is often best accomplished at autopsy. Implicit in these words is that, due to the skull’s fragmentation, a keyhole entry resulting from rifle fire can sometimes be discovered through a reconstruction of the skull fragments subsequent to the shooting. I found an article on such a reconstruction, moreover, in the book Skeletal Trauma (2008), wherein Peruvian professors Elsa Cagigao and Melissa Lund described the reconstruction of the skull of a Chilean soldier killed over a hundred years before, and their discovery of a keyhole wound of both entrance and exit near the left temple of his skull.

Now, should one worry that my interpretation of the above passages are incorrect, and that my depiction of the beveling on the images above similarly incorrect, it should be noted that The Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences (2012) contains a sketch depicting a keyhole lesion. And that this sketch mirrors my presentation of beveling.

This makes it clear, then, that the beveling on the Harper fragment is the scientific proof of more than one shooter that some have been waiting for, and that others feared would surface.

Is it merely a coincidence then that the Harper fragment, which was discovered just one day after Kennedy's demise, was not brought to the attention of the men still writing his autopsy protocol? While the final draft of the autopsy report was turned in on the 24th, and the fragment not given to the FBI until the 26th, the doctors’ supplementary examination of the brain and tissue slides was still over a week away. Why weren’t the autopsists shown this fragment, or even told of its existence? The 11-26-63 report of FBI Agents Sibert and O’Neil revealed that Dr. Humes had opted to hold on to the 10 x 6.5 mm beveled bone fragment of the President’s skull, but that he would make it available for further examination. This proves the FBI knew the doctors had an interest in such things. An 11-27-63 memo on Dr. Burkley's receipt of the Harper fragment noted it was to be "turned over to Naval Hospital by Dr. Burkley for examination, analysis, and retention until other disposition is directed."

So why weren't the doctors shown the Harper fragment? Did Burkley realize that the fragment offered proof for more than one shooter, and opt to keep this info to himself?

Perhaps. The photo above was found online. It shows a keyhole wound. It is part of the Civil War Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. Dr. Finck was, of course, the institute's resident expert on gunshot wounds in 1963. He had almost certainly studied this skull. He almost certainly knew about keyhole wounds. And he may have even recognized the Harper fragment as the upper margin of such a wound, had he been shown the fragment.

Dr. Mantik and Mr. Harper

Ironically, the true importance of the Harper fragment has long been overlooked not through the actions of single-assassin theorists, but conspiracy theorists... They just won't accept that the fragment was dislodged from the top of Kennedy's head and that this wound could represent both an entrance and an exit...

Let me explain...

From dozens of witnesses claiming to have heard shots from west of the depository, and a half dozen or more claiming to have seen smoke on the grassy knoll after the shots, the vast majority of conspiracy researchers have long felt the fatal shot was fired from in front of Kennedy. That suspicion, when coupled with the recollection held by so many witnesses at Parkland Hospital--that Kennedy's large head wound was on the back of his head--has led them to accept that a shot fired from in front of Kennedy blew out the back of his head. As Dr. Cairns believed the Harper fragment was occipital, moreover, it seems totally obvious to them that the Harper fragment was blown out the back of Kennedy's head. It totally adds up. It totally makes sense.

The Harper fragment's exploding from the back of Kennedy's head has become such a tenet of the conspiracy theorist "religion," for that matter, that Don Thomas, in his 2010 book Hear No Evil, was reluctant to dispute it, even though he readily accepted that the Harper fragment was NOT occipital bone. That's right. While presumably under the influence of radiologist Randy Robertson, who has come to conclude the largest fragment x-rayed at autopsy was blown out the back of Kennedy's head (which is, in itself fairly strange, considering this fragment was found on the floor of the limousine), Thomas claimed that the Harper fragment was "a piece of the posterior parietal bone which was driven out the rear of the president's cranium." Now, that's a surprise. Dr. Angel, upon whom Thomas relied for his assessment the fragment was parietal, placed the fragment at the top of Kennedy's head near the front of the parietal bone, and not at the posterior edge of the parietal bone. And then there's this. Kennedy's head was leaning forward at frame 313. Thomas believes the shot was fired from in front of Kennedy. There is simply no way a skull fragment from the top of Kennedy's head where Angel placed it could be driven out the rear of his head, when his head was leaning forward. One can only conclude, then, that Thomas was trying to have it both ways, and had decided to ignore Angel's placement of the bone towards the front of the parietal bone, and to presume instead that it sprang from the top of the back of Kennedy's head in the rear-most part of the parietal bone...where no doctor had claimed it had sprung, and where it clearly did not fit...

