JAHS Chapter 20

Build-up to 5-24-

A look at the Commission's attempts to get their story straight...

The Smoking Chalk Mark

On May 24, 1964, we observe a re-enactment of the assassination in Dallas. Although this re-enactment is performed by the Secret Service and FBI, it is overseen by the Warren Commission, via junior counsel Arlen Specter. While watching this re-enactment, we note that the chalk mark representing the back wound on the back of the Kennedy stand-in is far lower than the neck wound presented in the Rydberg drawings. We wonder why this is so. We ask around and hear that yes indeed the hole on Kennedy's jacket has been consulted for the placement of this chalk mark. We hear as well that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley has shown Arlen Specter an autopsy photo in which the location of President's back wound is depicted.

Time Out: The Warren Commission at Work Part II

We shall now take a look at how this re-enactment came to be...

Two FBI memos on an April 14 conference

April 15, 1964


To: Mr. Callahan

From: L.J. Gauthier

Subject: Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Examination of Visual Aids by President's Commission

Reference memo Gauthier to Callahan 4-7-64

Staff members of the President's Commission and specialists of the armed services, Dr.s Humes, Heany, Fink, Light and Olivia (ph.) attended a conference on 4-14-64 for purposes of reviewing motion pictures and slides of the assassination site. Representatives of the Secret Service and FBI were present to assist in projecting the film and the use of the scale model.

Dr. Humes, U.S. Navy Commander, who performed the autopsy on the President, appeared to lead the discussion throughout the 4-hour session. All of his associates were generally in agreement with previous findings of the Commission as to where shots 1, 2, and 3 approximately occurred.

The most revealing information brought out by the doctors is as follows:

1. That Shot 1 struck the President high in the right shoulder area, penetrating the torso near the base of the neck damaging the flesh of the throat but not tearing the throat wall. This bullet, according to the doctors, continued and entered Governor Connally's right shoulder, emerging below the right nipple. The velocity of the missile, according to the doctors, apparently was snagged in the coat and shirt, eventually falling out on Connally's stretcher.

2. That Shot 2 struck the wrist of the Governor, continuing on into his thigh.

3. That Shot 3 struck the right side of the President's head, carrying much bone and brain tissue away, leaving a large cavity. There is nothing controversial about where Shot 3 occurred inasmuch as the Zapruder movie indicates with much clarity where this happened.

Heretofore it was the opinion of the Commission that Shot 1 had only hit the President, that Shot 2 had entered the Governor's right shoulder area penetrating his torso through the chest area emerging and again entering the wrist and on into his leg.

Staff attorneys of the Commission extensively questioned the doctors concerning their conclusions and their views were made a matter of record by Attorney Melvin Eisenberg.

Mr. Eisenberg advised that Governor Connally would be in Washington on Tuesday April 21, 1964, to assist the Commission in describing as to where the three shots occurred and that he, Eisenberg, would request that Shaneyfelt and Gauthier be available to assist them in handling visual aids while the Governor's views are obtained.

Mr. Eisenberg also inquired whether Special Agent Shaneyfelt of the FBI Laboratory, Special Agent John Howlett of the Secret Service and Gauthier would be able to arrange for a re-enactment of the shooting scene in Dallas using the data collected by the Commission, to make movies of the areas where each shot occurred using Zapruder's camera, to have people simulate the positions of the occupants of the President's car in a car similar to the one used by the President, which would be furnished by the Secret Service, to take ground measurements from the Texas School Book Depository from each points where shots occurred to determine the distances between gun muzzle and target, etc.

Mr. Eisenberg inquired as to whether I had any suggestions concerning his request. He was advised that, of course, the FBI would do whatever possible to assist in this matter; however, it was felt that as he, Eisenberg, had a good working knowledge of what the Commission desired it would appear to me to be the advantage to the Commission if he, Eisenberg, would be present in Dallas to insure the development of the desired technical data. He and his immediate superior, Attorney Norman Redlich, agreed to this suggestion. Without saying as much, it was felt that considerable publicity will definitely stem from this type of operation in Dallas and a representative of the Commission should be present to handle the inquiries of the press concerning the fact that this was a Commission field operation and not an operation of the FBI or Secret Service.

Mr. Eisenberg stated he would make his proposal for this field trip known to the members of the Commission recommending that the FBI and Secret Service assist the Commission's legal staff in gathering on-site data relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

RECOMMENDATION: None--for information only


ADDENDUM: AHB:hw 4-15-64

It is questionable what the Commission expects to gain by an additional re-enactment of the scene of the assassination, bearing in mind that Secret Service has already gone through this exercise at least once, and Inspector Gauthier made actual models of the assassination area. It is inevitable that there will be considerable publicity attendant to the proposed re-enactment of the scene.

It is our opinion that it would be undesirable for the FBI to become involved as the speed of the car, protection measures, etc, were the basic responsibility of the Secret Service at the time. We would prefer not to become identified with the actual scene and happenings at the assassination in the minds of the public.

It is recommended that Inspector Malley advise Mr. Rankin that this proposal appears to be without merit; that the FBI has done its utmost to be of assistance by providing models of the area, technical data, and technical advice in assisting the Commission to interpret events as they occurred. Mr. Malley should advise Rankin that we suggest that if such a re-enactment of the scene is considered desirable by the Commission, it should be carried out by Secret Service which has already gone through this exercise at least once.



To: Mr. Belmont

From: A. Rosen

Subject: Assassination of President Kennedy

Request of the President's Commission

In accordance with the request of the President's Commission, Bureau personnel, including Mr. Shaneyfelt of the the Laboratory, Mr. Gauthier of the Exhibits section, and Mr. Malley were present at which time certain slides printed from the Abraham Zapruder movie film depicting the assassination of President Kennedy, which were obtained by the Bureau from "Life" Magazine, were shown. Also present at the Commission office were the following:

Commander James J. Humes, Director of Laboratories, Navy Medical School, U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland;

Commander J. Thornton Boswell, Chief Pathologist, U.S. Navy Medical School, Bethesda;

Colonel Pierre A. Finck, Chief of Wound Ballistics Branch, Pathology Branch of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.

Dr. A.G. Olivier, Chief of Wound Ballistics Branch, Edgewood Arsenal;

Dr. F.W. Light, Jr., Deputy Chief, Biophysics Division, and Chief of Wound Assessment Branch, Edgewood Arsenal.

The purpose of the showing of this film, as it developed during the meeting, was to give the doctors present an opportunity to see the actual movie of the shooting of the President as well as the slides which had been made which were much clearer than the actual movies. The Commission desired the doctors present in order to obtain from them their views concerning the actual manner in which the President was shot.

During this session Commander James J. Humes advanced the theory that the first shot entered the President's body in the rear in the neck region a few inches below the head and followed a pattern through the neck and exited in the front without encountering any bone or other objects which slowed the bullet to any degree. Commander Humes was of the opinion the bullet continued and struck Governor Connally in the back on the right-hand side below the shoulder and exited on the right-hand side of Governor Connally in the chest area. Commander Humes stated that here again, based on medical reports received from doctors in Texas who examined Governor Connally, the bullet met with no serious obstruction and passed through the body, merely grazing one of the rib bones. It was Commander Humes' opinion that the bullet from the first shot apparently lodged in some manner in the clothing of Governor Connally, and this bullet is the one which was found on the stretcher on which Governor Connally was brought to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Commander Humes states this bullet was not damaged in any way and it is for this reason he feels that the first shot definitely passed through both the body of the President and Governor Connally.

