In which I review the wound ballistics literature and come to a surprising conclusion
Blasts From The Past
1916's Gunshot Injuries, by Louis Anatole La Garde, two similar skulls
are displayed. One skull is of a man shot in the back
of the head, with the bullet exiting his forehead, and the other skull
is of a man shot in the forehead, with the bullet exiting the back of
his head. The trajectory connecting these wounds is only slightly lower in the brain than the trajectory of the bullet through Kennedy's brain as proposed by the HSCA. Neither of these skulls, however, 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. In
both cases, the entrance of the bullet on the skull was considerably
larger than the entrance on Kennedy's skull, and the exit considerably
smaller. In both cases, large skull fractures stretched forward from
the entrance location. While this is consistent with the fractures in
the films shown by Sturdivan, it bears repeating that there are no such
fractures on Kennedy's skull. This is incredibly problematic for those,
as Sturdivan, who claim Kennedy's wounds to be pretty much what one
One possible explanation for the failure of these skulls to burst open is 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. It was fired on an escaping prisoner. 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 from 90 feet away from its victim, much closer than the distance of the sniper's nest to Kennedy at frame 313 of the Zapruder film, 265 feet.
As the closer proximity of the shooter to the victim pretty much cancels out the slightly faster initial velocity of a bullet fired from Oswald's rifle, this leaves us with the difference in bullet size as the only essential difference between the shootings, (or at least as they've been proposed). The bullet in this shooting was 37.5 % heavier than the bullet hitting Kennedy, and traveling at basically the same speed. So why didn't this bullet burst the prisoner's skull open in the middle, and send large bone fragments sailing across the sky?
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 WWW.frfogspad.com. 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?
The most palatable explanation is that all things weren't equal, and that the bullet striking Kennedy exploded, and thereby transmitted all 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 Sturdivan himself and his assurance that at the "actual point of exit" the bullet striking Kennedy had lost only "a small amount of mass." 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?
Other blasts from the past only amplify this problem. 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. As we've seen, these bullets were larger and more powerful than the bullets fired from Oswald's Carcano.
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. This is smaller than the defect on Kennedy's skull. This is a bullet more powerful than the bullet striking Kennedy, fired from only a foot away, and it has blasted away less skull at its entrance and exit combined than the bullet striking Kennedy did solely 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 90 feet away. This is clearly the victim whose skull ended up as LaGarde's Figure 104. The protocol, however, fills in 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 interesting, 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. This is about 1 1/4 inches lower on the brain. That the amount of damage to this brain was far less than to Kennedy's is further confirmed 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." Hmm. 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. Anyhow, the autopsy protocol for this prisoner also confirms that the exit created by this bullet was much smaller than the exit of the bullet on Kennedy, and was only 1 1/2 inches long by 3/8 inches wide.
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? The protocols published by the Secretary of War
should make one doubt both the Warren Commission's and HSCA's
interpretations of Kennedy's wounds.
More extensive studies on the wound ballistics of the jacketed ammunition of this era are also available. 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 the new jacketed ammunition, just coming into use. 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 dimunition 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."
Thus, according to these findings, at 88 yards one would not expect a small round entrance hole on the back of the head, with only a few small stellate fractures emanating from the hole, as was proposed by the doctors conducting Kennedy's autopsy.
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."
the damage to Kennedy's brain is also unexpected. If the fracturing of
the bullet led it to behave like a bullet fired at much closer range,
why was so little, if any, brain matter driven out the entrance
And its not as if Stevenson's book or von Coler's tests were out of line with what one will find in other books from this era. They are the rule and not the exception.
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 nevertheless warns: "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 may be the actual cause of the extensive
damage seen on Kennedy.
Treatise on Fractures in General, Industrial, and Military Practice, published 1921, provides yet another example. 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 leads me to conclude 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.
But who am I kidding? Most readers will, understandably, automatically defer to the opinions of a modern ballistics expert like Sturdivan over a layman such as myself. To better explain wound ballistics and its bearing on this case, then, let's consult some experts from our more recent past.
Blasts From the Present
Dr.s Harvey, McMillen, Butler,
and Puckett, Chapter III, Mechanism of Wounding, contained in Wound
Ballistics, edited by Dr. James Beyer, published by the Medical Department, United States Army, 1962. (Beyer was Kennedy autopsist Pierre Finck's predecessor at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.) "The
pressures which accompany a high-velocity missile moving through tissue
are enormous. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that a steel
sphere fired into the head can produce a temporary cavity in brain
tissue, despite the apparent strength of the cranium which must resist
the pressure. The cavity formed by a missile in the brain of an intact
cranium is of finite size, partly because brain tissue is forced
through regions of less resistance (such as frontal sinuses and the
various foramina of the skull) and partly because of the stretching of
the cranium itself. When the energy delivered is very great, skull
bones are actually torn apart along suture lines...The explosive effect
of high-velocity missiles within the cranium increases with increased
energy. With very high velocities there is complete shattering of the
skull, usually along suture lines... Movement of brain tissue during
expansion of the temporary cavity pushes the bone apart." (Later in
this book the tests using "very high-velocity" missiles, in which the
skulls usually separated at the sutures, are described in more detail.
The missiles in these tests were traveling at 4,000 fps or more, more
than twice as fast as the bullet striking Kennedy.) So here we have
confirmation that skulls don't normally explode from temporary cavities
and that when they do it's usually along suture lines. Kennedy's skull
did not explode along suture lines. Not only did the fractures on the
right side of the skull not run along suture lines, but there was no
separation along suture lines observed on the left side of the skull.
There was also little damage to the left side of the brain, which would
seem unlikely should the brain have expanded to the degree necessary to
explode the skull. It follows then that these experts would consider
the explosion of Kennedy's skull highly unusual. As confirmed below...
Dr. James Beyer, as quoted in a 12-19-63
AP article on Kennedy’s head wound.
(In this article, perhaps inadvertently, Beyer second-guesses the
conclusions of his successor at the Armed Forces Institute of
Pathology, Dr. Pierre Finck.) “I’m still surprised at the reported size
of the head wound if a normal, completely jacketed, military type bullet was
used—and if it did not strike some object, such as a portion of the President’s
limousine before hitting the president’s head.”
Ordinarily, he said, a military type bullet, if fired from a range of
about 100 yards as the fatal bullet apparently was, would cause only a relatively
small wound at the point of entry and would not necessarily cause extensive
damage inside the skull. In contrast, he
said, a soft-nosed hunting-type bullet—whose soft nose tends to mushroom out
after striking a target-- could cause a head wound of the devastating type
described even though the initial entrance was not large. Also, he said, if an ordinary military-type
bullet “just grazed” a portion of the limousine before striking the president’s
head—without losing much of its energy—the slight instability imparted to the
missile could have resulted in the large wound described. Beyer wrote the section on wound ballistics
to the Army’s official medical history of World War II.” While Beyer was obviously unaware of the
tendency of 6.5 mm ammunition to break-up on the skull, his statement that a
shot from 100 yards using 6.5 mm military-type ammunition “would not
necessarily cause extensive damage inside the skull” is a clear indication that
the temporary cavity (which, as we shall see, is larger with intact bullets
than non-intact bullets) of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition was not particularly
destructive. This totally contradicts Sturdivan’s contention that the temporary cavity of the
bullet striking Kennedy was the primary factor in the explosion of his skull.
