PHYSICAL EVIDENCE / An Overview
THE DEATH OF JFK:† PHYSICAL EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY*
Michael T. Griffith
[Editor's Note:† The author provides a comprehensive
summary of the physical evidence for a conspiracy in the
death of JFK, which he initiates with consideration of
the kinds of findings that would justify the inference
to conspiracy, where, in this case, such an inference
is supported by abundant evidence of many kinds.]
What follows is a review of some of the physical evidence of conspiracy in the JFK assassination. Many supporters of the Warren Commission's lone-gunman theory claim "all the physical evidence supports the single-assassin scenario." This is simply incorrect.
What would constitute evidence of conspiracy?
1.† Any evidence of shots from locations other
than the southeast sixth-floor window of the
2.† Any evidence that refutes the single-bullet theory would constitute proof of conspiracy, since there can be no lone-gunman scenario without the single-bullet theory. The single-bullet theory says that a single bullet, supposedly Commission Exhibit (CE) 399, caused all the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and Connally, that it pierced through both men, smashing and shattering bone en route, and yet emerged with no damage to its nose, with its lands and grooves intact, with all or virtually all of its mass remaining, and with only some deformation to its base. If this theory is wrong, then Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets, which would mean at least four shots were fired and that two gunmen were involved. What else would constitute evidence of conspiracy? What follows is only a partial list, but here are some other things that would constitute evidence of conspiracy:
3.† Evidence that more than one man was in the sixth-floor sniper's nest.
4.† Evidence that more than three shots were fired, since the lone-gunman theory allows for only three shots.
5.† Evidence that Kennedy was struck by ammunition different than the kind of ammunition Oswald supposedly used.
With this understood, let us now examine some of the physical evidence that President Kennedy's assassination was the result of a conspiracy.
Kennedy's Shirt, Coat, and Tie
There is a hole on the back of the coat and a corresponding hole on the back of the shirt. The hole in the back of the coat is 5.375 inches below the top of the collar. The hole in the back of the shirt is 5.75 inches below the top of the collar. These holes show the back wound was too low for the single-bullet theory. As mentioned, if the single-bullet theory is false, there can be no lone-gunman scenario. To explain the location of these holes, Warren Commission apologists can only theorize that both the coat and the shirt were bunched at the same time, and not just bunched simultaneously, but bunched in nearly perfect, millimeter-for-millimeter correspondence with each other, even though Kennedy wore a tailor-made shirt and was sitting with much of his back against the seat, thus pressing the shirt down and holding it in place. The location of the holes in the coat and shirt corresponds to the location for the back wound that's recorded in the death certificate and that's shown in the autopsy face sheet. It also corresponds to where several witnesses said the wound was located.
There are slits in the front of Kennedy's shirt, just below the collar band. According to the single-bullet theory, CE 399, sometimes referred to as the "magic bullet," made these slits when it allegedly exited the president's throat. But testimony from Dr. Charles Carrico, one of the doctors who treated the president at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, suggests the slits were made by the nurses as they cut away Kennedy's clothing. When former Senate investigator Harold Weisberg examined high-quality photos of the shirt at the National Archives, he found evidence that confirmed the conclusion that the slits were made by the emergency room nurses--he could see the zigzag mark of a cutting blade on the left side of the slits:
The dead giveaway of the fabrication that this is where the magical bullet must have exited, according to the official story, is the nonmagical, mute evidence of the slit on the left side. The irregular, zigzag mark of a cutting blade is visible with an engraver's lens no more powerful than the 10-power miniature I carry. (Weisberg, Post Mortem, Frederick, Maryland, 1975, p. 347, emphasis added)
Dr. David Mantik, a radiation oncologist and physicist, examined the president's clothing, including the shirt, at the National Archives. He noted there was no fabric missing from the slits and that the shape of the slits was much more compatible with a scalpel than with a bullet. The fact that no fabric is missing from the slits is important, because bullets usually tear out at least some fabric when they rip through cloth. Dr. Mantik was kind enough to provide me with a summary of his findings with regard to the shirt slits:
What also struck me about the slits is how unlikely a bullet could have passed through there (see Weisberg's photo, if necessary) and also nicked the left outside of the knot of the tie.
Furthermore, there was no obvious fabric missing from the slits, whereas the hole in the back (even before FBI sampling) clearly had lost some fabric during the bullet passage. According to the experts on bullet transit . . , such missing fabric is typical. If this bullet really transited the neck (or upper chest), and according to the Warren Commission, lost very little speed, then why didn't it also remove fabric from the area of the slits?
The shape of the slits is much more compatible with a scalpel than with a bullet. (E-Mail, 21 August 1996, original emphasis)
is a small nick in the knot of the president's necktie. The single-bullet
theory requires that somehow this nick was made by CE 399 as it allegedly
exited the throat, since the throat wound was supposedly behind the knot of the
tie. However, photos of the tie clearly show the nick is obviously inward from
either edge of the knot, and we now know there is no hole through the tie at
any point. So no bullet exiting the throat could have created the nick. This
means no bullet exited the throat. The nick was most likely made by the
response to this hard evidence, lone-gunman theorists can only speculate that both photos of the tie were taken after the tie was supposedly untied and
then retied. But there is no evidence the necktie was untied and retied before
the evidence photos of it were taken. The FBI, which had possession of the tie
within hours after the assassination, has never even claimed this happened. And
no one's even suggested the
Finally, as Stewart Galanor notes, the size of the bullet holes in Kennedy's clothes and the size of the wounds in his back and neck are inconsistent with a bullet traveling from back to front. If a bullet had gone from the back wound to the throat wound, it's highly doubtful it would have produced bullet holes that decreased in size--from 15 mm (rear coat hole) to 10 mm (rear shirt hole) and from 7 mm (back wound) to 5 mm (throat wound) (see Galanor, Cover-Up, New York: Kestrel Books, 1998, pp. 25-26).
Fragments Recovered from the Presidential Limousine
jacket of one of the fragments that were reportedly recovered from the
limousine is peeled backward 180 degrees and folded almost flat. One edge of
this folded section literally forms a razor edge. Firearms and ballistics
expert Howard Donahue noted it was highly unlikely that such a sharp edge could
have been fashioned as the bullet traveled through the skull and cranial tissue
(Bonar Menninger, Mortal
Error, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992, p. 75). It is more likely the
fragment came from a bullet that struck the street. Several witnesses reported
seeing a bullet strike the street while the limousine was near or beneath the
oak tree on
The Autopsy X-Rays of the Neck
According to the Clark Panel, the neck x-rays show bullet fragments in the neck. These fragments could not have come from the alleged magic bullet, CE 399, required by the single-bullet theory. Although some medical experts who have examined the x-rays disagree with the Clark Panel's finding, one of the x-ray technicians at the autopsy, Jerrol Custer, recalls seeing bullet fragments in the region of the neck on the x-rays that he examined on the night of the autopsy.
Dr. John Lattimer, who supports the lone-gunman theory, studied the x-rays and concluded the fragments in the neck were pieces of bone. If correct, this finding is problematic for the single-bullet theory. If the neck fragments are indeed pieces of bone, this means the bullet of the single-bullet theory cracked the first thoracic vertebra (T1) and at least grazed or brushed alongside the spinal cord. If so, it's extremely unlikely the bullet could have proceeded to create a small, neat "exit" wound in the throat, as required by the single-bullet hypothesis.
a bullet from the back wound had struck T1 and grazed the spinal cord and then
exited the throat, it almost certainly would have left a sizable, punched-out
The Autopsy X-Rays of the Head
The Clark Panel concluded the skull x-rays showed Kennedy's head was struck by a high-velocity bullet (by a bullet traveling at high velocity). Dr. Bob Artwohl referred to Kennedy's skull as having been hit by a high-velocity bullet in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This contradicts the lone-gunman theory, which says the head was struck by a bullet from the alleged murder weapon, which was a low-to-medium-velocity rifle. The FBI's renowned firearms expert Robert Frazier told the Warren Commission the alleged murder weapon had a low muzzle velocity (3 H 414).
