Having satisfied myself that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 of the Zapruder film struck him at the supposed exit on the right side of his head, I was forced to grapple with the mystery of what happened to the bullet I'd previously concluded had struck him low on the back of his head. At this point, I remembered something that had always struck me as strange: the jaw bones and teeth on Kennedy’s skull x-rays had been cropped off the photos of the x-rays published by the house committee. This, in turn, led me to wonder if a bullet hadn’t lodged in Kennedy's jaw, perhaps obscured in part by his teeth. I thought of an early report written from the notes of the Parkland doctors in which it was claimed that “Considerable quantities of blood were present in the President’s oral pharynx” (mouth) before it was suctioned. Since Kennedy’s throat wound was described as slowly oozing blood, I wondered if the blood in the back of his mouth might not better be explained by a bullet’s having lodged in his jaw.
When I read the HSCA testimony of Dr Lowell Levine, a dentist hired to confirm that the teeth in the x-rays supported the authenticity of the x-rays, my own jaw hit the floor. He said: “There is a radio opaque rectangular object with three small and one large radiolucent circular areas in it extending from the second lower premolar considerably beyond the third molar area. It obliterates the roots of the molars and extends at an angle beyond the inferior border of the mandible.” “It obliterates the roots of the molars?” Could this be the missing bullet? I grew even more suspicious after re-reading the testimony of Dr. Michael Baden and finding a note which read: “In deciding to release the autopsy x-rays the committee wished to permit public examination of the most important details of evidentiary significance while still maintaining a sense of propriety. In accordance with this desire, the committee decided to display the autopsy x-rays to the public in a cropped fashion.” I double-checked this against Baden’s 1989 book Unnatural Death, and here he told a different story: “The family balked at having x-rays of the head published in our final report. That distinctive Kennedy jaw was the source of some anguish—it looked too much like him, they said. We compromised. In the published report, the lower part of the jaw, showing the teeth, is blocked out.” This made me even more suspicious—who asked for the jaws to be blacked out, the committee or the family? And if showing the teeth was verboten, why was Dr. Lowell Levine allowed to show them in his testimony moments before Baden took the stand with his blacked-out jaws? I looked at these x-rays and couldn’t figure out what the metal was, but was suspicious that whatever it was it was used to cover up a bullet lodged in Kennedy’s jaw. I re-read the HSCA interview of the autopsy radiologist Dr John Ebersole and found the following exchange: “Baden: what is this long rectangular object at the lower portion of the x-rays of the head? Ebersole: “It is a rectangular object. It looks as if it could be used as a measuring device, yes.”
A measuring device! In my attempt to solve the murder of the century, I almost claimed there was a mass cover-up of a measuring device! I found further testimony explaining the presence of this device. Ebersole’s radiology assistant Edward Reed told the ARRB on 10-21-97 that “I suggested at that time that we take a small metallic fragment for magnification purposes and put it—attach it to the side of the head closest to the film…I did that. Put the—taped it to the back part of the mastoid on the left.” He continued: “This marker is a piece of aluminum with a small hole in the middle, in the distal third. As soon as I saw that, I recognized that is the piece of metal that I put on the left side of the President’s skull…For magnification purposes…we made them out of lead markers. They’re not straight. We use a scissors to cut them out of lead sheets.” A week later Ebersole’s other assistant Jerrol Custer talked to the ARRB and claimed all the credit for himself: “I had my—my own little measuring device on it…They had like little holes in it; and you could see the—it would either elongate, or you’d see a little dot.” When shown the x-rays he identified “My marker in the lower mandibular joint…Actually, all it is, is a metal—piece of metal, about half a centimeter thickness. Less than that. And about two inches long with numerous dots going left to right.” When asked if it was a standard device, he said “That was my device,” and that Ebersole “saw it that night, and he knew it belonged to me.” He said that Ebersole told him “I better not see it on those films,” and that, when he tried to put it on the abdomen x-ray, Ebersole “saw it, and made me take it off.” So there you have it. No conspiracy. Merely an over-eager underling interfering with the search for a bullet.
The EOP Entry Revisited
So where did the bullet entering the occipital bone go? When one looks closely at the entrance near the EOP (the external occipital protuberance—the bony prominence low on the back of men’s skulls at the approximate height of the middle of the ear), one finds a possible answer. For a close look at the tunneling from right to left will show that the bullet went down.
This is a bit perplexing. While Dr. Boswell marked the entrance on the head on the autopsy face sheet with an arrow pointing upwards and to the left, which would seem to rule out such a trajectory, further analysis reveals that we can't trust this arrow. Outside of the fact that the doctors believed the large defect to have been an exit, and that it was above the entrance on the skull, they offered us no other reason to believe the bullet was traveling upwards upon entrance. While Dr. Boswell described the entrance as "ragged, slanting," moreover, his drawing indicates the entrance was ragged and slanting to the left, which makes no sense seeing as the bullet's exit was on the right side of the skull, and no damage was noted on the left side of the brain. There's just no getting around that Boswell's arrow was in error. While it was officially in error by pointing to the left, our interpretation of this photo suggests that it was actually in error by pointing up.
When one considers that the entrance seen in the autopsy photos, and reported by Dr. Finck as a "transversal" wound, was supposedly created by the impact of a bullet at frame 313, when Kennedy was leaning sharply to his left, it becomes even more apparent that Boswell's arrow just can not to be trusted. A transversal wound on the back of a head that is tilted to its left, if caused by a weapon firing from the right of the victim, would be an indication that the bullet headed downwards upon impact. It just defies belief that a high-speed bullet heading right to left and downwards on the back of the skull would reverse course to such a degree that it would travel left to right and upwards within the brain.
This forces us to examine other scenarios. If the bullet headed downwards upon impact at the back of the skull, and continued downwards within the skull, it would most logically have entered the neck. But do bullets impacting on the skull ever descend down the neck, or is this just something that sounds good in cyberspace to a layman such as myself? According to Gunshot Injuries, one of the first books on the subject, written by Louis Anatole La Garde at the height of World War I, a projectile creating a penetrating skull wound, where there is an entrance but no apparent exit, is "generally lodged within the skull unless it has, as sometimes happens, passed down the neck."
That little obstacle taken care of, let's see where this conjecture takes us.
1. Well, first of all, since we've already concluded the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 most likely struck him on a tangent, we can venture that the bullet creating the small entrance wound on the back of his head struck him at some other time.
2. Since we’ve already decided that a bullet entering Kennedy’s back at the location of his back wound could not have continued on to bruise his lung and exit his throat without hitting his spine, the throat wound is unaccounted for. We can only wonder then, if the bullet heading down into the neck at a time other than 313 made its exit from Kennedy’s throat.
3. Since Kennedy reaches for his throat just after Connally appears to get injured, around frame Z-224, moreover, we should consider the possibility that a bullet traversed down Kennedy's neck at this time.
4. As Connally was sure a shot was fired before he was hit, and as he appears to be hit at Z-224, we can assume that Kennedy most probably received his back wound shortly before this time, most likely around frame 190, when the HSCA concluded a shot striking Kennedy was fired.
5. As the time span between Z-190 and Z-224 was less than two seconds, too short an interval for Oswald to have accurately fired his bolt-action rifle, we can conclude that the proposed bullet impacting in the occipital region of Kennedy's skull around frame 224 need not have been created by Oswald’s rifle, and need not have been fired from the sniper’s nest. As discussed in our review of the eyewitness statements, in chapters 5 through 9 of this study, moreover, there was only one shot heard between Z-190 and Z-224. This suggests as well that one of the shots was noise-suppressed, quite possibly through the use of subsonic ammunition.
6. There are still other indications that the projectile exiting Kennedy's throat was moving at a subsonic speed. Beyond the discussions of wound ballistics included in the Single Bullet "Fact" chapter, which show that a high-speed bullet traversing Kennedy's neck as proposed in the single-bullet theory would be expected to cause far more damage than reported, there is the 5-13-64 Warren Commission testimony of the FBI's ballistics expert, Robert Frazier, in which he described the presumed exit points of the bullet on Kennedy's shirt and tie. Frazier told the Commission: "The hole in the front of the shirt does not have the round characteristic shape caused by a round bullet entering cloth. It is an irregular slit.
It could have been caused by a round bullet, however, since the cloth
could have torn in a long slitlike way as the bullet passed through it.
But that is not specifically characteristic of a bullethole to the
extent that you could say it was to the exclusion of being a piece of
bone or some other type of projectile." When asked by Commissioner Dulles if this slit could have been caused by the bullet's tumbling, moreover, Frazier once again responded in a less-than-supportive manner: "I think the effect in the front of the shirt
is due more to the strength of the material being more in the
horizontal rather than the vertical direction which caused the cloth to
tear vertically rather than due to a change in the shape or size of the
bullet or projectile." When then asked if the slowing of the bullet's velocity within Kennedy's neck could have been a factor in the bullet's creating slits and not holes, he responded, finally, in a way that revealed his true thoughts: "I think the hole would not have been affected unless it was a very large change in velocity." (Forensic science texts in general and 2005's Forensic Pathology: Principles and Practice in particular confirm that a slit-like exit wound is indicative that the exiting bullet had been traveling at a low velocity. While this is specific to the exit on the skin, it would appear that, based on Frazier's testimony, it is also applicable to an exit on clothing.)
7. If a subsonic bullet was used it helps explain the bullet's trajectory in the neck, as well as the relatively light damage observed in the neck, and the slit-like exits on the shirt. The standard text Criminal Investigation (2003, by Swanson, et al) notes that the shape of a bullet track can be indicative of the bullet's velocity. It then declares "straight tracks indicate a high velocity, and bent or angular ones indicate a low velocity." In Management of Gunshot Wounds,
Dr. Gary Ordog further details: “Low-velocity missiles are relatively unstable compared
with high-velocity missiles…The instability is noted in the fact that
low-velocity bullets tend to follow tissue planes, and often do not follow a
straight line from entrance…” And it's not as if this tendency was a recent discovery. In his 1978 interview with the HSCA, Dr. Perry explained: "The pathway of bullets striking tissues of varying densities is not uniformly rectilnear--it curves and moves with it--and may be deflected by what appears to be a relatively minor structure, a tough fascia layer, a muscle layer, or something--it may deflect the bullet, especially if it's down--if its energy's low and it's down near the bottom of the velocity curve..." Hmmm... If the second rifle proposed was, as suggested by the statements of the eyewitnesses, fired from the Dal-Tex Building, its bullet would impact on Kennedy at frame 224 on a 25 degree descent, slightly steeper than a bullet from the sniper's nest. It might then dive under
Kennedy’s cerebellum on its way to his neck. This correlates the bullet entrance apparent in the mystery photo, and described by the autopsy doctors, with the reported lack of damage to the brain, better than any other theory yet offered.
8. The presumption Kennedy was struck by a subsonic bullet in the back of the head, circa Z-224, also helps explain why no one noted an impact on the back of Kennedy's head before the fatal explosion at Z-313. The backspatter of a subsonic bullet impacting on the back of the head, to be clear, would be far less obvious than the expected explosion at entry of a high-velocity round. The tunneling on the skull before entrance presumed for this bullet, moreover, would be more suggestive of a low velocity round than a high velocity round, and would, along with Kennedy's scalp and hair, almost certainly weaken the explosion of blood from the entrance.
9. Let us remember as well that Connally’s first instinct was that an automatic
weapon had been fired. A second
low-speed bullet’s striking Connally, intriguingly, could help explain the route of the bullet
in his chest, which supposedly followed the curvature of the chest wall. While it would be unlikely for such a bullet to continue on to damage his wrist to the extent it was damaged, perhaps there was yet a third bullet fired in this subsonic burst that struck Connally in his wrist.
Let us move forward, then, under the acceptance that such a possibility is not unreasonable on its face, and that it answers the questions of the medical evidence better than any other theory. (Should one be wondering what happened to this bullet or bullets, let us also remember that some sort of clean-up occurred in the limousine, and that no real investigation was done of the limousine beyond what the Secret Service sworn to protect President Johnson told us and what the FBI saw on the night of the assassination, hours after the limousine was illegally removed from Dallas.)
But does the Zapruder film support that the shot or shots at Z-224 came from the Dal-Tex Building? When one studies Z-225, the first frame in which Kennedy’s fully visible after his disappearance behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, one can’t help but notice that Kennedy’s looking almost straight at Zapruder, approximately 50 degrees to his right. If one were to use this position to rear project the position of a likely shooter, a la Canning, one would be forced to conclude the shooter was on Houston Street, on the top of the County Records Building, or the jail.
But there’s another factor to be considered. And that factor is the curvature of the skull. According to Spitz and Fisher’s
Medicolegal Investigation of Death, “if the bullet strikes the head at a
shallow angle or in an area of significant curvature, at least some deflection
of the bullet’s trajectory may be expected.” According to Aarabi and Levy’s
Missile Wounds to the Head and Neck, “if a bullet is fired at an angle or hits
a curved portion of the skull, deflection will usually result.” According to Brogdon's Forensic Radiology: "The natural curvature of the ribs and the skull can cause bullets to change trajectory significantly." And let's not forget Larry Sturdivan: “Though all the
Biophysics lab test shots were aimed so that the WC’s specified entry and exit
locations would lie on a straight trajectory, none of the bullets penetrated
the front of the skull at the “intended” exit location. One even punched out through the right orbit
(eye socket) near the nose.”
statements strongly suggest that a bullet piercing Kennedy's skull from behind
would curve upon entry. This is in keeping with the curve required
for a bullet entering the skull by the EOP and heading down the neck to avoid
the spine. When you think about this, moreover, it actually makes
sense—when you push the corner of a shopping cart into a pole its wheels turn
towards the pole. The side that meets
the most resistance slows down and spins the side meeting less resistance to
face the resistance, like a tank.
This tendency is also noted on the websites of gun enthusiasts. On the Single Action Shooting Society website, for instance, one such enthusiast discussed an experiment he and some friends from a SWAT team had conducted on some windshields in a junkyard. They found that: “All rounds deflected up if shot from inside and down from outside the car. If shot from outside at a 45 degree angle the rounds all turned back toward the shooter and down…The .22 LR when fired from inside straight on to the 45 degree windshield deflected so much we could not get a hit on a target at hood distance.”