In explaining his feelings concerning this theory, Commander Humes stated that another shot is believed to have hit the right wrist of Governor Connally with such an impact that it caused the bullet to break into many fragments and he noted that many fragments were found in the right wrist area of Governor Connally as well as in the thigh of the left leg.

Relative to the third shot which was fired, which based on the photographic material available is believed to be the one which hit the President's head, Commander Humes advised that there is no question that this bullet separated into many fragments upon impact and many fragments were found in the skull area of the President. He noted that one fragment had apparently struck the front windshield from the inside inasmuch as the examination of the windshield did detect some lead deposit where an object had struck the inside of the windshield. Commander Humes states that the fragment which struck the windshield could have been from this shot which struck the President's head or could have been a fragment from the shot which hit Governor Connally's wrist.

The other doctors present did not completely confirm the theory of Commander Humes but felt, based on their review of the pictures, noting the movements of Governor Connally in the President's automobile and the general location of the occupants in the car, that there was a possibility this theory was correct.

Staff members of the Commission gave no indication what additional action they planned relative to this theory. It is noted that any comments made in the past by the Bureau relative to the shots that struck the President and Governor Connally were based completely on medical reports furnished the Bureau by Doctors at Parkland Hospital and the results of the autopsy of (sic) the U.S.Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland.

The foregoing is submitted for information.

Melvin Eisenberg's Memo on the April 14 conference

April 22, 1964


FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg

SUBJECT: Conference of April 14, 1964, to determine which frames in the Zapruder movies show the impact of the first and second bullets.

On April 14, 1964, a conference was held to determine which frames in the Zapruder film portray the instants at which the first and second bullets struck. Present were: Commander James J. Humes, Director of Laboratories of the Naval Medical School, Bethesda, Maryland; Commander J. Thorton Boswell, Chief Pathologist, Naval Medical School, Bethesda; Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, Chief of Wound Ballistics Pathology Branch, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; Dr. F.W. Light, Jr. Deputy Chief of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, and Chief of the Wound Assessment Branch of the Biophysics Division; Dr. Olivier, Chief of the Wound Ballistics Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal; Messrs. Malley, Gauthier, Shaneyfelt, and two other unidentified agents of the FBI; Messrs. Kelley and Howlett of the Secret Service; and Messrs. Redlich, Specter and Eisenberg of the Commission staff.

A screening was held of the Zapruder film and of slides prepared by LIFE from the film. Each slide corresponded with a separate frame of film, beginning with frame 171. The consensus of the meeting was as follows:

(a) The President had been definitely hit by frames 224-225,when he emerges from behind a sign with his hands clutching his throat.

Above: a snippet from the Zapruder film demonstrating Eisenberg's point (a).

(b) The reaction shown in frames 224-225 may have started at an earlier point - possibly as early as frame 199 (when there appears to be some jerkiness in his movement) or, with a higher degree of possibility, at frames 204-206 (where his right elbow appears to be raised to an artificially high position).

Above: a snippet from the Zapruder film demonstrating Eisenberg's point (b).

(c) If the reaction did not begin at 199 or 204-206, it probably began during the range of frames during which the President is hidden from Zapruder’s camera by a sign, namely, frames 215-24.

cc:Mr. Rankin Mr Belin

Mr. Willens Mr. Specter

Mr. Redlich Mr. Eisenberg

Mr. Ball

(d) The President may have been struck by the first bullet as much as two seconds before any visible reaction began. In all likelihood, however, the maximum delay between impact and reaction would be under one second, and it is possible that the reaction was instantaneous. Putting this in terms of frames, the President may have been struck as much as 36 frames before any visible reaction is seen. If the visible reaction begins at 199, the President may have been struck as early as 163, if the visible reaction begins at 204-206, he may have been strtuck as early as 168-170, if the visible reaction begins while the President is behind the sign, he may have been struck as early as 179-188.

(e) The velocity of the first bullet would have been little diminished by its passage through the President. Therefore, if Governor Connally was in the path of the bullet it would have struck him and (probably) caused the wounds he sustained in his chest cavity. Strong indications that this occurred are provided by the facts that (1) the bullet recovered from Governor Connally's stretcher does not appear to have penetrated a wrist and (2) if the first bullet did not hit Governor Connally, it should have ripped up the car, but apparently did not. Since the bullet recovered from the Governor's stretcher does not appear to have penetrated a wrist, if he was hit by this (the first) bullet, he was probably also hit by the second bullet.

(f) If Governor Connally was hit by the first and second bullets, it is impossible to say definitively at what point, or by what point, he had been hit by the second bullet.

(g) Governor Connally seems to straighten up at frames 224-226, and may be reacting to a wound at this point. (If so, it would be a wound from the first bullet).

(h) Governor Connally seems to begin showing an expression of anguish around 242. If he was hit with two bullets, this expression may have resulted from his second wound.

(i) After Governor Connally straightened up at frames 224-26, he starts to turn to the right. As a result of this turn, at no time after frame 236 was Governor Connally in a position such that a bullet fired from the probable site of the assassin would have caused the wound in his chest cavity which Governor Connally sustained--that is, after frame 236, the Governor presented a side view to the assassin rather than a back view.*

(j) It is not possible to say whether prior to 236 Governor Connally was ever in a position such that one bullet could have caused the five wounds he sustained.

(k) As in the case of the President, Governor Connally could have conceivably been hit two seconds before he begins to react, but the maximum likely time interval between hit and reaction is one second, and the reaction may have been instantaneous. The likelihood of an instantaneous reaction is particularly great in regard to the wrist wound, since pain is usually felt more quickly in a limb than in the torso.

*/ Mr. Specter disagrees with this, and feels the Governor was in position to receive the chest wound up to 242.

Above: a repeat of the snippet from the Zapruder film demonstrating Eisenberg's point (a). Only this time focus on Connally. After repeatedly viewing this film, Commission Counsel Arlen Specter was holding on to the idea Connally was in position to receive his wounds until frame 242. This was bizarre, to say the least. Not only is it incredibly obvious Connally has been hit by this point, it's incredibly obvious a bullet fired from the sniper's nest and striking him in the armpit at this point would not make a sharp turn in his body and exit below his right nipple, but would continue on into the center of his chest, and probably pierce his heart.

Analysis of the Memos on the April 14 Conference

These memos tell us quite a bit about the mindset of the Warren Commission attorneys and FBI. The stated reason for the conferences—to decide the impact times and locations of the first two shots—reveals a built-in bias. The eyewitness evidence available so far suggests that the head shot was the second shot heard by most witnesses, and yet this inconvenient truth is not even to be considered. The attitude of everyone at the conference seems to be that “We have a piece of film that may show three separate hits. Kennedy shows a reaction between 199 and 224, Connally shows one between 224 and 236, and Kennedy is hit at 313. Therefore, those are our three shots." Never mind that a number of witnesses heard a shot after the head shot. Never mind that the majority of witnesses indicated that the last two shots were bunched together. Never mind that our study of the rifle indicates that the first two shots would have to have been at least 51 frames apart…

The memos reveal a few other wet spots on the slow-motion whitewash. On “d” of the memo by Eisenberg, he writes that everyone agrees that Kennedy could have been hit 2 full seconds, as early as frame 163, before he reacted. This is nonsense. NOT ONE eyewitness reported a two second delay in Kennedy’s response to the first shot. Even worse, Kennedy is actively waving and smiling at the crowd after frame 163. It hardly seems likely he would be waving and smiling at the crowd if he’d even heard a loud shot, let alone been hit by one. It seems likely, therefore, that these 2 seconds are a “gift” to Arlen Specter, to give him some wiggle room should he need more time to have the shots make sense.