And Thomas wasn't the only one to claim the Harper fragment was parietal bone...that was blown out the back of Kennedy's head. Heck, he wasn't even the only one that year to do so...

In 2010, in his book Head Shot, research physicist G. Paul Chambers topped Thomas in the "now ain't that weird" department. On page 94, he proposed that the fragment was parietal bone, and cited the work of Dr. Joseph Riley in support. He then flew off the rails. A few pages later, he claimed "there is a clear and apparent inconsistency with the Zapruder film, taken at the time of the assassination, and the descriptions of the wounds to Kennedy's head provided at the official autopsy. The damaged area shown on the film is consistent, however, with parietal bone (from the side of Kennedy's head) found on the street after the assassination (the Harper fragment). This would be reasonable if the bullet struck Kennedy from the right front side and sheared off part of his skull on the side of his head just forward of his right ear." He then discussed Dr. Clark's belief the large head wound was a tangential wound of both entrance and exit, and concluded "a bullet striking from the front side could shear off the piece of parietal (side) bone, propelling it backward to the rear of the vehicle, and ultimately ending up in the street at Dealey Plaza."

So, yeah. Chambers went along with the fragment's being parietal bone. And added into it what I'd come to believe no one, except possibly Dr. Michael Baden, actually believed--that the Harper fragment derived from a location on the side of the head just forward of the right ear. Well, this made little sense, and the mistakes made by Chambers discounted the possibility we should expect it to make sense. Now, where do I begin? First, there is no inconsistency between the film and the descriptions provided at the autopsy. (This will be discussed in chapter 18c.) Second, the Harper fragment was not found on the street, but on the grass. Third, as supported by Billy Harper, who claimed he'd found the fragment a hundred feet or so ahead of where Kennedy is hit in the Zapruder film, the Harper fragment was not propelled to the rear of the vehicle.

Embarrassingly, Chambers' discussion of the Harper fragment was so riddled with errors that he couldn't even get the date of its discovery correct. He claimed it was found on the day of the assassination, when Harper, who would be in a position to know, said it was found the next day.

But what of the others? Those believing the Harper fragment occipital bone? Well, let's just say they are on firmer ground than Thomas, and Chambers... 

Until one looks at the autopsy photos and X-rays... and the assassination films... and studies the statements of those witnessing the shooting... and closely studies the writings of those pushing this scenario...

Let's take, for example, Jim Douglass, in JFK and the Unspeakable (a book I recommend under the proviso one not take the specifics of the crime he describes too seriously):

On page 283, Douglass discusses the research of Dr. David Mantik, who, over nine visits to the National Archives, observed what he called a "patch" toward the back of Kennedy's lateral skull x-rays. (This will be discussed in much greater detail in chapters 18 and 18b.)

Here is how Douglass, and all-too many conspiracy theorists, present Mantik's findings:

"There was far too much bone density being shown in the rear of of JFK's skull relative to the front. The X-ray had to have been a composite. The optical density data indicated a forgery in which a patch had been placed over an original x-ray to cover the rear part of the skull--corresponding to the gap left in part by the Harper fragment, evidence of an exit wound. The obvious purpose was to cover-up evidence of a shot from the front that, judging from the original Parkland observations, had created an exit hole the size of one's fist in the back of the head..."

