Chapter 16: New Views on the Same Scene
A look at the various efforts to simulate and explain the President's head wounds, and a discussion of why they fall short
Reading the Test Skulls
In order to determine if the rifle found in the school book depository was capable of creating President Kennedy’s wounds, Dr. Alfred Olivier of Edgewood Arsenal was hired by the Warren Commission to perform a series of tests. He testified before the Commission on May 13, 1964. Here is a segment from that testimony...
Mr. SPECTER, Dr. Olivier, in the regular course of your work for the U.S. Army, do you have occasion to perform tests on reconstructed human skulls to determine the effects of bullets on skulls?
Dr. OLIVIER. Yes; I do.
Mr. SPECTER. And did you have occasion to conduct such a test in connection with the series which you are now describing?
Dr. OLIVIER. Yes; I did.
Mr. SPECTER. And would you outline briefly the procedures for simulating the human skull?
Dr. OLIVIER. Human skulls, we take these human skulls and they are imbedded and filled with 20 percent gelatin. As I mentioned before, 20 percent gelatin is a pretty good simulant for body tissues. They are in the moisture content. When I say 20 percent, it is 20 percent weight of the dry gelatin, 80 percent moisture. The skull, the cranial cavity, is filled with this and the surface is coated with a gelatin and then it is trimmed down to approximate the thickness of the tissues overlying the skull, the soft tissues of the head.
Mr. SPECTER. And at what distance were these tests performed?
Dr. OLIVIER. These tests were performed at a distance of 90 yards.
Mr. SPECTER. And what gun was used?
Dr. OLIVIER. It was a 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano that was marked Commission Exhibit 139.
Mr. SPECTER. What bullets were used?
Dr. OLIVIER. It was the 6.5 millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano Western ammunition lot 6,000.
Mr. SPECTER. What did that examination or test, rather, disclose?
Dr. OLIVIER. It disclosed that the type of head wounds that the President received could be done by this type of bullet. This surprised me very much, because this type of a stable bullet I didn't think would cause a massive head wound, I thought it would go through making a small entrance and exit, but the bones of the skull are enough to deform the end of this bullet causing it to expend a lot of energy and blowing out the side of the skull or blowing out fragments of the skull.
Dr. Oliver then proceeded to discuss the bullet fragments recovered after firing on one of the ten skulls he fired upon, and how these resembled the bullet fragments found in the front section of the Presidential limo. Commission Counsel Arlen Specter then returned to the task at hand...
Mr. SPECTER. Would you give us then the precise location of the wound caused by bullet identified as 857?
Dr. OLIVIER. The entrance wound is 2.9 centimeters to the right and almost horizontal to the occipital protuberance, This is almost exactly where we were aiming. We were aiming 2 centimeters to the right.
Mr. SPECTER. I now hand you a photograph marked as Commission Exhibit 861, move its admission into evidence, and ask you to state what that depicts.
Dr. OLIVIER. This is the skull in question, the same one from which the fragments marked Exhibit 857 were recovered.
Mr. SPECTER. And what does that show as to damage done to the skull?
Dr. OLIVIER. It blew the whole side of the cranial cavity away.
Mr. SPECTER. How does that compare, then, with the damage inflicted on President Kennedy?
Dr. OLIVIER. Very similar. I think they stated the length of the defect, the missing skull was 13 centimeters if I remember correctly. This in this case it is greater, but you don't have the limiting scalp holding the pieces in so you would expect it to fly a little more but it is essentially a similar type wound.
Mr. SPECTER. Does the human scalp work to hold in the human skull in such circumstances to a greater extent than the simulated matters used?
Dr. OLIVIER. Yes; we take this into account.
Mr. SPECTER. I hand you Commission Exhibit 862, move its admission into evidence, and ask you what that depicts?
Dr. OLIVIER. This is the same skull. This is just looking at it from the front. You are looking at the exit. You can't see it here because the bone has been blown away, but the bullet exited somewhere around---we reconstructed the skull. In other words, it exited very close to the superorbital ridge, possibly below it.
Mr. SPECTER. Did you formulate any other conclusions or opinions based on the tests on firing at the skull?
Dr. OLIVIER. Well, let's see. We found that this bullet could do exactly--could make the type of wound that the President received.
So let's recap. In his testimony, Olivier admitted he was surprised by the damage created by the 6.5 mm ammunition presumably used to kill Kennedy. He noted that the bullet hitting one of the ten skulls he'd had fired upon broke into pieces and that these pieces resembled the bullet fragments recovered from Kennedy’s limousine. He also acknowledged that the bullet striking this skull missed its mark and hit the back of the skull slightly closer to its side than the reported entrance on Kennedy. He then introduced two photographs of this skull as Exhibits 861 and 862.
Here is a closer look at Exhibits 861 (on the right) and 862 (on the left).
Well, something is awry. Olivier in his testimony, started to say the large size of this wound was probably related to the lack of "limiting scalp" but then backed-off and made out as though this had been taken into account. This was almost certainly because this wound was roughly the same size as Kennedy's measured wound, and an admission that this wound was larger than would be expected should this skull have had scalp was simultaneously an admission Kennedy's wound was larger than expected. Kennedy's skull did have scalp, after all.
And that's not the only problem with this segment of Olivier's testimony.
We have reason to doubt Kennedy's wounds were accurately replicated with this skull. Since, as subsequently acknowledged by Larry Sturdivan, who worked with Olivier, the shooters were trying to make the bullet follow the Warren Commission’s proposed path, entering low in the occipital bone and exiting above the temple, we can only assume the skulls were turned slightly to the left of these shooters. This, in turn, makes it reasonable to assume that the damage to the bullet and skull cited by Olivier came as a result of the bullet’s striking the thick occipital bone almost on edge along the curvature behind the ear. (A bullet striking skull bone on edge meets more resistance and is more likely to explode).
There's also this. When Sturdivan published Exhibit 861 as Figure 36 in his 2005 book, The JFK Myths, he made a surprising admission. He wrote: "A still picture of one of the experimental skulls is shown in Figure 36 after the 'flaps' were removed, but the gelatin still in pace inside the skull." He then provided Figure 36 with the following caption: "Still photograph of an experimental skull after being struck by the bullet from the Oswald rifle, after loose flaps of bone and gelatin 'scalp' were removed."
Oops! While Olivier's testimony suggested the defect depicted in 361 was the size of the defect immediately following the shot, Sturdivan's subsequent acknowledgement that both the gelatin 'scalp' and "loose flaps of bone" were removed before this picture was taken suggests the defect was smaller, perhaps even much smaller, than Kennedy's wound, when first viewed by Olivier.
It seems logical to assume, then, that Olivier was in fact unable to replicate a wound the size of Kennedy's, and that his testimony was deliberately misleading. I mean, if the original defect on this skull was anywhere near the size of Kennedy's, why not show that photo?
When one studies Wound Ballistics of 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano Ammunition, Olivier's report on his tests, issued in March 1965, one finds even more reason to doubt that his tests proved what they were designed to prove. In figure A12 of the report the profiles of three additional skulls are revealed. While the damage is extensive in each one, there is no evidence that a bullet sailed upwards and blew out the top of a skull, the purported course of the bullet striking Kennedy. In fact, even though the skulls were aligned to make the bullet exit the top of the skull (This was admitted by Sturdivan!) all the shots blew out near the right eye socket. It is also intriguing that there is only one picture portraying the bullet’s entrance on the bone in Olivier’s report, and that this small entrance was directly in the middle of the occipital bone. Perhaps this is an indication then that NOT ONE of the bullets striking an inch to the right of the EOP left anything similar to the small oval entrance on the bone observed by the doctors at the autopsy. Hmmm...
When one realizes that this 56 page report, which has 4 pages of cover sheets, 2 pages of temperature readings, and a 7 page distribution list, fails to list the ten test skulls with a break down by entrance location, entrance size, exit location, exit size, and whether or not the bullet broke-up--which was only the most important data obtained by Olivier’s tests--one’s suspicions should only grow stronger. It should be noted here that when Dr. Olivier testified before the Warren Commission, he was asked by Arlen Specter the exact entrance location on the skull displayed in Exhibit 861, and that he’d consulted a notebook he’d brought along, which had been locked up in a safe. Why this data failed to make Olivier's subsequent report, which was classified Confidential and not released to the public until 1973, is a matter of conjecture. When one looks back on Olivier’s testimony of May 13, 1964, and realizes that he testified accurately at that early date on the three tests described in the March 1965 report, and that no further tests were conducted, however, one should rightly suspect that his report was deliberately delayed and not given to the Warren Commission or released among its papers...because it was considered damaging to the Commission's conclusions.
Now, some might have their doubts that the good folks at Edgewood Arsenal, a key unit in the Army's weapons testing center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, would play politics in such a manner. But a quick bit of research on the history of weapons testing in general, and the weapons tests performed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in particular, could make a cynic out of anyone. Just prior to his studying the wound ballistics of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, Dr. Olivier conducted a similar series of tests on the American M-16 and Russian AK-47. His report on these tests helped the Army choose the M-16 as its standard weapon. And yet, the initial deployment of the M-16 in Vietnam was considered a disaster, with guns jamming in bad weather, and with its unusually small bullets failing to stop the enemy as promised. Young men died, questions were raised and modifications became necessary.
And that wasn't the last time those testing weapons at Aberdeen came under criticism, or were suspected of cuddling up to weapons manufacturers at the expense of the common soldier and tax-payer. In the 1980's, they were right back in the fire, this time for testing and re-testing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, while failing to re-enact anything close to combat situations, and failing to properly assess the casualty rate.
And that's not even to raise the awful specter of Edgewood Arsenal's history. You see, the name Edgewood Arsenal is a bit misleading. It started as a mustard gas producer in WWI, and continues to make and test chemical warfare agents today. From 1955 to 1975, the bulk of Dr. Olivier's career, it conducted chemical warfare tests on soldiers as well as animals.
So it's not out of line to assume Olivier and his bosses colored their tests in order to please their client--in this case, the Johnson Administration.
And it's not out of line to assume someone in the know knew Olivier's tests failed to support the shooting scenario pushed by the Warren Commission.
Howard Donahue, a ballistics expert, had his own doubts that Olivier's tests accurately replicated Kennedy's wounds. In August 1977, Donahue was interviewed on radio station WBAL. He told his interviewer that in the late sixties “I went and visited the laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal and talked to Dr. Olivier himself. Now he had fired ten shots into ten inert skulls from Oswald’s rifle. Now, an inert skull is a human skull which has been filled with gelatin. None of these skulls showed the giant, enormous, macerating effect that Kennedy’s head showed.And then I began to look at the two holes in his head. And I realized it couldn’t have come from Oswald’s rifle. And then a strange pattern of events started to occur that everything that supported the Warren Commission was easily obtainable for evidence and that which contradicted it was not available.”
While the skull presented by Olivier in his Warren Commission testimony was purported to have had its right side blown off, we can presume he conceded to Donahue that this only became apparent upon the removal of the gelatin 'scalp,' and that none of the ten skulls he'd had fired upon had been as "macerated" as Kennedy's skull.
Single-assassin theorist extraordinaire Dr. John Lattimer conducted some skull tests of his own. In a February 1976 article in Surgery, Gynecology, and Obstetrics, and then again in his 1980 book Kennedy and Lincoln, he presented another test skull upon which Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition had shattered. Since Lattimer failed to present a view of the back of this skull, it was at that time impossible to compare the size of the bullet’s entrance to that measured at the autopsy. Still, as there appears to be some sort of wire holding the back of the skull together where the bullet is presumed to have entered (Lattimer was aiming for the cowlick entrance), it appears this (presumably old and dried) skull exploded.There was certainly no small entrance in the back of the head leading to a huge gaping defect in the front.
The suspicion that this skull showed one massive wound, and that Dr. Lattimer had wired the back of the skull together for this photo, moreover, was later proven correct by...Dr. Lattimer. During his appearance at the '93 Chicago conference on the medical evidence Dr. Lattimer presented a second photo of this skull. This photo showed that the skull wound actually started at the back of the head, near the cowlick entrance, and stretched all the way to the forehead. Despite Lattimer’s assertions that the damage to this skull was similar to Kennedy’s, and that it confirmed the Clark Panel's interpretation of the head wound, both the photo he'd used previously and the second photo of this skull showed that the left side of this test skull was blown out nearly as badly as its right.
Conversely, the fragments of the assassin’s bullet, despite supposedly entering Kennedy’s skull less than an inch from its mid-line, were not believed to have crossed the mid-line of his brain.
Shooting Skulls off Ladders
And yet Lattimer fails to note this problem in his article. Instead, he boasts "In each instance in which a bullet struck one of our skulls in a slightly tangential manner, as with the skull wound of President Kennedy, the bullet apparently deformed enough to cause a larger wound of exit and a large soft-tissue cavity inside the confined brain case with tremendous pressure, which then expanded after the bullet had left and blew the calvarium into several fragments, many of which went upward and forward for distances as great as 20 to 30 feet, as in frame 313 of the Zapruder movie."
Well, hold it right there... "as great as 20 to 30 feet?" The fragment exploding upward in frame 313 was almost certainly the Harper fragment, which was found on the grass about 100 feet from the impact location. An 11-19-75 letter from Lattimer to Emory Brown (found in the Weisberg Archives), far worse, reveals that Lattimer knew the lack of scalp on his test skulls increased the magnitude of the "blast" in his test firings by as much as a factor of 4. So where does he get off pretending his simulations came anywhere near replicating the explosion of bone shown on frame 313? And why does he repeat in his summary that in his tests fragments of bone "flew 20 to 30 feet upward out of the skull, as with President Kennedy." Was he afraid to acknowledge any inconsistency?
Apparently so. The only inconsistency acknowledged in the article is one he blames on others. In his article, he reports: "There was a discrepancy between the drawings in the Warren Commission Report, which indicated relatively minor skull wounds, and our knowledge from our wartime and research experience that much more severe wounds were to be expected from this type of military rifle bullet. It was this discrepancy which had led to our initial skepticism about the accuracy of the Warren Commission Report, as reflected by the illustrations of the President's wounds."
Well, this is a bit bizarre. Lattimer reported no such discrepancy between the drawings of the head wound and the autopsy photos after visiting the archives in 1972. Even stranger, in interviews conducted after his visit, he'd intimated that it was the drawings of the single-bullet trajectory that had previously given him so much concern. As the autopsy photographs prove that Kennedy's large head wound, as initially observed, DID resemble the wound in the Commission's drawings in the Warren Report, moreover, it seems possible Lattimer was simply blowing smoke. The skulls on which he fired, with no restrictive scalp, exploded to a far greater extent than the autopsy photos prove Kennedy's skull exploded, and rather than admit this, he sidestepped the issue by claiming the drawings created for the Warren Commission were inaccurate. Methinks the man a weasel.