So then we have to ask ourselves if there’s any evidence for such a deflection. It’s one thing to say it could have happened but another thing entirely to say it probably happened. When one considers that the skull at the side of the EOP is slanted downwards, and that a bullet hitting this slant from the right and from above might be deflected downwards, and that the rightmost section of the wound in the hairline in the mystery photo appears to represent only the upper right corner of the entrance, one should conclude that such a deflection is likely.
Once one considers that Kennedy was both turned to his right around 50 degrees at Z-224, and that the bullet entering his occipital bone must have come in from his right in order to leave such a mark on his skull, one can approximate the most likely location of the rifle. If we take the extreme case we can say that the bullet angled in from the school book depository. But the most likely origin of a bullet coming in from the right and entering Kennedy’s skull at frame 224 would appear to be the Dal-Tex Building.
Still, this kind of thinking--taking an entrance without an exit and a possible exit without an entrance and matching them up, and then building a case upon it--is exactly what got Dr. Humes into trouble. For fear of pulling a Humes then and incorrectly connecting the leftover wounds, let’s take a step back and see if we can find any real evidence a bullet descended in Kennedy’s neck.
When I first realized that a bullet entering near the EOP could have gone down the neck, I was at a loss as how to prove this to myself. It then occurred to me that if I studied the Zapruder film I might be able to spot evidence for the EOP entry before the head shot at Z-312. I looked and looked for signs of blood on Kennedy’s collar, to no avail. In retrospect, this makes sense, because if this wound had led to a large loss of blood, surely someone in Dallas would have seen it.
I then switched tactics and focused on watching the exact spot where the wound is visible on the autopsy photos. I noticed basically nothing until frame Z-308, when there was suddenly a dark oval in the area. I looked for a corroborating frame, and found a similar dark shape in the location at Z-312. Excited, I decided to show these frames to a friend, but when we looked at the frames on his wide-screen TV, we just saw dark shadows. I decided I was guilty of seeing a mirage. I wanted to see something so bad, that I saw it. Later on, while watching the Zapruder film on my ancient TV, I noticed the dark shapes again, and realized I couldn’t see them on the other TV because it had a different level of contrast than my old antique.
In November, 2005, I uploaded the digitized versions of these frames to my computer, and attempted to increase the contrast to bring out the dark shapes. I found that by using Adobe Photoshop and lightening the shadows, the shapes I first saw on my ancient TV became readily apparent.
In March, 2006, I went back and inspected every frame of the Zapruder film between 280 and 312, and lightened the shadows on the clearest frames. I found numerous dark blobs on the back of Kennedy’s head in every frame. This undercut any relevance I could attach to any one frame. When I continued my inspection, however, I realized that these dark blobs jumped around from frame to frame. As the dark blob by the hairline re-appeared multiple times, and in a constant relation to Kennedy’s ear, I continue to suspect there is indeed a dark shape apparent in Kennedy’s hairline, and that it is quite likely a bullet wound.
Hopefully, someone with a better understanding of movie cameras and film will run a series of “blob” tests and determine if the camera was capable of picking up a small wound surrounded by hair at the distance Zapruder was from Kennedy, and whether one can attribute any meaning whatsoever to a recurrent blob on a dark area of a film. It could very well be that the blob I saw on TV was just a mirage.
Re-Thinking Mr. Wilson
In 2008, while watching a 1995 episode of The Men Who Killed Kennedy, I realized that tests similar to the ones I've proposed have already been conducted. Researcher Tom Wilson, who had a scientific background impressive enough to get him access to the autopsy materials--one of only a handful of conspiracy theorists to receive that honor--knew that cameras could record more shades of gray than could be noticed with the human eye. This got him thinking. What would we find if we used digital technology to expand the contrast of the shades seen in images of the assassination? What would we find inside the shadows?
While virtually no one, including this researcher, would agree with Mr. Wilson's interpretations of what he found inside these shadows, it is nevertheless interesting that, when inspecting the shadows on the back of Kennedy's head in the Zapruder film, Mr. Wilson came across a dark dot at the approximate location of the bullet entrance described at autopsy. Having convinced himself that one shadow-shape represented a hole on the back of Kennedy's head, and that another shadow-shape represented the brain inside the skull, however, he convinced himself that this dark dot represented the bullet's passage through Kennedy's brain. While this, of course, is silly, as a bullet exploding Kennedy's skull like it exploded in frame 313 would not leave a nice round hole in the brain that could be photographed from a hundred feet away, the actual finding of a dark dot in the location depicted in the program suggests a bullet entered low on the head by the EOP. Apparently, Mr. Wilson was unaware of its possible significance.
Mr. Wilson died in 2001. If anyone knows the whereabouts of his images, and if he performed tests on the Zapruder frames just before the head shot, please let me know.
Similarly, if anyone knows if the methodology used by Wilson to create his images has been as discredited as his interpretations of the images, please let me know.
But all blobs and dots aside, if a bullet striking Kennedy's skull exited from his neck at a time prior to the head shot at frame 313, there should be some signs that this occurred. To begin with, the bullet would have to have made an exit on the base of his skull. But there's no evidence for this exit. Or is there?
Although Dr. Humes told the ARRB that “We looked with care at the whole interior surface of the skull to see if there were any other defects what have you. There were no others,” a thorough reading of his testimony and a close look at the skull base visible on the open cranium photograph give one reason to doubt he thoroughly inspected the base of the skull.
One online article on a proper dissection of the skull and brain notes that, after the brain is removed: “if any intracranial hemorrhage is present the blood is collected and measured. The dura is pulled out from the floor of the skull by holding it with a piece of cotton or gauze…The base of the skull and rest of the cranial cavity is examined for fractures and tested for any abnormal mobility. The fracture of anterior cranial fossa manifests itself by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid from the nose, and middle cranial fossa by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid from the ear. Since fracture of the posterior cranial fossa and ring fracture are followed by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid in the tissues of the neck, they may not be suspected in certain cases and would be missed unless dura is pulled out from the floor of the skull and the posterior cranial fossa carefully examined.”
And this is not some newfangled procedure. The Autopsy Manual for Dr. Finck's employer, The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, has long noted "For demonstration of fractures the dura should be stripped from the bone. This is best done by winding it onto a hemostat attached to the cut edge of the dura. Some pathologists prefer to use 'gas pliers.' In either case the dura should be stripped immediately after the brain is removed..."
The open cranium or mystery photograph proves these procedures were not
followed. There is dura around the
foramen, and what appears to be coagulated blood surrounding the Foramen
Magnum. It is perhaps not an
oversight, then, that when Dr. Humes told the ARRB that the doctors inspected
the skull and found nothing unusual, he failed to reveal whether the dura was
pulled out or the blood was drained. The blood was most certainly not measured. Humes, when describing a
missing photo the doctors believe was taken of the inside of the skull, did tell the ARRB, however, that the photo “should have been sharp and clear because there was no blood by
that time, you see. The brain had been
removed, and it was a through and through hole…” While this could be taken as
an indication the dura was removed and the blood cleaned up, Humes’ next
statement to the ARRB might be even more revelatory. When asked by Jeremy Gunn “were there any
fractures in that portion of the skull,” Humes replied “Well yeah, I guess…
there were fractures in the posterior cranial fossa radiating from the
wound.” This latter recollection, moreover, is supported by the recollections of Kennedy's mortician, Tom Robinson, who told the HSCA in 1977 that "The inside of the skull was badly smashed..." and who, according to notes taken by Doug Horne, told the ARRB in 1996 "there were fractures all over the cranium, including the floor of the skull."
The Clark Panel’s interpretation of the x-rays specifically ruled this out. Their report declared: “Also, although the fractures of the calvarium extend to the left of the midline and into the anterior and middle fossa of the skull, no bony defect, such as one created by a projectile either entering or leaving the head, is seen in the calvarium to the left of the midline or in the base of the skull.” As there were no x-rays taken from what is known as the Towne’s view, which specifically targets the occipital bone, however, they were most certainly over-stating their case. According to Outline of Roentgen Analysis, a 1943 text contemporary with the x-ray equipment used at Bethesda, "Almost all fractures of the vault of the skull are demonstrable on careful x-ray examination. Fractures of the base, however, may frequently be invisible owing to the complicated structure, the inability to put the patient in the proper position for visualization of the base, and to the superimposition of bones." According to a more current text, Radiology of the Skull and Brain (1972) “Many fractures of the calvarium extend into the base but frequently they are not identified on roentgenograms” (x-rays).
And this was not news to the members of the Clark Panel, or HSCA Pathology Panel. A note from the editors of Forensic Pathology (1977), in its chapter on blunt trauma, offers "Many fractures, particularly of bones of the skull, are not well demonstrated by x-ray. Indeed, a sizeable percentage of skull fractures cannot be seen in the usual methods of x-ray examination of the skull." The editors of Forensic Pathology were, as it happens, Dr. Fisher of the Clark Panel, and Dr. Petty of the HSCA Pathology Panel. Thus, the x-rays taken of Kennedy's skull fail to prove there'd been no exit in its base.
The x-rays, in fact, support there'd been such an exit. According to Power et al in the March 2004 American Journal of
Roentgenology, “Air has been shown on both radiography and CT within the
cervical spinal canal after skull base trauma.” This same article states “The presence of air within the subarachnoid
space should alert the clinician to the likely presence of a dural tear.” This suggests that, if a bullet were to have exited from the base of Kennedy' skull, air would most likely have been apparent in the subarachnoid space. So was air apparent in Kennedy's subarachnoid space?
Yes, it was. HSCA Radiologist Dr.David Davis reported: “There is some air in the subarachnoid space of the spinal canal, and also apparently in the…middle fossa… but since the fracture is open to the subarachnoid space, this is not at all surprising."
So, the possibility the bullet exited the base can't be ruled out. But are there any other signs?
Reading the Signs
Let’s return to Radiology of the Skull and Brain. It states “Basal skull fractures are common…but frequently are not appreciated on routine skull radiography. They can be suspected clinically because of 1, blood behind the tympanic membrane of the ear in the absence of direct trauma to the ear, 2, subcutaneous hemorrhage over the mastoid process (Battle’s Sign), or 3, extensive ecchymosis about the orbits in the absence of direct trauma to the orbits.” While the ecchymosis (bruising) about the orbits (eye sockets) of President Kennedy were indeed noted at the autopsy, the other two signs were not mentioned. When one looks at the photographs taken of the back of Kennedy’s head, however, and compares it to a photograph of someone with Battle’s Sign, one can see that he did indeed display this tell-tale sign of a fracture in the base of his skull. The black and white photograph, moreover, seems to be an attempt, in part, to depict this sign, as it appears some blood has been wiped from the area behind Kennedy’s ear that was apparent in the nearly identical color photo taken moments before.
A chapter by Dr. Jefferson Browder in Brock’s Injuries of the Brain and Spinal Cord is also revealing: “a bloody discharge from the external auditory canal may result from a traumatic laceration of this canal, a rupture of the tympanic membrane alone, or a compound fracture of the skull into the middle ear…” There was indeed a lot of blood in Kennedy’s right ear. When one compares it to Kennedy’s left ear, it seems likely this blood did indeed come from the ear. Since it was acknowledged even by the Clark Panel that the middle fossa was fractured, however, this provides little proof that the posterior cranial fossa was fractured.
When we look back at the online description of an autopsy, however, we see that “The fracture of anterior cranial fossa manifests itself by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid from the nose, and middle cranial fossa by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid from the ear. Since fracture of the posterior cranial fossa and ring fracture are followed by escape of blood and cerebrospinal fluid in the tissues of the neck, they may not be suspected in certain cases and would be missed unless dura is pulled out from the floor of the skull and the posterior cranial fossa carefully examined.” This tells us that excess blood in the neck tissues could be an indication the posterior cranial fossa was fractured, perhaps even that a bullet traveled down the neck. In the HSCA report by Dr.s Kerley and Snow, who compared the autopsy photographs to one another to show that the photographs were of the same man and that that man was Kennedy, it was noted, when discussing the back of the head photos “There is a 3 by 5 centimeter area of discoloration at the base of the neck in the right area that apparently represents either a slight contusion or some postmortem lividity.” A close look at the right lateral autopsy photo does indeed show bruising at a point on the neck which would appear to be higher than the purported passage of the bullet between the back and throat. Could this bruising have come as a result of a bullet’s traveling down the neck?
Intriguingly, the doctors in Dallas who first saw Kennedy,
and who were only aware of his throat wound and large head wound, discussed a
possible trajectory between these wounds, and had little problem assuming a
bullet or fragment traveled up or down his neck. In his initial report, Dr. Robert McClelland
even described the throat wound as a “fragment wound,” implying it was caused by the exit of a fragment from the bullet creating the head wound. (This, we should recall, became the stance of the FBI in the days and weeks after the assassination; the FBI was so successful in spreading this take on the President's wounds, moreover, that newspapers such as the New York Times and magazines such as U.S. News were still repeating that a fragment descended within his neck months afterward.)
In any event, one might assume from
the Parkland doctors' suspicion a bullet traveled up or down the neck that they observed some signs which told them such a passage was likely. In Josiah Thompson’s Six Seconds in Dallas,
he outlined the Dallas doctors’
testimony and accumulated these signs. Dr. Charles Baxter, observing from a distance, noted: “There was considerable contusion of
the muscles of the anterior neck.” Dr. Charles Carrico, the first to inspect the throat wound, testified: “there was some discoloration at the lateral edge of the
larynx and there appeared to be some swelling and hematoma.” Dr. Perry, for his part, noted that the trachea was deviated "slightly to the left"...a point on which Dr. McClelland expanded: the “swelling and bleeding
around the site (the exit in the throat) was to such an extent that the trachea
was somewhat deviated to the left side.” As the bullet is
believed to have passed medial to the anterior neck muscles, and some distance
below the larynx, perhaps the deviation of the trachea and the aforementioned
bruises can be best explained by a bullet’s having passed down, and
traumatizing, the entire right side of the neck.
