Chapter 11: the Single-Bullet Theory
Chapter 11: The Single-Bullet Theory
That the Clark Panel deliberately misrepresented Kennedy’s wounds to support the single-bullet theory is supported, for that matter, by the fact the next person to look at the photos, and the very first member of the private sector to be allowed to inspect the autopsy photos and x-rays, just so happened to be Dr. John K. Lattimer, the aforementioned urologist to FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover.
It strains credulity that this was just a coincidence.
Consider... Not only had Lattimer headed a Federal Government research program from the late 1940's to the mid-1960's, but he'd written extensively on the JFK case already, always at a time when the public's interest was heightened, and always with the conclusion that the Warren Commission had properly addressed the evidence. In mid-1966, just as books critical of the Warren Commission were starting to get wide-spread attention, there was Lattimer, with an article in The New York State Journal of Medicine comparing the deaths of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, in which Oswald was described as "an enemy (communist) sympathizer" and an "attention-hungry fanatic." In late 1966, furthermore, just as doubts about Oswald's shooting ability were sweeping across the nation, up popped Lattimer with an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association asserting that Kennedy's back brace had propped him up after he was first hit, and had made him an easy target. Now this would be bad enough, but Lattimer actually made the mistake of asserting that yet another tragic coincidence contributed to Kennedy's death--that the misalignment of Oswald's scope had coincidentally compensated for the curve in the road, so that all Oswald had to do was fire at Kennedy, and the bullet would hit him in this exact location, even though he'd moved several feet down the road, and inches to the right.
Well, this gives up the game, and reveals Lattimer to be more theorist than scientist. This misleading proposition was first offered by FBI agent Robert Frazier during his Warren Commission testimony. Perhaps Frazier was thinking of the tests undertaken AFTER he'd sighted in the scope and brought the scope and rifle in the best alignment possible without adding shims to the scope mount. These tests revealed that the rifle fired 4 inches high and 1 to the right at 100 yards. Such a misalignment would indeed allow someone to fire at JFK when he was on Elm without having to worry about a lead, should he know ahead of time the degree of this misalignment. BUT THIS WAS NOT THE MISALIGNMENT OF THE SCOPE WHEN FIRST TESTED BY THE FBI. Frazier testified that the rifle, when first tested by the FBI, fired 4 inches high and 1 to the right at ONLY 15 YARDS, and that these shots all landed within the size of a dime, and that this indicated the rifle had not recently been adjusted. Well, such a misalignment would be of no help at all to a sniper; it would force a sniper to shoot BEHIND Kennedy in order to hit him as he was moving away. It follows then that Frazier's assertion the misalignment worked to the sniper's advantage was either a total brainfart on his part or a deliberate deception, and that Lattimer's repetition of this nonsense was more of the same, or perhaps a reflection that he took his job as Hoover's urologist a bit more seriously than anyone could reasonably have imagined.
And from there things just get worse. An October 24, 1968 article in the New York Post reflects that Lattimer had started giving talks on the feasibility of the single-bullet theory to his fellow physicians, and that he believed at so early a date, long before the Zapruder film was widely available, that the first shot "hit a tree branch and never reached the President's car," and that the second "struck the back of President Kennedy's neck, went through his voice box, and 'came out at the knot of his tie,'" before striking Governor Connally. This marks him once again as more theorist than scientist. The eyewitnesses overwhelmingly claimed the President reacted to the first shot. The autopsy report fails to note damage to the voice box, or larynx. The drawings created by the autopsy doctors for the Warren Commission, moreover, depicted the bullet exiting below Kennedy's voice box or larynx, on his trachea, or windpipe. Lattimer's assertion that the first bullet hit a tree branch and the second bullet went through Kennedy's voice box, then, can only be seen as his ignoring the findings of the Warren Commission and re-interpreting the shooting sequence and bullet's angle of descent within the neck...for reasons all his own.
In any event, following his inspection of the autopsy materials on January 9, 1972, Lattimer told the New York Times that the photographs and x-rays “eliminate any doubt completely” about the validity of the Warren Commission’s conclusions and that Oswald fired all the shots. He said further that the photos and x-rays demonstrate that the back wound was actually higher than the Commission reported (yes, that’s right, even higher than on the Rydberg drawings) and that the angle of descent within the neck was far greater. He said the wound was so high in comparison to the throat wound, in fact, that in order for the throat wound to have been an entrance wound as so many believed, someone would have to have been firing from the floor of the limousine in front of Kennedy. Lattimer didn’t seem to understand that this comment meant conversely that the bullet exiting the neck should have hit the floor and not Connally, and that this statement was therefore an argument against the single-bullet theory he was so adamantly defending.
Perhaps the man had suffered some sort of meltdown. On January 10, the next day, he was interviewed by John Nebel on WNBC. and admitted that after reading the Warren report he "still had considerable doubts, and uh these doubts revolved about such items as the trajectory of the bullet that went through President Kennedy's neck" and asserted that the Warren Commission drawing for this trajectory, CE 385, "makes the bullet track look as if it's much parallel with the ground. And that worried me a good deal, and, uh, I know that it's little things like this that combine to worry you about the whole massive text." But that was in the past. Lattimer told Nebel that upon viewing the autopsy photos "I was interested to observe that the rear hole, which is clearly a wound of entrance, is quite far above the front hole, which is presumed to be a wound of exit." As it would later be shown that the bullet entrance on CE 385 was in fact two inches too high, and that the rear wound Lattimer claimed was "far above" the front wound was in reality either below or at the same level as the front wound, it's clear that Lattimer, perhaps overcome with "worry," simply reported what he wanted to see, or felt others should believe he saw.
But this was not the end of Lattimer's trail of "whoa!" For Lattimer's May 1972 Resident and Staff Physician article on his trip to the archives he created a drawing (which is shown on the slide above) depicting his interpretation of Kennedy's back wound, and the path of the bullet purportedly entering Kennedy's back and exiting his throat. This drawing (which Lattimer would re-publish numerous times in numerous articles over the next decade or two) was staggeringly, and shockingly, inaccurate. While acknowledging in a February 14, 1972 letter to Robert Biecher found in the Weisberg Archives that "the wound on the back of the neck" which he'd discussed with the press "was certainly the one 14 cm. below the right mastoid process," and while acknowledging in the text of his article that the back wound was 5 cm below the neck crease “at the juncture of neck and back,” Lattimer inexplicably depicts the wound in his drawing about 5 cm below the mastoid process, at the juncture of neck and back. Equally strange, in order to explain the bruise on Kennedy's lung, Lattimer depicts the upper dome of the lung adjacent to the bullet path descending Kennedy's neck...and, in the process, lifts the dome of the lung into the neck, above the knot on Kennedy's tie. Even more absurd, to account for the holes in Kennedy's clothing being so much lower on Kennedy's back than Lattimer's proposed location for the back wound, Lattimer bunches up a gigantic fold of clothing on the back of Kennedy's neck in the drawing. No such fold, of course, can be seen on any of the assassination films.
Now that's already way too much, but Lattimer's drawing also has the bullet path descending 27 degrees through Kennedy's body, which, since the limousine was on a downhill slope of 3 degrees, means he believed the bullet was descending 30 degrees from the horizontal plane. Since he eventually claimed the bullet came from the sniper’s nest at Z-224, when the angle of descent from the sniper’s nest was 21 degrees, this suggests he believed Kennedy was leaning 9 degrees backwards when struck.
From there Lattimer’s story gets even more absurd, and disturbing. Not content with the round of extended articles he was able to publish in the aftermath of his visit to the archives, he put together a 24-page article for the November 1974 issue of Medical Times. While he spent much of this article, devoted entirely to the "Kennedy-Connally One Bullet Theory," discussing Governor Connally's wounds and the wound ballistics of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition, he did spend just enough time discussing Kennedy's wounds to slip in one heckuva lie. His "Reconstruction of What Happened" entailed: "The 6.5 mm bullet, fired from above and behind the President, had entered the top of the prominent roll of soft tissue across the back of President Kennedy's neck..." Yikes. As we have seen, the bullet wound was not on the back of the neck, let alone at the top of a prominent roll of soft tissue across the back of the neck.
And no, I'm not kidding. Here is an image from Lattimer's article on the "one bullet theory" depicting his presumed trajectory for this bullet. Note that, in keeping with the drawing of the single-bullet theory trajectory he'd previously published, Lattimer presented the bullet as entering way up Kennedy's neck, inches above his lung. Well, you gotta give him some credit. He was consistent in his nonsense.
Yes, there was apparently no belief too absurd, or lie too great, for Lattimer to have shied from, should it have suggested Oswald's sole guilt. On May 7, 1975 he was interviewed by the Rockefeller Commission, and repeated much of what he’d told the New York Times in '72. He went even further, however, and told them that inspecting Kennedy’s brain would be unnecessary, seeing as Dr. Humes had been “particularly thorough about finding any foreign material in the brain” and that “we have surprisingly good x-rays of it and surprisingly good photographs of it.” He claimed further that this provided him with a “reasonable basis for knowing what the situation in the brain was, relative, at least, to the direction of the missiles.” He ignored that he'd previously concluded that the ever-thorough Humes had incorrectly identified the entrance of the bullet on the back of Kennedy’s head, and had been off by four inches.
In November, 1976, moreover, as a response to Congressman Thomas Downing's public declaration that the Zapruder film had convinced him Kennedy was shot from the front, Lattimer popped up yet again. Somehow, someway, he just so happened to make an appearance before a luncheon of the National Press Club, and show them films of experiments he'd performed by shooting bullets into animal skulls (no doubt, your typical luncheon entertainment). Not surprisingly, these tests (later debunked by Wallace Milam) showed the skulls flying back in the direction of the bullet, and supposedly undercut Downing's claims the rearward movement of Kennedy's head suggested the fatal shot came from the front.
Evidently, these tests convinced Lattimer he’d solved everything and that no further investigation was necessary, because on March 22, 1977, an article carried by the Ridder News Service reported that Lattimer had told some 300 members of the Fayette County Medical Society that “Reviving the investigation of President Kennedy’s death would be expensive and unnecessary.” Now, why would he do this? Was he concerned that a new investigation would reveal that he had been untruthful when he asserted that the back wound was even higher than in the Rydberg drawings? Or was he really that confident? If he was really that confident, well, then, he had NO reason to be, as other statements attributed to him in this article reveal that he was simply making stuff up in order to justify shutting down the investigation already underway.
According to the article Lattimer described the shots as follows: “The first shot probably struck the branch of a tree and was deflected to the pavement where it was absorbed…Five seconds later, with the limousine now only 190 feet away from Oswald’s position, the second shot was fired. It hit the president in the back of the neck, passed through it, and entered Gov. John Connally’s side…Five seconds later, the third shot was fired from a striking distance of about 250 feet, striking Kennedy in the back of the head…” Well, wait a second! If the first shot was fired five seconds before the single-bullet shot, which was at the latest frame 224, then it was fired around frame 131, TWO seconds before any of the trees in front of the school book depository would interfere with a shot from the sniper’s nest. Could Lattimer really be proposing that Oswald led the limousine by 30 feet or more?
Okay. Okay. It seems possible Lattimer misspoke about the five seconds… A 2-27-78 HSCA Contact Report on a conversation with Lattimer, after all, reports that by then he was postulating that "the first shot occurred at Zapruder frame (Z) 166 and was a miss." But it gets worse. The 1977 article quotes Lattimer as discussing Oswald and his motivation as follows: “After returning to this country, Oswald began a propaganda campaign for Cuban revolutionaries in New Orleans and eventually ended up in Dallas. There, three weeks before he shot the President, he attempted to kill a retired Army general. He learned from having tried to shoot the general that it would take more than one shot to kill Kennedy...If he’d been assigned to shoot Kennedy, he wouldn’t have been firing at someone else just three weeks before.”
The omissions and mistakes in Lattimer’s scenario are more revealing than what he gets correct. First of all, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, with whom Oswald was affiliated in New Orleans, was not a violent or revolutionary organization, as implied by Lattimer. Second of all, Lattimer omits that this “retired general,” General Edwin Walker, was forced out of the military by Kennedy for his reactionary and racist political activities and that there is reason to doubt that anyone contemplating his assassination would kill Kennedy instead. Third, the attempt on Walker did not take place three weeks before Kennedy’s assassination, as asserted by Lattimer, but on April 10, 1963, more than 7 months before! Needless to say, Lattimer’s understanding of Oswald and his background was as wildly inaccurate as his drawing of a hunchback Kennedy, with a bundle of clothing in back of his head.
To be fair to Dr. Lattimer, I think I’ve located the source of his confusion regarding the back wound location. It seems possible, moreover, that the Clark Panel was infected by this same confusion. When one compares the left lateral autopsy photo, which shows the location of the throat wound, with the photographs of the back wound, and focuses on a rounded hump of flesh on Kennedy’s shoulder, one can easily imagine that this shape is a “hunch” of some sort and that the bullet entrance is in the middle of this “hunch.” Since this “hunch” in the back wound photo is clearly higher on the body than the throat wound in the left lateral photo, moreover, one can take the next step and conclude that this means the bullet traveled downwards in the body, and that the single-bullet theory is supported by the photographs. But when one relies on hunches alone one will often be wrong.
Some of whom have noticed this “hunch,” including Dr.s Lattimer and Baden, have even went so far as to speculate on its origins. Dr. Lattimer, on the day after he'd first viewed the autopsy materials in 1972, told NBC that Kennedy's body had a "slight thickening of the tissues over the shoulders, which is typical of people taking cortisone." In his paper on this inspection, presented in the May 1972 issue of Resident and Staff Physician, moreover, he expanded on this theme, and insisted that "the tissues at the back of his neck were more prominent than those of most people. This was possibly due partly to his manner of holding his shoulders very high, so that a 'roll' of tissue was produced across the back of his neck and also perhaps because he was taking the cortisone derivative which may have caused a slightly greater than normal thickening of these tissues."
To Lattimer, this "thickening" seemed somehow significant, and a key to understanding the assassination. By 1975, he was telling those questioning the single bullet theory trajectory, such as researcher Emory Brown, that "what you do not realize is that he (Kennedy) had an unusual roll of muscle tissue across the back of his neck, possibly related to the adrenal hormones he had been taking for years." This "possibly," moreover, soon dissolved away. In time, Lattimer began asserting as fact the obvious nonsense that Kennedy had grown a hunch on his back from the steroids he'd taken to combat his Addison’s disease, and that this hunch explained how the holes on Kennedy’s clothing 5 inches below the top of his collar could overlay a wound at the level of his chin. Lattimer, and those who swallowed his nonsense, like Baden, failed to realize that the left lateral autopsy photo which appears to portray a slight hunch was taken with Kennedy lying flat on his back, with his shoulders rolled outwards, pushing the flesh of his back upwards. They failed to see as well that photos of Kennedy taken on the day of the assassination prove there was no such hunch...
When one starts measuring their whole argument falls to pieces. The ruler in the un-cropped back photo appears to be about 37 mm wide, or 1.46 inches. From this measurement one can see how the Clark Panel came up with their determination that the back wound was 5.5 cm (a little over 2 inches) below the fold along the back of the neck. When one matches the “hunches” one can see that the distance from the fold to the throat wound on the lateral photo approximates the 9 cm that the Clark Panel proposed. Why no one on the Clark Panel decided to measure this distance on their own bodies is another question. I’m 6’4” and when one measures 9 cm below the fold across the back of my neck one reaches the level of my sternum, far below the level of the wound in Kennedy’s throat. Experienced doctors should have known better, or at least have been suspicious enough about the measurement to take a second look.
For when one takes a second look, one realizes that in order for this “hunch” to match in each photo, and in order for the neck lines to match, the photo of the back wound must be greatly reduced compared to the lateral photograph. A quick comparison of Kennedy’s ears in the two photos proves that this is true. Should one use the ruler in the back wound photo to measure the size of Kennedy’s head in the lateral photo (when the hunches are made to match) one can approximate that the vertical height of Kennedy’s skull was 11.5 inches. When the ears are made to match, however, this distance is only 9.8 inches. My skull, even with my mouth slightly opened, is only 9 ¼ vertical inches from the level of my slightly opened jaw to the highest point. It's hard to believe that Kennedy’s skull would be 24% longer than my own. (Fatter maybe, longer no.) When one takes the time to match the sizes of the ears and body proportions, therefore, one can see that the “hunch” was largely an illusion based on Kennedy’s body position, and that the back wound in the photograph was actually 25% closer to the level of Kennedy’s throat wound than it appears when the hunches are made to match.
When one takes notice of Kennedy's body position in the back wound photo, and sees that he's laying on his left side with his head turned to his right, moreover, it should be apparent that the back wound is, in fact, at the same level as the throat wound (when the body is in the anatomic position).
There's also this. The back wound was reported to have been 14 cm below the bottom tip of Kennedy's mastoid--which is around the level of the bottom of his ear. If the back wound was REALLY 5.5 cm below the transverse fold in Kennedy's neck, when the body was in the anatomic position, as claimed by the Clark Panel, well, then, it means the bottom tip of the mastoid was 8.5 cm above this transverse fold.
But this isn't what one sees in the photos. The transverse fold on the back of Kennedy's neck in the lateral photo does not appear to be more than 50% FARTHER away from the bottom tip of the right mastoid than it does from the supposed entrance location in the back hump.
It instead appears to be farther from the back hump.
Well, this makes it clear, then, that the back of the head in the lateral and back wound photos is leaning backwards, and that this has distorted and reduced the appearance of the length of the back of the neck in the photos...
Well, think about it. This would raise the level of the back wound when trying to match these photos with other photos...
As if things weren't confusing enough...
And, speaking of confusing... We have now reached 1977 in our approximate timeline...when these guys--the House Select Committee on Assassinations--created a Forensic Pathology Panel comprising 9 noted forensic pathologists to study the JFK Assassination medical evidence...
to see if new conclusions could be reached...
Now, this wasn't entirely their own idea...
The gentlemen above are, at right, Congressman Louis Stokes, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and, at left, G. Robert Blakey, the Committee's Chief Counsel. These men were, in essence, the second string. Stokes replaced Congressman Henry Gonzalez, who couldn't get along with his Chief Counsel, Richard Sprague, and Blakey was brought in to replace Sprague.
So why bring this up? Well, it is essential to our understanding of the HSCA that we understand the source of the conflict between Gonzalez and Sprague. Sprague wanted to re-investigate the case from the ground-up, to, essentially, start over. While Gonzalez, and the bulk of the committee, worried that such an investigation would be too costly, and ruffle some feathers. The compromise, then, was this: that the committee would spend little time and money re-investigating elements of the case previously investigated, but, would, instead, focus its energy on using the latest science to re-investigate the medical and ballistics evidence. The problem, however, was that much of what Blakey saw as cutting edge scientific testimony in 1978 turned out to be, with 2020 hindsight, crap.
But we'll get to that later. Let's start off with something they got right--that Kennedy's back wound was not above his throat wound, and that the drawings created for the Warren Commission showing his back wound well above his throat wound were in error.
Yep, my finding that the back wound was at the same vertical level in Kennedy's body as his throat wound was shared by the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, comprising nine of the top pathologists in the country. No, that’s not quite true. The forensic pathology panel's report, released in 1979, actually asserts that the bullet fired from the sniper’s nest at least 20 degrees above Kennedy passed through his body in a slightly upwards trajectory.
And no, I'm not kidding...
Up the Neck
When one looks at the testimony of Dr. Michael Baden before the house select committee, and compares the bullet entrance on the back of Kennedy’s clothing with its purported exit on Kennedy’s collar, moreover, one can see why the Pathology Panel came to this conclusion. The path is clearly upwards. If you’re surprised by this it’s no wonder. While many TV shows present the single-bullet theories of Dr. Lattimer, Gerald Posner, and Dale Myers as if they are the official government theory, the theories of these men are actually at odds with both the Warren Commission and HSCA interpretations of the wounds, trajectories, and shot sequences.
That rant having passed, I must admit that I also have problems with the HSCA's conclusions. To begin with, it seems clear to me that the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel (FPP) was indeed mistaken in their analysis of the back wound. Not by much, mind you. While they were correct to note that the abrasion collar in the back wound photo was on the lower half of the entrance wound, and that this indicated the bullet was heading upwards along the skin, they were mistaken to say “the direction of the missile in the body on initial penetration was slightly upward, inasmuch as the lower margin of the skin is abraded in an upward direction. Furthermore, the wound beneath the skin appears to be tunneled from below upward.” As the upper back is slanted towards the neck, any bullet striking the upper back at a downwards angle less than the angle of the slant would leave a mark along the skin reflecting an upwards trajectory. The abrasion ring noted by the FPP, therefore, could have represented a bullet heading downwards within the body as well as upwards.
Unfortunately, this is not the only point on which we disagree. Not by a long shot.
T-3 or Not T-3?
But before we go on to complain about the horrendous mistakes/deceptions of the HSCA, let me congratulate them for getting at least one thing right. They resolved the location of Kennedy's back wound! In both the testimony of Dr. Baden and in their exhibits they made it clear they believed the bullet entered at the level of the first thoracic vertebra, roughly 2 inches lower than the entrance depicted in the Warren Commission's drawings.
While my acceptance that the bullet entered at T-1 has led to at least one conspiracy theorist trumpeting that I'm intellectually dishonest, it would be intellectually dishonest for me to pretend I disagree with the HSCA on this point. I have looked through dozens of anatomy books and measured dozens of medical drawings, and am convinced that T-3, where many conspiracy theorists place the wound, is an inch or two lower than the back wound apparent in the photos. While some point out that Kennedy's personal physician, Dr. George Burkley, placed the wound at T-3 on Kennedy's death certificate, they fail to appreciate that Burkley was far from certain about this and had, in fact, stated "a second wound occurred in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra." They also fail to appreciate that there is no indication Burkley did anything more than glimpse at Kennedy's body and did anything to establish the back wound's location beyond glimpsing at the confusing face sheet.
While some note a small mark in the back wound photo near the T-3 level, and propose that this mark was the "real" back wound, I find this also has little foundation, as the size of this mark (roughly 3 mm x 4 mm, or 12 mm) is less than 1/2 the size of the bullet wound measured at autopsy (7 mm x 4 mm, or 28 mm), and the wound at T-1 is, no surprise, a much better fit (roughly 8 mm x 5 mm).
And should one not trust my measurements...one should at least consider the statements of James Curtis Jenkins. On November 22, 2013, Jenkins, Dr. Boswell's assistant at the autopsy, made his first ever appearance regarding the assassination at the JFK/Lancer conference in Dallas. While looking at a photo of the back wound (or wounds), he told the audience that the uppermost and larger of the supposed holes on Kennedy's back in the photo was the entrance wound examined at the autopsy. Period.
BTW, I am far from alone in my rejection of the claim the back wound on the face sheet and photos was at T-3. While Dr. David Mantik and myself have many disagreements about the Kennedy assassination medical evidence, this isn't one of them. In his 2011 review of Don Thomas' Hear No Evil, available on the CTKA website, Mantik made this more than clear, stating that "both the autopsy photo (Galanor 1998, Document 12) and the autopsy diagram (the descriptive sheet—see Galanor 1998, Document 5) place the wound...close to the level of T1 or T2." He thereby adopted the T1 location as the location for the purposes of discussion, a discussion which led him to reject the single-bullet theory even if the wound was at T1.
Sometimes we think alike...
T-1 is Enough
Now, it's not as if I don't understand the sentiments of those wanting to believe the bullet entered at T-3. If the bullet entered as low as the third thoracic vertebra there would be no way it could avoid piercing Kennedy's lung en route to its purported exit in his throat. The single-bullet theory would be so outlandish not even Arlen Specter would lay claim to it. But I feel that an entry at T-1 is nearly as damaging.
You see, from poring through anatomy books, trying to figure out the proper level of the back wound entrance, I came to understand that the T-1 level of the spine corresponds to the level of the first rib. This is extremely problematic for the single-bullet theory in that, if Kennedy was sitting fairly upright, a bullet entering at T-1 as depicted in the HSCA exhibits, including Exhibit F-65, would dive down below T-1, and into Kennedy's lung. According to the autopsy, which held that nothing pierced Kennedy's lung, this did not happen. An entrance at T-1 is also problematic in that, even if Kennedy was bent forward to such an extent that the bullet entering his back would head straight for his throat, the first rib would be right in its way. As the "magic bullet," CE 399, had been avoiding sweets and had a decidedly unblemished nose, this also did not happen.
So how did the HSCA solve this dilemma? Did they accept what would seem obvious? That the lynch-pin of the single-assassin conclusion, the single-bullet theory, made little sense?
That this should have been the outcome is confirmed by studying the contemporaneous writings of the most ardent supporters of the single-assassin conclusion. In October, 1975, just prior to the creation of the HSCA, Warren Commission defender Jacob Cohen attacked its critics from the pages of Commentary Magazine. There, in an article bearing the far from subtle title Conspiracy Fever, he presented the Clark Panel's defense of the single-bullet theory as the final word. He claimed: "the panel unanimously confirmed every conclusion of the autopsy including the location of the back wound and the evidence of its passage to the throat." He then extrapolated from this that the odds of these doctors being incorrect, or basing their findings on false evidence, were so microscopic "that a sane and serious person soon ceases dallying with the possibility. Therefore one must simply conclude that the holes in the jacket and shirt, the autopsy drawing, the testimony of the Dallas doctors—concerning A possible frontal hit, the FBI summary of autopsy findings, all point to exactly nothing except everyday and most unthreatening human errors or coincidences." He then went through a laundry list of conspiracy theorist claims which he considered debunked. This led him to complain: "It is usually the case in public discourse that revelations of major errors invalidate the accompanying case. When the graduate student admits faking test results, the professor is expected to denounce the conclusions resting on those results. With the assassination very different rules of discourse seem to prevail: as soon as a new line of speculation appears and remains temporarily unrefuted, all the rest take on new life."
Oh, the irony! This was a man defending the single-bullet theory, which was built upon the claim Kennedy and Connally were hit while behind the sign in the Zapruder film, and that Kennedy's back wound location was higher than his throat wound location, by arguing that a sane and serious person would think it impossible for the experts to be wrong about these things.
And here it was three years later. And a government panel was preparing to claim Kennedy was hit before going behind the sign in the film, and his back wound was lower than his throat wound.
I kid you not.
The HSCA Single Bullet Theory
Now here's another surprise.
If one were told in 1976 that the HSCA was going to determine that the Warren Commission and Clark panel were wrong, and that the back wound was at the same level as or even slightly below the wound in Kennedy’s throat, one would almost certainly have concluded that the single-bullet theory had been debunked.
But one would have been wrong.
Yep, surprise surprise, when the HSCA published its final report in 1979, the committee concluded that the theory was still valid.
So...how did they do this?
Well...they proposed that Kennedy was leaning a lot further forward than had previously been presumed.
Now, this was doubly surprising since the HSCA had also decided Kennedy was first hit at Zapruder frame 190, at a point before he disappeared behind the sign in the film, when he is clearly sitting up in his seat. The Warren Commission, we should remember, concluded he was hit somewhere between frames 210-225 of the Zapruder film, when he was behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, and his forward lean could not precisely be determined. Equally troubling, by moving up the proposed moment of impact, the HSCA put Kennedy closer to the Texas School Book Depository at the time he was shot, and made the angle of descent for the "magic bullet" that much sharper. A quick comparison of Kennedy's position in Zapruder frame 188, 1/9 of a second before the supposed impact, to Kennedy's position in HSCA Exhibit F-46, a drawing of Kennedy leaning forward to the degree required for a non-deflected bullet to pass through his back and neck and then hit Governor Connally, demonstrates that Kennedy was not in the proper position to receive his wounds as proposed.
This forces one to wonder if the drawing was simply in error, or if the doctors truly believed the single bullet-theory they were depicting. Some quick measurements show that Kennedy’s neck is bent forward 31 degrees in the drawing, and that the arrow descends at 27 degrees. A bullet on such a trajectory would ascend 4 degrees through Kennedy’s body. As this matches the pathology panel’s analysis of the back wound, it seems clear, then, that they expended some effort on the drawing, and were not just guessing. Which makes it hard to explain why the arrow in the drawing descends at 27 degrees. The angle of descent from the sniper's nest at frame 190, when the HSCA proposed Kennedy was first wounded, was only 24 degrees.
A careful reading of the panel's report offers a partial explanation for these errors. It indicates that F-46 was only supposed to demonstrate the relationship between Kennedy’s wounds, and that determining the actual position of Kennedy at the moment of the shot and the trajectory of the bullet was the responsibility of the trajectory panel.
Well, okay, but what about the panel's other exhibits? Were they also suspicious?
Avoiding the Obvious
Unfortunately, yes. On Exhibit F-307, the back wound was shifted slightly further from the spine than was indicated by the autopsy photos or by the measurements. The entrance was measured as being 4.5 cm from the mid-line of Kennedy’s spine. If the entrance on this drawing is 4.5 cm from his mid-line, however, then Kennedy measured only 13.6 cm to his shoulder. The Clark Panel measured 16 cm to his shoulder, which is as one should expect for a man of his size. If Kennedy was indeed 16 cm to his shoulder, the wound in exhibit F-307 is 5.4 cm from his spine, not 4.5. In addition, if one uses the width of the ruler in the photo (which appears to be a centimeter ruler), 37 mm or 1.46 inches, to measure the distance from Kennedy’s spine to the location of the bullet entrance in the photo, one finds that the distance from Kennedy's spine to the bullet entrance was actually more like 3.9 cm. from his spine, not 4.5. If the entrance was really 3.9 cm from the spine but presented in F-307 as 5.4 cm from the spine, it follows that the wound was moved almost 40% further from the spine.
This convenient movement of the back wound, courtesy Dr. Baden, who worked on the drawings with medical illustrator Ida Dox, created the illusion the proposed bullet path passed outside the width of Kennedy’s spine.