Dr. Alfred Olivier,
5-6-64 testimony before the
Warren Commission. “This type of a stable bullet I didn’t think would cause a
massive head wound, I thought it would go through making a small entrance and
exit, but the bones of the skull are enough to deform the end of this bullet
causing it to expend a lot of energy and blowing out the side of the skull or
blowing out fragments of the skull.” Here,
Sturdivan’s mentor, Olivier, gets around Beyer by suggesting that the
explosion of Kennedy's skull was related to the deformation of the
bullet on the back of the skull. As none of the dried skulls fired on
by Olivier, using rifles and bullets identical to those supposedly used
by Oswald, exploded upwards like Kennedy's skull, this explanation is
far from satisfactory. Olivier's testimony is interesting, nonetheless,
as it supports both that the damage to Kennedy's skull was considered
surprising, and that the deformation of the bullet occurred upon
impact, and not upon exit. Sturdivan and the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, we should recall, both pushed that the bullet remained largely intact until exiting the skull, with Baden actually pushing that the bullet remained intact until impacting the windshield frame.
Dr.s Bergeron and Rumbaugh, Radiology of the Skull and Brain, 1971, chapter on Skull Trauma. “Violence to a small area stresses the bone only locally and results in an impression fracture. This type of violence must be clearly distinguished from that to a large area, which uniformly stresses the skull as a whole and results in a burst fracture.” This demonstrates that the fracture patterns resulting from a bullet's entrance and exit are distinguishable from burst fractures.
Dr. Alfred Olivier, 2-13-73 letter to Emory L. Brown, Jr. (A copy of this letter can be found in the Weisberg Archives.) (On the origins of the large fragment purported to be on the back of Kennedy's skull in the X-rays.) "This metallic fragment was probably deposited when the bullet jacket ruptured on the skull. This rupturing of the jacket was one of the things that surprised me when we tested the bullet (same lot as used by Oswald) against human skulls. Apparently, the gilding metal was fairly soft, allowing these full-jacketed military bullets to act like soft-nosed hunting bullets. If Oswald had used Italian ammunition, which had steel jackets, the head wound would have been much less severe, but probably still fatal." Ahh, there it is...an acknowledgment from someone well-familiar with such things that the break-up of a jacketed bullet upon impact with a skull leads it to act like hunting ammunition, and thereby increases the severity of the wound.
Dr. Alfred Olivier, 4-18-75 testimony before the Rockefeller Commission. “When that bullet entered the head the nose of the bullet erupted on the skull and expended a tremendous amount of energy. This caused what is known as a temporary cavity. Apparently, this cavity was nearer the side of the head so that it buried in that area, and say, took the path of least resistance. If the bullet path had been near the top of the head it could have burst through the top.” This statement confirms that Dr. Olivier believed 1) the bullet broke up on the outside of the skull; 2) the break-up of this bullet was the decisive factor in the creation of the large temporary cavity, and 3) a temporary cavity will take the path of least resistance. This last point suggests that a large exit created by a permanent cavity will moderate the damage done by the subsequent temporary cavity. It also raises the question, overlooked in both Dr. Humes and Dr. Olivier's Warren Commission testimony, of whether the small entrance wound on the back of Kennedy's head gave the appearance of a wound where a bullet had broken up on the skull.Dr. John Lattimer, 10-23-75 letter to Emory Brown, Jr. (A copy of this letter can be found in the Weisberg Archives.) (On tests he'd performed on M/C ammunition) "These bullets keep on going straight ahead in the wood. These same bullets will fragment exactly like a soft-nosed bullet, if they strike the skull, exactly as President Kennedy's skull was struck." Well, here it is again...confirmation that the bullet striking Kennedy's skull behaved like soft-nosed hunting ammunition. This supports Olivier's statements suggesting that the bullet's explosion and the skull's explosion are inter-related, and that one can not simply propose that the bullet didn't break up at impact, a la Sturdivan and Baden, and still have the severity of the exit make sense.
Dr.s Charters and Charters, Journal of Trauma 1976, Wounding Mechanism of Very High Velocity Projectiles. “The magnitude of the temporary wound cavity is dependent upon the energy imparted by the projectile during penetration of the tissue, since the energy released decreased exponentially with the distance penetrated.” In support of this statement, Charters and Charters published test results demonstrating that fragmenting stainless steel spheres penetrate shorter distances and create smaller temporary cavities than non-fragmenting spheres. Since the bullet striking Kennedy was badly fragmented this suggests that the largest temporary cavity inside his skull, and the greatest stress on the skull, was nearest the entrance, not the exit. This in turn casts doubt that the large defect on the top of Kennedy’s skull (a good distance from the low entrance formerly proposed by Olivier and currently proposed by Sturdivan) was created by the temporary cavity of a disintegrating bullet. Perhaps this is why Sturdivan now proposes that the bullet lost little of its mass prior to exit.
Dr. Frank P. Cleveland, Chapter XXII,
Characteristics of Wounds Produced by Handguns and Rifles, contained in
Forensic Pathology: A Handbook for Pathologists, edited by Dr. Russell
Fisher (of the Clark Panel) and Dr. Charles Petty (of the HSCA Forensic
Pathology Panel), published by the U.S. Department of Justice, 1977. "Wounds
from high velocity projectiles. Increasing the velocity of projectiles
increases geometrically the quantity of energy produced and this
produces perforating wounds with unusual features: bone may literally
be pulverized; soft tissue laceration may be widespread and at
considerable distance from the track of the projectile; lacerations may
be observed within the intima of arteries; exit wounds may be unusually
large." (List of characteristics of typical wounds of entrance) "Entrance,
tight contact...(2) In the Skull (a) Stellate lacerations radiating
from the central defect (b) Marginal abrasions (contact ring), powder
residue deep in the wound (c) Gaseous residue distributed along fascial
planes (d) May be internal explosive fractures of skull (e) Bone
fragments become secondary missiles (f) Peripheral abrasions around
contact ring from barrel and sight." (List of characteristics of typical wounds of exit) "1)
Lacerated irregular defect with everted margin and subcutaneous fat
protrusion. (2) May be larger than entrance wound, secondary to
deformity of bullet or secondary missiles (i.e. bone)." This
handbook, prepared for the Justice Department, supports that the
explosion of Kennedy's skull was far from typical. While this handbook
was written for civilian pathologists, and does not specifically
address military rifle wounds, it bears repeating that the rifle wounds
seen by civilian doctors are most frequently caused by hunting
ammunition, and are of a more explosive nature than the wounds caused
by full-jacketed military ammunition. The handbook's representation of
"explosive fractures of the skull" as "internal", and its simultaneous
assertion that exit wounds are larger than entrance wounds due to a
"deformity of bullet or secondary missiles" is therefore at odds with
Sturdivan's subsequent proposal that temporary cavities are explosive
externally, and the primary cause of the large exit defects observed in
association with high-velocity projectiles. Should one assume,
moreover, that the depiction of "typical" exit wounds in the handbook
was inaccurate, and that this had escaped the attention of its editors,
Fisher and Petty, one should be aware that they'd added a footnote to
the second point regarding exit wounds in order to explain that exit
wounds in areas supported by clothing do not resemble the usual exit
wound. From this it can be assumed that if they'd had any problems with
Cleveland's discussion of exit wounds, and his failure to cite the
temporary cavities of high speed projectiles as the primary cause for
the large exits associated with their passage, they would have added
another such footnote. Since they did not, we can assume they did not.