Also, several forensic and ballistics experts have pointed out that the extensive bullet fragmentation seen on the skull x-rays is inconsistent with the type of fragmentation normally caused by a fully metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet such as the kind Oswald allegedly used. In tests conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. John Nichols, FMJ bullets emerged in virtually perfect condition after penetrating several feet of tough Ponderosa pine wood. Dr. John Lattimer fired Carcano bullets through test skulls. X-rays of these test skulls revealed no bullet fragments, not even near the wound of entry in the rear top of the head (Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, p. 98).
skull x-rays show a 6.5 mm object in the back of the head.† Close-up viewing and optical density
measurements of this object show it to be partly metal and partly ghosted
image. Dr. Mantik closely studied the 6.5 mm object
and then measured it with an optical densitometer. He discovered that only part
of the object is metal. The 6.5 mm object must have been added to the
anterior-posterior x-ray after the autopsy. Dr. Mantik
proved through experiments that this could have been done, and done rather
easily (see Mantik, "The JFK Assassination:
Cause for Doubt," in James Fetzer, editor, Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK,
The back-of-the-head fragment almost certainly did not come from the kind of ammunition that Oswald supposedly used. The lone-gunman theory requires one to believe that an FMJ bullet struck Kennedy's skull in the rear, that as the bullet was penetrating the skull a fragment peeled off it, and that this fragment somehow became embedded in the outer table of the skull 1 cm below the entry point. Forensic science simply knows of no case where an FMJ bullet has had a fragment shaved off it as it entered a skull, much less where such a fragment became embedded in the outer table of the skull 1 cm below the entry point. Not one of the bullets in the Warren Commission's wound ballistics tests behaved in this manner. The virtual certainty that the 6.5 mm object could not have come from an FMJ bullet was one of the principal reasons that Howard Donahue, who was a court-certified firearms expert, eventually rejected the theory that Oswald fired a bullet that struck Kennedy in the skull. Donahue consulted with several forensic pathologists on this issue. Not one of them had ever heard of an FMJ bullet behaving in the manner required by the lone-gunman theory:
J. K. Lattimer . . . would suggest . . . that the fragment [the 6.5 mm object] found by Fisher's panel [the Clark Panel] . . . was actually a piece of the fatal bullet that sheared off as the slug impacted the skull.
Donahue considered this in 1968. But never in his experience had he heard of a hard metal-jacketed military bullet "shearing" on impact; a soft lead bullet, yes. But not the type of military round Oswald fired.
Furthermore, even if the bullet could have performed in such an unlikely manner, physics would seem to require that the fragment be deposited above the entrance wound, not below it. The top side of the skull would have acted like a chisel, scraping off a piece of the jacket as the bullet came down at an angle and in.
Much later, Donahue called Fisher [the head of the Clark Panel] to get his opinion about whether a shearing effect could have created the fragment. The two had only briefly touched on this possibility when they met at B. T. Smith's house. Fisher wasn't available, but Donahue did speak with another pathologist and associate of Fisher's, Dr. Thomas Smith. Like Donahue, Smith said he had never seen a fragment shear off a hard military jacketed bullet and deposit itself on the outer table of the skull.
Donahue would repeat his question about the likelihood of a hard metal-jacketed bullet shearing to every forensic pathologist he came in contact with in the years that followed. The answer was always the same: The experts had never seen or heard of such a phenomenon and considered it highly unlikely. (Menninger, Mortal Error, p. 68)
The back-of-head fragment most likely was a ricochet fragment, quite possibly from the bullet that several witnesses saw strike the pavement behind the president's car while the car was beneath the oak tree. Donahue said Dr. Russell Fisher of the Clark Panel told him the panel felt the 6.5 mm object "looked like a ricochet fragment" (Menninger, Mortal Error, p. 65).
When the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had outside experts examine the autopsy skull x-rays, one of the experts discovered a bullet fragment that had not been noted before. Dr. G. M. McDonnel discovered the fragment. He noted it was embedded in the galea, which is a layer located between the scalp and the skull, and that it was slightly to the left of the 6.5 mm object. This fragment is further evidence that Kennedy's head was struck by ricochet material from a bullet that struck the pavement. As absurd as the shearing explanation is for the 6.5 mm object, it's even more absurd for this second fragment, since this fragment is located to the left of the 6.5 mm object and is embedded in a different layer. Donahue argued this fragment must have come from the bullet that several witnesses saw strike the pavement. He concluded there was no other credible explanation for the fragment's presence and location:
. . . details surfaced in the committee's own documents that indicated Kennedy very likely was hit by not one, but rather a barrage of ricochet fragments.
The medical evidence appendix published
in early 1979 contained reports from two radiologists who'd independently
examined the President's skull X rays. One of these physicians, Dr. G. M. McDonnel of
The presence of this second bullet
piece obviously strengthened Donahue's conclusions about the first-shot
ricochet. So too did information provided by the second outside expert, Dr.
David O. Davis, chairman of the radiology department at
McDonnel, however, apparently was not totally in accord with this explanation. Instead, he proposed the two fragments may have somehow worked their way back out through the entrance wound and attached themselves to the outside of the skull and galea during the transport and handling of the President's body.
To Donahue, this explanation was even
more absurd than
Donahue . . . believed that the location of the fragments on both the rear and now the side of Kennedy's head precluded any possibility except a ricochet. (Menninger, Mortal Error, pp. 160-161)
There is a cluster of bullet fragments in the right-frontal region in the skull x-rays. This is evidence that a high-velocity, exploding bullet struck the head in that area. Wound ballistics expert Dr. Larry Sturdivan told the HSCA that one would "definitely" see a cloud of bullet fragments clustered near the point of impact of an exploding bullet:
Mr. Matthews: Mr. Sturdivan, taking a look at JFK Exhibit F-53, which is an x-ray of President Kennedy's skull, can you give us your opinion as to whether the president may have been hit with an exploding bullet? . . .
Mr. Sturdivan: In those cases, you would definitely have seen a cloud of metallic fragments very near the entrance wound. (1 HSCA 401, emphasis added)
Sturdivan said he didn't believe Kennedy was struck by exploding ammunition, but he was unaware that the original, unenhanced autopsy x-rays show a cloud of fragments in the area of the right temple, which, according to Sturdivan's own observation, would "definitely" indicate the impact of an exploding missile in that area.
It should be mentioned that Tom Robinson, the mortician who reassembled Kennedy's skull after the autopsy, said he saw a small hole in one of the temples, and that he believed it was in the right temple. He said he filled the hole with wax. Additionally, on the afternoon of the assassination, White House press secretary Malcolm Kilduff said in a televised press conference that a bullet had struck Kennedy in the right temple and had gone through his head. Specifically, he said a bullet had struck and gone through the head, and as he said this he pointed to his right temple, adding that he'd been told this by the president's personal physician, Dr. George Burkley. Journalist Seth Kantor was present at that news conference. He recorded in his notes that Kilduff said the bullet "entered right temple."
of Skulls from the
The available skull x-rays from the Warren Commission's wound ballistics tests, in which human skulls were shot with FMJ bullets, show fragmentation that is much different than the fragmentation seen on the autopsy skull x-rays. The fragmentation seen on the test-skull x-rays differs from the fragmentation seen on the autopsy x-rays in location, nature, and number. This is another indication that Kennedy's skull was hit by a different kind of ammunition than the kind Oswald supposedly used. Howard Roffman explains:
These X rays depict gelatin-filled human skulls shot with ammunition of the type allegedly used by Oswald. They were classified by the government and remained suppressed until recently; they are printed here for the first time ever. What they reveal is that Oswald's rifle could not have produced the head wounds suffered by President Kennedy. The bullet that hit the president in the head exploded into a multitude of minuscule fragments. One Secret Service agent described the appearance of these metal fragments on the X rays: "The whole head looked like a little mass of stars." The fragmentation depicted on these test X rays obviously differs from that described in the president's head. The upper X ray reveals only relatively large fragments concentrated at the point of entrance; the lower reveals only a few tiny fragments altogether. This gives dramatic, suppressed proof that Oswald did not fire the shot that killed President Kennedy. (Roffman, Presumed Guilty, 1976, photo pages 8 and 9, chapter 5)
The Autopsy Photo of Kennedy's Back
Autopsy photo F5, which shows Kennedy's back, is strong evidence that no bullet fired from the sixth-floor window could have caused the back wound and then exited Kennedy's throat, as required by the single-bullet theory. Not only does the photo show the wound to be much lower than where the Warren Commission represented it to be, but close examination of the wound reveals the tissue inside the wound is tunneled upward. (Note: There is more than one autopsy photo of the back at the National Archives, but only one of those pictures is in general circulation, namely, photo F5.)