And, should those signs prove unconvincing, there's this: Dr. Perry told the Warren Commission that the wound on the outside of Kennedy's throat was below the wound on his trachea, and that this suggested to him that the bullet creating these wounds was heading up the neck, if fired from in front, or down the neck, if fired from behind. To be precise, because these things can be tricky, he said that "there was an injury to the right lateral portion of the trachea and a
wound in the neck;" he then offered "if one were to extend a line roughly between these
two, it would be going slightly superiorly, that is cephalad toward the
head, from anterior to posterior..." Or away from the head, from posterior to anterior... Need I mention that the HSCA's experts concluded the back wound was lower than the throat wound? And that this would manifest itself in a trajectory heading up the neck, towards the head, and not down the neck, away from the head?
There is still another sign, recently uncovered, and not fully documented, that suggests the bullet came down the neck. In November 2008, Christine Jenkins, the daughter of Parkland Hospital anesthesiologist Dr. Marion Jenkins, who stood at the head of Kennedy's stretcher throughout his treatment on 11-22-63, performed a one-woman show on the assassination. At the centerpiece of her show was a videotape of her father discussing Kennedy's death in Emergency Room One. According to one witness to her show, Jack White, Jenkins claimed on this tape that "Each time he squeezed on his air bag, bubbles of blood came out the brain wound." The air tube was, of course, put into the hole in Kennedy's throat. It is impossible to understand how air would bubble out from Kennedy's cranium unless there was a passageway between Kennedy's neck and skull base. If Jenkins mentioned these bubbles to his fellow doctors, moreover, it goes a long way towards explaining why they were so ready to believe the neck wound was connected to the head wound on 11-22.
In retrospect, however, it seems possible Jack White was mistaken. Jack was 81 at the time. Jenkins had told the Warren Commission "As the resuscitative maneuvers were begun, such as 'chest cardiac massage,' there was with each compression of the sternum, a gush of blood from the skull wound, which indicated there was massive vascular damage in the skull and the brain, as well as brain tissue damage." It seems pssoible, then, that Jack misunderstood Jenkins, and thought the bubbles of blood from the brain wound were related to the air tube, and not the chest massage performed by Dr. Perry.
Not that that matters much. If one assumes Jenkins' testimony was correct, as opposed to his latter day recollections as reported by White, and that the blood started bubbling from the brain during cardiac massage, as opposed to when Jenkins used the air bag, one can still take this occurrence as suggestive a bullet traveled down the neck.
And for a most surprising reason. In 1980, Dr. John Lattimer published Kennedy and Lincoln, a summary of the many experiments he'd performed while trying to prove Oswald's sole guilt mixed in with a bit of history about the deaths of Kennedy and Lincoln. While it was not a great book, by any standard, it did include some intriguing passages. Here's one I stumbled upon in 2016:
"As soon as neurosurgeon Dr. William Kemp Clark had established that the right half of President Kennedy's brain had been shot away, that the blood which was being pumped into the veins of the body was being poured out onto the floor through the torn-open ends of the large blood vessels in the base of his skull, and that there was absolutely no hope of survival, he pronounced the President dead."
So...did you spot it? Lattimer claimed the blood gushing from the brain came from the torn-open ends of the large blood vessels in the base of the skull! Well, this was nowhere near where Lattimer believed the bullet had entered--near the top of the head in the cowlick. So this wasn't something Lattimer had just made up to help sell Oswald's guilt. So where did he get it? Well, it's right there in the passage. Lattimer was reporting on the activities of Dr. Clark. Dr. Clark had worked as a consultant on some of Lattimer's experiments. Lattimer claimed they were good friends. Heck, it only follows, then, that in this passage Lattimer was passing on something the otherwise-silent Clark had told him in a private conversation. And it's a doozy. If the vessels at the base of the skull were torn and gushing blood, it seems more than apparent something passed through that location.
Dr. Cyril Wecht has also had thoughts that a bullet traveled up or down the neck. According to Vincent Bugliosi in Reclaiming History, Wecht had briefly come to speculate that a bullet had entered Kennedy's throat and exited his "lower left occipital protuberance." While Wecht quickly gave up on this idea, due to the incompatibility of such a bullet's trajectory with a shot from the grassy knoll, it is nevertheless important to note that a man with his experience, after viewing the autopsy materials numerous times, had seen nothing to convince him that a bullet did not travel up or down the neck, and had in fact suspected that one did travel up or down the neck.
And then there's this... In a June '67 article in Ramparts Magazine discussing the Garrison investigation, former FBI man William Turner wrote: "a nurse at Parkland Hospital said that when doctors attempted a tracheotomy on the President, the damage was so great the tube pushed out the back of his head." Obviously, if the quote attributed to the nurse was accurate, it would support that a bullet track connected the throat wound and the head wound. It might support it even if was only partially accurate.(Perhaps the nurse was inaccurately repeating Jenkins' observation about air bubbling up from the brain, or perhaps Turner was inaccurately reporting what this nurse was trying to convey.) When I contacted Turner in October 2007 to see if he could recall this interview, however, he responded "I remember sticking it in that article but I didn't interview the nurse. I suspect it was David Welch, a Ramparts writer, with whom I made a trip to Dallas on the JFK case. He interviewed a number of witnesses separate from me...I last had contact with David Welch at a Warren Hinckle party some 15 years ago. At the time he was working for a SF union---I can't remember which one." (I subsequently discovered, via John Kelin's book Praise From a Future Generation, that this Ramparts writer was named David Welsh, not Welch. If anyone knows the current whereabouts of David Welsh, and how I can reach him and clear up this matter, please let me know.)
But are there any other signs?
The Final Moments
Since a bullet shooting down the neck at Z-224 would have brushed past the cerebellum, I decided to look back through the literature to see if there was any indication something like this occurred. I found that when discussing the brain photos with the ARRB in 1996, Dr. Humes acknowledged, “the right cerebellum has been partially disrupted, yes.” I also found that Dr. Peters, one of the President’s doctors in Dallas, was shown the autopsy photos in 1988 and shared Humes’ appraisal. He wrote writer Harry Livingstone that “the cerebellum was indeed depressed on the right side compared to the left.” I then recalled the HSCA’s declaration that “the posterior-inferior portion of the cerebellum” was “virtually intact…It certainly does not demonstrate the degree of laceration, fragmentation, or contusion (as appears subsequently on the superior aspect of the brain) that would be expected in this location if the bullet wound of entrance were as described in the autopsy report.” This time, however, I noticed the qualifiers. They said “virtually intact,” which indicates some damage. They also said there was certainly not the degree of damage necessary to be consistent with the autopsy report. Well, this makes sense. The bullet trajectory suggested by the autopsy report, after all, has the bullet heading straight into the cerebellum. These statements by the HSCA Pathology Panel, then, led me to believe the damage apparent on the cerebellum is consistent with a bullet’s having headed down into the neck.
Dr. Humes certainly thought
so. When interviewed by the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel on 9-16-77, and asked by Dr. Coe if he thought the "destruction" apparent on the underside of the brain was a "post-mortem artifact" from the removal of the brain, or was caused by the bullet, Humes responded "I think it was partly caused by the bullet."
Upon re-reading the supplementary autopsy report from 12-6-63, moreover, I noticed that there were seven slices of tissue removed from the brain for microscopic examination, including one from the “right cerebellar cortex.” I then noticed that the other six were all from areas reported to be damaged. When I re-read the report I realized that a line I had read many times meant something completely different than I’d previously believed. The report states “When viewed from the basilar aspect the disruption of the right cortex is again obvious.” As “the basilar aspect” means “underneath” and “cortex” means “outer layer,” this is quite possibly a reference to the cerebellum as well as the cerebrum.
The results of the microscopic examination of the brain confirm, furthermore, that the cerebellum was damaged: “Multiple sections from representative areas as noted above are examined. All sections are essentially similar and show extensive disruption of brain tissue with associated hemorrhage.” Later, during his March 16, 1964 testimony before the Warren Commission, Humes confirmed yet again that the cerebellum was damaged. He noted that "the flocculus cerebri was extensively lacerated." There is no flocculus cerebri. There is however, a flocculus cerebelli. It is on the underside of the cerebellum. While some researchers insist Humes meant to say the "falx cerebri," a covering of the brain, was extensively lacerated, it seems obvious that he would be much more likely to say (or have mis-recorded by a court reporter) "cerebri" instead of "cerebelli" than he would be to say (or have mis-recorded) "flocculus" instead of "falx".
There's also this. On page 159 of his book The Death of a President, published 1967, William Manchester reports: "The last bullet has torn through John Kennedy's cerebellum, the lower part of his brain." Well, so what? Who the heck is Manchester? He could just be repeating nonsense he read in the paper. Well, this is what. Manchester's book was authorized by the Kennedy family. It was supposed to answer a lot of the questions. As a result, Manchester was given unparalleled access. Including access to doctors speaking with nobody, and I mean nobody, else. The Sources section of his book lists 5 interviews with Kennedy's physician, Dr. Burkley, between October 1964 and July 1966. Burkley inspected the autopsy photos in 1965. Did Burkley tell Manchester the cerebellum was damaged? And, if not, who did?
Inquiring minds want to know... Which brings us back to our discussion...
At the risk of pulling a Lattimer, who foolishly tried to
link Kennedy’s movements after first struck to something he described as a
Thorburn’s response, I decided to see if the President’s behavior after frame
224 of the Zapruder film was consistent with that of someone suffering damage to the flocculus in particular, and the cerebellum in general. According to Neuroscience in Medicine (2008) "damage to the flocculus, nodulus, and uvula result in a pronounced loss in equilibrium, including truncal ataxia..." ("Truncal ataxia" is an "Impairment of the ability to perform smoothly coordinated voluntary movements.") The description continues: "There is an inability to incorporate vestibular information with body and eye movements." Well, thankfully, Wisegeek.com helps put this in layman's terms: "Damage to the flocculus can cause jerky eye movements and difficulty maintaining balance."
Now this is quite interesting. Kennedy appears to reach for his neck, but miss, and then lean to his left in the frames after Zapruder frame 224.
An observation by Dr. William Kemp Clark contained in Warren Commission Exhibit 392 becomes relevant at this point. When describing Kennedy's appearance upon treatment at Parkland Hospital, he noted: "His eyes were divergent, being deviated outward; a
skew deviation from the horizontal was present." Well, it seems more than a coincidence then that numerous scientific articles cite a correlation between damage to the flocculus and
downbeat nystagmus, in which the eyes drift slowly upward, before returning to their target. Neurological Differential Diagnosis, 2005, goes even further, moreover, and notes both that the "flocculo-occulomotor tract" has "the only direct cerebellar connection with the eye muscle nuclei" and that "clinical lesions and stimulation experiments" of the cerebellum may "result in a divergence of the eyes." Well, let's put it together. Damage to the flocculus can cause a divergence of the eyes.
Well, then what about damage to the cerebellum in general, as opposed to damage specific to the flocculus? According to multiple sources, the symptoms of cerebellar damage include a weakness to the side of the body suffering the damage (ipsilateral hypotonia), a tendency to not stop a movement at its proper point (dysmetria), an inability to grasp objects (ataxia), an abnormal head attitude, and disturbances in speech, eye movement, and equilibrium. Between Zapruder frame 224, when the President seems to suffer a wound on his throat, and 313, when he is obviously hit in the head, the President reached in the direction of his throat without grabbing anything, lifted his arms past his throat, slumped to his left (perhaps as over-compensation for the sudden weakness on his right), and stared down without letting out so much as a scream. Ironically, a November 24, 1963 article in the New York Times by Dr. Howard Rusk described this very phenomenon. Mistakenly believing the theory proposed by the Dallas doctors on the afternoon of the 22nd, that one shot hit Kennedy in the throat and exploded out the back of his head, Dr. Rusk explained brain injuries as follows: “If the injury is in the posterior portion of the brain, where the bullet that killed the President made its exit, the cerebellum is damaged. Then the individual is left with ataxia, evidenced by severe intention type of tremors that occur when one tries to perform a basic act or grasp an object. Damage to the cerebellum is also usually accompanied by a loss of equilibrium."
Should one not be entirely satisfied with the explanation that Kennedy's strange movements were brought about by damage to his cerebellum, however, there is an additional explanation for his movements that can be added into the mix. This explanation, moreover, is equally suggestive he was struck in the skull before frame 313 of the Zapruder film. Since Brock’s Injuries of the Brain and Spinal Cord made note that “Posterior basilar fractures tend to gravitate towards the large foramina”, I decided to see if there were any behavioral symptoms for a fracture in this area. And I found something which again dropped my jaw. (My jaw has been dropped so many times during this investigation that it's a wonder it hasn't been broken.) Jugular Foramen Syndrome is described by Blakiston’s Pocket Medical Dictionary as “Paralysis of the ipsilateral glossopharyngeal, vagus, and spinal accessory nerves, caused by a lesion involving the jugular foramen, usually a basilar skull fracture.” According to the online article Craniofacial and Skull Base Trauma by Dr. Harry Shahinian and the Skull Base Institute the paralysis of the vagus nerve would manifest itself through a paralysis of the vocal cords, and a paralysis of the spinal accessory nerves would manifest itself through a paralysis of the neck muscle that flexes the head (the sternocleidomastoid) as well as a weakness of the trapezius muscle, which rotates it. The result is a “weakness in contralateral head rotation and shoulder elevation.” Contralateral, of course, means affecting the opposite side of the body. As we know all too well, Kennedy turned toward his left and dipped his left shoulder in his final silent moments.
So, yeah, I'd say there's good reason to suspect Kennedy's cerebellum and/or posterior skull was damaged even before he'd received his fatal wound.
Hurray For Horne
It seems possible, for that matter, that his brainstem was also damaged by this time. Now, admittedly, this really didn't sink in with me until 2012. While re-reading a passage in Doug Horne's Inside the ARRB, Vol. 3, I had the sudden feeling he was onto something, and that the brainstem was indeed injured.