Larry Sturdivan’s testimony before the HSCA, 9-8-78. “As a bullet deforms it also increases its presented area, and therefore, a deformed bullet will have a much greater drag than a non-deformed bullet.” This backs up what we’ve just discussed—that the energy release will be greatest when the bullet is most deformed, but intact. This statement also casts a shadow on the likelihood that a bullet deforming on the bones of the skull, and “erupting on the skull” as per Olivier, would leave an entrance defect smaller than its caliber. The bullet entrance measured at autopsy, let’s remember, was only 6mm in its smallest dimension.
Report of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, 1979. “This energy transfer produces a temporary cavity as described earlier, which actually develops after the bullet has passed through the tissue. Accordingly, a bullet can pass through a head and be almost 100 feet further along before a photograph reveals the explosive destruction of the head. This also explains the presence of entry and exit holes in bones and tissue even though the skull is extremely fragmented or blown apart by the subsequent formation of the temporary cavity. The velocity of the outward-moving tissue particles may be only 125 feet per second, far less than the 1,000 to 2,000 feet per second velocity of the bullet projectile.” This supports Sturdivan’s statements that the cratering or beveling patterns on the skull closest to the entrance and exit will reveal the direction of fire even if a subsequent temporary cavity explodes the skull. This also supports our contention that the fractures deriving from the explosion of the temporary cavity would occur after the fractures created by the entrance and exit.
Michael S. Owen-Smith, High Velocity and Military Gunshot Wounds, 1981 from, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “if the bullet fragments on impact, all the energy will be used up in creating horrendous wounds… When the skull is filled with gelatine and a bullet fired through it at the same velocity the liquidlike medium behaves like the brain and allows the hydro-dynamic pressure wave of cavitation to blow the skull bones apart from within, causing gross ‘eggshell' fracturing of the skull.” While Owen-Smith’s mention of “eggshell” fracturing” might lead one to conclude that study of these fractures to determine the entrance and exit of the bullet is a waste of time, this isn’t true. Included with his article are two photographs—one of a 7.62mm bullet’s entrance on an empty skull, and one of a 7.62mm bullet’s entrance on a skull filled with gelatin. On the skull filled with gelatin, large stellate fractures derive from the entrance, and a piece of skull by the entrance is missing. This entrance more closely resembles what is supposedly the EXIT on Kennedy’s skull than what is supposedly the entrance. It is also intriguing that Smith chooses to demonstrate the effect of cavitation on a skull by comparing the entrance locations of the bullets and not the exits. This suggests that the effects of cavitation are more apparent at the entrance than the exit. Yet another point to consider is that, while the 7.62mm bullet fired from 14m in Owen-Smith’s tests would create a much more powerful impact on a skull than a 6.5mm bullet fired from the sniper’s nest at Kennedy, the fractures deriving from the opening on the top of Kennedy’s head, as well as the loss of bone, were greater than the fractures and missing bone by the entrance on Owen-Smith’s exhibit. This suggests that the forces creating Kennedy’s large defect were more powerful than one would normally expect from the temporary cavity of a 6.5mm bullet.
Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio: Practical Aspects of Firearms, 1985.
“the fact that the fractures in a skull are due to temporary cavity formation
was demonstrated by a series of experiments with skulls. When skulls were
empty, the bullets “drilled” neat entrances and exits without any fractures. When the skulls were filled with gelatin to
simulate the brain, massive secondary skull fractures were produced.” This supports Owen-Smith’s statements, but
with the acknowledgment that fractures created by cavitation are
“secondary.” This means they would come
to an end when reaching “primary” fractures, i.e. fractures created by the
bullet’s impact. This simple fact proves helpful when
interpreting the x-rays.
Dr. Martin Fackler, What’s Wrong with the Wounds Ballistics Literature and Why, July 1987. “In the Vietnam Era, the major role played by bullet fragmentation in tissue disruption was not recognized due to “Idolatry of Velocity”…Despite the recent evidence, a generation of surgeons and weapon developers has been confused and prejudiced by the assumption that “high velocity” and “temporary cavitation” were the sole causes of tissue disruption…" According to Dr. Olivier’s testimony before the Rockefeller Commission, Edgewood Arsenal, his and Sturdivan’s employer, did the original work comparing the M-14, the M-16, and the AK-47. These were the rifles of the Vietnam Era. Olivier testified, furthermore, that “as a result of our work, we adopted the M-16.” This puts Olivier and Sturdivan on the opposite side of the fence from the well-regarded Fackler, and in the company of "velocity-worshippers."
"To further confuse the issue, pressures of up to 100 atmospheres are incorrectly attributed to temporary cavitation by many authors…Temporary cavity tissue displacement can cause pressure of only about 4 atmospheres.” So here we have the most respected man in the field of wound ballistics today raining on Sturdivan’s parade. Fackler obviously does not subscribe to Olivier and Sturdivan’s theory that the explosion along the top of Kennedy’s head was caused by the temporary cavity.
“A similar temporary cavity such as that produced by the M-16, stretching tissue that has been riddled by bullet fragments, causes a much larger permanent cavity by detaching tissue segments between the fragment paths. Thus projectile fragmentation can turn the energy used in temporary cavitation into a truly destructive force because it is focused on areas weakened by fragment paths rather than being absorbed evenly by the tissue mass. The synergy between projectile fragmentation and cavitation can greatly increase the damage done by a given amount of kinetic energy.” Thus, the temporary cavity of a fragmenting bullet (such as a tumbling M-16 bullet or a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet breaking up on the skull) will release more energy into the permanent cavity, and fail to expand at the rate of the cavity created by a non-fragmenting bullet imparting an identical amount of energy into the brain. This is not to say the temporary cavity created by a fragmenting bullet will be automatically smaller than that created by an intact bullet, as suggested by Charters and Charters research. It seems clear, though, that the ratio of permanent cavity to temporary cavity is reduced by the bullet's fragmentation. Thus, while an intact bullet traveling sideways within the skull may leave a permanent cavity an inch wide, and create a temporary cavity three or four inches wide, a fragmenting bullet that breaks up within the skull may create a permanent cavity two inches wide, and a temporary cavity three to four inches wide. The fact that the bullet striking Kennedy both fragmented and had sufficient energy to damage the windshield, windshield frame, and cement curb, then, suggests that its temporary cavity was not as explosive as it would have been had it remained intact and expended all its energy in the brain.
Confused? So was I until I came across a simple analogy in a book by Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio. He compared the temporary cavity to the waves created by a boat on a lake. Well which creates a bigger and more powerful wave along the shore, one large boat or ten small ones adding up to the same displacement in the water? The one large one, correct? Why? Because the wakes of the smaller boats are directed towards each other as well as the shore. This crashing of the wakes into each other is what, in Fackler’s words, detaches the tissue segments between the fragment paths, and creates the large permanent cavity.
“Temporary cavitation is no more than the pushing aside of tissue. The distance the tissue is displaced depends, among other things, on its weight. As might be expected, a given projectile will cause a temporary cavity of smaller diameter in a larger limb because of the increased weight of the mass being moved. This has been proved experimentally…” This can be taken as support for Sturdivan’s theory in that it suggests the temporary cavity was greatest near the exit on the top of Kennedy's skull. But if the extra weight/pressure at the back of Kennedy’s head kept the temporary cavity from expanding upwards, shouldn’t it also have forced more fluid back out the entrance, and created a noticeable spray of back spatter?