That Specter was looking for this wiggle room is demonstrated by his lone dissent in the memo’s “i.” Here he is bucking the crowd in an effort to pick up just 6 more frames. Is it just a coincidence that by Specter taking 163 as the earliest time for a hit on Kennedy, and by his insisting on 242 as the latest time for a hit on Connally, a first shot 163, second shot 242, and final shot 313 shooting scenario is made possible, and that this would place the last two shots closer together than the first two? Is it possible that Specter, who had counted interviewing all the bystanders as one of his earliest objectives was, in fact, acutely aware that the scenario accepted by the others after watching the Zapruder film failed to match the testimony of the eyewitnesses? Was he, in fact, looking for ways to make it all fit?

Also interesting is Specter’s selection of frame 242 as the frame by which Connally must have been hit. Frame 242 was, let’s remember, the frame selected as the moment of impact on Connally in the secret analysis of the film performed at the National Photographic Interpretation Center in November and December. It seems clear from this that someone from the Secret Service told Specter their findings. Specter did, in fact, work closely with the Secret Service throughout his investigation. He was later to admit that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley showed him an autopsy photo, apparently without the knowledge of their superiors.

Point “e” in Eisenberg's memo is also intriguing. Eisenberg writes: “if the first bullet did not hit Governor Connally, it should have ripped up the car, but apparently did not.” As the limousine was cleaned up within days of the shooting, before anyone from the Warren Commission could ever get a look at its seats, Eisenberg’s skepticism is well-placed. While the Warren Report criticized the Secret Service and FBI’s performance in protecting the President, it offered few if any criticisms about their subsequent investigations of the assassination. Eisenberg’s “apparently,” however, can be taken as an indication that, behind the scenes, the Warren Commission’s counsel were less than pleased with the Secret Service’s willful destruction of evidence in the limousine.

The Gauthier memo to Callahan is also quite interesting in that it makes no secret of the FBI's deep-rooted apathy toward investigating the case. This apathy is first revealed by Gauthier's mention of a Dr. Heany, but no mention at all of Dr. Boswell; this suggests he wrote down the wrong name. It is also intriguing that Gauthier fails to report the commission's interpretation of the shooting scenario, which is quite different than the FBI's, and even notes that "There is nothing controversial about where Shot 3 occurred inasmuch as the Zapruder movie indicates with much clarity where this happened," knowing full well he'd previously placed this shot 40 feet further down the street than now proposed by the Commission. This apathy is further documented in the addendum, in which Assistant Director AHB (Alan Belmont) makes clear that the FBI feels quite comfortable with their own theory on the shooting, and would prefer not be associated with the Secret Service's solution, or the Commission's conclusion. As he specifies that establishing the speed of the limo is beyond the scope of the FBI's investigation, when this question is central to the question of conspiracy v. no-conspiracy, it seems likely he has concerns over the political ramifications of the Secret Service's having erred and driven the limousine too slow, and that this outweighs his interest in establishing if Oswald could have fired the shots as purported.

Assistant Director Alex Rosen's memo is also intriguing. Since this memo reads like a first person account, it would appear he was one of the two "unidentified agents" mentioned in Eisenberg's memo. He, as Gauthier, fails to note at which frames the attendees felt Kennedy had been hit. But he evades much more. While Gauthier admits Humes said the bullet entered "high in the right shoulder" Rosen instead claims the bullet entered the "neck region." Hmm. Mighty curious, that. And that's not the only head-scratcher. For some strange reason, Rosen not only fails to acknowledge that Eisenberg wants the FBI's help in performing a re-enactment, he claims "Staff members of the Commission gave no indication what additional action they planned relative to this theory."

This suggests either that the agents in attendance failed to tell Rosen of Eisenberg's plans, or that Rosen himself was in attendance and was trying to hide this from his immediate superior Belmont, and, by extension, FBI Director Hoover.

Excerpts from an April 16 memo of Arlen Specter

April 16, 1964

To: Mr. J. Lee Rankin

From: Mr. Arlen Specter

Subject: Remaining Work in Area 1.

1. Obtain accounts of the assassination from the eyewitness celebrities


2. Obtain further medical evidence

a. Photographs and x-rays of the autopsy should be examined to make certain of the accuracy of the artist's drawings of President Kennedy's wounds.


3. Plot the position of the President's automobile at the times of the three shots to calculate, as precisely as possible, distances and angles.

4. Present testimony on the clothing of President Kennedy and Governor Connally, and perhaps on the President's automobile.

5. Review and correct transcripts of my witnesses before the Commission.

6. Review, correct, and summarize transcripts of the depositions I have taken.

Analysis of Specter's April 16 Memo

It's clear from Specter's April 16 memo that he has no interest in interviewing the closest bystanders to the shooting, very few of whom have testified before the commission, and is only interested in interviewing the "celebrity" witnesses, whom he identifies as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, Governor and Mrs. Connally, Senator Yarborough, Clifford Carter, David Powers, and Kenneth O'Donnell. This suggests, then, that he is not interested in determining what happened as much as he's interested in obtaining accounts of the shooting from the people whom the Washington press might expect him to interview. Point 2 is also of interest, as it reveals that Specter does not trust the Rydberg drawings to be accurate, and would like to have their accuracy double-checked. Point 3 is also intriguing, as it does more than suggest that Specter is unsatisfied with the mock-up of Dealey Plaza provided by the FBI, and would like to perform some sort of re-enactment.

The issues raised in Points 2 and 3 would rise and rise again.

FBI memo on the April 21 conference

April 22, 1964


TO: Mr. Conrad

FROM: W.D. Griffith

SUBJECT: Assassination of President Kennedy

Request of the President's Commission

At the request of the President's Commission, Inspector J.R. Malley of the General Investigation Division, Inspector L.J. Gauthier of the Administrative Division and Special Agent Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt of the Laboratory on 4/21/64 were at the Commission for a review of the Zapruder film of the assassination. Purpose of this review was to determine from Governor and Mrs. John Connally, who were present, whether or not it could be established at what point in the film the Governor was shot. The following individuals were also present:

Dr. Gregory and Dr. Shaw who examined Governor Connally at Parkland Hospital in Dallas

Dr. F.W. Light, Jr. and Dr. A.G. Olivier from the Wound Assessment and Wound Ballistics Department of Edgewood Arsenal

Dr. Joseph Dolce, consultant to the Biophysics Division of Edgewood Arsenal

It is noted that representatives of the Secret Service who have attended past reviews were not present.

The principal fact brought out by the Governor and Mrs. Connally was their selection of a portion of the film where "he has been hit"; however, they could not pin point the exact frame of the motion picture film where the bullet struck. The portion of the sequence they selected is only one-fourth to one-half second after the approximate point where the President was believed to have been shot at the base of the neck. Allowing for variations in reaction times, this lends support to the theory that one bullet passed through the President's neck, the Governor's chest, hit in the Governor's leg, and lodged in his clothing.

Both the Governor and Mrs. Connally stated that they heard the first shot and the second shot was the one that hit the Governor, however, neither of them saw the President between the first and third shots or can state that the President was actually hit by the first shot.

RECOMMENDATION: None. For information only.

Above: Warren Commission Counsel Melvin Eisenberg

Melvin Eisenberg's memo on the April 21 conference

April 22, 1964


FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg

SUBJECT: Conference of April 21, 1964, to determine which frames in the Zapruder movies show the impact of the first and second bullets.

On Tuesday, April 21, 1964, a conference was held to determine which frames in the Zapruder film portray the instants at which the first and second bullets struck.

