Presumed Guilty: How and Why the Warren Commission Framed Lee Harvey Oswald

Chapter 4

The President's Wounds


There is evidence independent of the spectrographic analyses that reasonably, although not conclusively, disassociates Oswald's rifle from the wounds inflicted on President Kennedy. Certain aspects of the medical evidence strongly indicate that the President was {not} struck by bullets of the type recovered and traced back to the C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano purchased by Oswald. The implication of this evidence as well as the evidence relating to Governor Connally's wounds is that the identifiable bullet recovered at Parkland Hospital and the bullet fragments found in the limousine played no role in the wounding of either victim, and came to rest in their location of discovery by some means other than that alleged by the Commission. More precisely, the significance of the medical evidence is that it forces the conclusion that the items of physical evidence that implicate Oswald in the murder--his rifle, the spent cartridge cases, and the bullets--were deliberately "planted" for the purpose of implicating Oswald, although none played a role in the actual shooting.

We must recognize that the medical evidence in this case suffers severe limitations, to which almost infinite discussion could be and has been devoted.[1] Because the scope of this study does not include an examination of the official investigation into the President's wounds, including the autopsy and other examinations, it must suffice here to say that most of the medical evidence available today is not credible and precludes a positive reconstruction of the exact manner in which President Kennedy was killed. There is currently enough solid information to say with some precision what did {not} happen to the President, and it may, in fact, never be possible to say more than that.

Respecting the limits of the medical evidence, I will make no effort to explain exactly how President Kennedy was shot, from which directions, by how many bullets, and so on. Instead, I will focus on one aspect of the wounds, namely, the type of ammunition that produced them. This is the only aspect of the medical evidence that relates to the question of Oswald's guilt, assuming, of course, that at least some of the assassination shots originated from the rear. The question to be answered is this: Could the President's wounds have been caused by bullets of the type recovered and traced to Oswald's rifle?

The Head Wounds

The wounds to President Kennedy's head can be briefly described as follows: There was a 15 by 6 mm. entrance wound situated at the rear top of the head. Most of the right half of the brain had been blasted away by a bullet. Numerous tiny metal fragments were depicted on X-rays as being located in the right-frontal portion of the head. Much of the skull and scalp in the right frontal area had also been blasted away, creating a large, irregular defect from which lacerated brain tissue oozed. Many lacerations of the scalp and severe fractures of the skull accompanied this large defect. It can be said with reasonable certainty that {a} bullet struck the President's head from the rear. The evidence does {not} establish that it was the rear-entering bullet that produced the explosive wound to the right-front of the head, nor is there currently any evidence to preclude the possibility that the head was in fact struck by two separate bullets from different directions.

The Warren Commission made no serious effort to establish the type of ammunition that produced the head wounds, and it failed to establish {any} connection between those wounds and the ammunition allegedly used by Oswald. The Commission postulates that Oswald fired military ammunition. Such bullets are constructed of a lead core chemically hardened and inserted into a jacket of copper alloy.[2] The principal reason for this type of construction is to insure good penetrating ability by inhibiting bullet deformation. Hard metal-jacketed military bullets can be deformed upon striking resistant tissue such as bone. In such a case, the bullet is liable to become mangled and distorted in shape. When such bullets undergo fragmentation, it is rarely extensive. Typically, the jacket may separate from the core which, in turn, may break up into relatively large chunks, depending on the nature of the resistant tissue and the force with which it was struck.[3]

The autopsy pathologists concluded that one bullet struck the head, entering through the small rear entrance wound, and explosively exiting through the gaping defect in the right-frontal area of the head. The conclusion that the rear wound was one of entrance was justified on the basis of the information available. However, the pathologists could present no evidence to substantiate the "conclusion" that the gaping defect was an exit wound. The unmistakable inference of the testimony of Dr. James Humes, the chief autopsy pathologist, is that the doctors "concluded" this was an exit wound solely because the only other external head wound was one of entrance (2H352). This reasoning is in total disregard of any practicable medico-legal standards, and is worthless without tangible evidence to buttress it.

Given the unsupportable premise that one bullet caused all the head wounds, Assistant Counsel Arlen Specter was able to adduce worthless testimony from Dr. Humes about the type of ammunition involved. First he asked Dr. Humes whether a "dumdum" bullet struck the head:

Dr. Humes: I believe these were not dumdum bullets, Mr. Specter. A dumdum is a term that has been used to describe various missiles which have a common characteristic of fragmenting extensively upon striking.

