Bogus Conspiracy-book version of the Single Bullet Theory
The Single Bullet Theory

If you believe what the conspiracy books say the Warren Commission believed about the Single Bullet Theory, you would have to conclude the commissioners and staff of the commission were a bunch of fools. Conspiracy authors always show Connally seated directly in front of Kennedy, at the same height, and facing forward. You've seen Kevin Costner do this sort of thing. The graphic at right, taken from Groden and Livingstone's High Treason is an example of this. Could Commission Exhibit 399, which conspiracists have christened the "Magic Bullet," have done what the Warren Commission said it did?

The Single Bullet Theory According to the Movie "JFK"

But do we believe Oliver Stone? Or his this just a fantasy concocted by conspiracy theorists?

The Evidence

Consider, for example, James Altgen's photo of the limo rounding the corner of Main and Houston. Check out the relative heights of Kennedy and Connally.

Frame from Dave Powers Film

Rarely seen before, a photo of the limo made after it was returned to Washington. The right-side door is wide open, and you can plainly see the relative heights of Kennedy's seat and Connally's seat. Uploaded by Bob Artwohl to Compuserve, and uploaded here by permission.

But what about the idea that Connally was sitting directly in front of Kennedy? Numerous photos of the motorcade show Connally well inboard of Kennedy in the limo. They include:

DCA Film — Connally inboard of Kennedy

A film put together from amateur footage by Dallas Cinema Associates (the "DCA film") has some sequences that clearly show Connally well inboard of Kennedy. Here is one sequence, and here is another. A still from the film is at right right.

Thomas Canning was a NASA scientist who studied the Single Bullet trajectory for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He used the Betzner photograph to establish a line to the right of which Connally could not have been. He also estimated the rotation of Connally's torso from the Zapruder film. The result was an alignment that showed the bullet leaving Kennedy's throat to strike Connally in the back near the shoulder — which is where Connally was actually struck. Of course, you don't really have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.

Canning used the House Select Committee scenario that had Kennedy and Connally being struck by the Single Bullet at Zapruder frame 190. More recent work has pinpointed the time of the hit to Zapruder frame 223. Various researchers have modelled the Single Bullet Theory at that frame. Failure Analysis Associates, in work done for a 1992 "mock trial" of Lee Harvey Oswald for the American Bar Association, used 3-D computer animation and modelling techniques to research the bullet trajectory, and concluded that the Single Bullet Trajectory works.

Dale Myers, a specialist in computer animation, built a 3-D model of Dealey Plaza, the limo, Kennedy and Connally, and also concluded that the trajectory works. Click here to see his views from the Sniper's Nest and from the right front of the limo. Myers animation was featured on the ABC News Special "Beyond Conspiracy." Myers shows his model in the video clip to the right, below.

Click here for an informative page that outlines Myers' technical approach to modeling the assassination sequence in Dealey Plaza.

The Back and Throat Wounds

Another thing conspiracy authors will do to attack the Single Bullet Theory is to move the entrance wound in Kennedy's back down below the Warren Commission location, and move the wound in the front of Kennedy's neck up in order to require an absurd trajectory though Kennedy's body. This drawing, again taken from Groden and Livingstone's High Treason, shows this assumption.

What is the evidence for the "low" back wound location? The piece of evidence that conspiracy books will most often show you is the facesheet from the autopsy. It seems to place the wound too low to be consistent with the exit wound in the front of the neck.

What will the conspiracy books not tell you about this? They won't tell you that the face sheet also has a measurement placing the wound. It places the wound 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process. That's not consistent with the lower dot location, but it is consistent with other statements in the autopsy. They also won't tell you what the autopsy report says about the track of the bullet through the body.

The other missile entered the right superior posterior thorax above the scapula and traversed the soft tissues of the supra-scapular and the supra-clavicular portions of the base of the right side of the neck. This missile produced contusions of the right apical parietal pleura and of the apical portion of the right upper lobe of the lung. The missile contused the strap muscles of the right side of the neck, damaged the trachea and made its exit through the anterior surface of the neck. Warren Commission Report, p. 543.

But how could the facesheet show that dot in a lower location, yet describe the wound in a higher location, 14 cm. below the tip of the mastoid process, above the scapula and above the clavicle?

Commander J. Thornton Boswell, who drew the facesheet, was asked about this by The Baltimore Sun in 1966. He explained that he made no attempt to draw the facesheet exactly to scale, and insisted that the measurements he made were precise, and properly locate the wound. He made on "X" on a copy of the face sheet, to indicate where the wound actually was. See the November 25, 1966 issue of the Sun.

Of course, photos were made at the autopsy, including photos of Kennedy's back. You can see for yourself what they show.

Are Autopsy Face Sheets Supposed to be Drawn to Scale?