An article in the November 1998 edition of the Dealey Plaza Echo provides more background on Lattimer and his skull tests. When asked by British researcher Russell Kent why he didn’t shoot his skulls from elevation in order to replicate the supposed trajectory in Dealey Plaza, Lattimer replied “He was leaning forward a bit.” So much for his concern for accuracy. Lattimer also claimed “We did know the exact location of the wound of entrance. The prosectors did not have the time to study the X-rays the way we did. Why do you say that the face is blown off? The forehead was blown off, not the face. The bulk of the skull jumped back at the gun; the other fragments were smaller.” When asked about the damage to a particular skull he'd claimed was a “Duplication of Kennedy’s Head Wound” Lattimer responded “I was distinguishing our skull wounds with those of Dr. Olivier where the right side of the face was removed when the “lower” impact point was used.”
From this it’s clear that Lattimer believed Olivier’s use of the “lower” impact point was the cause of his failure to exactly replicate Kennedy’s wounds. Since Lattimer also claimed he knew “the exact location of the wound of entrance,” one might rightly assume that Lattimer went to his grave convinced that the higher entrance in the cowlick first proposed by the Clark Panel was the authentic entrance location on Kennedy’s skull. But one would be wrong. On August 14, 2006, researcher/writer John Canal, who was convinced that the autopsists were correct about the “low” entrance wound, informed this writer that Lattimer had officially changed his opinion about the entrance. Canal posted two e-mails from Lattimer on the alt.assassination.JFK newsgroup. These reflected that Lattimer had indeed changed his opinion. On March 24, 2004, Lattimer wrote Canal: “It does seem to me that you and your colleagues have made great progress in investigating these points, and the curved track in the brain is not only reasonable but is probably demonstrable.” On April 27, 2004, Lattimer wrote Canal: “I do not think that the correction about the exact point of entry into Kennedy's head would merit any action from a government official, but (we) would benefit from an article correcting the whole matter, which you could refer to in the literature.”
The man who once claimed he’d “duplicated” Kennedy’s head wound while firing at the “high” entrance location had thereby acknowledged his tests were irrelevant, as he’d been firing at the wrong entrance location.
Above: Dr. John Lattimer, Urologist, the man who changed his mind. Here he is pointing to where the Clark Panel claimed a bullet entered Kennedy's head. But he would later tell researcher John Canal he'd been mistaken, and that the bullet entered where the autopsists said it had entered...
When one actually watches Lattimer’s skull tests, however, one should conclude that they are anything but irrelevant. They are, in fact, strong evidence that the shooting did not occur as purported. For one, the clouds of debris exploding from the skulls in Lattimer’s tests inevitably obscure the entire skull. The explosion of blood apparent in the Zapruder film, on the other hand, appears exclusively on the front half of the skull. Researcher Sherry Gutierrez aka Sherry Fiester , a professional blood-spatter analyst, has written about this issue extensively. On August 18, 2006, in an online post, she told the Education Forum: “The velocity and volume of the blood leaving the impact site as back spatter has much less velocity than blood leaving exit wounds as forward spatter; and the back spatter droplets only travel about 3-4 feet from the source…Back spatter does not travel more than 3 or 4 feet and is often described as a multitude of minuscule blood droplets that resemble an atomized spray or mist.” As back spatter moves slower than forward spatter, and stays closer to the impact location, one should wonder where this back spatter is in the Zapruder film. While there appears to be some mist around the back of Kennedy’s head, this mist is almost certainly related to the large exit defect, which has traveled slightly forward since impact.
(If the skull fragment in Z-313 is traveling at 200 feet per second, as seems reasonable, the bullet impacted at least 1/30 of a second prior to frame 313, as the fragment is 6 or 7 feet above Kennedy in Z-313. This 1/30 of a second delay would place the impact near the middle of the space between Z-312 and Z-313, which were taken 1/18 of a second apart. As the limousine was traveling at 8-9 mph when the bullet impacted, which translates to roughly 12 feet per second, this means the limo traveled at least 5 inches from the moment of impact.This means the supposed entrance on the back of Kennedy’s head, at the actual moment of impact, was roughly 5 inches behind its location in frame 313. So where is the back spatter from the “low” entrance noted at the autopsy and currently accepted as the only entrance on the back of the skull by both Lattimer and HSCA ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan? There is no cloud of bloody mist out behind Kennedy’s collar.)
There is another troubling aspect to Lattimer’s skull tests—the fact that he shot them off ladders. As pointed out by Wallace Milam, the ladders absorbed the forward momentum of the bullet, and rocked forward. The skulls, meanwhile, basically bounced off the ladders back towards the shooter. By placing his skulls on ladders, Lattimer could thereby falsely claim his tests proved that the “back-and-to-the-left” motion of Kennedy’s head in the Zapruder film was a normal response to a shot fired from behind, and that the “Jet Effect” from the exploding brain matter caused Kennedy’s head to fly backwards.
Of course, Milam is not the first to dispute the theories behind Lattimer’s work. After showing the HSCA two of the skull simulations performed by Olivier in 1964, Larry Sturdivan, the HSCA's wound ballistics expert, testified: “As you can see, each of the two skulls that we have observed so far have moved in the direction of the bullet. In other words, both of them have been given some momentum in the direction that the bullet was going. This is amplified, however, in these skulls because they are not tied to a human body.”
Lattimer’s sneaky ladder trick fooled Sturdivan into repudiating his testimony, however. In his 2005 book The JFK Myths, Sturdivan wrote “Dr. John Lattimer conducted some skull shots that resembled the Biophysics Division’s simulations, but for which the skulls were filled with animal brain tissue. In his shots, all skulls fell back from the table in the direction of the shooter. Evidently, the lack of a jet effect from the stiff gelatin in the Biophysics Lab’s simulation was a bit misleading and there was enough of a jet effect to move Kennedy’s head back after its forward surge.” Sturdivan missed that Lattimer’s skulls were sitting on the tops of ladders, not tables.
Shooting Melons Off Tables
The TV show Bullshit did shoot something off a table, however: a melon. In a 2005 episode purportedly debunking that Kennedy was killed by anyone other than Oswald, they shot a melon to demonstrate that bullets enter small and exit big, and that Kennedy's wounds could easily be replicated. To show that there was no mystery to Kennedy's back-and-to-the-left movement following the head shot, moreover, they showed the melon falling backwards in slow motion after impact.
They were bullshitting their audience, of course. (People seem to forget that the hosts of the show, Penn & Teller, are first and foremost magicians--illusionists.) That they performed multiple takes in order to perfect their trick is confirmed by the fact that in the long shot melon goo flies out and knocks a pink hat off another melon, but in the slow-motion shot that followed the hat never moves. From what I can gather, the trick works like this: 1) the bullet strikes the melon, imparting energy into the melon, and explodes from the far side of the melon; 2) a portion of this energy is projected downwards as the melon expands; 3) this causes the melon to recoil slightly from the table; 4) due to there now being far more melon missing by the exit than at the entrance of the bullet, however, the primary motion of the melon is to roll backwards and re-establish equilibrium; 5) the poorly secured table, recoiling from the expansion of the melon forwards, tilts back towards the shooter; 6) the melon rolls off the edge of the extremely small table. TA DA! If the table had been a larger table the melon would barely have moved. If the table had been solidly secured and had not tilted backwards the melon would barely have moved. If the melon had had a flat bottom it would barely have moved.
Of course, there's also the fact that a melon isn't a skull. As the forward momentum created by a bullet's impact is in large part determined by the amount of energy expended while entering and exiting the object receiving the impact, and as a skull is many times more difficult to penetrate than a melon, it only makes sense that a skull would be the recipient of far more forward momentum than a melon. An online paper by mechanical engineer Tony Szamboti estimates that a human skull pierced by a bullet will receive 50-100 times the amount of energy and forward momentum as a melon pierced by a bullet. I suspect he's right. I mean, you can't exactly pierce a skull with a toothpick, can you? This simple fact, apparently overlooked by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez in his own studies, helps explain why the skulls fired on by Alfred Olivier's team in 1964 moved in the direction of the bullet far better than team member Larry Sturdivan's subsequent guess that the gelatin was to blame.
In fact, when one thinks of it, there was a lot that Alvarez, Lattimer, Sturdivan, and the producers of Bullshit!, for that matter, overlooked. In 1978, Mrs. John Nichols, the wife of forensic pathologist Dr. John Nichols, who'd recently passed on, delivered the results of her husband's most recent shooting simulations, in which Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition was fired upon melons and cadaver specimens. (This paper can be found on the Baylor University website.) Nichols concluded: "This study did not demonstrate the jet effect and would lead us to reject the jet effect as the basis for President Kennedy’s backward head movement." It detailed, moreover, that, among other things: 1) "All target movement was in the direction of bullet flight path"; 2) melons fired upon while sitting on a stand exhibited "bullet entry and exit spray," but did not move upon impact; and 3) "Movement of all cadaver specimens was away from gun."
And that wasn't all those peddling the jet-effect have over-looked. In 1996, Stanford Physicist Art Snyder and his wife Margaret attended the JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas and played some films in which watermelons had been fired upon. Some of these tests had been conducted by Dr. Doug DeSalles in 1994. In any event, these films, subsequently discussed in a 1998 article by the Snyders in Skeptic Magazine, and a Fall 1999 article by DeSalles in the Kennedy Assassination Chronicles, demonstrated an important point missed (or ignored) by Alvarez. While melons did indeed fly back toward the rifle when fired upon by 30.06 rifles firing soft-nosed ammunition (as claimed by Alvarez), they failed to do so when fired upon by Mannlicher-Carcano rifles firing full-metal jacket ammunition. This suggested that the "Jet Effect" identified by Alvarez, and used by single-assassin theorists everywhere to support that Kennedy's back-and-to-the-left motion after being struck suggested the shot came from behind, was directly related to the break-up of the bullet within the melon. As subsequently explained by Szamboti, the break-up of the transiting bullet creates a large temporary cavity expanding in all directions from the bullet. As the bullet exits the melon in pieces, it leaves a large hole, and the forward pressure is released. This, then, leaves the backward pressure pushing against a relatively intact back of the melon, and BINGO, it flies backward.
Thus, Kennedy's back-and-to-the-left movement can be explained by the "jet effect", provided the skull was as soft as a melon-rind, and the bullet broke up within the skull. For only through both circumstances could a tremendous amount of pressure push against the back of the skull without being offset by the forward movement of the skull upon impact.
Now, let's pause for a second. If that's all there is to it--that the "jet effect" studied by Alvarez and endorsed by the HSCA as an explanation for the movement of Kennedy's head after the head shot was achieved through a unique combination of factors--that were not present in the Kennedy assassination--shouldn't Alvarez, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, have been smart enough to figure this out? Well, yeah, I would hope so.
He was. On 10-17-13, at the Passing the Torch Conference in Pittsburgh, Josiah Thompson revealed that, with the assistance of Paul Hoch, a one-time student of Alvarez's, he had recently gained access to Dr. Alvarez's notes on his melon studies. Well, get ready for a shock. According to Thompson, Alvarez performed two series of tests before he was able to get the melon to fly back toward the bullet as demonstrated in his film. On 6-29-69, using all-lead 30.06 hand-loaded bullets designed to travel 3,000 fps (that is, far more powerful and explosive bullets than those used in the assassination), he fired on: tape-wrapped 4-7 lb. melons, which rolled backward; jello-filled coconuts, which flew forward; a jello-filled plastic jug, which flew forward; an 11-pound watermelon, for which the notes are unclear, and a water-fllled plastic jug, which flew forward. This was unsatisfactory. He then returned to the field on 2-15-70 and fired on: gelatin-filled rubber balls, which flew forward; water-filled plastic bottles, which exploded; and a taped pineapple, which shattered mostly to the side. This was also unsatisfactory. On 5-31-70, Alvarez came back a third time; this time, he fired on tape-wrapped 1.1-3.5 lb. melons (most of which were much smaller than the human head), and received the results he desired.
Above: one of the melons shot in a series of experiments conducted by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez. It has exploded back towards the shooter.
Now, it's not as if Alvarez was unaware of how this looked. After conducting these tests, Alvarez considered writing an article on his results for Physics Today, but did not, due to the reluctance of Hoch, who was to be his co-author. In 2019, Hoch e-mailed me his exact words to Alvarez. In a 10-21-70 letter to Alvarez, he warned:
“The difference between the melons and a skull and between the bullets we used and Oswald’s are great; sufficiently so that I do not think we can deduce that a skull would support a recoil large enough to overcome the forward impulse when struck by a single bullet under the conditions of the assassination. The principal difference, I think, is that a skull hit by a fully jacketed bullet might be driven forward by the energy lost upon impact with the bone much more than a melon, where there might be rather little energy as the bullet passes through the skull... As long as we do not do a careful simulation—with a skull, authentic ammunition, etc.—we do not know what to expect from a skull under such circumstances."
And it's not as if Hoch tried to conceal the variety of tests they'd performed from the research community. On 10-23-70 he sent a 25-page report on the tests to a number of critics, including David Lifton, Sylvia Meagher, Josiah Thompson and Harold Weisberg. Here is the fourth paragraph from this report:
“When we first decided to do an experiment to see if a recoil was not only consistent with momentum conservation (as we know it was) but also physically possible, Alvarez suggested as a target a melon strengthened with tape. It should be noted that we did not go around shooting at various targets until we found one that worked. We felt that a taped melon and a head would have in common the following essential features: a shell strong enough to resist shattering (i.e. we expected that if a melon were taped it would develop reasonably small entry and exit holes), and contents that were soft but not liquid. When melons were unavailable, and to try out other targets, we shot at targets without these features, and we feel that our observations suggest that our intuition about the necessary properties was correct. An untaped melon or a coconut typically shattered, leaving only small fragments scattered in many directions. Water-filled plastic bottles tended to go forward, but not directly forward; the large amount of water sprayed out made it difficult to tell if there was a jet recoil effect. The gelatin in a rubber ball was, I suggest, too cohesive to jet out. We filmed one untaped pineapple being shot, and although it shattered one large piece was driven backwards and another went perpindicular to the bullet path: this is not what one would expect from a naive application of Newton’s laws, but on the other hand we did not see a recoil of most of the target. (This is why I call these results “inconclusive —not because they did not prove what we ‘wanted’ them to prove.)"
So...while it's tempting to claim Alvarez fudged his tests, the reality appears to be more nuanced than that. He wanted to see if the "Jet Effect" was a "thang." He shot a variety of items and showed that, under certain circumstances, it was indeed a "thang." But Hoch convinced him that shooting melons was insufficiently similar to shooting skulls, and that the tests were, as a result, inconclusive. And it was left at that...