This is indeed suspicious.
The Problematic First Rib
That the bullet entrance on Exhibit F-307 (Figure 24 in the subsequent report) was at the level of the first rib, and the first rib was not depicted--on this or on any other of the exhibits created for the medical panel--is even more suspicious.
The 9-7-78 testimony of Dr. Cyril Wecht only adds to my concern. About the single-bullet theory, Wecht testified: "How does a bullet that is moving slightly upward in the President proceed then to move downward 25 degrees in John Connally. This is what I cannot understand. My colleagues on the panel are aware of this. We discussed it, and what we keep coming back to is, "well, don't know how the two men were seated in relationship to each other." I don't care what happened behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, there is no way in the world that they can put that together, and likewise on the horizontal plane, the bullet, please keep in mind, entered in the President's right back, I agree, exited in the anterior midline of the President's neck, I agree, and was moving thence by definition, by known facts, on a straight line from entrance to exit, from right to left. And so with that bullet moving in a leftward fashion, it then somehow made an acute angular turn, came back almost two feet, stopped, made a second turn, and slammed into Gov. John Connally behind the right armpit, referred to medically as the right posterior axillary area. The vertical and horizontal trajectory of this bullet, 399, under the single bullet theory is absolutely unfathomable, indefensible, and incredible."
Wecht's testimony indicates that some members of the panel supported the single-bullet theory under the belief the shot was fired when Kennedy and Connally's positions were unclear. Earlier and subsequent statements by four of the panel's leading lights, Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. James Weston, Dr. Charles Petty, and Dr. Michael Baden, moreover, prove this to be true.
Let's start with Spitz. An article in the 6-2-75 Medical World News--written shortly after Spitz had first studied the medical evidence and Zapruder film on behalf the Rockefeller Commission--quoted him as follows: "Kennedy obviously was first hit while behind a sign in the Zapruder film."
Well, that's pretty clear. A May 25, 1975 appearance by Spitz on the Lou Gordon Show, however, revealed the confusion within Spitz's reasoning. While discussing the single-bullet theory, Spitz told Gordon that the shoulders of someone sitting in a "normal relaxed position" in a chair "hunched down" and that, as a result "the level of where the exit wound was becomes down...from the level of the entrance wound." Now, this more than suggests that Spitz believed Kennedy's back wound to have been below his throat wound when the body was placed in the anatomic position. But he gets it backwards. I mean, if Kennedy had leaned back in his seat, as most do in a "normal relaxed position," it would have served to lift the throat wound in comparison to the back wound. It seems probable, then, that Spitz felt that somehow someway Kennedy's throat wound ended up below his back wound at the moment he was shot, and that Spitz hadn't even taken the time to figure out that Kennedy would have to have been slouched forward, not backward, to bring his wounds into alignment with the sniper's nest.
And that's not all. Spitz similarly declared that no one could say Kennedy and Connally were not in position to have a single-bullet create all their non-fatal wounds "since you don't really know what had happened behind the sign when the President's motorcade was behind the sign which is noted on the Zapruder film. Since you don't really know what happened there, that the Governor may have turned around..."
So, yeah, Spitz not only thought Kennedy's wounds inconsistent with the single-bullet theory unless they'd come into alignment while behind the sign in the Zapruder film, but Connally's inconsistent with the theory unless he'd turned in some manner while behind the sign in the Zapruder film. It seems probable, then, that he thought Connally too close to the right door of the limousine (when last seen in the film, before going behind the sign) to be in line with a bullet fired from the sniper's nest, and exiting Kennedy's throat. I mean, why else muse that he turned around?
And the HSCA did little to change Spitz's mind on this issue. By 1988, he was still pushing that an imaginary act was needed to bring Kennedy's and Connally's wounds into alignment. In a 1988 interview on radio station WXYT, Dr. Spitz insisted that we didn't know the position of Kennedy when he was shot because "The first shot, when Kennedy is hit, is when he is passing behind a road sign which indicates the upcoming freeway and you really don't know when at exactly the point when Kennedy was hit in the shoulder. You think you know because of the echo, but we know very well that the echo follows the sound." (What echo? What is he talking about?) Spitz then revealed that he--and by extension the entire pathology panel--had never been told that the photography panel had determined Kennedy to have been hit before he went behind the sign. When told that photographs indicate Kennedy was hit before he went behind the sign, he thundered: "No, that's not true. You see him with a distorted face when he comes out from the sign. When he goes behind the sign, he's smiling and waving to the people on the right." (The photography panel had rejected this argument, and had determined that Kennedy was in fact in distress when he went behind the sign.)
Dr. Weston shared Spitz's thinking. After viewing the autopsy materials in 1975, at the request of CBS News, he emerged with a similar attitude as Spitz. According to a November 28, 1975 AP article (found in the Bangor Daily News), Weston claimed that while a better autopsy and a photo of Kennedy when the bullets struck could have helped "determine the bullet's point of origin," the "president's car is hidden by a roadside sign in the only films of the crucial seconds when he was hit."
Dr. Petty apparently concurred. While he never said anything, from what I have found, about the shot's impacting while Kennedy was hidden behind the sign in the Zapruder film, he did make some statements suggesting that he believed Kennedy's appearance in the frames when he was not behind the sign incompatible with the single-bullet theory. In his 1978 HSCA testimony, taken right after Dr. Wecht's testimony (perhaps to dull its impact), he defended the single-bullet theory's viability. After acknowledging that he believed the bullet trajectory to have been upward in Kennedy's body, he asserted, "But the President was not upright at the time he was shot, he was certainly not in the anatomic position." Shrewdly, he failed to mention when this was. If there had been a frame in which Kennedy had been leaning forward enough to support Petty's claim, one can only assume, Petty would have mentioned it.
That Petty had problems locating a frame in which Kennedy and Connally's wounds were in alignment is supported, moreover, by his statements a few moments later. When discussing the horizontal trajectory, and Dr. Wecht's claim Kennedy's throat wound was not aligned with Connally's back wound for a shot from the sniper's nest, Petty asserted "the apparent relative positions of the President and the Governor are somewhat misleading, that is, that one cannot determine by looking at a flat two dimensional view of one side of the limousine and the contained individuals precisely what relationship they had one to another." By saying the apparent relative position of the two men in the film was somewhat misleading, of course, Petty was as much as admitting that the film suggested, even to him, that Kennedy and Connally were never aligned in a manner supporting that they were struck by one bullet fired from behind. One can only assume, then, that he, as his colleagues, felt comfortable with the assumption they were hit when their exact positions could not be observed.
In 2003, at a conference sponsored by Dr. Wecht, Dr. Baden, the pathology panel's spokesman, revealed himself to be yet another more comfortable with the blinders on. When asked to point out the moment in the Zapruder film that Kennedy is first hit, he asserted: "My impression is that he is shot behind the Stemmons Freeway sign; that's why we don't see it." When Wecht correctly pointed out that Kennedy was only behind the sign for .9 seconds, hardly enough to lean forward and then back, Baden then explained: "I think Kennedy's neck has to be leaning forward a little bit, waving to somebody as you do, and that would put him in position."
And, should one wish to pretend the belief among Spitz, Weston, Baden and (probably) Petty that Kennedy was hit while behind the sign in the film did not reflect the thinking of others on the panel, one needs to stop this wishing and face the facts. Now.
First, there is a section in the panel's final report that discusses whether or not the president's body should be exhumed to more accurately determine his wound locations. It relates "The majority of the panel concurs, however, that in the absence of photographic documentation of the body's precise position at the moment the missile struck the back, more accurate wound locations would be of limited value in determining the bullet's origin."
Second, there is a footnote on the bottom of page 47 of the HSCA's Final Report. It is in a section on the findings of the Forensic Pathology Panel. It reads:
"The panel used both the location of the wounds and Zapruder frame 312 to determine the "downward" slope of the fatal head shot. It did not attempt to determine the slope of the bullet that struck the President's back because the moment of impact was not thought to be visible in the film. This decision by the forensic pathology panel was made well before the photographic panel reached its conclusion regarding the President's and Governor Connally's reactions as shown in the Zapruder film."
So why weren't they consulted afterwards?
Now, let's see. The Forensic Pathology Panel's belief the Zapruder film failed to show Kennedy in the position required for the single-bullet theory to make sense was a big problem for those running the HSCA's investigation. It cast doubt on the HSCA's findings. The men running the investigation undoubtedly knew this. This, then, raises the possibility that someone (perhaps Robert Blakey) knew the Pathology Panel could not be persuaded to accept that the Zapruder film showed Kennedy to be in the right position, and decided to bring in someone less concerned with his reputation to claim just the opposite. That way, when confronted with the fact that Kennedy never was in such a position, the doctors could raise their hands and do their best Freddie Prinze impression, protesting, "It's not my yob, mang!"
Well, then whose job was it? Whose job was it to determine Kennedy's actual position when struck by the magic bullet? And show how this bullet managed to avoid hitting bone?
As the job was virtually impossible, they gave it to another 70's television icon, a man who regularly did the impossible: Mr. Phelps.
No, not quite Mr. Phelps of Mission Impossible fame, but close. They called NASA, and NASA sent them a trajectory expert named Thomas Canning. To their eternal shame, the HSCA then gave Canning the ability to move the wounds as he saw fit, in order to better align the trajectories and, one can only assume, make sure they all pointed back to the sniper's nest.
Since this last assertion is really hard to swallow, let me quote the part of the HSCA report that makes this clear. On page 33 of HSCA Appendix Vol. 6, in the report on the trajectory analysis, when describing the procedures used to establish the bullet trajectories, it declares "The Forensic Pathology Panel was responsible for providing, to the extent possible, the precise locations of the wounds sustained by Kennedy and Connally." But there is an asterisk after this. At the bottom of the page, in an explanation of this asterisk, the report acknowledges "While the Forensic Pathology Panel did provide this information, the actual measurements related to wound locations were determined by the NASA scientist who was responsible for supervising the trajectory project. He was in frequent consultation with members of the Forensic Pathology Panel and with forensic anthropologists from both the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute, and the Smithsonian Institute." How frequent he consulted with these unidentified panel members isn't stated. But if any of the members disagreed with Baden's testimony regarding the back wound location, and disagreed with the exhibits he presented to the committee, they were free to testify and voice their dissent. None did.
In any case, under the encouragement of others or not, when Canning testified on 9-12-78, it became clear he'd taken liberties with the wound locations. Despite the fact that HSCA Pathology Panel spokesman Dr. Michael Baden had testified but 5 days before, and wound ballistics consultant Larry Sturdivan had testified but four days before, and had presented a number of exhibits, including exhibits 46, 58, and 65, in which the bullet entered at the T-1 level, Canning boldly dragged Exhibit 376, which showed this same bullet entering considerably above the T-1 level and the problematic first rib, before the committee.
And it was actually worse than that. In his testimony, but 5 days before, Dr. Baden had specified that the back wound location in Warren Commission Exhibit CE 385 was two inches higher than its actual location. He had even entered CE 385 into evidence as an example of an incorrect depiction of the wound. And here was Canning, five days later, presenting F-376 to the committee, with the back wound up at the base of the neck, in the location presented in CE 385.
So yes, it's true. By presenting F-376 to the house select committee, Canning had boldly presented an exhibit to the committee re-affirming the wound location depicted in an exhibit already presented to the committee as an example of an inaccurate exhibit! Whew!
And, unbelievably, it was even worse than that. At the top of F-376, Canning claimed the wound locations in his own exhibit had come from the pathology panel--the panel previously claiming the wound locations in F-47 were inaccurate!
The final report of Canning's trajectory panel adds another layer to the mess. In the report, Kennedy's back and throat wound locations are presented in Figure II-13. The drawing on the right of Figure II-13 was previously published as part of Exhibit F-376. This depicts a small wound on the back and a significantly larger wound on the throat. This is as one would normally expect. This avoids, of course, that the Forensic Pathology Panel had concluded that the back wound was 9 mm in diameter, and that the throat wound was roughly half its size, and was about 6-7 mm in diameter.
The measurements provided for the wound locations were also problematic. As we've seen, Exhibit 376 depicts a bullet entrance above Kennedy's first rib, and an exit slightly below it but still above the level of the first rib. In the text of Canning's report, however, he tells a different story. When discussing the back wound, he writes "the back wound was located at a point 4.4 cm to the right of and 1.1 cm above Kennedy's neck wound at the time of the shot. The bullet was moving from right to left by 18 degrees and downward by 4 degrees relative to Kennedy if he were sitting erect". When discussing the single-bullet theory, moreover, he explains "Kennedy's neck wound was 1.1 cm below the first thoracic vertebra; his forward inclination lowered the wound an additional 2.4 centimeters."
Wait... What? What's going on here? Was Canning trying to pull a fast one? I mean, why else would he depict the bullet entrance above the rib (which is at the level of the first thoracic vertebrae) on his exhibit, and then admit it was actually at the same level as the rib (which is at the level of the first thoracic vertebrae) in the text? And why else would he depict the exit just above the level of this rib in the exhibit, and then claim it was 1.1 cm below this level in the text? And how did he get that the back wound was 1.1 cm above the neck wound, when the pathology panel had indicated it was 1 cm below the neck wound?
Well, this last question is actually answered in the report. It notes that "Independent determinations by the Photographic Evidence Panel showed the entrance wound to be from 4 to 5 centimeters from Kennedy's center plane and the exit wound to be on the center plane or as much as 0.5 centimeters to its left. When seen in the autopsy position, the outshoot wound was described as being at about the same height (or slightly higher) relative to the in shoot wound." The report further describes how Forensic Anthropologist Clyde Snow had performed some studies for the committee, and had concluded that the position of Kennedy's head and shoulders at frame 190 of the Zapruder film would move the back wound 1.1 cm higher in comparison to the throat wound and 0.1 cm closer to the midline.
So, yeah, Canning's report claims that the wound on Kennedy's back which the pathology panel claimed was 1 cm below his throat wound when he was sitting in the anatomic position, was 3.5 cm above his throat wound at the moment he was shot. The proposed wound track was but 14 cm long. It thereby dropped 4.5 cm over the course of its 14 cm, a drop of 1 cm every 3.1 cm, an angle of descent of over 20 degrees. If one sits up straight in one's seat and emulates the anatomic position, and puts a right finger on the back of one's shoulder and a left finger on one's throat a cm higher than the finger on the back, it's impossible to lower the area of throat touching the left finger to a point 3.5 cm lower than the back wound without crouching over into a position totally at odds with Kennedy's position at the time he is believed to have been shot.
Of course, Canning's report claims the Photographic Evidence Panel suggested the back wound was at the level of the throat wound when in the anatomic position, and not 1 cm below, a la the Forensic Pathology Panel. This in itself is curious. The exhibits already entered into evidence by Canning claimed the wound locations were deduced from the report of the pathology panel, and the footnote added to Canning's report by the HSCA's staff claimed he was personally responsible for the movement of the wounds.
Was Canning trying to hide that he'd moved the back wound to accommodate the single-bullet theory?
Was the rocket scientist pulling a fast one?
The Portable Hole
I suspect he was pulling a fast one, but that he wasn't alone in doing so...
I mean, here was Canning, a late addition to the HSCA's investigation, admitting in the text of his report that the back wound was at the level of the first rib, but acting much as a character on the old Mission: Impossible TV series, or a cartoon character, and availing himself of a portable hole when creating his exhibits, by lifting the wound up over the rib.
I just don't buy that he'd do this on his own. It seems likely--at least to me (please write me if you think I'm being paranoid)--that someone involved in Canning's hiring had put him up to it. This someone would have to have been involved in the creation of Canning's exhibits, someone who insisted these exhibits be used to sell the single-bullet theory to both the House Select Committee, and the public.
Perhaps this was Gary Cornwell... In his 1998 book Real Answers, HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Gary Cornwell claimed: "In the end, when the errors committed by the original clinical pathologists as set out in the Warren Commission Report are corrected, and the Warren Commission's alleged 'precision' of wound location and bullet trajectories are recognized as actually being quite imprecise, there is nothing necessarily 'magical' about the path of the single bullet."
Yikes. Feel free to read that again... Yes, Cornwell was claiming that the HSCA's being more 'precise' than the Warren Commission in its determination of the wound locations made the single-bullet theory less magical, and therefore more probable. This was the worst kind of nonsense. There isn't a soul alive--outside perhaps Cornwell--who thinks the HSCA pathology panel's re-interpreting the back wound location at a point 2 inches lower on Kennedy's back--at a point actually below the throat wound--made it more believable these wounds were connected by the path of a bullet sharply descending from above, and entering from behind. It seems clear, then, that Cornwell was claiming Canning's work offered strong support for the single-bullet theory. It seems clear, then, that Cornwell had either swallowed Canning's kool-aid, or had helped him set up the stand.
Real Answers? Get real!
I mean, Canning's misleading exhibits weren't the only signs he was doing someone's dirty work. Canning also held that Kennedy was leaning forward 14 degrees compared to the street when he received the back wound and that a proper analysis of his wounds and a proper analysis of his body position at frame 190 of the Zapruder film indicated the bullet was descending 4 degrees as it passed through his body. This, of course, directly contradicted the professional opinions of the doctors, who suggested the bullet passed upwards in his body. Canning held, furthermore, that when one added in the 3 degree slope of the street to the 14 of the forward lean and the 4 of the descent within the body one could project back 21 degrees from the point of impact to establish the location of the shooter. Not surprisingly, he said this was just below the sniper’s nest. By deciding that Kennedy was leaning forward 14 degrees from the street and then adding the slope of the street on top of it, of course, Canning had testified that Kennedy was leaning forward 17 degrees from vertical at frame Z-190. This was far less than the 31 degrees offered by the forensic pathology panel but was still far more than was evident in the Zapruder film.
If you're having trouble grasping this, it's no wonder. There were two interpretations of Kennedy's wounds and body position put forth in major disagreement with each other. One interpretation came from nine prominent doctors and presented Kennedy leaning forward 31 degrees before he was shot, and the other interpretation came from a man with no medico-legal background whatsoever, who re-arranged the wounds and re-positioned the body to come up with something more acceptable to the committee.
When one compares Canning's depiction of the single-bullet theory to the Zapruder film one discovers another reason to doubt not only the single-bullet theory as proposed, but his commitment to the truth. As stated, by moving the single-bullet theory to Z-190 from the Warren Commission’s estimation of Z-210—Z-225, the HSCA had not only increased the vertical trajectory from the sniper's nest, but the right to left trajectory of the bullet entering the limo. This forced them to re-assess Connally's position in the limousine. In order to explain how he could be hit in the armpit by a bullet exiting Kennedy’s throat, Canning decided Connally was sitting near the middle of the limousine, turned to his right. This contradicted Connally’s testimony that after the first shot, he tried to turn to his right but couldn’t see the President, and was starting to turn to his left when hit. A man in the position Canning proposed for Connally could see the President quite easily when turned to his right, and would never have turned to his left in hopes of a better view.
Upon close inspection, it seems clear that Canning paid little attention to the Zapruder film when preparing this drawing. In the film, not only is Connally closer to the door than depicted in the trajectory drawing, but his torso is turned further to its right. A bullet hitting Connally at the angle determined by Canning, it follows, would probably have pierced his heart, and exited his left side. If Canning had studiously compared the Z-frames to the drawing he would also have noticed that Jacqueline Kennedy is in the film at Connally’s left, but that the only way she could be at his left in the drawing would be if she were hanging over the left side of the car. Since a viewing of this sequence reveals she was sitting against the back of her seat, the only logical conclusion to be made is that Connally was closer to the door than depicted.
A photo taken a few minutes before Z-190, but from a similar angle, supports this conclusion. As it depicts Jackie Kennedy sitting considerably inward from her side of the car, but still outside of Connally, it suggests that Connally was sitting in a similar position in Z-190. If one can look at Canning's exhibit and visualize Connally sliding back to the position depicted in this photo, moreover, then one can see how the backwards trajectory through Kennedy’s neck on to the sniper's nest would pivot to his left, right off the face of the school book depository and right onto the face of the Dal-Tex Building.
It gets worse. When one looks closer at the drawing, which was entered into evidence as Exhibit F-144 and re-printed in the final report the next year as Figure II-24, one can see that the line supposedly leading to the sniper’s nest actually leads back to the far east corner of the school book depository, approximately 5 feet from the sniper's nest. This means that if Connally was even one inch closer to the door than depicted in the drawing then the rearward projection of his wounds through Kennedy would miss the school book depository altogether and point accusingly back towards the Dal-Tex Building. Although the wound locations and their relative positions within the limousine were purportedly determined independently, and then projected back towards the sniper's location, the incredible coincidence that this trajectory just so happened to point to the corner makes me suspect that the original trajectories did in fact point towards the Dal-Tex Building, and that Canning subsequently moved Connally further and further inwards from the door until the trajectory from his back wound location through Kennedy’s neck reached the school book depository. Call me paranoid if you like. But there's nothing about Canning's work for the HSCA that remotely inspires trust.
In fact, it inspires mucho mistrust. Canning's drawing reminds me of an earlier drawing used to support the single-bullet theory. In his 1966 book, Our Murdered Presidents, a book supporting the Warren Report and its single-bullet theory, writer Stewart M. Brooks reprinted an early cartoon depiction of the shooting. This Boston Globe cartoon inaccurately depicted the Texas School Book Depository, on the northwest corner of Houston and Elm, in the actual location of the Dal-Tex Building, on the northeast corner of Houston and Elm. Brooks thus misled his readers into believing the Warren Commission's purported single-bullet shot came from directly behind Kennedy and Connally. Now, was this just a dumb mistake?? Or was Brooks deliberately deceiving his readers, knowing full well that the Dal-Tex location was the more "logical" source for a shot striking both men on the right sides of their bodies? Call me paranoid if you like. But I'm not so sure these innocent mistakes are "innocent."
Particularly when these "mistakes" form a pattern...
The Smoking Spine?
The realization that Baden's Exhibit F-58 misrepresented the location of Kennedy's back wound, and moved it further from the spine, led me to wonder just how a bullet entering a back within two inches of the middle of a grown man’s spine can exit from the middle of his throat without striking his spine. Since there was NO damage to the nose of the purported magic bullet, the slightest tick of a transverse process destroys the single-bullet theory.Someone needs to show us then how the proposed magic bullet made its way through Kennedy’s body without striking any bone. Every time a single-bullet theorist makes an appearance the audience should start chanting “spine…spine…” until he deals with this problem. I’m almost serious.
I mean, it's not as if Arlen Specter, when developing his theory, was unaware of this problem. Pathologists consulted for an 11-24-63 article for the Associated Press had claimed that any bullet entering or exiting near the Adam's Apple would "probably" have "struck the spinal cord." When taking the testimony of Dr. Malcolm Perry in March 1964, moreover, Specter asked Perry about his initial speculation Kennedy's throat wound and head wound were caused by one bullet. To this, Perry replied "Since I observed only two wounds in my cursory examination, it would have necessitated the missile striking probably a bony structure and being deviated in its course in order to account for these two wounds...It required striking the spine." Well, if Dr. Perry thought a bullet entering the middle of Kennedy's throat and exiting the right side of his head might very well have hit his spine, shouldn't Specter have considered the likelihood a bullet on the opposite right to left trajectory would similarly strike his spine?
So, why didn't he? Was he afraid of what he'd find? Both Dr. John Nichols in the 1970's, and Dr. David Mantik in the 1990's, studied the anatomy of the neck, and the trajectory of the bullet through Kennedy's neck, and concluded that the bullet, should it have entered the entrance described in the autopsy report, and exited the exit described in the autopsy report, would have struck his spine. This is so readily apparent, in fact, that one of the first articles on the president's wounds, by Frank Carey for the Associated Press, noted: "Pathologists here speculated that President Kennedy's spinal cord and some vital nerve tracts near the base of his brain may have been badly damaged by the bullet that killed him on Friday...the Washington pathologists said that 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, which runs up to the brain via the back of the neck, also at the mid-line. They said 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."
When I looked into this myself, I just couldn’t find a way for the bullet to squeak through. Although some single-assassin theorist trajectories begin above T1, they nevertheless entail that the bullet passed the spine at T1, a level where the spine is considerably wider than it is higher up on the neck (even when one ignores the problematic first rib). From photos and x-rays and from the HSCA’s Exhibit F-58, I was able to estimate that the spine at T1 is 60% the width of the neck above it. As my neck is approximately 5 inches wide, I estimated that Kennedy’s spine was 3 inches wide at T1. This means that it extended 1.5 inches across the midline. Since the spine is slightly more than halfway between the back wound and the throat wound, however, this means that, even if the middle of the bullet entrance (which was ¼ inch wide) was 2 inches to the right of the midline the bullet would strike the spine at just less than one inch from the midline, a half inch or so in from the tip of T1. If the bullet entered closer to the spine—by my analysis the entrance was roughly 1 ½ inches from the midline of the spine--then the bullet would have struck the spine at a point more than ¾ of an inch in from the tip. The width of the spine at T1, therefore, necessitates that the bullet passed either above or below this level. If the bullet passed below this level, it would have to have punctured Kennedy's lung. Well, this didn't happen. But if the bullet entered at T-1 and passed above this level, the bullet would not exit at the T1 level of Kennedy's throat, as demonstrated by the autopsy photos, and concluded by the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel.
This means the only way to make the single-bullet theory work is to disregard the anatomy experts, bend it like Canning, and assert that the bullet entered above T1 and passed slightly above the first rib en route to an exit at approximately the T1 level. This has its own set of problems, however. A bullet passing just over T1 would pass at C7. In 2012, at a shopping mall, I noticed that within a series of booths set up to welcome runners returning from a 10k race for charity there were two chiropractors, and that each of them had a model spine set up to advertise his wares. I inspected these spines and spoke to these chiropractors, and they both confirmed without any hesitation whatsoever that there was "no way" a bullet could pass between the transverse processes of C7 and T1 without striking bone. (This confirmed a point I'd made years before with single-assassin theorist John McAdams, who'd repeatedly claimed a bullet could have passed on such a trajectory, and that he'd demonstrated this many times with a dowel.) In any event, this suggests that, for the bullet to pass over T1 without incident, it would have to pass the spine at C6 or higher--inches above the level of the trajectory proposed by the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel.
If there’s some reason to believe Kennedy’s spine at T1 is not as wide as I’ve ventured, however, or if there is some reason to believe that the bullet entered higher than C7 and just missed striking bone, I’d appreciate someone demonstrating just how this occurred. Similarly, if someone can come up with a reason to believe Kennedy was bent over at the moment of impact, as depicted in HSCA Exhibit F-46 (only with a higher back wound), then maybe the single-bullet theory can be defended.
Even then, however, there will still be significant problems with this fantastic theory, reviled the world over, that some nevertheless claim as a “fact.”
The Upside-Down Pyramid
The bruise on Kennedy's right lung is one such problem. Dr. Humes told the Warren Commission that the magic bullet did not pierce the President’s lung but that it nevertheless left a 5 cm wide “pyramid-shaped” bruise on the uppermost part of the lung. Single-bullet theorists explain this bruise by insisting that it came as a result of the temporary cavity created by the supersonic passage of the bullet. They claim this same cavity caused the damage to the transverse process of the first thoracic vertebrae apparent on the x-rays.
But there are severe problems with this. First and foremost is the large size of the cavity necessary to create such a bruise. Since the bullet, traveling an inch or so above the lung, would presumably be at the center of this cavity, and the bruise on the lung was around 5 cm wide, and pyramid-shaped, the temporary cavity would presumably be around 7.5 cm, or 3 inches, wide. A study by the Biophysics Division of the Army's Chemical Warfare Laboratory published in Military Medicine in 1957 correlates the size of temporary cavities to permanent cavities and demonstrates that a bullet creating a 3 inch wide temporary cavity would be likely to leave a permanent cavity 15mm wide or better. When one considers that the passage of this particular bullet was impossible to probe at autopsy, left the major vessels of the neck unharmed, and left only a 3-5 mm round hole upon exit, it seems highly unlikely such a large cavity was created...
This last point should not be overlooked. A September 2013 article in the International Journal of Legal Medicine by Annette Thierauf et al described a correlation between the size of the temporary cavity created by a bullet within a body and the size of the exit wound. For this study nine composite models incorporating gelatin blocks covered with pig soft tissue and skin were fired upon. They used 5.56 mm ammunition. These bullets were considerably smaller than 6.5 mm M/C bullets (62 grains vs. 162 grains), but traveled at a greater velocity (940 m/s vs. 661 m/s). The formula used to determine the kinetic energy of a projectile is mass x velocity x velocity. The amount of energy potentially released within the neck, and the potential size of the temporary cavity within the neck, was thus about 30% greater for the 6.5 M/C bullet supposedly passing through Kennedy's neck than for the bullets used in this study.
Now, look at the size of the exit wounds discussed in the study.... Three 7.5 cm gelatin blocks were fired upon. The exit wounds on these skin-covered blocks measured 0.9. 0.9, and 1.1 cm at their maximum diameter. Three 16 cm gelatin blocks were fired upon. The exit wounds on these skin-covered blocks measured 5.2, 6.3 and 6.9 cm at their maximum diameter. And three 30 cm gelatin blocks were fired upon. The exit wounds on these skin-covered blocks measured 1.1, 1.2, and 1.8 cm at their maximum diameter. Well, first note that all the exit wounds are far larger than the 3-5 mm approximation for the throat wound reported by Dr. Perry. Now, note that the exit wounds were largest in the medium-sized blocks. This was not an accident. The authors first fired a 5.56 bullet into a soap block in order to determine the distance within gelatin at which the bullet's temporary cavity was at it largest. This was at the 16 cm mark. Their tests, then, proved that the size of an exit wound can be directly related to the size of the temporary cavity surrounding the bullet at the time of its exit.