The Warren Commission claimed the back wound was above the throat wound and that the bullet of the single-bullet theory traveled downward through the neck. The HSCA's forensic pathology panel proved both assertions false. The chairman of the pathology panel testified the autopsy photos of the back showed the wound was about two inches lower than where it appears in the Rydberg medical drawing published by the Warren Commission (1 HSCA 233; see also Figure II-13 in the HSCA's trajectory analysis report, 6 HSCA 42-43). The back wound was actually slightly below the throat wound and any bullet going from the back wound to the throat wound would have had to travel slightly upward through the neck.
Even the autopsy report's description of the back wound can be interpreted as placing the wound below the throat wound. Photos of the May 1964 FBI reenactment of the shooting in Dealey Plaza show the back wound clearly located below the throat wound, and the FBI said this placement was based on the autopsy evidence (5 H 166; see also Harold Weisberg, Selections from Whitewash, New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994, p. 425). A photo of the FBI reenactment is reproduced on page 125 of Robert Groden's book The Killing of a President (New York: Viking Studio Books, 1993; see also Galanor, Cover-Up, Document 4). Click here to see the photo. (Also shown on that page is a picture of Warren Commission attorney Arlen Specter attempting to demonstrate the trajectory of the single-bullet theory using a metal rod. Note the obvious downward trajectory that Specter assumed both for the bullet's flight path and for the path through the neck.)
In an attempt to solve this obvious problem for the single-bullet theory, defenders of the theory opine that Kennedy was leaning so far forward when the bullet struck that a bullet from the sixth-floor window still could have gone through his neck and then struck Governor Connally. Not only must it be assumed Kennedy was learning markedly forward, it must also be assumed his head was tilted forward to a substantial degree. Assuming for the sake of argument that a bullet went through the neck from back to front, the fact remains that no footage or photo shows Kennedy leaning markedly forward during the time when he was first wounded. Nor does any film or photo show Kennedy's head tilted markedly forward during the time in question. The various computer simulations of the single-bullet theory's trajectory have had to lean Kennedy much farther forward than any film or photo shows him leaning, while other simulations have had to tilt his head far forward. Dale Myers' single-bullet computer reconstruction has Kennedy leaning so far forward that his back is nearly completely off the seat (see the frames from Myers' simulation in Gus Russo, Live By The Sword, Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998, pp. 478-479). The HSCA's diagram of the magic bullet's presumed path through the neck has Kennedy's head tilted markedly forward.
No matter how far forward Kennedy would have leaned, and no matter how far forward he would have tilted his head, the trajectory through the neck would have been slightly upward, since the back wound was below the throat wound.
As mentioned, close examination of the back wound shows the tissue tunneled upward. Furthermore, the back wound's abrasion collar is larger at the lower margin and the lower margin of the skin is abraded upward, which indicates the bullet was traveling upward in relation to the body when it struck. The HSCA's forensic pathology panel reported the following concerning the back wound's appearance in the autopsy photos:
A red-brown to black area of skin surrounds the wound, forming what is called an abrasion collar. It was caused by the bullet's scraping the margins of the skin on penetration and is characteristic of a gunshot wound of entrance. The abrasion collar is larger at the lower margin of the wound, evidence that the bullet's trajectory at the instant of penetration was slightly upward in relation to the body. (7 HSCA 175)
Several members of the panel believe, based on an examination of these enhancements [of the autopsy photos of the back], that when the body is repositioned in the anatomic position (not the position at the moment of shooting) the direction of the missile in the body on initial penetration was slightly upward, inasmuch as the lower margin of the skin is abraded in an upward direction. Furthermore, the wound beneath the skin appears to be tunneled from below upward. (7 HSCA 86-87, emphasis added)
It is perhaps revealing that the HSCA's trajectory expert, Dr. Thomas Canning, was only able to make the single-bullet theory's vertical trajectory work in part by essentially ignoring the location and nature of the back wound documented by the committee's pathology panel (see 1 HSCA 190-192). Canning also admitted the trajectory through Kennedy's neck did not match up with the trajectory from Kennedy's neck to Connally's back, though he attributed this to "experimental error" and opined that the trajectories were within a "reasonable" margin of variance:
Yes, those two angles are different. The line of sight that one obtains by using Governor Connally's back wound and President Kennedy's neck wound is slightly different from the angle which is determined by using the President's wounds alone. . . .
What I am saying is that our interpretation of the data tells us that if we were to determine one trajectory based on the two pieces of information, one the Governor's wound, and the President's neck wound, that that will give us one line. The other wound, the other wound pair in the President, will give us a second line. Those two lines do not coincide simply because of experimental error. (1 HSCA 191)
To be fair to Canning, it should be mentioned that after he testified at the HSCA's hearings, Canning wrote a letter to the HSCA's chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey, in which he complained that he had had trouble getting accurate, consistent information on the locations of the wounds:
The most frustrating problem for me was to get quantitative data -- and even consistent descriptions -- from the forensic pathologists.
Canning added that his study of the photographic record had revealed major discrepancies in the Warren Commission's findings:
When I was asked to participate in analysis of the physical evidence regarding the assassination of John Kennedy, I welcomed the opportunity to help set the record straight. I did not anticipate that study of the photographic record of itself would reveal major discrepancies in the Warren Commission findings. Such has turned out to be the case. (Letter from Thomas Canning to G. Robert Blakey, January 5, 1978)
on-site laser trajectory analysis in
It's instructive to note that in the May 1964 FBI reenactments in Dallas, the Kennedy stand-ins were never leaning markedly forward (see, for example, Commission Exhibits 889, 891, and 903). In both reenactments, the Kennedy stand-ins were positioned according to how Kennedy appeared in the Zapruder film (see 5 H 154, 164). The reason the FBI didn't need to lean its Kennedy stand-ins far forward was that it assumed the back wound was above the throat wound and that the bullet traveled downward through the neck (see CE 903).
When one studies the various single-bullet-theory diagrams and reenactments, one finds contradictory locations for the back wound and conflicting trajectories for the alleged magic bullet. And, when one compares these diagrams and reenactments to the photographic evidence, it is readily apparent Kennedy was not leaning far enough forward to make the single-bullet theory possible and that even the back wound seen on the autopsy photo of the back is too low for the theory to work unless one assumes Kennedy was leaning markedly forward and/or that his head was tilted markedly forward when the bullet struck. See the photos and diagrams in The Impossible, Contradictory Trajectories of the Single-Bullet Theory.
The Cut on James Tague's Face and the Nick in the Curb
the shooting, a projectile struck James Tague in the
face and produced a visible cut. Tague was standing near the triple underpass in
There was a mark. Quite obviously, it was a bullet, and it was very fresh. (Warren Commission Report, p. 116)
Sheriff Buddy Walthers, who saw the mark soon after
the shooting, agreed it had been caused by a bullet (Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, New York: Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston, 1985, p. 135). Patrolman Clyde Haygood,
who radioed in the incident at around 12:40, less than ten minutes after the
shooting, likewise believed a bullet had struck the curb and that Tague had been hit "by a ricochet from the bullet off
the concrete" (Warren Commission Report, p. 116). In a 1966 filmed
interview, Tague unequivocally said the curb mark was
the result of a bullet striking the curb. Photos were taken of
the nick in the curb, and later a chunk of the curb with the scar in it was
removed and taken to
of the three shots attributed to the alleged lone gunman could have caused the
curb mark. Nor could any of these shots have caused the cut on Tague's face. The Warren Commission had no credible
explanation for the curb nick or the face cut. The commission conceded
"the mark on the south curb of
The suggestion that the cut and the curb mark were caused by a missed shot from the sixth-floor window doesn't warrant serious discussion. Only an incredibly wild miss from the sixth-floor window could have struck the curb or caused a fragment to strike the curb and/or Tague. Even most Warren Commission defenders reject this theory, since nearly all of them now believe the first shot missed, and they agree this shot came prior to Z166, that is, before the limousine passed beneath the oak tree.