A: . . Had [the entrance wound on the head] been inflicted by a dumdum bullet, I would anticipate that it would not have anything near the regular contour and outline which it had. I would also anticipate that the skull would have been much more extensively disrupted, and not have, as was evident in this case, a defect which quite closely corresponded to the overlying skin defect because that type of missile would fragment on contact and be much more disruptive at this point. (2H356)

Thus, the clean characteristics of the entrance hole led Dr. Humes to conclude that it was not caused by a "dumdum" bullet. What such a bullet would produce upon striking the skull, according to Humes, is in essence what appeared on the right side of the President's head and was arbitrarily designated an exit wound. The Commission never raised the proper question: Was the gaping head defect really the "exit" wound or could it have been another entrance, caused by a "dumdum"?

The Commission members continued this line of questioning. First Mr. McCloy queried about soft-nose ammunition having caused {only} the entrance wound:

Dr. Humes: From the characteristics of this wound, Mr. McCloy, I would believe it must have had a very firm head rather than a soft head.

Mr. McCloy: Steel jacketed, would you say, copper jacketed bullet?

Dr. Humes: I believe more likely a jacketed bullet.

Allen Dulles joined in:

Mr. Dulles: Believing that we know the type of bullet that was usable in this gun ["Oswald's" rifle], would this be the type of wound that might result from that kind of bullet?

Dr. Humes: I believe so, sir. (2H357)

During his testimony, Col. Pierre Finck, who participated in the autopsy as a consultant to Dr. Humes, was asked about the nature of the bullet's fragmentation within the head. Commissioner Gerald Ford, apparently feeling that he had asked one question too many, cut Finck off at the vital point and did not permit him to elaborate:

Mr. Ford: Is it typical to find only a limited number of fragments as you apparently did in this case?

Dr. Finck: {This depends to a great deal on the type of ammunition used}. There are many types of bullets, jacketed, not- jacketed, pointed, hollow-nosed, hollow- points, flatnose, roundnose, all these different shapes will have a different influence on the pattern of the wound and the degree of fragmentation.

Mr. Ford: That is all. (2H384; emphasis added)

The Report does not cite any of the above-quoted testimony. Instead, it discusses ballistics which, it asserts:

showed that the rifle and bullets identified above were capable of producing the President's head wound. The Wound Ballistics Branch . . . at Edgewood Arsenal, Md., conducted an extensive series of experiments to test the effect of . . . the type [of bullet] found on Governor Connally's stretcher and in the Presidential limousine, fired from the C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found in the Depository. . . . One series of tests, performed on reconstructed inert human skulls, demonstrated that the President's head wound could have been caused by the rifle and bullets fired by the assassin from the sixth floor window. (R87)

How could such tests "demonstrate that the President's head wound could have been caused by" bullets fired from a rifle traceable to Oswald? The tests, in fact, do {not} suggest {any} correlation between the head wounds and "Oswald's" rifle. When analyzed, they prove to be nothing more than incompetent, meaningless, hence invalid simulations.

Used for these tests were old skulls, hard and brittle, having long lost the natural moisteners of living bone. These test skulls were filled and covered with a 20 percent gelatin solution, a standard simulant for body tissues (5H87). Not simulated in the experiments was a vital determining factor--the scalp. As the "expert" who conducted the tests admitted, the scalp of a living person would serve to retain or hold together the bones of the cranium upon impact of a missile (5H89). Obviously, this reconstructed "head" could not possibly respond to a bullet's strike as would a normal, living head.

Ten skulls were fired upon with "Oswald's" rifle under conditions duplicating only those under which Oswald allegedly fired. Only one skull was subsequently shown to the Commission; the bullet that struck it "blew out the right side of the reconstructed skull in a manner very similar to the head wound of the President" (R87). This persuaded the "expert" to conclude--contrary to his beliefs nurtured by prior experience--"that the type of head wounds that the President received could be done by this type of bullet" (R87).

The pictures of this test exhibit printed by the Commission show a gelatin-filled skull with the bone of the entire right side missing (17H854). However, the gelatin underlying this missing bone is completely intact, so utterly undisturbed that it still bears the various minute impressions of the skull that once covered it. This gelatin was supposed to simulate the tissues within the skull (5H87). Yet those tissues, according to the autopsy report, were "lacerated," "disrupted," and "extensively lacerated" (16H981, 983). Obviously, even upon its entering the bony vault of the skull, the test bullet was not capable of producing the extensive damage attributed to it by the Commission. As for the disruption of the skull on the test exhibit, almost {any} force could have dislodged pieces of the brittle skull not restrained by scalp. As forensic pathologist Dr. John Nichols confirmed to me, even a blow with a hammer could have produced the damage shown on the test skull.[4]

The Commission adds a further note, again unjustly incriminating Oswald. Two large fragments of the bullet that struck the test skull were recovered, a portion of the copper jacket near the base, and a sizable piece of the lead core. The Commission had its "expert" compare these fragments with the two similar fragments that were found in the front seat of the presidential limousine and identifiable with "Oswald's" rifle. The result of this comparison, as presented in the Report, is seemingly to associate these traceable fragments with the head wounds. The expert is quoted as follows:

the recovered fragments were very similar to the ones recovered on the front seat and the floor of the car.