Unstated but implicit is that the size of this cavity was greatest at this point because it came just after the bullet tumbled. The article noted that the bullet when fired through a soap block left small bits of metal along the second half of the wound track, just after reaching its maximum diameter. It offered "This phenomenon can be explained by bending and compressive stresses squeezing parts of the lead core out of the jacket when the yawing bullet is subjected to lateral forces." In other words, it tumbled.
Well, let's think about this. This study suggests that for a bullet to create a temporary cavity large enough to create the bruise on Kennedy's lung, the bullet would have to have tumbled, and have traveled sideways. Sideways. The magic bullet is over an inch long. For it to travel sideways through Kennedy's neck and fail to either hit bone (as purported by the doctors at Bethesda) or sever an artery (as purported by the doctors at Parkland) would make it more than a magic bullet...it would make it a miracle bullet.
This problem becomes even more problematic when one looks at the reported characteristics of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition. The wound ballistics experts of the Warren Commission and HSCA, Alfred Olivier and Larry Sturdivan, respectively, testified that the bullets fired by Mannlicher-Carcano rifles were among the most stable they ever tested, and, as a result, could pass through one man and hit another with relative ease. Unspoken but implicit in their testimony, however, is that these bullets transmit less energy into the surrounding tissue than other bullets of their class and leave a narrower wound track. (This characteristic of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition was not exactly unnoticed by those who make it their business to notice such things. As far back as 1897, The Columbus Medical Journal noted that "In the Abyssinian campaign of the Italians, the disabling effect of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle of 6.5 millimeters, with which they were armed, was so slight that it was thought that the ammunition had been tampered with: for the natives overcame them with frightful slaughter.")
The characteristics of lung tissue, furthermore, make this problem insurmountable. Lung is, according to the dozens of articles I’ve read on wound ballistics, among the least dense tissues in the body, and, as a result, “little energy transfer occurs, and temporary cavities are small.” Michael S. Owen Smith made this lack of lung density and how it relates to the Kennedy assassination breathtakingly clear in the 1988 book Management of Gunshot Wounds. He said “The thorax behaves differently from the abdomen because it is largely filled with air owing to the large volume of the chest that is occupied by the lungs. Therefore, since the tissues are not mainly liquid-like, the conditions for the formation of the temporary cavity are not met.The heart and great vessels, which are filled with fluid, are extremely susceptible to damage from cavitation, and such injuries from a rifle bullet are fatal. The lung itself is remarkably resistant to damage from high-velocity bullets. Indeed, it is true to say that the lung and the skin are the two tissues that are most resistant to damage from cavitation.”
And it's not as if Smith is an outlier, exaggerating what is not as apparent to his fellow doctors. Nope, even a card-carrying member of the Oswald-did-it-and-we can-all-go-back-to-sleep club like Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio admits, in his classic text Gunshot Wounds, that "Lung, with a very low density and high degree of elasticity, is relatively resistant to the effects of temporary cavity formation, and has only a very small temporary cavity formed with very little tissue destruction." Hmmm.
So what caused the bruise on Kennedy's lung?
Let's go back. Dr. Humes 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.” He later 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 the commission, then, 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.
And no, I'm not just blowing smoke. I found support for this in a most unexpected place. Dr. Alan Moritz, a member of the Clark Panel, and the mentor to the Clark Panel's leader, Russell Fisher, was one of the leading pioneers of Forensic Pathology. His book, Pathology of Trauma (1954), was considered an early classic. And yet, Dr. Moritz, in his book, when discussing penetrating pulmonary wounds, noted that these wounds can sometimes extend into the lung, beyond the path of the penetrating object. He wrote: "A bronchus may be nicked so that a wedge-shaped area of hemorrhagic pulmonary consolidation develops below it." Note that Humes used this same terminology: "wedge-shaped." Note also that this wedge-shape developed as a result of an actual impact, and not just from a bullet passing several inches above.
And let's not stop there. 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. If a bullet had struck the first rib resting at the top of the lung, or the adjacent transverse process of the first cervical vertebra, however, it would have been damaged far beyond the damage incurred by CE 399, the near-pristine bullet purportedly causing the bruise to Kennedy's lung.
The bruise on Kennedy's lung is suggestive, then, that a projectile other than CE 399 struck Kennedy's rib. It is at odds with the single bullet theory.
And we have reason to believe the HSCA's pathology panel knew this to be true.
Here, again, is HSCA Exhibit F-46, from the 9-7-78 testimony of the panel's spokesmen and leader, Dr. Michael Baden. It was subsequently published as Figure 12 in the panel's 1979 report. It had, in other words, been shown to all nine members of the panel.
Now note that the bruise at the apex of Kennedy's lung is roughly pyramid-shaped, with the base at the bottom. Well, this was an upside-down depiction, of the upside-down pyramid.
It's hard to believe no one noticed this...and that the existence of the upside-down pyramid was at odds with the single-bullet theory
The Speed Trap
The damage to Kennedy's neck is also at odds with the single-bullet theory theory.
The 5-13-64 testimony of Dr. Alfred Olivier before the Warren Commission reflects that a bullet fired from the rifle found in the depository at the moment it was believed to have been fired would be traveling around 1904 feet per second upon impact with the back of Kennedy's neck. Fourteen years later, HSCA Wound Ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan, working from the same data as Olivier, said this bullet would have been traveling around 1800 feet per second. Now, this in itself is curious. But it gets worse. In his 2005 book, The JFK Myths, Sturdivan increased this "probable velocity" to somewhere between 2045 feet per second and 1985 feet per second (fps). So, yeah, it sure looks like someone's been having fun with numbers.
For the purposes of our immediate discussion, however, these differences matter little. In all instances, the bullet was traveling well over 1000 fps. This bullet was purported to have struck only soft tissue, and to have done little damage to the neck. Well, this is more than a bit surprising.
The Mannlicher-Carcano rifle purportedly used in the assassination was but one of a new class of rifles to come into fashion during the 1890's. These rifles were classified as modern military rifles, firing small caliber bullets. In any event, much was written in the decade to follow on the wound ballistics of these rifles, both as observed in an experimental setting, and observed in the field.
The Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Meeting of The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (Held at New York City, May 31, June 1 and 2, 1900), presents a report by Capt. W.C. Borden on the wound ballistics of these "modern military rifles" as observed in recent wars, including those of the Spanish-American War. He writes: "Blood vessels and nerves are easily cut or severed by the compound bullet. The comparatively slow-moving lead bullet formerly used, frequently shoved these structures aside and passed them without severing or wounding them. With the small-caliber bullet the case is entirely different. From its high-velocity this missile does not slip by these structures, but severs, perforates or makes clean-cut lateral wounds. Undoubtedly one of the causes for the immediate high mortality among those struck by the compound bullet is from wounds of blood vessels."
And this isn't out-dated information.
Dr. Gary Ordog, in his 1988 book Management of Gunshot Wounds, notes that the mortality rate for high-velocity gunshot wounds to the neck is over 50%. He explains: “Vascular injury caused by missile wounds from bullets moving faster than 1,000 feet/second has been shown to occur by neat shearing of the vessel without stretching it first, as occurs with low-velocity missiles. This is followed by cavitation that damages a more extensive area of the blood vessel, possibly extending for at least 20 mm on each side of the bullet’s path.” He further explains that “Cavitation stretches the smaller blood vessels, shearing and rupturing them as well as nerves and even bone.” He later concludes: "In the author's experience, up to 100% of patients with high-velocity bullet wounds of the neck have major structural damage requiring surgery."
Should one think that Ordog was some ill-informed civilian spouting his personal impressions, one should know that in support of his statements he cited a study performed by Sturdivan's employer, Edgewood Arsenal, and published in the Archives of Surgery in August 1970. This study concludes "The high velocity missile neatly shears the arterial wall, but the apparent explosive effect of the temporary cavity causes 'blunt' trauma in a crushing manner." A chart prepared for this study, moreover, shows that a high-velocity bullet just missing an artery will nevertheless cause breaks in the artery, even when traveling as slow as 1,000 fps.
Now compare those descriptions of the damage one might expect to find with what Kennedy's autopsist, Dr. James J. Humes, told the Warren Commission he actually found. From his March 16, 1964 testimony: "We examined in the region of this incised surgical wound which was the tracheotomy wound and we saw that there was some bruising of the muscles of the neck in the depths of this wound as well as laceration or defect in the trachea...it is our opinion that the missile traversed the neck and slid between these muscles and other vital structures with a course in the neck such as the carotid artery, the jugular vein and other structures because there was no massive hemorrhage or other massive injury in this portion of the neck."
While high-velocity bullets "shear" and "rupture" blood vessels in the neck, the bullet traversing Kennedy's neck was reported to have only "slid between" these vessels--exactly what military surgeon Borden claimed it would not do back in 1900. While Dr. Ordog noted that up to 100% of those receiving a high-velocity gunshot wound to the neck have "major structural damage requiring surgery" Dr. Humes claimed there was "no massive hemorrhage or other massive injury" to Kennedy's neck. Hmmm...
Okay, you might be thinking, this was just the opinion of one of the autopsists, Dr. Humes. Perhaps Dr. Humes had missed something, and the other doctors disagreed and hadn't bothered to correct him. But this wasn't just Humes' speaking for the others... In 1965, Dr. Finck wrote his superior, General Blumberg, and told him not only that "I examined the tracheotomy skin wound and the trachea and did not find evidence of a bullet wound," but that all three autopsists had examined the tracheotomy wound and that "None of us noticed a bullet wound along its course." Double hmmm...
And to close the circle, when discussing the throat wound with the HSCA's Andy Purdy on August 17, 1977, Dr. Boswell is reported to have claimed he was "certain...no major blood vessel (was) damaged by the path of the missile." Triple hmmm...
When one considers that Dr. Charles Carrico, the emergency room doctor who first examined Kennedy, also noted only minor damage to his throat, telling the HSCA that he'd observed "some modest amount of hematoma in the recesses to the endo right of the trachea" and that Malcolm Perry, the Parkland surgeon who performed Kennedy's tracheotomy, not only confirmed Carrico's conclusion there was little damage to the neck, but initially described the exit wound as being only 3-5 mm wide--smaller than the bullets fired by Oswald’s rifle--well, then it becomes pretty darned clear that something is just wrong with the supposed single-bullet "fact". It just doesn't add up. The bullet creating Kennedy's throat wound--if it was a bullet--was almost certainly not traveling at a high velocity.
The more one digs, the clearer this becomes. Beyond testifying to his observing a small hole in the throat, and a lack of damage to the blood vessels, Dr. Perry told the Warren Commission that, before it was obscured by a tracheotomy incision, he had observed a “small ragged laceration of the trachea on the anterior lateral right side.” A small laceration.
He later specified just how small. In 1978, when contacted by the HSCA and interviewed by its counsel Andy Purdy, he claimed that the laceration "was on the right side of the trachea, and that it was incomplete, and I don't remember whether it was a third or a quarter of the circumference..." He then discussed the ramifications of such an injury: "There's an injury to the side of the trachea, there's a wound in the front of the neck, there's some concussive damage to surrounding organs--these are the kinds of things one sees with gunshot wounds and a blast injury and that sort of business...With high velocity...Now the low velocity stuff--it's often just a track, a wound track, with very little concussive or blast injury. And this one was in between. There was evidence of some blast injury, but not like, say, one sees with a high velocity rifle like a 30.06 or a .223 or something. This is quite different."
Quite different indeed. In Management of Gunshot Wounds, Dr. Donald F. N. Harrison explains: “Direct impact on larynx or trachea from bullets fired from high velocity military rifles or carbines will produce severe damage from their high kinetic energy, tumbling, or cavitation effect.” He later specifies just how severe: "With injuries from modern high-velocity missiles the tracheal defect is usually more than 2 cm..." Hmmm... This is not the wound described by Dr. Perry. And, should that not be convincing, Dr.s Kenneth and Roy Swan in their book Gunshot Wounds: Pathophysiology and Management note that "Gunshot injuries of the larynx and trachea are infrequently seen in emergency rooms" due to such injuries usually being associated with "fatal exsanguination (bleeding) from injured common carotid arteries and internal jugular veins."
Surgery in World War II, a book released by the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army in 1962, shares this harsh assessment, and similarly suggests a high-velocity bullet would do more damage than that which was observed in Kennedy's neck. A chapter written by a former surgeon of the Fifth Army, which fought Italian forces in Sicily, reports that when treating neck wounds he needed to effect "Debridement (the removal of dead and damaged tissue) of all structures" as "Multiple involvement was the rule because of the anatomy of the area." And it's not as if this understanding was restricted to military surgeons; Earl Ubell, Science Editor of the New York Herald-Tribune, described Kennedy's wounds on 11-23-63 in a manner suggesting he knew something of the destruction brought by a high-velocity bullet's slicing through a neck. He wrote "The bullet that crashed through President Kennedy's neck and head probably took with it blood vessels and nerves leaving his entire body stunned and helpless."
And no, I'm not cherry-picking from old books and articles to avoid what is written in more current publications. Chapter 7 of The Resident Manual of Trauma to the Face, Head, and Neck, a chapter written by military surgeons Nathan Salinas and Joseph Brennan in a book put out by the American Academy of Otalaryngology (2012), reports that "HVPNT" (high velocity penetrating neck trauma) was "historically treated with mandatory neck exploration, since those patients had mortality rates greater than 50 percent with 90–100 percent major pathology found on neck exploration due to the tremendous amount of kinetic energy (up to 3,000 foot-pounds) imparted to the tissue." Salinas and Brennan then further reveal that for injuries to Zone 1 of the neck, (the area of Kennedy's neck wound--below the cricoid cartilage) "mortality is high." So, yeah, Kennedy--at least in the official version of events--received the worst of both worlds in receiving his neck wound: a high-velocity wound to the neck, an area of the body that is particularly vulnerable to high-velocity projectiles, in an area of the neck where the mortality rate from wounds is particularly high.
From this it seems likely that, in 1964, when the Warren Commission first released the medical reports and testimony regarding President Kennedy, there were many military and emergency room doctors, and even science editors for daily newspapers, who were aware of the single-bullet theory's velocity problem, who opted to say nothing.
Now, some of these may have been confused by what they'd read in old medical texts. History of the Great War: Medical Services, Surgery of the War Vol. II, a 1922 British text describing the wounds observed in the Great War, noted: "bullets may pass through the neck in intimate relation to vital structures without causing serious damage..." But this shouldn't have been taken as an indication Kennedy's supposed back/throat wound was not surprising. This text, after all, made no mention of the velocities at which these benign bullets passed through the neck. One might assume, then, that some if not the majority of these benign bullets passed through the neck at a reduced velocity.
And that's not the only reason to doubt that this text's statement "bullets may pass" applies to Kennedy's back wound. This text also failed to reveal the exact trajectories on which these benign bullets passed these vital structures. As the text noted "Wounds in the middle line in front were very rare and never occurred posteriorly, doubtless because the spine was involved with fatal results," and then proceeded to reveal that but 5 of the 74 wounds to the larynx in which the direction of the missile was noted traveled along the middle line, well, it seems likely no bullet trajectory was observed like the one purported for Kennedy. The trajectory through Kennedy's back, let's remember, is purported to have started an inch or two to the right of his spine and to have ended at the mid-line of his throat. While there was a reference to two instances in which a bullet entered at the mid-line in front and exited to the left of the spine in back, without causing any "important injuries," these bullets were purported to have embarked on an "extraordinary course." In any event, no mention of the range of these bullets or the presumed velocities of these bullets was submitted.
It seems possible, then, likely even, that there's no record of a bullet traveling on the course for the single-bullet theory bullet, at the presumed velocity of the single-bullet theory bullet, and leaving behind as little damage as the single-bullet theory bullet.
Unfortunately, it seems just as likely that there are many doctors, including experienced forensic pathologists such as Michael Baden, who are currently unaware of the problems with the single-bullet theory bullet's trajectory and velocity. In 1980, during a seminar on forensic pathology and homicide investigation in Toronto, Ontario, Dr. Baden admitted that "less than a tenth of 1%" of the gunshot wounds studied by his New York coroner's office were by "military rifles," and that almost all the rest came from handguns or shotguns. He admitted further that Kennedy was killed "by rifle type ammunition which we know very little about."
While one might assume that thousands of doctors with WW II experience would know more than Baden, and would have been able to assist the HSCA, this is not necessarily true. Surgery in World War II confirms the rarity of Kennedy's wounds. Among its graphs and charts it reveals that intra-cranial head and neck wounds each accounted for but 2% of the wounds seen at the hospital level, and that rifle fire accounted for but 5% of the wounds studied. From this one can estimate that during WW II a U.S. doctor would see someone with a head wound created in the same manner as Kennedy's was purportedly created, oh, once every thousand patients or so, and someone with a neck wound created in the same manner as Kennedy's was purportedly created, also about once every thousand patients or so. This brings up the additional question of why neither the Warren Commission nor the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel consulted with doctors who'd seen the effects of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition on soldiers, and instead used doctors affiliated with the U.S. military and/or large research facilities dependent on government grants.
I am not the first to discuss this problem, moreover, as Dr. Ronald Jones mentioned this problem long before I. When testifying before the Warren Commission and asked by Arlen Specter if Kennedy's throat wound could have been an exit for a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bullet, Jones responded: "If this were an exit wound, you would think that it exited at a very low velocity...to the point that you might think that this bullet barely made it through the soft tissues and just enough to drop out of the skin on the opposite side."
And should one assume that Jones was a bit of an oddball, and that his fellow physicians at Parkland Hospital couldn't possibly have shared his impression that the bullet creating Kennedy's throat wound was not traveling at a high-velocity, one should know that Dr. Baxter also told Specter that the small throat wound (which he estimated as being 4-5 mm) was not in keeping with what he would expect for an exit of a bullet traveling at a high-velocity. When asked by Specter why he thought such a small wound was unlikely, he replied: "It would be unlikely because the damage that the bullet would create would be---first its speed would create a shock wave which would damage a larger number of tissues, as in its path, it would tend to strike, or usually would strike, tissues of greater density than this particular missile did and would then begin to tumble and would create larger jagged--the further it went, the more jagged would be the damage that it created; so that ordinarily there would have been a rather large wound of exit." Baxter would clarify this testimony in October 1992, moreover, when he issued a statement claiming that the throat wound was "very small" and looked as though "it might have come from a hand gun."
Now, to be clear, Dr. Baxter accepted that the small size of this wound, under the circumstances described by Specter, was "perfectly understandable." But the circumstances described by Specter were not the actual circumstances. Here is Specter's question: "Dr. Baxter, what would your opinion be if these additional facts were present: First, the President had a bullet wound of entry on the right posterior thorax just above the upper border of the Scapula with the wound measuring 7 by 4 mm. in oval shape, being 14 cm. from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process--assume this is the set of facts, that the wound Just described was caused by a 6.5 mm bullet shot from approximately 160 to 250 feet away from the President, from a weapon having a muzzle velocity of approximately 2,000 feet per second, assuming as a third factor that the bullet passed through the President's body, going in between the strap muscles of the shoulder without violating the pleura space and exited at a point in the midline of the neck, would the hole which you saw on the President's throat be consistent with an exit point, assuming the factors which I have just given to you?"
Well, as we've seen, there was no evidence the bullet passed between the strap muscles of the shoulder. This is something Specter invented, as a consequence of either his lack of integrity or his lack of competence. Yes, Dr. Humes testified that there was a bruising of the strap muscles, and that in hindsight this suggested the passage of a bullet exiting the throat, but the strap muscles HE was describing were on the front of the neck, and not the back of the shoulder.
And no, Baxter was not the only Parkland doctor asked to concur with the throat wound being an exit for a high velocity bullet under the blatantly false circumstances described by Specter. Specter played the same trick (or made the same stupid mistake, take your pick) with Dr.s McClelland, Carrico, Perry, and Jenkins. Dr. McClelland even agreed the wound could be an exit for a high velocity bullet under the incorrect assumption a Carcano bullet would lose much of its velocity in soft tissue. He had thereby supported Jones' belief the throat wound was inconsistent with a wound made by a bullet still traveling at a high velocity.
While Carrico, Perry and Jenkins agreed with Specter's make-believe scenario without reservations, furthermore, we have reason to believe at least two of them were either just playing along, or later came to realize their mistake.
Operative Trauma Management: an Atlas, a medical text book published in 1998, instructs that with high velocity gunshot wounds to the neck, "damage may be remote from the missile tract as a result of blast injury, and the incidence of major associated injuries is high." As discussed, there was no such damage in Kennedy's neck. This makes clear, then, that the wound to Kennedy's throat did not give the appearance of a a high-velocity gunshot wound to those inspecting Kennedy's wounds. And guess what? The editor of Operative Trauma Management was none other than Dr. C. J. Carrico, the first doctor to examine Kennedy's throat wound. And guess what? The author of the cited passage was none other than Dr. Malcolm Perry, who performed a tracheotomy on Kennedy expecting to find damage to the underlying vessels, only to note no such damage beyond a small ragged wound to Kennedy's trachea.
And should one think I'm quoting Dr. Perry out of context, there's this... In 2011, an 11-17-81 letter from Dr. Perry to a student named Stephen Munson was auctioned off over the internet. A link to this letter was sent my way by David Butler. In this letter, Dr. Perry tried to explain his error in calling Kennedy's throat wound an entrance wound. He wrote "I initially thought that the neck wound was an entrance wound only because it was small, as entrance wounds tend to be, but this is not invariably the case. Full-jacketed bullets and small missiles may produce small wounds on exiting, especially if their velocity has decreased appreciably..."
And should that not be enough to convince one that the magic bullet's speeding problem deserves our attention, one should also be aware that at least one of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel's members refused to let themselves believe that the damage to Kennedy's throat was as minor as reported, and presumed instead that the impressions of Dr.s Carrico, Perry, Humes, Boswell, and Finck were grossly in error. While the Panel kept no publicly-available notes of their discussions, Dr. Baden testified to this dispute, telling the HSCA committee, "The panel could not unanimously agree as to whether or not the gunshot wound through the back and neck would necessarily be fatal because of the failure to examine the bullet track at the time of the autopsy--dissect the track. As a result we do not know whether there was injury to the spine of the President or to major blood vessels." The fact that this was even questioned, after Dr. Humes and Dr. Perry testified before the Warren Commission that there was no damage to the spine or major blood vessels, indicates that there was at least one member of the panel who realized that it didn't make a heckuva lot of sense for a high-velocity bullet to create so little damage.
This member, if it was but one member, may have been Baden himself. On 8-15-78, barely three weeks before he testified on Kennedy's wounds, Baden testified before the HSCA on Dr. Martin Luther King's fatal wound. Dr. King had also been killed by a high-velocity rifle bullet; this bullet entered his right cheek, smashed through his jaw bone, re-entered his neck, smashed through his spine and was found beneath the skin on the left side of his back. During his questioning, Dr. Baden was asked by Congressman Sawyer if a high-velocity bullet would cause "extensive damage and severe damage to tissue out beyond its track because of the lines of force it creates within the body." Dr. Baden's response is most informative. After discussing the bones actually hit by the bullet, he added "If the bullet continued through the spine, it would have severed the spinal cord. If it didn't continue through the spinal canal and sever the spinal cord, the lines of force from the impact would have severely damaged the spinal cord without even touching it; and much of the extensive hemorrhaging and destruction of the tissues in the face and neck area of Dr. King were due to the lines of force that you allude to, sir."
And it isn't as if Dr. Baden's 9-7-78 testimony on Kennedy's wounds was any less intriguing. When asked why the bullet hitting Kennedy in the back retained its pristine condition, when the bullet hitting Kennedy in the skull shattered into pieces, Baden replied that "The majority of the panel members are satisfied that it did not strike bone at that point. The missile did create a cavity. The cavity, the bullet missile cavity, created by the bullet at this speed, causes damage much beyond the missile itself. It can cause damage to the spine, even if the spine is a couple of inches away from the bullet. We can speculate as to what it did strike, but there is no evidence from the X-rays, from the trajectory through the body, that it struck any substantial amount of bone. It might have struck the transverse process of the first thoracic vertebra but we cannot prove this."
There was no mention of Dr. Norman Chase in Baden's testimony. On 2-27-78, Dr. Baden, in the company of HSCA staff members Andy Purdy and Mark Flanagan, called upon Dr. Chase, and showed him the x-rays. According to the official notes on this consultation, "In the neck x-ray, Chase noted the presence of a metal fragment or artifact in the area of the transverse process--definitely not a bone fragment. The first rib appeared to be separated from the sternum but he had trouble noting specific evidence of a missile passing through the first or second rib. Air was noted in the subcutaneous tissue in this same region, caused by the passage of a missile and/or air entering the region due to the tracheostomy incision."
Dr. Chase had thereby strongly suggested that a bullet--yikes--had struck bone in this region. He almost certainly didn't believe the nearby passage of a bullet could separate the first rib from the sternum. It should come as no surprise then, that after this consultation, Dr. Chase was not called upon to write a report, and that the committee instead contacted Dr. G.M. McDonnel, a former Army radiologist. McDonnel was more helpful. He told the committee that the fracture in the neck was not the separation of the first rib from the sternum, but an "undisplaced fracture of the proximal portion of the right transverse process of T-1." Such a fracture was, one can only presume, more consistent with the nearby passage of a bullet.
Of course, Dr. Chase's suspicion about the first rib was not the only thing Baden failed to mention. Baden also failed to explain how a bullet damaging the spine--from inches away, no less--could fail to rupture blood vessels but millimeters away. And he failed to explain this because there truly is no explanation... The bullet he was told passed through Kennedy could not have retained its pristine appearance if it had hit Kennedy's spine, so he presumed it did not hit the spine. This, then, led him to assume the cavity surrounding this bullet had damaged the spine. Only...the damage to the trachea and blood vessels as reported was inconsistent with such a cavity. SO...he further assumed that the descriptions of Kennedy's wounds he'd been given had all been mistaken.
He was trying to make the evidence fit the single-bullet theory, as opposed to creating a theory that fit the evidence...
The damage to Kennedy's neck as reported by Carrico, Perry and the autopsy doctors was inconsistent with the passage of a high-velocity rifle bullet. A WW II-era report on the Bougainville Campaign, published in the Army text Wound Ballistics (1962), describes a dozen or so thoracic wounds caused by 6.5 mm ammunition. Here's the chart provided to demonstrate these findings.
Note that the average wound of exit was many times that of the average wound of entrance, with several more than 10 times as large.
And these weren't the only thoracic wound cases detailed in the book. In none of the cases described, however, was the exit wound smaller than the entrance wound. While these shots were virtually all at closer range than the shots striking Kennedy, and all fatal, and therefore automatically more severe than the one striking Kennedy, the small size of the exit in Kennedy’s throat still seems curiously disproportionate. By way of example, one man shot by a sniper from 150 yards, more than twice the length of the shot from the sniper’s nest to Kennedy at Z-224, was found to have a 3 cm by 1.5 cm exit wound on his chest, more than ten times the size of the small wound observed in Kennedy’s throat.
And it's not as if the Warren Commission was unaware of this situation--that the entrance wound should have been larger than the exit wound. Here's CE 850, entered into evidence during the testimony of Dr. Olivier.
And here's Olivier's testimony regarding this exhibit.
Mr. SPECTER. I now hand you a picture marked Commission Exhibit No. 850 and ask you what that represents?
Dr. OLIVIER. These are pieces of clipped goatskin, clipped very shortly. There is still some hair on it. These were placed, these particular ones were placed over the tissues. This would be placed over the entrance side of the animal.
Mr. SPECTER. When you say "this," you are referring to a piece of goatskin which is marked "enter"?
Dr. OLIVIER. Marked "enter." The one marked "exit" was placed on the far side of the tissues and the bullet passed through that after it came out of the tissues.
Mr. SPECTER. For the record, will you describe the characteristics, which are shown on the goatskin at the point of entry, please?
Dr. OLIVIER. At the point of entry the wound holes through the skin are for all purposes round. On the exit side they are more elongated, two of them in particular are a little more elongated. The bullet had started to become slightly unstable coming out.
Mr. SPECTER. And how about the third or lower bullet on the skin designated exit?
Dr. OLIVIER. That hole appears as more stable than the other two. In all three cases the bullet is still pretty stable. The gelatin blocks, there were gelatin blocks placed behind these things too, and for all practical purposes, the tracks through them still indicated a stable bullet.
Olivier and Specter knew that the presumed exit wound on Kennedy's throat should have been larger than the presumed entrance wound on his back, but failed to offer an explanation why the reverse was true.
And it's not as if the passage of time has offered reason to believe Olivier's tests were anomalous, and that it was not at all unusual that a bullet wound of entrance on Kennedy's back would be smaller than the supposed exit of this bullet from Kennedy's throat.
An article by three Finnish doctors (Rainio, Lalu, and Penttila) in the February 2001 issue of Forensic Science International described the autopsies performed on 10 victims of a 1999 massacre in Kosovo. These 10 victims were all killed by assault weapons, which we can presume used smaller bullets than the bullet killing Kennedy, although traveling at a greater velocity. The wounds of exit on these victims, then, can be presumed to have been larger than the supposed wound of exit on Kennedy's throat, should this wound have truly been an exit of a bullet.
But not this much larger. The 10 victims suffered 82 wounds of entrance, 62 wounds of exit, and 7 tangential wounds of both entrance and exit. Of the wounds of entrance, 58 (71%) were 15 mm or smaller in maximum diameter. Of the wounds of exit, but 10 (16%) were 15 mm or smaller in maximum diameter. Only 7 (9%) of the entrance wounds were larger than 25 mm in maximum diameter. Meanwhile, 23 (37%) of the exit wounds were larger than 30 mm in maximum diameter.
Well, it should be clear from this that the widespread belief exit wounds are normally larger than entrance wounds is no myth, and that some explanation should have been offered as to why Kennedy's throat wound was so damned small.
