THE DENTED BULLET SHELL:
HARD EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY IN THE JFK ASSASSINATION?
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Could the dented bullet shell (CE 543) that was reportedly found next to the sniper's window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building (TSBD) have been used to fire a bullet on 22 November 1963, i.e., the day of the assassination? This is a crucial question. Why? Because if that cartridge case couldn't have been used to fire a bullet during the assassination, then there must have been more than one gunman. According to ballistics and firearms expert Howard Donahue, the dented shell could not have fired a bullet, as Bonar Menninger reports:
It was true that three spent Carcano shells were found on the floor of the Book Depository. . . . Yet one of the shells was dented and showed numerous marks from the carrier, the large spring in the Carcano clip that pushed the bullet up to the chamber. Donahue did not believe this dented shell could have been used to fire a bullet that day. The gun would not have functioned properly. (Mortal Error, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991, p. 114)
As mentioned, three shells were found in the sniper's nest, from which the alleged lone gunman fired. But if one of those shells could not have been used to fire a bullet during the shooting, then the sixth-floor gunman could have only fired two shots. However, it's certain that at least three shots were fired at President Kennedy. The single-assassin theory demands that the alleged lone gunman fired three shots. In other words, if the dented shell could not have been used to fire a bullet at President Kennedy, then there must have been more than one gunman.
Gerald Posner, author of the book Case Closed, says the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) proved the dented shell could have been dented this badly when it was ejected, and therefore that it could have been used to fire a bullet on the day of the assassination:
Another shell [of the three found on the sixth floor] was dented on the rim, raising doubts that it could have been fired from a rifle in that condition. In experiments by the House Select Committee, rapid firing of the Carcano resulted in some shells being dented in the exact same location upon ejection (HSCA, Vol. 1, pp. 435, 454, 534). (Case Closed, New York: Random House, 1992, p. 270)
I asked Howard Donahue about Posner's assertion. Donahue was a court-certified firearms expert and a world-class marksman. He was invited to participate in the famous 1967 CBS rifle test and achieved the best score of the simulation. He testified in several cases as an expert witness on firearms issues. Here is what Donahue said about Posner's claim (all emphasis is original):
Dear Mike: Sept. 11, 1996
Concerning the case with the damaged lip. Posner claims it could have held a projectile at that time. Let me explain something about Posner. He will tell you anything to make a point. There were no shells dented in that manner by the HSCA. I will refer you to Professor Thompson's book, Six Seconds in Dallas, page 144, exhibit no. 543. Dr. Thompson discovered this case had been fired (dry fired) at least three times. He also tried to dent the cases by throwing them against a wall, to no avail. Just to prove this, I am enclosing a fired 6.5 mm Carcano case. Throw it around any way you wish and try to dent it. These cases are very strong. It could have only been dented by feeding the case into the breech of the gun with great force. This would be from the clip. . . .
In closing, I have never seen a case dented like this. Dr. Thompson never saw any cases so deformed. So Posner says the HSCA had several empties dented like these???
Thanks for your interestóplease keep in touch.
Howard Donahue, Firearms Examiner
British researcher Chris Mills likewise has concluded the dented shell could not have been used to fire a bullet during the assassination, as a result of his own experiments with a Carcano rifle. I quote from an e-mail message Mills sent to me on this subject:
Ian Griggs has forwarded a posting which you wrote for the jfk.sharegroup. In this you discuss the dented shell casing.
Ian forwarded this on to me because of my recent experiments with my own Mannlicher Carcano. Quite by accident I recently dented a shell in exactly the same manner as that which is shown in the photographs showing the shell purportedly found on the sixth floor.
My M/C [Mannlicher-Carcano rifle] is deactivated and I was experimenting with empty shells. The very first one produced the dent on the rim. I had to repeat the operation about 60 more times before the results were reproduced.
But the damage was exactly the same. It seems that when using a hull that has previously been fired, the lip of the case expands slightly and can catch on a lip below the barrel opening in the breech. This can only happen with an empty case that has already been fired and even then only occasionally.
This means that at least one of the cartridge cases found on 11.22.63 was not fired from that window.
In a subsequent message, Mills elaborated on his statement that one of the cartridge cases found in the sixth-floor sniper's nest could not have been fired from the window:
One of the cases [of the three reportedly removed from the sniper's nest] was found with an inward facing dent on the lip of the casing. This could not have happened before a missile left the shell as the dent would preclude the shell actually holding the bullet. It must have occurred at some time after this particular shell was fired.
Several researchers have tried to duplicate the damage by standing on the case, throwing it against walls, etc., but to no avail. The case cannot be similarly damaged by loading a live round into the chamber either, as it is protected and guided into the breech by the bullet itself.
What I found, by accident, is that similar damage can be caused by loading an empty case into the weapon. It appeared to me that the more times this was attempted, the more likely the damage was to occur. This led me to the apparent conclusion that unless the person in the 6th floor fired the weapon, ejected the shell, picked it up and then reloaded it (a pointless activity, as I'm sure you will agree), this particular case had been fired at some earlier time, then reloaded empty, probably several times. I consider that this is what caused the damage.
This left me wondering why (a) practice with an empty shell case? and (b) why leave an extra case behind?
Question A: At first I thought it may be to practice with the weapon but I guess that would be just as effective without a shell case in. I now think it more likely that the empty case was fed through several times in order that it could be matched (by scratch marks on its surface) to the M/C, whether or not the original bullet was really fired from that weapon.
Which brings me to Question B: As I said in my last letter, if you plant a missile which is supposed to have come from the murder weapon, you must have a shell casing to go with it at the murder scene. If not, more missiles may turn up than cases found. Hence the dumped case, whoever did it being unaware of the damage to its lip.
Dr. Michael Kurtz says there's no doubt that CE 543, i.e., the dented shell, could not have fired a bullet on the day of the assassination, and, moreover, that it could not have been fired from the rifle that Oswald allegedly used:
The third cartridge case, Commission Exhibit 543, contained a dent in the opening so large that it could not have held a bullet in it. . . .
In a letter to the Warren Commission of 2 June
1964, J. Edgar Hoover noted that Commission Exhibit 543 (FBI Number C6), the
case with the dent, had "three sets of marks on the base of this cartridge
case which were not found [on the other casings]." The case, according to
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 was too large for the case to have contained a bullet on 22 November, it was never fired from Oswald's rifle. The empty case, however, for some unknown reason cold 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 the 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, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982, pp. 50-51, emphasis added)
Based on Donahue's and Mills' and Kurtz's research, the dented shell would appear to be hard evidence that more than one gunman fired at President Kennedy, and hence that there was a conspiracy. However, a few lone-gunman theorists insist they have similarly dented Carcano shells and that they were able to use those shells to fire bullets. To my knowledge, these single-assassin theorists did not videotape their experiments, so there is no proof of their claims. The HSCA experiments, which supposedly produced a number of similarly dented shells that were able to fire bullets, weren't filmed, either.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:† Michael
T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance
University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from
American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from
Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force.† He
also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of
Civil War Studies from