Horne begins by discussing a 1969 letter written by Pierre Finck. It was written shortly after he'd testified in the trial of Clay Shaw. In this letter, Finck offered William Wegmann, one of Clay Shaw's attorneys, an explanation for the back-and-to-the-left movement of Kennedy following the head shot seen in the Zapruder film. He declared that there was a better explanation for this than that Kennedy was shot from the front. He then offered his explanation: "due to the severance of his brain from his spinal cord as described in the autopsy report, he experienced decerebrate rigidity due to loss of cerebral control."
Well, this is interesting, and not because Finck was correct about decerebrate rigidity. He wasn't. No, this was interesting because the autopsy report does not specify that the brain was severed from the cord. Horne, however, identifies a passage from the report that suggests as much. Ironically, this was a passage with which I was well familiar, as I'd studied it while reaching my conclusion the cerebellum had been damaged... Horne notes that the specimen slides taken from the brain and described in the supplemental autopsy report included one taken from the "line of transection of the spinal cord" and that it would make no sense for the doctors to take a specimen slide from a cut they'd made themselves. He then notes that the test results for this slide, as discussed in the report, were the same as for the other slides taken from the brain. As we've seen, the report reads: "Brain: multiple sections from representative areas as noted above are examined. All sections are essentially similar and show extensive disruption of brain tissue with associated hemorrhage. In none of the sections examined are there significant abnormalities other than those directly related to the recent trauma."
Now this was
where Horne won me over, not on the over-all point he was making, but on
the specific point that the brainstem may have been damaged by the bullet. If the "line of transection of the spinal cord" was
uninjured prior to the autopsy and the removal of Kennedy's brain,
there would have been no extensive disruption or hemorrhage on this
tissue sample. It would have been a clean cut, without hemorrhage. This proves the damage to the line of transection preceded Kennedy's death.
But I do. Here is the testimony he found so confusing...
Gunn: When you removed the brain, which part of the brain did you cut in order to remove it?
Humes: The brain stem.
Gunn: Was the brain--were you able to ascertain whether the brainstem had received any damage prior to the time that you made the incision?
Humes: It was my impression that it had, yes.
Gunn: Was the brainstem already disconnected at the time that you--
Humes: No, it was not disconnected.
Gunn: How was it that you had the impression that it was--that it had received some kind of laceration or injury?
Humes: Well, one of these photographs shows you, as I tried to point out earlier, the one that was here a few minutes ago--
Gunn: The basilar view?
Humes: Yeah, the basilar view shows this disrupted-looking area right there. That's the brain stem.
Gunn: Looking at the basilar view, are you able to ascertain whether either the left or the right cerebellum has been disrupted? We touched on this issue before, but I just wanted to return to that.
Humes: In this photograph, it would appear the right cerebellum has been partially disrupted, yes.
Horne was confused, one can only assume, because he was trying to get Humes' testimony to fit his theory the body had been altered after Kennedy's death, quite possibly by Humes himself. When one looks at the supplemental autopsy Report, Finck's letter to Wegmann, and Humes' ARRB testimony in context, however, the following scenario seems probable.
- On the night of 11-22-63, during the early
stages of Kennedy's autopsy, Dr. Humes removed Kennedy's brain from his
skull, and observed a disrupted-looking area of the brainstem, right by
where he'd severed it from the spinal cord.
- Dr. Finck did not witness any of this, as he had not yet arrived at the autopsy.
- Dr. Finck was present at the supplementary examination, however, when the brain was studied and photographed.
the supplementary examination, Dr. Humes took a slide from the line of
transection, to see if the disruption he'd observed preceded Kennedy's
- As the study of this slide supported that the brainstem was damaged while Kennedy was still alive, and quite possibly by a bullet, Finck assumed that this bullet had transected the brainstem.
- After viewing the Zapruder film, and the back-and-to-the-left movement of Kennedy after receiving his fatal head shot, moreover, Finck put two-and-two together, and concluded that the transection of the brainstem had led to Kennedy's strange movements.
- He'd failed to appreciate that the brainstem had been disrupted, but not disconnected.
And should one think I'm conflating inaccurate statements by Humes to fit an even more inaccurate statement by Finck in order to come to a desired conclusion--that the underside of Kennedy's brain was damaged by the passage of a bullet--one should consider that they aren't the only autopsy witnesses to indicate as much.
James Curtis Jenkins, Humes' and Boswell's assistant at the autopsy, shared his recollections of the autopsy with writer Harrison Livingstone in 1990 and made a startling statement. This statement was so startling, in fact, that one would tend to disregard it as nonsense if there wasn't some support for it in the statements of Humes and Finck. As recounted in High Treason 2, he told Livingstone "It wasn't necessary to surgically remove the brain from the skull. I remember Humes saying 'This brain fell out in my hands. The brainstem has been surgically cut.'" It is, of course, hard to reconcile this purported statement by Humes with Humes' statements to the ARRB.
We can be grateful, then, that Jenkins shared his recollections with William Law in 1993, and cleared things up a little. As recounted in Law's book In the Eye of History, Jenkins told Law that, after expanding Kennedy's large head wound, "Dr. Humes removed the brain, and made a kind of an exclamatory statement. I think what he said was 'The damn thing fell out in my hand.'" Law then asked Jenkins "What would this mean to you?" Jenkins then admitted that he took from this that "the brainstem had already been severed." That the brainstem had already been severed was thus Jenkins' personal impression, and not a direct quote from Humes, as presented in High Treason 2.
That the underside of the brain was damaged, moreover, was not just Jenkins' impression based on Humes' statement. As it was his responsibility to prepare the brain for its subsequent inspection, he saw the brain up close, and held it in his hands. It is undoubtedly of help, then, that he told Livingstone "The brain was there and it was intact but it was damaged. I remember it was difficult to infuse it because the circle of Willis (an H shaped circle of vessels underneath the brain) was damaged and it was difficult to get the needles in."
Now, what are the odds Jenkins would remember such a thing, if the brain was not damaged on its underside? And what are the odds--if there really was no such damage--that his impression the brainstem was severed would match up perfectly with the claim of Dr. Finck in his letter to Wegmann, 21 years earlier? Jenkins and Finck were virtual strangers to each other. It's highly unlikely Jenkins would know of Finck's letter. Their sharing this recollection--that the brainstem was severed--makes no sense if there was no damage to the underside of the brain whatsoever, and only makes sense--seeing as Kennedy's behavior at Parkland indicated some brain activity--if his brainstem had been seriously damaged.
An early article on Kennedy's wounds becomes relevant at this time. A number of pathologists were consulted for an 11-24-63 AP article by Frank Carey. The only wounds to Kennedy known to these pathologists were a wound on the front of his throat, and another on the back of his head. They did not know, for sure, if these wounds were connected. These pathologists speculated nonetheless that "President Kennedy's spinal cord and some vital nerve tracts at the base of his brain may have been badly damaged by the bullet that killed him...This could have caused or greatly contributed to his death...by impeding and eventually shutting off the nerve centers in the brain that control breathing and heart action."
Their thoughts were explained in the following manner: "if the neck wound was near the Adam's Apple, which is on the mid-line of the neck, the bullet probably struck the spinal cord...a bullet entering the body near the Adam's Apple--or leaving it at that point--could also plow into vital nerve channels at the base of the brain. These channels and centers control breathing and heart-beat action. Injury to the base of the brain--as distinguished from the top and front of the brain--constitutes an immediate threat to life. The top of the brain contains the centers of learning. Thus, while injury there can be handicapping it is not necessarily fatal. In the same way, injuries to the front of the brain, which contains the centers of personality, can alter a person's personality, but will not necessarily kill him. Reports from the Dallas hospital soon after the President's death said the President had had difficulty breathing...that he was breathing at all would rule out that the spinal cord was completely cut by the bullet...the fatal bullet or bullets most probably affected vital areas near the brain stem."
Well, this raises a few questions. As the increase in intracranial pressure brought about by a bullet's passage within a skull would be related to the size of the skull, wouldn't the respiratory affects caused by a bullet passing 2 cm from the brainstem in a cat's skull be greater than that in a human skull? And, if so, well, then, doesn't this suggest that a low velocity missile would have to come closer than 2 cm to the brainstem to cause respiratory affects in a human?
And what about the suggestion patients with gunshot wounds to the head "tend" to show signs of tonsilar herniation--that is, that they tend to show signs--such as problems with their respiration--that the increased intracranial pressure forced the bottom of the cerebellum and brainstem down through the foramen magnum of the skull?
No such herniation was noted at Kennedy's autopsy. Can we take from this then that the damage to Kennedy's cerebellum, and his problems breathing while at Parkland Hospital, were caused not by the passage of a high velocity bullet elsewhere in the skull, but from the passage of a low velocity bullet nearby? I'm not so sure.
Let's remember, however, that Kennedy's wounds were far from typical. The top of his skull exploded. Is it reasonable to assume this explosion released much of the pressure that would otherwise be exerted downward on the cerebellum and brainstem? I suspect so.
This then leads me to suspect the problems with Kennedy's respiration were caused by some other phenomena, quite possibly the passage of a low velocity bullet past his cerebellum.
Thus, irony among ironies, Kennedy may have told us something with his
very last breath, not with the ease of his words, but with the
difficulty of his breathing.
Two and a Half Witnesses
Having established, however, a strong case for a new perspective on the President’s wounds, the statements of three autopsy witnesses become relevant. While their memories and/or impressions could very well be wrong, if they are correct, then the conspiracy to suppress the medical evidence began much earlier than one might otherwise believe. The first witness whose statements are relevant to our analysis is Dr. George Burkley, the President’s physician. Burkley was the only doctor to view Kennedy’s remains in both Dallas and Bethesda. While he died some time ago, he nevertheless left behind a trail which tells an altogether different story than the one provided by the government.
1. The day after the assassination, Dr. Burkley prepared Kennedy’s death certificate. He listed the cause of death as simply “Gunshot wound, skull” (no specific entrance and exit). In the summary of facts he explained that Kennedy was “struck in the head” and that the wound was “shattering in type causing a fragmentation of the skull.” He said the “second wound occurred in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra.” This location was slightly lower than the location eventually decided on by the autopsy surgeons and was far too low to be compatible with the single-bullet theory. Also intriguing, however, Burkley’s mentioning the small entrance wound on the back discovered at the autopsy but failing to mention the small entrance wound on the back of the skull discovered at the autopsy suggests the possibility he had doubts this small entrance wound connected to the large defect.
2. On November 27, 1963, the FBI delivered
the Harper fragment to Dr. Burkley. Two memos found in HSCA record 180-10116-0052, File 02504, indicate Burkley received another skull fragment around this same time from the Secret Service and that both of these items were to be "turned over to Naval Hospital by Dr. Burkley for examination, analysis, and retention until other disposition is directed." And yet Dr. Humes, who was yet to perform his analysis of Kennedy's brain on the 27th, and had therefore not completed Kennedy's autopsy, told the ARRB that Burkley never even told him about the fragment. So what became of it? Did Burkley give it to Humes' superiors, who then kept it from Humes? Or did Burkley realize it had
both internal and external beveling, which indicated that it came from a
tangential wound, and then help it disappear?
3. On October 17, 1967, Dr. Burkley was
interviewed by William McHugh on behalf of the Kennedy Library. When asked
about the autopsy of President Kennedy, he told McHugh “My conclusion in regard
to the cause of death was the bullet wound which involved the skull. The discussion as to whether a previous
bullet also enters into it, but as far as the cause of death the immediate
cause was unquestionably the bullet which shattered the brain and the
calvarium.” While, on the surface, this
seems to agree with the autopsy report, the “previous bullet” mentioned by
Burkley could very well mean “the previous bullet to strike Kennedy in the
skull but not shatter his calvarium.”
Supporting this speculation, when McHugh asked Burkley if he agreed with
the Warren Report’s conclusions “on
the number of bullets that entered the President’s body,” Dr. Burkley replied
“I would not care to be quoted on that.” (It's possible, of course, that Burkley's concern here was the throat wound, which he never associated with the back wound. If he thought this wound was unrelated to the back wound, then he would have by extension believed Kennedy to have been hit at least three times, from both the front and from the back.)
4. A memo created by the original chief counsel of the HSCA, Richard Sprague, and found years later in his files, indicates that on March 18, 1977, he spoke to William Illig, Burkley’s attorney. Illig told Sprague that Burkley had information indicating that Oswald did not act alone.
5. When HSCA staff member Andy Purdy finally spoke to Burkley on August 17, 1977, however, the most Burkley said about the possibility of a conspiracy was that “the doctors didn’t section the brain and that if it had been done, it might be possible to prove whether or not there were two bullets.”
6. On November 28, 1978, towards the end of the HSCA's investigation, Burkley signed a sworn statement stating that he was interviewed by Mark Flanagan and Andy Purdy of the HSCA in January 1978. In this statement, he acknowledges “I supervised the autopsy and directed the fixation and retention of the brain for future study of the course of the bullet or bullets.” (I hope to find Flanagan and Purdy’s account of this interview in the future.)
7. In a letter accompanying the statement and found in the HSCA's files Burkley noted further that "Had the Warren Commission deemed to call me, I would have stated why I retained the brain and the possibility of two bullets having wounded President John F. Kennedy's brain would have been eliminated."
8. In his book Reasonable Doubt, writer Henry Hurt claimed to have spoken to Burkley in 1982 and to have been told by Burkley that he believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy.
9. A January, 1997 memo by Doug Horne of the ARRB reflects that he contacted Burkley’s daughter and asked her to grant access to the files on her father kept by his former attorney, William Illig. It was hoped that these files would contain the information Mr. Illig had called Richard Sprague about almost twenty years earlier. She initially agreed, but by July, 1998, had changed her mind.
Nevertheless, by piecing together Burkley’s statements, we can approximate what he was thinking. Nowhere in his statements did he ever say the fatal bullet entered the back of Kennedy’s head. Consequently, when he mentioned a “previous bullet” to McHugh it’s possible he was referring to an earlier, less severe head wound. Since his placement of the back wound ruled out the single-bullet theory, and since he suspected two bullets struck Kennedy in the head, it’s quite possible he suspected Kennedy was killed in the manner here proposed.