...until 1976, when Robert Groden showed the Zapruder film on TV, and sent the country-a-talkin' about the backwards snap of Kennedy's head in the film, which many if not most felt suggested a shot from the front. Apparently, this angered Dr. Alvarez, and he felt a response was required. He unearthed his results from 6 years earlier. And he published them...
That Dr. Alvarez was not above deception, however, was demonstrated by Dr. Gary Aguilar at the AARC Conference in 2014. In the aftermath of Thompson's 2013 revelation that Alvarez had fired upon multiple items before settling on the small melons he would later discuss, Aguilar went back and read Alvarez's original article on his melon tests. This was published in the September, 1976 issue of the American Journal of Physics. In the article, Alvarez claimed: "It is important to stress that a taped melon was our a prior best mock-up of a head, and it showed retrograde recoil in the first test. If we had used the 'Edison Test" and shot at a large collection of objects, and finally found one which gave retrograde recoil, then our firing experiments could be reasonably criticized. But as the tests were actually conducted, I believe they show it is most probable that the shot in 313 came from behind the car."
Well, this, as we've seen, was misleading. Sure, Alvarez had fired upon melons in his first test, but the results were unsatisfactory, and he fired upon numerous other items before firing upon much smaller melons--melons much smaller than a grown man's head, mind you--and achieving the desired results. His article hides this fact. One might even say his article was bullshit.
Above: Dr. Luis Alvarez, performing some opposition research.
This brings us back to Penn and Teller... It turns out that the melon test on Bullshit was not a total waste of time, and melon.... A close look at the test shows that melon goo sprayed out from both the entrance and the exit! Well, this is as expected. As Zapruder frame 313, taken within a split second of the bullet's impact, was tested by the ITEK Corporation in 1976 and found to show no signs of spray from the back of Kennedy's head, the melon test on Bullshit thereby supports that Kennedy was not struck on the back of the head at frame 313.
Strange, but true.
And no, that's not the name of Penn and Teller's next TV series.
Although perhaps it oughta be...with its first installment on zombie lies about the Kennedy assassination that just won't freakin' die.
Yes, unbelievably, the November 2014 issue of the Journal for the American Federation of Toolmark Examiners featured an article supporting the jet effect by one Lucien Haag (a disciple of Dr. Lattimer's), who'd had a recent brush with celebrity via some really bad TV shows rushed out for the 50th anniversary of the assassination. (These deceptive TV appearances are discussed in detail, here.) And, yes, unbelievably, this article featured the same ole, same ole, jet effect nonsense, with melons falling backwards off of blocks when they become imbalanced, and watermelon goo spraying backwards towards the rifle, as well as forward with the bullet.
But there was a level of nastiness in the article that felt a bit new...that suggested this article was more like a temper tantrum than anything anyone studying the Kennedy assassination should be forced to take seriously.
I mean, Haag actually complained that "Conspiracy advocates appear totally unaware of Dr. Lattimer's work and quickly criticize Professor Alvarez's photo-documented demonstrations due to his use of a .30 caliber rifle (rather than a 6.5mm (.26 caliber) rifle) with an impact velocity greater than that of a 160-gr WCC bullet when fired at the head shot distance. They have also claimed that generation of the rearward velocity of the struck melons was greater than that of President Kennedy's head. But, they either missed the point or were unwilling to concede the point that he repeatedly produced a retro-propulsion of his simulated heads by means of a perforating bullet that accelerated and propelled a significant quantity of the target out the exit side of his targets. The point is not the magnitude of the effect but the direction--rearward!"
Uhh, wrong. The point is not the direction of the effect, as claimed by Haag, but that the effect was directed. I mean, really. The rearward movement of some melons upon impact with a bullet is of no importance whatsoever if the direction of this movement was achieved through deception, by DELIBERATELY using a more powerful rifle than used in the assassination, and DELIBERATELY using ammunition designed to explode upon entrance, and DELIBERATELY simulating Kennedy's skull with a melon much smaller than the average human head. Er, scratch that, it is of importance. It PROVES that the jet effect had no basis in reality that Alvarez could discover and that he'd fudged the results of his tests. Okay, okay, I already agreed it was more nuanced than that--but that was the effect.
Now, the possibility exists that Haag was simply clueless about Alvarez, and did not realize Alvarez had been thoroughly discredited by Thompson the year before. He seems pretty isolated, so we can grant him that. But that shouldn't excuse his pretending "conspiracy advocates" are unaware of Lattimer's tests, when they are well aware of Lattimer's tests. And that shouldn't excuse him for failing to mention the tests performed by Nichols, the Snyders, and DeSalles, which helped discredit Alvarez, or the more recent presentations of Thompson and Aguilar. That's just bad scholarship. At best. Or big fat lying. At worst.
Now, sadly, I suspect the latter. It seems quite the coincidence that but one year after Thompson discredited Alvarez, Haag should appear with an article defending Alvarez, and simultaneously attacking what he calls "Josiah Thompson's "theory'" (the notion heads move in the direction of a bullet, and that the Zapruder film thereby suggests a frontal shot), which would more honestly be associated with the tests performed for the Warren Commission.
In any event, Haag's disdain for Thompson and those of a similar mindset is made more than clear in the article. After discussing "Thompson's theory" he railed: "The constant and repeated use of the phrase 'conspiracy theory' is inappropriate; The term 'theory' means that the proponent has demonstrable physical facts and repeatable experimental results to support his or her explanation. They have none. Their 'theories' become hypotheses at best, or are simply claims to promote and sell books, make movies or appear as invited speakers before naive audiences unequipped to challenge their claims."
Well, yikes, that's just plain bizarre, seeing as Haag, with no previous association with the assassination, as a writer or researcher, was able to make numerous paid TV appearances in the run-up to the 50th anniversary, and has since that time spoken on the assassination before largely under-informed professional organizations. I mean, just who is he thinking of, beyond himself? Josiah Thompson? Nope, afraid not. Thompson has made bupkus off his many years of research on the assassination. The one book he published on the shooting, Six Seconds in Dallas, has long been out of print, and whatever profits it could have brought him were soaked up eons ago by a lawsuit related to his use of the Zapruder film in the book.
In any event, Haag's article then takes an even stranger turn. After defending Alvarez against those darned critics, who thought shooting melons was a dishonest way to re-create the head shot, Haag describes shooting some melons of his own...and sides with the critics! Yep, as hard as it may be to believe, Haag actually admits that when he shot fiber glass-wrapped melons with full metal jacketed bullets like those supposedly used in the assassination, the bullets "failed to expand or fragment during their penetration of the melons" and that, as a consequence "the melons (which were free to move) remained in place, and the entry and exit holes were small." Well, HELLO, Mr. Haag, this was precisely the point made by Nichols, Snyder, DeSalles, and THOMPSON.
So what does Haag do next? Does he admit it's even a wee bit fishy to him that the full metal jacketed bullets didn't work, and that Alvarez just so happened to use hunting ammunition in his tests? No, are you kidding? This is Lucien Haag here, a man on a mission to debunk those theorists, scratch, hypothesists. He then relates "The noses of subsequent WCC Carcano bullets were slightly compromised to expose the soft lead cores for the subsequent shots. Just as with an impact to thick bone, these modified bullets immediately deformed and fragmented as they entered the melons, resulting in large exit defects and the expulsion of large quantities of the internal contents."
In other words...As the award-winning Alvarez before him, Haag FUDGED HIS TESTS!
Well, great googly moogly! What hubris! Haag criticizes Alvarez's critics, then admits they were RIGHT, and then tries to spin this as being of no importance whatsoever.
And what unscientific claptrap! I mean, just how "compromised" were these bullets? And how many tries did it take Haag get it 'right'? And, come to think of it, where's the scientific data reflecting that the degree of compromise Haag inflicted upon these bullets truly reflected the amount of damage these bullets would incur upon striking "thick" bone? And what did he mean by "thick bone", anyhow? Was he simulating a shot to the occipital bone, as described in the autopsy report? Or a shot to a much thinner region of the parietal bone, as proposed by the Clark Panel? Did he even know? And, oh yeah, by the way, why didn't Haag just tape a piece of "thick" bone to the impact location on the melon to begin with, and leave the bullets alone?
I think we know. It is ironic beyond belief that Haag, in a series of tests for an article designed to refute that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 of the Zapruder film could have been a frangible or exploding bullet, or fired from the front, "compromised" his bullets to make sure they would explode, and claimed he did so in order to replicate the presumed behavior of a non-compromised full-metal jacketed bullet fired from behind. It is ironic and just plain bizarre.
Haag then dug himself an even deeper hole. While arguing that the bullet striking Kennedy could not have been a frangible bullet, as a frangible bullet would leave pieces of the copper bullet jacket within the skull, he claimed: "the x-ray films only show numerous small lead fragments, some of which were recovered and later compared to the lead from the WCC 6.5mm Connally/stretcher bullet and the fragmented WCC 6.5mm Carcano bullet from the presidential limousine...No copper jacket fragments were found in the President's brain during the autopsy."
Well, this was a steaming pile of...nonsense. First of all, the x-rays could not differentiate between lead fragments and copper fragments. And second of all, over 40 fragments were observed on the x-rays, only two of which were recovered and compared to the recovered bullets. Haag's pretending that we know none of these fragments were bits of copper jacket is thereby pure bull, a bald-faced lie as bad as any lie told by "conspiracy advocates." One can only guess then that he believes the readers of the AFTE Journal are a "naive audience unequipped to challenge" his many false "claims".
And no, this wasn't Haag's last hurrah. He re-surfaced in the December 2019 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, and repeated much of the same garbage he'd been spewing for years, much of which he'd borrowed from Dr. Lattimer, who'd been spewing this garbage for the decades before that.
The "jet effect" lives on, if only as an illusion...in the minds of men like Haag...
The JFK Myths
Let us now return’s to Larry Sturdivan’s September 8, 1978 HSCA testimony. As the HSCA didn’t have the budget or the desire to test the wound ballistics of 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition, they relied on the tests performed in 1964 by Alfred Olivier and Edgewood Arsenal. Since Sturdivan was actively employed at Edgewood Arsenal, and had assisted in the 1964 tests, he was given the responsibility of explaining wound ballistics to the committee, and how the tests performed in 1964 were still relevant.
In his testimony, Sturdivan presented photos of yet another test skull to the Committee. In order to show that a bullet creating a small entrance could indeed leave a large exit, Sturdivan presented a skull with a small entrance at its back and a blown-out face in front. It was entered into evidence as F-306. This skull had been one of Olivier’s test skulls from 14 years earlier. That the bullet in this test was fired into the thick occipital bone at the back of the skull cut into its value as evidence, however. The HSCA had, after all, relied upon their pathology panel to determine the location of the entrance on the back of Kennedy's skull, and had determined it to have been four inches higher than the entrance on the skull in the photos.
Now look at how Sturdivan evades this issue...
Mr. MATHEWS - I have one final, question for you, Mr. Sturdivan, and in answering that question, let me direct your attention to JFK exhibits F-307 and F-306. Mr. Sturdivan, as you can see of JFK exhibit F-307 (NOTE: this was a drawing created for the committee), which is on my left, the hole location is approximately in the top of the President's skull. As you can see from exhibit F-306, the hole location is at the bottom of the President's skull. F-306 is a skull that was utilized by Edgewood Laboratories for their experiments for the Warren Commission; is that not so?
Mr. STURDIVAN - Yes, it was, that is one of the skulls, probably one of the skulls we saw in the film sequence.
Mr. MATHEWS - My question is this: Would the location of the hole in the President's skull make any change in your testimony as to the explosive effect that occurred within the skull?
Mr. STURDIVAN - Oh, no. Once the bullet enters the soft material within the skull, the radial velocity is imparted and the effect is exactly the same no matter at what point it enters. The only effect might be in which portion of the skull was actually blown out. In other words, it might blow out a little higher and a little more toward the top if the bullet entered a little more toward the top rather than blowing out on the side as is indicated in the second exhibit.
Uhhh... He was blowing smoke. Thick noxious smoke. While the bullet striking Kennedy's skull was purported to have created a large exit defect at the top of his skull after entering the back of the skull, and striking nothing but brain, the bullet creating the large exit defect apparent on Sturdivan's exhibit had undoubtedly struck the bones behind and above the eye sockets (The sella turcica, the sphenoid bone, the perpendicular plate, and the cribriform Plate, as shown below.)
Such an impact would most certainly have led to the creation of secondary missiles, and a much much larger exit defect... (And that's not even to mention that the small bullet entrance on Exhibit 306-A was almost certainly not the bullet entrance correlating with the large exit on Exhibit 306-B, and that the actual entrance correlating to this exit could have been much much larger, and reflective that the bullet broke up upon impact.)
And yet Sturdivan was pretending that the blow-out of the face on 306-B was caused by the radial velocity of the bullet, and that the reason this blow-out was on the face as opposed to the top of the head (as on Kennedy) was that this bullet entered at a lower location.
Hmmm. This is actually quite ironic. Since the bullet striking low on this skull had exited the face, the photos demonstrated that a bullet striking low on the skull would most likely exit low on the skull, and not sail upwards and out the top of the skull, as so many current supporters of the single-assassin theory, including Sturdivan himself, contend.
There is still another problem with HSCA F-306. A big one.
Let's take another look...
Yep, the fractures on the right side of F-306 come to an end at the lambdoid suture marking the margin of the occipital bone. This is inches away from the bullet's entrance. These fractures were thereby most logically related to the exit of the bullet.
And yet no such fractures are apparent in the supposed image of the exit of this bullet! It seems likely, then, that the skulls in F-306 (which were previously presented as Figure A 11--showing "some of the typical damage produced" by 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano bullets--in Dr. Olivier's 1965 report on the wound ballistics of 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition), were not the same skull viewed from different angles, as suggested by Sturdivan's testimony, but two different skulls, one with a small entrance and one with a large exit, that were mixed 'n' matched to create the illusion the small entrance/large exit on Kennedy's skull was not at all surprising.
In 2005, Sturdivan released a book explaining his new views. While the book’s full title was The JFK Myths: A Scientific Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination, and it did indeed debunk many myths, both conspiracy and otherwise, it added a few myths of its own. Here, Sturdivan explained the failure of the 1964 test bullets to simulate Kennedy's wound by asserting that the test skulls were dried, and that a living skull would be more resistant, and that a bullet striking such a skull would be more likely to sail upwards and explode from the top of the head.
Maybe someone should tell Sturdivan that bullets don't sail upwards and explode from the tops of live skulls, either.