That's the assumption of conspiracy theorists who point to Boswell's face sheet and claim that it shows the back wound "too low" to be consistent with the Single Bullet Theory. But Todd Wayne Vaughan decided to see whether this assumption is accurate.

Did Gerald Ford Move the Wound in Kennedy's Back?

Conspiracists have insisted that the wound in Kennedy's back was too low to be consistent with the Single Bullet Theory. Thus, the fact that Warren Commission member Gerald Ford changed the description of the wound in a draft of the Warren Commission Report from "back" to "neck" seems sinister to them. But was it really sinister, or was Ford acting in good faith?

A Pristine Bullet?

Bullet, viewed from the side, looks pristine To the right you will see the "magic bullet" picture shown in all the conspiracy books. CE 399 is the bullet viewed end-on. This is the picture the conspiracy books won't show you. See for yourself whether this bullet is really "pristine."

The Throat Wound

If moving the back wound down is a way of attacking the Single Bullet Theory, moving the throat wound up is also. If the throat wound couldn't have been the exit for a bullet that entered the back, then it was probably an entrance would from a frontal shot, which implies a shooter in front of the limo which implies conspiracy. A drawing from Groden and Livingstone's High Treason shows a typical conspiracy interpretation of the wounds.

Thus conspiracy books describe the Dallas doctors as being absolutely sure that the wound in Kennedy's throat was an entrance wound. What they usually omit is the fact that the doctors who actually saw the wound speculated that it was an exit wound from a fragment from the head shot. They also imply that ER personnel can easily tell whether a wound is an entrance wound or an exit would. This essay consists of two parts. The first documents the speculations of the Dallas doctors about the wound, and the second is a passage from the JAMA describing a careful study of the ability of ER personnel to make judgments about the forensic aspects of wounds.

Conspiracy authors have consistently claimed that the slits in the collar of Kennedy's shirt could not have been made by an exiting bullet. Here is a photograph of the shirt, showing the slits. Decide for yourself whether they could have been made by an exiting bullet.

One piece of evidence the conspiracy authors use for a "high" location for the throat wound is the testimony of Dr. Charles Carrico. Before the Warren Commission, he supposedly said that the wound was "above the tie." In fact, his testimony isn't quite as the conspiracy authors represent it. This is his testimony, including the context. Another thing to remember here is that in his "Admission Note," written on November 22, 1963, Carrico said the wound was in the "lower 1/3" of the neck.

On this matter, as on the location of the back wound, the photographic evidence is decisive. The Left Profile shows the level of the wound quite clearly. Is it really possible, as the conspiracy authors claim, for a bullet exiting at the level of the tracheostomy to have failed to penetrate Kennedy's shirt? Note that this photo has been rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, to emphasize the location of the throat wound.

A Little Logic, Please!

Anybody who wants to posit that CE 399 was faked and planted by conspirators needs to supply plausible answers to all of the following questions. Why did the conspirators . . .
  1. Plant it in a location where it could easily have been lost?
  2. Plant a bullet that was only "slightly" damaged if its role was to have passed through at least the President? Why not shoot up some livestock and get a bullet a bit more mangled?
  3. Plant it before it could have been known how many other bullets would be recovered? How could they have known that CE 399 would not be the "one bullet too many" that would blow the whole plot?
  4. Plant the bullet so it was found before it was known how much lead was in JFK's neck/upper back? What if a big chunk of lead was found in JFK's neck or upper back, a chunk too big to have come from CE 399?
Source: Adopted from a post by John Canal on alt.assassination.jfk

Connally Holding His Hat

Long after John Kennedy is seen in the Zapruder film moving his arms toward his throat in response to being hit, John Connally is seen holding his hat. Conspiracy writers insist that he could not possibly have held on to the hat after his wrist was shattered by a bullet. The implication is that yet another bullet hit Connally at some later point, contrary to the Single Bullet Theory. But Nellie Connally says that John held the hat on the way to Parkland Hospital. The late Governor Connally was a loyal son of Texas. He's probably still holding that hat.

Men with more severe injuries than Connally's can hold onto things. In the following passage, Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye describes how he lost his arm in combat:

At last I was close enough to pull the pin on my last grenade. And as I drew my arm back, all in a flash of light and dark I saw him, that faceless German, like a strip of motion picture film running through a projector that's gone berserk. One instant he was standing waist-high in the bunker, and the next he was aiming a rifle grenade at my face from a range of ten yards. And even as I cocked my arm to throw, he fired and his rifle grenade smashed into my right elbow and exploded and all but tore my arm off. I looked at it, stunned and unbelieving. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore . . ."

Daniel K. Inouye with Lawrence Elliott, Journey to Washington, Prentice-Hall 1967, pp. 151-152.