A second witness of interest was Tom Robinson, who worked at
Gawler’s Funeral Home. He helped clean
up and reconstruct the President’s skull after the autopsy. While his recollections of many of the
details of that night were foggy—some changed dramatically between his 1977
interview with the HSCA and his 1996 interview with the ARRB—he nevertheless
made several relevant statements. As we've seen he told the HSCA that “The inside of the
skull was badly smashed.” But that's just the start of it. He also remembered something about the bullet exiting
from the throat, that the bullet “might have been coming from the head and
down,” and that he remembers the doctors probing “at the base of the head,"
with an “18 inch piece of metal.” He
told the ARRB, 19 years later that, “there were fractures all over the cranium,
including the floor of the skull,” and that he had “vivid recollections of a
very long, malleable probe being used during the autopsy. His most vivid recollection of the probe is
seeing it inserted near the base of the
brain in the back of the head (after removal of the brain), and seeing the tip
of the probe come out the tracheotomy incision in the anterior neck. He was adamant about this recollection. He also recalls seeing the wound high in the
back probed unsuccessfully, meaning that the probe did not exit anywhere.”
While some have sought to discredit Robinson’s statements by pointing out their inconsistencies, they can not be wholly discounted. His memories on some details have proved accurate. For instance, he told the ARRB that “he saw 2 or 3 small perforations or holes in the right cheek during embalming, when formaldehyde seeped through these small wounds and discoloration began to occur.” These wounds, not mentioned in the autopsy report, and rarely mentioned elsewhere, are indeed visible in the “stare of death” autopsy photo. While such wounds are consistent with a bullet's exploding near Kennedy’s temple while his head was leaning 25 degrees to its left, its difficult to see how they could be caused by a fragmenting bullet sailing upwards from his cranium, as proposed in Larry Sturdivan’s scenario.
Finally, there’s Richard Lipsey, who was a military aide to the general responsible for Kennedy’s funeral, General Wehle. Lipsey was ordered to keep an eye on the President’s body during the autopsy. Consequently he sat close by and tried to listen to what the doctors were saying. On 1-12-78, he prepared a face sheet for the HSCA staff depicting the President’s wounds as he remembered them being discussed. And they’re exactly as I've proposed! In dismissing Lipsey’s account, the HSCA medical report said “Lipsey apparently formulated his conclusions based on observations and not on the conclusions of the doctors. In this regard, he believed the massive defect in the head represented an entrance and an exit when it was only an exit. He also concluded the entrance in the rear of the head corresponded to an exit in the neck. This conclusion could not have originated with the doctors because during the autopsy they believed the neck defect only represented a tracheostomy incision...Thus, although Lipsey’s recollection of the number of defects to the body and the corresponding locations are correct, his conclusions are wrong and are not supported by any other evidence.”
How strange that the writers of this report represent these as Lipsey’s conclusions, when his testimony is clear that this is simply what he believes he overheard! The panel never even asked the autopsy doctors if a shot connecting the wounds in the hairline and neck had been considered. The possibility of such a trajectory is never even discussed in their report. If the HSCA forensic pathology panel believed Lipsey to be wrong then they should have just said he probably misunderstood the doctors. Instead, the panel, which concluded that the Bethesda doctors' recollections were off by 4 inches on the head wound and at least 2 inches on the back wound, concluded that Lipsey was obviously wrong because his testimony was in disagreement with the statements of these very same doctors!
Had the panel confused the Hippocratic Oath with a lifelong pledge to be hypocrites?
Something strange was most certainly afoot. In 2012, Lipsey's rapidly rejected recollection that, at least for a time, the autopsy doctors thought the large head wound represented both entrance and exit, gained further support. From an unexpected source: Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Now, it had long been noted that Hill, in both his Secret Service reports and Warren Commission testimony, claimed to have been shown Kennedy's wounds during the autopsy. And it had long been observed that he recalled seeing a small back wound, and large head wound, but had no recollection of being shown the supposed entrance on the back of Kennedy's head. But, until the publication of Hill's book Mrs. Kennedy and Me, in 2012, he'd never recounted a discussion he'd had with one of Kennedy's autopsists, presumably Dr. Humes. Here, then, is this account:
"Moving the body back and slightly to the left he pointed out the wound
in the upper right rear of the head. I swallowed hard, listening
closely, as the doctor explained what had happened. It appeared that the
impact of the bullet hitting the president's head was so severe, it
caused an explosive reaction within the makeup of the skull and brain,
so portions of the brain erupted outward, and a portion of the skull
with skin and hair attached became like a flap. The image of what I saw
when I was up above the backseat came flashing back into my mind. The
head wound was exposed and I could see into his brain, part of which had
exploded outward. It looked like somebody had flipped open the back of
his head, stuck in an ice-cream scoop and removed a portion of the
brain, then scattered it all over Mrs. Kennedy, the car, and myself. It
was a horrific sight. And I couldn't get it out of my mind. "Yes
Doctor," I said ''That is exactly what happened. I know I saw it. I was
five feet away from the president when it occurred.''
Note that in Hill's account neither the doctor nor Hill say anything of the wound's being an exit for a bullet entering elsewhere. Note further that Hill says the doctor attributed the nastiness of this wound to the impact of the bullet itself, and not that the bullet made a small hole upon impact and left a big exit after breaking up. Note also that Hill says it looked like someone had stuck an ice cream scoop into the head--with the force thereby coming from above, not below. Hill thought, and the doctor apparently agreed, that the bullet impacted at this location, the location later claimed to be an exit.
This is not as far-fetched as one might at first suspect. Hill's impression that the damage to the brain was less extensive than the damage to the skull was shared by at least one participant in the autopsy. In 1993, Humes and Boswell's assistant James Curtis Jenkins told writer William Law, that, after inspecting Kennedy's brain "My impression of the brain was that the damage to the area of the brain, the extensiveness of it, did not quite match the extensiveness of the wound. In other words, the damage to the brain seemed to be a little less than you would expect from (the damage to the skull)" (Note: the words "the damage to the skull" were in parentheses in Law's book, In the Eye of History, and presumably reflect that Jenkins ended his thought without ending his sentence.) (Note also that Jenkins spoke at the JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas on November 22, 2013, and said much the same thing he'd told Law 20 years before, with a slight variation. He now specified that he thought the brain, to be consistent with the size of the hole on the skull, should have been "butterflied," but was not.)
That Hill thought the bullet impacted at the supposed exit location, and not on the far back of the head, is confirmed, furthermore, by his eyewitness accounts of the shooting. Until 2010, he'd just say that Kennedy was "hit in the head." While promoting the book The Kennedy Detail, however, he got a bit more specific.
- "When I got to the presidential vehicle, just as I approached it, a third shot rang out, hitting the president in the head, just above the right ear, and left a hole about the size of my palm." (11-14-10 article in the London Daily Mail)
- "About the time I got to the car, just before I got there, the third shot--that I heard, and I felt--because it hit the President in the head just above the right ear, right up in here (he places his hand just above his right ear, with some of his fingers to the back of the his ear), and blood and brain matter were spewing all over the place, including on me." (11-20-10 interview of Hill and Gerald Blaine by Gary Mack at the Sixth Floor Museum, broadcast on CSPAN2, 12-12-10)
- "By the time I had just about got to the car--I was a few feet from it--there was another shot. It hit the President in the head above the right ear." (Unidentified book store appearance captured in Youtube video US Secret Service Agent Clint Hill Recalls Dallas, uploaded 11-24-10)
- "The third shot which I heard and felt because I was near the presidential vehicle when that happened hit the president in the head--upper right rear of the right ear--and it spewed blood matter, brain matter, and bone fragments out over the car and myself." (BBC 4 audio interview published online, 12-1-10)
- "As I approached the vehicle there was a third shot. It hit the President in the head, upper right rear of the right ear, caused a gaping hole in his head, which caused brain matter, blood, and bone fragments to spew forth out over the car, over myself." (12-3-10 appearance at Warwick's Bookstore, New York City, posted on Youtube)
He then repeated this claim in his follow-up book, Five Days in November, published November 2013:
- "The only thought going through my head is that I must get on the back of the president's car and form a protective shield behind President and Mrs. Kennedy. Nothing else matters. The motorcycle engines are loud in my ears, and the car continues to move forward, away from me. I'm running as fast as I can, my eyes focused on the two people in the backseat of the car. I'm gaining ground, almost there, my arms reaching for the handhold, when another shot rings out. The bullet hits its mark, piercing the back of President Kennedy's head, just above and behind his right ear. In the same instant, a vile eruption of blood, brain matter, and bone fragments spews out, showering over Mrs. Kennedy, across the trunk, and onto me."
Let's recall that the autopsy doctors ultimately claimed the bullet entered low on the back of the head. Let's recall as well that the red spot in the cowlick later claimed to mark the bullet's entrance was not remotely near the right ear.
This demonstrates that Hill thought, and apparently still thinks, the bullet entered at the supposed exit. That this is supported by his recollection of a discussion with a doctor is undoubtedly intriguing, and lends strong support for Lipsey's claim such things were discussed during the performance of Kennedy's autopsy.
It's actually worse than that. As Hill told the Warren Commission his observation of the President's wounds came after the autopsy had been completed, his recent account suggests that, at the end of the autopsy, the doctors were of the impression a bullet impacted at what they later claimed was an exit. Precisely as claimed by Richard Lipsey, in 1978.
There's actually more to this than one might think... Sibert and O'Neill, the FBI agents at Kennedy's autopsy, left the hospital after the autopsy had been completed. This was around the same time Clint Hill discussed the head wound with the doctor.
Here then is how Sibert and O'Neill described the head wound in their airtel to FBI headquarters, written shortly after they'd returned from Bethesda: "Total body x-ray and autopsy revealed one bullet entered back of head and thereafter emerged through top of skull." Note that they did not specify a small entrance low on the back of the head. This could be a reference to one wound of entrance and exit. While their official report, written over the next few days, describes in some detail the discovery and probing of Kennedy's back wound, no mention is made of the discovery of a small entrance wound on the back of Kennedy's head. Instead, they write the following:
"Also during the latter stages of the autopsy, a piece of
the skull measuring 10 x 6.5 centimeters was brought to Dr. HUMES who was
instructed that this had been removed from the President’s skull. Immediately
this section of skull was X-Rayed, at which time it was determined by Dr. HUMES
that one corner of this section revealed minute metal particles and inspection
of this same area disclosed a chipping of the top portion of this piece, both of
which indicated that this had been the point of exit of the bullet entering the
On the basis of the latter two developments, Dr. HUMES stated that the pattern was clear that the one bullet had entered the President’s back and had worked its way out of the body during external cardiac massage and that a second high velocity bullet had entered the rear of the skull and had fragmentized prior to exit through the top of the skull. He further pointed out that X-Rays had disclosed numerous fractures in the cranial area which he attributed to the force generated by the impact of the bullet in its passage through the brain area. He attributed the death of the President to a gunshot wound in the head."
Now, this, too, could be a reference to one wound of entrance and exit. While the small hole by the EOP described in the autopsy report is, in my impression, readily apparent in the autopsy photos, the thought occurs that the doctors failed to tell the FBI about this hole, for fear it would leave them with more wounds than could readily be explained. Let's remember that the autopsy report, in which this wound was first described, was not provided the FBI until the Warren Commission asked for it, weeks after the FBI had, for all intents and purposes, closed the case.
The subsequent statements of Sibert and O'Neill support this analysis. An HSCA report on a 1977 interview of Sibert reflects that he said the head wound--singular, not plural--was in the "upper back of the head." It notes further that he "has no recollection of writing down the location of the entrance wound in the President's head." It then presents a drawing, presumably made by Sibert, in which one wound is depicted on Kennedy's head, a large wound high on the back of his head. Sibert's 1978 affidavit for the HSCA confirms that, yessirree, he had no recollection of the small bullet hole of entrance described by the doctors. He describes three wounds: the large head wound, the neck wound they believed to be a tracheotomy incision, and the back wound. He then discusses his earlier meeting with HSCA staff members Kelly and Purdy, in which he was shown the autopsy report, and writes "I have no recollection of hearing or writing down measurements relating to the entrance wound in the president's head." He confirmed this, yet again, in 1997, when testifying before the ARRB. When asked if he recalled any discussion of an entrance wound in the skull, he replied: "You mean, other than the one there that went in and that blew out on exit?" He then clarified: "A separate entrance wound in the skull? Is that your question?" But the ARRB's Jeremy Gunn failed to follow up on this. He did, however, ask Sibert if he recalled the doctors discussing a specific entrance location, to which Sibert admitted "I don't recall that. Just that general statement." Gunn then did the clarifying: "So they said it entered the back of the head?...But nothing more specific?" To which Sibert replied "Yes" and "Correct."
O'Neill was better, but not much. The HSCA report on its 1978 interview of O'Neill reflects that "In reference to the head wound, O'Neill recalled that it was massive and pointed towards the right side of his (O'Neill's) head." The report then claims "O'Neill said that the autopsy doctors felt that the bullet that entered the head struck the center, low portion of the head and exited from the top, right side, towards the front." He then drew his interviewers a diagram of this wound, in which the words "entry" and "exit" were written at opposite ends of a large hole.
Well, hello. This suggests he never saw the small hole near the hairline described in the autopsy report. This is further supported by his 1978 affidavit, in which he repeats that the head wound was "massive" and on the "right side of his head," and repeats, to a word, "that the autopsy doctors felt that the bullet that entered the head
struck the center, low portion of the head and exited from the top,
right side, towards the front." It's intriguing that he so readily reports what the autopsy doctors "felt," but is so hesitant to report what he saw. In any event, in 1997, when O'Neill was asked by the ARRB's Gunn if he recalled being told the measurements for this entrance wound, he got a bit testy, and replied first that "If it's in my report, then I do recall it" and then, a bit later, "if they did make a statement to that effect, I would have put that in my report."