Present were: Dr. F.W. Light, Jr., Deputy Chief of the Biophysics Division and Chief of the Wound Assessment Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; Dr. Olivier, Chief of the Wound Ballistics Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; Dr. Joseph Dolce, Consultant to the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal; Dr. Charles F. Gregory and Dr. Robert Shaw of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas; Messrs. Geuthier, Shaneyfelt, and one other unidentified agent of the FBI; and Messrs. Redlich, Specter, Belin and Eisenberg. Later in the proceedings, Governor and Mrs. Connally, Mr. Rankin and Mr. McCloy joined the conference.

A screening was held of the Zapruder film and of slides prepared by LIFE from the films. Each slide corresponded with a separate frame of film, beginning with frame 171. The consensus of the meeting was as follows:

(a) The President had been definitely hit by frame 224-225 when he emerges from behind a sign with his hands clutching at his throat.

(b) After the Governor Connally straightened up at frames 224-225 he starts to turn to the right. As a result of this turn, at no time after frame 236 was Governor Connally in a position such that a bullet fired from the probable site of the assassin would have caused the wound in the chest cavity which Governor Connally sustained -- that is, after frame 236 the Governor presented a side view to the assassin rather than a back view. (1) Mr. Specter disagrees.

(c) In many frames up to 250, the Governor's wrist is held in a position which exposed him to the type of wrist wounds he actually received.

(d) After viewing the films and slides, the Governor was of the opinion that he had been hit by frame 231.

(e) The Governor stated that after being hit, he looked to his right, looked to his left, and then turned to his right. He felt the President might have been hit by frame 190. He heard only two shots and felt sure that the shots he heard were the first and third shots. He is positive that he was hit after he heard the first shot, i.e., by the second shot, and by that shot only.

In a discussion after the conference, Drs. Light and Dolce expressed themselves as being very strongly of the opinion that Connally had been hit by two different bullets, principally on the ground that the bullet recovered from Connally's stretcher could not have broken his radius without having suffered more distortion. Dr. Oliver withheld a conclusion until he has had the opportunity to make tests on animal tissue and bone with the actual rifle.

Analysis of the memos on the April 21 conference

The memos on the April 21 meeting are also quite revealing. While Eisenberg noted the various impressions of the moment of impact on both Kennedy and Connally, the FBI agents in attendance once again failed to record anyone's thoughts on this subject, and instead spun the information to support the status quo. As a result, Connally's belief he was hit a quarter second after it's painfully obvious Kennedy was hit does not cast one bit of doubt on the single-assassin conclusion, but instead "lends support" to the single-bullet theory holding they were hit at the same time. This is more than a bit short-sighted. To make matters worse, the Griffith memo concludes by claiming neither Connally nor Mrs. Connally "can state that the President was actually hit by the first shot." This is grossly deceptive. Eisenberg's memo reflects that Connally felt the President was hit by the first shot. Far worse, Mrs Connally testified to the Commission just after the conference and related "I heard a noise...I turned over my right shoulder and looked back, and saw the President as he had both hands at his neck...he made no utterance, no cry. I saw no blood, no anything. It was just sort of nothing, the expression on his face, and he just sort of slumped down." She was thereby testifying that Kennedy was hit by the first shot. So why the deception? Why pretend the Connallys would be open-minded to the contention the President and Governor were hit by same bullet with the second shot, when Mrs. Connally had just testified that this wasn't true?

Well, one possibility is that the agent reporting to Griffith, presumably Shaneyfelt, had come to believe the only way to sell the single-assassin conclusion was to sell the single-bullet theory, and that the only thing preventing their successfully doing so was the testimony of the Connallys. John Connally felt positive he was not hit by the first shot. Nellie Connally felt positive the President WAS hit by the first shot. This put the FBI in a bind. What to do? Shaneyfelt would have known, after all, after studying the film with the commission's counsel, that the film does not support that three separate shots were fired and that three separate hits were created by Oswald's rifle. Perhaps then he lied about what Nellie said in order to pretend there was no conflict between the recollections of the Connallys and the single-bullet theory.

That Griffith or the man reporting to him was trying to hide problems with the theory is supported as well by his failure to mention Dr.s Dolce and Light's fervent belief Connally was hit by more than one bullet. Only the week before, we should recall, Dr. Humes pushed that Connally's back wound and wrist wound were brought about by separate bullets, and now here were two top wound ballistics experts claiming the same thing. But is this reported? No, not at all. Eisenberg's memo notes as well that Connally had insisted he was hit by but one bullet. But is this reported? No, not at all.

But the FBI's agents weren't the only ones failing to put on the record what they didn't want to hear... After complicating matters by insisting Connally must have been hit by two bullets, Dr. Dolce was cut out of the loop and never asked to testify.

(In 1976, Dr. Dolce wrote the HSCA and complained about his treatment. He noted that he was the pre-eminent expert on wound ballistics present at the 4-21-64 conference, and yet his impressions were ignored. He also complained that his colleagues, Dr.s Olivier and Dziemian, testified in a manner inconsistent with the tests they'd performed. He noted that the entrance wounds were smaller than the exit wounds on all the cadaver wrists they'd fired upon, but that Dr. Olivier ultimately accepted the word of Connally's physician, Dr.Gregory, that the larger wound in Connally's wrist was the entrance wound. Dolce concluded his letter by listing his interpretation of the shooting scenario: "1) The first bullet went through JFK's neck and this is the so-called pristine bullet. 2) The second bullet went through Governor Connally's chest and wrist and the film clearly demonstrates Connally's wrist against his chest wall. I feel that this is the bullet that is missing. 3) The third bullet struck JFK in the head and one fragment of this bullet struck Connally in the left thigh and also struck the windshield of the car."Apparently, Dolce just couldn't grasp that this scenario was, at least in the eyes of the commission, too reliant on Oswald's shooting ability, as it necessitated two shots being fired incredibly close together... Ironically, the HSCA, which ultimately concluded that Oswald WAS able to get two shots off within two seconds, also ignored Dolce; they failed to call him to testify, or even consult with their medical panel.)

Melvin Eisenberg and Norman Redlich memos proposing a re-enactment

April 24, 1964


TO: Messrs. Redlich, Specter, Belin

FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg

SUBJECT: Determination of the Trajectories of the Three Shots

1. My memos of the conferences of April 14, 1964, and April 21, 1964, designate the frames in the Zapruder film which portray or may portray the impact of the first and second bullets. My memo ofearlier conferences designated the frames in the Zapruder, Nix, and Muchmore films which portray the impact of the third shot. In order to translate these determinations into actual distances, it appears to me to be necessary to go to Dallas.

2. The first step to take in Dallas is to place viewfinders on the spots at which Zapruder, Nix and Muchmore were standing, and place a replica car, bearing six occupants on Elm Street. The replica car should then be positioned so that, viewed through the viewfinders, the relationship between the actual car and the landmarks on November 22, as shown in the designated frames.

3. Pictures should be made showing the car (positioned under paragraph 2) from the following vantage points: (a) the spots at which the photographers were standing; (b) a point in the TSBD approximating the point at which the muzzle of the rifle was located;and (c) several point on the overpass. Still pictures, and moving pictures taken through the cameras actually used by Zapruder, Nix, and Muchmore should be taken from vantage point (a). Two sets of still pictures, one through a 4x telescopic sight, should be taken from vantage points (b) and (c).

4. Tapes should then be laid on Elm Street over the points or ranges at which the President and Governor were located when the three shots struck. Each tape should be marked to show every designated frame, and at the first tape should also be marked at the point where the President first became visible from vantage point (b) after emerging from behind the tree. On-the-street measurements should then be taken of the distances (i) from the marked points on each tape to the marked points on every other tape and (ii) from the marked points on each tape to the mid-point of a line connecting the southeast and southwest curbs of Elm street.