Smith et al, Cranial Fracture Patterns and Estimate of Direction from Low Velocity Gunshot Wounds, Journal of Forensic Sciences, September 1987. “A bullet entering the skull produces an entrance wound and a series of radial fractures extending across the skull in advance of the bullet to relieve hoop stresses. Concentric heaving fractures develop in successive generations connecting the radial fractures as the wedges are lifted up. Upon exit there is another series of radial and concentric heaving fractures produced that are of lesser magnitude, have fewer generations, and may be arrested by preexistent fracture lines.” This raises a few questions. As the fracture patterns of entrance and exit are created almost simultaneously with the impact of the bullet, and precede the fractures created by the temporary cavity, why are there NO large fractures deriving from the entrance on the back of Kennedy’s head, and why are there ENORMOUS fractures deriving from the supposed exit? The bullet at the entrance was of larger mass and traveling at a much greater speed than the fragments believed to have impacted at the supposed exit.
Dr. Philip Villanueva, chapter on Cranial Gunshot Wounds,
Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The
shape of the cavitation is theoretically conical, with the apex of the cone
being farthest away from the entry…In reality, the projectile’s path often
varies from a straight track, causing an irregular shaped cavity.”
This supports Sturdivan’s conjecture that
the bullet could curve upwards while crossing the skull. It still fails
to explain, however, why no path for a bullet heading upwards in the
skull from the supposed entrance near the cerebellum to the supposed
exit near the coronal suture has ever been ascertained, either at
autopsy or afterward. After all, if the bullet had traveled on such a
trajectory, while fragmenting, it would have created a large permanent
cavity, and have left small bullet fragments within this cavity, far
from the surface of the cerebrum. So where are these fragments?
Sturdivan's latter-day assertion that these fragments would have been
uniformly flushed upwards with the explosion of the temporary cavity
makes little sense, as it seems clear that at least some of these
fragments would have been embedded deep within the brain.
Dr. Edward Pechter, chapter on Gunshot Wounds of Soft Tissue and of the Hand, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The maximum displacement of the temporary cavity is related to the point of maximum retardation in velocity of the projectile. A missile that loses velocity rapidly will produce a temporary cavity with its maximum dimension near the entrance wound. A pointed bullet will need a longer penetration depth before the maximum size of its temporary cavity is produced unless the bullet is constructed so as to tumble very quickly. As a shaped, elongated bullet tumbles, the maximum energy release will occur near the place where it reaches 90 degrees of yaw.” So here we have a doctor once again supporting what before we’d only theorized—that the temporary cavity of a deformed bullet rapidly losing velocity will be largest near the entrance. Pechter’s statement suggesting that some pointed bullets are designed to tumble very quickly is a pointed (sorry) reference to M-16 bullets, which are designed to tumble and break-up and create the large permanent cavities discussed by Dr. Fackler. Since the bullets used in Oswald’s gun were not designed to tumble, one might take from this that they would tumble at a later point, nearest the exit, and break up at that point. One might even try to use this to defend Sturdivan’s theory. But one would be wrong. Olivier’s tests in 1964 established that the 6.5mm bullets fired in Oswald’s rifle would be unlikely to tumble in soft tissue, and that, furthermore, would not break up if they did tumble. Sturdivan knew this. When testifying about the “magic” bullet, he told the HSCA: “It is slightly deformed which, through my calculations, indicate it must have been deformed on bone since it could not have deformed in soft tissue.” So really what’s in dispute here? Sturdivan seems to agree that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 fractured upon entrance, but is apparently of the belief it came apart as it tumbled upwards in the skull. Since skull fractures occur almost instantly, and since we can assume copper jacket fractures happen just as fast, I contend, on the other hand, that the purported bullet would be in pieces even before it entered the skull, and would begin tumbling almost immediately, and losing its energy almost immediately. This, if correct, casts great doubt that a temporary cavity from this bullet exploded the skull by the bullet's exit, but failed to push any back spatter out the entrance. The x-ray of the Olivier test skull presented by Sturdivan as Figure 38 in The JFK Myths (and as shown above on The JFK Myths slide) shows that bullet fragments were retained in the middle of the skull. As these bullet fragments would most certainly have continued forward from where they broke off from the bullet, the bullet used in this test undoubtedly broke up on the back half of the skull.
Dr. Gary Ordog, chapter on Wound Ballistics, Management of
Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The bullet loses velocity on passage through the
tissues, and the entrance wound tends to be larger than the exit wound if the
missile is a perfect sphere. For
missiles that are not spheres, the size of the entrance wound depends on the
area of presentation of the missile at the moment of impact, as well as the
size of the temporary cavity formed. Thus, the size of the entrance and the
exit wound of a fully jacketed bullet depends on the bullet’s yaw in flight
through the air and the tissues. If the bullet strikes the tissue head-on and
tumbles through, and then leaves the body, then the exit wound will be larger
than the entrance wound. When the bullet
enters and exits head-on, the entrance wound may be larger because of a larger
temporary cavity caused by higher-velocity near the entrance.” So here
we have it again. Ordog confirms our
suspicion that the temporary cavity makes more of an impact on entrance size
than exit size, and that it is the tumbling or break-up of a bullet that
creates a larger wound at exit. While an
intact bullet that tumbles just before it exits will create a larger temporary
cavity nearest the exit, there is no reason to believe the bullet
entering the back of Kennedy’s skull remained intact till just before the exit.
“The bullet’s angle of impact on the target can greatly influence the drag coefficient and amount of tissue damage. The more acute the angle is to the skin, the more surface area is presented to the tissue, thus increasing the wounding energy and amount of tissue destruction.” This suggests the possibility that the area with the most tissue damage, the large defect, was in fact the impact location of a bullet traveling at an acute angle to the skin. More on this to come…
Massad Ayoob, The JFK Assassination: A Shooter's Eye View, American Handgunner, March/April 1993. "The explosion of the President's head as seen in frame 313 of the Zapruder film is simply not characteristic of a full metal-jacket rifle bullet traveling at 2,200 fps or less. It is far more consistent with an explosive wound of entry with a small-bore, hyper-velocity rifle bullet traveling between 3,000 and 4,000 fps, and probably toward the higher end of that scale ...An explosive wound of entry occurs when a highly liquid area of the body, such as the brain, is struck by a high velocity round. The tissue swells violently during the microseconds of the bullet's passing, and seeks the line of least resistance. That least resistance is the portal of the entry wound that appeared a microsecond before, and the bullet will not bore an exit hole to relieve the pressure for another microsecond or two--perhaps not at all if the bullet fragments inside the brain. If the cataclysmic cranial injury inflicted on Kennedy was indeed an explosive wound of entry, the source of the shot would have had to be forward of the Presidential limousine, to its right, and slightly above...the area of the grassy knoll." So here we have a respected gun expert and author laying it all out...Kennedy's large head wound is not at all what one would expect from the ammunition used in Oswald's rifle, should it have impacted as claimed by the likes of Olivier and Sturdivan. His words also suggest that, if the bullet impacted as proposed by Olivier and Sturdivan, and Kennedy's head exploded as a consequence of the temporary cavity created by the bullet, blood and brain matter would most certainly have sprayed back out the entrance. But Ayoob doesn't stop there...