Neither Sibert, nor O'Neill, nor Hill, were shown or told about the small entrance wound near the hairline during the autopsy.
And there's yet another curiosity. While Hill's boss, Roy Kellerman, told the Warren Commission he'd observed an entry wound about the width of a "little finger" in Kennedy's "hairline" an inch and a half to two inches below the hole on the back of the head on display at the end of the autopsy, the 8-29-77 HSCA report on an interview with Kellerman reflects that he only recalled "one large hole in the head and no small holes in the head." Not sure what to make of that... Perhaps Kellerman had become aware of the controversy surrounding the entrance wound he'd once claimed to have seen, and was trying to stay out of it. Or perhaps those interviewing Kellerman for the HSCA, Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy, asked him a quick question about the head wound, and were unaware of his previous testimony.
In any event, it seems possible the autopsy doctors deliberately concealed the existence of the small hole on the back of the head from the FBI. Were they worried its existence would force them to conclude there'd been more than one shooter? Did they then, the next day, after realizing they could claim this hole marked the entrance for a bullet exiting high on Kennedy's head, change their collective mind?
Something strange was most certainly afoot.
The Return of Richard Lipsey
Well, this might lead one to believe Lipsey had changed his mind, and that he no longer stood by what he'd told the HSCA back in 1978. Beyond claiming that "the direction" of the bullets as determined at autopsy supported that the shots came from behind, after all, he avoided detailed discussion of the President's wounds. One might conclude, then, that he no longer stood by his earlier account of the autopsy, an account that was totally at odds with the autopsy as presented by Posner and Bugliosi.
But one would almost certainly be wrong. In one of the interviews, Lipsey let it slip that he'd studied the FBI's report on the autopsy, and that he largely agreed with it. This report claimed that no passage connecting the back wound with the throat wound had been discovered during the autopsy. This was precisely what Lipsey had told the HSCA. Well, if Lipsey had subsequently come to believe there had been such a passage, well, then, why didn't he say so?
And there's yet another reason to suspect Lipsey never wavered from his statements to the HSCA. In none of these post-HSCA interviews did Lipsey bring up his earlier claim a bullet entered low on the back of the head and exited from the throat. But more to the point, in none of these interviews did the interviewer point out that the "official" story pushed by the men to whom Lipsey was now deferring--Posner and Bugliosi--holds that no bullet of any kind entered low on the back of the head, and that, as a consequence, no discussion of a bullet entering low on the back of the head could have been overheard by Lipsey during the autopsy. And that Lipsey's statements to the HSCA were thereby balderdash...
In fact, these interviews failed to mention Lipsey's ever saying anything at odds with the Posner/Bugliosi version of the Oswald-did-it scenario.
But he was not always so careful. A 10-31-09 article on Lipsey found on 225BatonRouge.com, for example, claimed that upon re-reading his statements to the HSCA, Lipsey, "notes that some of his responses were not as clean and concise as they could have been." He didn't admit he was wrong, mind you. The article then discussed the autopsy in some detail, and claimed the "doctors concluded there were three entry wounds: one in the lower neck, one in the upper neck/lower skull region and one at the rear crown of the head." Well, this was just bizarre; one might guess that the writer of this article, LSU Professor, James E Shelledy, was trying to hide that the bullet hole now claimed to be the fatal bullet hole, the one on the crown of the head, was not observed or discussed at the autopsy. To wit, Shelledy then offered "Several years later, second opinions by doctors determined Kennedy was hit by only two bullets." So, yeah, Shelledy made a strange mistake, and this mistake allowed him to conceal that the wound now claimed to be the fatal entrance wound was not observed by any witness to the autopsy, including Lipsey, and that Lipsey also failed to recall any discussion of such a wound.
A look back at Lipsey's words to the HSCA, however, put this strange passage in context, and make it clear Lipsey was responsible for the description of three bullet entrances, and not Shelledy. Lipsey told the HSCA's investigators: "as I remember them there was one bullet that went in the back of the head that exited and blew away part of his face. And that was sort of high up, not high up but like this little crown on the back of your head right there, three or four inches above your neck. And then the other one entered at more of less the top of the neck, the other one entered more or less at the bottom of the neck." And to this, he later added: "I feel that there was really no entrance wound --maybe I said that --in the rear of his head. There was a point where they determined the bullet entered the back of his head but I believe all of that part of his head was blown. I mean I think it just physically blew away that part of his head. You know, just like a strip right across there or may have been just in that area -- just blew it out."
So, there it is. The entrance by the crown, to Lipsey's recollection, was the rear entrance to the large head wound he claimed had been described as a wound of both entrance and exit. It was not the small red spot in the cowlick later "discovered" by the Clark Panel. Lipsey had, after all, no recollection of an entrance wound in the cowlick.
It seems clear from this, moreover, that Lipsey, who left the military in 1964 to embark on a long and prosperous career as an arms dealer and big game hunter, wanted it both ways. Much as Governor Connally, and FBI agent Frank O'Neill, before him, he wanted to go on the record as saying Oswald did it by all himself, even though his personal recollections were in conflict with that conclusion. Strange. And sad.
45 Degrees of Coincidence?
- Sometime after coming to the suspicion the head wound entrance and throat wound were connected, I noticed a strange convergence of 45 degree angles. Consider:
1. The 2 AM 11/23/63 FBI teletype in which the results of Kennedy's autopsy were first forwarded to headquarters relates "One bullet hole located just below shoulders to right of spinal column and hand probing indicated trajectory angle of forty-five to sixty degrees downward and hole of short depth with no point of exit."
- 2. The 11/26/63 FBI report of FBI Agents Sibert and O'Neill on the autopsy confirms "During the latter stages of the autopsy, Dr. Humes located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column. This opening was probed by Dr. Humes with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. (Further probing determined that the distance traveled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger.)"
- 3. On March 16, 1964, Dr. Humes testified before the Warren Commission and the magic number 45 re-surfaced.
- Mr. Specter. Dr. Humes, can you compare the angles of declination on 385, point "C" to "D", with 388 "A" to "B"?
- Commander Humes. You will note, and again I must apologize for the schematic nature of
these diagrams drawn to a certain extent from memory and to a certain
extent from the written record, it would appear that the angle of
declination is somewhat sharper in the head wound, 388, than it is in 385.The reason for this, we feel, by the pattern of the entrance wound at 388
"A" causes us to feel that the President's head was bent
forward, and we feel this accounts for the difference in the angle, plus
undoubtedly the wounds were not received absolutely simultaneously, so
that the vehicle in which the President was traveling moved during this
period of time, which would account for a difference in the line of
- Mr. Specter. Aside from the slight differences which are notable by observing those two exhibits, are they roughly comparable to the angle of decline?
- Commander Humes. I believe them to be roughly comparable, sir.
- Mr. Specter. Could you state for the record an approximation of the angle of decline.
- Commander Humes. Mathematics is not my forte. Approximately 45 degrees from the horizontal.
Mr. Specter. And do you concur in Dr. Humes' statements and opinions regarding the point of entry C, point of exit D, and general angle on the flight of the missile?
Colonel Finck. I certainly do.
5 The angle of descent from the entrance near the EOP to the presumed exit on the throat is 45 degrees.
- This seems way too great a coincidence. I mean, think about it. The angle of descent in the drawing created for Humes was nowhere near 45 degrees. Dr. Humes was an educated man. Could he really have been this bad with numbers? Or was the 45 degrees something he remembered measuring at the autopsy? Since he mentioned 45 degrees to the FBI at the autopsy, in relation to the back wound, this sounds reasonable. That the FBI report says the back wound was discovered in the "later stages of the autopsy", moreover, suggests the possibility the doctors had already discussed the head wounds and throat wound prior to their discussion of the back wound. Perhaps, then, they measured a 45 degree descent between the head wound entrance and throat wound before discussing the back wound in detail, and had noted that the descent within the shallow back wound seemed to match this trajectory. Since Humes admitted burning his notes and the first draft of his report, we may never know.
On the other hand, it's possible the 45 degrees mentioned in Humes' testimony was not so innocent, and that, knowing full well that the FBI report reflected he'd said the bullet creating the back wound descended at 45 degrees, he was deliberately pretending that the 45 degree or greater descent approximated at the autopsy was consistent with the drawing he'd had created for the Warren Commission. If so, his volunteering that he was bad with math could have been his way of deflecting the criticisms he knew would come once people saw the FBI's report, and the actual wound locations. Humes certainly should have known that his night-of-the-autopsy approximation of a 45 degree descent was totally inconsistent with his day-after conclusion that the bullet exited from Kennedy's throat, on the same level as the entrance. If he was deliberately clouding the issue, as proposed in this scenario, then it seems possible as well that Arlen Specter, who'd met with FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill while preparing Humes' testimony, was well aware of Humes' deception, and had even coached him on it.
- There's something else to consider. An 11-23-63 AP news story on the assassination credited to Frank Cormier (found in the Sumter Daily Item) makes the bizarre claim that the assassin's bullets "traveled about 100 yards at a 45 degree angle." Well, where did this come from? If this was something Cormier had heard on the radio the evening before, or had seen in an earlier paper, well, perhaps Humes had heard this same broadcast, or had read this same article. If so, then perhaps this influenced his statements during the autopsy, and in turn his subsequent testimony. To be clear, he may have been under the belief the sniper's nest in the book depository really was 45 degrees above Kennedy at the time of the shooting. Perhaps he was simply too ignorant to realize a bullet traveling 100 yards at a 45 degree angle would have to have been fired from a building twice as tall as the book depository. Perhaps he fudged his numbers, and had relied on someone as clueless as himself.
There is no easy answer on this one. It's either a total coincidence that a bullet descending from the head wound entrance to the throat wound would be descending at 45 degrees and Dr. Humes said the angle of descent within the body of the bullet exiting the throat was 45 degrees OR Dr. Humes was not nearly as bad at math as he claimed but was instead trying to cover up the true nature of Kennedy's wounds. No, hold it. On second thought, there's a third option, where Dr. Humes was helping to cover up the bullet's actual trajectory, but knew this to be wrong, and was pretending to be bad at math in order to get the actual bullet trajectory--a descent within the body at 45 degrees-- on the record. I kinda like that one. Something to think about. Not that there's not already more than enough to think about.
- Probing the possibilities
Now, to be clear, I am not the first researcher to suspect the doctors connected the back of the head wound and throat wound at autopsy. A 1998 article by Milicent Cranor in the Kennedy Assassination Chronicles discussed this very possibility. It is important to note, however, that she relied almost exclusively on eyewitness statements in her article . That I would come to this suspicion based purely on the medical evidence, while she would come to this same suspicion via the eyewitness evidence, is undoubtedly intriguing.
As pointed out by Cranor, if the doctors noted the large head wound at the beginning of the autopsy, and a shallow back wound when they turned the body over, as seems logical, they had evidence for two bullets at the beginning of the autopsy. As they, or those supervising them, had presumably been told that Governor Connally had been wounded in his chest, wrist and thigh, that three shots had been heard, and that three bullet shells had been found in the sniper's nest, they would have known from the beginning then that their finding an additional wound on Kennedy would mean more shots were fired than heard, and that there had almost certainly been more than one shooter.
If the doctors later discovered a small bullet entrance on the back of Kennedy's head, and probed this wound, and found that it connected to the tracheotomy incision on Kennedy's throat, as claimed by Lipsey and Robinson, they would have done so, then, with the full knowledge they were out of bounds, so to speak, and had found evidence for a high-tech conspiracy using silenced ammunition. This makes the subsequent claim that they were not allowed to dissect and examine Kennedy's neck--which would have verified this trajectory--all the more intriguing. Were they told not to do so out of respect for the Kennedy family, as claimed, or because this would have demonstrated this third wound beyond all doubt? Did they in fact probe the wound then decide amongst themselves to pretend they hadn't done so?
Or was there an even broader "cover story"? Did they actually not only probe the wound, but remove the organs of the neck afterward?
Maybe. In 1977, Tom Robinson told the HSCA not only that the wound was probed but that the neck organs were removed during the course of the autopsy. Of course, the autopsy doctors denied this to their graves.
So... from this it would seem like the autopsy team knew of the throat wound on the night of the autopsy. This possibility is undermined, however, by Dr. Humes' and Dr. Finck's failure to acknowledge knowing of this wound at so early a time, and the failure of the FBI's report on the autopsy to mention such a wound. The FBI's failure to mention this wound, of course, can be explained by the disturbing possibility the doctors knew full well that their documenting a bullet's passage from the back of the head to the throat would make a conclusion of conspiracy inevitable, and that they then conspired to hide this from the FBI by only telling them of evidence for two bullets--a shallow back wound, and an entrance and exit on the head.
So why, if this is so, would they reverse their findings the next day, and suddenly claim the back wound connected to the throat wound? Well, perhaps Dr. Humes realized after talking to Dr. Perry in Dallas that Perry had discussed this throat wound in detail during the Parkland press conference, and that the cat was out of the bag. This is the official story, after all, and in this case it actually makes sense.
Well, if Humes knew about the throat wound during the autopsy, then why didn't he just claim the back wound connected to the throat wound then and there, one might ask? Well, that question has an even better answer. The FBI agents at the autopsy, Sibert and O'Neill, had witnessed the probing of the back wound, and had been led to believe it was a scientific fact that the bullet creating the back wound did not exit. Dr. Humes, then, may have realized that he couldn't turn around and claim that the bullet creating the back wound had exited the throat, and not arouse suspicion from the agents. He may then have simply opted to pretend there was no throat wound, in hopes it had been overlooked in Dallas.
Or perhaps not. The statements of Dr. Humes' and Dr. Boswell's assistants at the autopsy, James Jenkins and Paul O'Connor, have long been used by conspiracy theorists to suggest a conspiracy. And yet, although O'Connor told author William Law that the autopsists thought the throat wound was a bullet wound, but were prevented from probing the wound by Admiral Burkley, neither of them recalled the throat wound being probed on the night of the autopsy... Now, this may have been by design. A 1977 HSCA report on an interview with O'Connor relates that "Boswell or Humes told him to go outside the room" while the body was dissected and probed, and that a Marine guarded him while he waited outside.