5. The position of the tapes and all marked points thereon should then be mapped on a survey, and the lengths of the various possible trajectories should be measured by the surveyor on a trigonometric basis, measuring from the point at which the muzzle was probably located to the beginning, end, and marked points of each tape. The surveyor should also determine the angle each trajectory makes with the horizontal. Copies of the surveyor's work-sheets and calculations should be sent to us.

6. The steps outlined herein are not to be deemed as exclusive. In particular, an attempt should be made to photograph various relative positions of the persons simulating the President and Governor Connally with a view to determining whether the first bullet probably did or did not hit the Governor as well as the President.

Above: Warren Commission Assistant General Counsel Norman Redlich

April 27, 1964


TO: J. Lee Rankin

FROM: Norman Redlich

The purpose of this memorandum is to explain the reasons why certain members of the staff feel that it is important to take certain on-site photographs in connection with the location of the approximate points at which the three bullets struck the occupants of the Presidential limousine.

Our report presumably will state that the President was hit by the first bullet, Governor Connally by the second, and the President by the third and fatal bullet. The report will also conclude that the bullets were fired by one person located in the sixth floor southeast corner window of the TSBD building.

As our investigation now stands, however, we have not shown that these events could possibly have occurred in the manner suggested above. All we have is a reasonable hypothesis which appears to be supported by the medical testimony but which has not been checked out against the physical facts at the scene of the assassination.

Our examination of the Zapruder films shows that the fatal third shot struck the President at a point which we can locate with reasonable accuracy on the ground. We can do this because we know the exact frame (no. 313) in the film at which the third shot hit the President and we know the location of the photographer. By lining up fixed objects in the movie frame where this shot occurs we feel that we have determined the approximate location of this shot. This can be verified by a photo of the same spot from the point where Zapruder was standing.

We have the testimony of Governor and Mrs. Connally that the Governor was hit with the second bullet at a point which we probably cannot fix with precision. We feel we have established, however, with the help of medical testimony, that the shot which hit the Governor did not come after frame 240 on the Zapruder film. The governor feels that it came around 230, which is certainly consistent with our observations of the film and with the doctor's testimony. Since the President was shot at frame 313, this would leave a time of at least 4 seconds between the two shots, certainly ample for even an inexperienced marksman.

Prior to our last viewing of the films with Governor Connally we had assumed that the President was hit while he was concealed behind the sign which occurs between frames 215-225. We have expert testimony to the effect that a skilled marksman would require a minimum 2 seconds between shots with this rifle. Since the camera operates at 18 1/3 frames per second, there would have to be a minimum of 40 frames between shots.

It is apparent, therefore, that if Governor Connally was hit even as late as frame 240, the President would have to have been hit no later than frame 190 and probably even earlier. We have not yet examined the assassination scene to determine whether the assassin in fact could have shot the President prior to frame 190. We could locate the position on the ground which corresponds to this frame and it would then be our intent to establish by photography that the assassin could have fired the first shot at the President prior to this point. Our intention is not to establish the point with complete accuracy, but merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin.

I had always assumed that our final report would be accompanied by a surveyor's diagram which would indicate the appropriate location of the three shots. We certainly cannot prepare such a diagram without establishing that we are describing an occurrence which is physically possible. Our failure to do this will, in my opinion, place this Report in jeopardy since it is a certainty that others will examine the Zapruder films and raise the same questions which have been raised by our examination of the films. If we do not attempt to answer these questions with observable facts, others may answer them with facts which challenge our most basic assumptions, or with fanciful theories based on our unwillingness to test our assumptions by the investigatory methods available to us.

I should add that the facts which we now have in our possession, submitted to us in separate reports from the FBI and Secret Service, are totally incorrect and, if left uncorrected, will present a completely misleading picture.

It may well be that this project should be undertaken by the FBI and Secret Service with our assistance instead of being done as a staff project. The important thing is that the project be undertaken expeditiously.

Analysis of the Eisenberg and Redlich memos proposing a re-enactment

These memos suggest that Specter did some talking after the showing of the Zapruder film, and convinced the others there were real problems with the shooting scenario if Connally was hit before frame 242. Their desire to test out the various scenarios is admirable. There is more (or less) to the story, however.

On point number 6 of the Eisenberg memo there is a curious statement. While it was his hope to measure the vertical angles into the car from the purported sniper’s nest (point 5) he expresses no interest in measuring the cross-angle of a trajectory connecting Kennedy’s throat wound with Connally’s wound in his right armpit; instead, he states “an attempt should be made to photograph various relative positions of the persons simulating the President and Governor Connally with a view to determining whether the first bullet probably did or did not hit the Governor as well as the President.”Surprisingly, he fails to mention comparing the positions of the men in the Zapruder film and other images of the motorcade to these “various relative positions.” It seems apparent from this that he has no plans of seeing if the single-bullet theory is likely, only possible.

The Redlich memo confirms this impression, and is interesting from start to finish. In the second paragraph, he reveals that, as late as this date, almost 5 months after the beginning of the Warren Commission, the intent of the Commission is to rubber-stamp the FBI and Secret Service conclusions. In the third paragraph, he tells Rankin, however, that the Zapruder film shows these conclusions were wrong. In the fourth paragraph, he makes the same mistake as the FBI and Secret Service, however, and assumes with little basis that the third shot was the head shot at frame 313. In the fifth paragraph, he displays his ignorance of the eyewitness evidence by accepting the testimony of the Connallys as the gospel truth. Ironically, by later accepting the single-bullet theory, he would show a distinct lack of faith. In the sixth paragraph, he incorrectly represents Frazier’s testimony as saying that a talented shooter could get off two shots in 40 frames, but correctly adds 10 frames to what could be expected of Oswald. In the seventh paragraph, he spills the beans, and admits that the whole proposed re-enactment is not to establish what DID happen, or even what most likely happened, but “merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin.” In other words, he is telling Rankin not to worry, that no one has any intention of upsetting anybody by saying Oswald had assistance, but that in order for the Oswald-did-it theory to stick they would need to come up with a better story.

That "better story" was the single-bullet theory. It's mighty curious that Eisenberg's memo to his fellow counsel ends with his suggestion they test the feasibility of this theory, but Redlich's memo to Rankin never raises the issue, and pretends instead that the re-enactment will be testing whether or not Kennedy could have been shot prior to frame 190. From this, we might conclude that the FBI was not the only house divided, with junior members trying to get senior members to go along with Specter's theory.

Howard Willens' Diary Entry on a 4-28-64 Meeting With the FBI and Secret Service

At 2:30 p.m. I participated in a meeting with Mr. Malley and Mr. Gauthier of the FBI, Inspector Kelley of the Secret Service, Mr. Rankin and Messrs. Belin, Redlich, Eisenberg and Specter. The subject of the meeting was the problem of further work in Dallas to ascertain with greater precision the range of probabilities regarding the location and timing of the three shots fired by the assassin. Both the FBI and the SS prior to the meeting had indicated to Mr. Rankin (and the Chief Justice) their reluctance to go down to Dallas with any sort of further reenactment of the assassination. This meeting was the culmination of many months of work by members of the staff, particularly Mr. Redlich, Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Specter, regarding the films and medical testimony. From the very beginning Mr. Rankin had been less persuaded than these that it was necessary to decide these problems with greater precision. Just prior to the meeting, however, Mr. Redlich had finally put his views into memorandum form which I believe persuaded Mr. Rankin that some effort was necessary if the Commission wanted to make assertions in its report which coincide with the physical facts. The greatest priority is to determine whether or not a shot at frame 190 in the Zapruder film could have been fired by the assassin from the 6th floor without interference from the tree. Until the testimony of Governor Connally it was not hypothesized that the first shot occurred at such an early point in the film.