Douglass later concludes this line of thought: "In the case of the the government's X-rays, their exact duplication of the Harper fragment, as if that bullet-blasted bone were still in the slain president's skull, has turned out to be the revelation of the cover-up."

So there you have it. The Parkland witnesses said there was a hole on the back of Kennedy's head. Dr. Cairns said he thought the Harper fragment came from the back of Kennedy's head. Dr. Mantik shares this conclusion. Dr. Mantik has also concluded there is a white patch on the back of Kennedy's lateral X-rays. ERGO, we can assume the white patch was created to conceal the hole on the back of Kennedy's head from where the Harper fragment was blasted. This is supported, furthermore, by the Harper fragment's being found 25 feet south of the assassination site...which means it landed behind the limousine.

This is how a significant number, perhaps most, conspiracy theorists view the evidence.

The problem is...IT"S JUST NOT TRUE.

Let me repeat something I touched upon awhile back. While the early reports on Harper's finding of the fragment do indeed claim he found the fragment 25 feet south of the assassination location, and while writers such as Mantik have extrapolated from this that the fragment was found "not too far from where Jean Hill had been standing," that is, behind Kennedy's location at the moment of the fatal head shot, Harper was not a witness to the shooting. In fact, he found the fragment the next day. By that time, mourners had gathered opposite the steps in front of Kennedy at the time of head shot. This is shown in numerous photos. This raises the question, then, of whether or not Harper, when first interviewed, had known that Kennedy had actually been shot before reaching this location.

Fortunately, we have an answer to this. In 1969, researcher Howard Roffman contacted Harper and asked him to mark on a map where he found the fragment. Sure enough, Harper marked a location to the south of the steps in a location approximately 100 feet in front and slightly to the left of Kennedy at the time of the actual head shot. And this was no one time thing. He has marked similar maps for others. The evidence, then, suggests the Harper fragment was not blown out the back of Kennedy's head, as pushed by most conspiracy theorists, but was blown forward from the top of his head, as depicted in the Zapruder film.

Well, then what about Mantik...

In the very paper Douglass cites as support for the nice, neat scenario described above, Dr. Mantik refutes much of Douglass' scenario. First, as seen on the slide above, while Dr. Mantik concluded the Harper fragment derived from the back of the skull, he concluded it derived from the central part of the back of the skull, NOT from the location of the wound to the right of mid-line described by the Parkland witnesses, NOR in the location on the right where he'd discovered a white "patch" on the x-rays.

(In a 10-11-10 post on the Education Forum, Dr. Mantik addressed this very point. In comments posted by Dr. James Fetzer, Mantik's biggest supporter, Mantik admitted "I have never demonstrated exactly where on the lateral skull X-ray the Harper would appear, but it would be at the very rear." He had thereby confirmed my claim. Neither the wound described by the Parkland witnesses nor the location covered by the "white patch" are at the very rear.)

Second, while Dr. Mantik, during an 11-18-93 press conference announcing his conclusions regarding the so-called white patch, was reported to have claimed that "someone...put a great white patch on the back of the lateral X-ray to cover up the hole, which is why the area is so extraordinarily white," he claimed a decade later, in the paper cited by Douglass, that the "white patch was almost certainly added in the dark room. Its purpose was to emphasize the resulting dark area in front, which suggested that a bullet had exited from the front."

Read Mantik's 2003 paper, containing his ultimate conclusions, if you don't believe me:

(In the 10-11-10 post by Fetzer, Dr. Mantik responded to this point as well. He wrote: "The original lateral X-ray probably showed missing BRAIN in the current area of the WHITE PATCH. It was the missing brain, not missing skull, that likely led to the WHITE PATCH." He'd thereby confirmed my claims a second time.)

Jim Douglass was wrong. Mantik had not concluded that the "white patch" at the rear of the skull corresponded "to the gap left in part by the Harper fragment."