So...IF the doctors put a probe in the back of the head wound, and found it came out at the throat wound, as asserted by Lipsey and Robinson, it would appear they were being deliberately secretive about it...and that almost no one at the autopsy knew about it.
Now, one might wish to assume that this probably didn't occur, and that the doctors probably didn't even know about the throat wound during the autopsy. But the suspicion that the doctors at least suspected a bullet had come down the neck, and were prevented, for political purposes, from following up on this, cannot be readily dismissed. Such a possibility, after all, would explain why some autopsy witnesses (Lipsey and Robinson) thought this trajectory HAD been demonstrated, why some key participants (Boswell, Ebersole, Stringer, and O'Connor) thought they knew of the throat wound on the night of the autopsy, and why still other key participants (Humes, Finck, and Jenkins) and witnesses (Sibert and O'Neill) felt sure the throat wound was not probed nor acknowledged as a bullet wound on the night of the assassination.
I mean, let's get real here. Two wounds were observed at Parkland, a head wound and a throat wound. The doctors treating Kennedy, moreover, had announced in a press conference held shortly after his death that these wounds may have been connected. The dissection of Kennedy's neck to determine the likelihood of this connection, then, would have to be viewed as one of the primary purposes of the autopsy held several hours later. And yet, of all the internal structures on Kennedy's body between his waist and the top of his head, the only area not examined was his neck.
This smells to high heaven.
Chest X-ray/HSCA Entrance Comparison
After reading Lipsey’s account of the autopsy, and considering the 45 degrees of coincidence, I went back and re-read most of the other accounts of the autopsy, and found another reference supporting Lipsey’s contention that the doctors suspected a bullet came down the neck. In the HSCA interview of autopsy photographer John Stringer, he distinctly recalled the autopsists having a “conversation about the pathway through the neck and specifically discussion about air in the throat.” This implies that, far from believing the throat wound was a mere tracheotomy incision, the doctors had other suspicions all along. The “air in the throat” is, almost certainly, a reference to the chest/neck x-ray.
Upon close examination of the chest/neck x-ray, one notes a black spot (representing air in the tissues) at the approximate level of the exit, at approximately the midline of the throat. This would appear to be the exit. Surprisingly, however, the black line which one would have to presume represents the bullet path, can be traced backwards up the neck, to a point much higher than the purported entrance in the President’s back. That the HSCA forensic pathology panel attached no importance to this “interstitial emphysema” (air in the tissues), even though one of its consultants, Dr. Seaman, considered it “highly suspicious compared with the other side,” whilst simultaneously embracing a bullet path between the hole in the back and the hole in the neck, which tore no muscles and broke no bones, yet could not be probed by the autopsy doctors, is mysterious, if not disturbing. That their projected path through the neck starting at the back entrance more than an inch and a half to the right of the President’s mid-line and ending at their proposed exit in the throat slightly to the left of the President’s mid-line blasted right through Kennedy’s spine, while they claimed the bullet never touched a bone, makes their actions doubly mysterious, or disturbing. They simply refused to follow the evidence. Or make sense.
While I initially had doubts that a wound track could be so
obvious, I later realized that x-rays are routinely used to identify wound tracks as well as the projectiles creating these wounds. Here's Dr.
Vincent J. DiMaio, in his standard text Gunshot Wounds, discussing the
importance of radiology in discovering bullets and wound tracks. (Let's recall that
no track could be found into Kennedy's chest from his back wound.)
"Using x-rays to locate a
bullet will save valuable time at autopsy whether one is dealing with a
routine or a special situation. In instances of bullet emboli, x-rays
are invaluable in locating the bullet. Hours of tedious dissection can
be saved. X-rays are also helpful in instances where a bullet track
abruptly ends in muscle and no missile is present at the end of the
track. Theoretically, one should have a hemorrhagic track from the
entrance to the site where the bullet finally lodges. However, in some
instances — especially with small-caliber bullets such as the .22
rimfire — the last 3 to 4 in. of the track, if it is in skeletal muscle,
may be free from hemorrhage and virtually unidentifiable because the
bullet has slipped in between and along fascial planes. Such an
occurrence is seen most commonly in the arm and thigh."
note that DiMaio associates the failure of an x-ray to depict a clear wound track with low-velocity,
small caliber wounds of the arm and thigh. And then note that he restricts this failure to the last 3 to 4 inches of such a
wound track. Well, this serves to highlight just how unusual
it would be for a high-velocity military round to enter a back and exit a
neck and leave no wound track that can be probed from the back wound, or even observed on
And, this, assuming the throat wound is an exit, suggests that the "interstitial air" on the x-ray is in fact a wound track leading back to an entrance higher on the body than the back wound.
I even found a few people who agree with me that this "air" on the x-ray represents a wound
track. People who have seen a few wound
tracks. Amazingly, the Clark Panel
report, when discussing the back wound and the throat wound, declares: “There
is a track between the two cutaneous wounds as indicated by subcutaneous
emphysema and small metallic fragments on the x-rays…” Well, I’ll be! Perhaps
this is the key to the Clark Panel’s mis-representing the vertical distance
between the two wounds—while they could see that the bullet came down the neck,
they just couldn’t fathom that it was coming from anywhere but the back
Hmmm... If someone were to coin the expression “assassination research makes strange bedfellows,” this would be a perfect example.
Yet another who believes the shadows are a wound track is Larry Sturdivan, the HSCA ballistics expert. In his book, The JFK Myths, Sturdivan declares “The x-rays show a faint, but perceptible, shadow of a wound track running from the entry location shown in the autopsy photos to the exit point at the suprasternal notch.” Since Sturdivan adds “The entry was located just above the transverse process of the first thoracic vertebra” however, it’s clear he’s trying to have it both ways, using an entrance slightly higher than the HSCA’s entrance location and insisting that the exit in the throat was not higher than the back wound, as claimed by the HSCA, but lower. Since the shadows on the x-ray begin much higher than T-1, however, we should reject Sturdivan’s conclusion. Moreover, I find it interesting that Sturdivan would call his book The JFK Myths, and claim it debunks the theories of the conspiracy community, and then submit that the HSCA had the entry location of the head wound, the exit location of the head wound, and the entrance location of the back wound incorrect. Perhaps he meant for his title to cut both ways. More to the point, since it seems clear that Sturdivan is deliberately disregarding the wound locations of the forensic pathology panel in his work, the question must be asked: why is it considered unpatriotic, unscientific, or anti-American to question the specific conclusions of the government’s panels when that leads you to conclude Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, when it’s not considered unpatriotic, unscientific or anti-American to question their conclusions if you say Oswald acted alone? This double-standard, I believe, says a lot about why this case is still relevant.
Lattimer Drawing/X-ray/HSCA Drawing Comparison
One of the great surprises one receives when one comes to the conclusion that the air in the neck on the x-rays suggests a bullet traveled down Kennedy's neck is that Dr. John Lattimer, as solid a single-assassin theorist as ever walked the earth, agreed. (Yep,
on this issue, the Clark Panel, Lattimer, Sturdivan, and I--surprise, surprise--agree!) In his 1972 articles on the medical evidence, and then again in his 1980 book, Kennedy and Lincoln, Lattimer presented a schematic drawing of the line of injuries in Kennedy’s neck. He declared, proudly, that his drawing was
based upon an actual x-ray. On January 10, 1972, in a radio interview with WNBC's Long John Nebel, moreover, Lattimer stated that when studying Kennedy's x-rays one could see "air in the tissues in President Kennedy's neck along the track of the bullet." In Kennedy and Lincoln (1980), furthermore, he specified that these x-rays showed "air in the muscle planes of (Kennedy's) neck adjacent to the back of the esophagus and trachea." It is clear, then, that he believed the sharp descent in his schematic was justified by the air in the tissues apparent on Kennedy's x-ray.
This explains an awful lot. Much of the strangeness one encounters while studying Lattimer's research comes from his trying to correlate the track of the bullet he saw on the x-rays with his belief this bullet entered Kennedy's back. To do this, Lattimer distorted the arrangement of Kennedy’s clothes and the shape of Kennedy's body on his drawing. This allowed the bullet to create an entrance on Kennedy's jacket 5 inches from the top of
his collar, enter his back at the level of his “Adam’s Apple,” and travel inches down his neck. The nonsense of such a trajectory, and the desperation of Lattimer in proposing such a trajectory, is more than readily apparent.
When one compares Lattimer's drawing with Kennedy's actual x-ray, the supposed basis of the drawing, moreover, other distortions becomes clear. For one, the bullet fragments identified by a D on Lattimer's drawing, and purported by him to be "near the tip of the transverse process of the seventh cervical vertebrae," are not spread out above and below the bullet track, as depicted by Latimer, but an inch or more below the bullet track he proposes. (The seventh vertebrae is at the top of the black area along the spine on the x-ray.) For two, the lung in his drawing is inches higher on the body than it is on the x-ray. As this lifts the bruise on the lung--something unlikely to be acquired by a bullet passing inches away--up to the bullet path, the reason for this distortion seems evident.
When one compares Lattimer’s drawing of the President’s wounds to a similar drawing created by the HSCA, his distortions become even more clear. The HSCA drawing, for starters, has the bullet entering Kennedy’s back heading slightly upwards through the body while Lattimer’s drawing has the bullet headed sharply downwards. The HSCA, in keeping with the autopsy photographs, moreover, places the back wound on the back while Lattimer lifts it up onto the neck. While the two present the lungs in the same place in comparison to the bullet track, this is not an agreement between the two but is actually a discrepancy, as Lattimer’s bullet track is much higher within the body. While the HSCA presents the lungs as just below the level of exit when the body is erect, but higher than the exit due to Kennedy’s severe forward pitch, Lattimer presents the lungs as being higher than the exit even when erect. Since Lattimer does not dispute that the bullet exited the throat midway between the Adam’s apple and the bony notch at the bottom of the throat, moreover, this suggests that he believed Kennedy’s lungs extended above his rib cage, into his neck.
Of course, this is preposterous. It’s clear then that Lattimer, as Sturdivan, was trying to have it both ways: while his interpretation of the x-rays led him to believe the bullet traveled down the neck, he still wanted to be able to say the passage of this bullet bruised Kennedy’s lung, even though his proposed trajectory would pass approximately three inches away from the nearest lung. While some, including Lattimer, have argued that the confusion around Kennedy’s back wound is related to the fact that Kennedy’s Addison’s disease made him a hunchback, I don’t believe that even one of these men has been foolish enough to suggest Kennedy’s lungs changed position and rose above the level of his ribcage as a result of his affliction.
It was while comparing the lungs in these drawings that I had a bit of a breakthrough. While the HSCA and Dr. Lattimer were in agreement on the shape of the bruise on Kennedy’s lung, which is consistent in relation to the bullet cavity and is thus supportive that the cavity was the cause, I realized that on this issue both drawings were inaccurate. While the photograph of this bruise is one the doctors remembered taking, but never saw again, Dr. Humes’ testimony on the bruise is quite clear, and is in disagreement with the drawings. He told the Warren Commission that the bruise was 5 centimeters at its greatest diameter “and was wedge shaped in configuration, with its base toward the top of the chest and its apex down towards the substance of the lung,” and repeated that it “was a roughly pyramid-shaped bruise with its base toward the surface of the upper portion of the lung, and the apex down into the lung tissue.” Humes was telling them, therefore, that the bruise came to a point. Such a bruise would not be expected from a temporary cavity, which radiates in an oval, but could very well have come as a result of a bullet deflecting from an overlying bone. Articles on pulmonary contusions from gunshot wounds reflect that they are far more prominent when a bullet slaps against a rib or chest wall than when a bullet actually traverses the substance of the lung. One such article, found in a 1944 edition of Surgery, reported on a study by Dr. Rollin Daniel in which dogs were shot and immediately dissected. This study connected the level of pulmonary contusion to the amount of energy released into the adjacent non-lung tissue. The single-bullet scenario, in which a bullet magically slides between muscles and does not damage the arteries, necessitates that the damage to the surrounding tissue was minimal. This suggests then that the lung was bruised through some other mechanism than the temporary cavity of the bullet. The first thoracic vertebrae attaches to the spine just above the uppermost margin of the lung. Did a bullet deflect off this bone from above, and thereby bruise the underlying lung?
The evidence suggests as much.
Reflections On Deflection
Should one doubt that Lattimer believed the bullet traveled
some distance down Kennedy’s neck, one need only look at another photo published
in Kennedy and Lincoln. This photo
depicted the purported path of the bullet alongside a skeleton. This bullet passes the spine considerably above the level of the first rib. Well, this is mighty interesting seeing as the caption to this photo relates: "It seemed obvious on our first inspection in 1972 that bullet 399 hit the back of Kennedy's neck and grazed the tip of the transverse process of one of the lower cervical vertebra, or, perhaps, the first thoracic vertebra, as in this model." Well, by golly. The first rib is at the level of the first thoracic vertebra. The bullet on Lattimer's model passes INCHES above this location. It seems clear, then, that Lattimer was trying to convince his readers that a bullet entering at the level of T-1, where the HSCA had placed the entrance wound the year before, would nevertheless travel downward in the neck and pass well above the first rib. This is lunacy of the highest order.
In any case, in this photo, Lattimer made crystal clear his own belief the bullet entered at the level of C-3/C-4, the third or fourth cervical vertebrae, near the middle of Kennedy’s neck, where no one but no one saw an entrance. Why he didn’t realize such a bullet path would be more likely to have come from the hole in the hairline than from the hole in the shoulder can perhaps be attributed to his lack of imagination.