This to me, indicates that those fragments did come from the bullet that wounded the President in the head. (R87)

These are the last words of the Report's discussion of the head wounds. Since no qualifying language follows, the reader is left with the impression that the "expert opinion" is valid in associating the identifiable fragments with the wounds. Nowhere in the Report do we find the simple fact that the fragmentation of both the test bullet and the found bullet pieces is not an exclusive occurrence, as implied. The break-up observed is consistent with the normal fragmentation pattern of full-jacketed military bullets. When such bullets break apart, the core usually separates from the jacket.[5] The Commission could have produced the same effect if it fired the bullet through a piece of masonite.

Thus, for all its claims, the Commission was able to present no credible evidence associating bullets from "Oswald's" rifle, or even military bullets in general, with the President's head wounds.

The nature of the bullet fragmentation within the President's head actually disassociates military bullets from the head wounds, and strongly suggests that some type of sporting ammunition struck the head.

One essential fact about the entrance wound in the head was omitted from both the autopsy report and the pathologists' testimonies. It came to light in the following passage from a report released by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in January 1969. (In February 1968, Clark secretly convened a panel of three forensic pathologists and a radiologist to study and report on the photographs and X rays taken of the President's body during the autopsy. [This photographic material has been withheld from the public for a variety of reasons.] Clark kept the report of his panel secret until January 1969, when he released it as part of the Justice Department's legal argument against New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's attempt to have the pictures and X rays produced at the conspiracy trial of Clay Shaw.) The passage reads:

Also there is, embedded in the outer table of the skull close to the lower edge of the [entrance] hole, a large metallic fragment which . . . lies 25 mm. to the right of the midline. This fragment . . . is round and measures 6.5 mm. in diameter.[6]

The "Clark Panel" is describing a 6.5 mm. piece of metal that separated from the bullet upon entering the skull and became embedded in the skull at the bottom portion of the entrance wound. This, the key to the type of ammunition causing the wound, vitiates Dr. Humes's previously cited testimony that a "jacketed bullet" probably caused this entrance wound.

The bullet from which was shaved this substantial fragment upon entrance could {not} have been covered with a hard metal jacket such as copper alloy. Such a fragment is, in fact, a not infrequent occurrence from a {lead} bullet. Rowland Long, in his book "The Physician and the Law," speaks of the penetration of lead bullets into the skull and asserts: "Not infrequently a collar shaped fragment of lead is shaved off around the wound of entrance and is found embedded in the surrounding scalp tissues."[7] Criminologist LeMoyne Snyder describes a similar phenomenon in his book "Homicide Investigation."[8] Forensic pathologist Halpert Fillinger explained to me the principles that rule out full-jacketed ammunition and suggest a lead bullet:

You can appreciate the fact that a jacketed projectile is going to leave very little on the [bone] margins because it's basically a hardened jacket, and it's designed so that it will not scrape off when it goes through a steel barrel. One can appreciate the fact that going through bone, which is not as hard as steel, may etch or scratch it, but it's not going to peel off much metal. In contrast to this a softer projectile might very well leave little metallic residues around the margins.[9]

The Commission's case against Oswald requires full-jacketed ammunition to have been used to inflict the wounds of President Kennedy. The presence of the 6.5 mm. metallic fragment in the margin of the skull entrance wound eliminates the possibility that a full-jacketed bullet entered through this hole. Such a fragment located at that site is indicative of a lead or soft-nosed bullet.

Most of the right hemisphere of the President's brain had been shot away. The intact portions of the right side were extensively disrupted, with laceration and fragmentation (see 2H356; The "Clark Panel" Report, p. 8; R541, 544). However, when seen and photographed at the autopsy, the brain was missing more tissue than had been blown out directly from the force of the missile. The Zapruder film shows brain tissue oozing out of the gaping skull defect subsequent to the impact of the fatal bullet. Similarly, the Parkland doctors who viewed the President shortly after he suffered this wound reported that brain matter was slowly oozing out and becoming detached (R519, 521, 523, 530).