"The evidence does not rule out the possibility that a hyper-velocity rifle bullet evacuated the President's cranial vault without any other bullet hitting him in the head. The 6.5mm Carcano throws a 162 gr. bullet at a bit under 2,300 fps muzzle velocity. The closest commonly used cartridge to it in terms of ballistics is probably the .30/30, which has a .308" diameter. The Carcano round, about a .263" diameter. Ask any homicide detective if he's ever seen a .30/30 round blow a man's head up at 55 to 60 yards, exploding the calvarium up and away from the body proper. Ask any hunter of deer-size game if he's ever seen the same thing at that distance. It happens only at very close range with that ballistic technology. The wound we see happening in frame 313 in the Zapruder film--and see the results of most clearly in frame 337--is simply not consistent with this rifle cartridge, at that distance in living tissue. It is particularly inconsistent with a round-nose full metal-jacket bullet of the type Oswald had in his rifle." Here Ayoob re-stresses the point. Bullets like those fired in Oswald's rifle just don't do what we've been told they do. They just don't send pieces of skull flying across the sky when fired from a distance. This is so clear to Ayoob in fact that, even in the conclusion to his article, where he postulates that Oswald quite possibly acted alone, he does so only under the proviso that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 "for unexplainable reasons did damage out of all proportion to its ballistic capability as most of us would perceive that to be."
Dr. John Lattimer, speaking at The Second Annual Midwest Symposium on Assassination Politics, Chicago Illinois, April 3, 1993. (While discussing Warren Commission Exhibit 388, a drawing of Kennedy's large head wound.) "And again, the wound here depicted in this type--in the Warren Commission--I was familiar with this kind of wound from World War II, from this kind of bullet. And it was clearly not what I expected. But when I saw the x-rays and photographs, it was exactly as anticipated--a large wound of exit, cracks in all directions..." Here, Lattimer sticks to his story that the Rydberg drawings were misleading and that Kennedy's wounds were much more severe and exactly as he'd have predicted. In this presentation he also discussed the fact that he didn't think skull fragments exploded upwards like the fragments captured in frame 313 of the Zapruder film. He then showed photos of skulls fired on by him where the fragments did explode upwards, and claimed these tests convinced him that Kennedy's head wound wasn't so unusual after all. He failed to note that these skulls were dead dried skulls without any scalp to hold the fragments in place. He did note, however, that he thought his tests were more successful than Olivier's 1964 tests because he was firing at the top of the skull and not the bottom. This suggests that he knew full well that the Warren Commission scenario of a small bullet entrance low on the skull and an enormous exit at the top of the skull made little sense. (Lattimer, of course, later changed his mind about this entrance location, and thereby nullified the tests he'd found so convincing.)
Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio, Gunshot Wounds, 1998. "The size and shape of the temporary cavity depend on the amount of kinetic energy lost by the bullet in its path through the tissue, how rapidly the energy is lost, and the elasticity and cohesiveness of the tissue. The maximum volume and diameter of this cavity are many times the volume and diameter of the bullet. Maximum expansion of the cavity does not occur until some time after the bullet has passed through the target…The maximum diameter of the cavity occurs at the point at which the maximum rate of loss of kinetic energy occurs." This supports what we have already discussed.
"Intermediate range and distant head wounds show a wide range in the degree of severity, depending on the style of bullet and the entrance site in the head. Anything that tends to produce instability, deformation, or breakup of the bullet as it enters the head results in more extensive injuries. Thus, bullets entering through the thick occipital bone cause greater injuries than those entering the temporal area. Intermediate and distant range wounds of the head can be just as devastating as contact wounds. This is especially true for hunting ammunition. As the hunting bullet rapidly expands, shedding fragments of core and sometimes jacket, large quantities of kinetic energy are lost in the cranial cavity. This produces a large temporary cavity with resultant high pressure, all within the rigid framework of the skull. The pressure produces extensive fragmentation of bone and brain tissue. Location of entrance and exit wounds may require extensive reconstruction of the skull, with careful realignment of the edges of the scalp and bone. Rarely, the entrance in the skin cannot be determined with absolute certainty. This is more common with exits, however.
intermediate-range entrance wounds in areas overlying bone--typically
the head--may have a stellate appearance suggestive of a contact wound.
This is probably due to the temporary cavity ballooning out skin that
is tightly stretched over bone, with resultant tearing of the skin."
DiMaio illustrates this point with the photo on the Blasts From the Present slide, above. This photo reveals the massive scalp lacerations created by the impact of a .30 30 hunting bullet upon a human skull. While Oswald's rifle was not as powerful as a .30 30 rifle, and while the bullet striking Kennedy was not in fact a hunting bullet, the bullet's near total deformation upon impact--as noted by both Olivier and Lattimer--would lead it to behave much like a hunting bullet, and release a significant amount of its energy into the skull upon entrance. So why were there no significant tears in the scalp apparent by the "entrance" on the back of Kennedy's head? And why did all the scalp lacerations noted at the autopsy derive from the purported "exit"? And why, when the temporary cavity in this skull exploded back out the entrance, did the temporary cavity in Kennedy's skull, according to Sturdivan, explode from the mid-point of his skull between the bullet's entrance and its exit? While DiMaio's observations raise serious doubts about Sturdivan's theories, they also raise questions about the work performed by Olivier and Sturdivan back in 1964. Why, for instance, were none of the entrances on the animal skin attached to the back of Olivier’s test skulls photographed or measured for his report? Was Olivier trying to hide that there were stellate tears by the entrance?
Ironically, DiMaio's observations also raise doubts about his own objectivity. According to Doug Horne, who interviewed DiMaio for the ARRB in 1998, Dr. DiMaio made it clear even before being shown the autopsy photos that he felt "the Clark Panel and the HSCA panel had gotten everything right," and "declared with great certainty" that the red spot in the cowlick "was a classic bullet entry wound." Well, that's the problem. DiMaio's own writings demonstrate that a high-velocity entrance wound in which the bullet fractures upon impact should not remotely resemble a "classic bullet entry wound."
In 1998, DiMaio also worked as a consultant on a British TV program hosted by Roger Moore. His comments in this program were slightly more illuminating.
Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio, The Secret KGB JFK Assassination Files, 1998. "The only type bullet that would produce so extensive a network of fractures in the skull is a bullet traveling at a very high velocity. Okay? A rifle bullet essentially. So when it comes in it makes usually a relatively neat hole and when it comes out it produces a very large exit, especially if the wound is very superficial. Actually, if the wound is deeper, like from here to here (as he says this, he points to the EOP area on the back of his head with his right hand and his forehead with his left), the exit wound is smaller, because the force generated by the bullet going through the brain can be absorbed by the whole head. Here (as he says this, he covers the crown of his head--the site of the HSCA's cowlick entrance, and the entrance used in the program's tests--with his right hand) it's kind of like just ripping off the top of the head. So when we see at the exit--see blood and tissue ejected in a cloud, a veritable cloud, a mist-like cloud, pink in color, and this is vaporized blood, and there are little droplets all over--less than a millimeter, just tiny. And so you have a cloud of blood, and this is what the motorcycle riders drove into. They drove into a cloud of blood." Thus, DiMaio's belief that the purported cowlick entrance was the actual entrance on Kennedy's head comes not just from this purported entrance's giving the appearance of a "classic bullet entry wound," but from his opinion that a bullet entering low on Kennedy's head and exiting high on his head would not create the massive exit wound seen in the autopsy photos. He thereby disputes Sturdivan's most recent conclusions.