The theory that the curb nick and/or the face cut came from a fragment from the head shot is as implausible as the idea that either defect was caused by a missed shot from the sixth-floor window, if not more so. It's not at all clear that a fragment from the head shot would have had a path to the curb or to Tague's face. Diagrams of Dealey Plaza and of the limousine's position on Elm Street at the time of the head shot show that Tague was standing nearly directly in front of Kennedy and the limousine (see also, for example, Richard Trask's diagram of Dealey Plaza in Pictures of the Pain, Danvers, Massachusetts: Yeoman Press, 1994, front and back inside pages, p. 56; see also Groden, The Killing of a President, p. 17, bottom photo). This means any head-shot fragment would have had to clear the limousine's roll bar and windshield. This would have required an upward trajectory from Kennedy's head. Furthermore, at the time of the head shot, the limousine was well over 200 feet from where Tague was standing. How, then, would a fragment from the head shot have been able to strike the curb with enough force to nick it, much less to send a chip of concrete streaking toward Tague's face? Or, how would such a fragment have been able to cut Tague's face, after plowing through a human skull and then traveling well over 200 feet? And from what hole seen in the autopsy skull x-rays would such a fragment have come?
The Tague incident was nearly suppressed. Incredibly, the FBI didn't even mention Tague's cut or the curb mark in its five-volume report on the assassination. Months later, in July 1964, when the Warren Commission asked the FBI about reports concerning the Tague incident, the Dallas FBI office falsely reported there was no mark on the curb. The office claimed, in an unsigned memo, that local FBI agents had searched the area of the curb in question, for ten feet in both directions, and had found no mark:
The area of the curb from this point [the point pictured in photos of the mark] for a distance of ten feet in either direction was carefully checked and it was ascertained that there was no nick in the curb in the checked area, nor was any mark observed. (21 H 473)
Dallas FBI then suggested rain and/or street sweepers had erased the mark (21 H
473). Yet, when the Warren Commission finally sent some people to
Photos of the curb mark indicate it was patched fairly quickly after the assassination. In some of the photos of the curb scar, the scar is clearly darker than the rest of the curb. When Harold Weisberg examined the curb section at the National Archives, he had no trouble seeing that the curb nick had in fact been patched:
When I examined that curbstone in the National Archives, it was very obvious that there had been a hole and that it had been patched. To a degree this is clear in the picture I had taken. The patch is much darker. Because the material used for the patch, which was a relatively small area, prevented the use of coarse aggregates, it is ever so much smoother to the touch as it is visible to the eye. (Weisberg, Never Again, New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995, p. 376)
In 1983 a building materials scientist examined the curb mark. The scientist was Jose T. Fernandez, the chief engineer of the firm Construction Environment, Inc. Mr. Fernandez concluded the curb scar had probably been patched (see Weisberg, Never Again, pp. 376-377; and Weisberg, Case Open, New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994, pp. 163-165). Said Fernandez,
In summary, the dark spot shows visual characteristics which are significantly different from those of the surrounding concrete surface. While any one of the differences, by itself, could be easily explained in terms other than a patch, the simultaneous occurrence of those differences would amount to a rather curious coincidence of characteristics. But the existence of a surface patch would also be consistent with and explain all of the observed differences. (Case Open, p. 165)
Oswald could not have patched the curb scar. So who patched it? The spectrographic plate from the curb mark was never examined by independent experts. The FBI, claiming a lack of space, destroyed the small spectrographic plate before independent experts could be allowed to study it.
A certified fingerprint expert has determined that convicted killer Malcolm "Mac" Wallace left a fingerprint in the sixth-floor sniper's nest on the day of the assassination. On the afternoon of the shooting, the authorities found a fingerprint in the sixth-floor window that they were never able to identify. It didn't belong to Oswald, and it didn't belong to any other employee in the building nor to any of the law enforcement personnel who searched the sixth floor. In 1998 fingerprint expert A. Nathan Darby identified the mystery print as belonging to convicted killer Mac Wallace. Darby found a 14-point match between the sixth-floor fingerprint and Wallace's fingerprint.
Darby is a certified Latent Print Examiner with impressive credentials and years of experience. In addition to his training and awards, Darby has testified as an expert witness on fingerprint identification in numerous court cases. Darby states in his notarized affidavit that he found fourteen matches between the previously unidentified fingerprint from the sixth-floor sniper's nest and a fingerprint card that contained the fingerprints of Mac Wallace. It should be pointed out that Darby did not know whose fingerprints were on the fingerprint card. He was asked to compare the fingerprints on the fingerprint card with the unidentified fingerprint from "Box A" from the sixth-floor window. Darby wasn't aware the fingerprint card bore Mac Wallace's fingerprints until after he'd made the identification.
was Mac Wallace? Wallace was convicted in a 1951 murder and was suspected in
others. He was also linked to the 1961 death of U.S. Department of Agriculture
investigator Henry Marshall.
Estes alleged in 1984 that LBJ ordered the killings of Marshall and President Kennedy, among others, and that Wallace carried them out. A grand jury decided that same year that Henry Marshall was murdered as a result of a conspiracy involving then-Vice President Johnson, his aide Clifton Carter, and Mac Wallace. No charges were possible since all three men were by then deceased.
A few fingerprint identifiers have challenged Darby's identification. However, none of them has Darby's experience or credentials. The FBI, after having the prints for a year, verbally informed an attorney associated with the Wallace fingerprint project that the bureau had not found a match between Wallace's print and the sixth-floor print. The FBI issued no report and did not disclose who had examined the prints or what was involved in the review process. The researchers involved with the Wallace fingerprint identification were wholly unimpressed with the FBI's belated, undocumented claim. Students of the JFK case are aware of the FBI's awful, abysmal track record in dealing with evidence relating to the assassination. Even way back in 1964 one of the members of the Warren Commission complained the FBI had already rushed to judgment and that it didn't want to consider any alternative views. Within days, even hours, after the shooting, the FBI became obsessed with proving the assassination was the work of one man acting alone. On more than one occasion, FBI officials have been caught giving out false information about evidence relating to the JFK case, such as when the Dallas FBI office falsely claimed the Tague curb scar had been obliterated by rains and/or street cleaners. The FBI's crime lab has been rocked by serious charges of fraud and evidence tampering. Some of these charges have come from a highly regarded scientist who worked in the FBI's crime lab. Much more could be said about the FBI's performance on matters pertaining to the Kennedy assassination. For now suffice it to say that any FBI challenge to the fingerprint evidence deserves to be viewed skeptically from the outset, given the bureau's miserable track record on the JFK case.
the unidentified fingerprint from Box A from the sniper's nest is not Mac
Wallace's fingerprint, then whose is it? If nothing else, the Box A fingerprint
suggests a second person was in the sniper's nest. The print must have been
placed on the box no more than 24 hours before it was lifted by the police. As
mentioned, the print didn't belong to Oswald, nor to
any of his fellow employees, nor to any of the police personnel who searched
the sixth-floor window. It should be mentioned that several witnesses in
The Dillard and Powell Photographs
Based on an analysis of the Dillard and Powell photos of the sixth-floor window, the HSCA's photographic evidence panel concluded someone was moving boxes in the window less than two minutes after the shots were fired. Said the panel, "There is an apparent rearranging of boxes within 2 minutes after the last shot was fired at President Kennedy" (6 HSCA 109). The panel went into more detail in its report:
The boxes were moved during the time that elapsed between the Dillard and Powell photographs.
Since the precise positions of Dillard and Powell at the time of the photographs were unknown, it was not possible to calculate precisely the region within the sixth floor room that would have been visible to each photographer. In the Dillard photograph, the two to the left and right of the window frame appear to be in the full light of the Sun, with no shadows cast on them by the frame of the partially opened window. In the Powell photograph, it also appears that the boxes are in full sunlight, with no shadow cast on them by the window frame.