The loss of a substantial quantity of brain tissue becomes significant when we consider Dr. Humes's testimony that the X rays showed "30 or 40 tiny dustlike particle fragments" of metal in the President's head (2H353). Humes cautioned that the fragments that appeared to be "the size of dust particles" (2H359) on the X rays would actually have been smaller because "X ray pictures . . . have a tendency to magnify these minute fragments somewhat in size" (2H353). Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman saw the X rays during the autopsy and provided a similar description: " . . . the whole head looked like a little mass of stars, there must have been 30, 40 lights where these little pieces were so minute that they couldn't be reached" (2H100).

The Clark Panel adds some details about the head fragments. It reports that the majority of these fragments were located "anteriorly and superiorly" (toward the front and top of the head), and that none were visible on the left side of the brain or below a horizontal plane through the anterior floor of the skull.[10] With such minute fragments scattered through the brain, we can infer that an indeterminable amount of metal was evacuated from the head as brain tissue oozed out subsequent to the President's head being struck. From this it follows that (a) there were originally more fragments in the head than are shown in the X rays and, (b) the pattern of distribution of these fragments as illustrated by the X rays may not precisely represent the original distribution except to indicate that the majority were situated toward the front of the head.

The only solid observation that can be made on the basis of fragmentation depicted in the head X rays is that {a} bullet striking the head fragmented extensively, leaving pieces of metal, for the most part "the size of dust particles," concentrated toward the frontal portion of the brain. This type of fragmentation is not consistent with the type of full-jacketed military ammunition that the Commission says was used. The construction and composition of full-jacketed bullets obviates any such massive break-up. As noted previously, when military ammunition fragments, it is usually in such a manner that the core separates from the jacket. The core may undergo further break-up, although its metallic composition does not permit the creation of numerous dustlike particles.[11] Dr. Fillinger tells me that the fragments described in the President's brain were not characteristic of a military round, and, while he makes no absolute statement, he has expressed his skepticism that they actually came from such a round. He feels that the break-up of the bullet is more consistent with a hunting round.[12]

In addition to this extensive brain damage and the accompanying bullet fragmentation, a good deal of scalp and skull in the right frontal and parietal area of the President's head had been blasted away by the bullet, creating a large, irregular defect. Associated with this gaping wound was fracturing and fragmentation of the skull so extensive that the contours of the head were "grossly distorted."[13] Dr. Humes reported that in peeling the scalp away from the skull around the margins of the head defect, pieces of skull would come "apart in our hands very easily" or fall to the table (2H354). Dr. Humes stated also that "radiating at various points from the large defect were multiple crisscrossing fractures of the skull which extended in several directions" (2H351). The Clark Panel describes multiple fractures of the skull "bilaterally"--on {both} sides extending into the base of the skull.[14] Information recorded in contemporary autopsy notes indicates that the vomer (a bone in the nose) was crushed, and that there was a fracture through the floor of the globe of the right eye (17H46). Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, assistant to Dr. Humes at the autopsy, has confirmed to a private researcher that a large area of skull damage was present in the mid- and low-temple region, although none of these fractures had broken the skin.[15]

The size and extent of the gaping defect, and the associated fracturing and fragmentation of the skull, are indicative of a high-velocity bullet's having struck the head to produce this damage. Dr. Fillinger has expressed to me his strong feeling that the extensive fragmentation of the skull is the consequence of a high-velocity round.[16] He stated that the presence of such massive fracturing means that "there is a tremendous amount of force applied to the skull to produce all these fractures. . . . This has been pretty well fragmented, as a matter of fact," he told me, "and again, it speaks for some sort of high-velocity round."[17]

The gaping defect and accompanying extensive fragmentation of the skull are not consistent with having been produced by the type of ammunition the Commission alleges was used which, despite contrary claims, was of "medium" velocity.

The Commission asserts that the fatal shot was fired at a distance of 270 feet (R585). Although the Report gives the average striking velocity of the bullets fired from "Oswald's" rifle at other distances as measured during the wound ballistics tests, it does not record the velocity for the head shot tests at the proper distance. At 210 feet, the average striking velocity was 1,858 feet per second (R584). Dr. Fillinger told me that he would consider an impact velocity of 2,000 f.p.s. "medium."[18] Even Dr. Malcolm Perry of Parkland Hospital testified that he considered the Mannlicher-Carcano "a medium velocity weapon" (3H389). FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier called the velocity "low" (3H414) although this would appear more of a comparative evaluation than an absolute statement, since bullets can be fired as slowly as 800 f.p.s. or as fast as 4,100 f.p.s.

