Ten Reasons I Reject the Single-Bullet Theory

Michael T. Griffith, 2000
ŠAll 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. 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.

      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 photographic evidence panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations [HSCA] 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:

ˇ        Itek concluded Kennedy "is CLEARLY reacting to a wound by frame 225."

ˇ        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."

ˇ        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.

ˇ        Lone-gunman theorist Gerald Posner opines that at Z225 Kennedy "appears to be reacting to a bullet."

ˇ        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 TRUTH, New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1993, p. 224; cf. pp. 235-236).

      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 Parkland Hospital operating-room nurse who handled the fragments that were removed from the Governor's wrist. She insists the fragments were not merely flakes but were identifiable pieces of metal anywhere from 3 to 4 millimeters in length by 2 millimeters wide. This squares with the recollection of one of Connally's other surgeons, Dr. Robert Shaw. Interviewed for the award-winning 1988 documentary REASONABLE DOUBT: THE SINGLE-BULLET THEORY, Shaw said, "I am sure that the bullet that inflicted these wounds on Governor Connally was fragmented much more than this bullet [CE 399] shows."
There didn't seem to be any question about the wrist fragments in the first hours and days after the shooting. The Parkland Hospital operative record states that "SMALL BITS OF METAL WERE ENCOUNTERED AT VARIOUS LEVELS" of the wrist wound, and that "WHEREVER THEY WERE IDENTIFIED AND COULD BE PICKED UP WERE PICKED UP and have been submitted to the pathology department for identification and examination."
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 Parkland Hospital operative record. Dr. James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy, understood the clear implications of the operative record's wording. Dr. Humes was asked if CE 399 could have been either the missile that struck the head or the one that wounded Connally's wrist. He replied in the negative and cited the Parkland operative record as the basis for his conclusion:

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, a notion that 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 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, someway, 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 (Vaughan says 10 degrees, while Myers says 15 degrees). But, somehow, someway, the SBT still supposedly works, according to its defenders, even though previous "expert" trajectory studies found it essential to assume Connally was rotated markedly to the right when the missile struck.
(A similar feat of magical adaptation can be seen in the magic bullet's vertical trajectory. For years WC supporters, based on the chief autopsy doctor's Rydberg diagram and on Arlen Specter's reenactment of the SBT, assumed the bullet struck at a point that was visibly ABOVE the throat wound, AND that the bullet's path from the back wound to the throat wound was DOWNWARD. Then, the HSCA came along and determined that the back wound was nearly 2 inches lower than where it appears in the Rydberg diagram, that the bullet's path through the body actually would have been "SLIGHTLY UPWARD," and that the tissue beneath the back wound seen in the autopsy photos is tunneled UPWARD. But, the SBT's defenders reconsidered the new evidence and announced that somehow, someway, the theory's vertical trajectory still worked.)

      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 Parkland Hospital originally reported. The throat bullet might have ranged downward into the chest, as some of the Parkland doctors initially suspected, and it could have been removed at the Bethesda Naval Hospital prior to the autopsy.
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 Parkland doctors described a laceration of the pharynx and trachea that was LARGER than the small throat wound, "indicating that the bullet had traveled from the front of the neck to the back" (Sylvia Meagher, ACCESSORIES AFTER THE FACT, New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1992, p. 158 n 39).
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 Parkland doctors who saw the wound, said the wound "was no more than a pinpoint." He added that it was "made by a small caliber weapon. And it was an entry wound" (Robert Groden and Livingstone, HIGH TREASON, New York: Berkley Books, 1990, p. 45). Interviewed again in 1992, Dr. Baxter said,

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). When Dr. James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy, spoke with Dr. Perry, the throat wound, according to the notes of that phone conversation, was described as "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 Kansas, had already reached the same conclusion, even though he was unable to study the autopsy x-rays. Dr. Nichols deduced from the trajectories involved and from his knowledge of human anatomy that no bullet could have gone from the back wound to the throat wound without smashing into one of the transverse processes of the spine. Said Dr. Nichols,

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.
And now to the fact 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--that 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--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 certain 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 is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. He has attended Ricks College, Brigham Young University, Austin Peay State University, Mount Wachusett Community College, and Haifa University, where his studies centered on history and foreign languages. He is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts and is a former research assistant at the Society for Early Historic Archaeology at Brigham Young University. His articles on the assassination have appeared in several assassination research journals, including the JFK/DEEP POLITICS QUARTERLY and THE ASSASSINATION CHRONICLES. He is also the author of the book COMPELLING EVIDENCE: A NEW LOOK AT THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY (Grand Prairie, Texas: JFK-Lancer Productions and Publications, 1996).

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