At another point, when discussing the 1964 tests, Sturdivan writes “the Biophysic Lab test skulls do not show extensive cracking from the entry holes, even though the dried skulls used in the tests were more brittle than live bone (indicated by more explosive fragmentation at the site of the explosive post-shot rupture). Figure 51 is a typical entry hole from this series.Some had a small crack through the body of the occipital plate similar to this one. Each had, at most, a single crack that ran across the entry hole. None had multiple, displaced cracks radiating from the entry hole.” Sturdivan thereby suggests that the comparatively small entrance hole observed on the back of Kennedy's skull was not unexpected. A close comparison of Figure 51, which depicts the same skull as HSCA Exhibit F-306 A, with the four Edgewood Arsenal Biophysic Lab test skulls shown on the Reading the Test Skulls slide, however, reveals that the skull in Figure 51 is far from typical. The backs of all four skulls on the Reading the Tests Skulls slide appear to have suffered extensive fractures or are missing bone.
This is most curious. When one reads Dr. Olivier’s 1965 report on these tests, one finds that the bullets fired into the ten test skulls “broke up to a greater or lesser degree in at least nine of the skulls.” This “at least nine” is unduly vague. If it was more than nine skulls than that would mean ten skulls, which would mean EVERY skull fired upon, right? If the bullet broke up in every skull then shouldn’t that have been mentioned? Since the photo in Figure 51 was the only photo of a bullet entrance in Olivier’s 1965 report and the only photo of a bullet entrance in Sturdivan’s 1978 testimony and the only photo of an entrance in Sturdivan’s 2005 book, one can’t help but be suspicious it was in fact far from typical, and was, in fact, a photo of the entrance on the only skull where the bullet did not break up.
Sturdivan’s failure to depict the exit defect in Figure 51 is also suspicious. Since Sturdivan is now of the opinion the bullet entered low on Kennedy’s skull in the Humes entrance, and then curved sharply upwards, perhaps he was trying to conceal that NOT ONE bullet curved upwards in such a manner in the 1964 tests, even though “at least nine” of the bullets broke up in the skull. and even though Olivier, by Sturdivan’s own admission, used “stiff gelatin” that would accentuate such a curve.
The sharp curve proposed by Sturdivan just isn't reasonable. Crime Scene: Inside the World of the Real CSIs (2007) quotes a forensic anthropologist along these lines. It confirms: "People love to think that bullets go and they bounce around and then they go in some other direction... People forget that these bullets are moving in feet per second. They're gonna go in a straight line until they stop, or they hit a brick wall, or they lose their energy... Right before it stops, the bullet loses energy and it can be diverted. But people have all these theories... What you do do, if you line those wounds up, you find out that there really is a straight line."
Sturdivan’s treatment of the bullet fragments and x-rays is also revealing. Here is how he described the bullet fragments on the x-rays during his 1978 HSCA testimony: “this case is typical of a deforming jacketed bullet leaving fragments along its path as it goes. Incidentally, those fragments that are left by the bullet are also very small and do not move very far from their initial, from the place where they departed the bullet. Consequently, they tend to be clustered very closely around the track of the bullet.” Later, he was asked by Congressman Fithian if a bullet fragment will always develop a lift. He said: “it will move in the direction it is yawing. If it yaws upwards, then it will tend to move upward. If it yaws down, then it would tend to move down….Unfortunately, the entrance yaw is unpredictable as to direction, so you really can’t predict whether it is going to go upward, downward, or to the right or left.” He then defended the high entrance proposed by the HSCA forensic pathology panel, the very entrance he now says doesn’t exist. He said: "There is extensive deformation at the top of the skull which indicates the radial velocity that was imparted to the tissue, broke it open and, therefore, relieved the pressure at the top…You would presume then, that the soft tissue, which was badly damaged, would have moved somewhat in the direction of that relieved pressure and. therefore, would be displaced somewhat upward from the original track. So I would place the original track as being somewhat lower than the trail of fragments indicated through there, certainly not much lower…there is no indication of any track in the lower half of the skull. It was definitely in the upper part.” After showing films of the skull tests to the committee, he returned to this theme and once again defended the HSCA entrance as the most logical entrance. He said: “Once the bullet enters the soft material within the skull, the radial velocity is imparted and the effect is exactly the same no matter at what point it enters. The only effect might be in which portion of the skull is actually blown out. In other words, it might blow out a little higher and a little more toward the top if the bullet entered a little more toward the top rather than blowing out on the side as is indicated in the second exhibit.”
So, after recently deciding that the bullet entered in the low entrance described at the autopsy, how does Sturdivan now view the x-rays and bullet fragments? In the JFK Myths, he claims: “many of the fragments deposited in the President’s brain were flushed out, along with the brain tissue, as the large amounts of blood flowed out of the explosive wound in the side of his head, in the car and in Parkland. It is evidently some of these that were deposited on the bone flaps by clotting blood that show as a “trail” of fragments near the top of the lateral view. This “trail” does not show on the frontal view, and is much higher than the FPP’s reconstructed trajectory. (Note: FPP=Forensic Pathology Panel) In fact, at the apparent location of these fragments there was no brain matter in which the fragments could be embedded.” Yes, he has once again completely reversed himself, not only on the wound location, but on elementary wound ballistics. While bullet fragments previously did “not move very far from their initial, from the place where they departed the bullet,” now “many of the fragments deposited in the President’s brain were flushed out, along with the brain tissue, as the large amounts of blood flowed out of the explosive wound in the side of his head.”
While Sturdivan is undoubtedly within his rights to change his mind, when he uses his experience as the HSCA’s ballistics expert to sell his book, and refutes a number of the HSCA’s key findings, and fails to tell his readers that his testimony was vital to these findings, he crosses a line, in my opinion. At one point in the JFK Myths, he writes: “One hesitates to disagree with the opinions expressed by three panels of expert pathologists who had the autopsy pictures and x-rays to study.” And yet at an other point he admits “The wound ballistics consultant from the Army’s Biophysics Division (the author of this book) was invited to participate in two of the FPP’s meetings. During several meetings, the FPP, a few members of the HSCA staff, and other consultants reviewed all the evidence from the autopsy, including the photographs, x-rays, and clothing.” In an ideal world, he would have followed this admission with a mea culpa grande, confessing that he proceeded to give congress information in sworn testimony he now believes inaccurate. But alas, he ignores this fact completely. While he is, by all accounts, a nice man, Sturdivan’s credibility on the JFK assassination ballistics evidence is undoubtedly debatable. He has, after all, given conflicting statements regarding the location of the entrance wound, the location of the exit wound, and the movement of bullet fragments within the skull. What’s left?
The Sturdivan School of Wound Ballistics
Funny I should ask. The climactic moment of Larry Sturdivan’s HSCA testimony came when he showed several slow-motion films taken in 1964. These slow-motion films depicted the shooting simulations conducted by Dr. Olivier. Sturdivan’s testimony on these films started out badly: “The movies were taken at approximately 2200 pictures per second. Since the projectile is moving at roughly 2,000 feet per second, we could expect a motion of about 12 inches, 12 to 14 inches between frames as the bullet comes in.” (Olivier’s report on these simulations states: “Figure A5, part B, shows the camera and lights used to record the sequence of events at a film speed of 4,,000 frames/sec.” Sturdivan’s book concurs “the movie was taken at the framing rate of 4,000 frames/second, over 200 times faster than the Zapruder film.” The distance traveled by the bullet between frames was therefore more like 6 inches.) Sturdivan continued: “the bullet has come in from the left, has impacted the skull through the scalp simulant and is now within the skull. As you can see, the radial velocity that is imparted at the first part of the track has begun to crack the back piece of the skull. This is the very next frame. It shows the fragmented bullet and fragments of the skull being blown away from the front of the skull... Pieces of the bullet have exited the skull. It is hard to tell whether they have actually gone out of the frame or whether they be incorporated into that white mass which is mostly bone but with a little bit of gelatin tissue stimulant in it."
"As you can see, the radial velocity has already begun to fracture the skull extensively along and across the suture lines.” Later, Sturdivan would answer Congressman Declan Ford by stating “the skull began to fragment while the bullet was still in passage and so, therefore, you might say that the skull began to come apart almost immediately within microseconds of the impact, continuing to fracture and move forward.”
In the JFK Myths, Sturdivan expands upon his testimony, and publishes a few frames from one of his skull test films as Figure 33. He dismisses that a large wound on the back of Kennedy’s head would be indicative of a shot fired from the front by claiming: “This argument is predicated on the assumption that the injury was an exit. It was not. The reader might already have noted that Figure 33 shows what actually happened. The bullet entered the back of the skull and exited in a small spray at the front in the space of one frame of the high-speed movie. Only after the bullet was far down-range did the internal pressure generated by its passage split open the skull and relieve the pressure inside by spewing the contents through the cracks. A similar explosion would have taken place if the bullet had gone through in the opposite direction. The only way to distinguish the direction of travel of the bullet is to examine the cratering effect on the inside of the skull at entrance and on the outside of the skull at exit. Thus, whether the explosion was more to the side or back is completely irrelevant.” He then discusses Kennedy’s skull: “Like the simulations at Edgewood Arsenal, the center of the blown-out area of the president’s skull was at the midpoint of the trajectory—not at the exit point. The midpoint is the point at which the bullet has fully deformed and is giving up the energy at the maximum rate—that is, pushing outward with the maximum force. At its actual point of exit toward the front of his head, the fragment had lost half its velocity and a small amount of mass (more than three quarters of its energy). His forehead was not torn open. The pressure inside the skull at the bullet’s exit location was not high enough to cause the front portion of the skull and scalp to rupture, but the x-rays do show that throughout the president’s skull the individual bony plates were separated at the suture lines and fractured between sutures almost as extensively as those in the simulations.”
So there you have it. Sturdivan contends that the large defect at the top of Kennedy’s head did not come as a result of the bullet's actual exit from the skull, but was created instead by the energy it released en route to the exit.
In retrospect, this should not be surprising. The HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, we should recall, concluded that the bullet exited nearly intact from the beveled piece of bone in the "mystery photo," and that the other half of this exit was found on the large bone fragment found on the floor of the limousine. This left no explanation for the explosion of skull visible in frame 313 of the Zapruder film, especially when one considers that the panel concluded that the bone fragment seen exploding upwards came from a location posterior to the large bone fragment found in the limousine, and on the far side of this fragment from the exit defect.
Even more alarming than Sturdivan's simply making an assertion that the temporary cavity made by the bullet exploded the skull, however, is that he presents this as though this is what one would normally expect from the impact of a high-velocity bullet on a skull. Now, is this assertion supported by the simulation films he cites as support for his theory? I don't believe so. Well, what about the writings of others, then? Here, once again, I’m saying no.
One reason to doubt Sturdivan is his contention that at the “actual point of exit” the bullet had lost only “a small amount of mass.” He overlooks that the copper base of this bullet was found in the front seat of the car, empty of all lead, and that the nose of this bullet was found several feet away. As it would be most unusual for a jacketed bullet to enter a skull intact but break up upon exit, it seems obvious the bullet broke up upon impact, and that the lead fragments seen on the x-rays broke off from the middle of the bullet. If Sturdivan fails to appreciate this obvious conclusion, there's no telling what else he's overlooked.
Actually, there is some telling what else he's overlooked, and here it is... The skull test films depict large fractures running from the entrance locations on the backs of the skulls to the coronal sutures near the fronts of the skulls. Such a fracture line does not appear on Kennedy’s skull. Even worse, while the bullets in the skull tests exploded from the forehead, Kennedy's face remained intact. Although Sturdivan has recently proposed that the bullet striking Kennedy curled upwards and exploded out the top of his skull, the exhibits he placed into evidence before congress fail to support this conjecture, and he has offered no subsequent tests as support for this proposition.
Sturdivan also fails to see that his basic assertion just isn't true. He states “Like the simulations at Edgewood Arsenal, the center of the blown-out area of the president’s skull was at the midpoint of the trajectory.” But this is 100% wrong. The available films show that, even though, as Dr. Olivier explained to the Warren Commission, "you don’t have the limiting scalp holding the pieces in," (Some studies have concluded that scalp is as much as 50% as strong as bone) the mid-point of the trajectory in the test skulls fractured and separated at the sutures, but did not blow out.
While the final skull test frame in the JFK Myth's Figure 33 shows the skull coming apart and might leave one with the impression that the skull blasted apart, this is an inaccurate impression. When one watches the full simulation as HSCA Exhibit F-305, (frames of which are shown above) one sees that the mid-part of the skull regained its form and that the skull, in fact, ended up with a large hole on the back of the head at the entrance and an even larger hole on the front of the head at the exit, with NO hole whatsoever at the top of the head. This is shown below.
And this wasn't an isolated case. It was the same or worse with the other skulls. None of the simulations had a large defect at the top like the one on Kennedy’s skull. On NONE of the simulations did a large bone fragment explode upwards as seen in Zapruder frame 313. With but what appears to be one exception, the entrances were not small holes on the bone approximately the width of the bullet, but gaping holes an inch or more in diameter. Sturdivan's testimony was thereby refuted by...the very exhibits introduced to support his testimony.
Yes, We Can Can
Even more surprising, the skull tests were not the only films shown by Larry Sturdivan in his 1978 HSCA testimony that refuted his testimony. To support his statements about the explosion of the president’s skull, he showed the committee Exhibit 304, a slow-motion film of a high-speed bullet piercing a tomato can. He describes this film as follows: “The picture will be much the same as those with the skull. The bullet will be coming in from the left, will strike the can and you will see pieces of the can moving toward the right in the direction of the bullet, but you will also see pieces of the can moving in other directions. Notably the top of the can will be moving back toward the left in the direction from which the bullet came. You notice the backsplash as the bullet has entered the left-hand side of the can. The material is beginning to move back out. This is called the backsplash of the projectile.” Yes, you read that right. Sturdivan pointed out to the committee that a bullet entering a skull would create a backsplash of material from the entrance.
Vincent J.M. DiMaio, in his book Gunshot Wounds, described this phenomena as well. He asserted: “As the bullet enters the body, there is a “tail splash,” or the backward hurling of injured tissue.” This should make one wonder once again why there is no backsplash visible in frame 313 of the Zapruder film.
While one might venture that the backsplash remained visible for but a brief moment, and was already dissipated within the 1/30th or so of a second between the impact of the bullet on Kennedy's head and the exposure of frame 313, Sturdivan's tomato can film proves this unlikely, as the backsplash visible in the Exhibit 304 is still visible long after the amount of forward splash has peaked.
Yes, Sturdivan's tomato can film is something to treasure. It should be put on display like a Warhol. It's of interest not only because of the readily noticeable backsplash in the film, but because it helps debunk the myth that Kennedy's head flew backwards as a consequence of a "jet effect." Notice that, in the frames of Exhibit 304 above, while the top of the can flew back towards the shooter, the larger mass of the can flew forwards in the direction of the bullet. If one were to hold that this movement came from a "jet effect" response to the backsplash, one would then be forced to return to the last question: where is the backsplash in the Zapruder film, and why didn't its "jet effect" thrust Kennedy's skull forwards?