The meeting went on for more than two hours, certainly twice as long as was necessary to set forth the issues. Every time Mr. Specter tried to emphasize what the important issues were, Mr. Eisenberg chose to elaborate and complicate the issues and suggested that he at least wanted to make more precise judgments concerning location and timing. Mr. Rankin emphasized the inability of the Commission to make such precise judgments. Every time Mr. Rankin made such an observation Mr. Malley confirmed this and generally expressed skepticism about the entire project. I expressed myself near the end of the meeting as being in favor of asking the FBI and/or the Secret Service to return to Dallas to ascertain an answer to the single question stated above. At the end of the meeting Mr. Malley informed us that the official Bureau position was opposed to such further investigation but that if the Commission were to request it the Bureau would consider doing the work. It was decided that a letter should be drafted requesting the work be done by the FBI, upon the basis of which Mr. Rankin could again approach the Chief Justice on the subject.

April 30 memo of Arlen Specter

April 30, 1964


TO: Mr. J. Lee Rankin

FROM: Arlen Specter

SUBJECT: Autopsy Photographs and X-rays of President John F. Kennedy

In my opinion it is indispensable that we obtain the photographs and x-rays of President Kennedy's autopsy for the following reasons:

1. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY WHETHER THE SHOTS CAME FROM THE REAR. Someone from the Commission should review the films to corroborate the autopsy surgeons' testimony that the holes on the President's back and head had the characteristics of points of entry. None of the doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas observed the hole in the President's back or the small hole in the lower portion of his head. With all the outstanding controversy about the direction of the shots, there must be independent viewings of the films to verify testimony which has come only from Government doctors.

2. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY WHETHER THE SHOTS CAME FROM ABOVE. It is essential for the Commission to know precisely the location of the bullet wound on the President's back so that the angle may be calculated. The artist's drawing prepared at Bethesda (Commission Exhibit #385) shows a slight angle of declination. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain such a slight angle of decline unless the President was farther down Elm Street than we have heretofore believed. Before coming to any conclusion on this, the angles will have to be calculated at the scene; and for this, the exact point of entry should be known.

3. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY THAT THERE ARE NO MAJOR VARIATIONS BETWEEN THE FILMS AND THE ARTIST'S DRAWINGS. Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist. Some day someone may compare the films with the artist's drawings and find a significant error which might substantially affect the essential testimony and the Commission's conclusions. In any event, the Commission should not rely on hazy recollections, especially in view of the statement in the autopsy report (Commission Exhibit #387) that:

"The complexity of those fractures and the fragments thus produced tax satisfactory verbal description and are better appreciated in the photographs and roentgenograms which are prepared."

When Inspector Kelly talked to Attorney General Kennedy, he most probably did not fully understand all the reasons for viewing the films. According to Inspector Kelly, the Attorney General did not categorically decline to make them available, but only wanted to be satisfied that they were really necessary. I suggest that the Commission transmit to the Attorney General its reasons for wanting the films and the assurances that they will be viewed only by the absolute minimum number of people from the Commission for the sole purpose of corroborating (or correcting) the artist's drawings, with the film not to become a part of the Commission's records.

Excerpt from the April 30, 1964 transcript of the Executive Session of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. (The Warren Commission).

Present: Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chairman; Senator John Sherman Cooper, member; John J. McCloy, member, Allen Dulles, member; J. Lee Rankin, General Counsel..

(Chairman Warren is going down a list of issues that need to be discussed.)

Warren: Five, autopsy pictures of President Kennedy.

Rankin: The staff feels that we should have some member of the Commission examine those pictures. We have a very serious problem in the record now that Dr. Humes testified, as you recall, that the bullet in his opinion probably passed through the President and then through Governor Connally. And we now have the testimony of Governor Connally that that couldn’t have happened. He is certain it didn’t happen. And that the bullet that struck him is one that did not hit the President…We also have some drawings of President Kennedy which are reconstructions by the men that participated in the autopsy. And these men have not seen these pictures of the autopsy, but they had these drawings made, and we don’t know whether these drawings conform to the pictures of the autopsy or not. Now I thought we could avoid having these pictures, possibly avoid these pictures being a part of the record, because the family has a strong feeling about them, and I think we should respect it insofar as can possibly be done, and carry out the work of the Commission—because they don’t want the President to be remembered in connection with those pictures. That is their basic thought. I know that the Commission would like to respect that and not have them in any way become a part of the records which the public would get to see. But I do feel that a doctor and some member of the Commission should examine them sufficiently so that they could report to the Commission that there is nothing inconsistent with the other findings in connection with the matter in those pictures. In that way we can avoid any question that we have passed anything up that the Commission should know or that we haven’t tried to take advantage of information that should be available to us.

Dulles: Would the people who made the pictures have access to these photographs—because they would be the ones to tell, as to whether the pictures were consistent with the drawings they made?

Rankin: We, they were made, as I understand it, under the supervision of the doctors conducting the autopsy. And so they just have never been developed because of the family’s wishes. And I think that the Attorney General would make them available now—although they were denied to us before because he said that he didn’t think there was a sufficient showing of our need. But upon a showing now, I think that he would recognize the need and permit that limited examination. And then I feel that in dealing with the Attorney General, however, we should make it plain to him that if the member of the Commission who examines them, with the doctor, feels the whole Commission should see them, that there would be that reservation—because I don’t know what might appear to some member of the Commission or the doctor in connection with them.

McCloy: There is this element. In the record there is an indication by the doctor that there was a certain—he would prefer to have the pictures in connection with the charts that he was representing to us. There was a certain little note of minor inadequacy in connection with the chart which he had, without the pictures.

Dulles: Which doctor was that?

Rankin: Humes—you remember it was the doctor that made the autopsy.

Dulles: Out at Bethesda?

Rankin: Yes.

Dulles: Yes, I remember that. As I recall the testimony, I think it was the doctor from Dallas.

Rankin: Dr. Gregory.

Dulles: The one who said that the bullet—I understood he said might have passed through President’s throat and then through Connally. But I didn’t think he said that he thought it did. I think he said he thought it might have. Is that correct?

Rankin: That is right.

Dulles: Could have.

McCloy: I thought the chief testimony on that came from the Bethesda doctor. I remember he said “I think I could show you this better on the photographs than I could through these charts.”

Rankin: That is right.

Warren: Well, I think you can work that out, Lee, to do that, but without putting those pictures in our record. We don’t want those in our record.

McCloy: Certainly not.

Warren: It would make it a morbid thing for all time to come.

Rankin: Is that effort to proceed in that manner, without having them in the record, and having an examination by the doctor and one of the members of the Commission satisfactory then?

Warren: Only for verification purposes. Yes, I think that would be all.

Dulles: By the doctor and a member of the Commission.

McCloy: Oh yes, you would need a doctor present to interpret it to you.

Warren: All right. If there is nothing further on that item, the next is interview of Mrs. Kennedy.

