The Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) each independently determined that the SBT was valid. Their findings differ as to the precise timing of the SBT shot, but agree that that is what happened on November 22, 1963. Their SBT in a nutshell is this: in order for Lee Oswald to be the SBT assassin of JFK, one bullet must have gone through both John Kennedy and Governor John Connally, who was riding in front of JFK in the limousine and who was also wounded. The timing restraints for the shooting sequence as imposed by the Zapruder film (Z-film) dictate that one shot must have missed the limousine entirely, one bullet must have hit JFK in the head, and the remaining bullet must have caused all of the other wounds. For Oswald (or anyone else) to be the SBT assassin, that one bullet, CE-399, commonly referred to as the "magic bullet," must have entered JFK's back, traversed his neck, and exited at the throat. The bullet must then have entered John
Connally's back and traversed his torso, shattering a large portion of his fifth rib where it then exited beneath the right nipple. CE-399 then must have entered the dorsal side of Connally's right wrist, cracked his radius bone and exited through the palmar side of the wrist. Lastly, it must have entered Connally's left thigh, then dislodged itself, to be recovered at Parkland Hospital on an emergency room stretcher. An incredible journey to be sure. But is it an impossible one?
Some of hurdles the SBT must successfully overcome are: can a shot from the Texas School Book Depository sixth floor "sniper's perch" hit JFK in the back, and if so, at what points along Elm St.? Are there any temporary obstructions? Does the trajectory from the "sniper's nest" line up through both men? Could CE-399 have done the job and remain in near perfect condition? The holes in the back of JFK's clothing are at or below the level of the throat wound of exit. How can a missile hit that low and still emerge from JFK's throat if the shot came from high above and behind?
The focus of this essay will be very narrow. It will deal with the question of whether or not the "low" location of the bullet holes in JFK's shirt and coat create an insurmountable hurdle, and thus destroy the SBT. If the low clothing holes are an accurate indicator of the location of JFK's back wound, then under that scenario, the missile clearly entered too low to exit atKennedy's throat and still hit Connally. The SBT would crumble, conspiracy thus proven. What evidence, then, must we sort through to get to the crux of the issue?
There are 6 sources at our disposal relative to determining the location of the back wound as it relates to the clothing holes. They are:
1. The location of the back wound as described in the autopsy report filed by J. J. Humes, Pierre A. Finck, and "J" Thornton Boswell.
2. The photographs of the back wound taken during the autopsy.
3. Eyewitness testimony.
4. The HSCA determination of the back wound location.
5. The location of the bullet holes in JFK's clothing.
6. The photographs taken during the Dallas motorcade that show the orientation of JFK's clothing and posture.
Let us now examine each of these sources in turn.
1. Of the back wound location, the autopsy report states: "This wound is measured to be 14 cm. from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process". This back wound location is useless as far as any reconstruction is concerned for the simple reason that both anatomic reference points it uses are mobile. Thus, the wound location could vary depending upon the orientation of those two mobile points to each other. Further, those two points vary in orientation from person to person. The autopsy report does not definitively describe the location of the back wound; hence, the back wound could be as low as the neck wound.
2. The autopsy photographs of the back wound show it to be high on the back. Exactly how high is debatable, as the manner in which the body is positioned in the photographs distorts the perspective of where the wound would appear relative to Kennedy's posture at the time he was shot. In the photographs, JFK's body has been rolled onto its left side. Gloved hands are clearly lifting the right shoulder off the autopsy table, thus torquing the torso.
These photographs are also useless in determining an exact back wound location in relation to a vertebra as the vertebrae are not visible in the extant photographs. It would seem from those photographs that the back wound could be above the neck wound.
Unfortunately, the autopsy photographs do not settle the back wound location issue. The back wound could still be as low as the neck wound.