In his testimony before congress, Sturdivan offered his own explanation for the back-and-to the-left movement of the President’s skull in the frames following Z-313. He testified: “Now the extreme radial velocity imparted to the matter in the President’s head, the brain tissue caused mechanical movement of essentially everything inside the skull, including where the cord went through the foramen magnum, that is, the hole that leads out of the skull down to the spinal cord. Motion there, I believe, caused mechanical stimulation of the motor nerves of the President, and since all motor nerves were stimulated at the same time, then every muscle in the body would be activated at the same time. Now in an arm, for instance, this would have activated the biceps muscle but it would also have activated the triceps muscle, which being more powerful, would have straightened the arm out. With leg muscles, the large muscles in the back of the leg are more powerful than those in the front and, therefore, the leg would move backward. The muscles in the back of the trunk are much stronger than the abdominals and, therefore, the body would arch backward. The same phenomena has been observed many times by hunters in the Southwest where I came from.”
To support these statements he showed the committee Exhibit 309, a slow-motion film of a goat being shot in the head. He testified: “First we will observe the neuromuscular reaction, the goat will collapse then, and by the wiggling of his tail and the tenseness of the muscles we will see what I think has been called the decerebrate rigidity, and that takes place about a second after the shot and then slowly dissipates and you will see the goat slump, obviously dead.”
As the film progressed, he narrated: “Four one-hundredths of a second after that impact then the neuromuscular reaction that I described begins to happen; the back legs go out, the front legs go upward and outward, the back arches, as the powerful back muscles overcome those of the abdominals. That was it.”
Later, when questioned by Congressman Declan Ford, he disputed that the direction of Kennedy’s head movement would have any correlation to the direction of travel of the bullet impacting his head: “The direction that was imparted by the bullet going forward would have been overcome by the neuro-muscular reaction in about four-hundredths of a second, if we can believe what happened to the animal would be the same in the human being….Four one hundredths of a second, I think, is well between frames on the Zapruder film. So we wouldn’t expect to see any forward motion of the head before we saw the violent reaction. In other words, there was very little time to move forward before he began to move backward.” Sturdivan, therefore, failed to attach any significance to the slight forward movement of Kennedy's head between frames 312 and 313 of the Zapruder film, the movement most single-assassin theorists cite as proof the bullet was fired from behind.
Still later, Sturdivan dismissed another favorite theory of the single-assassin crowd, and rejected the possibility that the cause of the back-and-to-the left motion apparent in the Zapruder film was the “Jet Effect” proposed by Dr. Luis Alvarez and Dr. John Lattimer. He testified: “It is possible that there would have been enough momentum lost in a forward direction that the skull might have moved backward or at least not move forward as rapidly as it would have otherwise. However, if you recall, in the skull films, most of the momentum was in the side causing the skull to have a reaction in the opposite direction. But each of the skulls did move forward in the direction that the bullet took.” I wonder how many of today's single-assassin theorists accepting that the forward movement of Kennedy's skull between frames 312 and 313 and the purported "jet effect" afterward demonstrate that the head shot was fired from behind even know that their champion ballistics expert testified before congress that their "proofs" were nonsense.
Sturdivan's explanation had a not insignificant problem of its own. Both his testimony and his goat film suggested that the neuro-muscular reaction he proposed would affect all limbs. Dr. Werner Spitz of the HSCA medical panel shared Sturdivan’s analysis; years earlier, he'd told the Rockefeller Commission: “The subsequent backward movement of the President’s head can be explained by sudden decerebration. This position is well known as “decerebrate posture.”
Well, Blakiston’s Pocket Medical Dictionary describes “decerebrate posture” as: “The limbs are stiffly extended, the head retracted…” This suggests that, if Kennedy’s movements were related to a neuro-muscular response, his arms would have straightened out as well as his legs.
They did not; they remained by his side, bent at the elbow, precisely as they were before the bullet impacted on his skull.
As Sturdivan also stated that the goat fell dead, and Kennedy is reported to have lived for more than 20 minutes after he was shot, there is real reason to doubt that Kennedy straightened up as a neuro-muscular response, or that his legs were extended due to sudden decerebration.
But I am not alone in my skepticism. In recent years, Sturdivan's testimony about the neuro-muscular response has come under fire from a most unexpected source: Sturdivan himself. Although he still proposes that Kennedy's body lurched backwards as a neuro-muscular response to the bullet's impact, he now asserts that the rapid acceleration of Kennedy's head backwards after 313 came not from this response, but from the...jet effect. In the JFK Myths, he declares: “Dr. Ken Rahn has used the position of the back of Kennedy's head as plotted in Josiah Thompson’s book to calculate the velocity and acceleration of the head after the explosion at Zapruder frame 313. Kennedy’s head is accelerated rapidly forward (the momentum of the bullet) then rapidly backward, nearly to its original position. The motion is far too soon to be a neuro-muscular response. It had to be from the physics.” Sturdivan then proposes that the Jet Effect had an effect and that Dr. Olivier’s tests at Edgewood Arsenal failed to reveal this effect as a consequence of his ballistics gelatin being just too darned stiff.
Well, no surprise, there’s a problem with this. Sturdivan testified before congress that the neuro-muscular reaction takes place within 4/100 of a second. 4/100 of a second is less than one frame of the Zapruder film. The bullet impacts on Kennedy mid-way between Z-312 and Z-313 in the Zapruder film and by Z-315 he is already heading back-and-to-the left. This means the response took approximately 2 frames or, since the Zapruder film was running at 18.3 frames per second, roughly 1/9 of a second. 1/9 of a second is, of course, roughly 11/100 of a second, more than 2 ½ times as long as Sturdivan said it took for a neuro-muscular reaction to occur. And yet Sturdivan now says the reaction comes far too soon for the reaction to be a neuro-muscular reaction. This means that either a) Sturdivan misled congress, or b) he’s so anxious to fit in with Warren Commission supporters like Lattimer and Rahn that he’ll say almost anything, or c) he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.
I’m leaning towards “c.” After all, Sturdivan:
testified before congress that the entrance wound was on the upper part of Kennedy’s skull, but then changed his mind.
testified before congress that small bullet fragments don’t stray very far from the bullet’s path, but then changed his mind.
testified before congress that the forward movement of Kennedy's skull between frames 312 and 313 did not reflect that the bullet impacting his skull had been fired from behind, but then changed his mind.
testified before congress that the rapid backward movement of Kennedy's skull following frame 313 was most logically a neuro-muscular response to the impact of a bullet, but then changed his mind.
And, guess what, it appears that Sturdivan changed his mind about this as well! Yep, in 1978 he claimed a neurological response had caused Kennedy to jolt back and to the left after the head shot; in 2005 he said he'd been mistaken and that it was the jet effect that caused this response; and then in 2013 he reversed himself again (or so it would appear). When asked about Kennedy's movements after the head shot by the producers of PBS' NOVA, Sturdivan replied: "The tissue inside [Kennedy's] skull was being moved around. It caused a massive amount of nerve stimulation to go down his spine. Every nerve in his body was stimulated...since the back muscles are stronger than the abdominal muscles, that meant that Kennedy arched dramatically backwards." As pointed out by researcher Martin Hay, moreover, this was nonsense, as Kennedy's head snapped back, and his body followed.
While Sturdivan is a nice guy, it seems clear that, as a lot of nice guys, he has great difficulty making up his mind, and then sticking to it. Or even making much sense to begin with...
He is, after all, the guy who told congress that the inch of flesh overlying Connally’s rib would substantially slow a bullet, so that a bullet striking Connally’s rib would suffer much less damage than a bullet striking a much-smaller goat’s rib, but that the five and a half inches of flesh in Kennedy’s upper back and neck would hardly slow a bullet at all.
Perhaps it’s time then that we make up our own minds…
(In November 2018, Mysteries at the Museum, a TV program broadcast on the Travel Channel, tried to resolve the 40 year jet effect/neuromuscular reaction debate through an interview with a weather scientist named Nick Nalli, who'd paid to publish an online article on the subject earlier in the year. Although the program insisted Nalli's article was a "brand new analysis" of the issue, it was, in fact, nothing new. Nalli, who cited no actual experience with gunshot wounds or wound ballistics, observed what had long since been apparent--that the back and to the left motion of Kennedy's head followed the bullet's impact by two frames or so, which was too early for it to have come as a result of a neurological reaction. So he regurgitated the HSCA's conclusion--that the back and to the left movement observed in the Zapruder film started as a response to the jet effect first proposed by Alvarez, and then continued due to the neuromuscular reaction first described by Sturdivan. Well, this was old news, which is to say, no news at all.)
Blasts From the Present
Since the statements and testimony of HSCA wound ballistics consultant Larry Sturdivan, are, well, not exactly consistent, the thought occurs that we should better acquaint ourselves with the field of his supposed expertise: wound ballistics.
Dr. LeMoyne Snyder, Homicide Investigation, First edition 1944.“If the bullet encounters only soft tissue in its passage through the body, it will pass through in a straight line. If, however, it strikes a bone it is hard to predict where it will go. When this happens, the deflection of the bullet depends on the size and shape of the bone, the velocity of the bullet, and the angle at which it strikes. In some cases, if a high velocity rifle bullet strikes a large bone, like that in the thigh, it may bore a hole through it without even producing a fracture. On the other hand, if it happens to strike a large bone at an angle, it may cause a severe fracture with great destruction of the surrounding soft tissues due to the fact that the energy of the bullet is transmitted to broken fragments of bone and thus making each of these fragments an additional projectile. Not only do the bone fragments enormously increase tissue destruction but the bullet itself is frequently sent spinning end over end. This, of course, greatly increases tissue damage and bleeding. As a result, the wound of exit in such cases is usually much larger, more ragged and generally more destructive.”
Well, okay. This should make us wonder if the large size of Kennedy's head wound was a natural consequence of the fatal bullet's velocity, a la Sturdivan, or if it was, instead, a result of the bullet's striking his skull at an angle.
Dr. E. Newton Harvey, Studies on Wound Ballistics, contained in Advances in Military Medicine, Vol.1, Made By American Investigators Working Under the Sponsorship of the Committee on Medical Research, 1948. "Many of the observations on the battlefield can be imitated by shooting 1/8-inch steel spheres of different velocities into the intact head of an anesthetized cat. A low-velocity sphere (1100 ft./sec.) leaves neat entrance and exit holes in the skull, with no splitting of sutures or fracturing. Spheres of somewhat higher velocity (2200 ft./sec.) show entrance holes with jagged edges or slight fractures and occasional splitting along a suture line. A 3000-ft./sec. sphere causes considerable suture splitting and fracturing, and a 4500-ft./sec. sphere results in complete shattering."
So here is a military doctor, discussing tests performed on cats with proportionally-sized spheres, in which the damage reported by Sturdivan was observed with spheres travelings around 3,000 ft./sec--50% greater than the presumed velocity of the bullet killing Kennedy.
Dr.s Harvey, McMillen, Butler, and Puckett, Chapter III, Mechanism of Wounding, contained in Wound Ballistics, edited by Dr. James Beyer, published by the Medical Department, United States Army, 1962. (Beyer was Kennedy autopsist Pierre Finck's predecessor at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.) "The pressures which accompany a high-velocity missile moving through tissue are enormous. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that a steel sphere fired into the head can produce a temporary cavity in brain tissue, despite the apparent strength of the cranium which must resist the pressure. The cavity formed by a missile in the brain of an intact cranium is of finite size, partly because brain tissue is forced through regions of less resistance (such as frontal sinuses and the various foramina of the skull) and partly because of the stretching of the cranium itself. When the energy delivered is very great, skull bones are actually torn apart along suture lines...The explosive effect of high-velocity missiles within the cranium increases with increased energy. With very high velocities there is complete shattering of the skull, usually along suture lines... Movement of brain tissue during expansion of the temporary cavity pushes the bone apart." (Later in this book the tests using "very high-velocity" missiles, in which the skulls usually separated at the sutures, are described in more detail. The missiles in these tests were traveling at 4,000 fps or more, more than twice as fast as the bullet striking Kennedy.)
So here we have confirmation that skulls don't normally explode from temporary cavities and that when they do it's usually along suture lines. Kennedy's skull did not explode along suture lines. Not only did the fractures on the right side of the skull not run along suture lines, but there was no separation along suture lines observed on the left side of the skull. There was also little damage to the left side of the brain, which would seem unlikely should the brain have expanded to the degree necessary to explode the skull. It follows then that these experts would consider the explosion of Kennedy's skull highly unusual.
There's also this...
This shows that larger projectiles, when penetrating gelatin, flesh (or brain) at the same velocity as smaller projectiles, will have much greater penetration. (This will become important when we analyze the x-rays.)
Dr. James Beyer, as quoted in a 12-19-63 AP article on Kennedy’s head wound. (In this article, perhaps inadvertently, Beyer second-guesses the conclusions of his successor at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Dr. Pierre Finck.) “I’m still surprised at the reported size of the head wound if a normal, completely jacketed, military type bullet was used—and if it did not strike some object, such as a portion of the President’s limousine before hitting the president’s head.” Ordinarily, he said, a military type bullet, if fired from a range of about 100 yards as the fatal bullet apparently was, would cause only a relatively small wound at the point of entry and would not necessarily cause extensive damage inside the skull. In contrast, he said, a soft-nosed hunting-type bullet—whose soft nose tends to mushroom out after striking a target-- could cause a head wound of the devastating type described even though the initial entrance was not large. Also, he said, if an ordinary military-type bullet “just grazed” a portion of the limousine before striking the president’s head—without losing much of its energy—the slight instability imparted to the missile could have resulted in the large wound described. Beyer wrote the section on wound ballistics to the Army’s official medical history of World War II.”
While Beyer was obviously unaware of the tendency of 6.5 mm ammunition to break-up on the skull, his statement that a shot from 100 yards using 6.5 mm military-type ammunition “would not necessarily cause extensive damage inside the skull” is a clear indication that the temporary cavity (which, as we shall see, is larger with intact bullets than non-intact bullets) of Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition was not particularly destructive. This totally contradicts Sturdivan’s contention that the temporary cavity of the bullet striking Kennedy was the primary factor in the explosion of his skull.
Dr. Alfred Olivier, 5-13-64 testimony before the Warren Commission. “This type of a stable bullet I didn’t think would cause a massive head wound, I thought it would go through making a small entrance and exit, but the bones of the skull are enough to deform the end of this bullet causing it to expend a lot of energy and blowing out the side of the skull or blowing out fragments of the skull.”