Mantik's observations reveal his own bias, however. While the good doctor, true to the beliefs of most conspiracy theorists, concluded the Harper fragment was occipital bone, the reasons he gives for rejecting Dr. Angel's conclusion it was parietal bone (in the position depicted in the middle of the slide above) are remarkably contrived. First, in the paper at the link above, he claims that Angel "did not know that occipital bone was missing so this site at the top of the head was his only option." Uhhh... Dr. Angel had been provided both the autopsy photos and x-rays, which showed no occipital bone to be missing. So how was Angel to find out it was missing? From the say-so of Dr. Cairns, who only guessed that the Harper fragment was occipital? Second, once again in the paper linked above, he rejects Angel’s conclusion chiefly because Angel’s conclusion would imply “a parietal entry (because the lead smudge is on the outside), an option that virtually no one would support.” 

Hmmm... Note the parentheses. Mantik says the lead smudge is on the outside, and that this suggests an entrance. Notice that he makes no mention of beveling. Did he realize that the beveling in the location of the lead smudge was outward beveling, suggesting an exit, and not an entrance? And did he then decide to withhold this from his readers? He had, after all, offered up that, in his orientation for the fragment, this smudge lined up with the entrance location observed at autopsy. He wouldn't withhold from his readers that the beveling at this location suggested an exit, and not an entrance? Would he? I don't know. Perhaps he never noticed the beveling.

Now note the last words. Mantik rejects Angel's orientation for the fragment not because it's unlikely, but because he thinks few would support it. 

I hope to have changed that. And hope to have pushed a few researchers to look in...

The Right Direction

Now, to be clear, most of those disagreeing with my identification of the Harper Fragment as part of a keyhole entrance do so because the beveling on the fragment suggests the shot came from the rear. They just can't accept that--and so pretend what I have just shown to be true is mere speculation, etc. 

But they fail to see that it's not just the beveling on the Harper fragment that suggests the shot came from behind, but the lacerations of Kennedy's scalp. 

Here, from Vincent J. DiMaio's acclaimed text Gunshot Wounds, is the scalp overlying a small tangential wound of entrance on a skull, with an arrow added to show the direction of fire.

(Yes, yes, I know it's upside down. But I wanted it to run left to right. For comparison purposes.) 

Note that there are no scalp lacerations at the point of first impact along the left edge of the photo as presented above. Note that the scalp lacerations start near the right edge of the main defect, and extend forward of the main defect. 

Now, here are the four major lacerations in Kennedy's scalp, as recorded in the autopsy protocol.

Well, this is something. Three of the four tears extended forward from the large defect. Two of these three were inconsistent with the fatal shot's coming from Kennedy's right-front (i.e. the grassy knoll), moreover. 

Here is my attempt to depict these scalp lacerations on a photo of Kennedy. 

Note that a bullet fired from the location of the photographer and impacting Kennedy's skull at the front edge of the large defect (near the beginnings of lacerations A and B) would be unlikely to create lacerations in the locations of lacerations A and B. These lacerations are thereby inconsistent with the "tangential wound created by a bullet fired from the grassy knoll theory" currently in vogue.

Now note that a bullet's impacting at the rear edge of the large defect (at the rearmost aspect of the Harper fragment in Dr. Angel's orientation, which is to say, above and slightly behind Kennedy's right ear) is perfectly consistent with these lacerations, and that the upward explosion of the Harper fragment as seen in the Zapruder film can be correlated to laceration D, and the forward explosion of the large triangular fragment onto the floor of the limousine can be correlated to laceration C. 

By George, I think we've got it. 

And yet we've missed something, correct?

The “Missing” Scalp

Some things are best defined by what they're missing. Accordingly, the evidence that ultimately convinced me the large head wound was tangential in nature was something that was missing: scalp. 