A simple trigonometric calculation shows that the two boxes at the left and right lie approximately 6 inches from the plane of the window (see appendix A). If full sunlight is falling on the additional boxes in question in the Powell photograph, they must also lie close to the plane of the window. For this reason, the panel concluded that the additional boxes visible in the Powell photograph were moved during the interval between the Dillard and Powell photographs. (6 HSCA 110-115)
Lone-gunman theorists and also some conspiracy theorists, including Stewart Galanor, reject the panel's finding. They argue that the Powell and Dillard photos simply show different boxes in the room, that because of the photos' perspectives they only seem to show box movement when in fact they're merely showing different boxes. Dale Myers argues his computer simulation proves the HSCA's conclusions about the photos are in error. Others argue the apparent box-movement effect in the Dillard and Powell photos has been duplicated in a reenactment, confirming the theory that the photos merely show different boxes seen from two different perspectives. Dr. Robert Hunt considered this argument and rejected it, although he spoke before the reported reenactment was performed. Said Dr. Hunt,
Mr. FITHIAN. I would like to ask the staff to put up JFK F-153. As I understand it, Doctor, this is a picture that was taken a few seconds after the shot; is that correct?
Dr. HUNT. I am not sure until I see the picture. Which one are you referring to?
Mr. FITHIAN. I believe that is the one of the---TSBD?
Dr. HUNT. Oh, yes, right. Yes; in answer to your question, that was taken a few seconds after the last shot was fired. at least that is Dillard's testimony to the warren commission, I believe.
Mr. FITHIAN. Now, directing your attention to that particular exhibit, the photograph in the area of the sixth floor window, the open window, there seems to be a change in the configuration of the boxes. How did the photo panel account for this?
Dr. HUNT. The change in configuration of the boxes with respect to what, with respect to another window view?
Mr. FITHIAN. No, with respect to other photos that you analyzed.
Dr. HUNT. OK. Probably the one most pertinent to that would be the exhibit which is showing next to it at the moment--I am not aware of the exhibit number for it--but that shows the same window, taken approximately one to two minutes after the first picture which we talked about, the one taken by Dillard on the right, the one by Powell on the left.
You are correct in perceiving that there is something which we could ascribe to a change in the configuration of the boxes.
For example, the picture on the right, we see only two boxes, one at the left of the window sill and just a corner of the one peeping up at the right of the window sill. Whereas, in the picture, the enlarged picture, for example, on the left, we see not just the two boxes; you can still see, for example, on the left there is the same small box at the left, there is the same corner peeping up at the right. But now we have two or three other boxes, apparently rising up in between them.
There are two possible explanations, I guess, for that, that the panel considered. One is that we are seeing boxes which are in the room, but because of our perspective, our line of sight, is different, we are seeing different boxes than were visible in the other picture.
The second explanation is that there has been physically a movement of the boxes in the room during the time which elapsed between the taking of those pictures.
Mr. FITHIAN. All right. Now there is no way that we can know which it is?
Dr. HUNT. There are ways of eliminating or narrowing down the possibilities between those two choices. For example, given the geometry at which you are viewing, and given the apparent sunlight on the boxes, you could probably guess how far into the room those boxes do lie.
For example, if you look at the two boxes which appear to have been introduced in the picture on the left, they appear to be in full sunlight, which means they must not lie too far inside the room because this was high noon, in November; the sun angle is simply not that low in Dallas at high noon in November to shine sunlight very deep into the room. So they can certainly not be too far behind the plane of the window; and that would therefore tend to rule out the possibility that we are looking at the box which lies in one position in the room and is simply tended to be viewed in different perspective from two different viewing points.
Mr. FITHIAN. You say it rules that out?
Dr. HUNT. It tends to rule it out, yes. It does not rule it out completely, because we lack what is usually referred to as the analytical information, from the position of the two photographers to precisely plot the positions of those boxes by stereoanalysis techniques.
Mr. FITHIAN. Well, if it generally tends to rule that out, then it seems this committee would be left with only one conclusion, and that is, that a box was actually moved.
Dr. HUNT. That would be my only personal conclusion, that somebody or something moved boxes around in that room during the time of taking of those two pictures. (4 HSCA 422-423)
An interesting footnote to the panel's finding of box movement in the window is the fact that in 1968 an FBI document came to light that says a witness at a window on an upper floor of a nearby building in Dealey Plaza told a Dallas attorney she saw "some boxes moving" in the sixth-floor window after the shooting. Additionally, law clerk Lillian Mooneyham, looking at the sixth-floor window from a nearby building, saw a man in the window three to five minutes after the assassination. Although Mrs. Mooneyham reported this to the FBI, she was not called as a witness by the Warren Commission.
Acoustical experts retained by the HSCA determined the Dallas police dictabelt recording (1) was made in Dealey Plaza during the assassination by a police motorcycle that had its radio mike stuck in the "on" position, (2) that it contained sound impulses that were caused by four shots, and (3) that one of the shots came from the grassy knoll, which was to the right and in front of the limousine during the shooting. The HSCA Report says the following on this issue:
In mid-September 1978, the
committee asked Weiss and Aschkenasy, the acoustical
analysts who had reviewed Barger's work, if they could go beyond what Barger
had done to determine with greater certainty if there had been a shot from the
grassy knoll. Weiss and Aschkenasy conceived an
analytical extension of Barger's work that might enable them to refine the
probability estimate. They studied
Once they had identified the echo-generating sources for a shot from the vicinity of the grassy knoll and a microphone located near the point indicated by Barger's tests, it was possible for Weiss and Aschkenasy to predict precisely what impulse sequences (sound fingerprints) would have been created by various specific shooter and microphone locations in 1963. (The major structures in Dealey Plaza in 1978 were located as they had been in 1963.) Weiss and Aschkenasy determined the time of sound travel for a series of sound triangles whose three points were shooter location, microphone location and echo-generating structure location. While the location of the structures would remain constant, the different combinations of shooter and microphone locations would each produce a unique sound travel pattern, or sound fingerprint. Using this procedure, Weiss and Aschkenasy could compare acoustical fingerprints for numerous precise points in the grassy knoll area with the segment identified by Barger on the dispatch tape as possibly reflecting a shot fired from the knoll.
Because Weiss and Aschkenasy could analytically construct what the impulse sequences would be at numerous specific shooter and microphone locations, they decided to look for a match to the 1963 police dispatch tape that correlated to within Ī1/1.000 of a second, as opposed to +-6/1.000) of a second, as Barger had done. By looking for a match with such precision, they considerably reduced the possibility that any match they found could have been caused by random or other noise, thus substantially reducing the percentage probability of an invalid match.
Weiss and Aschkenasy initially pinpointed a combination of shooter-microphone locations for which the early impulses in pattern three matched those on the dispatch tape quite well, although later impulses in the pattern did not. Similarly, they found other microphone locations for which later impulses matched those on the dispatch tape, while the earlier ones did not. They then realized that, a microphone mounted on a motorcycle or other vehicle would not have remained stationary during the period it was receiving the echoes. They computed that the entire impulse pattern or sequence of echoes they were analyzing on the dispatch tape occurred over approximately three-tenths of a second, during which time the motorcycle or other vehicle would have, at 11 miles per hour, traveled about five feet. By taking into account the movement of the vehicle. Weiss and Aschkenasy were able to find a sequence of impulses representing a shot from the grassy knoll in the reconstruction that matched both the early and late impulses on the dispatch tape.
Approximately 10 feet from the point on the grassy knoll that was picked as the shooter location in the 1978 reconstruction and four feet from a microphone location which, Barger found, recorded a shot that matched the dispatch tape within +-6/1,000 of a second, Weiss and Aschkenasy found a combination of shooter and microphone locations they needed to solve the problem. It represented the initial position of a microphone that would have received a series of impulses matching those on the dispatch tape to within +-1/1.000 of a second. The microphone would have been mounted on a vehicle that was moving along the motorcade route at 11 miles per hour.