Because there was great damage to the head and extensive bullet fragmentation in the brain, Dr. Fillinger was doubtful that the Mannlicher-Carcano could have produced these wounds. "To produce this kind of effect," he told me, "you have to have a very high-velocity projectile, and the Carcano will not stand very high bolt pressures."[19] The massive defect corresponds perfectly to the characteristics that Humes described in reference to bullets that "have a common characteristic of fragmenting extensively upon striking," and that would have "extensively disrupted" the skull at the point of impact (2H356). Such a bullet would most likely be that which is used for "varminting." Bullets used in varmint hunting must be fired at very high velocities ranging upward from 2,700 f.p.s., and are designed so that they will smash apart immediately on impact. They commonly leave pinhead-sized fragments scattered throughout the tissues.[20]

Without consideration of the question of whether the damage to the President's head was the consequence of a strike by one or two bullets, it can be said with a reasonable degree of certainty that in no instance are any of the head wounds associable with full-jacketed military ammunition of the type attributed to Oswald. The medical evidence relating to the head wounds is thus exculpatory of Oswald, for his guilt hinges on the assumption that he fired full-jacketed military bullets from the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found in the Depository and linked to him.

The Neck and Upper Thorax Wounds

The autopsy report concludes that a bullet struck the President in the upper thoracic region of his back and penetrated his body on a slightly downward angle, exiting through the lower part of the anterior neck. This theory has long been rendered incredible in numerous critical analyses.[21] However, one piece of information in particular prevents anyone, whether or not he believes the Warren Report, from asserting that a bullet went through the neck in the manner described in the autopsy report. In order to substantiate the assumption of a continuous bullet track, that track must be dissected at the autopsy. According to Drs. Fillinger and Wecht, there is no way to positively identify a bullet path other than by dissecting it--taking it apart and following it through every fraction of an inch of the tissue it penetrates.[22] In his New Orleans testimony, Colonel Finck stated explicitly, under oath, that the putative bullet track in the President's neck was {not} dissected.[23] This failure to dissect is, according to Dr. Fillinger, "the most critical thing of the whole autopsy."[24] Without such dissection, {no one,} including the autopsy pathologists, can be in a position to assert that one bullet made a continuous path through the President's neck.

There is one piece of information concerning the neck and upper thorax wounds that establishes beyond any doubt that (1) the particular bullet traced to Oswald's rifle and alleged by the Commission to have penetrated the President's neck could not have produced the damage attributed to it, and (2) military ammunition of the general type attributed to Oswald could not have caused these wounds. This information came to light in the report of the Clark Panel.

Describing antero-posterior X-ray views of the lower neck region, the Panel Report declared, "Also several small metallic fragments are present in this region."[25] This observation by the Panel vitiates Dr. Humes's sworn testimony to the Commission that the X rays revealed no metallic fragments in the neck region (2H361).

Detailed information concerning these fragments is scant. Of their number, the Clark Panel says only that there are "several"; of their size, that they are "small." My requests to the Panel for more specific designations have gone unanswered. The radiologist on the Panel, Dr. Russell Morgan, has told me that the exact "region" in which these fragments appeared on the films was just lateral to the tip of the right transverse process of the seventh cervical vertebra, which is located at the very base of the neck.[26] However, the back-to-front (or front-to- back) distribution of these fragments cannot be determined because the inventory of X rays includes no lateral views of the neck. As I learned from Dr. Fillinger, antero-posterior X-ray views can be very deceiving in depicting the front-to-back distribution of X-ray densities. As a case in point, he showed me X rays of a boy shot in the chest with shotgun pellets. The "A-P" view seemed to show the tiny "shot" particles in the same plane within the chest. A lateral X ray, however, revealed that the particles were actually scattered throughout the chest at various levels from front to back.[27] Thus, all we can know about the distribution of the fragments in the President's neck is that they were at the level of the seventh cervical vertebra.

Nevertheless, the knowledge that there were metallic fragments in the neck, regardless of their number, size, or distribution, is sufficient to eliminate the possibility that military ammunition of the type attributed to Oswald was responsible for the neck wounds.

As previously noted, full-jacketed military bullets are constructed so that they will not fragment in soft tissue. Even if a bone in the neck region were struck (the official story is that {no} bone in President Kennedy's neck region was struck), it is unlikely that this military ammunition of medium velocity could have produced "several small" fragments and no large ones. (There was no point on the body from which a large fragment could have exited. The 5 mm. wound on the anterior neck, alleged by the autopsy pathologists and the Commission to have been an exit wound, was entirely too small and regular to have been caused by a large section of a bullet that had become deformed as a result of fragmenting.)

