Excerpts from testimony of Alfred G. Olivier, DVM to Rockefeller Commission, April 18, 1975. Transcript of testimony taken beginning at page 21 of the testimony. Dr. Olivier, (A.) a wound ballistics scientist, is being questioned by Robert Olsen. (Q.)
Q. Can you describe for us very briefly the kinds of studies that you have been engaged in over these 18 years? Describe for us briefly, if you will, what kinds of studies you have made of the reactions of animal bodies or human bodies to high velocity bullets being fired into the various portions of those bodies?
A. Animals are used for -- goats are the experimental animal of choice, and also there is less public empathy with a goat than there is with other types of experimental animals. And you need something fairly large approaching a human. Goats have been used for years. And in the course of those studies one thing we had noted -- people say a gun has great knockdown power. So we tried to see which weapons had the best knockdown power. So in examining goats that were shot with various weapons we found out that no small arm as we know it, shoulder fired weapon, has knockdown power. As many goats fell toward the weapon as fell away, or fell straight down. And we looked into it a little further as to what is happening. Well, when they are hit in the central nervous system, the head, the spinal cord, it apparently sends impulses down the system, non-regulated impulses. And what happens is, an animal -- and it doesn't matter whether they are anesthetized or unanesthetized -- an animal shot in the head, the legs fly up, the bullet passes through, and all of a sudden you see this reaction of the front legs coming up and the hind legs swinging out. Naturally in a timeframe it takes place in fractions of a second, so fast that you wouldn't see it with the naked eye, you would merely see the animal fall, but on a high speed motion picture you can see the process.
Q. What is your opinion, based upon the expertise that you have acquired in these 18 years at the Edgewood Arsenal in wound ballistics, with respect to the question of the direction from which the bullet came that struck the President in the head?
A. Well, the President in 313, the head appears to have moved slightly forward from the previous frame. Now, I say appears, because unless you measured this precisely you don't know. But it appears to have moved slightly.
And this would not be inconsistent with the momentum of the bullet being transferred to the head. Whereas I said a bullet cannot knock a person down or move a body in any violent way, it could conceivably move the head a little bit. We fired at human skulls filled with gelatin sitting on the table, and they would roll off the table. And this apparent side movement of the head is in the correct direction if the bullet came from the book depository.
Q. That is, from the rear of the President?
A. From the rear of the President.
Q. Now, then, what can you tell us with respect to the subsequent action of the President's head and body after that initial apparent slight movement forward?
A. There could be two reasons for it. One reason, there is a jet of blood and brain material from the head, some bone seemed to fly up in the air, but the bulk of it appears to fly forward and maybe slightly to the right. This gives an indication that that is possibly in the direction that the bullet exited from the skull.
Q. Now, was there any movement of the President's head and body associated with that?
A. That material going in that direction would have a tendency as a result of this jet effect to push the head in the other direction. This was demonstrated by Louis Alvarez in California several years ago by shooting melons. When you could get a jet of honeydew melon going out the front, the melon would roll toward the gun, showing that there is some movement from this jet effect.
Q. That also a moderate movement?
A. That would be moderate, yes. Now, most of the movement you see of the President moving backwards and his body moving sideward I believe is a neuromuscular reaction.
Another factor that could be involved is acceleration of the car. I have no idea of when the car started to accelerate. But at any rate, it is typical of animals or humans struck on the head to have a violent muscular reaction to it. And this is what is appears to me. Certainly the bullet didn't knock him backwards and sideways. This was, I think a neuromuscular reaction.
Q. Let me ask you this, Doctor Olivier. Approximately how many test firings have you been associated with and an observer to at the Arsenal where the firing has been done into a live animal?
A. In the thousands -- some done by myself, or as the years went by, and I went up to a supervisory position, then under my supervision.
Q. And in approximately how many, can you tell us, instances has there been a firing into the head of such an animal? A. Not nearly as many. The goat head is not a good model for the human. The brain is a pea brain compared to the large brain in the human. But we did do some studies deliberately to see this neuromuscular reaction firing into goat heads.
Q. On those occasions when there has been such a firing into the goat's head, did you observe a vigorous, violent action of the head from the impact of the bullet itself?
A. In the particular movies I was thinking of that we made to show the neuromuscular reaction, unfortunately the head was restrained, so you could not see the movement of the head. You could see the violent movement of the legs. But no, you couldn't see the movement of the head. It couldn't move, it was restrained.
Q. Have there been any instances in which you have done firings into the head?
A. We have done firings into human skulls filled with gelatin and coated with gelatin, and we have even put goat skin on it to simulate the human scalp.
Q. Have you been able to observe the nature of the movement of the skulls?
A. The skulls that we shot invariably rolled away from the gun. And this was a reason for this, that you didn't get any jet effect, because the gelatin that we used was 20 percent gelatin, this was our simulant for tissue. We also used it as a simulant for the brain.
There is one bad thing about that. If you want to see this movement, the gelatin is too elastic, it recovers, in other words, any gelatin that expands out comes back like a rubber band. So it didn't fly loose from the skull to get a jet effect.
Q. You mean such as brain tissue might?
Q. Have you done firings into other portions of animals, live animals, other than the head?
A. Oh, yes.
Q. Have you ever seen any jet effect?
A. Jet effect, moving the body?
A. No, because for years we used to document the direction in which an animal fell -- and the number was something like 2,000 animals and it ended up, as many fell away from the gun as fell toward the gun, and a goodly number fell straight down. There was absolutely no -- you can say possibly maybe a jet effect was pushing some of them toward the gun, or it could have been a muscular reaction.
Q. Have you ever seen an instance in which an animal body, from the impact of the bullet itself, thrust violently in the direction away from the gunner?
Q. Do you have an opinion, then, based upon your work in this field over the years, as to whether President Kennedy's body would have moved in the fashion that it did after the fatal shot in the head, that movement being a consequence of the impact of the bullet?
A. As a result of the momentum imparted to the body by the bullet?
A. No, it wouldn't.
Q. Are you saying --
A. The President weights a lot more than a 100 pound goat, and if a bullet wouldn't move a 100 pound goat it isn't going to move the President. This just doesn't happen.
[end excerpts from Olivier testimony]