Now, it's not as if no one has tried to explain this...
The Shored Wound Sinkhole
While some, including Dr. Lattimer, have noted that bullets exiting from skin covered by tight clothing have at times created exits smaller than the width of the bullet, they have incorrectly implied this explains the small size of Kennedy's throat wound.
They are flat-out dead wrong. They have failed to comprehend or acknowledge that such an exit, often referred to as a "shored" or "supported" exit, leaves behind a tell-tale sign. According to Dr. Vincent J. M. Di Maio, in his 1992 book Gunshot Wounds, and as demonstrated online in Milicent Cranor's article Trajectory of a Lie, shored exit wounds are "characterized by a broad irregular band of abrasion of the skin around the exit. In such wounds the skin is reinforced, or "shored," by a firm surface at the instant the bullet exits...Shored wounds have very wide, irregular abrasion collars and when dry may simulate contact wounds."
Now this is nothing new. In 1976, Abdullah Fatteh, in his book Medicolegal Investigation of Gunshot Wounds, noted: "If a bullet exits the skin without any resistance other than the tissue resistance, an exit hole with subsidiary tears results...If, however, the bullet exits from the skin against pressure from a firm or hard object in contact with the skin, the appearances of the exit wounds are different...If the object in contact with the skin is hard and the bullet exits against considerable resistance from it, the exit wound may not only be round but it may show a rim of abrasion in its margins. Such exit wounds could easily be mistaken for entrance wounds. Exit wounds of this nature may be seen when the victim is lying on the ground or standing against a wall when and the exited bullet is stopped by the ground or the wall. They may also be caused when the exited bullet hits a belt, buckle, tough clothing or a similar object in tight contact with the skin." Notice that Fatteh says such a wound "may" show a rim of abrasion, not that one can expect it to show such a rim.
An article on gunshot wounds in Modern Legal Medicine, Psychiatry, and Forensic Science (1980), goes a bit further, however. It relates that "under some circumstances, the skin is supported and the character of the exit wound is drastically altered. Instead of being irregular in shape, it tends to mirror the shape of the penetrating bullet, usually appearing as a circular or nearly circular defect surrounded by a margin of abrasion resembling a wound of entrance."
A 1981 article by Dr. Douglas Dixon in the Journal of Forensic Sciences entitled The Characteristics of Shored Exit Wounds, moreover, proclaimed: "If the exit wound is "shored" or abutted by a firm support such as clothing, furniture, or building materials, then the exit wound may take on appearances of an entrance wound, such as a circular defect with an abraded margin. This can occur with contact, close range, or distant shots. 92% of shored exit wounds in one study had a round or ovoid defect, and all had some degree of abrasion. The degree of shoring abrasion increased directly with the KE of the projectile and the rigidity of the shoring material." Notice that Dixon concludes that all such wounds have some degree of abrasion and that the abrasion is related to the amount of energy released in the tissue and the rigidity of the shoring material.
And Dixon was not the only one pushing that a shored wound of exit would have a noticeable abrasion collar. A September 1983 article by Dr. Josephino Aguilar in the Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology, shared Dixon's conclusions. Aguilar concluded that one could distinguish shored wounds of exit from entrance wounds by the “scalloped or punched-out abrasion collar and sharply contoured skin in between the radiating skin lacerations marginating the abrasion.”
These studies then support Di Maio's subsequent claim that abrasion rings are "characteristic" of such wounds, and would most certainly be expected at the shored exit of a military rifle bullet.
This appears to be the modern consensus. The "abrasion ring problem" discussed by Cranor is reinforced by numerous other textbooks and articles, which refer to "supported" wounds--Lattimer's term for the small exit created by the tie--and "shored wounds", the more commonly used term, interchangeably. The chapter on gunshot wounds in the Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences (2000) by Stefan Pollak and Pekka J Sauko, for example, claims: "Occasionally, the margins of the exit wound are abraded (shored) when a firm object (e.g., tight-fitting clothes, floor, wall or back of a chair) is pressed against the body at the site of the exiting projectile (Figures 3c and 5c). Under such circumstances, the skin around the exit is abraded by the supporting surface. In contrast to the “original” abrasion ring around the entry wound, in “shored” or “supported” exits the area of abrasion is not concentric, but irregular or lopsided and often disproportionately large ." Notice that the "rim of abrasion" Fatteh once said "may" be seen surrounding shored wounds of exit is now to be expected...
And is, if anything, larger than the abrasion ring around a typical entrance... Yep, in Forensic Science, an Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques (2003), veteran forensic pathologist Ronald Wright relates: "Often, the rim of abrasion (surrounding a shored wound of exit) is wider than is typically seen in an entrance wound. This may help in differentiating the two types of wounds."
The doctors observing Kennedy's throat wound at Parkland, of course, described a small hole, with no noticeable abrasion ring. The autopsy doctors also failed to describe such a ring. And there is no abrasion ring apparent in the autopsy photos. Even the HSCA pathology panel, which took Lattimer's cue and suspected that the throat wound was a shored wound of exit, noted that the margins of what they took to be the exit wound along the bottom of the tracheotomy incision in the photos were only "slightly denuded and reddish-brown." They failed to note an abrasion ring. It follows then that there is no evidence the small hole in Kennedy's throat was a shored or supported (Lattimer's term) exit, and that the evidence, in fact, suggests it was not.
There is reason to believe, moreover, that some members of the HSCA's panel never fell into the shored wound sinkhole, and never accepted it as the answer to the ever-returning question "why was the throat wound so small?". The panel's report claimed "The panel considered the appearance of the wound in the anterior neck as initially described and subsequently altered. It is of the opinion that such a wound, uniformly regular in shape and small in size, might be anticipated from an intermediate or even high velocity missile if the tissues through which the missile exited were shored, buttressed or otherwise reinforced by clothing or other external objects that would minimize the outward displacement of the skin and underlying superficial tissue and consequent tearing and distortion of these tissues." Hmmm...the panel concluded the small size of the wound "might be anticipated" under such circumstances, not that it was expected, or even consistent with such circumstances. That's pretty weak sauce, akin to saying "it seems slightly possible," or "we'd like you to believe..."
And that was just the beginning... The report of the HSCA panel further noted: "Several panel members are also of the opinion that an unshored exit wound of a missile of comparable size and velocity might be similar if the missile were not misshapen by striking a substantial bone within the body." This means the bulk of the panel was not of this opinion, and believed the shoring of the throat wound to be the only logical excuse for the small size of this exit, should the exit have been for the bullet recovered at the hospital, and fired from Oswald's rifle.
And so...the majority of the panel had doubts the small size of the throat wound was compatible with an un-shored exit of an intermediate or high-velocity bullet, and some had doubts the small size was compatible even if the clothing had shored up the exit. This suggests that the small size of the throat wound is, in the eyes of modern forensic science, an unsolved mystery.
And no, I'm not just cherry-picking and nit-picking in order to pretend there are problems with the "shored wound" explanation for the small size of Kennedy's throat wound. Modern Legal Medicine, Psychiatry, and Forensic Science (1980), presents two photos to support its discussion of shored wounds of exit. The caption to these photos reads "Figure 16-69, Shored outshoot wound. On the right is a shored outshoot wound. On the left is the inshoot wound made by the same bullet. The outshoot wound of shored type is larger than the inshoot wound." Yes, read that again. The outshoot wound is larger. The wound in the photos, moreover, is 2-3 times larger. The autopsy report recorded Kennedy's back wound as 7 x 4 mm. The HSCA panel, after studying the back wound photos, claimed the inshoot wound on Kennedy's back was 9 x 9 mm. Dr. Perry's earliest estimate for the size of the throat wound was 3-5 mm. Dr. Baxter, who helped Perry with the tracheotomy, told the Warren Commission the throat wound was 4-5 mm, including the damaged skin surrounding the hole. Perry later told the HSCA the wound could have been as much as 6-7 mm. But this was still far smaller than the 9 by 9 mm measurement the HSCA panel claimed for Kennedy's back wound. It seems likely then that the writer of Modern Legal Medicine's chapter on gunshot wounds would claim the small size of the throat wound was inconsistent with its being a shored wound of exit, and would have told the members of the HSCA's pathology panel of this problem, should he have been consulted.
Well, he was. Modern Legal Medicine was edited by three doctors, one of whom was Dr. Charles Petty, one of the most outspoken members of the HSCA Pathology Panel. In fact, surprise, surprise, Dr. Charles Petty was the author of Modern Legal Medicine's chapter on gunshot wounds. Modern Legal Medicine is a 1300 page textbook, with 52 contributors. It must have taken years to prepare. It follows then that Dr. Petty was signing off on the HSCA panel's report in which a 9 x 9 mm wound on the back was presented as the inshoot for a shored wound of exit measuring, at best, 6-7 mm, while simultaneously claiming that shored-type inshoots are smaller than shored-type outshoots in a textbook he'd been working on for years. It seems certain then that Petty knew by Dr. Perry's description of Kennedy's throat wound that it was not a shored wound of exit...and decided to either keep this to himself...or go along with his colleagues on the pathology panel, who wanted to keep this quiet.
I mean, let's be honest. It seems likely other members of the panel were more than aware that shored exit wounds are presumed to be larger than their corresponding entrance wounds, or became aware of this fact within a few years of the HSCA's report. Simpson's Forensic Medicine, a British text, available in 14 editions from 1952 to 2019, has long claimed "The exit wound of a bullet is usually everted...Where skin is fully supported, as by a belt, tight clothing or even a person leaning against a partition wall, the exit wound may be as small as the entrance and may fail to show the typical eversion." So why, again, was the panel willing to suggest the exit wound on Kennedy's throat was barely half as large as its corresponding entrance wound? (To be clear, the panel proposed the entrance wound was 9 x 9, or 81 sq mm, while Perry's new and improved approximation of the round exit wound was at most 7 mm, which would translate to 49 sq mm, tops. I mean, something's wrong. Right?)
When I pored through forensics journals looking for any record of a bullet traveling a trajectory like that purported for the so-called "magic bullet," moreover, I found additional reason to doubt the integrity of the HSCA's panel. The October 1975 Journal of Forensic Sciences, for example, describes the death of a woman after she was struck in the throat, in the same location as Kennedy’s throat wound, with a .25 caliber jacketed slug similar in width to the bullets fired from Oswald’s rifle. This bullet traveled on a similar trajectory as the purported trajectory through Kennedy, albeit in the opposite direction. This bullet was recovered from the right transverse process of the 7th cervical spine, the area of the spine purportedly damaged by the passage of the bullet through Kennedy. Now here's the kicker. Even though this bullet was accidentally discharged from a pen gun and was traveling at a much slower velocity than the bullet purportedly traversing Kennedy, it severed the woman’s right common carotid artery in passage, and brought about her death.
Intriguingly, the article was co-written by Dr. Werner Spitz, a defender of the single-bullet theory, who served on both the Rockefeller Commission's medical panel and the HSCA's forensic pathology panel. Dr. Spitz needs to explain then how the supposedly high-velocity bullet striking Kennedy could traverse his neck and do so little damage, while a much slower bullet traveling on the same trajectory was so lethal. Until that time, there’s no reason we should take the single-bullet theory seriously as a theory, let alone accept it as a "fact".
Ovoid? Oy Vey!
If the HSCA's panel had fallen into a shored wound sinkhole (a way of thinking not based on a rational analysis of the evidence), moreover, they weren't the first panel to do so. The Warren Commission, in its report, cited the size of Connally's back wound as possible evidence the bullet first struck Kennedy. They were wrong to do so, however. On page 92, the report claims "Because of the small size and clean-cut edges of the wound on the Governor's back, Dr. Robert Shaw concluded that it was an entry wound." Then, on page 109 it claims "the large wound on the Governor's back would be explained by a bullet which was yawing, although that type of wound might also be accounted for by a tangential striking." The wound was small and then it was large. The report failed to note, mind you, that the doctor claiming the back wound was small, Dr. Shaw, testified that the wound was about 1.5 cm in its longest dimension, and that the wound ballistics expert claiming the back wound was large--and that the bullet may have been yawing--Dr. Olivier, did so under the impression the back wound was 3 cm in its largest dimension. This was the measurement provided by Shaw for the size of the wound AFTER he had expanded the wound.
And Olivier wasn't the last to make this mistake. Nope, far from it. By 1978, the 3 cm long wound on Connally's back described by Olivier had become an urban legend--sort of like the medical equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. In his 1978 testimony before the house select committee, Dr. Michael Baden testified that "the panel concluded, based on the enlarged nature of the entrance perforation in the Governor's back, that the bullet was wobbling when it struck him and had to have struck something before striking the Governor."
It seems evident, however, that not everyone on Baden's panel concurred. The report of Baden's Forensic Pathology Panel, published the next year, claimed instead that "The panel believes that the ovoid characterization of this wound requires interpretation...One possible interpretation is that the avoid entrance wound, as described, could have resulted from the missile striking the skin surface on a tangential plane...Another possible interpretation of this ovoid wound is that the missile itself, just, prior to striking the body, was out of alignment with its trajectory (due to striking an intervening object). That is to say, it had tumbled slightly before entering the body, thereby creating an elongated defect...The panel, in its evaluation, also considers it important that the shape of the defect in the clothing would have been a more uniformly round hole if the bullet had struck on a tangential plane with the missile aligned with its trajectory. The panel (except for Dr. Wecht) concludes, therefore, that the wound in Governor Connally was probably inflicted by a missile which was not aligned with its trajectory but had yawed or tumbled prior to entry into the Governor."
Baden testified that the panel had concluded that the bullet creating Connally's back wound "had to have struck something before striking the Governor" when the panel, with one exception, had actually concluded that the back wound was "probably" inflicted by a missile which was out of alinement. The panel's report said nothing about this bullet having to have hit something before striking the Governor. Dr. Baden had ballooned this possibility into a fact during his testimony, but his colleagues had failed to back him up on it.
Not that this was noticed by the committee... The HSCA's Final Assassinations Report claimed that Kennedy's and Connally's wounds were "consistent with the possibility that one bullet entered the upper right back of President Kennedy, and, after emerging from the front of the neck, caused all the Governor's wounds...A factor that influenced the panel significantly was the ovoid shape of the wound in the Governor's back, indicating that the bullet had begun to tumble or yaw before entering" because "An ovoid wound is characteristic of one caused by a bullet that has passed through or glanced off an intervening object."
It seems clear, then, that Dr. Baden had misled the Committee about the significance of this ovoid wound. As discussed in Milicent Cranor's excellent online article, Trajectory of a Lie, Dr. Robert Shaw, Governor Connally's doctor, initially reported that the wound was 3 cm in its longest dimension, but then realized his mistake. On 3-23-64, when testifying before the Warren Commission, he explained that Connally's back wound was really only about 1.5 cm in its longest dimension (6H85), but that he'd removed the damaged skin around this entrance and enlarged it to about 3 cm (6H88). Now, this should have ended the discussion, right then and there. But no such luck. By 1974, Dr. John Lattimer, the single-bullet theorist extraordinaire, had seized upon the 3 cm measurement--which just so happened to match up with the length of the bullet when traveling sideways--and started claiming in his articles, (such as his article in the November 1974 article in Medical Times), that this was the actual size of the wound that the bullet had been traveling sideways. As demonstrated by Ms. Cranor, Dr. Lattimer let out a big smelly lie in the process.
This, of course, would have been the word of but one sloppy researcher/zealot had Baden and others not fallen under Lattimer's smell/spell. Although Dr. Shaw indicated that the wound was really 1.5 x .8 cm to the HSCA's investigators, and was even quoted on this in the report of Baden's Panel, Dr. Baden oversold the significance of this ovoid shape in his testimony before the committee and produced a stench all his own in his 1989 book Unnatural Death. While an HSCA report written by Baden records the length of Connally's back scar as 1 1/8 inches (or 2.9 cm), Baden told Unnatural Death's readers the back wound scar was 2 inches long (or 5 cm).
Now, let's be clear. This was almost certainly a lie, and not a simple mistake. Dr. Shaw's operative report in which he first claimed Connally's wound was 3 cm made clear that he extended the wound beyond its original size when he excised damaged skin. He subsequently testified that he doubled the size of the wound when doing so, and that the wound was originally 1.5 cm before he extended it to 3 cm. Lattimer and Baden, of course, insist Shaw was mistaken, and that the wound was 3 cm before it was extended. If this is true, however, Shaw's sworn testimony suggests he extended the wound to about 6 cm. As a 6 cm bullet wound would be unlikely to shrink back to a 2.9 cm scar in less than 15 years, Baden's measurement of Connally's scar supports Shaw's statements, and not Lattimer's and Baden's contention the wound was 3 cm before Shaw excised the damaged skin. By increasing the size of Connally's scar from 2.9 cm to 5 cm, however, Baden lent support to Lattimer's nonsense.
The impact of Lattimer's and Baden's lies has been palpable. In 1992, in the mock trial of Oswald put on by the American Bar Association and televised on Court TV, Dr. Martin Fackler, testifying for the prosecution, repeated the 3 cm lie, and made matters worse by incorrectly testifying--when it was pointed out to him that Dr. Shaw had told the HSCA that the wound was really 1.5 cm--that Dr. Shaw had only changed his recollection "later on." This was not true. Shaw had testified before the Warren Commission--in his very first testimony on the subject--that the wound was 1.5 cm. Even so, Fackler's testimony was quite revealing. When one reads the 9-19-75 letter from Lattimer to researcher Emory Brown preserved in the Harold Weisberg Archives, one finds that Lattimer told Brown that Shaw originally claimed the wound was 3 cm long but then "changed his story gradually to make it 1-1/2 cm in latter versions." Well, heck, did Fackler confer with Lattimer before testifying?
You can bet on it. In 1992, Fackler published a three-page article on the one small test he performed for the trial. He published this in his own publication, Wound Ballistics Review. Well, the bulk of this issue was gobbled up by a 25 page article in which Lattimer recounted the numerous tests he'd performed while trying to prove the single-bullet theory. Fackler, it seems clear, was a willing convert to Lattimer's cause, and a more-than-willing repeater of Lattimer's lies.
Since then, "researchers" (more like single-bullet theory aficionados or Lattimerites) such as Gus Russo and Dale Myers have routinely misrepresented the back wound as 3 cm or more in their work. Myers, on his website, actually links to an HSCA report to support that the wound was 3 cm, failing to tell his readers that just below the statement by Shaw in this report is another statement, in which Shaw clarifies his earlier statements, and insists the 3 cm measurement was the measurement of the wound after he'd cut away some of Connally's skin.
Vincent Bugliosi, in his 2007 magnum opus Reclaiming History, was yet another to drink Lattimer's Kool-Aid and call it wine. Recognizing that Shaw's HSCA interview, in which he said he thought the bullet striking Kennedy had not been tumbling beforehand, was a problem, Bugliosi sought to discredit him by suggesting that he (Shaw) originally believed the bullet hitting Connally was inconsistent with a bullet that had not struck something before striking Connally. He wrote: "Dr. Robert Shaw, in his testimony before the Warren Commission, said that although he 'was not a ballistics expert . . . there might have been some tumbling' to the bullet that struck Connally in the back. 'It didn’t have the appearance of a wound caused by a high-velocity bullet that had not struck anything else.' (6H95)"
Well, this was just outrageous. Bugliosi created the illusion Shaw initially believed the bullet striking Connally had hit something prior to hitting Connally. This not only concealed that Shaw had discussed the shooting sequence within days of the shooting, and had told newsmen Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets, but the next few lines of Shaw's testimony, in which he completed his thought. Shaw continued: "in other words, a puncture wound. Now, you have to also take into consideration, however, whether the bullet enters at a right angle or at a tangent. If it enters at a tangent there will be some length to the wound of entrance." Shaw had thereby stated that the bullet hitting Connally could have hit something before hitting Connally, but also might not have hit something before hitting Connally. Lattimer, in Kennedy and Lincoln, had similarly quoted Shaw out of context, and had similarly avoided the next few lines of Shaw's testimony. Bugliosi, who took tremendous delight in catching the errors (or deceptions) of conspiracy theorists, should have caught Lattimer's deception, but instead repeated it to a much larger audience.
So the question then becomes: is there anything (beyond the slightly ovoid entrance on Connally's back) to support that the bullet striking Connally first struck Kennedy?
No, not at all. Not only do single-bullet theorists misrepresent Shaw's testimony and the size of Connally's back wound to sell their theory, they miss that the hole on Connally's jacket and shirt were, according to the HSCA, 1.7 x 1.2 cm and 1.3 x .8 cm, respectively, improbable if not impossible if the back wound was truly 3 cm wide, as they almost uniformly propose.
While acknowledging this 1.7 cm tear, HSCA ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan, in his 2005 book The JFK Myths, argues that a 1.5-1.7 cm entrance is still ovoid and is therefore still an indication that the bullet struck something--such as a President--before striking Connally. He, as Baden before him, fails to acknowledge that the HSCA determined the defect in Kennedy's jacket to be even more ovoid (1 by 1.5 cm) than Connally's jacket (1.7 x 1.2 cm) and that the defect in Kennedy's shirt was also an ovoid .8 x 1.2 cm (to Connally's 1.3 x .8 cm). He also overlooks that the entrance on Kennedy's back was originally measured at an ovoid .7 x .4 cm and that the entrance on the back of Kennedy’s head was measured at an absolutely ovoid 1.5 x .6 cm. While the ovoid nature of these entrances could indicate that the bullets were tumbling, they more probably indicate that the bullets entered at an angle, exactly as offered by Dr. Shaw way back in 1964.
Still, there's another possibility. Papers by Ronchi and Ugolini (Zacchia, 1980) and Menzies et al (Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1981) found that a bullet wound of abnormal length or width can be taken as an indication that the weapon firing the projectile was equipped with a silencer. This assertion has been repeated, furthermore, in books such as 1997's Ballistic Trauma, by South African forensic pathologists Jeanine Vellema and Hendrik Johannes Scholtz.
Just a little something to think about.
As is this... When the Discovery Channel attempted to replicate Kennedy's and Connally's wounds for their 2004 program Beyond the Magic Bullet, the wound on the Connally torso's back created by the tumbling bullet in the program was not ovoid at all, but "keyhole" shaped, and measured 50 x 45 mm.
Ovoid? Oy Vey!
Connally’s Chest Wounds
When one looks at the presumed trajectory of the bullet striking Connally, one finds yet another reason to doubt the single-bullet theory. (I know. I know. This is reason number umpteen. But I’m trying to put this garbage of a theory where garbage belongs, in a trash heap, NEVER to be recycled.) While a bullet entering Connally’s right armpit from behind might indeed have caused a glancing blow to his fifth rib, and have exited without penetrating his lung, as purported by Connally's doctor, Robert Shaw, and supported by the HSCA's Dr. Petty, the fact is that the bullet exited from just below Connally's nipple at a much wider part of his chest, and that a line connecting the entrance in Connally's armpit with this exit would pass right through the substance of Connally's right lung. (This is shown on the slide above.)
And that's not the only problem with Shaw's description of Connally's wounds. In Dr. Shaw's testimony before the Warren Commission, he claimed the bullet "stripped away" "about 10 centimeters of the fifth rib starting at the, about the mid-axillary line and going to the anterior axillary line." Well, it makes little sense for 10 cm of rib to be "stripped away" (as opposed to "fractured") by a military rifle bullet entering on the right side of the rib, passing through the lung, and exiting from the front of the rib. This lends credence, then, to Shaw's belief the bullet never entered the substance of the lung, but curved around the outside.
And this, in turn, suggests that this bullet was traveling at a--you guessed it--reduced speed.
And I'm not the first to say so...
After noting Shaw's belief the bullet had struck a tangential blow to the rib, the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel's report concluded "The majority of the panel members, however, disagree. They would have expected a comparable missile, which was slowed only by passage through the President's neck and by striking only a relatively thin and readily shattered rib, to pass from entrance to exit in a fairly straight line and to perforate the lung." (7HSCA 150).
Yes, you read that right. The presumed speed of the bullet striking Connally was, in the panel's opinion, inconsistent with his wounds as interpreted by the only doctor to examine his wounds. And that's but the half of it. The other half is far worse. This inconsistency led the panel's members not to question their presumption of the speed of the bullet striking Connally, as one might reasonably expect, but to assume Dr. Shaw was in error. Only Dr. Petty, and perhaps Dr. Spitz, stood by Shaw. Spitz, when interviewed on the Lou Gordon show on May 25, 1975, claimed the bullet striking Connally "slid around the fifth rib, which bullets sometimes do when they hit a curved bone, traveled along the rib, broke it." Petty's support of Shaw is noted in the panel's report, just before the panel's dismissal of Shaw's claims. That Petty's support of Shaw had led him to conclude the bullet was traveling at a lower velocity than presumed by the bulk of the panel is confirmed, moreover, by Petty's words to CNN host Larry King on 12-23-2003. The transcript to this appearance, found online, reveals: "The bullet that struck Mr. Connally obviously was traveling at a relatively low velocity. It had lost some of its velocity in going through President Kennedy. Then it went on and did not penetrate the chest, as has been reported. It skirted around the chest, following the curvature of the rib."
(Note: Petty wasn't always so open about the fact his colleagues rejected his conclusions. When asked the HSCA panel's conclusions regarding the bullet trajectory by Vincent Bugliosi in the 1986 mock trial of Oswald, for example, Dr. Petty falsely testified that "The panel concluded that the Governor was struck in the back, that the bullet circled around the outside of the chest, exited beneath the right nipple, went on to continue through his wrist, and then onto his thigh. The right wrist. The left thigh." This was, of course, Shaw and Petty's conclusion, not the panel's.)
Above: a photograph in Dr. Olivier's final report on the wound ballistics of 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition showing a sedated goat waiting to be shot.
The Math Problem
Now, the Warren Commission, famously, took Shaw at his word. With this came a different set of problems, however. In order to “simulate” Connally’s chest wounds and the glancing blow off his rib proposed by Shaw, Warren Commission wounds ballistics consultant Dr. Alfred Olivier arranged for thirteen sedated goats to be shot. In only one of these attempts did the bullet glance off the bone as proposed by Shaw. The recovered bullet from this attempt, furthermore, was far more damaged than the magic bullet, even though it had struck a smaller bone.
This did not go unnoticed, moreover. Fourteen years later, Dr. Cyril Wecht raised this very issue with the HSCA.
Here, take a look. CE 399, the so-called "magic bullet" or "stretcher bullet," is at left. To its right is CE 572 (two test bullets fired into cotton), CE 853 (one of the bullets Olivier had fired off the rib of a goat), and CE 856 (one of the bullets Olivier had fired through a cadaver's wrist). The amount of damage to CE 853 and CE 856, to be clear, made Wecht wonder why CE 399--which was presumed to have struck both a rib and a wrist--suffered such little damage, and to conclude it probably did not strike both a rib and a wrist, as purported.
Wecht's doubts, moreover, led HSCA special counsel I. Charles Mathews tp ask their ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan for an explanation. Sturdivan testified: “Exhibit 853 was a bullet that has ricocheted from the rib of a goat carcass, as Dr. Wecht indicated. However, let’s remember that the goat, which is roughly 100 pounds, is much, much smaller than Governor Connally and, therefore, the bullet passed through a relatively small amount of tissue before it hit the bone, and therefore, lost correspondingly less velocity. So we would have to say that the striking velocity on that bullet, CE 853, was much in excess of the striking velocity on Governor Connally, even if the bullet had passed through nothing before it hit Governor Connally.”
Well, let's stop right here. Sturdivan's testimony is balderdash. The size of the goat in comparison to the size of the Governor is not the issue. Never was. The issue is the length of the wound track within the goat and the Governor. Dr. Shaw, who operated on Connally, said the wound track along Connally's fifth rib was about 20 cm long. So how long was the wound track within the goat?
Although Sturdivan may not have known, or cared to find out, one of his co-workers did. Long-time researcher Gary Murr, as dogged a researcher as ever walked the earth, showed up at the 2016 JFK Lancer Conference with a presentation on Connally's chest wounds, and showed his audience something quite unexpected: the autopsy report prepared by Edgewood Arsenal, Sturdivan's long-time employer, on the goat. This report notes that the wound track within the goat was 18 cm, but two cm shorter than the wound track through Connally.
That Sturdivan had been spinning back in 1978 in order to shut down speculation was made clear, moreover, by his statements moments later. After being asked the difference in velocity between a bullet striking Kennedy and then Connally and one directly striking Connally, he replied: “this bullet if only encountering a few inches of soft tissue would go through losing almost no velocity, 100 feet per second or thereabouts.” Thus, in Sturdivan’s expert opinion, the inch or less of flesh in Connally’s armpit overlying his rib would do more to slow a bullet’s velocity than the 5 ½ inches of muscle and tissue in Kennedy’s back and throat! The wounds are seemingly from different worlds. And at war with one another.
The absurdity of this war was reinforced by Sturdivan in his 2005 book The JFK Myths. In Table III he relates the probable speed of the magic bullet at seven steps of its voyage. Sturdivan proposes that the bullet was traveling at 2160 fps (plus or minus 30 fps) when fired, 2015 fps (plus or minus 30 fps) upon impact with Kennedy's neck (and yes, he writes "neck"), 1830 fps (plus or minus 50 fps) upon impact with Connally's back, 1450-800 fps (plus or minus 100 fps) while penetrating Connally's rib, 500 fps (plus or minus 100 fps) upon impact with Connally's wrist, and 135 fps (plus or minus 20 fps) upon impact with Connally's thigh. This is PREPOSTEROUS. Amazingly, he actually proposes the bullet lost more velocity in Connally's back before penetrating his rib (380 fps plus or minus 100 fps) than from passing through 5 1/2 inches of Kennedy's neck (185 fps plus or minus 50 fps) or shattering Connally's wrist (365 fps plus or minus 20 fps).