Weiss and Aschkenasy
also considered the distortion that a windshield might cause to the sound
impulses received by a motorcycle. They reasoned that the noise from the
initial muzzle blast of a shot would be somewhat muted on the tape if it traveled
through the windshield to the microphone. Test firings conducted under the
auspices of the New York City Police Department confirmed this hypothesis.
Further, an examination of the dispatch tape reflected similar distortions on
shots one, two, and three, when the indicated positions of the motorcycle would
have placed the windshield between the shooter and the microphone.11
On shot four, Weiss and Aschkenasy
found no such distortion. The analysts' ability to predict the effect of the
windshield on the impulses found on the dispatch tape, and having their
predictions confirmed by the tape, indicated further that the microphone was
mounted on a motorcycle in
Since Weiss and Aschkenasy were able to obtain a match to within +-1/1,000 of a second, the probability that such a match could occur by random chance was slight. Specifically, they mathematically computed that, with a certainty factor of 95 percent or better, there was a shot fired at the Presidential limousine from the grassy knoll.
Barger independently reviewed the analysis performed by Weiss and Aschkenasy and concluded that their analytical procedures were correct. Barger and the staff at BBN also confirmed that there was a 95 percent chance that at the time of the assassination a noise as loud as a rifle shot was produced at the grassy knoll. When questioned about what could cause such a noise if it were not a shot, Barger noted it had to be something capable of causing a very loud noise--greater than a single firecracker. Further, given the echo patterns obtained, the noise had to have originated at the very spot behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll that had been identified, indicating that it could not have been a backfire from a motorcycle in the motorcade.
In addition, Barger emphasized, the first part of the sequence of impulses identified as a shot from the grassy knoll was marked by an N-wave, a characteristic impulse caused by a supersonic bullet. The N-wave, also referred to as a supersonic shock wave, travels faster than the noise of the muzzle blast of a gun and therefore arrives at a listening device such as a microphone ahead of the noise of a muzzle blast. The presence of the N-wave was, therefore, a significant additional indication that the third impulse on the police dispatch tape represented gunfire, and, in particular, a supersonic bullet. The weapon may well have been a rifle, since most pistols except for some such as a .44 magnum--fire subsonic bullets. The N-wave was further substantiation for a finding that the third impulse represented a shot fired in the direction of the President. Had the gun been discharged when aimed straight up or down, or away from the motorcade, no N-wave would have appeared. Of the impulse patterns on the dispatch tape that indicated shots from the book depository, those that would be expected to contain an N-wave, given the location of the vehicle's microphone, did so, further corroborating the conclusion that these impulses did represent supersonic bullets. (HSCA Report, pp. 72-74, emphasis added)
According to the lone-gunman theory, only three shots were fired. But the HSCA's acoustical experts determined the police dictabelt recording contained sound impulses that were caused by four shots, and that one of those shots came from the grassy knoll.
Defenders of the lone-gunman theory cite a critique of the HSCA's acoustical evidence that was done by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel. The HSCA's acoustical experts argued that the NAS panel did not refute their findings and that it failed to deal with evidence that supported those findings. Other experts, such as Dr. David Scheim and Dr. D. B. Thomas, have noted several omissions and errors in the NAS panel's arguments. Dr. Scheim, who holds a Ph.D. in math from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has said the following:
While the panel offered some valid
criticisms of the methodology used in the House acoustical studies, it
introduced complex and controversial assumptions and made several errors of its
own. In a letter of
The critical Weiss-Aschkenasy conclusion of a 95-percent probability of a grassy knoll shot was treated only in a sketchy three-page appendix [in the NAS panel's report] that made one outright error--there was only one degree, not two, of freedom associated with the position of the shooter along the grassy knoll fence. This appendix also recalculated the probability by subtracting degrees of freedom adjusted in the Weiss-Aschkenasy analysis from matches obtained, an arbitrary approximation to a complex mathematical calculation, akin to computing the volume of a cube as three by adding its dimensions. The appendix itself included the admission that this critical calculation was "possibly overconservative" and "may be unduly conservative." (Scheim, The Mafia Killed President Kennedy, London: Virgin Publishing, 1992, pp. 35-36, 431 n 120)
The Joseph Milteer Tape
Milteer was a wealthy, well-connected right-wing
extremist. Milteer was a leader in the right-wing
National States Rights Party and a regional director for the radical
Constitution Party. He associated with leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
A few months before the assassination, Milteer
contacted anti-Castro Cubans in the
Similarly, the Secret Service failed to
follow up fully on a threat in
SOMERSETT. I think
Kennedy is coming here November 18 to make some kind of speech. I don't know
what it is, but I imagine it will be on TV.
During the meeting at which the Miami
Police Department provided this transcript to the Secret Service, it also
advised the Secret Service that Milteer had been
involved with persons who professed a dislike for President Kennedy and were
suspected of having committed violent acts, including the bombing of a
Following the assassination, Somersett again met with Milteer. Milteer commented that things had gone as he had predicted. Somersett asked if Milteer actually had known in advance of the assassination or had just been guessing. Milteer asserted that he had been certain beforehand about the inevitability of the assassination. (HSCA Report, pp. 232-233)
theorists have strongly challenged both Milteer and
the informant Somersett. They dismiss Milteer's statements as demented, over-heated speculation,
noting that Milteer believed Kennedy had fifteen
look-alikes for security purposes. They also point to a few discrepancies
between Somersett's initial debriefing with the Miami
Police Department's Intelligence Unit and his later statement to the FBI. For
example, Somersett told the FBI that Milteer called him from
The impression I get from him [Milteer], I think the thing was set up to kill Mr. Kennedy in the South, in some southern state. There was no particular town picked out, it was just the opportunity of the town that would suit best when the proper time comes. I think that when this man Mr. Kennedy left Miami, it was published in the papers, where he would go, and I think that they just set this man up in Texas and had him kill him right there. Because Milteer is too much enthused over it, he discussed it too much before hand and after not to know something about it.
Furthermore, it should be noted that a Secret Service report (CE 762) shows that the Secret Service received information from an FBI source that reinforced Milteer's taped prediction and that supported Somersett's account. The report dealt with information that the Secret Service received from the FBI just seven days before the assassination. According to the report, an unnamed contact in the Ku Klux Klan said that during his travels around the country his sources had told him "that a militant group of the National States Rights Party plans to assassinate the President and other high-level officials" (see also Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much, New York: Carroll & Graf/Richard Gallen, 1992, pp. 550-551). As mentioned, Milteer was a leader in the National States Rights Party and was involved with other radical groups. He was certainly in a position to hear about a plot by radical right-wing militants to kill Kennedy, and the tape of his November 9 meeting with Somersett records that he was certain a hit on Kennedy was "in the working."
FBI Evidence Envelope
the files released by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) between
1994 and 1996 was an FBI evidence envelope (FBI Field Office Dallas
89-43-1A-122). Although the envelope was empty, the cover indicates it had
contained a 7.65 mm rifle shell that had been found in
The Bullet Shells from the Sixth-Floor Sniper's Window
Three bullet shells, or cartridge cases, were reportedly found near the sixth-floor sniper's window, from which Oswald allegedly fired at President Kennedy. These cases are Commission Exhibits 543, 544, and 545. According to the lone-gunman theory, these three shells were expended when Oswald supposedly fired three shots from the window. In other words, these three shells allegedly once contained and were used to fire the three shots of the lone-assassin scenario.
