TEN REASONS I REJECT THE SINGLE-BULLET THEORY
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
If the single-bullet theory (SBT) is wrong, then more than one gunman must have been firing at President Kennedy. This was why Arlen Specter, a staff attorney for the Warren Commission (WC), formulated the theory, namely, to avoid having to conclude that more than one shooter was involved in the assassination. This is also why the theory is so controversial. The lone-gunman scenario stands or falls on the SBT.
What is the SBT? In a nutshell, the theory says that a bullet, known officially as CE 399, struck Kennedy in the back, transited his neck without leaving any metal fragments whatsoever, exited his neck, hit Governor John Connally near his right armpit, tore through his chest, smashing rib bone in the process, exited his chest, struck his right wrist and shattered a tough radius bone in the wrist, exited the wrist, and then stuck itself halfway into Connally's left thigh. Yet, amazingly, after supposedly doing all this damage, CE 399 emerged with its lands and grooves intact, with no damage whatsoever to its nose, and with no more than 3-4 grains lost from its substance. The only damage to the bullet is at its base, where there is deformation that is not even visible unless viewed from certain angles. It is no wonder critics have dubbed this bullet the "magic bullet."
The SBT is unlikely on its face. It is even more unlikely when one studies it more closely. Here are ten reasons I reject the SBT:
1. The SBT requires that President Kennedy was leaning markedly forward when the infamous "magic bullet" struck him, yet the available photographic evidence provides no support for this assumption. NOVA's computer simulation of the SBT has Kennedy leaning about 25 degrees forward. In the NOVA documentary, Dr. Michael Baden gives us an idea of just how far forward Kennedy would have had to lean in order for the SBT's vertical trajectory to be possible—Dr. Baden leans considerably far forward, much more so than we see Kennedy leaning in any extant photo or film. Even in Dale Myers' computer "reconstruction" of the SBT, Myers has his JFK model leaning so far forward that his entire back is off the rear seat. However, no photo or film shows Kennedy in any such position during the time frame for the first hit. In the Zapruder film we see Kennedy sitting comfortably in his seat before he disappears from the camera's view as the limousine drives behind the freeway sign.
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 that the autopsy photos of the back showed the wound was about 2 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 timeframe 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 appears 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 that 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.
2. Jackie Kennedy's reaction in frame 223 of the Zapruder film (Z223) clearly indicates President Kennedy was hit well before he reemerges into view in Z225. In Z223 we see Jackie has turned to look at her husband and is looking at him rather intently. Obviously, something happened that caused her to stop waving and to focus her attention on her husband. In fact, by Z202-204 we see Mrs. Kennedy has turned to look at her husband. When she fully reemerges into view at Z223, she is looking intently at him. In Z221 and Z222, even though Jackie is not fully in view, it is clear she is looking at her husband in these frames as well. (Many researchers believe Kennedy was hit at around Z188. The HSCA’s photographic evidence panel reached the same conclusion.)
3. Kennedy is already reacting to a wound in Z225. This reaction could not have been in response to a wound at Z223-224 as required by the current version of the SBT. Realizing this, some WC supporters have resorted to denying that Kennedy is reacting to a wound in Z225. This is clearly a spurious, forced denial. Other WC supporters, however, candidly acknowledge that Kennedy is obviously reacting to a wound in Z225. For example:
* Itek concluded Kennedy "is clearly reacting to a wound by frame 225."
* Richard Trask, a respected researcher and longtime student of the Zapruder film, observes that Kennedy "emerges from the behind the sign at Z225 clearly having been shot."
* Dr. John Lattimer, a supporter of the lone-gunman scenario, concludes Kennedy shows a "reflex reaction" to a wound in Z225 and opines the wound occurred at about Z220.
* Lone-gunman theorist Gerald Posner opines that at Z225 Kennedy "appears to be reacting to a bullet."
* FBI photographic expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt told the WC that in Z225 "there appears to be a reaction on the part of the President":
Mr. SHANEYFELT. Frame 225 there appears to be a reaction on the part of the President. This is----
Mr. SPECTER. Describe specifically what movement he is making in that picture or what his position is?