That neither the head nor the neck wounds are attributable to the ammunition Oswald allegedly used would seem to provide persuasive evidence that Oswald played no part in the shooting of the President. In fact, the evidence of the neck fragments is clearly exculpatory, as is illustrated in an actual case presented by LeMoyne Snyder in "Homicide Investigation."[28] Snyder relates the story of a hunter found dead from a rifle wound in the chest. Investigation disclosed only two persons who could have shot the man--one armed with a military rifle firing jacketed ammunition, the other with a .30-calibre Winchester firing soft-nosed hunting bullets. According to Snyder, "The problem was to try to determine whether the victim had been killed by jacketed ammunition or a soft-nosed bullet." In reference to an X ray of the victim's chest, Snyder writes: "Notice the numerous flecks of lead scattered through the tissues, strongly indicating that the wound was caused by soft-nosed ammunition." The parallel to the assassination is striking, for the fragments scattered in the President's neck must "strongly indicate . . . soft-nosed ammunition," although the government's suspect allegedly fired jacketed bullets.

Snyder's case ends justly; the guilty person is identified by the medical evidence, the innocent is exculpated. Tests using the two suspect weapons demonstrated that the military ammunition would have left no metal in the chest, while the soft-nosed bullet would have scattered numerous tiny fragments, proving "that it was soft-nosed ammunition and not a jacketed bullet which killed the man." In denying the Commission knowledge of the neck fragments, Dr. Humes denied Oswald the possible proof of his innocence.

The presence of these fragments in the President's neck further disassociates Oswald from the crime because it establishes beyond any doubt that the specific bullet alleged by the Commission to have penetrated the neck could {not} have produced the damage attributed to it. The Report never directly identifies a particular bullet as having caused the neck wounds. However, it clearly implies that the bullet that wounded Governor Connally had first penetrated the President's neck. It asserts that a whole bullet traceable to the Mannlicher- Carcano was found on Governor Connally's stretcher at Parkland Hospital (R79, 81), and expresses the belief that this bullet caused the Governor's wounds. Obviously, according to the theory that one bullet produced all the nonfatal wounds to both men, it must be the Commission's belief that the President's neck was penetrated by the "stretcher bullet," Commission Exhibit 399.

CE 399 could not have produced the President's neck wounds, for the simple reason that it is unfragmented. Several factors destroy the possibility that the bullet merely brushed some fragments from its surface in passing through the neck, thereby leaving the metallic pieces observed on X rays. The loss of fragments that might almost insignificantly have reduced the bullet's mass would certainly have created some irregularity of its surface. Yet an irregular missile of substantial size could not have produced the small round wound in the throat upon exiting (see 6H5, 15).

In his testimony at the New Orleans conspiracy trial, FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier described the condition of CE 399 and the circumstances under which it could have deposited metal fragments:

Mr. Frazier: In my opinion there was no jacketing missing, no discernible amount of jacket missing [from the bullet].

Mr. Oser: . . . If such a pellet as Exhibit 399 is shot . . . during its travel what could possibly remove the copper jacketing in order for the lead contained therein to be deposited into a particular target?

Mr. Frazier: The bullet would have to strike some object with sufficient force to rupture the jacket either from striking head-on or if it were tumbling the striking of the side, or the other alternative would be if the bullet tumbled in flight and wound up in a base-first attitude, then the lead would be exposed at the point of impact.

Mr. Oser: In Commission Exhibit 399, you found the copper jacketing intact, I believe you said?

Mr. Frazier: Yes.[29]

Because none of CE 399's jacket was missing, the neck fragments could not possibly have come from that area of the bullet. The only other means by which 399 could have lost fragments (since the jacket was not ruptured) is if it somehow began tumbling in the neck, presenting its base to some hard surface and scraping off fragments. Had 399 been tumbling in this manner, it would have produced a massive and lacerated exit wound, which certainly did not occur on the President's neck.

Thus, there is no conceivable way in which 399 could have deposited metallic fragments in the President's neck.