Here, Sturdivan’s mentor, Olivier, gets around Beyer by suggesting that the explosion of Kennedy's skull was related to the deformation of the bullet on the back of the skull. As none of the dried skulls fired on by Olivier, using rifles and bullets identical to those supposedly used by Oswald, exploded upwards like Kennedy's skull, this explanation is far from satisfactory. Olivier's testimony is interesting, nonetheless, as it supports both that the damage to Kennedy's skull was considered surprising, and that the deformation of the bullet occurred upon impact, and not upon exit. Sturdivan and the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, we should recall, both pushed that the bullet remained largely intact until exiting the skull, with Dr. Baden actually pushing that the bullet remained intact until impacting the windshield frame.
Dr.s Bergeron and Rumbaugh, Radiology of the Skull and Brain, 1971, chapter on Skull Trauma. “Violence to a small area stresses the bone only locally and results in an impression fracture. This type of violence must be clearly distinguished from that to a large area, which uniformly stresses the skull as a whole and results in a burst fracture.”
This demonstrates that the fracture patterns resulting from a bullet's entrance and exit are distinguishable from burst fractures.
Dr. Alfred Olivier, 2-13-73 letter to Emory L. Brown, Jr. (A copy of this letter can be found in the Weisberg Archives.) (On the origins of the large fragment purported to be on the back of Kennedy's skull in the X-rays.) "This metallic fragment was probably deposited when the bullet jacket ruptured on the skull. This rupturing of the jacket was one of the things that surprised me when we tested the bullet (same lot as used by Oswald) against human skulls. Apparently, the gilding metal was fairly soft, allowing these full-jacketed military bullets to act like soft-nosed hunting bullets. If Oswald had used Italian ammunition, which had steel jackets, the head wound would have been much less severe, but probably still fatal."
Ahh, there it is...an acknowledgment from someone well-familiar with such things that the break-up of a jacketed bullet upon impact with a skull leads it to act like hunting ammunition, and thereby increases the severity of the wound.
Dr. Alfred Olivier, 4-18-75 testimony before the Rockefeller Commission. “When that bullet entered the head the nose of the bullet erupted on the skull and expended a tremendous amount of energy. This caused what is known as a temporary cavity. Apparently, this cavity was nearer the side of the head so that it buried in that area, and say, took the path of least resistance. If the bullet path had been near the top of the head it could have burst through the top.”
This statement confirms that Dr. Olivier believed 1) the bullet broke up on the outside of the skull; 2) the break-up of this bullet contributed to the creation of a large temporary cavity; 3) a temporary cavity will take the path of least resistance, and 4) the path of least resistance in this case was along the side of the head. Point 4 suggests that Dr. Olivier did not embrace the Clark Panel's claim the bullet entered by the cowlick. Point 3 suggests that a large exit created by a permanent cavity will moderate the damage done by the subsequent temporary cavity. Points 1 and 2 raise the question, overlooked in both Dr. Humes and Dr. Olivier's Warren Commission testimony, of whether the small entrance wound on the back of Kennedy's head gave the appearance of a wound where a bullet had broken up on the skull.
Dr. John Lattimer, 10-23-75 letter to Emory Brown, Jr. (A copy of this letter can be found in the Weisberg Archives.) (On tests he'd performed on M/C ammunition) "These bullets keep on going straight ahead in the wood. These same bullets will fragment exactly like a soft-nosed bullet, if they strike the skull, exactly as President Kennedy's skull was struck."
Well, here it is again...confirmation that the bullet striking Kennedy's skull behaved like soft-nosed hunting ammunition. This supports Olivier's statements suggesting that the bullet's explosion and the skull's explosion are inter-related, and that one can not simply propose that the bullet didn't break up at impact, a la Sturdivan and Baden, and still have the severity of the exit make sense.
Dr.s Charters and Charters, Journal of Trauma 1976, Wounding Mechanism of Very High Velocity Projectiles. “The magnitude of the temporary wound cavity is dependent upon the energy imparted by the projectile during penetration of the tissue, since the energy released decreased exponentially with the distance penetrated.”
In support of this statement, Charters and Charters published test results demonstrating that fragmenting stainless steel spheres penetrate shorter distances and create smaller temporary cavities than non-fragmenting spheres. Since the bullet striking Kennedy was badly fragmented this suggests that the largest temporary cavity inside his skull, and the greatest stress on the skull, was nearest the entrance, not the exit. Well, this in turn should make one doubt that the large defect on the top of Kennedy’s skull (a good distance from the low entrance formerly proposed by Olivier and currently proposed by Sturdivan) was created by the temporary cavity of a disintegrating bullet.
So let us make this clear. If the bullet broke up on the outside of the skull, and disintegrated in its passage through the skull, as one might expect, it created an entrance wound too small, and released a surprising amount of its energy upon exit. And if it didn't break up at all, well, then, it created an exit wound too big. In either case, then, the same thing's wrong--the exit wound's too big.
Dr. Frank P. Cleveland, Chapter XXII, Characteristics of Wounds Produced by Handguns and Rifles, contained in Forensic Pathology: A Handbook for Pathologists, edited by Dr. Russell Fisher (of the Clark Panel) and Dr. Charles Petty (of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel), published by the U.S. Department of Justice, 1977. "Wounds from high velocity projectiles. Increasing the velocity of projectiles increases geometrically the quantity of energy produced and this produces perforating wounds with unusual features: bone may literally be pulverized; soft tissue laceration may be widespread and at considerable distance from the track of the projectile; lacerations may be observed within the intima of arteries; exit wounds may be unusually large." (List of characteristics of typical wounds of entrance) "Entrance, tight contact...(2) In the Skull (a) Stellate lacerations radiating from the central defect (b) Marginal abrasions (contact ring), powder residue deep in the wound (c) Gaseous residue distributed along fascial planes (d) May be internal explosive fractures of skull (e) Bone fragments become secondary missiles (f) Peripheral abrasions around contact ring from barrel and sight." (List of characteristics of typical wounds of exit) "1) Lacerated irregular defect with everted margin and subcutaneous fat protrusion. (2) May be larger than entrance wound, secondary to deformity of bullet or secondary missiles (i.e. bone)."
This handbook, prepared for the Justice Department, supports that the explosion of Kennedy's skull was far from typical. While this handbook was written for civilian pathologists, and does not specifically address military rifle wounds, it bears repeating that the rifle wounds seen by civilian doctors are most frequently caused by hunting ammunition, and are of a more explosive nature than the wounds caused by full-jacketed military ammunition. The handbook's representation of "explosive fractures of the skull" as "internal", and its simultaneous assertion that exit wounds are larger than entrance wounds due to a "deformity of bullet or secondary missiles" is therefore at odds with Sturdivan's subsequent proposal that temporary cavities are explosive externally, and the primary cause of the large exit defects observed in association with high-velocity projectiles. Should one assume, moreover, that the depiction of "typical" exit wounds in the handbook was inaccurate, and that this had escaped the attention of its editors, Fisher and Petty, one should be aware that they'd added a footnote to the second point regarding exit wounds in order to explain that exit wounds in areas supported by clothing do not resemble the usual exit wound. From this it can be assumed that if they'd had any problems with Cleveland's discussion of exit wounds, and his failure to cite the temporary cavities of high speed projectiles as the primary cause for the large exits associated with their passage, they would have added another such footnote. Since they did not, we can assume they did not.
Larry Sturdivan, testimony before the HSCA, 9-8-78. "Essentially, I think that you could probably not tell the difference between the skull that had been hit with an exploding bullet, one that had been hit with a frangible bullet or one that had been hit with a hollow point or soft nose hunting bullet or a hard jacketed military bullet that had deformed massively on the skull at impact. In fact, all of those situations would look, in a film like this which was taken at ordinary speeds, to be very similar."
So here we have it from the man himself: hard jacketed military bullets which deform upon impact behave like frangible bullets.
Sturdivan, ibid: “As a bullet deforms it also increases its presented area, and therefore, a deformed bullet will have a much greater drag than a non-deformed bullet.”
This backs up what we’ve just discussed—that the energy release will be greatest when the bullet is most deformed, but intact. This statement also casts a shadow on the likelihood that a bullet “erupting on the skull” as per Olivier, and behaving like a frangible bullet, as per Sturdivan, would leave an entrance defect smaller than its caliber. The bullet entrance measured at autopsy, let’s remember, was only 6mm in its smallest dimension.
It should be noted, moreover, that this is by no means a secret. Lucien Haag, in the December 2019 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Science and Medicine, reported "testing by this author and others (Lattimer and Sturdivan) has shown that the nose of the full metal jacket Carcano bullet can be breeched upon striking skull bone, after which the bullet behaves much like a soft-point hunting bullet."
Report of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, March 1979. “This energy transfer produces a temporary cavity as described earlier, which actually develops after the bullet has passed through the tissue. Accordingly, a bullet can pass through a head and be almost 100 feet further along before a photograph reveals the explosive destruction of the head. This also explains the presence of entry and exit holes in bones and tissue even though the skull is extremely fragmented or blown apart by the subsequent formation of the temporary cavity. The velocity of the outward-moving tissue particles may be only 125 feet per second, far less than the 1,000 to 2,000 feet per second velocity of the bullet projectile.”
This supports Sturdivan’s statements that the cratering or beveling patterns on the skull closest to the entrance and exit will reveal the direction of fire even if a subsequent temporary cavity explodes the skull. This also supports our contention that the fractures deriving from the explosion of the temporary cavity would occur after the fractures created by the entrance and exit.
Determining Caliber, Bullet Type, and Velocity From the Morphology of the Wound in the Skull, a German wound ballistics study published in Archiv Fuer Kriminologie, Sept/Oct 1979. (As summarized on the National Criminal Justice Service website) "Results indicate that the shape of bullet holes is influenced by the energy and deformation tendencies of the bullet, as well as by the hardness and thickness of the material fired upon. Thus, the size of the bullet hole increases with greater bullet deformation tendencies, with greater hardness and thickness of the target material, and with reduced bullet velocity...A large quotient between the outside and inside measurements of the bullet hole suggests slow velocity."
Well, this is helpful. The small size of the bullet entrance on Kennedy's skull as measured at autopsy appears to be inconsistent with the deformation of the bullet upon impact, as purported by Dr. Olivier, when coupled with the location of the bullet entrance as measured at autopsy (the thick occipital bone low on the back of the skull). Perhaps, then, this small wound low on the back of the skull was created by a bullet that did not deform, i.e., a second bullet.
Michael S. Owen-Smith, High Velocity and Military Gunshot Wounds, 1981 from, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “if the bullet fragments on impact, all the energy will be used up in creating horrendous wounds… When the skull is filled with gelatine and a bullet fired through it at the same velocity the liquidlike medium behaves like the brain and allows the hydro-dynamic pressure wave of cavitation to blow the skull bones apart from within, causing gross ‘eggshell' fracturing of the skull.”
While Owen-Smith’s mention of “eggshell” fracturing” might lead one to conclude that study of these fractures to determine the entrance and exit of the bullet is a waste of time, this isn’t true. Included with his article are two photographs—one of a 7.62mm bullet’s entrance on an empty skull, and one of a 7.62mm bullet’s entrance on a skull filled with gelatin. On the skull filled with gelatin, large stellate fractures derive from the entrance, and a piece of skull by the entrance is missing. This entrance more closely resembles what is supposedly the EXIT on Kennedy’s skull than what is supposedly the entrance. It is also intriguing that Smith chooses to demonstrate the effect of cavitation on a skull by comparing the entrance locations of the bullets and not the exits. This suggests that the effects of cavitation are more apparent at the side of entrance than at the side of exit. Well, why does this sound familiar? That's right. This is exactly what was reported 86 years earlier, in Principles of Medicine, on tests conducted 107 years earlier, in 1874. Yet another point to consider is that, while the 7.62mm bullet fired from 14m in Owen-Smith’s tests would create a much more powerful impact on a skull than a 6.5mm bullet fired from the sniper’s nest at Kennedy, the fractures deriving from the opening on the top of Kennedy’s head, as well as the loss of bone, were greater than the fractures and missing bone by the entrance on Owen-Smith’s exhibit. This suggests, then, that the forces creating Kennedy’s large defect were more powerful than one would normally expect from the temporary cavity of a 6.5mm bullet.
Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio: Practical Aspects of Firearms, 1985. “the fact that the fractures in a skull are due to temporary cavity formation was demonstrated by a series of experiments with skulls. When skulls were empty, the bullets “drilled” neat entrances and exits without any fractures. When the skulls were filled with gelatin to simulate the brain, massive secondary skull fractures were produced.”
This supports Owen-Smith’s statements, but with the acknowledgment that fractures created by cavitation are “secondary.” This means they would come to an end when reaching “primary” fractures, i.e. fractures created by the bullet’s impact. This simple fact proves helpful when interpreting the x-rays.
Dr. Martin Fackler, What’s Wrong with the Wounds Ballistics Literature and Why, July 1987. “In the Vietnam Era, the major role played by bullet fragmentation in tissue disruption was not recognized due to “Idolatry of Velocity”…Despite the recent evidence, a generation of surgeons and weapon developers has been confused and prejudiced by the assumption that “high velocity” and “temporary cavitation” were the sole causes of tissue disruption…" According to Dr. Olivier’s testimony before the Rockefeller Commission, Edgewood Arsenal, his and Sturdivan’s employer, did the original work comparing the M-14, the M-16, and the AK-47. These were the rifles of the Vietnam Era. Olivier testified, furthermore, that “as a result of our work, we adopted the M-16.” This puts Olivier and Sturdivan on the opposite side of the fence from the well-regarded Fackler, and in the company of "velocity-worshippers."
Fackler, ibid. "To further confuse the issue, pressures of up to 100 atmospheres are incorrectly attributed to temporary cavitation by many authors…Temporary cavity tissue displacement can cause pressure of only about 4 atmospheres.” So here we have the most respected man in the field of wound ballistics today raining on Sturdivan’s parade. One might assume from this that Fackler does not subscribe to Olivier and Sturdivan’s theory that the explosion along the top of Kennedy’s head was caused by the temporary cavity.
Fackler, ibid. “A similar temporary cavity such as that produced by the M-16, stretching tissue that has been riddled by bullet fragments, causes a much larger permanent cavity by detaching tissue segments between the fragment paths. Thus projectile fragmentation can turn the energy used in temporary cavitation into a truly destructive force because it is focused on areas weakened by fragment paths rather than being absorbed evenly by the tissue mass. The synergy between projectile fragmentation and cavitation can greatly increase the damage done by a given amount of kinetic energy.”