Analysis of the April 30 memo of Arlen Specter and the April 30 executive session of the Warren Commission

These memos and the subsequent session of the Commission reveal that the Commission was not the blatant white-wash many believe it to be. Here, Specter, who took the testimony of the autopsists on 3-16, even though they’d been inexplicably denied the opportunity to compare their memories to the autopsy photos and x-rays they’d created, finally steps up and tries to do what’s right. In light of his previous and subsequent actions, these memos are incredibly ironic. In point number 2 of the April 30 memo, Specter mentions that the angle of descent in the drawing is smaller than expected, and is suggestive that Kennedy was further down the street than believed. This indicates that Specter is convinced that Kennedy was sitting upright in the car and was not leaning over when shot. The irony of this is that, on May 24, 1964 Specter would see an autopsy photo of the back wound that showed the bullet entrance to be two inches lower than the wound in the drawing, and on a flat trajectory with the neck wound, but would say NOTHING about this to the commissioners. In 1978, the HSCA would not only decide the bullet entrance was two inches lower than in the drawing, but that Kennedy was significantly closer to the sniper’s nest when shot. For Specter’s single-bullet theory to have taken place under these conditions Kennedy would have to have been leaning quite far forward when shot.Specter knew this wasn’t true, but once again, said nothing.

Point number 3 in the April 30 memo is especially ironic. Here Specter observes (accurately as it turned out) that the inaccuracy of the drawings HE put into evidence may come back to haunt the Commission later. He admits “Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist.” This indicates that he knows measurements were not used. Specter prepared and received Dr. Humes’ 3-16 testimony, in which he said “We had made certain physical measurements of the wounds, and of their position on the body of the late President, and we provided these and supervised directly Mr. Rydberg in making these drawings.” And yet here Specter admits to his boss Rankin that the drawings were based on recollections, not measurements. Curiously, it appears that Specter knows Humes lied, but has failed to tell the Commission as much.

Specter’s final paragraph is also important, as it indicates his belief that Robert Kennedy will not interfere with this inspection, and that Thomas Kelley of the Secret Service has discussed it with Kennedy. In 1978, Nicholas Katzenbach testified before the HSCA that he discussed the Warren Commission’s use of the autopsy materials with Kennedy at one point, and that Kennedy gave his permission. Ironically, Specter told the doctors that it was Kennedy who forbade them from seeing the photos before their testimony, and they would repeat that story for many years to come, unaware that Kennedy had, in fact, granted them permission, once someone related to the commission had explained to him why it was necessary.

The April 30 executive session is even more revealing than Specter’s memo. Here, Rankin, McCloy, and Dulles argue for the necessity of having a DOCTOR review the photos, and Warren agrees. Warren even tells Rankin that he thinks it can be worked out where the photos are reviewed but not placed in the record. These statements take on added meaning when one considers what ultimately transpired.

Howard Willens' Diary Entry On a May 5 Conference Among the Warren Commission Staff

At the end of the day, prior to going home to vote, I joined a conference in Mr. Rankin’s office. Present were Mr. Rankin and Messrs. Belin, Redlich and Eisenberg. We were later joined by Mr. Ball and Mr. Stern. Most of the discussion centered about the need to return to Dallas for further investigative work to decide upon approximations of the distances and locations of the various shots. Mr. Rankin had not yet put this matter to the Chief Justice for decision. Mr. Belin expressed his strong view that our record on the firearms testimony, particularly as to the amount of time within which the shots could reasonably have been fired by Oswald, was not as good as we might have desired. In fact Mr. Belin stated that after reading our record on this subject he was inclined to believe that Oswald did not fire the three shots within the 5 1/2 second. Mr. Eisenberg, of course, took issue with this to some extent and stated that he believed that the testimony did show that it was possible for Oswald to have fired the three shots although it would have been a difficult assignment for someone with Oswald’s degree of marksmanship. Mr. Belin desired, and I concur, that further testimony on this subject be elicited particularly if the Dallas project is completed and produces some new facts which would be the basis upon which to conduct some additional tests.

Howard Willens' Diary Entry For May 6

On Wednesday, May 6, 1964, Mr. Belmont of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified. I did not attend, among other reasons because apparently the Chief Justice had commented at my presence in the hearings the prior day. Sometime during the day, I believe in the morning, Mr. Rankin indicated that he had secured the approval of the Chief Justice for the Dallas project. During the day he tentatively decided that this work should be done in Dallas Monday and Tuesday, May 18 and 19. At the Chief Justice’s decision, however, Mr. Rankin was to take personal supervision of the project. He reserved decision as to whether anyone other than himself and Mr. Specter should be involved with the work on the scene.

May 7 letter of J. Lee Rankin to J. Edgar Hoover and May 12 memo of Arlen Specter

May 7, 1964

Mr. J. Edgar Hoover

Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Department of Justice

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Mr. Hoover,

This commission has been making a careful study of the various motion picture films taken at the scene of the assassination. In this project we have had the valuable assistance of members your Bureau, particularly Inspector James Malley, Inspector Leo Gauthier and Special Agent Lyndal A. Shaneyfelt. As a result of the information obtained from these films, the Commission would like the cooperation of your Bureau in the performance of certain additional investigation at the scene of the assassination.

I will personally be available to supervise this work and will have such other staff members present as may be deemed necessary. We would hope to be able to perform this work in Dallas on May 18 and May 19. The purpose of this letter is to set forth the steps which we feel are necessary to properly complete this project.


Our examination of the Zapruder films indicates that Governor Connally was hit at some point prior to frame 240. (All references to frames in the Zapruder films are on the basis of a numbering system worked out with the FBI personnel who have been working on this project). Doctors familiar with the Governor's wounds concluded that after frame 236 his body was not in a position to have received the wound from a projectile fired from the sixth floor southeast corner window of the Texas School Book Depository Building. The Governor feels he was hit at approximately frame 230; some members of our staff feel that it could have been as late as frame 240. Governor and Mrs. Connally also testified that the Governor was hit by the second shot.

The FBI laboratory examination of the Zapruder camera establishes that it operates at a speed of 18 1/3 frames per second. Weapons experts have testified that the minimum time required to operate the assassination weapon is 2 1/4 seconds. It would appear, therefore, that a minimum of 41 frames would have to elapse between the first and second shots. (18 1/3 x 2 1/4).

The Commission is aware that it is impossible to determine the exact point at which the first two shots were fired. We request the following on-site investigatory steps, however, in order to determine whether it was possible for a person located on the sixth floor southeast corner window of the TSBD building to fire two shots at the Presidential car, the second of which occurred no later than frame 240:

(1) A point should be marked on the road corresponding to frame 199 on the Zapruder film, which is the last point at which the assassin could have fired from the window and still have been able to fire again by frame 240. A car should be photographed on this spot from the point where Zapruder was standing so that this photograph can be compared with frame 199 to make certain that the location is accurate. This should be done with the Zapruder camera, which has been retained for this purpose. A Polaroid should also be used for immediate comparison.

(2) After a car has been placed at this point on the road it should be photographed from the assassination window to determine whether the assassin had a clear shot at the occupants of the rear seat, with particular reference to the tree which at some point blocks the view from this window.

(3) If the car had passed the tree at frame 199, when viewed from the window, the car should be moved forward to the point at which there is a first clear view from the window and photographed at this point from both the window and at the place where Zapruder was standing so that we may determine what frame in the Zapruder films corresponds with this location.

(4) If the car has in fact passed beyond the tree at frame 199, it should be moved back to the point where it first cleared the tree and photographed from the window and the Zapruder location to establish the corresponding frame reference.

(5) The car should also be placed at the point where there is the last clear shot before it goes behind the tree and photographed from the window and the Zapruder location to determine the frame reference at this point.

(6) All the above points should be mapped on a survey. Lineal distances should be measured on the ground between these various points. Trigonometric readings should be taken to determine the distances from these various points to the assassination window and the surveyor should also determine the angle with the horizontal which is made when a line is plotted from each of these point to the assassination window.