Dr. Mark A. Liker, Dr. Bitzhan Aarabi, and Dr. Michael Levy, chapter on Missile Wounds of the Head, Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck, 1999. "The skull can also increase the bullet's destructive potential by slowing the missile down. Next to teeth, bone is the densest tissue in the body. Therefore, when a bullet strikes the skull, the missile will rapidly decelerate, often fragmenting or deforming in the process. The result is significant energy transfer from the bullet to the head. Deformation helps maximize energy transfer because the bullet's surface area increases, allowing the tissue to exert more drag force on the bullet. As drag increases, the bullet decelerates and more energy is transferred to the tissue. If the collision between bullet and skull results in the bullet's fragmentation, the brain injury is likely to be more severe. This is due not only to multiple missile tracks, but also to the tendency for fragments to behave as slower-velocity bullets that deposit all of their energy into the brain. Thus, if a high-velocity missile does not fragment upon impact with the skull, it may spare the brain some of its energy by exiting the skull; if, on the other hand, the missile breaks into fragments, the likelihood of a complete energy transfer increases dramatically." Thus, Sturdivan's belief that the bullet lost little mass within the skull, and his concurrent belief that a fragment from this bullet went on to chip concrete more than 200 feet past Kennedy (as measured from the sniper's nest) indicate there was a far from complete transfer of energy from the bullet into the skull. Sturdivan's contention that small fragments were released within the skull and exploded upwards with the rush of blood, moreover, does little to offset this problem, as these fragments, by Sturdivan's own admission, had little mass and thus little energy to impart into the brain. As discussed by Fackler, furthermore, what little energy was released by these fragments would contribute as much to the permanent cavity as to the temporary cavity.
Sturdivan's contention that a bullet struck Kennedy low on the back of his head and that the temporary cavity created by this bullet subsequently exploded his skull is therefore rejected.
study by Dr. W.M. Hammon, and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery
in 1971, supports this conclusion. While this study, entitled "Analysis
of 2,187 Consecutive Penetrating Wounds of the Brain from Vietnam"
included victims of low-velocity ammunition and shrapnel, the mortality
rate of those reaching the hospital was under 30%. This seems unlikely
if the mere passage of a bullet through the brain could cause the
explosive wounds seen on Kennedy.
A more recent study confirms this conclusion. This study, conducted by the faculty of Ankara University in Turkey, and published in Neurologia Medico-Chirurfica, a Japanese neurology journal, in 2005, described the progress of 80 patients brought into Diyarbakir Military Hospital with high-velocity gunshot wounds to the head. Although the bullets creating these wounds were presumably smaller than the bullet creating Kennedy's head wound, they were purportedly traveling at a much greater speed, as the article defined "high-velocity" as traveling greater than 3,000 fps. They were also created by modern military ammunition, which, although more stable than hunting ammunition, which is designed to expend all its energy in its target, is less stable than the ammunition used in Oswald's gun, and would, as a result, be likely to impart more energy into the brain. If Sturdivan's statements are true, and the temporary cavity of the bullet in Kennedy's brain exploded his skull mid-way between the entrance and the exit, then the wounds observed in this study should have been even more severe than Kennedy's wound.
They were in fact not as bad. According to the doctors writing the article, the wounds observed displayed "huge and distant tissue damage caused by temporary cavitation and shock waves." They observed further that "Such cavitary injury is much more extensive than the track of the missile." And yet they made no mention of any large skull defects caused by these cavities, and no mention at all of defects distant from the passage of the bullet. While the wounds discussed in this article were apparently more survivable than Kennedy's, as these men all lived at least a half-hour after being shot, and 73 of the 80 men survived, the point is that they shouldn't have been, should Sturdivan's theories about the effects of cavitation on the skull have been accurate.
Having thereby dispensed with what supposedly happened, we can hereby commence discussing what actually happened.
Tom Bevel and Ross M. Gardner, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis with an Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction, 2008. "Forward
spatter patterns when present tend to be more symmetrical than back
spatter patterns. This is probably due to the primary force of the
impact being transmitted in the direction of the projectile. Back
spatter patterns tend to be less defined..." Note that they write
"forward spatter patterns when present" and not "back spatter patterns
when present". This confirms what we should already have expected--that
back spatter is most always apparent, while forward spatter is not. This suggests--since only one massive spatter is visible on
frame 313 of the Zapruder film--that the blood and brain visible is not solely forward spatter. That this explosion appears to be
asymmetrical only adds to this probability. (Thanks to Sherry Guttierez Fiester for bringing this argument to the attention of the research community.)
"The cone of spatter is ejected generally perpendicular to a surface and does not specifically align with the bullet path." (This is demonstrated in a photo on the Blasts From the Present slide, above.) Well, there it is. Since the large explosion seems to rise from Kennedy's right temple at an angle perpendicular to the surface of the skull at this location, the upward and forward movement of the blood and brain matter at this location is just as suggestive of back spatter as forward spatter. Actually more...since there is only one massive spatter visible on the film, and back spatter is most always present , then we should conclude the bullet impacting at frame 313 of the Zapruder film did so at the supposed exit near Kennedy's temple, and NOT on the back of his head.
So this means the bullet killing Kennedy was fired from the front, right?
Well, not so fast...
6.5mm Military Rifle Wounds
Let's go back to the beginning and see if there's anything we've overlooked.
Fortunately, the wound ballistics of most every rifle known to man has been studied, and has been written up sometime somewhere. 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. While I was unable to find such a study, 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.
particular help was a World War II report by Dr.s Ashley
Oughterson, Harry Hull, Francis Sutherland, and Daniel Greiner on
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.
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 machinegun 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 13 cm exit was found on the top of his head above his right temple. They also claimed that a large amount of skull was missing at the exit, and that the right side of his skull was largely fractured.
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
wounds of both entrance and exit. Even if one were to
exclude the "gutter" wounds of cases 8, 20 and 25 under the assumption
that the perforation of these soldier's helmets may have led to their
creation, 3 of the 8 remaining bullets created "gutter" wounds.
The tendency of military rifle bullets to
create such wounds was documented as far back as the 19th century, when
full-metal jacketed bullets were first introduced. As an early example,
1916's Gunshot Injuries, by Louis Anatole La Garde, 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." The close identification of these wounds with
jacketed ammunition eventually 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."
comparative size of the defects was also unusual. 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,
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 13 cm wound measured on
Kennedy after his scalp had been reflected.
This raises lots of questions. 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 bullets fired in Oswald’s gun, moreover, were among the most stable ever tested. This means that the bullet striking Kennedy, should it have entered the skull intact, would most probably have not tumbled, and, if it did, would most probably have not fragmented. Dr. Olivier, who supervised the 1964 tests, told Howard Donahue that most of the bullets he tested broke into only two or three large fragments. That's it.
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
And why was there no spatter from the back of JFK's head on frame 313?
Large Defect Analysis
For the answer to that question let’s consult 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. 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.
That splintering along the skull's inner table is symptomatic of a tangential wound, moreover, has long been noted. 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 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."
That small pieces of bone were, shockingly, when one thinks of it, blown into Kennedy's brain at the supposed exit location was confirmed, by the way, by the January, 1965 report on the assassination by Dr. Finck to his superior, Col Blumberg. Finck described the inspection of the
brain as follows: “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.” This blowing of
numerous small bone fragments, or splinters, into and onto the surface of the brain would have to have occurred at
the large defect by Kennedy's temple, where small pieces of bone were never recovered. The two suspected entrances at the back of the head, after all, were barely the circumference of the bullet.