Thus, the temporary cavity of a fragmenting bullet (such as a tumbling M-16 bullet or a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet breaking up on the skull) will release more energy into the permanent cavity, and fail to expand at the rate of the cavity created by a non-fragmenting bullet imparting an identical amount of energy into the brain. This is not to say the temporary cavity created by a fragmenting bullet will be automatically smaller than that created by an intact bullet, as suggested by Charters and Charters research. It seems clear, though, that the ratio of permanent cavity to temporary cavity is reduced by the bullet's fragmentation. Thus, while an intact bullet traveling sideways within the skull may leave a permanent cavity an inch wide, and create a temporary cavity three or four inches wide, a fragmenting bullet that breaks up within the skull may create a permanent cavity two inches wide, and a temporary cavity three to four inches wide. The fact that the bullet striking Kennedy both fragmented and had sufficient energy to damage the windshield frame, and cement curb, then, suggests that its temporary cavity was not as explosive as it would have been had it remained intact and expended all its energy within the brain.
Confused? So was I until I came across a simple analogy in a book by Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio. He compared the temporary cavity to the waves created by a boat on a lake. Well which creates a bigger and more powerful wave along the shore, one large boat or ten small ones adding up to the same displacement in the water? The one large one, correct? Why? Because the wakes of the smaller boats are directed towards each other as well as the shore. This crashing of the wakes into each other is what, in Fackler’s words, detaches the tissue segments between the fragment paths, and creates the large permanent cavity.
Fackler, ibid. “Temporary cavitation is no more than the pushing aside of tissue. The distance the tissue is displaced depends, among other things, on its weight. As might be expected, a given projectile will cause a temporary cavity of smaller diameter in a larger limb because of the increased weight of the mass being moved. This has been proved experimentally…” This can be taken as support for Sturdivan’s theory in that it suggests the temporary cavity was greatest near the exit on the top of Kennedy's skull. But if the extra weight/pressure at the back of Kennedy’s head kept the temporary cavity from expanding upwards, shouldn’t it also have forced more fluid back out the entrance, and created a noticeable spray of back spatter?
Smith et al, Cranial Fracture Patterns and Estimate of Direction from Low Velocity Gunshot Wounds, Journal of Forensic Sciences, September 1987. “A bullet entering the skull produces an entrance wound and a series of radial fractures extending across the skull in advance of the bullet to relieve hoop stresses. Concentric heaving fractures develop in successive generations connecting the radial fractures as the wedges are lifted up. Upon exit there is another series of radial and concentric heaving fractures produced that are of lesser magnitude, have fewer generations, and may be arrested by preexistent fracture lines.”
This pattern was perhaps best demonstrated, moreover, in the following image taken from Wound Ballistics: Basics and Applications (2008).
The entrance is on the left. Note the large size of the fracture pattern surrounding the entrance at the back of the simulated skull. Now compare this to the fracture pattern one finds on the right.
The fracture pattern, or spider-web, is much larger at entrance than upon exit.
This raises a few questions. As the fracture patterns of entrance and exit are created almost simultaneously with the impact of the bullet, and precede the fractures created by the temporary cavity, why are there NO large fractures deriving from the entrance on the back of Kennedy’s head, and why are there ENORMOUS fractures deriving from the supposed exit? The bullet at entrance was of larger mass and traveling at a much greater speed than the fragments believed to have impacted at the supposed exit.
Oh, that's right. Baden and Sturdivan claimed the bullet did not break up until after its exit. So what caused the large fractures at exit? Baden and the FPP's interpretation of the autopsy photos precludes that the bullet exited sideways...
Well, this leads us back to Sturdivan... Would the temporary cavity of a tumbling (but not exploding) bullet explode the skull mid-trajectory? And leave massive fractures in its wake?
Dr. Philip Villanueva, chapter on Cranial Gunshot Wounds, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The shape of the cavitation is theoretically conical, with the apex of the cone being farthest away from the entry…In reality, the projectile’s path often varies from a straight track, causing an irregular shaped cavity.”
Well, first of all, the apex is the narrowest point of a cone. So, yes, Villanueva confirms what we've previously suspected--that the temporary cavity of a bullet is greater at entrance than at exit.
But this, alas, is theory. In reality, most bullets are not steel spheres. They tumble. Well, this tumbling changes the shape of the temporary cavity, whereby Sturdivan is essentially correct--that the temporary cavity is greatest where the bullet is traveling sideways--which could very well be mid-skull, halfway between the entrance and exit.
So, ultimately, Villanueva supports Sturdivan’s conjecture that tumbling affects the size of the temporary cavity and that a bullet could in fact curve upwards while crossing the skull. This still fails to explain, however, why no path for a bullet heading upwards in the skull from the supposed entrance near the cerebellum to the supposed exit near the coronal suture has ever been ascertained, either at autopsy or afterward. After all, if the bullet had traveled on such a trajectory, while fragmenting, it would have created a large permanent cavity, and have left small bullet fragments within this cavity, far from the surface of the cerebrum. So where are these fragments? Sturdivan's latter-day assertion that these fragments would have been uniformly flushed upwards with the explosion of the temporary cavity makes little sense, as it seems clear that at least some of these fragments would have been embedded deep within the brain.
Dr. Edward Pechter, chapter on Gunshot Wounds of Soft Tissue and of the Hand, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The maximum displacement of the temporary cavity is related to the point of maximum retardation in velocity of the projectile. A missile that loses velocity rapidly will produce a temporary cavity with its maximum dimension near the entrance wound. A pointed bullet will need a longer penetration depth before the maximum size of its temporary cavity is produced unless the bullet is constructed so as to tumble very quickly. As a shaped, elongated bullet tumbles, the maximum energy release will occur near the place where it reaches 90 degrees of yaw.”
So here we have a doctor supporting what we've managed to piece together—that the temporary cavity of a deformed bullet rapidly losing velocity will normally be largest near the entrance, but that the cavity may become larger further from the entrance should the bullet reach 90 degrees of yaw (i.e. travel sideways). Pechter’s statement suggesting that some pointed bullets are designed to tumble very quickly is a pointed (sorry) reference to M-16 bullets, which are designed to tumble and break-up and create the large permanent cavities discussed by Dr. Fackler. Since the bullets used in Oswald’s gun were not designed to tumble, one might take from this that they would tumble at a later point, nearest the exit, and break up at that point. One might even try to use this to defend Sturdivan’s theory. But one would be wrong. Olivier’s tests in 1964 established that the 6.5mm bullets fired in Oswald’s rifle would be unlikely to tumble in soft tissue, and that, furthermore, would not break up if they did tumble. Sturdivan knew this. When testifying about the “magic” bullet, he told the HSCA: “It is slightly deformed which, through my calculations, indicate it must have been deformed on bone since it could not have deformed in soft tissue.”
So really what’s in dispute here? Sturdivan seems to agree that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 fractured upon entrance, but is apparently of the belief it came apart as it tumbled upwards in the skull. Since skull fractures occur almost instantly, and since we can assume copper jacket fractures happen just as fast, I contend, on the other hand, that the purported bullet would be in pieces even before it entered the skull, and would begin tumbling almost immediately, and losing its energy almost immediately. This, if correct, casts great doubt that a temporary cavity from this bullet exploded the skull by the bullet's exit, but failed to push any back spatter out the entrance. The x-ray of the Olivier test skull presented by Sturdivan as Figure 38 in The JFK Myths (and as shown above on The JFK Myths slide) shows that bullet fragments were retained in the middle of the skull. As these bullet fragments would most certainly have continued forward from where they broke off from the bullet, the bullet used in this test undoubtedly broke up on the back half of the skull. So what did the entrance for this bullet look like? Yeah, yeah, I know. We already complained about this, back in the JFK Myths section....
Dr. Gary Ordog, chapter on Wound Ballistics, Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988. “The bullet loses velocity on passage through the tissues, and the entrance wound tends to be larger than the exit wound if the missile is a perfect sphere. For missiles that are not spheres, the size of the entrance wound depends on the area of presentation of the missile at the moment of impact, as well as the size of the temporary cavity formed. Thus, the size of the entrance and the exit wound of a fully jacketed bullet depends on the bullet’s yaw in flight through the air and the tissues. If the bullet strikes the tissue head-on and tumbles through, and then leaves the body, then the exit wound will be larger than the entrance wound. When the bullet enters and exits head-on, the entrance wound may be larger because of a larger temporary cavity caused by higher-velocity near the entrance.”
So here we have it again. Ordog confirms our suspicion that the temporary cavity makes more of an impact on entrance size than exit size, and that it is the tumbling or break-up of a bullet that creates a larger wound at exit. While an intact bullet that tumbles just before it exits will create a larger temporary cavity nearest the exit, there is no reason to believe the bullet entering the back of Kennedy’s skull remained intact until just before its exit.
Ordog, ibid.“The bullet’s angle of impact on the target can greatly influence the drag coefficient and amount of tissue damage. The more acute the angle is to the skin, the more surface area is presented to the tissue, thus increasing the wounding energy and amount of tissue destruction.” This suggests the possibility that the area with the most tissue damage, the large defect, was in fact the impact location of a bullet traveling at an acute angle to the skin. More on this to come…
Massad Ayoob, The JFK Assassination: A Shooter's Eye View, American Handgunner, March/April 1993. "The explosion of the President's head as seen in frame 313 of the Zapruder film is simply not characteristic of a full metal-jacket rifle bullet traveling at 2,200 fps or less. It is far more consistent with an explosive wound of entry with a small-bore, hyper-velocity rifle bullet traveling between 3,000 and 4,000 fps, and probably toward the higher end of that scale ...An explosive wound of entry occurs when a highly liquid area of the body, such as the brain, is struck by a high velocity round. The tissue swells violently during the microseconds of the bullet's passing, and seeks the line of least resistance. That least resistance is the portal of the entry wound that appeared a microsecond before, and the bullet will not bore an exit hole to relieve the pressure for another microsecond or two--perhaps not at all if the bullet fragments inside the brain. If the cataclysmic cranial injury inflicted on Kennedy was indeed an explosive wound of entry, the source of the shot would have had to be forward of the Presidential limousine, to its right, and slightly above...the area of the grassy knoll."
So here we have a respected gun expert and author laying it all out...Kennedy's large head wound is not at all what one would expect from the ammunition used in Oswald's rifle, should it have impacted as claimed by the likes of Olivier and Sturdivan. His words also suggest that, if the bullet impacted as proposed by Olivier and Sturdivan, and Kennedy's head exploded as a consequence of the temporary cavity created by the bullet, blood and brain matter would most certainly have sprayed back out the entrance. But Ayoob doesn't stop there...
Ayoob, ibid."The evidence does not rule out the possibility that a hyper-velocity rifle bullet evacuated the President's cranial vault without any other bullet hitting him in the head. The 6.5mm Carcano throws a 162 gr. bullet at a bit under 2,300 fps muzzle velocity. The closest commonly used cartridge to it in terms of ballistics is probably the .30/30, which has a .308" diameter. The Carcano round, about a .263" diameter. Ask any homicide detective if he's ever seen a .30/30 round blow a man's head up at 55 to 60 yards, exploding the calvarium up and away from the body proper. Ask any hunter of deer-size game if he's ever seen the same thing at that distance. It happens only at very close range with that ballistic technology. The wound we see happening in frame 313 in the Zapruder film--and see the results of most clearly in frame 337--is simply not consistent with this rifle cartridge, at that distance in living tissue. It is particularly inconsistent with a round-nose full metal-jacket bullet of the type Oswald had in his rifle."
Here Ayoob re-stresses the point. Bullets like those fired in Oswald's rifle just don't do what we've been told they do. They just don't send pieces of skull flying across the sky when fired from a distance. This is so clear to Ayoob in fact that, even in the conclusion to his article, where he postulates that Oswald quite possibly acted alone, he does so only under the proviso that the bullet striking Kennedy at frame 313 "for unexplainable reasons did damage out of all proportion to its ballistic capability as most of us would perceive that to be."
Dr. John Lattimer, speaking at The Second Annual Midwest Symposium on Assassination Politics, Chicago Illinois, April 3, 1993. (While discussing Warren Commission Exhibit 388, a drawing of Kennedy's large head wound.) "And again, the wound here depicted in this type--in the Warren Commission--I was familiar with this kind of wound from World War II, from this kind of bullet. And it was clearly not what I expected. But when I saw the x-rays and photographs, it was exactly as anticipated--a large wound of exit, cracks in all directions..."
Here, Lattimer sticks to his story that the Rydberg drawings were misleading and that Kennedy's wounds were much more severe and exactly as he'd have predicted. In this presentation he also discussed the fact that he didn't think skull fragments exploded upwards like the fragments captured in frame 313 of the Zapruder film. He then showed photos of skulls fired on by him where the fragments did explode upwards, and claimed these tests convinced him that Kennedy's head wound wasn't so unusual after all. He failed to note that these skulls were dead dried skulls without any scalp to hold the fragments in place. He did note, however, that he thought his tests were more successful than Olivier's 1964 tests because he was firing at the top of the skull and not the bottom. This suggests that he knew full well that the Warren Commission scenario of a small bullet entrance low on the skull and an enormous exit at the top of the skull made little sense. (Lattimer, of course, later changed his mind about this entrance location, and thereby nullified the tests he'd found so convincing.)
Dr. John Lattimer, Differences in the Wounding Behavior of the Two Bullets that Struck President Kennedy: an Experimental Study, Wound Ballistics Review, Spring 1995. "The performance of the bullet (WC567-569) that...hit President Kennedy on the back of the skull, at frame 313 of the Zapruder movie, was strikingly different from the behavior of bullet 399. The reason for this marked difference was the fact that bullet 567-569 first hit the hard bone of the back of the skull of President Kennedy and broke up. The greatly increased surface area of the broken bullet and its fragments caused a temporary cavity to occur in the semi-fluid brain, which being confined in the cranial vault exploded upward and forward, out the huge wound of exit on the front-right of the skull caused by diverging bullet fragments...The lead core and the gilding metal separated on contact with the skull, leaving a 6.5 mm fragment sheared off by the sharp edge of the bone at the point of impact...The broken bullet scattered dozens of tiny fragments of lead along the track of the bullet from back to front through the brain."
Well, how about that? While 99 of 100 single-assassin theorists will claim Dr. Lattimer's research supports the findings of the Warren Commission and HSCA, this is actually far from the case. We've already shown how Dr. Lattimer's views on the single-bullet theory were grossly at odds with those of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel. And now we see how their views are equally askew on the fatal bullet. As we've seen, the HSCA's top forensic pathology consultant, Dr. Baden, and its top wound ballistics consultant, Larry Sturdivan, both claimed the fatal bullet exited the skull intact, save a few fragments that "leaked" from the base of the bullet. They needed to do this, let's recall, so they could claim there was but one exit on the skull. Now here, in an article designed to silence Ayoob's questions from two years previous, comes ole Lattimer claiming not only that the fatal bullet exited in pieces, but that the break-up of this bullet upon impact with the back of the skull was a factor in the large size of the temporary cavity within the skull and the large size of the exit defect. Oops. You can't have it both ways. Dr. Baden's re-creation of the skull using the recovered skull fragments allowed him to claim there was but one exit defect--the one noted at autopsy. Accepting Latimer's conclusion the bullet exited in pieces, in such case, means accepting that there were other exits that were not noted at autopsy--and thus, quite possibly other entrances as well. And that's not the only difference between Lattimer, Baden, and Sturdivan. It also should be noted that Lattimer accepts that a 6.5 mm fragment observable on the x-rays was sheared off the bullet and found on the back of the skull, and that neither Dr. Baden (who claimed this fragment rubbed off the base of the bullet) nor Sturdivan (who suspects this fragment was an artifact on the x-rays) is willing to accept such nonsense.
Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio, Gunshot Wounds, 1998. "Wounds due to hunting bullets are more destructive to the structure of the head than wounds produced by military ammunition even if the same weapon is used. This is, because, even though both bullets may possess the same amount of energy on impact, the hunting bullet will lose more energy in the head due to its construction."
DiMaio, ibid. "The size and shape of the temporary cavity depend on the amount of kinetic energy lost by the bullet in its path through the tissue, how rapidly the energy is lost, and the elasticity and cohesiveness of the tissue. The maximum volume and diameter of this cavity are many times the volume and diameter of the bullet. Maximum expansion of the cavity does not occur until some time after the bullet has passed through the target…The maximum diameter of the cavity occurs at the point at which the maximum rate of loss of kinetic energy occurs."
This supports what we have already discussed.
DiMaio, ibid. On centerfire rifle wounds: "Intermediate range and distant head wounds show a wide range in the degree of severity, depending on the style of bullet and the entrance site in the head. Anything that tends to produce instability, deformation, or breakup of the bullet as it enters the head results in more extensive injuries. Thus, bullets entering through the thick occipital bone cause greater injuries than those entering the temporal area."
DiMaio might not realize it, but this totally undermines Sturdivan and the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel. As we've seen, Sturdivan and Baden tried to claim that the bullet exited intact and only exploded upon hitting the windshield frame. Well, DiMaio's words strongly support what we should already have come to suspect, and suggest that the velocity of a Carcano bullet alone would not lead a skull to explode as Kennedy's exploded, and that the bullet must have broke-up upon impact with the skull.
DiMaio, ibid. "Intermediate and distant range wounds of the head can be just as devastating as contact wounds. This is especially true for hunting ammunition. As the hunting bullet rapidly expands, shedding fragments of core and sometimes jacket, large quantities of kinetic energy are lost in the cranial cavity. This produces a large temporary cavity with resultant high pressure, all within the rigid framework of the skull. The pressure produces extensive fragmentation of bone and brain tissue. Location of entrance and exit wounds may require extensive reconstruction of the skull, with careful realignment of the edges of the scalp and bone. Rarely, the entrance in the skin cannot be determined with absolute certainty. This is more common with exits, however.
Distant and intermediate-range entrance wounds in areas overlying bone--typically the head--may have a stellate appearance suggestive of a contact wound. This is probably due to the temporary cavity ballooning out skin that is tightly stretched over bone, with resultant tearing of the skin."
DiMaio illustrates this point with the photo on the Blasts From the Present slide, above. This photo reveals the massive scalp lacerations created by the impact of a .30 30 hunting bullet upon a human skull. While Oswald's rifle was not as powerful as a .30 30 rifle, and while the bullet striking Kennedy was not in fact a hunting bullet, the bullet's near total deformation upon impact--as noted by both Olivier and Lattimer--would lead it to behave much like a hunting bullet, and release a significant amount of its energy into the skull upon entrance. So why were there no significant tears in the scalp apparent by the "entrance" on the back of Kennedy's head? And why did all the scalp lacerations noted at the autopsy derive from the purported "exit"? And why, when the temporary cavity in this skull exploded back out the entrance, did the temporary cavity in Kennedy's skull, according to Sturdivan, explode from the mid-point of his skull between the bullet's entrance and its exit? While DiMaio's observations raise serious doubts about Sturdivan's theories, they also raise questions about the work performed by Olivier and Sturdivan back in 1964. Why, for instance, were none of the entrances on the animal skin attached to the back of Olivier’s test skulls photographed or measured for his report? Was Olivier trying to hide that there were stellate tears by the entrance?
Ironically, DiMaio's observations also raise doubts about his own objectivity. According to Doug Horne, who interviewed DiMaio for the ARRB in 1998, Dr. DiMaio made it clear even before being shown the autopsy photos that he felt "the Clark Panel and the HSCA panel had gotten everything right," and "declared with great certainty" that the red spot in the cowlick "was a classic bullet entry wound." Well, that's the problem. DiMaio's own writings demonstrate that a high-velocity entrance wound in which the bullet fractures upon impact should not remotely resemble a "classic bullet entry wound."
In 1998, DiMaio also worked as a consultant on a British TV program hosted by Roger Moore. His comments in this program were slightly more illuminating.
Dr. Vincent J.M. DiMaio, The Secret KGB JFK Assassination Files, 1998. "The only type bullet that would produce so extensive a network of fractures in the skull is a bullet traveling at a very high velocity. Okay? A rifle bullet essentially. So when it comes in it makes usually a relatively neat hole and when it comes out it produces a very large exit, especially if the wound is very superficial. Actually, if the wound is deeper, like from here to here (as he says this, he points to the EOP area on the back of his head with his right hand and his forehead with his left), the exit wound is smaller, because the force generated by the bullet going through the brain can be absorbed by the whole head. Here (as he says this, he covers the crown of his head--the site of the HSCA's cowlick entrance, and the entrance used in the program's tests--with his right hand) it's kind of like just ripping off the top of the head. So when we see at the exit--see blood and tissue ejected in a cloud, a veritable cloud, a mist-like cloud, pink in color, and this is vaporized blood, and there are little droplets all over--less than a millimeter, just tiny. And so you have a cloud of blood, and this is what the motorcycle riders drove into. They drove into a cloud of blood."
Thus, DiMaio's belief that the purported cowlick entrance was the actual entrance on Kennedy's head comes not just from this purported entrance's giving the appearance of a "classic bullet entry wound," but from his opinion that a bullet entering low on Kennedy's head and exiting high on his head would not create the massive exit wound seen in the autopsy photos. He thereby disputes Sturdivan's most recent conclusions.
Dr. Mark A. Liker, Dr. Bitzhan Aarabi, and Dr. Michael Levy, chapter on Missile Wounds of the Head, Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck, 1999. "The skull can also increase the bullet's destructive potential by slowing the missile down. Next to teeth, bone is the densest tissue in the body. Therefore, when a bullet strikes the skull, the missile will rapidly decelerate, often fragmenting or deforming in the process. The result is significant energy transfer from the bullet to the head. Deformation helps maximize energy transfer because the bullet's surface area increases, allowing the tissue to exert more drag force on the bullet. As drag increases, the bullet decelerates and more energy is transferred to the tissue. If the collision between bullet and skull results in the bullet's fragmentation, the brain injury is likely to be more severe. This is due not only to multiple missile tracks, but also to the tendency for fragments to behave as slower-velocity bullets that deposit all of their energy into the brain. Thus, if a high-velocity missile does not fragment upon impact with the skull, it may spare the brain some of its energy by exiting the skull; if, on the other hand, the missile breaks into fragments, the likelihood of a complete energy transfer increases dramatically."
Thus, Sturdivan's belief that the bullet lost little mass within the skull, and his concurrent belief that a fragment from this bullet went on to chip concrete more than 200 feet past Kennedy (as measured from the sniper's nest) indicate there was a far from complete transfer of energy from the bullet into the skull. Sturdivan's contention that small fragments were released within the skull and exploded upwards with the rush of blood, moreover, does little to offset this problem, as these fragments, by Sturdivan's own admission, had little mass and thus little energy to impart into the brain. As discussed by Fackler, furthermore, what little energy was released by these fragments would contribute as much to the permanent cavity as to the temporary cavity.
Sturdivan's contention that a bullet struck Kennedy low on the back of his head and that the temporary cavity created by this bullet subsequently exploded his skull is therefore rejected.
So why do people continue to push his nonsense?
Here's why. Cognitive dissonance. Apparently, those who ought to know better just can't seem to accept that Kennedy was killed in a manner other than as claimed by the Warren Commission.
Dr. Martin Fackler, in response to a question in Wound Ballistics Review, Spring 2000. "As a sniper's rifle bullet breaks into the cranial vault and penetrates the brain, it causes the brain tissue to be displaced, away from the projectile path, in forming a temporary cavity. Whereas loops of bowel in the easily expandable abdominal cavity might be displaced up to several inches by the temporary cavity without appreciable damage, the hard and inflexible cranial vault cannot expand in response to the pressures produced by the temporary cavity. Therefore, the pressure inside the cranial vault rises sharply. The force of this confined pressure often fractures the skull, and sometimes splits the scalp, causing considerable amounts of brain and bone to be expelled from the wound (recall the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination--considerable brain was lost)."
So, yikes, Fackler appears to have a blind spot on this issue. He knows full-well that temporary cavities don't explode skulls the way we've been told, but still claims this is what happened to Kennedy.
A study by Dr. W.M. Hammon, and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery in 1971, supports this conclusion--that is, that Fackler is wrong on this point. While this study, entitled "Analysis of 2,187 Consecutive Penetrating Wounds of the Brain from Vietnam" included victims of low-velocity ammunition and shrapnel, the mortality rate of those reaching the hospital was under 30%. This seems unlikely if the mere passage of a bullet through the brain could cause the explosive wounds seen on Kennedy.
A more recent study confirms this conclusion. This study, conducted by the faculty of Ankara University in Turkey, and published in Neurologia Medico-Chirurfica, a Japanese neurology journal, in 2005, described the progress of 80 patients brought into Diyarbakir Military Hospital with high-velocity gunshot wounds to the head. Although the bullets creating these wounds were presumably smaller than the bullet creating Kennedy's head wound, they were purportedly traveling at a much greater speed, as the article defined "high-velocity" as traveling greater than 3,000 fps. They were also created by modern military ammunition, which, although more stable than hunting ammunition, which is designed to expend all its energy in its target, is less stable than the ammunition used in Oswald's gun, and would, as a result, be likely to impart more energy into the brain. If Sturdivan's statements are true, and the temporary cavity of the bullet in Kennedy's brain exploded his skull mid-way between the entrance and the exit, then the wounds observed in this study should have been even more severe than Kennedy's wound.
They were in fact not as bad. According to the doctors writing the article, the wounds observed displayed "huge and distant tissue damage caused by temporary cavitation and shock waves." They observed further that "Such cavitary injury is much more extensive than the track of the missile." And yet they made no mention of any large skull defects caused by these cavities, and no mention at all of defects distant from the passage of the bullet. While the wounds discussed in this article were apparently more survivable than Kennedy's, as these men all lived at least a half-hour after being shot, and 73 of the 80 men survived, the point is that they shouldn't have been, should Sturdivan's theories about the effects of cavitation on the skull have been accurate.
Or even his actual theories... In 2007, Sturdivan wrote an overview on wound ballistics for Mel Ayton's book The Forgotten Terrorist. There, he insisted that the temporary cavity of a bullet passing through the brain "would be all along the track, largest at the highest velocity (the entry)." And, yes, that's a direct quote. Here, when discussing the death of Robert Kennedy, Sturdivan acknowledged what we've discussed throughout this chapter: that the temporary cavity would normally be largest at entry.
Now compare this to what he wrote in his own book The JFK Myths, published but two years earlier. He wrote: “the center of the blown-out area of the president’s skull was at the midpoint of the trajectory—not at the exit point. The midpoint is the point at which the bullet has fully deformed and is giving up the energy at the maximum rate—that is, pushing outward with the maximum force."
Well, oh my! How convenient! When trying to explain how the top of President Kennedy's head blew off, Sturdivan claimed that the deformation of the bullet created a huge temporary cavity at the midpoint of his skull; when trying to explain how the entrance wound on the back of Robert Kennedy's head could be so much larger than the bullet that supposedly entered there, however, Sturdivan suddenly changed gears and offered that the temporary cavity would be greatest at entry.
While one might excuse this inconsistency by noting that the deformation of the bullet caused President Kennedy's skull to explode at the midpoint, and that the bullet killing his brother was comparatively un-deformed, one should be reminded that Dr. Baden (and apparently Sturdivan) presumed the bullet exited President Kennedy's skull intact, and that very little deformation occurred within the skull.
Sturdivan and Baden, the two experts upon whom the HSCA most relied when coming to their conclusions regarding Kennedy's head wounds, were neither consistent nor reliable.
Here's further proof... The skulls to follow were presented in an article by Fenton et al in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences. They are the skulls of two unfortunates, who opted to eat their rifles for breakfast. The first individual ended himself with a .300 rifle, and the second with a .303 rifle. Now, these rifles were more powerful than the rifle used to kill Kennedy, fired from a much closer range, and the ammo used was almost certainly hunting ammunition, which is more explosive than military ammunition. IF there was anything to Sturdivan's claim the velocity of the bullet killing Kennedy exploded the top of his head into the air mid-trajectory, well, then, the tops of these skulls mid-trajectory should similarly have been blown sky high. But they weren't... They remained intact. The bullets entered the mouths of these unfortunates and exited from, in Case 1, the top of the head, and Case 2, the far back of the head, with no skyward explosion of skull mid-trajectory.
Olivier and Sturdivan's testimony was a lie...
We can hereby commence discussing what actually happened.
Tom Bevel and Ross M. Gardner, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis with an Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction, 2008. "Forward spatter patterns when present tend to be more symmetrical than back spatter patterns. This is probably due to the primary force of the impact being transmitted in the direction of the projectile. Back spatter patterns tend to be less defined..."
Note that they write "forward spatter patterns when present" and not "back spatter patterns when present". This confirms what we should already have expected--that back spatter is most always apparent, while forward spatter is not. This suggests--since only one massive spatter is visible on frame 313 of the Zapruder film--that the blood and brain visible is not solely forward spatter. That this explosion appears to be asymmetrical only adds to this probability. (Much thanks to Sherry Fiester for bringing this argument to the attention of the research community.)
Tom Bevel and Ross M. Gardner, ibid. "The cone of spatter is ejected generally perpendicular to a surface and does not specifically align with the bullet path."
(This is demonstrated in a photo on the Blasts From the Present slide, above.)
Well, there it is. Since the large explosion seems to rise from Kennedy's right temple at an angle perpendicular to the surface of the skull at this location, the upward and forward movement of the blood and brain matter at this location is just as suggestive of back spatter as forward spatter. Actually more...since there is only one massive spatter visible on the film, and back spatter is most always present, then we should conclude the bullet impacting at frame 313 of the Zapruder film did so at the supposed exit near Kennedy's temple, and NOT on the back of his head.
So this means the bullet killing Kennedy was fired from the right front, right?
Well, not so fast...