The autopsy protocol describes Kennedy’s large head wound as follows: There is a large irregular defect of the scalp and skull on the right involving chiefly the parietal bone but extending somewhat into the temporal and occipital regions. In this region there is an actual absence of scalp and bone producing a defect which measures approximately 13 cm in greatest diameter.” And this wasn't a one-time claim. In his 3-16-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, Dr. Humes repeated his claim that scalp was missing. He testified that 1) the large "defect involved both the scalp and the underlying skull...;" 2) "there was a defect in the scalp and some scalp tissue was not available;" and 3) that the largest part of the bullet which broke up on impact "accounted for this very large defect, for the multiple fractures of the skull, and for the loss of brain and scalp tissue..."

There can be no doubt then that Dr. Humes felt scalp was missing, and that Dr.s Boswell and Finck agreed. Or, at least agreed enough to sign the autopsy protocol in which it was described...

But there's more to this missing scalp than one might suspect...

Medicolegal Investigation of Death addresses missing scalp as follows: “A point frequently ignored, or forgotten, in comparing entrance and exit wounds is that approximation of the edges of an entrance wound usually retains a small central defect, a missing area of skin. On the other hand, approximation of the edges of the exit re-establishes the skin’s integrity. The authors of Medicolegal Investigation of Death were Dr. Russell Fisher, of the Clark Panel, and Dr. Werner Spitz, of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel. The pathology panel’s report was most likely accommodating Spitz, then, when it critiqued the autopsy report’s description as follows: It is probably misleading in the sense that it describes “an actual absence of skin and bone. The scalp was probably virtually all present, but torn and displaced… 

Uhh, no... This, disturbingly, ignores that Dr. William Kemp Clark, the one Parkland doctor to closely inspect Kennedy’s head wound, shared the observations of the autopsists, and independently observed “There was considerable loss of scalp and bone tissue” in a summary of the  reports written by the Parkland staff on the day of the shooting. (Wasn’t this required reading?)

And it also ignores that Dr. Malcolm Perry, the doctor most intimately involved in the efforts to revive Kennedy at Parkland, similarly claimed that "both scalp and portions of skull were absent" when testifying before the Warren Commission on 3-30-64.  

And it also ignores that Dr. James Carrico, the first doctor to inspect Kennedy's wounds at Parkland, confirmed Clark's and Perry's accounts to the HSCA's investigators on 1-11-78. He told them that the large head wound "had blood and hair all around it." All around it, and not above it. And should one suppose Carrico thought the scalp attached to this hair could be pulled back over the wound, he clarified his position on this, once and for all, in an 8-2-97 oral history with the Sixth Floor Museum, when he described the right side of Kennedy's head as having "a big chunk of bone and scalp missing."

And that's not even to mention the witnesses claiming to see this hairy scalp on bone left in the limousine...

On 11-30-63, Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who'd climbed onto the back of Kennedy's limo just after the fatal shot was fired, wrote a report that included an often-overlooked detail. He wrote: "As I lay over the top of the back seat I noticed a portion of the President's head on the right rear side was missing and he was bleeding profusely. Part of his brain was gone. I saw a part of his skull with hair on it lieing in the seat." 

And Hill wasn't the only one to see this hairy fragment. Motorcycle Officer Bobby Joe Dale arrived upon the scene just as the President's body was rushed into the emergency room. He failed to get a look at the President. He did, however, get a look at the back seat of the limo. Here's what he told Larry Sneed, as published in No More Silence (1998): "Blood and matter was everywhere inside the car including a bone fragment which was oblong shaped, probably an inch to an inch and a half long by three-quarters of an inch wide. As I turned it over and looked at it, I determined that it came from some part of the forehead because there was hair on it which appeared to be near the hairline."

And Dale wasn't the only motorcycle officer to make such a statement. When interviewed for the 2008 Discovery Channel program Inside the Target Car, H.B. McClain related: "When I raised her up (he means Mrs. Kennedy)...I could see it on the floor. That's pieces of skull with the hair on it."

So what happened to this hairy fragment, you might ask? Well, it's tough to say. Secret Service Agent Sam Kinney retrieved a large skull fragment from the limousine as it was flown back from Dallas, but never described this fragment as being covered with hair. 