However, there is strong evidence that CE 543 was not, and could not have been, fired from Oswald's rifle on the day of the assassination. The only marks linking CE 543 to Oswald's rifle are marks from the rifle's magazine follower. According to Dr. Michael Kurtz and others, the case couldn't have received these marks from the magazine follower on the day of the assassination, because the last bullet in the clip must have been the unfired missile in the rifle's chamber (Kurtz, Crime of the Century, pp. 50-51). Dr. Kurtz also notes that CE 543 "lacks the characteristic indentation on the side made by the firing chamber of Oswald's rifle" (Crime of the Century, p. 51). Dr. E. Forrest Chapman studied the shell casings in 1973 and concluded (1) that CE 543 had most likely been dry loaded into a rifle, (2) that it had not been fired from the alleged murder weapon at the time of the shooting, and (3) that the indentation on the base of the case was characteristic only of a case that had been fired empty. Says Dr. Kurtz,
Dr. E. Forrest Chapman, forensic pathologist, who in 1973 was given access to the assassination materials in the National Archives, noted that Case 543 was probably "dry loaded" into a rifle. Since the dent [on the case] was too large for the case to have contained a bullet on November 22, it was never fired from Oswald's rifle. The empty case, however, for some unknown reason could have been loaded into a rifle, the trigger pulled, and the bolt operated. Dr. Chapman discovered this phenomenon through experiments of his own.
Dr. Chapman also noted that Case 543 had a deeper and more concave indentation on its base, at the primer, where the firing pin strikes the case. Only empty cases exhibit such characteristics. The FBI also reproduced this effect. Commission Exhibit 557 is a test cartridge case, fired empty from Oswald's rifle by the FBI for ballistics comparison purposes. It, too, contains the dent in the lip and deep primer impression similar to Case 543.
Thus, the evidence proves conclusively that Commission Exhibit 543 could not have been fired from Oswald's rifle. (Crime of the Century, p. 51, emphasis added)
Case 545 doesn't show any markings from the firing pin of Oswald's rifle. Therefore, the evidence proves only that both cases were loaded into the firing chamber of the alleged murder weapon, that Case 544 was ejected through the rifle's bolt action, but that Case 545 was not (Kurtz, Crime of the Century, pp. 51-52).
Photos of the limousine reveal there was a deep dent in the chrome above and slightly to the left of the rearview mirror. This could only have been caused by a bullet or by a sizable fragment traveling at a fairly high velocity. The FBI's Robert Frazier told the Warren Commission a fragment would have had to be traveling at a rather high velocity in order to cause the dent in the chrome (Warren Commission Report, p. 77). Obviously, if a bullet did the damage, the lone-gunman theory is false, since this would constitute a fourth shot. But, even if one assumes a fragment caused the dent, this still poses a serious problem for the single-shooter scenario. Why? Because the autopsy x-rays show no hole in Kennedy's skull that would have given a sizable fragment the necessary trajectory to strike the chrome above the rearview mirror. Also, according to the lone-gunman theory, the exit wound for the shot from behind was above the right ear. We can see in the Zapruder film that at the moment of the head shot, frame 312 (or Z312), the right side of Kennedy's head is facing almost directly toward Zapruder's camera--it's nearly in profile to the camera. In the next frame, blood and brain matter are seen to explode from a spot above and slightly forward of the right ear, near the right temple. The spray blows up and toward the camera. Clearly, no fragment exiting the skull from the identified exit wound on the right side of the head would have had any chance of striking the chrome above the mirror.
The Warren Commission would not commit itself on what caused the dent in the chrome above the windshield. The commission suggested the dent might have been present before the assassination, but the commission also made the implausible argument that either of the two fragments recovered from the limousine could have caused the dent (Warren Commission Report, p. 77). But fragments from the head shot would have had a difficult time even striking the windshield, much less the chrome above the rearview mirror. It should be noted the dent in the chrome was several inches above and to the right of the damage to the windshield. Dr. Canning, the HSCA's trajectory expert, observed that the vertical trajectory of fragments coming from the head did not line up with the damage to the windshield, although he felt the "directional" (horizontal) trajectory was in "reasonable" alignment. Canning said he didnít attempt to do an exact study on this issue but that he noted that the trajectory of the head-shot fragments and the windshield damage did not match in their slope alignment, that is, their vertical trajectories didn't line up (2 HSCA 200). If the rear head shot came from the sixth-floor window, the bullet would have been traveling at a downward angle of about 16 degrees. So it's no wonder Canning noted the vertical trajectory of the head-shot fragments to the windshield damage didn't line up. The vertical trajectory from the head shot to the dent in the chrome would have been even further out of alignment.
Perhaps realizing the implausibility of attributing the dent to either of the two head-shot fragments that were found in the limousine, the chief of the Secret Service, James Rowley, claimed the dent was made two years before the assassination, in November1961, during routine maintenance. However, as veteran researcher Tony Marsh has shown, photos of the limousine taken prior to the shooting prove there was no dent in the chrome before the assassination (see Marsh, "Best Witness: JFK's Limousine," The Assassination Chronicles, vol. 1, issue 4, Winter 1995). Marsh suggests the damage to the windshield and to the chrome above the mirror was made by a shot that was fired after the fatal head shot. Says Marsh,
Both major bullet fragments were found on the right side of the limousine in the front compartment. It appears logical to me that a ricocheting fragment landing on the right side of the front seat must have come from the left side of the limousine. JFK was never to the left of the midline, nor was Connally's trunk when he was hit in the back. But Connally had slumped into his wife's lap after he was shot and his wrist was to the left of the midline after Z-313. Thus, I believe that the damage to the limousine suggests that Connally's wrist was struck by a different bullet than the one which went through his chest.
This is a plausible theory. In any event, it's virtually certain the dent in the chrome could not have been caused by either of the head-shot fragments and therefore must have been made by an extra bullet or by a fragment from an extra bullet. And it's highly unlikely that the damage to the windshield could have been caused by either of the head-shot fragments. This damage, like the chrome dent, clearly indicates more than three shots were fired.
The Zapruder Film
The Zapruder film indicates at least four shots were fired, at approximately the following frames in the film: frames 140-155, frames 186-190, frames 224-238, frames 312-313. There are at least four noticeable blur episodes in the film. In a simulation to test the reaction of people holding cameras during gunfire, in each and every case the subjects jiggled their cameras upon hearing gunfire, even when they knew it was coming.
Robert Harris and Dr. Michael Stroscio have identified a fifth blur episode. Harris makes a strong case that a shot was fired at about frame 285 (or Z285). Harris points to several apparent reactions to gunfire by people in the film at about this time.
Nearly all researchers agree the Zapruder film shows indications of a shot prior to Z166. This shot most likely came at around Z140-145.
There is also nearly unanimous agreement that a shot was fired at around Z223-238. Some researchers argue two shots were fired during this time span, and they may be correct. In any event, there's no doubt at least one shot occurred during this period. At Z224 Connally's lapel flips up and his jacket inflates. Warren Commission apologists maintain this pinpoints the moment of impact for the alleged magic bullet of the single-bullet theory. At Z237-238 Connally's right shoulder suddenly drops by some 19 degrees, in only 1/18th of a second. At this same moment, his hair becomes disheveled and a pained expression appears on his face.
And, of course, there's the head shot at Z312-313. No one denies a shot occurred here. The question concerns the origin of the shot. As an explosion occurs in the right-front part of Kennedy's skull, his head and upper body snap violently backward and to the left. Naturally, this suggests a shot from the right front. Dr. Kurtz surveyed World War II footage of men being shot with rifles and noted that their bodies always fell in the same direction the bullet was traveling, so that if they were shot from the front, for example, their heads or bodies moved backward. Execution films show the same pattern of reaction.
Lone-gunman theorists have offered two theories to explain the backward head snap in the Zapruder film. One theory is that it was caused by a jet effect, that the right-frontal explosion seen in the film pushed Kennedy backward and to the left. The other theory is that the movement was the result of a neuromuscular reaction. Both theories are patently implausible. Even Dr. Sturdivan, who accepts the lone-gunman theory, implicitly rejected the jet-effect theory when he testified before the HSCA, noting that only minimal propulsion would have come from the right-frontal explosion, and that the minimal propulsion would have pushed Kennedy directly to his left, not backward and to the left. Physicists and engineers have noted the jet-effect theory is implausible. As for the neuromuscular reaction theory, Dr. Robert Zacharko, a professor of neuroscience, says the theory is invalid and that it's based on a flawed understanding of how the brain works. Clearly, the most logical, common-sense explanation for the backward head snap would seem to be that it was caused by a shot from the front.