Mr. SHANEYFELT. At frame 225 his hand is down, his right hand that was waving is down, and has been brought down as though it were reaching for his lapel or his throat. The other hand, his left had is on his lapel but rather high, as though it were coming up, and he is beginning to go into a hunched position. (5 H 152)
It should be mentioned that the HSCA's photographic evidence panel likewise concluded Kennedy is reacting to a wound in Z225.
The fact that Kennedy can be seen reacting to a wound in Z225 proves he must have been hit prior to Z223-224. This, in turn, refutes the version of the SBT that is now espoused by nearly all lone-gunman theorists. As mentioned, this version says the alleged magic bullet struck Kennedy at Z223-224. In fact, if the flipping up of Connally's lapel in Z224 was caused by the exiting of a bullet, as WC supporters now assert, this is further proof that Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets, since Z225 proves Kennedy was struck before Z223.
Indeed, Dr. Robert Piziali,
an expert on human reactions to bullet wounds, 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. He explained there would have been a delay of 4 frames between
the bullet's impact and Kennedy's visible reaction to it (see trial transcript
in Harrison Livingstone, Killing The
4. I find Gov. Connally's testimony to be persuasive and compelling. Connally was absolutely certain he was hit by a separate bullet, not by the same bullet that struck Kennedy in the back as required by the SBT. He recalled he had already turned to try to look at Kennedy and that he was in the process of turning the other way when he felt a bullet strike him forcibly in the back. Mrs. Connally, who was sitting next to her husband in the limousine, likewise was certain her husband was hit by a different bullet than the one that struck Kennedy.
Nearly all of the eyewitnesses who commented on the subject believed Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets. The FBI's report on the assassination came to the same conclusion, stating that Kennedy was struck in the back by one bullet and that Connally was then hit by a different bullet.
If Kennedy's and Connally's non-fatal wounds were caused by separate bullets—as Connally and his wife, the FBI report, and numerous witnesses said—then more than one gunman must have been involved. The SBT was formulated precisely to avoid having to admit that JFK's and Connally's non-fatal wounds were caused by different bullets, since that would mean there was more than one shooter.
5. I accept Audrey Bell's account regarding
the bullet fragments that were removed from Connally's
wrist. Although Dr. Charles Gregory said the fragments that were removed from
the governor's wrist were merely "flakes of metal" and that they
weighed less than a postage stamp, that is not how Nurse Bell remembers it at
all. Nurse Bell is the
There didn't seem to be any question about
the wrist fragments in the first hours and days after the shooting. The
Asked if CE 399 could have been the bullet
that struck Connally's wrist, Dr. Pierre Finck, one of Kennedy's autopsists,
answered, "No, for the reason that there are too many fragments described
in that wrist," and he based this conclusion in large part on the
Mr. SPECTER. Doctor Humes, I show you a bullet which we have marked as Commission Exhibit No. 399, and may I say now that, subject to later proof, this is the missile which has been taken from the stretcher which the evidence now indicates was the stretcher occupied by Governor Connally. I move for its admission into evidence at this time.
The CHAIRMAN. It may be admitted. (The article, previously marked Commission Exhibit No. 399 for identification, was received in evidence.)
Mr. SPECTER. We have been asked by the FBI that the missile not be handled by anybody because it is undergoing further ballistic tests, and it now appears, may the record show, in a plastic case in a cotton background.
Now looking at that bullet, Exhibit 399, Doctor Humes, could that bullet have gone through or been any part of the fragment passing through President Kennedy's head in Exhibit No. 388?
Commander HUMES. I do not believe so, sir.
Mr. SPECTER. And could that missile have made the wound on Governor Connally's right wrist?
Commander HUMES. I think that that is most unlikely. May I expand on those two answers?
Mr. SPECTER. Yes, please do.