And there's this. When interviewed for No More Silence (1998), FBI agent Vincent Drain, who arrived at Parkland within a half hour or so of the shooting, told Larry Sneed: "It may have been the security officer or one of the other officers who gave me a portion of the skull which was about the size of a teacup, much larger than a silver dollar. Apparently the explosion had jerked it because the hair was still on it. I carried that back to Washington later that night and turned it over to the FBI laboratory."

(Drain's account is curious,to say the least, as he arrived in Washington after the conclusion of the autopsy and there is no record whatsoever of a relatively large bone fragment arriving at the laboratory on the 23rd.) 

In any event... at least one skull fragment had hair on it. This fragment could not have come from the small entrance wound on the back of the head, and must have come from the large defect on the top of the head. 

This marked the large defect as an entrance, or more logically, a tangential wound of both entrance and exit.

Now that, by itself, represents one of the most important and OVERLOOKED facts about the case.

But, get this, that's not the only thing to be learned from the missing scalp! 

Yep, the “missing” scalp returned to center stage on 1-21-00, when the government released a report on tests conducted on CE 567, comprising both the nose of a bullet found on the driver’s seat of Kennedy’s limousine, and foreign material which had apparently been removed from or fallen from this fragment. Although the FBI's Robert Frazier, in his 3-31-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, claimed that when he inspected CE 567 and 569 on 11-23-63 "there was a very slight residue of blood or some other material adhering" to the fragments that "was wiped off to clean up the bullet for examination," it had long been observed that some foreign material remained within the crumpled ridges of CE 567, and that some additional foreign material had fallen off the fragment, and now resided in the evidence dish as part of the exhibit. An HSCA consultant had even asked that tests be conducted on this material. These tests were not conducted, however, until after the uproar surrounding Oliver Stone’s film JFK brought the ARRB into existence. The results of these tests, initially reported on 9-16-98, were that 3 of the 4 pieces of foreign material that were no longer on the fragment were human SKIN, and that the fourth was human tissue. As CE 567 was linked via the neutron activation analysis to the bullet fragments found in Kennedy’s brain, and as there was little scalp missing at the small entrance near the EOP, this finding essentially confirms the tangential entrance I’ve theorized. 

Those wishing to read the complete report on the CE 567 foreign material should go here

The significance of this skin is further amplified when one considers that, according to Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio, in his standard text Gunshot Wounds, of all the tissues likely to be found on a bullet, "Skin was the least commonly encountered." DiMaio further specifies that "In regard to gunshot wounds of the head, bone chips, skeletal muscle, connective tissue, and strips of small vessels were commonly identified. Fragments of brain were present but were not readily recognizable as neural in origin." Skin didn't even make the list.

And DiMaio is no outlier, at least not on this subject. Here's Bernd Karger, in his article Forensic Ballistics, published in Forensic Pathology Reviews (2008): "Human trace evidence on bullets has been investigated by routine cytological methods but individualisation is commonly not possible, and cells or even cell layers can be found in the cavities of hollow point bullets but are rarely found on the smooth surfaces of FMJ bullets." 

So, there it is. Beyond that not enough skin was missing from either of the proposed entrance wounds on the back of Kennedy's head to support that the skin on CE 567 came from the back of his head, the likelihood of skin becoming attached to the nose of the bullet while it was undeformed, at either its entrance or its exit, is next to nothing.  

Now, some would object here and claim that, seeing as the foreign material later determined to be skin and tissue just showed up in the evidence dish, without a paper trail proving it had been removed from the fragment by the FBI, or had previously been observed on the fragment, that it could have been planted in the dish, or added in later by mistake. 

But this is nonsense. 

1. How and why would someone add four pieces of skin and tissue to the exhibit dish? 

2. Since the earliest photos of the bullet fragment in CE 567 reveal a more substantial fragment than that in the subsequent photos, where the fragment is accompanied by the four pieces of skin and tissue in the dish, it seems possible--probable even--that the skin and tissue currently in the dish was part of this original fragment.

Here, see for yourself. 