Roger Byrum brought this passage to the author's attention.

When Did the Single Bullet Hit Happen?"

Supposedly, Connally is obviously unhurt in Zapruder frame 230, but John Kennedy is obviously reacting to being hit at this point. Thus, it is claimed, the same bullet could not have hit both men. But a careful study of the Zapruder film shows that Connally was hit at frame 223.

If the Single Bullet Theory is true, then Kennedy had to be hit at the same time, and again, detailed scrutiny of the film shows this was likely the case.

But John Connally Didn't Believe the Single Bullet Theory

That is correct. And why not? In a 1967 interview with Eddie Barker for CBS, he explains that he is certain that the second shot fired hit him. But he believes that the first shot hit Kennedy. He didn't see JFK hit before he was hit. But the "best witness" he knows believes JFK as hit before John.

The Chain of Evidence

Conspiracy books will tell you that the "chain of evidence" on Commission Exhibit 399 was broken, and that the bullet would have been inadmissible as evidence in an Oswald murder trial. They will also tell you that two hospital employees that found the bullet (Tomlinson and Wright) failed to identify the bullet as the one they found when questioned by the FBI. What are the conspiracy books not telling you?

Conflicting Testimony?

Conspiracy-oriented author Vincent Palamara has produced a fascinating compilation of testimony that contradicts the Warren Commission's timeline on Commission Exhibit 339 — who had it, and when. Does all this show evidence being planted or tampered with, or just normal variation in witness accounts? Again, it's your call.

Why not Experiment?

Conspiracy books make all kinds of assertions about the inability of the Single Bullet to have done the things the Warren Commission said it did. What happens if one actually experiments, shooting mock torsos with a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle using bullets like those Oswald supposedly used? John Lattimer did that. Click here for a report of his findings. Lattimer compared an experimental bullet that did the same damage to his mock bodies that CE 399 did to Kennedy and Connally. See how similar his experimental bullet is to CE 399. Lattimer has done a lot of work on the ballistics of the case, much of it published in peer reviewed medical journals. Here is a longish article from Wound Ballistics Review documenting much of his work.

When a bullet just like Commission Exhibit 399 is fired through a human wrist bone at 2,000 feed per second, it is almost certain to be badly mangled. But when CE 399 hit Connally's wrist it had been slowed by transiting Kennedy's torso and tumbling through Connally's chest. When it finally hit the hard radius bone, it was traveling about 1,000 feet per second. Dr. Martin Fackler, President of the International Wound Ballistics Association, fired a round identical to Oswald's bullet through a human wrist at 1,100 feet per second. Here is the resulting bullet. A full account of Fackler's experiments can be found in the journal Wound Ballistics Review.

Putting the Pieces Together

One controversial question about the medical evidence is the angle at which the shot that hit Kennedy in the back transited his torso. The HSCA posited a nearly flat transit, that would have required Kennedy to be slumped forward. Dr. Robert Artwohl's analysis of the issue differs from that of the HSCA. Artwohl believes the bullet transited at a downward angle, as demonstrated in this analysis.

Joe Durnavich has pointed out some possible sources of error in Artwohl's analysis. His computer model of the geometry of the bullet path and Kennedy's torso suggests a somewhat flatter — but still downward — angle.

We have already seen the Left Profile photo, which shows the level at which the bullet exited Kennedy's neck. NECKEXIT.JPG is Artwohl's analysis, using an autopsy photograph and a photograph of Kennedy in the motorcade to show that the bullet must have passed through the collar and the tie. Uploaded by permission.

Was JFK's Coat Bunched When He Was Hit in the Back?

A generation of conspiracy-oriented researchers has argued that the hole in the back of Kennedy's suit coat — which is 5.3 inches below the top of the collar — is "too low" to allow the Single Bullet Theory. Supposedly, a bullet hitting "this low" could not exit the throat at the collar where the single bullet would have to. Lone gunman theorists have argued that Kennedy's coat may have been "bunched up" at the back, allowing the hole to line up with the throat exit. Two researchers here present contrary views on this.


Researcher by Nick Sylene suggests some "home tests" that he thinks prove that Kennedy's coat could not have been bunched up, and that the Single Bullet Theory can be ruled out.


John Hunt, Jr. has taken a different tack, and done an extensive survey of photographic evidence of JFK in the motorcade. His essay "The Case for a Bunched Jacket" shows that Kennedy's jacket was bunched in the majority of pictures of the motorcade in Dallas, and that Kennedy's posture at the time of the Single Bullet hit makes it overwhelmingly likely that the jacket was bunched at that moment.
Of course, multiple photos of Kennedy show his shirt or jacket bunched. Here are three, discovered by Jean Davison:

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