One such story involves a "bullet" that was supposedly found on the grass of the infield of Dealey Plaza the area between Elm Street and Main Street. The account, touted by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and repeated in numerous conspiracy books since the late 60s, was based on a series of photos shot by Jim Murray and William Allen. The photos show several men examining the grass and the curb. One of the photos (shown at right, below) shows three men of particular importance. One, Patrolman J. W. Foster, is in a police uniform. Deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers (standing) is in a business suit, and there is a third man in a business suit (examining the turf) sometimes referred to as "Agent" since he is assumed to be a government agent of some sort.
Apparently, they are looking for evidence such as a bullet, a fragment, or evidence of a bullet strike. Did they in fact find any such evidence?
Conspiracists say they did, and claim support from the photos. One photo, for example, shows Walthers with his hand on the ground, and conspiracy author J. Gary Shaw claims that this shows "Walthers stoops to retrieve something from the turf" (Cover-up, p. 73). No object is visible on the ground. When he straightens up, Walthers' hand is cupped, and Shaw interprets this to show that Walthers is "clutching something in his right hand" (ibid). But it is Agent who is explicitly claimed to have picked up a bullet. In this Shaw follows Jim Garrison, who in On The Trail of the Assassins said:
[In] another group of pictures taken at Dealey Plaza shortly after the assassination by Jim Murray of Blackstar Photo Service and William Allen of the Dallas Times-Herald . . . Deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers is shown looking down at a bullet while a neatly dressed blond man is reaching down to pick it up. . . . The bullet was never seen again. The Warren Commission did not ask Walthers about the bullet or the blond man . . . and he did not volunteer anything about them. Walthers subsequently was murdered, so it is safe to conclude that this bullet will remain on the long list of missing or destroyed evidence. (p. 209)The Garrison investigation released, and a generation of conspiracy books has published, an extreme blow-up of the Allen photo. On the ground near Agent's hand is a poorly defined object that is supposedly a bullet (see below).
Unfortunately for the conspiracists who repeat this story, the object doesn't particularly look like a bullet. In the second place, it isn't likely that an intact bullet from the assassination would be just laying around in the Dealey Plaza infield as opposed to being embedded in one of the victims, or embedded in the limo, or badly fragmented. Finally, if this is really a bullet, why is Agent ignoring it and carefully examining the ground eight inches from the object?
Conspiracists insist that Agent picked the bullet up, and as evidence they offer a photo that shows the man with his back to the camera, and his left hand cupped (at right below). The assumption is that the man is holding the bullet that he has just picked up. Deputy Buddy Walthers continues to look at the ground.
But if a bullet was found, where is the witness testimony? There is witness testimony of sorts supporting the "bullet" claim. Author Richard Dudman, writing in the December 21, 1963 New Republic (p. 18), reported:
On the day the President was shot, I happened to learn of a possible fifth [bullet]. A group of police officers were examining the area at the side of the street where the President was hit, and a police inspector told me they had just found another bullet in the grass.While there is no reason to believe that Dudman lied about this, and no reason to believe that some police inspector lied to him, there is also no reason to think that this was more than a rumor perhaps a hasty inference from the fact that several men were examining the turf. Yet it seems to have been the genesis of this whole business.
What about witness testimony that isn't second-hand rumor? Contrary to what Garrison claimed, the Warren Commission did question Walthers about the supposed "bullet:"
Mr. LIEBELER. There has also been a story, some sort of story that you were supposed to have found a spent bullet.And indeed when Garrison, in December 1967, repeated the claim that Walthers had picked up a bullet he denied it to the press.
Mr. WALTHERS. Yes; that's what the story was in this book, and man, I've never made a statement about finding a spent bullet.
Mr. LIEBELER. And you never found any spent bullet?
Mr. WALTHERS. No; me and Allan Sweatt 2 or 3 days after the assassination did go back down there and make a pretty diligent search in there all up where that bullet might have hit, thinking that maybe the bullet hit the cement and laid down on some of them beams but we looked all up there and everywhere and I never did find one. I never did in all of my life tell anybody I found a bullet other than where it hit. (7H550)
Patrolman Foster told the Warren Commission that the men "found where one shot had hit the turf there at that location" (6H252). He went on to say that the bullet hit the turf at the corner of the concrete surrounding the manhole cover, and ricocheted out. Years later, researcher Mark Oakes asked Foster point-blank whether he had seen anyone ". . . picking up a bullet and putting it in his pocket or anything like that." Foster's response was "No sir" (Mark Oakes, Eyewitness Video Tape, Foster interview, 7/9/91).
The two photographers who photographed the scene likewise give no support to the "bullet" story. As Richard Trask explains:
The Murray and Allen series of pictures indicates interest on the part of the officers at a spot about three feet to the west of the rectangular concrete frame surrounding the manhole. An examination of first generation prints from the original Murray negatives show an area in the turf darker than the surrounding grass. When the question of a "slug in the grass" became a point touted by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison . . . Murray was curious enough to make blow-up prints from some of his negatives. The Murray photo shows no identifiable bullet. When asked 22 years later about his thoughts as to what he was seeing while taking this group of photos, Murray stated, "At the time I was photographing, my honest opinion was that it looked like there had been heel marks, and something like a spiked heel had come out of the dirt and created a little mound of damp earth. I certainly didn't see any bullets or anything". . . . The photos themselves are too inconclusive to be able to tell us what, if anything, was picked up off the ground. (Pictures of the Pain, pp. 497-498)Like Murray, Allen is certain that no bullet was found. Allen told Trask:
It was my understanding that they were looking for either bullets or something like that, fragments of bullets or fragments of something. I didn't see them hold up a bullet and say, "Hey, here's a bullet," because I'm sure I would have photographed it if they picked up something like that. I do recall them talking about a chip in the curb, but don't recall, in fact I know I didn't see a bullet. I know I would have photographed it if they picked a bullet up. But I don't recall them picking up and holding anything up and saying, "We got to keep this for evidence," because I was standing right there with them the whole time. (Pictures of the Pain, p. 543)Thus, none of the people who were in the area around the manhole cover supports the claim of a bullet being recovered. Of course, photographic evidence trumps witness testimony. But unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence of a bullet being recovered. Seeing the Murray and Allen photos this way is at best a classic example of seeing what you want to see in photos, and at worst pretty close to an outright hallucination.
But note that conspiracy authors, having "established" the existence of the bullet, can parlay this factoid into a grand scheme of evidence tampering and suppression. Witnesses must have lied. Documents must have been faked. Evidence must have been thrown away. Shaw, for example, lists this "bullet" under the heading "Material Evidence Suppressed," and uses it and other similarly bogus examples to claim:
The [Warren] Commission deliberately disregarded the obvious fact that material evidence given it by its investigative agencies had been altered, suppressed and destroyed. In more than one instance the Commission itself assisted in concealing important evidence harmful to the lone assassin thesis. (Shaw, Cover-up, p. 60)Then later, along the same lines:
Clearly there was an attempt by Federal and local authorities to conceal the facts as contained in the evidence. The cover-up is all too obvious. (Shaw, Cover-up, p. 79)Rhetoric like this sounds a lot more impressive if one doesn't know that it's based on a bunch of factoids.