The black and white photo comes from the FBI's 12-9-63 report to President Johnson (CD1) and the color photo is one of the most recent photos of the fragment released by the Archives.  

There certainly seems to be more material on the right side of the fragment in the black and white photo than in the color photo. 

And no, this wasn't lead that was subsequently removed from the bullet for testing. The FBI's records on its 1964 neutron activation analysis indicate the fragment initially weighed 44.6 grains, or 2,890 mg, and that they removed 68.87 mg for testing. Of course, CE 567 was tested once again in 1977, by Dr. Vincent Guinn for the HSCA. Well, he was even more conservative. His report reveals that he removed but 50.5 mg for testing. That means but 119.37 mg of lead was removed for testing--this is but 4% of the initial weight of the fragment. Well, it seems clear you would need to remove far more than 4% of the fragment in the black and white photo for it to look like the fragment in the color photo.

And, should that not be obvious, here is the other side of the fragment in the Warren Commission's photo for CE 567 as compared to the other side of the fragment in the most recent Archives photos.

More foreign material is apparent on the fragment in the black and white photo than on the fragment in the color photo. Right?
Let's sum up, then, what we've recently discussed. From the available forensic literature and eyewitness evidence it is clear that 1) the absence of skin from a bullet wound is a sign it's an entrance wound; 2) skin was missing from the large defect; 3) skin is not normally found on bullets; 4) a significant amount of skin shares an exhibit number with, and presumably once resided upon, a bullet fragment linked to the fragments in Kennedy's brain; and 5) the amount of skin with this fragment is best explained by accepting the proposition this bullet busted up at the site of the large defect after striking the skull at an angle.

It all adds up. It simply makes NO SENSE to believe this skin got attached to the nose of the bullet as it entered the back of Kennedy's head, and then stayed attached to the nose as it tumbled through his brain, as there was very little skin missing from the supposed entrance on the back of the head. Simultaneously, it makes NO SENSE to believe this skin attached itself to the bullet upon exit after transiting the head, as the bullet would have little or no contact with the skin exploding outwards from the head at the exit. No, the realization skin was on this bullet is best explained--no, scratch that, can only be honestly explained--by the bullet's having impacted Kennedy's head at the large defect, where skin was actually missing. Yes, the skin on the bullet nose proves it. The large defect was a tangential wound, precisely as proposed by Dr. Clark on 11-22-63. 

Alone Again Orr

It should be noted, however, that, much as with the Harper fragment, where the pet theory of a conspiracy theorist (Dr. David Mantik) has prevented many from understanding its true significance, the same is true of the skin on the bullet nose, where John Orr, a former Justice Dept. employee and the initiator of the FBI's tests, has continued to obscure its true TV shows such as Fox News' special 50 Years of Questions, broadcast in 2013. 

You see, Orr has a theory...that the bullet that became CE 567 entered Kennedy's back at frame 204, and went on to exit his throat, and then explode when it hit the windshield frame. In Orr's mind, this both separates Kennedy's wounds from Connally's wounds and kills the single-bullet theory, and makes available a new explanation for Kennedy's head wound and Connally's wrist wound, whereby they were created by a soft-nosed hunting bullet. 

So, yes, Orr is a CT. He holds that three bullets struck the car's occupants: one striking Kennedy's back and exiting his neck; one striking Connally in the back and exiting his chest; and one striking Kennedy in the back of the head which exited at the top of his head and proceeded down through Connally's wrist. He says this last one, for that matter, was fired from the roof of the County Records Building. 

But there's a HUGE problem with Orr's theory, that neither he nor his friends at FOX will acknowledge.

For his theory to be true, the skin on 567 would have to have come from Kennedy's back or throat--unusually small wounds with little missing skin. Since the bullet creating these wounds was--per Orr's theory--yet to strike a hard surface and become deformed, moreover, his theory holds as well that this skin clung to the un-blemished nose of the bullet as it sailed through the air before exploding on impact with the windshield frame.

What silliness!