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 interest—please 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 is 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
the magazine follower on 22 November, since the last round in the clip must have been the unfired one in the chamber. Furthermore, Commission Exhibit 543 lacks the characteristic indentation on the side made by the firing chamber of Oswald's rifle.
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)
Dr. Josiah Thompson studied CE 543 and concluded it did not fire a bullet during the shooting. He also noted that CE 543 has three sets of marks on the base that are not found on the two other shells and that were not made on any of the numerous shells that were ejected from the alleged murder weapon during firing tests. Dr. Thompson:
The remaining cartridge case (designated C6 and CE 543) differed from the other two in a number of respects. It was kept by the Dallas Police until the FBI demanded it from Captain Fritz in the early morning hours of November 28 (7H404). Its most astonishing characteristic is a sharp dent in its lip of sufficient magnitude to prevent the fitting of a projectile in the opening. In its present condition it could not have been fired in any rifle on November 22. . . .
But in its present condition it could not have been fired in any rifle—its lip will not receive a projectile. The possibility suggests itself that CE 543 was never fired on November 22 but was dropped by one of the assassins, either inadvertently or as a means of throwing the subsequent investigation off the track. Certain other features of CE 543 urge such a conclusion even more strongly.
Marks found on the dented case indicated that it had been loaded in and extracted from a weapon at least three times (26H449). In addition, it had "three sets of marks on the base" that were not found on the others or on any of the numerous test cartridges obtained from Oswald's rifle (26H449). (Six Seconds in Dallas, New York: Bernard Geis Associates/Random House, 1967, pp. 143-144).
Dr. Thompson went on to explain that CE 543 lacks the characteristic chambering mark made on the other shells by the rifle’s chamber:
What is most surprising—perhaps conclusive—about this cartridge case is that it lacks a characteristic impression along the side exhibited in one form or other by all the other cartridges we know to have been seated in the chamber of Oswald's rifle. I first noticed this characteristic mark while supervising the photographing of the cartridges for Life. I observed on two of the cartridge cases (CEs 544, 545) an impression on the side in the same relative position on each. I examined the third and saw that no such impression was apparent.
The anomaly did not excite my interest until I noticed that the live round found in the chamber of Oswald's rifle (CE 141) exhibited a similar impression in the same place. On the live round the mark was not as pronounced—perhaps due to the fact that it had not been fired. The pressure of firing would tend to accentuate any indentation caused by contact with the chamber. I now had three cartridge cases, all of which ostensibly were at one time or another in the chamber of Oswald's rifle and all of which evidenced a characteristic mark. If this mark was caused by a characteristic of the chamber of Oswald's rifle, then the lack of it on CE 543 might indicate that it had never been fired in Oswald's rifle.
One way to test my hypothesis was to examine CE 577—two cartridge cases from test rounds fired in Oswald's rifle. Both of these cases displayed the characteristic mark in the same spot. Thus the cartridge case that had an extra dent in the lip [CE 543] seemed to lack a mark exhibited by every other case we know to have been in the breech of Oswald's rifle.
The combination of these factors—the peculiar treatment accorded CE 543 by the Dallas Police, its inexplicably dented lip , the three sets of marks on the base absent on the other cases while present on 543, and finally its lack of the characteristic chambering mark—suggests that although two of the cartridge cases may have been ejected from Oswald's rifle, the third, CE 543, is most likely an extra, unfired shell and possibly a deliberate fake. (pp. 145-146)
How could the two other shells have a chambering impression on their side but CE 543 not have one? How could even the live round that remained in the rifle’s chamber have this chambering mark on its side but CE 543 not have it? The explanation seems obvious: CE 543 was not fired from the alleged murder weapon on the day of the shooting.
Famous Australian police detective Colin McLaren investigated the JFK assassination in 2013 and came away doubtful that the dented shell could have been used to fire a bullet during the shooting. He concluded that the dented casing was “probably used as a chamber plug . . . to stop moisture and grit from getting into the chamber” (McLaren, JFK: The Smoking Gun, DVD, New Video Group, 2014; McLaren’s comments on the dented casing start at 25:28 in the video).
A key point is that CE 543 could not have been marked by the alleged murder weapon’s magazine follower during the assassination because there was a live round left in the rifle’s chamber and only the last shell in the clip is marked by the magazine follower. Research scientist Dr. Don Thomas explains:
Furthermore, according to the FBI experts, the casing had been marked by the magazine follower. This fact is especially relevant because only the last cartridge in the clip is marked by the magazine follower, and inasmuch as the Oswald rifle still had one live round in the chamber, CE 543 could not have been marked by the magazine follower as an operation of the rifle during the assassination. The failure of the HSCA Firearms Panel to disclose or discuss the discrepancy between their conclusion and the FBI findings forces the conclusion that the Firearms Panel analysis of this problem was less than forthright and certainly less than thorough. (Hear No Evil: Politics, Science, and the Forensic Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010, p. 141)
In an article titled “CE 543: Quite Possibly the Most Misunderstood Dent,” Chad Zimmerman, a lone-gunman theorist, reports that he conducted an experiment in which 10 of 12 Carcano shells emerged with dents after being ejected from a Carcano rifle. Zimmerman says he took 12 empty Carcano shells, loaded them into his Carcano rifle, and then ejected them. He claims that this proves that CE 543 could have fired a bullet during the shooting.
I see four problems with Zimmerman’s claim:
* One, not one of his 10 dented shells appears to me to be as dented as CE 543. The comparison photo of CE 543 that Zimmerman displays below the photo of his shells shows CE 543 from an angle that minimizes its dent. Zimmerman provides a better photo of CE 543 at the beginning of his article. One wonders why he does not use this same photo as his comparison photo below the picture of his shells.
* Two, Zimmerman does not address the issue of the marks on the bottom of CE 543, marks that were not found on the two other shells nor on any of the shells that were ejected from the rifle in the Warren Commission’s test firings.
* Three, Zimmerman does not address the fact that CE 543 does not have the alleged murder weapon’s characteristic chambering mark on its side but that the other shells do.
* Four, Zimmerman does not address the fact that CE 543 could not have been marked by the alleged murder weapon’s magazine follower during the assassination because it was not the last shell in the clip.
We have strong reasons to doubt the HSCA’s claim that they produced a number of shells that were severely dented while being ejected after firing bullets. Dr. Thomas observes that the test shell pictured in the HSCA exhibits is not nearly as dented as CE 543 (Hear No Evil, p. 142). And, as discussed above, the HSCA Firearms Panel did not even attempt to address the key point that CE 543 could not have been marked by the alleged murder weapon’s magazine follower during the assassination.
Based on the research of Donahue, Mills, Kurtz, Thompson, McLaren, and Thomas, the dented shell clearly appears to be hard evidence that more than one gunman fired at President Kennedy, and hence that there was a conspiracy.
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. 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).