But could any bullet's impact have propelled Kennedy's body so forcefully? Experts are divided on this question, though most answer the question in the negative. Some researchers suggest the Zapruder film has been altered and that in the original version the backward head snap was not nearly as rapid. Eyewitness accounts seem to support this suggestion. Whatever the case, no one doubts that a bullet struck Kennedy's head at Z312.
So, that gives us three shots. But what about the Z186-190 shot? Nearly all lone-gunman theorists now deny a shot was fired during this period. They must do so because they've committed themselves to the view that the alleged magic-bullet hit occurred at Z223-224. Since they also acknowledge shots at Z140-160 and Z312-313, they can't allow for another shot, no matter how persuasive the evidence for it might be. They can only allow for three shots, and a Z186-190 shot would constitute a fourth shot.
As a matter of fact, there are pretty clear indications in the Zapruder film that a shot was fired at about Z186-190. We now know that at one point the Warren Commission itself intended to conclude that a shot was fired at around Z190. The commission only changed its mind when it realized the view from the sixth-floor window would have been blocked or obscured from Z166-210. The HSCA's photographic evidence panel concluded a shot was fired at about Z188:
. . . the second shot hit . . . at about Zapruder frame 188-191. The [photographic] panel noted that at approximately Zapruder frame 200 the President's movements suddenly freeze, as his right hand seemed to stop abruptly in the midst of a waving motion. Then, during frames 200-202, his head moves rapidly from right to left. The sudden interruption of the President's hand-waving motion, coupled with his rapid head movements, was considered by the photographic panel as evidence of President Kennedy's reaction to some "severe external stimulus." (HSCA Report 82)
Based on its jiggle or blur analysis of the Zapruder film, the HSCA's photographic evidence panel determined that the strong blur episode between frames 189 and 197 indicated a shot was fired "between frames 181 and 192." After correlating this blur episode with other evidence, the panel concluded the shot was fired just before frame 190. Phil Willis said he snapped slide 5 of his slides in reaction to the sound of a shot. The HSCA confirmed the accuracy of Willis's recollection of the timing.
An early Secret Service analysis of the Zapruder film concluded a shot was fired at about Z199. Don Olson and Ralph Turner, in an article published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, note that Kennedy's reaction to being shot becomes noticeable at about Z200, just as the HSCA photographic evidence panel concluded (Olson and Turner, "Photographic Evidence and the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy," Journal of Forensic Sciences, volume 16, October, 1971, p. 417).
Strong evidence that Kennedy was in fact hit at about Z190 comes not only from his reaction at about Z200 but also from the fact that he is plainly and clearly reacting to a wound by Z224-225. The logical conclusion is that this reaction is a continuation of the reaction that begins at about Z200. According to the lone-gunman theory, Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same bullet at Z223-224. This is highly doubtful. However, even if this theory is correct, it is virtually certain that Kennedy's Z224-225 reaction could not possibly have been in response to a hit at Z224.
Kennedy is clearly reacting to a wound by Z224-225. In fact, we know from the 4/22/64 Warren Commission memorandum that when a group of wound ballistics experts, the autopsy doctors, and commission staffers reviewed the Zapruder film frame by frame, with the aid of enlargements, the consensus was that Kennedy "had been definitely hit by frames 224-225" (p. 1, emphasis added). It should be noted that this group included Dr. F. W. Light, the deputy chief of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, and Dr. Alfred G. Olivier, the chief of the Wound Ballistics Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal. The group further noted that the Z224-225 reaction may have begun as early as Z199, and also at around Z204-205:
The reaction shown in frames 224-225 may have started at an earlier point--possibly as early as frame 199 (where there appears to be some jerkiness in his [JFK's] movement) or, with a higher degree of possibility, at frames 204-205 (where his right elbow appears to be raised to an artificially high position). (Warren Commission memorandum, 4/22/64, p. 1)
do we see in Z225? JFK is clearly in distress. His face is contorted and his
hands are in front of his chest, right hand above left. Both his forearms are
bent inward and his hands are moving up toward his throat or mouth--they are
definitely moving upward. Again, it's virtually certain these movements could
not have been in response to a Z223-224 hit. Humans just can't accomplish that
much movement in a split-second, even involuntarily. Dr. Robert Piziali, an expert on injuries, admitted under cross
examination at the 1992 American Bar Association mock Oswald trial that if
Kennedy began to react to a wound at Z225, this would mean the bullet could
have struck him no later than Z221. Dr. Piziali
explained there would have been a delay of four frames between the bullet's
impact and Kennedy's reaction to it with his right hand (see trial transcript
in Harrison Livingstone, Killing the
A Brief Look at Physical Evidence of the Lone-Gunman Theory
Some may ask, "Isn't there solid physical evidence that supports the lone-gunman position?" Let's take a quick look. Lone-gunman theorists can point out that the fragments from the limousine were positively identified as having been fired from Oswald's rifle. But what does this really prove? It doesn't prove who fired the rifle. It doesn't prove when the bullet that produced the fragments was fired. For that matter, there is some question about the origin of those fragments, partly because, amazingly, the FBI made no attempt to establish a legal chain of evidence for them until several weeks after the assassination. And what are we to make of the fragments in light of the very strong evidence that Kennedy's skull was not struck by the kind of ammunition that Oswald allegedly used? Also, several experts have concluded two bullets struck Kennedy's head, one from behind and one from the front. Dozens of bullet fragments were never recovered from Kennedy's skull. So even if we assume the fragments recovered from the limousine did in fact penetrate the president's skull, this doesn't prove there was only one head shot. As mentioned, the bullet fragmentation on the autopsy x-rays strongly indicates JFK's head was hit by frangible, high-velocity ammunition.
Warren Commission supporters can point to the fact that the
Warren Commission supporters also cite the fact that the handwriting on the envelope, money order, and order form used to purchase the alleged murder weapon has been identified by handwriting experts as Oswald's writing. But we now have ample proof that the handwriting could have been forged. For years lone-gunman theorists strained to explain the conspiratorial-sounding "Dear Mr. Hunt" note signed "Lee Harvey Oswald." Three highly regarded handwriting experts concluded the writing on the note was Oswald's. The HSCA's fingerprint experts couldn't reach a firm conclusion on the note, but they noted several similarities between the writing on the note and Oswald's writing. Oswald's own wife, Marina, identified the handwriting as her husband's handwriting. Yet, a few years ago a former Soviet KGB agent claimed the note was forged by the KGB to incriminate Howard Hunt, the ultra-conservative billionaire oil tycoon who made no secret of his hatred for JFK. If the handwriting for the "Dear Mr. Hunt" note could have been forged, the handwriting on the envelope, order form, and money order that were used to buy the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle most certainly could have been forged as well. Questions abound about who really ordered the rifle and who picked it up. The rifle was shipped to an "A. Hidell" at Oswald's post office box address. However, the FBI acknowledged in a 6/3/64 memo that Oswald had not listed any "Hidell" to receive mail from his post office box (CE 2585, Question 12), and there is no hard evidence that Oswald ever picked up the rifle from the post office (see Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, New York: Vintage Books edition, 1992, pp. 49-50; cf. Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press edition, 1992, pp. 137-141, 412-414). Furthermore, Oswald's time sheet shows he was at work when the money order was purchased.
I cite these these examples to show that often times physical evidence can't be considered in isolation from other evidence, that the meaning of physical evidence is not always clear or beyond dispute. Sometimes physical evidence is compelling and its meaning self-evident, but sometimes it isn't compelling and sometimes it's meaning is open to widely varying interpretation.
The physical evidence that lone-gunman theorists cite relates almost exclusively to Oswald's guilt as a gunman who shot and killed President Kennedy. Would proving that Oswald fired three shots and killed Kennedy prove he was the only gunman and/or that there was no conspiracy? No, it wouldn't.
As mentioned, some items of physical evidence are more impressive and telling than others. Are all of the items of physical evidence of conspiracy discussed herein of equal value? No, they aren't. For example, I think the evidence from the x-rays regarding the 6.5 mm object and the bullet fragmentation is much stronger than the evidence of box movement from the Dillard and Powell photos.
The case for conspiracy finds powerful support from eyewitness accounts, but it also finds very strong support from the physical evidence.
© 2002 Michael T. Griffith