Although the putative bullet track through the neck was never dissected, on the night of the autopsy the pathologists were able to insert metal "probes" into the back wound to a depth of about two inches.[30] No path could be probed beyond this point and the pathologists speculated that the bullet that entered the back might somehow have stopped short after this modest penetration and fallen out of the wound prior to the autopsy.[31] Although the pathologists abandoned this theory when they were confronted with the anterior neck wound to be accounted for, others, including the FBI and some critics of the Warren Report, have suggested that the "stretcher" bullet, CE 399, penetrated the President's back a very short distance and dropped out of the wound at Parkland Hospital.[32] This theory seems to offer an alternative by which a bullet fired from Oswald's rifle might be connected with the President's wounds. However, to postulate that CE 399 or any other bullet of the type allegedly fired by Oswald penetrated two inches of flesh and suddenly stopped short is to beg for the ludicrous; as a theory, it is unworthy of serious consideration. I base this assertion on the following considerations brought out to me by Richard Bernabei, a fellow researcher who has made substantial contributions to the medical- ballistics aspects of this case.

General Principles

A cartridge, or round of ammunition, is composed of a primer, a cartridge case, powder, and a bullet. The primer, a metal cup containing a detonatable mixture, fits into the base of the cartridge case, which is loaded with the powder. The bullet fits into the neck of the cartridge case. To fire the bullet, the cartridge is placed in the chamber of the firearm, immediately behind the barrel, with its base resting against a solid support which, in a bolt-operated weapon, is called the bolt face. When the trigger is pulled a firing pin strikes a swift, hard blow into the primer, detonating the primer mixture. The flames from the resulting explosion ignite the powder, causing a rapid combustion whose force propels the bullet forward through the barrel (R547).

Because the bullet is propelled by the pressure of the expanding gases in the cartridge case, the bullet's velocity will vary with the amount of pressure generated. This pressure not only expands the sides of the case, but also drives the base back against the bolt face.[33] The latter action flattens out the base, and the degree of flattening plus the resultant depth of the firing-pin indentation provide a very fair means of estimating whether the pressure was normal, high, or low, and thus whether the bullet was fired at its standard velocity.[34]


According to the Warren Report, three empty cartridge cases were found near the alleged "assassin's window," all of which were traceable to "Oswald's" rifle owing to the microscopic marks left on the bases (R79, 84-85). The presence of these expended cases weighed heavily in the Commission's conclusion that three shots were fired. The Report states: "The most convincing evidence relating to the number of shots was provided by the presence . . . of three spent cartridges" (R110). Without making comment as to the soundness of this reasoning and assuming for argument's sake that the Carcano was used, I claim that it logically follows that bullet 399, if it is a legitimate assassination bullet, was fired from one of the spent cases.


Bullets fired from "Oswald's" rifle into flesh simulants exhibited good penetrating power, passing easily through more than 72 cm. of gelatin. These bullets struck a simulated neck from a distance of 180 feet, traveling at approximately 1,904 f.p.s. and exiting from the simulant at 1,779 f.p.s. (R581-82). As ballistics expert Charles Dickey confirmed to me, bullets moving at such speeds would not stop short in muscle, as is demanded by the theory placing CE 399 in the President's back.[35]

The only way a bullet such as CE 399 could have made a short penetration into muscle at a distance of 50 yards is if its velocity had somehow been significantly retarded. Owing to the lack of physical mitigants, the only explanation for such a tremendous slowing down is a "short- charge" cartridge, whose explosive power is far less than standard.[36] Dickey told me that this would be an extremely unusual occurrence and that, despite the age of the alleged ammunition, the propellants should have remained stable.[37] In all the many times this ammunition has been test-fired subsequent to the assassination, not one "short charge" has been reported.[38]


As mentioned previously, a key indication of the velocity at which a bullet was fired is found by the degree of flattening of the cartridge base and the depth of the primer indentation. Dick Bernabei had told me that, from his own examination of the three found cartridge cases and two others fired from the rifle for comparison purposes, the primer indentations on all the cases were identical, proving that they had all been fired at the same velocity. To check this, I had the National Archives prepare a photo illustrating the five bases all under similar lighting. This picture confirmed Dick's observations, indicating that the bullets fired from the suspect cases were fired at their normal velocity.

Thus, from the unlikely to the impossible, neither bullet 399 nor any other bullet of that type fired at standard velocity from the Mannlicher-Carcano could have lodged in the soft tissues of the President's back.


Throughout this chapter, I have endeavored to answer the question: Could the President's wounds have been caused by bullets of the type recovered and traced to Oswald's rifle? The answer to that question, to the most reasonably certain degree allowed by the limitations of the medical evidence, is No. The nature of the bullet fragmentation observed within the President's wounds strongly indicates that he was {not} struck by military ammunition of the type attributed to Oswald's rifle. In every case, it is likely that the President's wounds were produced by some type of sporting ammunition. It is possible to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific bullet, CE 399, traced to Oswald's rifle, did {not} penetrate the President's neck, for there is no way in which that bullet could have deposited the metallic fragments located in the neck region. Before any conclusions can be drawn concerning whether CE 399 played any role in the shooting, we must first ask whether it is possible for CE 399 to have produced the wounds of Governor Connally.