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 the large head
wound on Kennedy thought it was a tangential wound, and that numerous bone fragments were removed from the surface of Kennedy's brain, and that such fragments are symptomatic
of, yessirree, tangential wounds.
It is also intriguing to know 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
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 can 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 webpage. 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 undoubtedly supportive that this could indeed be the case.
When one considers the possibility that Dr. Clark's original analysis was correct, and that the fatal
bullet struck tangentially, in fact, a lot of otherwise confusing evidence suddenly falls in line. At the post-mortem inspection of the brain,
the doctors noted what are called contre-coup lesions of the brain, bruises
obtained from smashing against the inside of the skull. These are most
frequently found opposite the point of impact. It’s undoubtedly supportive,
then, that the lesions described in the supplemental autopsy report (the photos
have never been released) were chiefly on the left side of Kennedy’s brain,
opposite the large defect by the temple and not on the frontal lobe, opposite
the HSCA entrance.
And these were not the only areas of damage consistent with the wound's being a tangential wound. Forensic Neuropathology, by Jan E. Leestma (2008), relates: "Tangential
wounds may cause significant injuries, especially from high-velocity
missiles. These may produce gash-like wounds and form gutter-like
depressed fractures in the skull. In such cases, the underlying brain
will have extensive superficial contusions adjoining the fracture, even
if the dura remains intact, which are caused by the slapping effect of
the inbending bone." This suggests that, in opposition to the damage one would see on a brain that had simply exploded outwards, the cortex or outer layer of a brain that had received a tangential wound--where the skull had been pushed inward--would have severe contusions or even lacerations adjacent to the defect on the skull. It would seem to be consistent then that both the Clark Panel and the HSCA Pathology Panel, after studying the photographs of the brain, noted that the mid-temporal region of the right side of Kennedy's brain--the region just below the large defect--was "depressed," and its surface "lacerated."
And then of course, there's the gutter itself. While Secret Service agent Clint Hill was later to recall that there was a skull piece about the size of his palm missing from above Kennedy's right ear, and that "It looked like an ice cream scoop had gone in and removed the brain from that area," we needn't rely upon the distant memories of a layman. While the original autopsy report had noted a "longitudinal laceration" with a "considerable loss of cortical substance above the base" of the brain, and while the Clark Panel, after studying the autopsy photos, had similarly noted that the right side of the brain was "transsected by a broad canal" running parallel to the midline, and that "much of the roof of this canal is missing," the HSCA Pathology Panel had simply described a "cylindrical groove in which the brain substance is fragmented or absent" extending from the "back of the brain to the right frontal area of the brain." This sounds like a "gutter" to me.
And not just me. Perhaps unaware of the implications of his words, Larry Sturdivan, in his book The JFK Myths, admits "The autopsy photographs of the brain show a massive 'gutter' wound of the right cerebral hemisphere..." Strangely, however, he then adds "...that leads from the entry wound on the back of the skull to the exit wound at the front edge of the blown-out area of the skull." Perhaps he'd forgotten that, for his book, he'd changed his impression of the entrance wound location, and now placed it down by the EOP, and that every doctor to look at the brain photos going back to the 1960's had specifically ruled out that there was a bullet track heading upwards in the brain starting at this location.
The tearing and loosening of the falx cerebri, a process of the membrane (the dura mater) which covers the brain, and which can be found between the brain's hemispheres, is also intriguing. This loosening, which was first noted by Dr. Boswell on the back of the autopsy face sheet, (“Falx loose from sagittal sinus from the coronal suture back”) suggests the bullet creating the large head wound impacted near the top of the head (the location of the sagittal sinus, and the center of the area of loosened membrane), and not on the back of the head. War Surgery, one of the first books on wound ballistics, written by the French World War I surgeon Edmond Delorme, spells this out, declaring: “At the aperture of entry the dura mater is torn and loosened: at the exit it is perforated, but not loosened.” Delorme would almost certainly have seen dozens if not hundreds of head wounds caused by rifles similar to Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano. His observations should not readily be dismissed.
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
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
most logically strike him directly above his ear, where Zapruder frames
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.
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.
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 stubborn 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.
Is it proof? Not remotely. But it sure is interesting 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 others have seen what I see. In his 1976 book, JFK: The Case For Conspiracy, in his chapter on the Zapruder film, Robert Groden wrote that at frame 313, "A shot hit Kennedy from behind, by all appearances, in the right temple." He then followed Josiah Thompson's lead and claimed that a second shot impacting but one frame later hit Kennedy from the front, knocking him back and to the left.
That's right. Robert Groden, who many consider an expert on the Zapruder film, agreed with my assessment of the impact at frame 313 when basing his impressions purely on the film.
Perhaps he should have stuck to his guns.
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.
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 hit towards 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. This video is now available here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGe1zb1wAlY
(In 2010, I noticed that the link provided by Gil Jesus was no longer active, and asked if anyone knew a current address for the video. In September 2010, Martin M sent me a fresh link. Thanks, Martin.)
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
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.(This Gif file was posted online by Robin Unger, and can be activated by clicking on frame 312 below. After you're done watching, just hit the back button on your computer and you will return back here. Thank you, Robin.)
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. (By the way, 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.
movements of Kennedy apparent in the Zapruder frames following the head
shot, when taken in conjunction with the evidence previously discussed,
fact that no bloody back spatter emanates from the back of Kennedy's
head in the film, can therefore be taken as a clear indication the
bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 struck his skull at the supposed
exit, most probably from behind.
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
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?
If the image above fails to appear, it can be viewed here: Harper Fragment Analysis
Harper Fragment Analysis
Yes. A study of the Harper fragment can help us make such a determination.
On 11-23-63, after Billy Harper found a skull fragment in the Dealey Plaza infield to the left and forward of the President’s location at frame 313 of the Zapruder film, he 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 know about the Harper fragment. Dr.
Cairns told the HSCA that he believed the fragment came from the occipital
bone, down near the spine. Since
fragment was found in front of Kennedy’s location at Z-313, and since
Zapruder film shows it flying upwards from the front half of Kennedy’s
this makes little sense. 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 an area on the outer edge of
the fragment is exactly where I suspect the bullet first struck Kennedy. That Dr. Cairns reported “grayish
discoloration” indicative of “lead-caused damage” in this area would seem too
much a coincidence, particularly in that Dr. Humes' and Dr. Boswell's assistant at the autopsy, James Curtis Jenkins, was later to tell writer Harrison Livingstone 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." While the FBI did
studies on this fragment and reported no such lead, researcher John Hunt has
located the x-rays in the National Archives and believes they do in fact confirm
the presence of lead.
We should recall here that lead was noted 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 lead 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…” Thus, Sturdivan admitted it was likely 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 this. 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.
The photos of the Harper fragment illuminate this possibility, and offer 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. This is indicative of a tangential entry fired from behind. As the in-shoot and out-shoot run along the bottom edge of the 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.
P.S. When one compares Dr. Angel's drawing on the slide above to the lateral x-ray, it becomes clear that Dr. Angel placed the Harper fragment too rearward on the skull. This, to my mind, does little to debunk his placement of the fragment as parietal bone, based upon its anatomic features. It does, however, call into question his ability to match x-rays and photos to actual skulls... This, then, lends support to my position that he mistakenly interpreted the so-called "mystery photo" (see chapter 13b) as a photo taken from the front of Kennedy's skull, when it was really taken from behind.