If you're wondering how a supposed expert could dream up anything so ludicrous, well, you need to look at Table II in Sturdivan's book. In Table II, he notes the speeds at which bullets like those used in the assassination rifle will deform. Here, Sturdivan relates that such a bullet traveling point first will deform on bone (such as Connally's rib) at 1700 fps and that such a bullet traveling sideways will deform on bone at 1400 fps. As the magic bullet was purportedly traveling sideways as it impacted Connally's rib, and emerged almost unscathed, Sturdivan had to find a way to lower its velocity from the 1830 fps or so it would be traveling upon exit from Kennedy's neck. So he simply decided that Connally's back flesh substantially slowed the bullet before it impacted on Connally's rib around 1450 fps. There were no tests to support this conjecture, at least none mentioned in his book. He simply decided, or so we should presume.
No, that's not quite fair. In Appendix B of his book, Sturdivan offers an explanation for his conclusion. It's an extremely weak explanation, but an explanation nonetheless. You see, Sturdivan claimed he'd realized that the bullet traveled approximately 25-30 cm through Connally's back and chest, and was purported to have destroyed 10 cm of Connally's rib. He then assumed from this, on no apparent basis, that this 10 cm represented the middle third of the bullet trajectory, and that, therefore, the bullet traveled as much as 10 cm or 4 inches through Connally's body before striking his rib. Apparently, it never occurred to him that his mentor Dr. Oilivier, had told the Warren Commission that a bullet passing from Kennedy's upper back to his throat would traverse but 13 1/2 to 14 1/2 cm of tissue, and that it was the height of lunacy for him to propose a bullet passing from the back of Connally's right armpit to just below his right nipple would have to travel twice as far. Apparently, it never occurred to him to look at the entrance location near Connally's armpit, and project 4 inches forward along the trajectory from this entrance. If he had he would have seen that a bullet traveling sideways, as proposed, was on a direct course for the rib, and would have impacted the rib within the first inch or so of its journey.
If you're thinking that Sturdivan is a scientist, and his writings above reproach, for that matter, you should consider that wound ballistics expert Dr. Martin Fackler, in testimony presented in the 1992 ABA mock trial of Oswald, offered that, in his estimation, the bullet exited Connally's rib and struck Connally's wrist at 900 fps. This is almost twice the speed of the bullet traveling 500 fps (plus or minus 100 fps) proposed by Sturdivan, and makes little sense if one considers Sturdivan's approximation that the bullet traversing Connally's chest lost 1200 fps or more in velocity accurate.
It's actually worse than that. In opposition to his testimony, in which he said he thought the bullet struck Connally's wrist around 900 fps, was Fackler's article on the tests he'd performed for the ABA trial. This article was published that same year in Fackler's journal, Wound Ballistics Review. There he claimed he'd spent considerable time studying the wound ballistics literature in order to approximate the expected velocity of an M/C bullet after traveling through Kennedy's neck and Connally's back and rib...in other words, the speed at which the single-bullet theory holds it struck Connally's wrist. He then declared "The estimate I arrived at was 1000 to 1100 ft/s. I would not argue with any estimate that was outside these limits by up to 150 ft/s." Well, heck, this shows that Fackler thought the bullet could have struck Connally's wrist while traveling as fast as 1250 fps, over three times as fast as the low end of the range proposed by the far-less-influential Sturdivan.
And double heck, this not only demonstrates the speculative nature of this "science," but supports that Sturdivan stealthily cut the velocity of the bullet before it hit the rib. I mean, let's think about this: if the bullet had struck Connally's back at 1830 fps, as proposed by Sturdivan, and struck Connally's wrist still traveling 1250-850 fps, as proposed by Fackler, it would most certainly have struck and penetrated Connally's rib at a speed well over 1400 fps, at a speed at which the rib would have grossly deformed the bullet.
And should one still think my suspicion of Sturdivan unfair, and that he would not have changed his findings to support that the bullet striking Connally could have been as undamaged and as nearly pristine as CE 399, one should consider the testimony of one of the HSCA's experts that "the bullet would begin to deform, if it strikes say, soft tissue, at something--remember, the density of soft tissue is around one, the density of water, and it will begin to deform at something in excess of 2,000 feet per second. In other words, at the muzzle velocity of the Mannlicher-Carcano. If it strikes bone, which is twice as dense, then it would begin to deform nose on at approximately 1,400 feet per second. If the bullet turns sideways, which is a weaker orientation, it will deform down to around 1,000 feet feet per second."
Now, this expert's testimony was clearly at odds with Sturdivan's later assertion that the bullet would not deform if traveling below 1400 fps. And this expert's testimony, if accurate, clearly supports the testimony of Dr. Cyril Wecht that CE 399 would have to have been far more damaged for the single-bullet theory to be credible. And this expert was, furthermore, someone with whom Sturdivan would most certainly have compared notes before deciding the bullet wouldn't deform at 1400 fps. So who was this expert, you ask? Yeah--you guessed it--Larry Sturdivan himself...
Now let's look at the ramifications of Sturdivan's HSCA testimony... Dr. Shaw testified that the bullet striking Connally passed within an inch of Connally’s heart. While my study of the trajectories indicates this wasn’t so, that it was more like 3 inches, it also shows that for the bullet to have exited where it did from Connally’s lung, it would have to have passed within an inch or so of Connally’s liver. (The lower lung where the bullet made its exit sits atop the upper dome of the liver like a sailor’s cap sits atop your head.) This bullet is also purported to have struck Connally's back and fifth rib at an angle, and to have traveled sideways through his body along his rib until it exploded outwards, leaving a gaping hole in his chest.
Well, here's the problem. According to a June 1990 article in the British Journal of Surgery by Dr.s G. J. Cooper and J. M. Ryan, bullets traveling sideways impart more than three times the energy into the surrounding tissue as bullets traveling straight ahead. The reasons for this are explained in 1997's Ballistic Trauma, by Dr.s Jeanine Vellema and Hendrik Johannes Scholtz.
"The greater the angle of yaw when a bullet strikes a body, the greater the retardation of the bullet and consequently the greater the amount of kinetic energy transfer. This explains why unstable projectiles in flight cause larger entrance wounds on impact with the body. Once the bullet enters the denser medium of tissue, its yaw angle increases progressively until the bullet becomes completely unstable, tumbles and rotates by 180 degrees, and ends up traveling base forward. Tumbling of the bullet in tissue increases the presented cross-sectional area of the bullet, resulting in more direct tissue destruction and increased retarding (drag) forces, with consequently greater kinetic energy transfer and larger temporary cavity formation. The sudden increase of the drag force also puts strain on the bullet, which may lead to the break up of the bullet and more tissue destruction."
Now plug this in to the official story. According to the numbers provided in Sturdivan's HSCA testimony (as opposed to the gerrymandered numbers he provided in his book The JFK Myths), the bullet struck Kennedy in the back at 1800 feet per second, met minimal resistance, struck Connally at 1700 feet per second, and blasted out his rib at 1,100 to 1,300 feet per second. This indicates the bullet passed nearest the liver between 1300 and 1500 feet per second, traveling sideways, creating a temporary cavity much larger than the temporary cavity created in Kennedy's neck...a cavity believed to be so large, mind you, that single-bullet theorists claim it bruised Kennedy's lung and fractured a transverse process of his spine...
Now consider the damage this would do to Connally's liver.
Once again, Michael S. Owen-Smith in the book Management of Gunshot Wounds: “Direct damage from a high velocity missile is catastrophic, because the liver is extremely susceptible to cavitation damage and the resultant pulping of liver tissue is so extensive that most cases are fatal…Liver and spleen are so sensitive to cavitation and shock effects that they may be damaged even when the rifle bullet passes through the chest…Lesser degree of damage from bullets passing close to the liver would result in damage similar to that from low-velocity bullets or blunt injury." No such damage was reported. The Textbook of Military Medicine, put out by the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, moreover, confirms: “Liver, spleen, and kidney are highly vascular, friable organs (that is, the tissues lack elasticity, they tear when they are stretched). Temporary cavitation causes severe tissue disruption...Such injuries are rapidly fatal.”
Ironically, the fact that Connally survived raises grave doubts about the manner in which Kennedy died. If the mere passage of the bullet created a large bruise on Kennedy's nearby lung, its passage while traveling sideways through Connally would most logically have damaged Connally's nearby liver. That it did not suggests an alternate scenario, in which the bruise on the lung was created by some other means.
Yep, when one goes through the president's and governor's wounds wound by wound, the medical evidence is totally at odds with the single-bullet theory.
Above: a drawing by Dr. Charles Gregory depicting the elongated entrance wound on the top of Governor John Connally's right wrist. Note that this image was drawn by Gregory with his right hand using his left hand a model, and that I have flipped this image in order to present it as a right hand. Image courtesy Gary Murr, who found this drawing in Dr. Gregory's surgical notes.
Connally's Wrist and Thigh Wounds
Let's take, as yet another example, Connally's wrist wounds. While it has long been pointed out (most prominently by Dr. Cyril Wecht) that the bullets fired upon human cadaver wrists for the Warren Commission were inevitably more damaged than CE 399, the bullet purported to have created Connally's wrist wound, this is but the surface of the problem. While this particular aspect of the problem is at least partially explained by the proposal the bullets striking the cadaver wrists were traveling at a speed higher than the speed at which bullets deform, and the bullet striking Connally's wrist was traveling at a speed slightly lower than this speed, there is another aspect to the problem that can't be so readily dismissed.
This aspect to the problem is the small size of the exit wound on the underside of Connally's wrist. It was, according to Dr. Charles Gregory, the doctor who treated Connally's wrist wound, no bigger than a small slit, far smaller than the 2 cm long oblique entrance wound on the top of the wrist and higher up the arm. The small size of this exit was a bit of a mystery to Dr. Olivier, the Warren Commission's wound ballistics expert, and the man who oversaw the tests performed on the cadaver wrists. Olivier's team fired upon 10 wrists lined up so the bullet would enter where Gregory said the bullet entered Connally and exit from where Gregory said the bullet exited Connally. (This is demonstrated in Exhibit A6 from Olivier's 1965 report, below.)
In any event, Olivier was able to reproduce the trajectory but not the wounds. The average entrance was .7 by 3.3 cms and reflective of the oblique angle of entry. This was probably close enough. But the exits were a different matter entirely. While the exit on Connally's wrist was a small slit, the exits on the cadaver wrists were many times larger, and averaged 2 cm wide by 6.7 cm long. That's an enormous difference.
Here, see for yourself. Within Dr. Olivier's report on his tests are four photographs of two of these cadaver wrists, two photographs of entrances and two photographs of exits. Unfortunately, however, the reproductions of the photographs of the entrances are impossible to make out, and the reproductions of the photographs of the exits are nearly as bad. Here, then, is the best I can do until someone somehow gains access to the original photos.
Well, even here you can see that the wrist exits created by Olivier bore no resemblance to the small slit of an exit observed on Connally's wrist, and were, in fact, much larger than the entrances on the other side of the wrist/forearm.
Now, should that not be convincing, we have the x-rays. The top x-ray in the comparison below is an x-ray taken of Governor Connally's wrist, and published as HSCA Exhibit F-84. Note that bone has been displaced but not shattered. Now look at the bottom x-ray. This is Warren Commission Exhibit 854. It is an x-ray taken of one of the cadaver wrists fired upon by Olivier in an attempt to replicate Connally's wrist wound.
It's night and day. It seems clear that the missile striking the cadaver's wrist was traveling at a much greater velocity than the missile striking Connally's wrist.
And this isn't just the observation of a layman. This was acknowledged by Olivier in his report. As we've seen, CE 399--the bullet Specter and the Commission claimed struck Connally on his rib and wrist--suffered little damage. Well, here, in Olivier's report, are four of the bullets Olivier fired into cadaver wrists.
Note that they all suffered far more damage than CE 399.
Now let's put this problem in context. Olivier testified that 1) the average striking velocity of the bullet on the seven wrist shots he measured was 1858 fps; 2) the average exit velocity of the bullet on these seven shots was 1776 fps; 3) there was "considerably more" damage to the wrist bones he'd fired upon than on Connally's wrist bones; 4) there was "a greater flattening of the bullet" in his experiments than there was on CE 399, the bullet purported to have struck Connally's wrist, "which might indicate that it struck the rib which did the flattening at a lower velocity;" 5) these differences had led him to conclude that the bullet striking Connally's wrist was "characterized by an extreme amount of yaw and reduced velocity. How much reduced, I don't know, but considerably reduced;" and 6) this bullet "had so little velocity after coming out of the wrist that it barely penetrated the thigh."
Olivier was thereby telling Specter that the bullet striking Connally was not a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet traveling at full-velocity (which Olivier's tests proved would have been around 1904 fps upon contact with Kennedy) that had previously struck but soft tissue in Kennedy (which Olivier's tests proved would have slowed the bullet by around 125 fps) and a rib in Connally (which Olivier's tests proved would have slowed the bullet by around 265 fps). He was telling him, in so many words, that his single-bullet theory was nonsense.
Of course, he failed to actually say such a thing.
With the help of that master spinner of tall tales, Arlen Specter, he'd found a way out.
See if you can spot it.
From the 5-13-64 testimony of Dr. Olivier before the Warren Commission:
Dr. OLIVIER. The loss in velocity passing through the goat was 265 feet per second.
Mr. SPECTER. Now, would that be the approximate loss in velocity of a pristine bullet passing through the Governor?
Dr. OLIVIER. The loss would be somewhat greater.
Mr. SPECTER. How much greater in your opinion?
Dr. OLIVIER. Do you have that figure, Dr. Dziemian?
Dr. DZIEMIAN. I would say...the Governor was about half again thicker. It would be about half again as great velocity, somewhere around 400.
(Note: Dziemian was the Chief of the Biophysics Division, U.S. Army Chemical Research and Development Laboratories, Edgewood Arsenal, Md. He was both Olivier's and Sturdivan's superior.)
Mr. SPECTER. Had the bullet passed through only the Governor, losing velocity of 400 feet per second, would you have expected that the damage inflicted on the Governor's wrist would have been about the same as that inflicted on Governor Connally or greater?
Dr. OLIVIER. My feeling is it would have been greater.
(Note that the bullet's traveling at a velocity lower than that of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition was not to be considered. To Olivier's and Specter's minds, if the bullet was traveling too slow, well, then, it must have hit something first.)
So there it is. Olivier had previously testified that a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet fired from the sniper's nest would lose about 100 fps before reaching Kennedy and Connally and that a bullet traversing Kennedy's neck would lose about 125 fps. He then testified that a bullet traversing Connally's chest would lose about 400 fps. And he then testified that a bullet piercing Connally's wrist would lose about 82 fps.
Now, here's a surprise. Even with the inflation of the velocity loss in the chest from 265 to 400 fps, that's still not enough.
Such a bullet, after all, would still be traveling at a supersonic rate upon exit from Connally's wrist.
Well, this doesn't jibe with the small size of the exit wound on the wrist and the barely existent wound in the thigh. And, holy smokes...this suggests instead that the bullet creating these wounds was NOT a high-velocity round fired from Oswald's rifle...and that...dare I say it...this bullet may very well have been a low-velocity subsonic round fired from a sniper rifle.
Let's do the math. If the bullet lost 100 fps in the air before striking anything, 125 fps in Kennedy's neck, 400 fps in Connally's chest, and 82 in Connally's wrist, it had lost a little over 700 fps before striking Connally's thigh. A subsonic rifle round is fired with a muzzle velocity around 1,000 fps. The 300 fps left over would be more than enough to pierce Connally's pant leg and damage his thigh.(Various studies have placed the speed at which a bullet will break skin between 163 and 330 fps, depending on the bullet and depending on the skin. A June 1981 article by Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, however, attempted to clarify this issue, and settled on the minimum velocity of 70 mps (230 fps) as the speed at which a bullet is likely to break skin. But we're not gonna use that. The military doctors French and Callender, in their chapter Ballistic Characteristics of Wounding Agents, in the Army publication Wound Ballistics (1962), claimed that a 150 grain bullet would require a velocity of 125-150 fps to break skin. So we'll go with that. I mean, this was a government publication written by military surgeons, released but a year before the assassination. Olivier almost certainly read it, and Specter probably knew about it.)
But no one wanted to hear this. So what does Specter do?
"More" is Not Enough
Mr. SPECTER Had the bullet passed through the President and then struck Governor Connally, would it have lost velocity of 400 feet per second in passing through Governor Connally or more.
Dr. OLIVIER. It would have lost more.
Mr. SPECTER. What is the reason for that?
Dr. OLIVIER. The bullet after passing through, say a dense medium, then through air and then through another dense medium tends to be more unstable, based on our past work. It appears to be that it would have tumbled more readily and lost energy more rapidly. How much velocity it would have lost, I couldn't say, but it would have lost more.
He gets Olivier to say the bullet lost more velocity than 400 fps in Connally's chest. Olivier fails to put a number to this presumption, mind you. And not only that, he also fails to tell us how much velocity it would need to lose for the single-bullet theory to make sense. Yikes. This is a huge gaping hole in Specter's presentation of the evidence. In effect, he has told the commission "We don't know if Kennedy's and Connally's wounds could have been caused by this bullet if it was traveling at the presumed velocity, and we have no reason to believe this bullet could have caused their wounds if it was traveling at the presumed velocity."
And yet, look how Specter covers this in Appendix X of the Warren Report: (Olivier and Dziemian were of the) "opinion that the wound on the Governor's wrist would have been more extensive had the bullet which inflicted that injury merely passed through the Governor's chest exiting at a velocity of approximately 1,500 feet per second. Thus, the Governor's wrist wound indicated that the bullet passed through the President's neck, began to yaw in the air between the President and the Governor, and then lost substantially more velocity than 400 feet per second in passing through the Governor's chest.314 A bullet which was yawing on entering into the Governor's back would lose substantially more velocity in passing through his body than a pristine bullet.315 In addition, the greater flattening of the bullet. that struck the animal's rib (Commission Exhibit No. 853) than the bullet which presumably struck the Governor's rib (Commission Exhibit No. 399) indicates that the animal bullet was traveling at a greater velocity.316 That suggests that the bullet which entered the Governor's chest had already lost velocity by passing through the President's neck.317 Moreover, the large wound on the Governor's back would be explained by a bullet which was yawing although that type of wound might also be accounted for by a tangential striking.318"
Footnote 314 refers back to the passage cited above. As we've seen, Olivier never used the word "substantially." But guess who did...
From the 4-21-64 testimony of the doctor who'd repaired Connally's wrist wound, Dr. Charles Gregory:
Mr. DULLES - Was the wound of exit in the wrist also jagged like the wound of entry or was there, what differences were there between the wound of entry and the wound of exit?
Dr. GREGORY - The wound of exit was disposed transversely across the wrist exactly as I have it marked here. It was in the nature of a small laceration, perhaps a centimeter and a half in length, about a half an inch long, and it lay in the skin creases so that as you examined the wrist casually it was a very innocent looking thing indeed, and it was not until it was probed that its true nature in connection with the remainder of the wound was evident.
Senator RUSSELL - When did you first see this bullet, Doctor, the one you have just described in your testimony?
Dr. GREGORY - This bullet?
Senator RUSSELL - Yes.
Dr. GREGORY - This morning, sir.
Senator RUSSELL - You had never seen it until this morning?
Dr. GREGORY - I had never seen it before this time.
Mr. SPECTER - Dr. Gregory, what was then the relative size of the wounds on the back and front side of the wrist itself?
Dr. GREGORY - As I recall them, the wound dimensions would be so far as the wound on the back of the wrist is concerned about a half a centimeter by two and a half centimeters in length. It was rather linear in nature. The upper end of it having apparently lost some tissue was gapping more than the lower portion of it.
Mr. SPECTER - How about on the volar or front side of the wrist?
Dr. GREGORY - The volar surface or palmar surface had a wound disclosed transversely about a half centimeter in length and about 2 centimeters above the flexion crease to the wrist.
(Gregory has now described two wrist wounds--an entrance wound on the back of the forearm measuring a half a centimeter by two centimeters and an exit wound on the palm side of the forearm much closer to the wrist that was essentially a centimeter and a half-long slit. The entrance wound is thereby much much larger than the exit wound. Now look how Specter spins this...)
Mr. SPECTER - Then the wound on the dorsal or back side of the wrist was a little larger than the wound on the volar or palm side of the wrist?
Dr. GREGORY - Yes; it was.
Mr. SPECTER - And is that characteristic in terms of entry and exit wounds?
Dr. GREGORY - It is not at all characteristic of the entry wound of a pristine missile which tends to make a small wound of entrance and larger wound of exit.
Mr. SPECTER - Is it, however, characteristic of a missile which has had its velocity substantially decreased?
Dr. GREGORY - I don't think that the exchange in the velocity will alter the nature of the wound of entrance or exit excepting that if the velocity is low enough the missile may simply manage to emerge or may not emerge at all on the far side of the limb which has been struck.
(Note that Specter has introduced the term "substantially" and pushed that the bullet's velocity had been substantially decreased and that Gregory has corrected him by telling him that it is not how much velocity that's been lost that makes for a small exit wound but how low the velocity is at the time of exit. He was thereby telling Specter that for all he knows the bullet was of low velocity to begin with. And Specter knew this. Before testifying before the commission in Washington, Gregory had testified to Specter in Dallas. On 3-23-64, he'd told Specter that the bullet creating Connally's wrist wound "had to be one of lower initial energy or a missile which had been partially expended elsewhere before it struck his wrist." Now look how Specter ignores this entirely...)
Mr. DULLES - Would this be consistent with a tumbling bullet or a bullet that had already tumbled and therefore entered back side too?
Dr. GREGORY - The wound of entrance is characteristic in my view of an irregular missile in this case, an irregular missile which has tipped itself off as being irregular by the nature of itself.
Mr. DULLES - What do you mean by irregular?
Dr. GREGORY - I mean one that has been distorted. It is in some way angular, it has edges or sharp edges or something of this sort. It is not rounded or pointed in the fashion of an ordinary missile. The irregularity of it also, I submit, tends to pick up organic material and carry it into the limb, and this is a very significant takeoff, in my opinion.
(CE 399 was, of course, perfectly rounded and nearly pristine. Gregory was thereby telling Specter that as far as he was concerned the single-bullet theory was nonsense.)
It seems clear, then, that neither of Connally's doctors, Shaw and Gregory, bought into the single-bullet theory, and that Dr. Olivier, the doctor hired to test it, had failed to adequately do so. Arlen Specter was undoubtedly aware of this. Something was needed, then, to convince the commissioners and the public that the bullet creating Connally's chest wound lost far more velocity within Connally's chest than the 400 fps Olivier testified to. Only this could explain how the bullet barely exited Connally's wrist and barely penetrated his thigh. And so Dr. Olivier's testimony that "more" velocity than 400 fps would be lost within Connally's chest if the bullet had previously struck Kennedy became "substantially more" in the commission's report. It's called lying.
And it almost certainly came courtesy Arlen Specter...
And he largely got away with it. The problems created by Olivier's tests--the problems Specter tried to paper over by pretending Olivier had said a bullet passing through Kennedy before Connally would have "substantially" less velocity than a bullet merely passing through Connally--were never acknowledged by the HSCA when they re-investigated the shooting in the 70's.
And it's no wonder, when you think of it. The HSCA's wound ballistics expert was Larry Sturdivan, Olivier's protege in the Wound Ballistics Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Above: Larry Sturdivan testifying before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, 9-8-78. Note that he has brought along some giant models of bullets, so that, y'know, the TV audience at home could see what a bullet looks like.
From Larry Sturdivan's testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations:
(Note: Fauntroy and Sturdivan got mixed up at one point and said 2,700 instead of 1,700, This has been corrected.)
Mr. FAUNTROY - The bullet left the gun at 2,000 feet. Do you think at the point it would have struck the first body it was going at about 1,700?
Mr. STURDIVAN - 1,700 to 1,800.
Mr. FAUNTROY - Feet. It would have lost how much going through, you said?
Mr. STURDIVAN - About a hundred. So it is after going through it is perhaps 1,700 feet per second, or a little less, at striking the second body. There it would lose another 400-plus feet per second and exit at, say, somewhere between 1,100 and 1,300 feet per second, roughly.
Mr. FAUNTROY - That is velocity at which it is moving?
Mr. STURDIVAN - At the exit of the second target.
(Note that he assumes the bullet lost 400 fps within Connally, and not "substantially more than 400" a la Specter.)
Mr. FAUNTROY - Would that be enough velocity to shatter a wrist bone?
Mr. STURDIVAN - Oh, yes. My calculations, rough calculations have shown that when striking the bone it would comminute the bone at anything above about 700 feet per second. So it still has nearly twice that velocity and certainly it would have enough to comminute a bone.
Mr. FAUNTROY - And lodge in the left thigh?
Mr. STURDIVAN - Well, yes; after going through the bone it would, of course, again have lost a considerable amount of velocity, but there is no reason to believe that it would not have enough remaining velocity to penetrate some more soft tissue, although it probably would not have had much in excess of 700, perhaps even less than that. So it probably would not have fractured another bone. In other words, if it had continued on the same path and struck the thick bone it would not have fractured it, it would have stopped.
Well, this is a bit curious. While Olivier's experiments demonstrated that the bullet would lose but 82 fps in the wrist, Sturdivan avoided this when testifying before the HSCA and suggested that it may have lost around 600 fps.
Of course, he wasn't alone in this. In the 1992 ABA mock trial of Oswald, Dr. Martin Fackler claimed he'd compared Connally's wrist x-rays with the x-rays of a wrist struck at 1100 fps. He claimed this had led him to conclude Connally's wrist was struck by a bullet traveling about 900 fps. He testified further that in his estimation the bullet exited the wrist traveling "probably about 400 fps." That's a loss of 500 fps. So Sturdivan was in some pretty good company...
And being given very little credit for it... In his 1993 single-assassin theorist manifesto Case Closed, Gerald Posner claimed that "Ballistic experts" had "calculated the speeds at which the bullet would have entered and exited each wound on the President and the Governor. The 6.5 mm slug left Oswald's rifle at 2,000 feet per second and hit Kennedy at the base of the neck between 1,700 and 1,800 feet per second. Passing only through flesh, the bullet lost another one to two hundred feet per second and hit Connally at 1,500 to 1,600. It left his chest (after shattering Connally’s 5th right rib) and entered the wrist at 900 feet per second. Anything above 700 feet per second is enough to shatter bone. When it left the wrist it was near 400 feet per second, just enough to break the skin and imbed itself into his thigh."
Well, as we've seen, no ballistic expert ever said as much... Perhaps, then, this is why Posner said "experts." Yeah, you got it. The footnote supplied by Posner for this passage cites both "Dr. Oliver's" testimony before the Warren Commission and Dr. Fackler's testimony in the mock trial of Oswald. Well, this is wrong to begin with--the first numbers cited were from Sturdivan's HSCA testimony and not Olivier's Warren Commission testimony. In any event, it's clear Posner mixed and matched Sturdivan's and Fackler's numbers to get something he thought made sense, and failed to tell his readers that the scenario presented was entirely his own, and grossly at odds with Dr. Olivier's actual testimony before the Warren Commission.
So, yeah, in Posner's book, Larry Sturdivan's guesswork for the HSCA and Martin Fackler's guesswork for the ABA mock trial were passed off as the "calculations" of the man who'd actually tested this stuff, Dr. Alfred Olivier.
Still, the newly-minted numbers for the velocity lost in Connally's wrist wasn't the last of Sturdivan's re-interpretations of Olivier's data. No, he was just getting started...
In his 2005 book, The JFK Myths, Sturdivan proposes that the "magic" bullet he'd previously testified was traveling 1300 to 1100 fps upon impact with Connally's wrist was really traveling between 600 and 400 fps. And not only that, he similarly proposes that the bullet he'd previously claimed was traveling around 700 fps upon impact with the thigh was really traveling around 155-115 fps.
Well, wait, how the heck did he come to propose the bullet hitting Connally's wrist lost between 485-245 fps, when the tests performed on human cadavers for the Warren Commission--tests in which he'd participated, mind you--suggested the bullet would lose but 82 fps?
Did Sturdivan re-do the tests and conclude Olivier's results were incorrect? Not likely. He never mentions as much in his book. And besides, Dr. John Nichols did re-do Olivier's experiments, and confirmed his results regarding the relatively minor loss of velocity in the wrist. And that's not the worst of it. In the October 1977 issue of the Maryland State Medical Journal, Nichols asserted that the velocity "figures of Dr. Olivier are consistent with those I obtained by chronograph in each of three firings through appropriate anatomical specimens of neck and of wrist at Lake City Army Ordinance Plant in Missouri in March, 1968; however, the retardation of 265 feet per second is about three times that obtained by myself in a single firing through a thorax."
So, yes, you read that right. Nichols' findings suggested that the loss of velocity approximated by Olivier for the flight of the magic bullet through Connally was not only not too small, but quite possibly much too large.
Well, then, was Sturdivan doctoring his data to resolve the problems created by the wrist and thigh wounds? The problems left unresolved by Olivier? The problems left unresolved by Sturdivan in his testimony before the HSCA? The problems later brought to his attention by researcher John Hunt?
It appears so. In the JFK Myths, Sturdivan offers "The Edgewood Arsenal tests showed that some of the bullets fired through goat ribcages lost about 300 feet/second (91 m/s). The much greater thickness of the Governor's trunk, approximately 25 to 39 cm, and the fact that the bullet was traveling sideways through a good portion of the wound, was calculated to have quadrupled this velocity loss." Well, first, QUADRUPLED? And, second, calculated by whom? The clear implication is that this calculation was performed along with the original tests. But there is nothing in Olivier's testimony or subsequent report to support such a thing. And Sturdivan, himself, told the HSCA the chest wound would absorb but 400 fps of the bullet's velocity.