[1] The best published discussions of the limitations of the medical evidence may be found in the following sources: Weisberg, "Whitewash," chap. 13; Meagher, chap. 5; Cyril Wecht, "A Critique of President Kennedy's Autopsy," in Thompson, pp. 278-84. The most definitive expose of the medical evidence is contained in a three- part book by Weisberg called "Post Mortem." This is a copyrighted study based on Weisberg's exhaustive research over a period of about eight years; however, it is not commercially published.

[2] "Winchester Handbook," p. 121, and A. Lucas, pp. 241-42.

[3] Rowland H. Long, "The Physician and the Law" (New York, 1968), p. 239.

[4] Author's interview with Dr. John Nichols on April 16, 1970.

[5] Author's taped interview with Dr. Halpert Fillinger on January 14, 1970. (Hereinafter referred to as "Fillinger Interview.") See also Long, p. 239.

[6] Report of the Ramsey Clark panel, p. 11.

[7] R. Long, p. 231. This phenomenon is also described and illustrated in Thomas Gonzales, Milton Helpern, Morgan Vance, and Charles Umberger, "Legal Medicine, Pathology and Toxicology" (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1954), pp. 396 and 423.

[8] LeMoyne Snyder, "Homicide Investigation" (Springfield, Mass., 1953), p. 132.

[9] Fillinger Interview.

[10] Clark Panel Report, pp. 10-11.

[11] The lead used in most military projecticles is an alloy of antimony with small quantities of arsenic and bismuth added for hardening to resist expansion. See Lucas, pp. 241-42.

[12] Fillinger Interview.

[13] Clark Panel Report, p. 7.

[14] Ibid., p. 10.

[15] Thompson, p. 110.

[16] Fillinger Interview.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] "Winchester Handbook," p. 123; C. E. Hagie, "The American Rifle for Hunting and Target Shooting" (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1946), pp. 69, 73, 83.

The possibility that a frangible bullet produced the massive head wound was first suggested by Vincent Salandria in an article that appeared in "Liberation" magazine, March 1965, p. 32. The specification of a varminting bullet was first introduced to me by Dick Bernabei, who has done much admirable and worthwhile work on the medical/ballistics aspects of the case.

[21] See Weisberg, "Whitewash," pp. 178-86; Meagher, pp. 139-59; David Welsh and David Lifton, "A Counter-Theory: The Case For Three Assassins," "Ramparts," January 1967, section II: "The Bullet in the Back." Much of the original research can be found in Vincent Salandria, "The Warren Report," "Liberation," March 1965, pp. 14- 22, Part I: A Philadelphia Lawyer Analyzes the President's Back and Neck Wounds.

[22] Fillinger Interview, and Thompson, p. 50.

[23] Transcript of court proceedings of February 24, 1969, in "State of Louisiana v. Clay L. Shaw," p. 115. (Hereinafter referred to as "Finck 2/24/69 testimony.")

[24] Fillinger Interview.

[25] Clark Panel Report, p. 13.

[26] Letter to the author from Dr. Russell Morgan, dated November 12, 1969.

[27] Fillinger Interview.

[28] This case and the accompanying illustrations can be found in LeMoyne Snyder, pp. 135-39.

[29] Frazier 2/21/69 testimony, pp. 159-60.

[30] See CD 7, p. 284; 2H93; Thompson, p. 167.

[31] See CD 7, p. 284, 2H367.

[32] See the first FBI report on the assassination, CD 1, and the Supplemental Report, dated January 13, 1964; Thompson, pp. 165-70.

[33] Sir Sydney Smith and Frederick Fiddes, "Forensic Medicine" (London: J. and A. Churchill, Ltd., 1955), p. 174.

[34] Major Sir Gerald Burrard, "The Identification of Firearms and Forensic Ballistics" (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1951), p. 51. The scheme I use in the text is adapted from this book, p. 52.

[35] Author's taped interview with Charles Dickey at Frankford Arsenal. July 16, 1968. (Hereinafter referred to as "Dickey Interview.")

[36] Thompson, pp. 167-68.

[37] Dickey Interview.

[38] E.G., see R193 and "International Surgery" 50, no. 6 (December 1968): p. 529.