A 1982 article in The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology gives us an additional reason to suspect the Harper fragment was the upper margin of a tangential wound. 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.” Could this explain why the lower edge of the Harper fragment appears to include both internal and external beveling? Or is it just a coincidence that this edge appears to match the characteristics of a “keyhole” entrance representing both entrance and exit? Is it also a coincidence 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 showed us 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 would indicate the bullet traveled 6 degrees to the right along his skull.)
Medicolegal Investigation of Death, by the Clark Panel’s Fisher and the HSCA’s Spitz, described keyhole wounds in a similar manner: “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…” 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 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 the inspection of the available skull fragments at autopsy. Is it 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 Agents Sibert and O’Neil on the autopsy made note 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?
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 of more claiming to have seen smoke on the grassy knoll after the shots, the vast majority of conspiracy researchers have long felt the fatal shots were 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.
That the Harper fragment was blown out the back of Kennedy's head has become such a tenet of the conspiracy theorist "religion," in fact, that Don Thomas, in his 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. In one of the strangest statements in what I've come to conclude is a very strange book, 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 just bizarre. Dr. Angel, upon whom Thomas relied for his assessment the fragment was parietal, placed the fragment at the top of Kennedy's head. Kennedy's head was leaning forward at frame 313. Thomas believes the shot was fired from in front. 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 is leaning forward, and Thomas knows it. 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 at the top of Kennedy's head, and to pretend instead that it sprang from the back of his head...in the parietal area...where no doctor had claimed it had sprung, and where it clearly did not fit...
But what of the others? Those believing the Harper fragment occipital bone? Well, let's just say they are on firmer ground then Thomas...
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 all too many--dare I say most--conspiracy theorists view the evidence.
The problem is...IT"S JUST NOT TRUE.
Just ask Billy Harper...
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 extrapolate from this that the fragment was found "not too far from where Jean Hill had been standing" behind Kennedy's location at the moment of the fatal head shot, Harper was not a witness to the shooting, and only 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 Dr. 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: http://www.assassinationresearch.com/v2n2/pittsburgh.pdf
(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 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.”
While I'd hoped to have changed that, in September 2010, I received an unexpected slap in the face. While viewing Dr. Mantik's presentation at the 2009 JFK Lancer conference in Dallas, it became clear that Dr. Mantik had not only failed to acknowledge that Angel's orientation for the fragment could be correct, as it put the lead smudge near Kennedy's temple, and suggested an entrance, but that he'd added insult to injury. Yes, unbelievably, he not only dismissed Dr. Angel's orientation for the fragment, but claimed the lead smudge in Angel's orientation proved it was incorrect, as it would be on the top of the head, and nowhere near the entrance or exit proposed by the HSCA.
Well, as you can see on the slide above, this just isn't true. The location of the lead smudge Mantik designates with an arrow in the image at left would be near the temple on the skull in the middle image, and not on the top of the head.
So how does he get off claiming it was on the top of the head?
He couldn't just move it, could he?
Yes, unbelievably, in his 2009 JFK Lancer presentation, Dr. Mantik moved the location of the "metallic debris" or lead smudge on the Harper fragment for the slide showing Dr. Angel's orientation for the fragment, from where he'd placed it on the slide showing his own orientation. (This is demonstrated here.)
Now, I'd like to believe this was just a mistake, and not part of some stupid plot to avoid admitting that the Harper fragment most probably derived from somewhere other than the middle of the back of the head.
When I pointed out Mantik's switcheroo in a 10-12-10 post on the Education Forum, however, I received this response from Dr. James Fetzer, Mantik's biggest supporter:
"Pat Speer may be among the least competent students of JFK I have ever encountered. We all know that the Harper fragment was occipital bone, so it is not difficult to locate on the skull...I think he owes David Mantik an apology."
I'm sure Dr. Fetzer would love to have left it at that.
The next April, in a review of Don Thomas' Hear No Evil, however, Dr. Mantik admitted he'd changed his interpretation of the smudge location. He insisted that his earlier interpretation of the smudge (in which it was near the EOP in his orientation and by the temple in Dr. Angel's orientation) was based upon the photos of the Harper fragment, but that the x-ray of the Harper fragment showed it to have been where he'd moved it on the slide presenting Angel's orientation. He failed to explain why, if he'd truly re-interpreted the smudge location after viewing the x-rays, which he'd first viewed in 2003, he'd told his 2009 JFK Lancer audience "Here is where there's metal debris" while pointing out the old location near the EOP, and then explained that the smudge or metal debris on the Harper fragment was "right near the External Occipital Protuberance, where the pathologists said the bullet had entered." Perhaps he'd meant to add "Or so I used to think..." but then forgot...
In any event, that his "old" location was in fact correct, and that his "new" location was 100% in error is proven here.
To be fair, however, I should reiterate that Mantik and Fetzer are not the only ones spewing nonsense about the Harper fragment. In Head Shot, published 2010, research physicist G. Paul Chambers revealed his own unique slant.
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."
Well, where do we 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 parietal bone is not the side of the head, as suggested by Chambers, but the top and side of the head, and the Harper fragment was too large not to incorporate at least part of the top of the head. Third, the Harper fragment was not found on the street, but on the grass. Fourth, the part of the skull just forward of the right ear was not parietal bone at all, but temporal and sphenoid bone. Fifth, as acknowledged by Billy Harper, the Harper fragment was not propelled backward.
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.
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 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.” Medicolegal Investigation of Death, addresses this issue of 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…” 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 an 11-22-63 report written before the commencement of the autopsy. (Wasn’t this required reading?)
I mean, it's not as if Dr. Clark was shy about sharing his observations. An 11-28-63 article in the New York Herald-Tribune reflects that when describing Kennedy's fatal wound, Dr. Clark claimed "A
very large piece of his skull was blown away...It was one great big
hole. It was through this wound his brain extruded and blood poured
profusely." It's hard to understand how the HSCA panel could believe that "the scalp was probably virtually all intact," over what Dr. Clark claimed was a "great big hole." But perhaps that's just me. Perhaps they'd convinced themselves that Kennedy's torn scalp had been peeled back so that Clark could observe this "great big hole," or some such thing.
In any event, this “missing” scalp returned to center stage on 1-21-00, when the government released a report on tests conducted on CE 567, the nose of a bullet found on the driver’s seat of Kennedy’s limousine. It had long been observed that there was foreign material on this bullet fragment, and the HSCA had 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, and they asked these tests finally be performed. The results of these tests, initially reported on 9-16-98, were that 3 of the 4 pieces of foreign material 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 undoubtedly suggests 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, that, 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.
From this it becomes clear that 1) a lack of skin at a bullet wound can be taken as a sign it's an entrance; 2) skin was missing from the large defect; 3) skin is not normally found on bullets; 4) a significant amount of skin was found on a bullet fragment linked to the fragments in Kennedy's brain; and 5) the amount of skin on 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.
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 skull,
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 skull. Simultaneously, it makes NO SENSE to believe this
skin attached itself to the bullet upon exit after transiting the
skull, as the bullet would have little or no contact with the skin
exploding outwards from the skull at the exit. No, the discovery of
this skin on the bullet is best explained--no, scratch that, can only
be honestly explained--by the bullet's having impacted Kennedy's skull
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 determined by Dr. Clark on 11-22-63.