So, yeah, it seems apparent that this "calculation" was performed by Sturdivan all by his lonesome... decades after the tests were performed... while trying to "correct" Olivier's testimony and better support the single-bullet theory.
At first glance, one might think he's onto something. By quadrupling 300 fps Sturdivan gets 1200 fps. 1200 fps is, strangely enough, the amount of velocity lost when one multiples the 400 fps lost in Connally's chest approximation of Dr. Dziemian by 3, the number provided by the British Journal of Surgery for determining the additional amount of energy imparted into tissue when a bullet travels sideways.
But it's not really as neat as that, is it? For one, the velocity lost in the goat was 265 fps, not 300. 265 times 4 equals 1060, not 1200. And for two, the bullet striking the goat undoubtedly DID tumble--after striking the rib. IF it struck the rib a quarter of the way through the goat, as seems reasonable, then, one need only adjust the first quarter of this journey upwards, from 100 fps to 300 fps. This leads to a grand total of 600 fps lost within Connally's chest. 600 fps. Not 1200 fps.
And then there's this. The FBI's Robert Frazier testified before the Warren Commission that the bullet exit on the front of Connally's coat was "approximately circular in shape, three-eights of an inch in diameter." Well, geez, that's not the exit of a bullet traveling sideways, now is it?
Sturdivan was bluffing.
Sturdivan dedicated The JFK Myths to the memory of Olivier and Dziemian. It seems clear he realized they'd failed to adequately explain the small size of the wrist wound and thigh wound, and was trying to--for the sake of their reputations, for the sake of all their reputations--clean up their mess.
But he made an even greater mess. The bullets fired into goats were, according to Olivier's testimony and final report, far more damaged than CE 399, the nearly pristine bullet purportedly fired through both Kennedy and Connally. These bullets were traveling but 125 fps faster, and striking smaller bones. But they were far more damaged. CE 399 was, moreover, purportedly still traveling 1779 fps after striking Kennedy. Sturdivan would later tell the HSCA that bullets traveling sideways deform when striking bone at greater than 1000 fps. If CE 399 struck Connally's rib sideways while traveling at a velocity far beyond the velocity at which it would deform, and lost 400% as much velocity within Connally's chest as the bullet striking the goat ribcage, as purported by Sturdivan, then it would most certainly have been more damaged than the bullets Olivier had fired into goats. This is 2 plus 2 equals 4 kind of stuff. Elementary.
Now let's look back at Table III in The JFK Myths... Sturdivan proposes that the bullet was traveling at 2160 fps (plus or minus 30 fps) when fired, 2015 fps (plus or minus 30 fps) upon impact with Kennedy's neck (and yes, he writes "neck"), 1830 fps (plus or minus 50 fps) upon impact with Connally's back, 1450-800 fps (plus or minus 100 fps) while penetrating Connally's rib, 500 fps (plus or minus 100 fps) upon impact with Connally's wrist, and 135 fps (plus or minus 20 fps) upon impact with Connally's thigh.
So, yes, I'm afraid, there's a method to his madness. By having the bullet impact Connally's back at 1880-1780 fps and strike his wrist at 600-400 fps, Sturdivan lowered the velocity of the bullet to the point where the small exit on the wrist made some sense. This created another problem, however. From having the bullet lose so much velocity within the chest, the near-pristine appearance of the bullet became more problematic. It seems WAY too much a coincidence, then, that Table II in the JFK Myths presents the velocity at which a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet would deform on bone as 1400 fps. Sturdivan had told the HSCA it was 1000 fps, but it was now 1400 fps. This was still well below the velocity of the bullet of course. But never fear, Sturdivan found a way around that as well. In the JFK Myths he proposes that a bullet striking Connally's back between 1880 and 1780 fps would not strike rib until traveling 1550--1350, just above the level at which it would deform.
My, how convenient. As discussed in his online essay Breakability (2006), researcher John Hunt noticed the change from 1,000 fps to 1,400 fps while proofreading Sturdivan's book. According to Hunt, he told Sturdivan about this, and expected Sturdivan to address this in his final draft. Now look how Sturdivan addressed Hunt's concerns...in a footnote to a chart featuring the new numbers, Sturdivan explained: "68. These [the velocity deformation numbers in Table II] differ from the estimates given to the HSCA in 1978, as they were redone for this book. The reader is cautioned that both sets are only rough approximations." Well, golly. Sturdivan admitted that BOTH sets were rough approximations. And that he'd "redone" his calculations for his book.
It seems likely, then, that Sturdivan was just making stuff up to try to cover for his former bosses Olivier and Dziemian, who signed off on the single-bullet theory while knowing the lack of damage to the bullet and lack of damage to the wrist suggested a different scenario entirely...one in which the president and Connally were struck by a bullet or bullets traveling at a greatly reduced velocity.
For those lost in the details, here is a quick chart summarizing the confusing and contradictory claims of Olivier and Sturdivan:
Velocity of a WCC/MC bullet: OLIVIER 1964 STURDIVAN 1978 STURDIVAN 2005
as it leaves the muzzle 2,160 f/s 2,000 f/s 2,130-2,190 f/s
upon impact with Kennedy’s neck 1,904 f/s 1,700-1,800 f/s 1,985-2,045 f/s
upon impact with Connally’s back 1,772 f/s 1,600-1,700 f/s 1,780-1,880 f/s
lost within Connally’s chest >400 f/s 400-(600 f/s) (1,180-1,480 f/s*)
upon impact with Connally’s wrist none given 1,100-1,300 f/s 400-600 f/s
lost within Connally’s wrist 82 f/s (400-600 f/s) (245-485 f/s)
upon impact with Connally’s thigh “very low” approx. 700 f/s 115-155 f/s
at which M/C bullets deform on bone
while traveling sideways none given 1,000 f/s 1,400 f/s
(numbers in parentheses are implied, not stated)
Olivier's post Warren Commission activities only add to my suspicion his (and Sturdivan's) testimony was a sham.
Spotlight on Olivier
As we've seen, the Warren Commission hired Dr. Olivier to test the single-bullet theory. Olivier and the staff at Edgewood Arsenal fired Mannlicher-Carcano bullets through simulated necks, simulated chests, live goats, and actual cadavers’ wrists. He then made out as though the single-bullet theory was viable.
He failed to simulate the wounds all at once, however. Now, for some this was a problem.
Well, never fear, in 1967, CBS hired Olivier to conduct a more thorough test. On the 6-26-67 program The Warren Report a bullet was shown passing through a simulated neck, a simulated chest, and a simulated wrist only to bounce off a simulated thigh.
So what went wrong? In a televised interview, a still from which is shown below, Olivier admitted that, in Connally's "case, the bullet passed along the rib, fractured the rib, throwing fragments into the lung. Of course, we have no rib here, but it still simulates passing through the flesh." He went on to state that even without simulating the damage to Connally's rib, (which would have greatly slowed the bullet prior to its even striking the wrist), "In some cases, it passed through the wrist; in other cases it lodged in the wrist." Well, yikes, this was as good as admitting that they hadn't come close to replicating the single-bullet theory.
Above: Dr. Olivier shares his blocks with the nation, 6-26-67.
When one watches the program closely, moreover, one can spot one of the reasons why the simulation went wrong. A 12-inch gelatin block was used to simulate Connally's chest even though this wound track--which stretched from the back of his right armpit to just below his right nipple--was probably more like 8 inches. So what was that about? Well, by failing to put a simulated bone within this block, Olivier had ensured that the test bullet would not become badly deformed while passing through the simulated chest. But this led to another complication. It would also ensure the bullet would strike the simulated wrist at a greater velocity than the bullet presumed to have struck Connally's wrist. Well, one can only presume, this led Olivier to use a simulated chest block 50% or more longer than the wound track through Connally, to make up for the velocity the bullet would have lost should it have hit bone. The exaggerated size of the chest block, then, would ensure the bullets slowed just enough so that their impact with the simulated wrist--which included a simulated bone--would not deform the bullet to such a degree it would damage the single-bullet theory.
It seems possible, even probable, then, that Olivier was trying to prop-up the single-bullet theory, and the findings of the Warren Commission--and that he doomed his test to failure in the process.
And yet, CBS was undeterred. They reported that the bullets fired in Olivier's test needed just a little more velocity to penetrate the thigh, and declared the single-bullet theory the most reasonable explanation for the President's and Governor's wounds.
Now, sadly, it appears this was not just a slip-up--an incorrect conclusion based upon an inadequate simulation.
No, not all. Olivier's simulation was discussed on the first night of CBS' 4-part program on the Kennedy assassination.
Well, CBS probably should have quit right there.
White-washing the White-wash
In 1968, an Associate Producer on CBS' 4-part program, Stephen White, with the help of CBS News head Richard Salant and program producer Leslie Midgely, pushed out a book, Should We Now Believe the Warren Report?, as a companion to the 4-part program broadcast the previous June.
Well, this book was an obvious white-wash. Literally. I mean, think of a man in a suit, at a wedding. And then think of this man a year later, in his undershirt, watching football, with his beer belly all hanging out. Well, that's what a comparison of CBS' 4-part series to White's book is like. White, much as Vincent Bugliosi, nearly 40 years later, spent much of his book complaining about critics of the Warren Report. He called them members of the "lunatic fringe" and proposed that the only reason anyone in academia or the media would provide them any traction was that the public's anger over the Vietnam War had caused them to lose their marbles and oppose anything coming out of Lyndon Johnson's White House.
Now, White made many such statements in his book. But few of these were so grossly inaccurate and transparently dishonest as his statements regarding the single-bullet theory, and Olivier's simulation of said theory.
Here, take a look...
On page 41, I kid you not, White dismissed as irrelevant that no passage through Kennedy's neck was discovered at autopsy. He insisted, for real, "The lack of a clear passage was no mystery, for the bullet had passed through soft tissue and this necessarily closed back around the path."
Wait, what? This was the exact opposite of what every book on gunshot wounds will tell you, and would have told White, should he have read one. It seems likely, then, that White was deliberately trying to conceal the potential importance of this "lack of clear passage."
And he was just getting started. On page 44, he followed up on his flat-out lie about it being normal for a bullet to leave no cavity as it passes through soft tissue by claiming the FBI agents in attendance at the autopsy failed to understand this, and thereby invented the scenario described in their report--where the doctors discussed the possibility the bullet fell back out of the hole on Kennedy's back. Well, this was just not true. Dr. Humes had readily admitted that he could not figure out what happened to the bullet, and that he thought it may have fallen out, prior to his discussion with Dr. Perry the morning after the autopsy, and his discovery that yessiree the tracheotomy incision on Kennedy's throat had been cut through a small wound, and that this might represent the exit of the bullet.
White then lied about this again. He claimed, on page 45, that the FBI knew within a week of the FBI's report on the autopsy that the FBI's report was in error, and that the bullet creating the back wound had in fact exited from Kennedy's throat. Now, this hid that the FBI failed to obtain or read the official autopsy report for weeks after the assassination, and only did so after being asked to do so by the Warren Commission.
Having lied about the (perhaps non-existent) passage through Kennedy's neck, moreover, White proceeded to lie about the location of the entrance on Kennedy's back. On page 46, he claimed that the entrance was "low in the neck" and that the exit was "high in the neck", and that this suggested an upwards trajectory only because the top of the neck "is some three of four inches higher in back than in front." Well, this was a smoke-screen. That wasn't the problem at all. The problem was that the entrance wound was described as a thoracic wound in the autopsy report, and that the measurements provided for this wound marked it as a wound high on the back (and not low on the back of the neck).
And the smoke only grew thicker. On page 63, to explain Kennedy's back and to the left movement after being struck in the head, White offered that when one studies slow-motion photos of a bullet striking a light bulb, an explosion occurs on the far side of the bullet's entrance that "might" drive "the bulb slightly back." He then insisted "None of this is at all mysterious; it is ordinary high-school physics." Except no, it isn't. Subsequent studies suggesting an item might fly back towards a shooter have all used liquid-filled items such as melons and jugs of water, not light-bulbs, which would never in a jillion years fly back towards the shooter.
White then addressed Olivier's simulation, at least indirectly. On page 71, he claimed "the Governor's chest wound was clearly caused by a bullet traveling at high velocity." Now, I'm not sure where he got this, but the relatively minor damage to Connally's wrist and thigh begged otherwise.
He later addressed the simulation, directly. On page 92, he offered "A full-jacketed bullet, wholly sheathed in copper, which does not make direct impact with hard structure can go a long way and do a good deal of damage without showing much effect." He then explained why the so-called magic bullet remained undeformed after traveling through Kennedy and Connally: "the bullet, with its tough protective shield, was never subjected to an abrupt change of momentum...There were at no time forces exerted upon it sufficient to deform it to any great extent; merely continuous small forces which robbed it bit by bit of its energy."
Well, heck, tell that to Connally's rib and wrist!
But wait, it gets worse. White then insisted "CBS News went to some great pains to recreate a part of the path taken by the bullet, using carefully measured blocks of gelatin to simulate the resistance offered by tissue, and other artifacts to represent clothing and bone structure."
Well, this was a flat-out lie. There had been no attempt to simulate "bone structure."
White then tried to explain how it was that CBS considered Olivier's simulation a success, and support for the single-bullet theory, when he was unable to get even one bullet to lodge itself in the simulated thigh. He wrote that under the circumstances Olivier could not "expect precise results" and that the "approximate answer" was "entirely consistent, within its margin of error, with the single-bullet theory."
He then referred his readers to the photo section of his book, and a photo of two of the test bullets used in Olivier's simulation, which he claimed were "undeformed, like the bullet the Commission asserts passed through the President and the Governor."
(This photo, not shown on CBS, is presented below.)
Well, hell, this gives up the game, yes? Olivier's simulation was supposed to test whether or not a bullet passing through Kennedy and Connally, and blasting through Connally's fifth rib and wrist, could come out as undeformed as the bullet purportedly found on Connally's stretcher, and White offered up as support for this possibility an image of two bullets which had not been fired through a rib or wrist.
In short, the simulation was a sham... (Wait, that's it... It was a sham-ulation!)
It is unfortunate, moreover, that such deception is the rule and not the exception.
In 2003, the Discovery Channel created a similar simulation, with similar results. Once again the bullet, without being asked to strike any simulated ribs at the exit point of a simulated chest, bounced off a simulated thigh and the program declared its simulation a success.
The failure of these tests, moreover, should come as no surprise. In 1967, in the book Where Death Delights, Dr. Milton Helpern, a man who had supervised 10,000 autopsies on gun shot victims, explained why these tests were doomed to failure. He said: “The single-bullet theory requires us to believe that this bullet went through seven layers of skin—tough, elastic, resistant skin…In addition to these seven layers of tough, human skin, this bullet passed through other layers of soft tissue, and then these shattered bones!...I just can’t believe that this bullet had the force to do what Mr. Specter and the Commission have demanded of it."
And it's not as if Helpern was just blowing smoke. In 1987, in a much-discussed letter to the International Defense Review, Dr. Martin Fackler gave substance to Dr. Helpern's observations by reporting his conclusion that human skin had the approximate resistance of four inches of muscle tissue. Yes, that's right. Seven layers of skin have the resistance of 28 inches of muscle tissue. This suggests, then, that Olivier's tests for CBS quite possibly under-represented the amount of resistance encountered by the so-called magic bullet.
And yes, I see the inconsistency. The experiments performed for the Warren Commission suggested that CE 399 was traveling far too fast upon exit from Connally's chest to do such minor damage to his wrist and thigh. And yet the bullets in the CBS and Discovery Channel re-enactments were traveling too slow to injure the thigh. I'm not sure why this is. It's possible they failed to accurately re-enact the damage to the wrist, and lost far too much velocity within the wrist as a result. But it could also be that the simulations were all faulty in one manner or another, and that they served little scientific purpose beyond giving their proponents the opportunity to pretend they'd proved the viability of the single-bullet theory.
So... "What the hell?," one might ask. "If the single-bullet theory is such a steaming pile of nonsense, why oh why did the HSCA--a committee that rejected the Warren Commission's location for the back wound and ultimately concluded there was more than one shooter--come down on its side? And why did so many prominent doctors play along with it?"
Well, I've done some thinking on this...and here's what I've come up with...
It was Guinn-sanity.
Above: Dr. Vincent Guinn in the control room to the nuclear reactor at the University of California, Irvine, where he performed his tests for the HSCA. Dr. Guinn is lurking. The sitting man is unidentified.
Let us first consider that, among the 14 charter members of the Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1972, were:
Dr. Michael Baden, a Forensic Pathologist, who led the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, and helped pick its consultants..
Dr. Lowell Levine, a Forensic Odontologist, who worked as a consultant to the HSCA and verified the authenticity of Kennedy’s autopsy x-rays by comparing them to earlier x-rays.
Dr. Ellis Kerley and
Dr. Clyde Snow, Forensic Anthropologists, who worked as consultants to the HSCA and verified the authenticity of the autopsy photos and x-rays by comparing them to each other
Dr. Vincent Guinn, a nuclear chemist, who studied the bullets and bullet fragments involved in the assassination, using neutron activation analysis, and claimed they showed the wrist fragment to have been a fragment from CE 399, the magic bullet
Well, that's quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say? 5 of the 14 ended up working for the HSCA. One might presume, then, that Dr. Guinn was well-known and well-regarded within this small network of experts. And that they would be inclined to go along with his conclusions...
Now, let's look at a timeline...Robert Blakey took over as HSCA Chief Counsel on 6-20-77.
Blakey had a strong bias towards forensic evidence. On 10-29-18, he told a packed house at The Sixth Floor Museum: "The forensics gives you a framework through which you can assess the witness testimony."
In 1995, Robert Tanenbaum, HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel, published Corruption of Blood, a novel based on his experience working with the committee. In this book, one of the characters, Claude Wilkey, who is clearly based upon HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey, gets excited upon his being asked to run the investigation of the murder of a president, and announces: “We’re going to settle the scientific issues, the forensics, the autopsy once and for all. That’s what the congress expects and that’s what we intend to do.”
Dr. Guinn published an article in the April 1979 article in Analytical Chemistry in which he claimed he was first contacted by an HSCA staff member in the “early summer of 1977.”
Memos and letters found in the Weisberg Archives reflect that HSCA Chief Counsel Blakey wrote a 7-29-77 letter to the National Archives to inform them that the comparative bullet lead tests to be performed by Dr. Guinn were already in preparation.
The HSCA report of Dr. Guinn indicates that he performed these tests on 9-12—9-14, 1977.
Above: the nuclear reactor at the University of California, Irvine, used by Vincent Guinn in 1977.
The report of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel indicates that Group A, which included Dr. Baden, got together on 9-15-77, and that they met Dr.s Humes and Boswell at the archives on 9-16-77. These were the first meetings of the medical panel. Strangely, they began the day after Guinn's tests were completed.
Now, did Baden tell the other members of the medical panel of Guinn's findings re the wrist fragment and magic bullet--and therefore the single-bullet theory--before or after this meeting? One might well assume before, and that Blakey and Baden had decided to confirm Guinn's findings...even before the medical panel had been given a chance to review the autopsy photos.
In any event, in 1998, HSCA investigator Ed Lopez told writer Jim DiEugenio that it was around this time that Chief Counsel Robert Blakey and medical panel chief Michael Baden called chief medical investigator Andy Purdy into a meeting...and that, upon leaving this meeting, Purdy announced: “We’re going with the single-bullet theory.”
Guinn testified before the HSCA on 9-8-78.
On 1-25-79, HSCA Chief Counsel Blakey made a speech at Cornell University. He told his audience: "Ballistics tests show that the bullet found on the stretcher...came from Oswald's rifle. Neutron Activation Analysis established that that bullet, in fact, hit Governor Connally's wrist...The single-bullet theory is correct."
The Final Report of the HSCA Medical Panel, published that summer, confirmed: "The medical evidence alone does not provide the panel with sufficient information to state with absolute certainty that the bullet that struck Governor Connally was the same one which had previously struck President Kennedy in the upper right back, exiting through his neck. The majority believes, however, that the medical evidence is consistent with this hypothesis and much less consistent with other hypotheses. Further, the panel considered other nonmedical evidence that strongly indicates that a single bullet injured both men. This evidence includes: the position of the two men, as shown in the Zapruder film; the fact that the two men can be alined consistent with the trajectory of one bullet; photographs of the seat locations in the limousine; the actual distortion of the so-called "pristine bullet"; the failure to recover any other bullet from the limousine or body; ballistics studies of the ammunition involved; and the results of neutron activation analysis of the bullet fragments conducted by Vincent P .Guinn, Ph.D."
On 9-10-81, Blakey made an appearance on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line. He asserted: “The single-bullet theory is absolutely correct. We established it with the photographs and with the ballistics testimony and the neutron activation analysis testimony...The first bullet misses everybody. The second bullet hits both Kennedy and Connally, several frames in the Zapruder film earlier than what you people looked at. And when you look at 157, where we looked, you can see Connally turning around as he always testified, and a little girl freezing in the back of that frame. And then when you look a little further, to about 187, Kennedy and Connally are perfect in alignment, in the film---this is where the acoustics says it occurred—and that’s the point at which the bullet goes through both of them. And the neutron activation analysis establishes that the bullet fragments in Connally’s wrist are from the bullet fired from Oswald’s rifle, the so-called CE-399. The irony is that much of our scientific work confirmed, and I think put beyond a reasonable doubt, things like the single-bullet thesis that had been an underpinning of the critics’ analysis before.”
In an article by Ron Rosenbaum in the November, 1983 Texas Monthly, Rosenbaum claimed that early assassination researcher Josiah Thompson was now convinced of the single-bullet theory, as a "recent neutron activation analysis of the bullet and the tiny fragments left in Connally's wrist make it almost a scientific certainty that they came from the same bullet."
And Thompson was just one in a long line to claim Guinn's findings propped up the single-bullet theory. In 1988, David Belin published Final Disclosure, supposedly his last word on the Kennedy assassination. There, he rejoiced “since 1963, a new test known as ‘neutron-activation analysis’ has been performed on the bullet fragments from Connally’s wrist and the nearly whole bullet that fell off his stretcher…The neutron-analysis test corroborated that, indeed, all of Connally’s wounds had been caused by the single bullet.” (ugh… no it didn’t.) He continued “The arguments of the Warren Commission critics that Exhibit 399 could not be the single bullet did not depend on whether the bullet had passed through Kennedy’s neck (ugh..what about Nichols?) but really on the argument that two different bullets struck Connally. His physicians disputed this (no, they did not), the wound ballistics’ tests on the wrists of cadavers disputed this (no, they did not!) and all of the neutron analysis tests refuted these claims (no, they did not).The record is clear: One shot did indeed strike the back of President Kennedy’s neck (no, one did not), exited in the front, and hit Connally, causing all of his wounds.” (This is propaganda with a capital P. List reasons to believe that are lies, and then defy anyone to contradict your logic.)
And the beat goes on. In 1989, Dr. Michael Baden published Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner. On p. 18, he claimed: “A tiny fragment of bullet was removed from Connally’s wrist in Parkland Hospital and put into the archive. We took it, together with the bullet from the stretcher, and sent it to a special laboratory in California. The lab does neutron activation analysis, a technique for finding trace amounts of heavy metals that is so sensitive it can distinguish between two bullets on an assembly line. The trace metal content in the bullet found on the stretcher and the fragment from Connally’s wrist matched perfectly.”
And let's not forget Posner. In 1993's Case Closed, Gerald Posner similarly gushed: "Guinn concluded that all the fragments were Western Cartridge Co. bullets manufactured for the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. He found they came from only two bullets...His most important finding was that CE 399, the stretcher bullet, was indistinguishable, both in antimony and silver, from the fragments recovered from the Governor's wrist. Guinn's findings ended the speculation that CE 399 had been planted on the stretcher, since there was now indisputable evidence that it had traveled through Connally's body, leaving behind fragments...He considered the test results as definite as any he had seen in two decades of testing."
Now this shouldn't come as a shock. Dr. John Lattimer, single-bullet theorist extraordinaire, reported in the Spring 1995 issue of Wound Ballistics Review that the lead cores of Mannlicher-Carcano bullets "had enough chemical differences to permit Prof. Vincent P. Guinn to distinguish lead fragments from one bullet from those of the other, with certainty, using neutron activation analysis" and that this had led Guinn "to determine that there were no lead fragments representing a third bullet."
Nor should this come as a shock. Here's Larry Sturdivan in his 2005 book, The JFK Myths: "How do we know that CE 399, or any other bullet from a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, was the bullet that injured Connally? The proof comes from the fragment of lead core that was recovered during the surgical repair of his wrist...Dr. Guinn's NAA, along with the earlier FBI test, unequivocally connects the fragments recovered from the two men to WCC/MC bullets that were fired from Oswald's rifle."
And, finally, here's Vincent Bugliosi. in what was intended to be the last word on the case, Reclaiming History (2007): "Guinn concluded that the large fragment found in the limousine, the smaller fragments found on the rug of the limousine, and the fragments recovered from Kennedy's brain were all from one bullet. His most important conclusion by far, however, scientifically defeating the notion that the bullet found on Connally's stretcher had been planted, was that the elemental composition and concentration of trace elements of the three bullet fragments removed from Governor Connally's wrist matched those of a second bullet, the stretcher bullet. The stretcher bullet, then, had to be the one that struck Connally." (Bugliosi was fibbing, of course. Only one of the wrist fragments was tested.)
Still, from this it seems likely that word of Guinn's findings had promptly spread like wildfire, and had helped set the course for the HSCA's investigation, and the books and articles to follow.
So...how was this a bad thing?
Neutron Activation Analysis Analysis
While single-assassin theorists cite Dr. Vincent Guinn as an expert on bullet-lead analysis...who testified both before the HSCA and in subsequent televised appearances (such as 1988's PBS program Who Shot President Kennedy?) that his test results indicated only two bullets struck Kennedy and Connally, and that the bullet fragment removed from Connally’s wrist "matched" and most probably came from the bullet purportedly found on Connally's stretcher...few have actually studied Guinn's results or read his numerous articles.
If they had, they wouldn't be so supportive.
And that's not just me talking. In his book Every Contact Leaves a Trace (2000), noted forensic scientist Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu reported that, when one actually studies Guinn's results, "it is clear that the trace element evidence shows that more than two bullets were fired."
Still, on what basis can a layman as myself question the findings of a nuclear physicist?
Well, without even going into the substantial circumstantial evidence indicating that the bullet supposedly found on Connally’s stretcher after falling from his leg was, in fact, found on someone else’s stretcher (as per the hospital employees who discovered it—Darrell Tomlinson and Nathan Pool), was never seen until at least an hour after Connally had been rushed into the hospital (as per the nurses and orderlies who removed Connally’s clothes and wheeled away his stretcher—Doris Nelson, Ruth Standridge, Jane Wester, and R. J. Jimison) and never lodged in his leg (as per Connally’s doctor, Dr. Tom Shires), there is reason to doubt Guinn’s results proved what so many believe. (An alternative explanation for the bullet’s presence on the stretcher appears at the end of this chapter.)
If one looks at Guinn’s results, one realizes there is a surprising lack of uniformity in the make-up of Mannlicher-Carcano bullets, both from bullet to bullet and box to box. This is because the type of ammunition used in the gun believed to be Oswald’s was made from the melted-down lead of other bullets. When one looks even closer at Guinn’s analysis, one finds that his interpretation of his test results leaves even more to be desired. Since Guinn believed that similar counts in parts per million of certain elements could leave an identifiable fingerprint of exact bullets, and that antimony, silver, and copper were the most reliable of these elements, let’s make a comparison between three sets of bullets on these elements, and Guinn’s subsequent conclusions.
Numbers reflect the counts of the two samples in parts per million.
A vs. B. 647-602 antimony, 8.6-7.9 silver, and 44-40 copper.
C vs. D, 833-797 antimony, 9.8-7.9 silver, and 994-58 copper.
E vs. F, 732-730 antimony, 15.9-15.3 silver, and 23-21 copper.
So which two samples were described by Guinn as being from the same bullet?
Well, that's actually a trick question, as A vs. B actually represents FOUR samples, a fragment found in Kennedy's brain, two fragments found on the floor of the limousine, and the nose of the bullet found on the front seat. And yet notice how uniform they seem to be. One might actually conclude they are probably from the same bullet. And Guinn did. Well, since they were so uniform and since Guinn also concluded the wrist fragments came from the magic bullet, then E vs. F must be the comparison between the magic bullet and the wrist fragment, right?
WRONG. E vs. F is a comparison between 6001B and 6003A, test bullets taken from separate batches of ammunition from separate years. Subsequent tests showed them to be quite dissimilar.
Which leaves C vs. D as the wrist/magic comparison. Since the silver and copper ranges are substantial, it's safe to say Guinn's conclusion came purely from the similarity on antimony. He ignored everything else and focused on those two numbers...833-797. And yet, when one looks at the test results, one finds that 6002 A2 was at 869, and 6001 B4 was at 791, within 36 ppm of the magic bullet and the wrist fragment, respectively, and this out of only 40 tests beyond the magic bullet and wrist fragment. This translates to there being a 5% chance for the wrist and magic fragments to fall within 36 ppm randomly. Of the 14 different bullets tested from assorted boxes of Western Cartridge ammunition, in fact, 3, 6000a, 6001d, and 6001A, were within 15 ppm on antimony, even though they were from different years and different batches. This reduces the 833-797 numbers to nothing near the relevance Guinn and such disciples as Kenneth Rahn attach to it. When one takes into account the other six elements tested, in fact, the logical deduction is amazingly the opposite of Guinn's ...that it's highly probable the magic bullet and the wrist fragment ARE NOT related.
