Was the "pristine" bullet really pristine?

    There is hardly a topic about the JFK assassination that is more distorted than the nature of CE 399, the nearly whole bullet found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital. It is often called the "magic bullet" or the "pristine bullet." This essay shows that both these terms are false and highly misleading. The bullet was neither magic nor pristine. In fact, it was significantly distorted.
    CE 399 usually shown from the side, like this:

    This view makes it seem undistorted. However, when viewed from the bottom end, it is seen to be distinctly distorted:

(Image from Kennedy and Lincoln, by Dr. John K. Lattimer)

    As Dr. John K. Lattimer has stated, to distort a full-metal jacketed bullet like this requires viselike forces. This bullet is anything but pristine! These forces acted on the bullet as it sliced into the two men's bodies at initial speeds of about 1800 feet per second.
    But aren't such deformations far less than would be expected for a bullet smashing into a body? In other words, isn't CE 399 deformed too little to have passed through one or two human bodies? Contemporary ballistic data give the lie to this claim as well. The photos below show the progressive deformation of full-metal jacketed bullets as the are shot into gelatin (similar to human flesh) at speeds from 474 meters per second to 977 meters per second. Note how they remain intact up to 652 meters per second. At speeds of 769 meters per second, they break apart at the seam in the middle, and eventually disintegrate into many pieces large and small.

(Image from page 176 of Wound Ballistics and the Scientific Background, by Karl G. Sellier and Beat P. Kneubuehl, Elsevier 1994)

    The picture below shows a better view of the ends of this same kind of bullet, with speeds of impact (left to right) of 600 m/s, 630 m/s, 670 m/s, 690 m/s, and 710 m/s. Note how similar the second and third cases look to CE 399. This is not surprising, since the impact velocity of the second case, 630 m/s, is 2070  feet per, second, which is very similar to CE 399's 1800 feet per second. Thus, in spite of all the strong claims made about CE 399, it does not seem unusual at all.

(Image from page 177 of Sellier and Kneubuehl)

    To be fair, we must note that CE 399 seems more somewhat deformed for its speed than the test bullets shown above. This is because CE 399 entered JFK's back at something of an angle, not perpendicular the way these test bullets were fired. The more of an angle, the more the bullet will be distorted.
    But can a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet penetrate two men? Easily, for that's what it was designed to do. According to the Geneva Convention of 1925, military bullets are to pass through soldiers and wound, not to disintegrate inside them and kill. If you have any doubts about the penetrating power of a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet, consider the photo below, which shows experiments run by Dr. Lattimer and Dr. John Nichols.

(Image from Lattimer's book)

    Note the the bullets penetrated two feet of tough elm and four feet (!) of Ponderosa pine. And they still weren't deformed significantly. As the Garrison character in JFK said, "That's some bullet!"
    Another argument centering on the "pristine" character of CE 399 is that it had lost too many fragments to have passed through both men. A strange argument, indeed, for it is now invoking the LACK of pristine character (like having pristinity both ways). Again, Lattimer's experiments give the lie. The pictures below show one of their test bullets fired through a close approximation to a human cadaver. As with 399, some lead was squeezed out the base. As opposed to Dr. Finck, who claimed that CE 399 could not have passed through the men because it had shed four fragments, Lattimer's test bullet yielded 41 (!) fragments from the same two grains of lead that CE 399 had lost.

(Image from Lattimer's book)

    In summary, we have here a case where truth is stranger than fiction. CE 399, far from being the unbelievable bullet that the JFK critical movement claims, actually behaved totally normally as it passed with ease through two bodies and did exactly what it was designed to do. There is NO MYSTERY associated with CE 399. The term "magic bullet" is false and highly misleading. Students of JFK should never again utter these words.

Back to The SBT