Unlike shots one and two, the third shot has been fixed at a particular frame in the Zapruder films (frame 313), as well as a particular frame in the other two films (frame 24 of the Nix film and frame 42 of the Muchmore film). A car should be placed at the point which we believe to be the approximate location corresponding to these frames and then photographed from the point where the three cameramen were standing to establish the accuracy of this location. Distances should be measured from this point to the various points described in part I and angles and distances established between this point and the assassination window to establish the view which the assassin had when he fired the third shot.


From each of the ground points established in parts I and II trigonometric readings should be taken from a point on either end of the overpass to chart the path which a bullet would travel if fired from those points on the overpass to the rear seat of the car. It should be determined whether a bullet could reach the rear seat without hitting the windshield, and the angle with the horizontal which would be made by a bullet fired from these points to a car located at each of the points to a car located at each of the points on the ground as determined in parts I and II.

A copy of this letter has been sent to Chief Rowley of the Secret Service with a request that the Secret Service provide such assistance in this work as the Commission and your Bureau may require. The Secret Service has furnished the Commission with photographs, surveys, and measurements which we have used in our examination of the films and which will no doubt be useful to your Bureau in completing this project.We would like your Bureau to make all necessary arrangements for this project.Members of the Bureau assigned to this project should contact either Mr. Norman Redlich or Mr. Melvin Eisenberg of the Commission staff if additional information is required.

Sincerely, J. Lee Rankin, General Counsel

cc: Mr. Rankin Mr. Redlich Mr. Willens

May 12, 1964


To: Mr. J. Lee Rankin

From: Arlen Specter

Subject: Examination of autopsy photographs and x-rays of President Kennedy.

When the autopsy photographs and x-rays are examined, we should be certain to determine the following:

1. The photographs and x-rays confirm the precise location of the entrance wound in the back of the head depicted Commission exhibits 386 and 388.

2. The photographs and x-rays confirm the precise location of the wound of entrance in the upper back of the President as depicted in Commission Exhibits 385 and 386.

3. The photographs and x-rays confirm the precise area of the President's skull which was disrupted by the bullet when it exited as depicted in Commission Exhibit 388.

4. The characteristics of the wounds on the President's back and on the back of his head should be examined closely in the photographs and x-rays to determine for certain whether they are characteristic of entrance wounds under the criteria advanced by Doctors Finck, Humes, Boswell, Gregory, Shaw, Perry, and Carrico.

The films and x-rays should be viewed in conjunction with Commission Exhibit 389 (a photograph of the frame of the Zapruder film immediately before the frame showing the head wound) and Commission Exhibit 390 (the frame of the Zapruder film showing the head wound) to determine for certain whether the angle of declination is accurately depicted in Commission Exhibit 388.

I suggest that we have a court reporter present so that we may examine Dr. Humes after the x-rays and photographs are reviewed to put on the record:

1. Any changes in his testimony or theories required by a review of the x-rays and films, and

2 Corroboration of the portions or all of his prior testimony which may be confirmed by viewing the photographs and x-rays.

Analysis of the May 7 letter of J. Lee Rankin and May 12 memo of Arlen Specter

The Rankin letter is fairly straightforward, and indicates that, since the writing of Redlich's April 27 memo to him, he has been convinced of the necessity of the single-bullet theory. Rankin mentions that they are trying to establish whether Connally was hit before frame 240 by the second of the three shots. He fails to mention that the eyewitness testimony suggests the second shot was fired after frame 240. It may very well be he has no idea that the statements of the bystanders, motorcycle cops, and Secret Service agents almost all disagree with the Connallys, and suggest the second shot was fired very close to frame 313. Rankin shows his bias in other ways as well. He tells Hoover that they need to show that the shots were 41 frames or more apart, saying that a weapons expert testified that the shots were no closer than 2 ¼ seconds apart. Apparently, he has forgotten that this “weapons expert” was one of Hoover’s own men and that he’d testified that a half second should be added onto his time of 2.3 seconds in order to estimate the time necessary to fire at a moving target. Rankin makes another mistake as well. Along with just about everyone else, he discusses a third and final shot at frame 313 as if it were an established fact, when it is in opposition to the bulk of the eyewitness evidence as well as the visual aids packet supplied by the FBI in January. On May 24, the proposed simulation took place. (It is discussed in more detail in the Back Wound in Motion section of the Examining the Examinations chapter.)

The Specter memo is far more intriguing. Here, Specter reveals that the examination of the autopsy photos discussed in the April 30th executive session is about to take place. Specter also expresses that he is now interested in determining the exact locations of the wounds. Especially ironic is his suggestion that Exhibit 388 be compared to Exhibit 389. Any layman could look at the two and see that they were not compatible. In 1967, the discrepancy between these two exhibits led researcher Josiah Thompson to print them side by side in his book Six Seconds in Dallas. This showed that for the purported entrance and exit wounds in Kennedy’s skull to be aligned as in Exhibit 388, the sniper would have to have fired from the trunk of the Presidential limousine. Specter seems to know this and is apparently hoping to get it straightened out.

The most shocking aspect of Specter’s memo, of course, is that the examination he found so necessary, and the examination agreed upon by Rankin, McCloy, Dulles, and Warren, NEVER HAPPENED. Dr. Humes was not permitted to look at the photos he’d ordered to be created. Specter was then forced to go to Dallas and analyze the trajectories without adequate knowledge of the entrance locations. The supposed reason for this is that Chief Justice Warren took a look at the photos by himself and found them so horrible that he shuddered at the thought of the photos becoming part of the public record.This is nonsense, however…a complete fairy tale. The transcript of the April 30 executive session shows that it was agreed that a doctor would be necessary to interpret the photos. The transcript shows that it was Warren’s belief that the photos could be analyzed without being entered in the record. Since Dr. Humes had already testified, and since doctors performing autopsies are routinely entitled to view (and quite frequently retain) the photos of the autopsies they perform, there would have been no reason for the photos to be entered into the record, simply because Humes had looked at them. The only possible reason they would be entered in the record would be if WARREN looked at them, which he later admitted doing. From this, Warren’s refusal to let Humes look at the photos can be interpreted in two ways: one, Warren was senile; and two, he knew that the wounds in the photos failed to match the wounds in the drawings, and lacked the nerve or desire to open up that door and see what lay inside. (This last possibility is discussed in more detail in the Examining the Examinations section of this website.)

As for Specter, he doesn’t exactly get away clean. He would later admit that the Secret Service showed him an autopsy photo of Kennedy’s back on the day of the re-enactment. As we will discuss later, this means he KNEW that the drawings of the President’s wounds he’d placed into evidence were incorrect.It also means he knew that the single-bullet theory he was pushing on the Commission was highly doubtful. And yet, by all accounts, he failed to tell the Commission that he’d even looked at the photo.Arlen Specter was, of course, a long-time member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. One wonders if he’d have fired an underling who’d withheld such vital information.

Howard Willens' Diary Entry on a May 21 Meeting of the Warren Commission's Staff

On Thursday, May 21, after a 3-1/2 hour meeting, at which I was not present by choice, the decision was made on the matter which has been called the Dallas Project. It was agreed that Mr. Rankin, Mr. Redlich and Mr. Specter would go to Dallas to conduct an on-the-spot investigation designed to clarify the distances and locations at which the shots took place. Apparently it was a total victory for Mr. Redlich and Mr. Specter since the decision was also made to have the Secret Service ship the follow-up car there for use in the investigation.

JAHS Chapter 19

JAHS Chapter 21