A comparison of ranges of the 4 fragments found in the limousine vs. the magic bullet/wrist fragment on the 7 elements tested by Guinn:
Antimony: 4 fragments 647-602, magic/wrist 833-797
Silver: 4 fragments 8.6-7.9, magic/wrist 9.8-7.9
Copper: 4 fragments 44-40, magic/wrist 994-58
Aluminum: 4 fragments 5.5-1.1, magic/wrist 8.1-0
Manganese: 4 fragments 0.1-0.01, magic/wrist 0.09-0.07
Sodium: 4 fragments 134-9, magic/wrist 120-5
Chlorine: 4 fragments 59-22, magic/wrist 257-19
Since the range of 2 related samples should be smaller than the range of 4 related samples (7 out of 8 times), and since the range difference should usually be significant, it's clear that manganese is the only element that suggests the magic bullet and wrist fragment are related, and that antimony and sodium are also consistent with that analysis. It's equally obvious that the other 4 elements tested are strongly suggestive there was NO relation at all between the two, as the range of the 2 samples is many times that of the 4. The proper conclusion then should be that the magic bullet and the wrist fragment are most probably not related. This conclusion is supported by the additional fact that CE 399, while missing some lead, is not believed to have lost any size-able amount of copper. As both Connally’s coat by his exit wound and the wrist fragments themselves were found to contain inordinate amounts of copper, one should conclude he was struck by a separate bullet whose jacket had been badly damaged. In short, anyone whose argument for the single bullet theory relies on Guinn's analysis has clearly never studied Guinn's results with an open mind. I mean, his conclusion was just plain wrong. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps not. Perhaps, like a quick draw artist who rapid fires six shots into the side of the barn...and then walks up and draws a bullseye around the closest grouping, he fails to understand how his actions appear to others.
The FBI v Guinn
Sure enough, recent developments in bullet lead analysis have alerted me to much that is suspicious with Guinn’s analysis...beyond his incorrect conclusions. On September 1, 2005, the FBI announced they would no longer analyze bullet lead. Their decision was spurred on by a February 2004 report by the National Academy of Sciences questioning the value of bullet lead analysis, particularly in light that it had never been tested by scientists outside those whose careers depended on its presumed worth, including Vincent Guinn. Surprisingly, this study was performed by the Academy on behalf of the FBI itself, after a former FBI metallurgist named William Tobin began writing articles critical of the probative value of bullet lead analysis. Shockingly, this study even spurred one-time HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey, the man who'd pushed Guinn's findings on the House Committee, to reverse himself and publicly denounce Guinn's findings as "junk science."
Among the reports written by Mr. Tobin and members of the Academy, I found at least three good reasons to suspect that Guinn knew his HSCA testimony was questionable.
1. Although bullet lead analysis was conducted by the FBI for over 30 years, the FBI would not allow its employees to testify beyond that a bullet (usually found within a body) was likely to have come from the same box as bullets found somewhere else (usually in the home of a suspect). The FBI's Cortlandt Cunningham, then Chief of the Firearms section of the FBI Crime Lab, testified in court on February 24, 1977, only months before Guinn's tests, that his agents could only testify that a bullet "could have come from that source or another source with that same composition" and could not identify a fragment as having come from a particular bullet. Guinn’s testimony that it was “highly probable” the wrist fragments and the magic bullet were parts of the same bullet is therefore perhaps the only time in history someone has testified to such a degree. Since the National Academy has now found that “The available data do not support any statement that a crime bullet came from, or is likely to have come from, a particular box of ammunition,” and that the possible existence of coincidentally indistinguishable bullets “should be acknowledged in the laboratory report and by the expert witness” it would seem apparent that Guinn’s expert opinion went well beyond what was warranted.
2. While Guinn said his opinion was based on the results of three elements, antimony, silver, and copper, the FBI at that time was using antimony, copper, and arsenic. Even when Guinn expanded his test to seven elements, arsenic was not included. This forces one to consider the possibility that Guinn tested arsenic, found it did not match, and excluded it from his results. Since silver, which the FBI started using as one of its seven elements in 1990, is reported to have little value, as most bullets are within a small range in parts per million, and are considered to match, its propping up by Guinn as the second most valuable element is also intriguing. Guinn’s own results, where more than half of the test bullets matched the wrist fragment in silver, with many of them closer in parts per million than the “magic” bullet determined by Guinn to be identical, support that such a match is not really much of a match.
3. It seems Guinn himself was skeptical of any conclusions based on only three elements. In 1970, Forensic Neutron Activation Analysis of Bullet Lead Specimens, a report prepared by Guinn and three other scientists for the Atomic Energy Commission, concluded “two bullets with the same pattern of only three identification points are not usually definitively identified as having a common source, Matching concentrations of all three elements does not indicate that two bullets came from the same lot.” Since the FBI began using seven elements 20 years later, and since it was necessary for a bullet to match on all three elements tested up until that time, and all seven elements afterwards, before the FBI would even find that a bullet was likely to have come from the same box as another bullet, it seems clear that, due to the problems with copper, at no time in its history would the FBI have testified that the wrist fragments and the magic bullet matched. In fact, when given the opportunity to do so, in 1964, without even testing copper, the FBI ruled their tests inconclusive and kept them from the public. The question then is not only why Guinn testified in the manner he testified, in contradiction to his previous reports and the accepted standards of the FBI, but whether the FBI was deliberately removed from the process.
Should one suspect I'm exaggerating the vast divide between Guinn's methodology and that of the FBI's crime lab, one need but read The Basis for Compositional Lead Comparisons, an article by Charles Peters of the FBI's Materials Analysis Unit, published in the July, 2002 issue of Forensic Science Communications, and available on the FBI's website. Peters explains: "Years of analysis in the FBI Laboratory have demonstrated that the distinctiveness of a melt is defined not only by the number of elements measured but also by the relative scarcity of other alloys in that melt. Not all measured elements are equally effective at discriminating among lead sources, however. In general, for most lead products, the relative source discrimination power of the measured elements decreases in the following order: copper, arsenic, antimony, bismuth, and silver (Peele et al. 1991). Tin is not included in this list because in many lead sources it is not present at detectable levels. However, when tin is present, it provides excellent discrimination among melts of lead. Antimony, specified by the ammunition manufacturers, is alloyed with lead in order to harden the bullets. The other elements are present in trace amounts and can vary from one product to another." Note that Peters considers both copper, which Guinn found did not match, and arsenic, which Guinn inexplicably failed to test, more reliable indicators than antimony, which Guinn upheld as the only element that mattered. From this it seems clear that, should they have been forced to testify, and encouraged to tell the truth, the FBI's crime lab employees would have told the HSCA that the stretcher bullet and wrist fragments did not match, and that the single-bullet theory, which their former Director J. Edgar Hoover never believed anyhow, was bunkum. This brings us back to the question of why Guinn and Guinn alone was called.
Should one think I'm being a nit-picker, and assume that Guinn had found his own reasons not to trust arsenic as an indicator, and his own reasons to think a single true match was sufficient to pronounce that two fragments were highly probable to have come from the same bullet, let alone the same source, one should read the words of Guinn himself. The bulk of the tests described in Guinn's 1970 report to the AEC were for antimony, copper, and arsenic. Although antimony and copper were found in much more consistent numbers from lot to lot, and box to box, of the same type bullets tested, than arsenic, making arsenic the least reliable, there was no call that arsenic be dropped. In Chemistry and Crime, an anthology published by the American Chemical Society in 1983, moreover, Guinn claimed that "small samples of bullet lead can be analyzed rapidly, quantitatively, and non-destructively for their concentrations of antimony, silver, copper, arsenic, and sometimes tin." He then explained that antimony, silver, and copper can be tested via a rapid screening method, but that the test for tin takes slightly longer, and the test for arsenic even longer. He then declared "if the rapid screening procedure reveals marked differences in the elemental composition (antimony, silver, and copper concentrations) of two bullet lead samples (e.g. a sample from a fatal bullet, and one from a cartridge found in the possession of a suspect) it is apparent they were not produced from the same homogeneous melt of lead, and hence, no further analysis is necessary. If, however, the two samples being compared are analytically indistinguishable from one another in their antimony, silver, and copper concentrations, it is desirable to also compare them via their arsenic concentrations by using the longer procedure to provide four points of comparison instead of just three. In crucial cases, it is even worthwhile to use a third (intermediate) INAA procedure, in an effort to detect and measure a fifth element, tin."
Well, hell, seeing as neither arsenic nor tin were (at least officially) tested, are we to assume that Guinn didn't consider the murder of a president a crucial case?
And it's not as if this was the only time Guinn touted the benefits of arsenic...
In 1990, Guinn edited Nuclear Analytical Methods in the Life Sciences, a collection of papers presented at an international conference the year before. The opening paper, A Short History of Nuclear Activation Analysis, was, in fact, written by Guinn. There, he boasted: "Applications of the NAA method in the field of forensic chemistry--such as for the detection of primer gunshot residue (detecting barium and antimony) and the analysis of evidence specimens of bullet lead and shotgun pellets (for Sb, As, Ag, Cu, and Sn)--are special to the author and are used on a large scale in the investigation of gun shot homicide cases, especially by the FBI Laboratory. In 1977, as part of the reinvestigation of the President Kennedy assassination, the author's reanalysis of all the bullet lead specimens, by INAA, produced decisive results."
Well, hell, there it is again. Guinn said the analysis of five elements (antimony, arsenic, silver, copper, and tin) is "special" to the author (i.e. himself), and that such an analysis produced "decisive results" regarding the JFK assassination, but concealed from his colleagues that of these five, he tested for but three (antimony, silver, and copper) during his reinvestigation of the JFK assassination, and that one of these three (copper) failed to provide a match and was thus thrown out, and yet another (silver) was not very helpful in identifying the bullet from which a fragment had derived as the specimen matched more than half of the bullets tested.
With Activation Analysis Vol.2, published 1990, moreover, the arsenic poisoning of Guinn's credibility approaches a lethal dose. While discussing the best way to test bullet lead, he proposed that one first test his three favorites (antimony, silver, and copper). He then declared: "If this fast method clearly shows that none of the victim specimens match any of the specimens associated with a suspect, in elemental composition, no further analyses are needed. However, if one or more of the victim specimens appears to match one or more of the suspect samples, an additional analysis is called for...to add a fourth element (AS-arsenic) to the comparison." He then discussed other elements that can be tested, including tin. Later, in this chapter, Guinn trumpeted that his bullet lead testing procedures had "been used to advantage in many hundreds of criminal cases...including some very well known cases (e.g. the President John F. Kennedy assassination)."
Sorry, but I have to ask--to whose advantage, exactly?
In any event, Guinn's latter-day papers make crystal clear that arsenic should have been tested.
So, should we assume, then, that in 1978, when Guinn testified before the HSCA, he just didn't have the appreciation for the importance of arsenic and tin he would later develop?
When asked if there were other elements found in bullets beyond antimony, silver, and copper, after all, he'd testified: "Well, many times in bullets, under the conditions that we normally use, you will just see those three. Very often, unless you very carefully clean them, you will find a little bit of sodium and a little bit of chlorine, coming from salt, which may be from perspiration if anybody has handled the specimens, or salt spray in the air if it is anywhere near the ocean, for example. Often you will find a little trace of manganese... The main reason for using the activation analysis method is that it is an extremely sensitive method. it will detect very small concentrations, but it doesn't have the same sensitivity for all elements. Some are far more sensitive than others. So we sometimes see a little manganese, occasionally a little aluminum, once in a while some arsenic or tin. That about covers all of the elements that we have ever seen in all bullet leads."
"Once in a while some arsenic or tin..." Was Guinn deliberately downplaying the importance of arsenic? Or did he simply not see it as important?
If so, it's hard to see how. Guinn had tested arsenic as far back as the 1960's. An article in the May 2004 issue of Analytical Chemistry credits him with pioneering its use. Forensic Neutron Activation Analysis of Bullet Lead Specimens, the 1970 report co-written by Guinn describing his tests for antimony, arsenic, and copper in bullet lead, had suggested that more elements be added into the mix, not that arsenic be dropped. In Application for Nuclear Science in Crime Investigation, a paper written for the Annual Review of Nuclear Science in 1974, moreover, Guinn was still presenting tests for antimony, arsenic, and copper as the usual procedure.
So what happened?
Well, in Chemistry and Crime, 1983, Guinn explained that while the FBI still used the longer procedure he'd helped pioneer, and tested antimony, arsenic, and copper, he now preferred a rapid-screening procedure for antimony, silver and copper. He then explained why he dropped arsenic from the big three. He declared "many samples are too low in arsenic for very precise measurement." But he didn't stop there. He then admitted "that bullet fragments and samples taken from mashed bullets often have bits of copper jacket imbedded or buried in them (if the bullet was a copper jacketed bullet), thus resulting in spuriously high copper concentrations. Of course, such jacket contamination of the sample also produces erroneously high copper values in the rapid-screening INAA procedure. Whenever such useless copper values are encountered, the longer INAA procedure reduces to just two elements (antimony and arsenic, if the arsenic concentration is high enough) and the rapid-screening INAA procedure also reduces to just two useful elements (antimony and silver). In such cases of copper contamination, it is especially desirable to use both INAA procedures to determine a possible total of three useful comparison elements (antimony, silver, and arsenic)."
Well, that's as good as a confession, don't you think? Guinn knew full well he based his conclusions regarding the assassination on two elements, and yet here he is admitting to his colleagues that he really needed to test another element--arsenic--before coming to such a conclusion.
So why didn't he test it?
Hmmm. In Guinn's chapter in Activation Analysis Vol. 2, he spelled out that the content of bullet lead impurities normally ranges from 1 to 100 ppm for silver, 1 to 1500 ppm for copper, 1 to 2000 ppm for tin, and 1 to 2500 ppm for arsenic. This suggests that the likelihood of random matches for arsenic and tin was much less than the likelihood of random matches for silver, and slightly less than copper. (The levels of copper in the stretcher bullet and wrist fragment, of course, didn't match). This, as you might guess, but strengthens my suspicion Guinn tested arsenic and perhaps even tin, but didn't like his results, and flushed them down the memory hole.
In 2014, for that matter, I came across something to make me even more suspicious. While preparing for a conference of my own, I came across a paper by Guinn entitled Neutron Activation Analysis in Scientific Crime Investigation, which he presumably delivered at the 11th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in Atlanta, Georgia, August, 1990. In this paper, he briefly described the Kennedy assassination bullet fragments, and then claimed "During a period of three days, the author examined and sampled the specimens and then analyzed them for antimony, silver, copper, and arsenic (though no arsenic was detectable in any of them)...The largest difference between the two groups of specimens was in their antimony concentration: one group (the Connally stretcher bullet and fragments from Connally's wrist) averaged 815 +/- 25 ppm antimony, whereas the other group (fragments from President Kennedy's brain and one large fragment and various small fragments found in the limousine) averaged 622 +/- 20 ppm antimony. The two groups of specimens also differed significantly in their silver and copper concentrations."
Well, YIKES. First of all, why was no arsenic detectable in the specimens? Mannlicher-Carcano bullets from the same batches as those studied by Guinn were subjected to NAA for a study discussed in the December 2007 issue of the Annals of Applied Statistics, and arsenic was found in the specimens. Second of all, if Guinn had tested arsenic, and had failed to detect any arsenic in the magic bullet and wrist fragment, as claimed, well, why didn't he mention this earlier--like when he was writing his report twelve years earlier--as this would undoubtedly support the wrist fragment's coming from the magic bullet, as opposed to some other bullet? I mean, how could Guinn not have seen this? (One might reasonably suspect, then, that Guinn did in fact test arsenic, but chose to shit-can his results.)
And that's not all. Third of all, why did Guinn fail to mention the copper problem, and instead assert that the copper concentration of the magic bullet and wrist fragment "differed significantly" from the other fragments? They also "differed significantly" from each other. So why didn't Guinn say so? And fourth of all, the two groups of specimens most definitely DID NOT differ significantly in their silver concentrations. The wrist fragment was at one end, and the magic bullet the other, with the four brain and limo specimens in between. Yeah, that's right. Both the wrist fragment and magic bullet were closer in their silver concentrations to the other group than to each other. Guinn's last statement was a lie...
And we have reason to believe it was a deliberate lie...in keeping with a previous lie...
The Silver Solution
While I'd like to have left it at that, there are a number of reasons to distrust Guinn, which I would be remiss not to mention. In Chemistry and Crime, for starters, he not only discussed his testing of the fatal fragments, he provided his readers some background on the assassination and his role in solving the crime...and was totally deceptive in doing so...
For example, after stating that Oswald killed Kennedy and Tippit as a fact, Guinn further revealed his bias by claiming "The consensus of opinion among witnesses was that three rifle shots emanated from that room (NOTE: he means the 6th floor of the depository) when the President and Texas Governor John Connally were hit." This, of course, was nonsense. While some thought some shots came from the general direction of the depository, very few could identify what room the shots came from, let alone form an opinion as to whether all three shots came from there.
He then discussed the Warren Commission, and his work with the HSCA. While doing so, however, he overstated the case by claiming that his testing of the bullet fragments clearly revealed the presence of two and only two bullets. He based this on the fact that the mean or average values of the brain and limo fragments tested were "markedly lower" in antimony than the average values of the magic bullet and wrist fragment (622 vs. 815), and "somewhat lower" in silver (8.07 vs. 9.3).
This last point caught me by surprise. Guinn's HSCA testimony and report reflect that the magic bullet and wrist fragment were measured at 7.9 ppm and 9.8 ppm silver, respectively. That's a mean of 8.85, not 9.3. This led me to take another look at the April 1979 article in Analytical Chemistry in which Guinn first reported his results to the public. Here he claimed the magic bullet was measured at 8.8 ppm silver (plus or minus 0.5 ppm). Well, that explained the 9.3. But how in the heck did 7.9 (plus or minus 1.4) ppm silver in September 1978 become 8.8 (plus or minus 0.5) ppm silver in April 1979? I then noticed a footnote in Guinn's 1978 report at the bottom of Appendix B, where he presented his findings. It explained that silver and aluminum were measured twice for each sample, and that the uncertainty measurements for the test of these elements--which were more than twice as large for the magic bullet (plus or minus 1.4 ppm) than any other sample--reflected either the standard deviation taken from the counting statistics (a number obtained from a formula estimating the accuracy of the test) or "the spread of the two values," whichever was larger. Well, hell, this suggested that one of the two measurements for silver on the magic bullet was even lower than the 7.9 ppm Guinn reported, possibly much lower.
Heck... if I'm understanding this correctly Guinn's measurement of 7.9 ppm silver (plus or minus 1.4 ppm) for the magic bullet meant that his actual measurements were 9.3 ppm and 6.5 ppm, and that he'd averaged them out, and assumed the distance to his actual results was the range. If so, well then it seems likely that his measurement of 9.8 ppm silver (plus or minus 0.5 ppm) for the wrist fragment means that his actual results were 10.3 and 9.3. If this is true, however, it means that Guinn knew that the silver value for the magic bullet may actually have been a bit smaller than 6.5 ppm (when one subtracted the standard deviation taken from the counting statistics) and that the silver value for the wrist fragment may actually have been a bit larger than 10.3 ppm. Well, then, no wonder he ignored the counting statistics! No wonder he measured his samples twice and averaged them out! As shown on the slide above, there is no way anyone can consider a silver value of 10.3 ppm a match for a silver value of 6.5 ppm. As more than half the Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition samples tested fell within this range, it is at best inconclusive. If the test for silver was inconclusive, of course, Guinn had little choice beyond admitting that there was insufficient evidence to claim the magic bullet and wrist fragments matched. Perhaps then this was why Guinn reconfigured this number months later, and changed a 7.9 into an 8.8... Perhaps he'd realized that if he'd presented the measurement for silver as 7.9 (plus or minus 1.4 ppm), questions might arise in the minds of his fellow scientists. A wrist fragment measurement of 7.9 ppm silver, after all, would suggest that the wrist fragment and magic bullet were closer in composition to the brain and limo fragments than they actually were to each other. And this, in turn, would pretty much sink Guinn's claim that his tests revealed two readily distinguishable bullets.
So why not just change a number or two? I mean, if you're gonna fudge your numbers you might as well make it a nice chocolate-y fudge.
(It should be noted, moreover, that many if not most of Guinn's colleagues were fooled by his switcheroo. As recently as 2007, the standard textbook Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science featured a section on Guinn's tests in its chapter on Inorganic Analysis. It reprinted, with Guinn's permission, the almost certainly falsified chart Guinn published in Analytical Chemistry, and failed to note that this chart was at odds with the chart Guinn provided the HSCA. It included, among the conclusions to be drawn from Guinn's tests, that there was evidence for only two bullets, one represented by three fragments found in the limo with a composition of 8.1 ppm silver, and one represented by the magic bullet and the wrist fragment with a composition of 9.3 ppm silver. If the magic bullet (CE 399) had actually demonstrated 7.9 ppm, as Guinn told the HSCA, of course, no such conclusion could have been drawn. One can only wonder, then, if the reprinting of the chart Guinn published in Analytical Chemistry was part of an ongoing effort to conceal Guinn's original chart, not to mention his sworn testimony. Just sayin'.)
Of Alchemists and Liars
Guinn's treatment of the copper test in Chemistry and Crime was even more curious. While acknowledging that the wrist fragment had far more copper than the other fragments, he claimed this indicated it was "probably contaminated with imbedded copper jacket material," and that this invalidated the test. He discusses this on pages 74-75. Well, on pages 70-71, he claims that in the FBI Laboratory specimens "are examined under magnification to ascertain whether there is any visible evidence of adhering jacket material. If there is, one attempts to remove the jacket material with a surgical scalpel." He then proceeds "In our laboratory, such samples are then further processed by immersing each sample in concentrated nitric acid for 10 minutes at room temperature. This procedure will dissolve away any specks of adhering jacket material without dissolving any measurable amount of the lead material. However, even this acid treatment procedure fails if there are jacket particles completely imbedded in the lead and inaccessible to attack by the nitric acid." Now, the largest wrist fragment, the only one tested, was tiny, only 16.4 mg. (It would take 632 fragments of this size to make a 160 grain bullet like the one purportedly killing Kennedy.) This tiny fragment, moreover, supposedly fell from the bullet as it traversed Connally's wrist. There was no copper missing, at least that anyone described, from the tail end of the bullet. So how, presuming Guinn actually performed the inspection described both above and in his September 1978 report to the HSCA, did copper get "imbedded" within the lead of this tiny fragment?
Well, on page 76 he offers up a theory. Sort of. Basically, he throws out a little fact (which turns out not to be a fact) which those reading his chapter can then use to make sense of the copper mystery. He writes that the so-called magic bullet "left no particles along the wound track in either the President or the Governor, and hence was not damaged (even though it broke one of the Governor's ribs with a glancing blow) until it struck the Governor's right wrist. Here, it suffered a dent in its nose and lost about 1% of its lead." Yep, he proposed, albeit in a roundabout way, that the copper imbedded in the wrist fragment came from the nose of the so-called magic bullet. Well, there's two problems with this: 1) the dent on the bullet nose was created by the FBI subsequent to the shooting, and 2) he knew the lead in the wrist fragment came from the back of the bullet. Yes, when asked in his HSCA testimony if it was his testimony that the magic bullet and wrist fragments came from the same bullet, he testified "Yes. One, of course, is almost a complete bullet so it means that the (wrist) fragments came from, in this case, the base of the bullet."
SO...my gosh, it appears from this that Guinn was trying to sell that a nearly pristine bullet hit Connally's wrist, and lost some copper from its nose, and that this copper then somehow got imbedded within a tiny speck of lead squeezed from the base of the bullet upon impact, so much so that the copper was imperceptible to the human eye... even under magnification. Yeah, okay... We have a magic bullet and now we have a magic fragment from this bullet.
Let's note here that in Chemistry and Crime Guinn admitted that he'd studied Mannlicher-Carcano bullet lead even before being hired by the HSCA, and that he'd found the range of copper among this lead to be from 10 to 370 ppm. Let's note as well that in Activation Analysis Vol. 2, he admitted that he'd studied the lead of other bullets as well, and had found the range for copper to be between 1 and 1500 ppm. Now, let's recall that the wrist fragment was 994 ppm copper. This means that Guinn knew, as soon as he'd performed his test, that he'd PROVED the wrist fragment did not derive from the magic bullet, or any other bullet fired from Oswald's rifle, and that the single-bullet and single-assassin theories he'd clearly subscribed to were thereby kaput...UNLESS he could find some reason--any reason--to invalidate his own test.
Well, the quickest way to do that was to claim jacket material had thrown off his count for copper. So far, so good. But there was no copper missing, as far as could be determined, from the base of the bullet. Well, that's okay, there was a dent on the bullet nose; perhaps it came from there. Only the FBI admitted they'd made the mark on the nose while performing spectrographic tests in the FBI Crime Lab...
Now, is it reasonable to assume Guinn didn't know this? I don't think so. It seems hard to believe that in his many discussions with the HSCA he would never have inquired about the nick on the bullet nose, and have been informed it had been created by the FBI.
Well, then, is it possible he just...lied? Yes, I now think so. The final paragraph of Guinn's chapter in Chemistry and Crime reads not like the conclusions of a serious scientist, but the bragging of a politician. He writes: "My findings, of course, neither prove nor disprove the various conspiracy speculations, such as someone, in addition to Oswald, firing from some other location such as the 'grassy knoll.' They do show that if any other persons were firing, they did not hit anyone or anything in the President's limousine."
Now, this, of course, is nonsense. Even if one accepts Guinn's analysis of the bullet fragments, his findings "showed" no such thing.
And he didn't stop there.
Above: a tale of two Vincents. This is Dr. Vincent Guinn on the stand in the 1986 mock trial, in which he testified as a witness for prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, and bragged about knowing the results of tests that had never been conducted.
In 1986, in sworn testimony taken as part of a televised mock trial, Guinn actually repeated this nonsense. When asked by his fellow Vincent, Bugliosi, "What you're saying is that from your neutron activation analysis, there may have been fifty people firing at President Kennedy that day--is that correct--but if there were, they all missed--ONLY bullets from Oswald's Carcano rifle hit the President--is that correct?" Guinn eagerly responded "That's a correct statement, yes!"
Well, I'll be! Could Guinn really have forgotten he'd found no evidence suggesting the magic bullet had created Kennedy's back wound? Or throat wound? Could he really have forgotten that at least one of the bullets was never found? Well, then, how could he claim that tests never performed on this bullet proved it hadn't hit Kennedy, or anything else in the limo for that matter?
He couldn't, and what's worse, he knew he couldn't. Here is how he summed up his findings in Analytical Chemistry, written but 4 years before Guinn wrote his chapter in Chemistry and Crime, and 7 years before he testified in the mock trial: "The new results can not prove the Warren Commission's theory that the stretcher bullet is the one that caused the President's back wound and all of the Governor's wounds, but the results are indeed consistent with this theory."
And here is how Guinn testified before the HSCA, only 8 years before he testified in the mock trial: "These results only show that the CE 399 "pristine" bullet, or so-called stretcher bullet, matches the fragments in his wrist. They give you no information whatsoever about whether that bullet first went through President Kennedy's body, since it left no track of fragments and, for that matter, it doesn't even say that it went through Governor Connally--through his back, that is--because it left no track of fragments there. At least I have never seen or heard of any recovered lead fragments from either of those wounds. The results merely say that the stretcher bullet matches the fragments in the wrist, and that indicates indeed that that particular bullet did fracture the wrist. It unfortunately can't tell you anything else because there were no other bits and pieces along the other wounds."
Guinn had completely reversed himself for the mock trial!
And this wasn't the only point on which Guinn's mock trial testimony was suspect. Upon cross-examination, Oswald's defense attorney Gerry Spence pointed out that there were at least thirty bullet fragments in Kennedy's head, and that Guinn had examined but two. He thereby raised the possibility that, in opposition to what Guinn had just told Bugliosi, another bullet was involved. When then asked by Spence if he knew the composition of the fragments he'd never examined, Guinn testily replied "Yes!" When then asked if he'd actually tested these fragments, Guinn fought back, showing what one assumes were his true colors. He snapped "No, but I know what they are!"
Well, how could he know that? And, what's more, what kind of scientist would claim, in a court of law, (even a mock court of law) that he knows the results of tests he'd never conducted?
This suggests then that Guinn knowingly misrepresented his test results to the HSCA, knew it was only a matter of time before his fellow scientists caught on, and attempted to obfuscate the issue by further misrepresenting the case for a single-assassin in articles like the one in Analytical Chemistry, in books such as Chemistry and Crime, and in public appearances like his testimony in the 1986 mock trial.
Guinn v Guinn
But that's just me. Now, has any expert on bullet lead analysis supported this conclusion? No, not directly. There is one expert on the subject, however, whose writings demonstrate beyond any doubt that Dr. Guinn's conclusions were inappropriate, and far beyond what was warranted. And that expert, as you no doubt have figured out, is Dr. Guinn himself.
When asked during his 9-8-78 HSCA testimony the degree of certainty he'd attached to his conclusion the Connally wrist fragment derived from the magic bullet, that is, whether he felt it was merely more probable than not or highly probable, after all, Dr. Guinn testified: "I would say highly probable, yes. I would not want to say how high, whether it was 99 percent or 90 percent or 99.9 percent. I can't make a calculation like that."
Hmmm... Well, what are we to make of this? He wouldn't give a number, but said it was "highly probable." Was this a deliberate use of the term?
Yes, sure enough, in the final paragraph of his final report on the fragments, entered into evidence during his testimony, and published on page 533 of HSCA Appendix Vol. 1, Guinn uses the term again. Here, he asserts: "It is highly probable that the specimen tested from Q1 (the stretcher bullet) and the specimen tested from Q9 (the wrist fragment) came from the same bullet."