It certainly occurred to Dr. Cyril Wecht. A transcript to a January 10, 1972 WNBC radio interview of Dr. Cyril Wecht by John Nebel (found in the Weisberg Archives) reflects that Wecht, when told Dr. Lattimer, who'd viewed the autopsy materials the day before, claimed the x-rays showed the bullet entered inches higher than as shown on the Rydberg drawings, had thoughts similar to my own. He told Nebel that if the bullet hole was inches higher, as claimed by Lattimer: "I'm telling you that that moves it from the back of the neck where it had been previously moved from lower down in the back, we're now moving it up higher into the head. I'm beginning to wonder whether Dr. Lattimer may have confused this with the bullet hole of entrance in the back of the skull near the right occipital protuberance which is that bony prominence that you'll feel on the back of your head if you'll put your hand there now and touch. Really--and I'm not being, again, sarcastic--if he moves up the bullet hole which is diagrammed in at the back of the neck, if he said to you that it's really a couple of inches higher, you're already getting up into the region of the occipital protuberance. I'm beginning to wonder which bullet hole he's talking about."
Unfortunately, Wecht failed to follow up on this when viewing the materials that August. And yet, seeing as he later told Vincent Bugliosi he'd had thoughts the throat wound marked the entrance for a bullet exiting near the EOP, it appears he continued to be intrigued by this possibility.
In any event, when one reflects that there were unexplained radiopaque densities by the transverse process (a bony finger sticking out from the spine) of both the President’s sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae (C-6 and C-7), and that the transverse process to the first thoracic vertebrae, just above his lung, was almost certainly fractured, one should realize that the damage to his vertebrae and the bruise upon his lung can be more readily explained by a bullet coming down his neck than by a bullet coming from an entrance on his back, which left no probe-able missile path through his muscles. That the bullet exited at the level of the lowest damage to his vertebrae, T-1, as opposed to the middle damage of his vertebrae, is yet another indication that that the damage did not come as a result of the temporary cavity surrounding the bullet, especially since in the Forensic Pathology Panel’s interpretation the bullet was heading upwards in the body, and would therefore have been some distance from C-6 as it passed.
When one studies the x-rays, moreover, one can see a deflection of the bullet track where the first rib
meets the spine. The shadow changes course and
heads for the throat. Due to the aforementioned bruise, it would appear then that
bone was struck. This, then, could represent one of the two deflections necessary for
the bullet striking Kennedy near the EOP to exit from the middle of his throat. The other one occurred upon the entrance to
This would seem to be more than just a coincidence. Perhaps we are indeed on the right...track.
See No Evil
When I re-read the Final Report of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, I was finally able to satisfy myself that a bullet descended in Kennedy’s neck, most logically from the entrance in the hairline. Not because of what was said in the report as much as what was not said. What was not said was a convincing explanation for what appears to be a bullet track heading down the neck.
Here’s how the forensic pathology panel dealt with the white spots apparent on x-ray number 8 and identified by the Clark Panel and Dr. Lattimer as possible bullet or bone fragments. These fragments just so happen to be directly along the bullet path from the occipital bone to the throat wound. An acknowledgment of these fragments as fragments, whether bone or metal, would call into question the single-bullet theory as proposed by the HSCA. So the doctors did what all prominent doctors do in a time of crisis. They brought in some specialists to tell them what they want to hear... Dr. McDonnell said the white spots were “artifacts not uncommonly caused by foreign materials on the film or in the developing solution.” He stated further that the dark shadow seen on x-ray number 8 was not seen on x-ray number 9 and that this suggested this shadow too was an artifact. Dr. Chase said “the 1 by 2.5 millimeter object was too small and too dense to be bone; rather, the little trail of dots near the fragment was indicative of artifacts.” Dr. Seaman said “there was a fragment-like object near the transverse process which was too dense to be bone (“fairly confident”) He said the transverse process appears normal with air present (“possibly byproduct of tracheotomy”), calling it “highly suspicious compared with the other side.” So here we have the HSCA’s radiology consultants basically saying that they don’t know what to make of the x-rays but that it’s okay by them if the forensic pathology panel decides they want to dismiss as artifacts what might just be bullet fragments in Kennedy’s neck. They’re also giving them the wink wink nod nod that they can call the apparent wound track coming down the neck, the possibility of which is never mentioned in the report, by the way, as “air” from the tracheotomy. Naturally, the panel took them up on their offer.
Here’s the hot air belched forth by the panel to dismiss the “air” in the neck, and the unspoken possibility the bullet came down the neck: “The panel noted a general haziness and poorly defined decrease in radiodensity in the neck tissues just above the right chest cavity in films 8 and 9, and attributed this to interstitial emphysema. This was probably related to the surgical tracheotomy or missile injury to the trachea, followed by positive pressure insufflation, with a slight escape of air into the adjacent tissues. Continued breathing by the President, possible even after the trachea had been perforated by the missile because the overlyng defect was more or less sealed by the shirt and necktie, could also have caused air to leak into the adjacent tissues.” So the air backed up into Kennedy’s neck when his shirt and necktie somehow sealed off the exit from his throat???? And, by some strange chance, this air backed up into the neck on the right side only, even though the exit on the trachea was, according to the HSCA, slightly to the left of midline? And this air went up in a line that deflected off the first rib? When we recall that radiologist Dr. David Davis told the panel that air from a skull base fracture came down the neck, their lame attempts to explain how this air went up the neck seem especially pathetic. Clearly, as revealed by their dismissal of Lipsey’s statements, they refused to acknowledge the possibility that anything could come down the neck. One wonders why this is. I mean, why not just call the air an artifact and get it over with?
Unlike Dr. McDonnell, by the way, I don’t believe the dark shadows in x-ray number 8 are an artifact. Although there is clearly more air in the tissues than in the earlier x-ray, I believe they represent the same wound track as in the pre-autopsy x-ray, just from a slightly different angle. Since the bullet creating this wound was not found, moreover, it seems possible a piece of the bullet is still in there somewhere, hidden amongst the bones.
Perhaps this mystery will be solved when Kennedy is finally exhumed.
Down the Neck?
Or perhaps sooner... In 2009, after inspecting the x-rays of Martin Luther King found on the Mary Ferrell website, and entered into evidence during the HSCA hearings on his death, I realized that a comprehensive study of the x-rays of gunshot wounds to the neck might very well prove that a missile passed down Kennedy's neck, leaving air in the tissues. Although the soft-nosed bullet striking King's face and traveling down his neck left bullet fragments along the way, and although this bullet released far more energy in King's neck than the bullet presumed to have descended Kennedy's neck, the pattern and amount of air in the neck on King's x-ray was actually quite similar to the pattern and amount of air in the neck on Kennedy's x-ray, with the C-7/T-1 vertebrae in King's neck suffering obvious damage, much as Kennedy's.
Well, golly. This suggests a bullet traveled down Kennedy's neck.
Still later in that year, I came across something else to give us hope these nagging questions may someday be resolved. With the publication of Doug Horne's Inside the Assassination Records Review Board came the dissemination of his reports on three meetings the ARRB had with three consultants. Of forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kirschner's 4/11/96 meeting with the ARRB and study of the x-rays, Horne writes that the "small dark areas near T-1 and T-2 were felt to be air due to some disruption...either the back wound or the skull wound. Dr. Kirschner said he would defer to the opinion of our Forensic Radiologist on this matter."Do you hear that, radiologists? That's history calling you to do your homework, study the x-rays, and solve this thing.
What Lies Beneath?
And might I make a suggestion? Look at the head x-rays as well as the neck x-rays... While I long-ago rid myself of the suspicion Kennedy's teeth and jaw were cut off his published x-rays to hide a bullet in the jaw itself, I have in more recent times grown increasingly suspicious that the x-rays were cut to hide something else. When one looks at a skull x-ray complete with the teeth, and maps out a 45 degree descent from an imagined entrance by the EOP to an imagined exit on the throat, it becomes startlingly clear a bullet on this trajectory would encounter the spine around C1 or C2--the area of the spine cut off the x-rays of Kennedy's skull, at least in the HSCA's exhibits. As the uppermost vertebrae on the x-ray of Kennedy's neck, published as HSCA Exhibit F-30, appears to be C4, this means that C1--C3 are not shown on any of the published x-rays, from any angle. This seems more than a little suspicious...In any event, the x-rays need to be inspected by someone well-versed in the radiology of gunshot wounds and open-minded to the possibility something came down the neck...
Finding someone open-minded on this point may just be the hard part.
Since I first came forward with my "theory" a bullet came down the neck, I have been subjected to insults from left and right, conspiracy theorists and single-assassin theorists alike. Some have even gone so far as to claim I dreamt up this theory all on my own (failing to realize that at least two witnesses to the autopsy shared this theory) and that no credible person could propose such a trajectory (failing to see that a bullet's heading on this exact trajectory was the operating thesis for many of those curious about such things in the days after the assassination).
Let me clarify this last point...
As discussed, the Parkland doctors trying to save Kennedy's life thought it possible, even likely, that a bullet entering his neck blew out the back of his head. They said as much on 11-22-63.
And the science editor for the Boston Globe, Ian Menzies, writing for the next day's paper, and realizing that the shots had supposedly come from behind Kennedy, reversed the trajectory. He wrote:
"The rather meager medical details attributed to Dr. Malcolm Perry, the attending surgeon, described the bullet as entering just below the Adam's Apple and leaving by the back of the head. Since that statement Friday afternoon it is believed from determining the site of the firing that the bullet entered the back of the head first and came out just under the Adam's Apple."
A drawing depicting this trajectory accompanied Menzies article, and is shown on the slide above.
From this it seems likely that millions of Americans in the days after the shooting believed the bullet killing Kennedy had coursed down his neck from his head. Within weeks of the assassination, on December 18, in fact, the Washington Post had either forgotten or had pretended to have forgotten that the Parkland doctors' original statements had suggested otherwise, and instead reported: "one of the surgeons explained over television that he (Kennedy) was shot only once, and that a fragment from the bullet that hit his head coursed downward and emerged from the front of the throat."
As pointed out in chapter 1, moreover, the FBI and mainstream media continued to push that a bullet fragment came down Kennedy's neck for SIX MONTHS after the shooting, when the single-bullet theory explanation for the throat wound was leaked to the press. By conservative estimate, then, it's fair to say that a majority of Americans believed a bullet or bullet fragment came down the neck and that this perception only changed gradually. There never was, after all, a medical reason to doubt that a bullet or bullet fragment came down the neck...only a visual one--as Kennedy reached for his neck before frame 313, it seemed logical to assume his throat wound`was unrelated to his head wound. That he'd had an earlier head wound was not even considered...
Thus, the major stumbling block to acceptance of the possibility raised by my study of the evidence--that a bullet came down Kennedy's neck around frame 224--is that those believing Dr. Humes, Boswell and Finck were SO incompetent and/or dishonest that they not only reported the wrong location for the head wound entrance, and were off by FOUR inches, but confirmed this location after viewing the autopsy photos on TWO separate occasions, COULD NOT POSSIBLY be so incompetent or dishonest they would miss or fail to report a hole in the base of Kennedy's skull, and a bullet's passage down his neck...
And that's really really inconsistent....and really really silly...
Yep, in a mind-bendng (not to mention tongue-twisting) change of perspective, I've found it's just silly to dismiss the possibility a bullet came down Kennedy's neck...
I mean, it's not as if such a trajectory is unprecedented. Michael McDaid and John Young, two of the fourteen unarmed protesters slaughtered by the British Military in the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" massacre, were shot in the face, only to have the fatal bullets descend within their necks at "45 degree" angles (sound familiar?) and exit from their backs.
The possibility a bullet descended in Kennedy's neck becomes even more tangible, moreover, when one realizes that Jerrol Custer, one of the x-ray
techs at Kennedy's autopsy, told the ARRB in 1997 that he
recalled seeing bullet fragments in Kennedy's neck around C3--C4. While Custer was
unable to find these fragments on the existing x-rays, and said he suspected he'd seen them on a now-missing A-P x-ray of the cervical spine, his claim of missing x-rays has little support. Perhaps, then, he was looking for the fragments on the wrong x-ray.
should have looked harder elsewhere. When one reads Custer's ARRB testimony, it's clear he pretty much skips over x-ray number 8, which shows the neck below C3-C4. Perhaps he'd been mistaken about the exact location of the fragments he remembered seeing; perhaps the fragments were instead in the region of C7 and T1, where others noted fragments, and where Dr. Spitz as late as 11-22-13 still insisted there were fragments (To be clear, Spitz actually told his interviewer that there were fragments in the neck area after the bullet hit a little piece of bone, and pointed to the base of his neck when he said "neck area".)
Or perhaps Custer saw the fragments exactly where he said he saw them, only on some other x-ray, like the A-P x-ray of Kennedy's skull, where Dr. Cyril Wecht claimed to see a fragment in a location corresponding to the high neck.
Yes, you read that right. It seems possible Dr. Wecht--who no one would call shy--actually noticed something of great importance in his first trip to the archives, and that this discovery has since been overlooked. By everyone, including himself. In his April 1974 article in Forensic Science, in which he reported his conclusions after first viewing the autopsy materials, Dr. Wecht presented two illustrations of a skull, one showing the skull from the front and one from the side. Upon these skulls, the purported locations of the fragments on Kennedy's x-rays were depicted. Now, the subsequent publication of the x-rays shows that these illustrations aren't exactly accurate. And they're not even consistent. Embarrassingly, the large fragment purportedly on the back of the skull is depicted far higher on the back of the skull in the illustration of the side view than on the illustration of the front view. Now, this may have been a simple over-sight, and a reflection that Wecht suspected the fragment near the top of the head on the lateral x-ray appeared behind the eye on the A-P x-ray, due to the A-P's being taken with the skull at an angle. But the drawing of the skull is not at such an angle, and depicting the fragment on the skull as if it were is quite misleading.
And, anyhow, that's beside the point.
No, what matters here is what Wecht depicts in the illustration of the front view: a bullet fragment on Kennedy's chin. In the legend, he writes "There is the appearance of a very small particle on the right side of the mandible near the midline. No density corresponding to this location is seen on the lateral x-ray. Its location could be in the region of the spinal column and thus relate to the President's back wound."
Or not. Apparently, Wecht failed to realize that, should a fragment really be found near the spinal column at so high a location, it would almost certainly not "relate to the back wound," but to the wound low on the back of Kennedy's head.
Do you hear that, radiologists? That's history calling you YET AGAIN to do your homework, study the x-rays, and solve this thing...