3. The limits of space, combined with the clear and convincing photographic evidence yet to come, obviate the need to elaborate on all of the eyewitness testimony. This testimony is both contradictory and subject to interpretation. Further, my research indicates that the difference between the impact point of a "smoothly oriented" jacket shot and a "bunched up" jacket shot is little more than two inches. The reader is invited to contact me via e-mail if he or she is curious as to how I arrived at the aforementioned figure. That essay, explaining in detail my methodology, is not yet finished. The overall difference between the "low" and the "high" back wound location, I believe, is a very small distance, indeed. The available eyewitness testimony describing the back wound is vague and imprecise as to a specific anatomic location we can pinpoint and is therefore of little more help than the autopsy report. That is not to say, however, that the following eyewitness testimony is necessarily deficient. Rather, I believe the problem is a combination of the generally accepted notion that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable type of evidence, the quagmire of semantics, and the small overall difference in location at issue.
Special Agent Glen Bennett rode in the Secret Service follow-up car on 11-22-63: "I saw a shot hit the Boss about 4 inches down from the right shoulder".
"About" 4 inches? Give or take an inch? Where does Bennett start the shoulder? Bennett's testimony does not help locate the wound with specificity.
From the transcript of Secret Service agent Clint Hill's Warren Commission testimony on the subject:
Representative BOGGS: Did you see any other wound other than the head wound?
Mr. HILL: Yes, sir; I saw an opening in the back, about 6 inches below the neckline to the right-hand side of the spinal column.
Where does Clint Hill start the "neckline?" "About" 6 inches below the neckline? Give or take an inch? Up or down? Again, no specificity.
From the transcript of Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman's Warren Commission testimony on the subject:
Mr. SPECTER: All right. What other wounds, if any, did you notice on the President?
Mr. KELLERMAN: The other wound that I noticed was on his shoulder.
Mr. SPECTER: Which shoulder.
Mr. KELLERMAN: Right shoulder.
Mr. SPECTER: And was it--what was its general position with respect to the breadth of the back?
Mr. KELLERMAN: Right straight.
Mr. SPECTER. No. Upper shoulder, lower shoulder; how far below the lower neckline would you say?
Mr. KELLERMAN. The upper neckline, sir, in that large muscle between the shoulder and the neck, just below it.
Although cryptic, Kellerman appears to be placing the wound high on the back at the border of the shoulder and neck. Again, we are left to generate in our imagination a mental picture of exactly where that point is.
From the transcript of Secret Service agent William Greer's Warren Commission testimony on the subject:
Mr. SPECTER: Approximately where in the President's back was the bullet hole?
Mr. GREER: It was, to the best of my recollection it was, back here, just in the soft part of that shoulder.
Mr. SPECTER: Indicating the upper right shoulder area?
Mr. GREER: Upper right, yes.
Again, we have no firm anatomic orientation upon which to hang our hat.
FBI agents James F. Sibert and Francis X. O'Neill attended the autopsy of John Kennedy and submitted a report, part of which follows:
"During the latter stages of the autopsy, Dr. Humes located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle of the spinal column.
This opening was probed by Dr. Humes with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. Further probing determined that the distance traveled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger".
Sibert and O'Neill state "...a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right..." Again we face the same problem: where do Sibert and O'Neill start the shoulder? Oddly, they don't list a measurement indicating how far below the "shoulders" that hole was located. This testimony fails to provide a specific anatomic point of orientation.
The death certificate, signed by the President's physician, Admiral George C. Burkley, describes the wound as follows:
"A second wound occurred in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra[T3]".
(I list the Death Certificate as eyewitness testimony for the reason that Admiral Burkley attended the autopsy of John Kennedy but did not actively participate.)
Notice that Admiral Burkley said "about" T3. "About" what? About one vertebra? Up or down the spine one vertebra? Two vertebrae, perhaps?
Note also that the vertebrae are not visible in the autopsy photos. The only
way to precisely correlate the back wound inshoot with a specific vertebra
without exposing the spine (which the autopsists did not do) is to palpate the
vertebrae and count your way down the spine. I have not seen any
testimony to the fact that either Humes, Finck, or Boswell palpated the spine
that night. Burkley either guessed at the T3 location or was furnished a
guess by an autopsist who neglected to include an anatomic description of
that specificity in the final autopsy report.
I long cited the testimony of various eyewitnesses to argue that the wound may have been too low to comport with the SBT trajectory. However, closer study of the issue as a whole has shown me that the eyewitness testimony does not settle the issue.
Go to Part Two of Essay
Article and graphics © 1999 John Hunt, Jr.