So, make no mistake about it, here was a man of science throwing the full weight of his expertise behind his conclusion the stretcher (or magic) bullet and wrist fragment were one.
Now look at how he handled this issue in Chemistry and Crime five years later. He admits: "Because of an inadequate background file of bullet-lead compositions and for other reasons, it is not possible to make an accurate calculation of the mathematical probability that two scientifically indistinguishable bullet-lead samples were produced from the same homogenous melt of lead. Instead one must resort to more qualitative expressions, such as 'probably' (if only three elements were measured), 'very probably' (if four elements were measured), or 'highly probably' (if five elements were measured). Depending in individual cases on how relatively common or uncommon the observed concentrations are (among the whole population of bullet leads) and on how accurately and precisely each concentration was measured, these three qualitative expressions of probability of a common melt origin may correspond, respectively, to probabilities to the order of 99, 99.9, and 99.99%."
Yes, you got it. While Guinn used the term "highly probable" in his HSCA testimony, and implied that this term could be used to describe a 90% probability that two samples having two matches, antimony and silver, came from the same bullet, he later reserved the term "highly probable" for the 99.99% probability that two samples having five matches came from the same melt.
Now look at how he backs this up in Activation Analysis, Vol. 2, published 1991. He now claimed: "If one is to conclude that two BL (bullet lead) or SSP specimens "match" one another to the extent that, to a high degree of probability, they had a common lead-melt origin, they must "match" one another in their concentrations of each of a number of elements measured to a respectable precision, and not exhibit any significant mismatches... For a variety of reasons, it is presently not possible to calculate a numerical probability that any two specimens had a common lead-melt origin. Instead, assuming that they do not mismatch in any element, but only match one another in one or two measured elements, one usually merely states that they might have had a common origin; with three matching elements, that they probably had a common origin; and with four, five, or six matching elements, that there is a very high probability (approaching "certainty") that they had a common origin."
So, ask yourself, is it a coincidence that Guinn testified that the apparent match between the wrist fragment and magic bullet on two elements made it "highly probable" they came from the same bullet, when he later claimed such a match meant merely that they "might" have come from the same melt, and reserved the term "highly probable" for samples matching on four or more elements?
I think not. In Neutron Activation Analysis in Scientific Crime Investigation, a 1990 paper by Guinn found on the International Atomic Energy Agency website, he noted that a one ton melt of lead can be made into 1,870 boxes of 50 bullets each, or 93,400 bullets. And this was chicken-feed. A May 2004 article by Wilder Smith in Analytical Chemistry notes further that a compositionally indistinguishable volume of lead can be used to make 12 thousand bullets, on the low end, and 35 million, on the high. How can Guinn have claimed, then, that it's "highly probable" two samples matching on two elements in the Kennedy case are the exact same bullet, when he elsewhere said the most one can say about two samples matching on two elements is that they "might" be from the same batch of 93,400 bullets, or more? I mean, who was he trying to fool?
Apparently everyone. Not only had Guinn become far more conservative in his use of the term "highly probable" after his HSCA testimony, he'd become much more liberal with its use for his testimony. After conducting his first series of tests in 1970, using antimony, copper, and arsenic, Guinn claimed that although "matching concentrations of all three elements does not indicate that two bullets came from the same lot" "a significant difference in concentration in any one of the three elements...indicates that they came from different lots."
Yes, Guinn was, at least initially, convinced his tests were far better at showing two specimens did not match, than match. Here is how he summed it up in the Annual Review of Nuclear Science in 1974, just three years before he conducted his tests for the HSCA: "the antimony concentration itself proves to be a fairly effective means of deciding whether two specimens of bullet lead do not have a common origin. Measurements of the levels of a few additional elements that can be detected, e.g. aluminum, copper, arsenic, silver, tin, can lead to at best only a moderately strong probability of common origin...The purely instrumental NAA approach can readily indicate two specimens do not have a common origin, but it cannot yet establish very high probabilities of common origin."
So what changed? Did Guinn make some major break-through just prior to his HSCA testimony?
Not that I've discovered... No, it appears instead that Guinn changed. Had Guinn's 1977-era methodology have been far superior to previously-used methodology, after all, he wouldn't have said the FBI had been mistaken when they claimed their 1964 test results were inconclusive, and he wouldn't have presented their results as support for his conclusions. But he did...
This leads me to conclude, then, that it's highly probable Dr. Vincent Guinn deliberately skewed his conclusions to support the single-bullet theory during his 1978 HSCA testimony, and that he deliberately lied about it afterward.
And it's not as if his misuse of the term "highly probable" was just an unfortunate turn-of-phrase, with no repercussions. Dozens if not hundreds of books, starting with the HSCA's 1979 report, were tainted by it--some to near comical effect... In 1998's Live By The Sword, for example, Oswald-did-it-for-Castro theorist Gus Russo relates "Using a technique known as neutron activation analysis, the HSCA received supporting testimony from Dr. Vincent Guinn, one of the country's top experts in the field of neutron activation. Although at the time Guinn would use only the words "highly probable," he later published two articles in which he makes it clear that by "highly probable" he meant a "99.99% probable."
Yes, you read that right. Russo got it backwards. He realized that Guinn had used the phrase "highly probable" in his testimony, and had later specified that "highly probable" meant 99.9%, but failed to realize, or at least acknowledge, that Guinn's definition of "highly probable" changed along the way, and that the match for antimony described in his testimony could no longer be taken to mean it was "highly probable" these samples came from the same source.
Of course, I'm skeptical Guinn ever honestly believed these odds were "highly probable"...
But that's me. Should the reader wish to think better of this learned man of letters, (Guinn, not Russo) and give him the benefit of the doubt, well, then, let us conjure up an explanation for at least some of his mistakes -- one that moves him from the category of deliberate liar to mere screw-up. In their early tests of bullet lead, Guinn and others discovered there was an apparent conformity between bullets in the same box, and sought to find practical applications for their discovery. Over time, the courts came to accept the value of bullet lead analysis and the FBI began testifying that one bullet most probably came from the same box as another. This allowed prosecutors to convict suspects even when no gun was found. The problem, as outlined by William Tobin and the National Academy of Sciences, was that little research was done on how bullets were actually made and distributed, and that, when one studied these things, one could only conclude that virtually indistinguishable bullets were likely to end up in boxes of ammunition on opposite sides of the country. In his research on Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition, however, Guinn found that the bullets within the same box had no apparent conformity. This led him to believe that the slight conformity between the wrist fragment and the magic bullet had significance, as other bullets from its box would be unlikely to match on antimony. The problem was that there was NO REASON to assume the wrist fragment bullet came from the same box as the magic bullet. Quite literally, then, Guinn was thinking inside the box when he should have been thinking outside the box!
Or maybe he was lying. All I know for sure is that his testimony regarding the magic bullet and wrist fragment was inaccurate. In July, 2006, Dr.s Erik Randich and Patrick Grant published an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, describing a study they'd conducted with the help of Tom Pinkston. They used cross-sections of bullets to demonstrate that antimony concentrations were not standard throughout bullet lead, even within the same bullet, and that one would have to have used samples far larger than those used by Guinn before coming to any conclusions whether or not a fragment could have come from the same bullet as another fragment. They also found that other full-metal jacketed ammunition contained similar levels of antimony as the ammunition fired in Oswald's rifle. Their conclusion reads: “We therefore assert that, from our perspectives of standard metallurgical practice and statistical assessment of the fundamental NAA measurements a conclusion of material evidence for only two bullets in the questioned JFK assassination specimens has no forensic basis. Although collateral information from the overall investigation might very well narrow the choices, as stand-alone primary evidence, the recovered bullet fragments could be reflective of anywhere between two and five different rounds fired in Dealey Plaza on that day. Only the near-complete mass of CE-399, the stretcher bullet, precludes the conclusion of one to five rounds. Moreover, the fragments need not necessarily have originated from MC ammunition. Indeed, the antimony compositions of the evidentiary specimens are consistent with any number of jacketed ammunitions containing hardened lead."
In May, 2007, a similar article by Spiegleman, Tobin et al in the Annals of Applied Statistics confirmed Randich and Grant's conclusions, and disclosed that they had repeated Guinn's tests on random Mannlicher-Carcano bullets. Not surprisingly, given Guinn's results, they'd found that one of the thirty random bullets used in their study was a close match to one of the assassination fragments. This news even made the Washington Post.
And SO... in my estimation, one has a choice: the tests on the fragments performed by Guinn were either: 1) incorrectly interpreted, as they actually showed the likelihood of more than one shooter; 2) of little scientific value; or 3) BOTH incorrectly interpreted and of little scientific value. No matter what, however, one thing is clear: the tests did not do what single-bullet theorists claim they did-- prove the magic bullet passed through Connally's wrist.
I realize, of course, that belief in the single-bullet theory is of a religious nature, where no amount of contrary evidence can make an impact upon the most devout. To wit, The Encyclopedia of Forensic Science, a Facts on File publication by Suzanne Bell, continued to claim in its 2008 edition that Guinn's tests "showed conclusively that two and only two bullets were involved in the killing and that the bullet recovered from Connally's stretcher was the same one that deposited fragments in his wrist." It then cited Guinn's 1979 article in Analytical Chemistry as support for this claim.
Well, this was most unfortunate. As we've seen Guinn changed his results for silver for this article. As we've seen, this helped turn what can only be considered a non-match...into a possible match. It follows, then, that Dr. Bell was deceived by Guinn's article, and that she then failed to correct what should have been corrected.
But she wasn't the last to push Guinn's results long after she should have known better. In 2013, Australian detective Colin McLaren, in his book JFK: The Smoking Gun, asserted "I firmly believe" Guinn's analysis "proves two very different rounds were in play on the day. One round (800 ppm) is tested to have been from the pristine bullet found on Connally's hospital trolley and also matched to the wound on Connally's wrist."
Now this was 7 years after the Randich/Grant study called such a match into question. Apparently news travels slow in the land down under.
P.S. The DOJ Unravelling
In 2017, I noticed something on an online thread regarding the Martin Luther King assassination that made me feel a little sick. It was a quote from a Department of Justice website designed to refute Judge Joe Brown's claim the bullet killing Martin Luther King failed to match the bullets retrieved from across the street, which were purportedly linked to James Earl Ray.
The DOJ argued: "Judge Brown testified that the bullet recovered from Dr. King did not come from the same batch as four similar cartridges found in the bundle with the rifle since, according to the FBI, the bullets from those four cartridges were metallurgically identical to each other but different from the bullet taken from Dr. King. This testimony, at the outset, is based on the factually incorrect presumption that cartridges boxed together always possess identical trace elements. Very often they do not. More fundamentally, Judge Brown's testimony is directly contradicted by the very FBI records on which he claimed to rely. According to those records, the FBI found five similar unfired cartridges in the bundle with the rifle -- not four -- and, contrary to Judge Brown's assertions, none of the bullets from those cartridges were metallurgically consistent with each other. At the same time, the FBI found the composition of the bullet from the fifth cartridge -- the one Judge Brown overlooked -- to be consistent with the composition of the bullet recovered from Dr. King's body."
1. The FBI report on the NAA of the JFK fragments was written in 1964. They found the results inconclusive.
2. The FBI report on the NAA of the MLK bullets was written in April 1968. They found a match between a fragment of the fatal bullet and one of the five bullets found with the rifle linked to James Earl Ray, and concluded the fatal bullet had come from the same box as this bullet.
3. Dr. Guinn re-tested the JFK fragments in 1977.
4. Dr. Guinn testified that Mannllcher-Carcano bullets were unique in that they were inconsistent from bullet to bullet. He testified further that there was a strong correlation between the wrist fragment and stretcher bullet. He testified that this supported the single-bullet theory.
5. His test was performed before the HSCA pathology panel visited the archives. HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey almost certainly informed the panel, moreover, of Guinn's results before they inspected the evidence. And they were almost certainly encouraged to go along with his findings.
6. And yet, one can only assume, the HSCA had within its files an FBI report on the MLK bullets which was at odds with Dr. Guinn's findings...
7. Guinn's conclusions, after all, were based upon not one but two assumptions regarding Mannlicher-Carcano bullets that were at odds with the FBI's report...that 1) they were unique in their variation from bullet to bullet within the same box; and 2) the odds of their being a match between two bullets from the same box was next to non-existent, and suggestive that two matching fragments came from the same bullet, as opposed to two separate bullets from the same box.
And yet, here, in the MLK case, the reverse was held to be true, and the matching of a fragment from the body with one of five non-matching bullets found with the gun meant the fatal bullet must have come from the same box of bullets as the bullet found with the gun. Oh, my, how convenient!
Perhaps it should be said, then, that the HSCA's conclusions were not unlike what Guinn claimed of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition, i.e. that they were consistently inconsistent.
The Clean-up Crew
Should one doubt the “magic” bullet could have come from anywhere but Connally’s leg, moreover, one should consider that the bullet, had it fallen from Kennedy’s back as originally believed, would most likely have fallen out in the limousine, and that the limousine was cleaned up while sitting outside Parkland Hospital in Dallas by two Secret Service Agents, Sam Kinney and George Hickey.
Although William Manchester, in his book The Death of a President, disputed that such a clean-up occurred, citing a nurse who says she was asked to bring the agents a bucket of water but failed to deliver it, Manchester overlooked the statement of an orderly, Joe Lewis Richards, admitting that he did indeed bring them the bucket.
And we know this bucket was used because...
An 11-22-63 UPI article, most likely reflecting the words of UPI’s man-on-the-scene Merriman Smith, reported on this clean-up, stating: “Outside the hospital, blood was cleaned from the limousine.”
An 11-23-63 New York Times story by Tom Wicker similarly reported, “A bucket of water stood by the car, suggesting that the back seat had been scrubbed out.” (In the 1965 anthology John Fitzgerald Kennedy...As We Remember Him, and then again in his 1978 book On Press, Wicker explained just why this bucket suggested as much and specified that it wasn't just a bucket of water, but “a bucket of bloody water.”)
An article on the assassination by Hugh Sidey in the 12-20-63 issue of Time Magazine confirmed these accounts, and claimed he'd witnessed: “A young man, I assume he was a Secret Service man, with a sponge and a bucket of red water, and he was trying to wipe up the blood and what looked like flakes of flesh and brains in the back seat.” (Sidey repeated this allegation in an 11-28-88 Time article. He wrote: "The presidential limousine rested at Parkland Hospital. A grim young man was washing away the blood and flesh that had splattered the leather upholstery...The young man in his neat dark suit, sleeves pushed up, swabbed the seats. They glistened in their miserable wetness. Beside the car was a bucket with brownish red water. If any doubt remained about this calamity, it was swept away in one glance at that bucket. So simple. so hideous." )
And as if that weren't enough, Newsweek’s Charles Roberts also confirmed these accounts. In his 1967 defense of the Warren Report, modestly entitled The Truth About The Assassination, Roberts said simply that on 11-22-63 he saw two Secret Service men "starting to put the fabric top" on the President's limo, and thought "Why now?" Now that was vague, but Roberts would later expand on this. In an interview conducted for Robert MacNeil's 1988 book The Way we Were, Roberts admitted that he'd actually seen these agents “mop up the back seat” before putting on the fabric top, and that he'd thought it “ironic” that one of the Secret Service agents waved him aside and told him “you can’t look,” when "this wall of protection...of course could do no good."
And then, for good measure, there's Sid Davis, a reporter for Westinghouse Radio. On 11-9-13, in a taped interview with The Newseum, Davis shared that when he arrived at Parkland Hospital ”'I could see the Secret Service agents cleaning up the back of the limousine. I went to take a look and a friend of mine, Hugh Sidey of Time Magazine, said 'Don’t look, it’s too horrible.'"
Thus, five respected newsmen, all verified to have been at Parkland Hospital on 11-22-63, claimed they saw either someone cleaning blood from the limo, or the bloody bucket used in this clean-up.
And they weren't alone. In the decades following the assassination, White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, Associated Press photographer Henry Burroughs, and ambulance driver Aubrey Rike added their names to the list of those witnessing this clean-up. In 1983, Life Magazine--not exactly a propagator of conspiracy theories--published a photo taken by Stoughton of a bucket beside the limo with the caption "Outside Parkland, agents clean the bloody limousine." In Richard Trask’s 1994 book Pictures of the Pain, moreover, a number of similar photographs were published, all taken by Stoughton, and all showing a bucket by the limousine.
Here, then, is a blow-up from one of these photos, showing an agent--almost certainly Sam Kinney--bent into the back seat of the limo, with a bucket at his feet. Agent George Hickey is at the right of the photo.
The evidence for a Secret Service clean-up of the limo became so overwhelming, in fact, that in 2003 the Fox News Channel asserted that a clean-up had occurred and broadcast footage of a Secret Service Agent, almost certainly Sam Kinney, walking away from the limousine with the bucket.
Here's a screen grab from that footage.
And here's this same agent a few minutes earlier, removing the hard top from the trunk.
And here he is in some news footage subsequently shown on the AXS TV program The 1960's Revisited, broadcast on 6-14-20. Note the bald spot...
and then the face...
That's Kinney alright. Here he is driving the Secret Service back-up car in the famous Altgens photo, taken just seconds after the first shot.
Anyhow, within days of the 2003 Fox broadcast showing Kinney with the bucket, a former member of the President’s Secret Service detail in Dallas, Gerald O’Rourke, came forward, telling the Rocky Mountain News “that on the day of the assassination, one agent was ordered to clean out the cars used in the motorcade, getting rid of blood and other evidence.” (Note how, even here, 40 years after the fact, he refused to reveal the identity of this agent.)
As a result of these images and this article, then, by 2008, the once-disputed clean-up of the limo had become so widely accepted that even the Discovery Channel, in a program pushing that Oswald acted alone, by gosh, discussed the clean-up as an established fact.
Yes, it's conclusive, accepted even by defenders of the Warren Commission: the Secret Service, if only briefly, cleaned-up the limo while it was sitting outside Parkland.
Should one doubt that this clean-up destroyed or removed evidence, moreover, one should reflect that Warren Commission Exhibit CE 840 consists of all the bullet fragments found in the car beyond the two large fragments found in the front seat, and comprises but three small fragments found in the carpet beneath Nellie Connally’s seat, several feet to the left of the presumed trajectory of the bullet. That there were no bullet fragments found on the floor by Kennedy’s or John Connally’s seats or on the seats themselves is undoubtedly suspicious. Also suspicious is that one of the three fragments found beneath Nellie’s seat disappeared from the archives at some point in the sixties. Adding to the likelihood that a Secret Service agent planted the bullet on the stretcher, perhaps simply to avoid admitting that he’d screwed up and cleaned-up important evidence (neither Kinney nor Hickey ever admitted that a clean-up occurred), is that one of the two men to find the stretcher bullet, Nathan Pool, told an HSCA investigator he saw a Secret Service agent standing near the stretcher just before the bullet was discovered.
There is strong support, in fact, that this agent was Kinney. On November 21, 2013, Gary Loucks, a former neighbor of Kinney's, came forward on the Intellihub website and claimed that, back in 1986, he'd had a few drinks with Kinney, and that in the course of their socializing Kinney had shared a secret with him--that it was he who'd placed the bullet on the stretcher. Now, on first glance, Loucks' story seemed a bit sketchy--as Loucks also claimed Kinney had said he'd placed a skull fragment on the stretcher. But on second glance, it made more sense. Kinney had long claimed he'd found a skull fragment in the limousine on its flight back from Dallas. It's accepted history. That Loucks would mistakenly combine this part of Kinney's story with his recollection of Kinney admitting he'd planted the bullet on the stretcher suggests that Loucks was someone who'd actually known Kinney--or at least that he was working off his own memories, and not a fledgling researcher trying to make a name for himself. We should recall here that former Secret Service agent Gerald O'Rourke had previously suggested Kinney's involvement in "getting rid" of evidence. It seems possible, then, that Loucks was the real deal, and was telling the truth as he remembered it.
While my suspicion Kinney planted the bullet remains just that, a suspicion, I believe it is a reasonable suspicion, given the alternative. One of the truly laughable arguments made by the single-assassin theorist community is that since only two bullets were recovered, it is illogical to assume that more than two bullets inflicted the wounds. “Where’s the third bullet?” they will ask. They forget that their theory holds that a bullet lodged in Connally’s leg, became dislodged as his clothes were removed, went unnoticed when he was moved to the operating table, stayed unnoticed when the sheets were folded up, stayed unnoticed when the stretcher was moved downstairs, and re-appeared an hour later when two stretchers collided, on a stretcher not fitting the description of Connally's stretcher, and a stretcher that the man “discovering” the bullet, Darrell Tomlinson, suspected was, in fact, not Connally’s stretcher.
Even worse for those disputing the bullet was planted, researcher Josiah Thompson, building upon Darrell Tomlinson's suspicions, read through Parkland Hospital's records for 11-22-63, and found that the stretcher on which the bullet was found was almost certainly the stretcher of a young boy named Ronnie Fuller, who was admitted to the emergency room after suffering a cut. Thompson's research on this issue has never been countered.
In fact, he's continued to build upon it. At the 2003 Wecht Conference held at Duquesne University, Thompson showed how the only Parkland employees to see the bullet found by Tomlinson on 11-22 believed the bullet had a pointed tip. CE 399 has a rounded tip. Thompson also discussed the strange fact that both Governor Connally and Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade were of the impression a bullet was found in Connally's operating room. While these differing recollections could have come from the passage of time, and the resulting confusion, he related another tale that's much harder to explain. This tale sprang from an interview of Parkland's Director of Nursing, Elizabeth Wright. In this interview, conducted by researcher Wallace Milam in 1993, the former Mrs. Wright related that there was more than one bullet found on stretchers in the days after the assassination, and that this led one of the nursing supervisors, Doris Nelson, to complain: "I wish they would stop putting bullets on these stretchers." If the bullet found by Tomlinson did not look like CE 399, and other bullets were found afterwards, of course, it is entirely possible CE 399 was found at Parkland sometime later in the evening, after Oswald's rifle had been retrieved by the Dallas Police.
If this, in fact, occurred, then it only follows that the bullet found by Tomlinson was made to disappear. And if the bullet found by Tomlinson was made to disappear, then it only follows that any other bullets or fragments found at Parkland were made to disappear.
Fortunately, we need not drive down this particular conspiracy road, as a less-conspiracy-oriented answer to the "Where's the third bullet?" question is also available. It goes like this...IT...GOT...LOST. The FBI and Secret Service certainly believed as much. Their official reports on the shooting concluded that all three shots hit Kennedy and Connally, even though only one and a half bullets had been retrieved; the FBI's report even specified that CE 399 fell from Kennedy's back. Apparently, neither agency had any problem believing that the bullet striking Connally, the third bullet, had gotten lost in the Parkland shuffle.
For this conclusion, they had plenty of support. In his 1970 book, Legal Medicine, the Clark Panel's Dr. Alan Moritz offered that "Often a bullet that has had sufficient velocity to pass through the body will be so nearly spent that it will fail to penetrate the head covering or clothing at the site of exit. Unless the doctor, nurse, or accident ward attendant is alert to this possibility, such a bullet may be lost." Elsewhere, Dr. Moritz explained that "Years of medicolegal experience in the investigation of firearm injuries confirm the truth of the generalization that the only things likely to be seen and remembered are those that are looked for with knowledge of their potential significance." Those arguing that CE 399 created Connally's wounds and was found on his stretcher, and thus that the bullet had been overlooked by at least five nurses and hospital employees prior to its discovery, thereby inadvertently confirm that other bullets, potentially including the bullet that ACTUALLY created Connally's wounds, could have been lost in the madhouse that was Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963.
Another top pathologist believed that it was just that simple--that the bullet had been lost. Dr. Milton Helpern, who'd supervised over 10,000 autopsies of gunshot victims in his long career, explained that, clean-up or no clean-up, one can not always find the bullets involved in a homicide. Specific to the Kennedy assassination, in an interview for the book, Where Death Delights, he told former FBI man Marshall Houts: “It is not unusual at all for spent bullets that have passed through a human body to become lost…If I had to venture a guess as to what happened to the bullet that wounded Governor Connally, I would suggest that it fell out of his pants leg while he was being removed from the car and placed on the stretcher; or it could have fallen out at any stage of his hospital experience.” He said it.
And the FBI's Robert Frazier, the man tasked with inspecting the limousine on the night of the assassination, apparently shared his belief this was possible. In 1995, undoubtedly as a response to the then-widespread criticism of the FBI crime lab, a book entitled Hard Evidence was published to help promote the FBI crime lab. This book, written by David Fisher, featured an interview with Frazier. When musing on the whereabouts of the still missing remnants of the bullet found in pieces on the front seat of the limousine, the carpet beneath Nellie Connally's seat, and in the President's skull, Frazier declared "What happened, I think probably in the confusion when they got to the hospital, everybody jumped out of the car, and if there were lead fragments on their clothes or in their pockets or anywhere else, they fell on the ground and were just trampled on and that was the end of it." While some might say that the likelihood of losing fragments in the chaos was significantly greater than that of losing a nearly-intact bullet, the bullet may have been in pieces and a nearly-intact bullet could easily have been picked up in the treads of a car tire. Sometimes things get lost.
But even if one should refuse to believe it got lost, there is the possibility that it simply was overlooked. On May 13, 1964, in testimony before the Warren Commission, Robert Frazier described his search of the limousine for bullet fragments late on the night of the shooting. Two bullet fragments had already been retrieved from the front seat by the Secret Service. First, Frazier described the car: "There were blood and particles of flesh scattered all over the hood, the windshield, in the front seat and all over the rear floor rugs, the jump seats, and over the rear seat, and down both sides of the side rails or tops of the doors of the car." Then Frazier described his search: "I examined the car to determine whether or not there were any bullet fragments present in it, embedded in the upholstery of the back of the front seat, or whether there were any impact areas which indicated that bullets or bullet fragments struck the inside of the car." At this point he found three small bullet fragments on the carpet under Nellie Connally's jump seat. By his finding these three fragments, and by his using the word "examine" to describe his search, Frazier gave the clear implication that he was extremely thorough in his search for bullet fragments.
When asked if he felt his search was indeed a "thorough examination of all aspects of the interior of the automobile," however, Frazier's response was not without its qualifications. He replied: "Yes, sir; for our purpose. However, we did not tear out all of the rugs on the floor, for instance. We examined the rugs carefully for holes, for bullet furroughs, for fragments. We examined the nap of the rug, in the actual nap of the rug, for fragments and bullet holes. We pulled the rug back as far as we could turn it back and even tore the glue or adhesive material loose around the cracks at the edges of the rug so we could observe the cracks to see whether they had been enlarged, and we examined all of the upholstery covering, on the back of the front seat, on the doors, and in the rear seat compartment, the jump seats, the actual rear seat, the back of the rear seat, and we examined the front seat in a similar manner, and we found no bullet holes or other bullet impact areas, other than the one on the inside of the windshield and the dent inside the windshield chrome." (5H58-74).
An 11-27-63 Secret Service report on this inspection, included in the Secret Service's report on the limo to the Warren Commission, CD80, confirms "a meticulous examination was made of the back seat of the car and the floor rug." But this wasn't exactly true.
In Hard Evidence, Frazier was more forthcoming about this examination. He revealed "The President's limousine arrived back in Washington about six o'clock. Around one o'clock the next morning, Cort (Cortland Cunningham) and I started sifting through the blood looking for lead fragments. It was tough; it was very tough...We'd just reach down into the clots of blood and scoop it up in our hands and let it dribble through. Whenever we felt something gritty, we'd clean it up and if it was lead, we'd save it in a pillbox. We didn't really recover a lot of lead." Evidently, they never thought of sponging off the blood and inspecting the carpet with a metal detector and a magnifying glass.
In any event, according to the Secret Service's own report on the limo, CD80, by the afternoon of the 23rd a Secret Service agent was requesting permission to clean the rest of the blood from the back seat and floor of the limo. At this time, he was told to wait for FBI approval. The very next day he made a second request, this time noting "that the odor from the car was becoming offensive." This request, almost certainly made after the announcement of Oswald's death, was granted "after clearance from the FBI." Late that evening, the limousine was cleaned up. No FBI agent was present. According to the Secret Service's own records, "there were still fragments of bone and hair in the debris of the car which had not been removed by the FBI search team." There's no record of what became of this "bone and hair." There's no indication that this clean-up crew looked for small fragments of lead hidden amongst this bone and hair. A Ford Motor Company memo first obtained and reported by researcher Pamela McElwain-Brown, moreover, demonstrates that within 10 days of the shooting, the carpet of the limousine had been removed by "the White House upholstery man" and had been replaced by the writer of the memo, Ford Motor company employee Vaughn Ferguson. There's no record of what this "upholsterer" did with this carpet. There's no reason to believe that a thorough inspection of this carpet was ever undertaken.
And should one still have any doubts, and still cling to the notion that the bullet hitting Connally must have remained on his person or in the limousine, and could not possibly have been cleaned-up, stolen, lost or overlooked, there is this: there is at least one fragment that disappeared after the shooting. Yes, in 2010, with the release of The Kennedy Detail, Secret Service Agent Paul Landis related that after Kennedy and his wife were pulled from the limousine, he noticed a bullet fragment sitting on the back of the car by the headrest. He claimed he then put it on the seat. Well, you guessed it, no fragment was found on this seat. This, then, suggests this fragment was "cleaned up" in some manner, for one reason or another.
And should one STILL find the urge to claim "yeah but that was just a fragment," well, there's this: a piece of metal the size of a bullet also disappeared. Yes, Nellie Connally, in her 2003 memoir From Love Field, reported that a Mexican peso worn by her husband as a cuff link was shot off his wrist during the shooting and was never recovered. She reported that she had a bracelet made from the remaining cuff link, and wore it thereafter as a memento of her husband's close brush with death. It follows then that any explanation for what happened to this cuff link could apply to a bullet as well.