Commander HUMES. The X-rays made of the wound in the head of the late President showed fragmentations of the missile. Some fragments we recovered and turned over, as has been previously noted. Also we have X-rays of the fragment of skull which was in the region of our opinion exit wound showing metallic fragments. Also going to Exhibit 392, the report from Parkland Hospital, the following sentence referring to the examination of the wound of the wrist is found: "Small bits of metal were encountered at various levels throughout the wound, and these were, wherever they were identified and could be picked up, picked up and submitted to the pathology department for identification and examination." The reason I believe it most unlikely that this missile could have inflicted either of these wounds is that this missile is basically intact; its jacket appears to me to be intact, and I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in either of these locations. (2 H 374-375)
6. The HSCA's trajectory analysis, NOVA's computer simulation, and Posner's SBT diagram all assume Connally was rotated to the right by some 20-25 degrees in order to get the SBT's horizontal trajectory to work, but this notion is plainly refuted by the Zapruder film. Again, the current version of the SBT espoused by most lone-gunman theorists says the alleged magic-bullet hit occurred at ZZ223-224. In the Zapruder film we see Connally's shoulders are facing nearly parallel to the roll bar in Z224. The roll bar is a fixed horizontal point inside the limousine, and thus provides us with an excellent measuring rod. One can look at Z224 and plainly see that Connally's shoulders are nearly parallel to the roll bar, which would not be the case if his torso were rotated 20-25 degrees to the right. FBI photographic expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt noted to the WC that in Z222 Connally is turned only slightly to the right and that in the few frames thereafter he is "almost square, straight on with the car momentarily":
Mr. SHANEYFELT. I might say that as--in the motion picture as the car comes out from behind the signboard, the Governor is turned slightly to his right in this manner. This would be in the first frame, in frame 222, he is turned just slightly to his right, and from there on he turns almost square, straight on with the car momentarily, and there is a jerking motion there at one point in the film about there, at which time he starts to turn this way and continues to turn. (5 H 155)
Like its supposed magic bullet, the SBT itself seems to be magical. Even when its defenders must admit that a previous key assumption of the theory is invalid, the theory is still, somehow, supposed to be true.
The degree of rotation of Connally's shoulders is a good example of the theory's
magical ability to adapt. As mentioned, previous trajectory analyses assumed Connally was rotated markedly to the right, by about 20-25
degrees, when the alleged magic bullet hit him. Now, lone-gunman theorists like
Todd Vaughan and Dale Myers acknowledge that Connally
is rotated no more than 15 degrees to the right in Z224 (
7. It is extremely unlikely that CE 399 could have emerged in nearly pristine condition after doing the damage attributed to it. In the WC's wound ballistics tests, bullets that were fired into cotton wadding emerged in the same condition as CE 399. One such test bullet actually suffered more damage than CE 399. The bullets that were fired into animal chests and that struck rib bone emerged noticeably more deformed than CE 399. The bullets that were fired into the wrists of human cadavers emerged with significant damage to their noses. In the 1992 All-American Television wound ballistics test, conducted in consultation with forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht, the test bullet emerged markedly deformed.
8. I believe the throat wound was an
entrance wound, just as the doctors at
The throat wound was small, about 3-5 mm in diameter, fairly neat and round, and punched-in. Dr. Malcolm Perry, who performed the tracheostomy over the throat wound, was so certain the wound was an entrance wound that when a journalist asked him about reports that all the shots were fired from behind, he immediately replied that Kennedy must have turned around just before the bullet struck him in the throat. And Dr. Charles Carrico, who saw the throat wound even before Kennedy's shirt was removed, described the wound as a "small penetrating wound" in his 11/22/63 report (WCR 519; CE 392).
Dr. Nathan Jacobs observed that the
The wound's small size is important because
it is wholly consistent with the wound being an entrance wound, not an exit
wound. Entry wounds are normally small, while exit wounds are usually larger.
As stated, the wound was about 3-5 mm in diameter, and possibly only 2-3 mm in
diameter. In a taped 1979 interview, Dr. Charles Baxter, who was one of the
Looking at that hole, one would have to [think]—and my immediate thought was that this was an entry wound because it was so small. The hole was only the size of a pencil eraser, about 2 or 2.5 mm across. . . . (Livingstone, Killing The Truth, p. 718)
Dr. Pierre Finck, one of the autopsists, wrote that the throat wound was approximately 5 mm in diameter (Livingstone, Killing Kennedy And The Hoax Of The Century, New York: Carroll and Graf, 1995, p. 217). However, when Dr. James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy, spoke with Dr. Perry, he told Humes, according to the notes of the phone conversation, that the throat wound was "only a few mm in size, 3-5 mm" (David Lifton, Best Evidence, New York: Carroll and Graf, 1980, p. 275).
The caliber of the ammunition that was supposedly used by the alleged lone-gunman was 6.5 mm. A missile of this caliber would have made a much larger wound if it had exited the throat.
In the WC's own wound ballistics tests, the smallest wound of exit that was created in the simulated human necks was 10 mm in diameter. WC supporters attempt to explain these tests, and the throat wound's contrastingly small size and neat appearance, by speculating that the collar band of Kennedy's shirt restrained the skin of the neck and prevented it from stretching too far, thereby enabling the bullet to cause the resulting wound to be small and neat. This theory is invalid, however, because WC supporters also claim that the bullet made the slits in the front of the President's shirt as it allegedly exited his neck, and those slits were undeniably below the collar band (see, for example, the photo of the slits in Harold Weisberg, Never Again, New York: Carroll and Graf, 1995, p. 245).
So what of the bullet that struck the back? If the throat wound was an entrance wound, what happened to the bullet that struck Kennedy in the back?
On the night of the autopsy the autopsy pathologists were absolutely certain the back wound was shallow and had no exit point. This is now undeniably clear from recently released documents. The autopsy pathologists probed the back wound repeatedly. They even opened up the chest and removed the chest organs so they could see the other side of the wound. The wound had no exit point. It most likely resulted from a misfire, which could have struck at a greatly reduced velocity and thus would have penetrated only an inch or two. The misfire explanation explains why so many witnesses said one of the shots sounded very different from the other shots. It also explains why early press reports, citing sources at the autopsy, said a bullet was found in Kennedy's shoulder.
9. There was no direct path from the back wound to the throat wound that could have avoided smashing into the spine. Dr. David Mantik, a radiation oncologist and physicist, studied the autopsy materials at the National Archives and discovered that a bullet that went from the back wound to the throat wound could not have missed smashing through the spine (Livingstone, Killing Kennedy And The Hoax Of The Century, pp. 93-94).
Dr. John Nichols, who was a professor of
forensic pathology at the University of the
Figure 6 is the view through Oswald's telescopic sight at Frame 222, showing the depressed angle of 20.23 degrees prevailing at the first shot as measured in the FBI reenactment. I have both measured and calculated the lateral angle at this frame to be 9.21 degrees. Elementary anatomy indicated that the minimum lateral angle for the bullet to miss the transverse processes and emerge in the midline [of the throat] is 28 degrees; this is obviously impossible from Oswald's alleged firing position.
10. There is no fabric missing from the slits in the front of JFK's shirt, and there is no hole through JFK's tie and no nick on the edge of the tie's knot.
Let's consider the issue of the fabric of the shirt slits first. According to the SBT, the magic bullet made those slits as it exited the throat. When bullets tear through fabric and create a hole as they exit, they usually remove some fabric from the hole. However, when Dr. Mantik examined the slits at the National Archives, he found that no fabric whatsoever appears to be missing from the slits.
A key fact that refutes the SBT is that there is no hole through the knot of JFK's tie nor on the edge of the knot. When Harold Weisberg was finally able to obtain photos of the president's tie, he discovered what the WC and the FBI apparently had wanted to keep secret: there is no hole through the tie knot and no hole on the edge of the knot. The HSCA later confirmed Weisberg's discovery.
As mentioned, the SBT says the exiting magic bullet made the slits in the front of JFK's shirt. Of course, JFK's tie knot was positioned over the spot where the slits were made. If a bullet had exited Kennedy's throat, it would have either put a hole through the knot or at least nicked the edge of the knot. Photos of the knot show there is no nick on either of its edges, and there is no hole through the knot. There is only a small nick on left side of the knot, and this nick is visibly inward from the knot's left edge.
SBT defenders suggest the FBI untied and then retied the tie and that the retied knot shifted the nick's position, i.e., that before the tie was supposedly untied and retied the nick was originally on the left edge of the knot. But why would the FBI have taken evidence photos of the tie in an altered configuration? Standard procedure would have been to photograph the tie in its original condition and configuration.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that at some point the tie was untied and retied, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the nick was originally on the knot's left edge. The FBI never made any such claim. We can be bet that if the nick originally had been on the knot's left edge, the FBI would have made it a point to document this, or at least to mention it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s 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 Carroll College. He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England. He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith. He is also the author of a book on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996).