JFK’s Secret Killer? (Part Three)

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by Gildas the Monk on November 23, 2014

The mystery of the third shot

The 1964 Warren Commission investigation found that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots, and it is common ground the third, or last if you will, caused the substantial trauma to the right side of the President’s neuro-cranium. It is possible that Oswald fired this shot, but the evidence is problematic. In order to understand why, one first has to understand a little about the effects of different types of ammunition. I am not an expert, but for reasons I am not particularly keen to discuss I have a passing knowledge. 

The third shot which blew an area of neuro-cranium 10 – 12 centimetres wide (roughly the size of my hand) away from the President’s skull from an area above his right ear to his right brow, and took a great deal of the brain with it. The effect was quite different from the puncture wound caused by the shot through the President’s neck and Governor Connally’s body. And even if it had been caused by a round from the Book Depositary then you might reasonably expect an exit wound somewhere above the left eye or front left of the President’s head. And at this point it is necessary to discuss the findings of the autopsy and subsequent investigations.     

Autopsy and investigations

The stricken President was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where he was pronounced dead. By Texan State Law this should have been the site of the autopsy. The Secret Service over rode that and removed the President’s body, overruling objections with some vigour.

The entry wound to the back of the head is described by the Bethesda autopsy as being a laceration measuring 15 x 6 mm, situated 2.5 cm to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance. But then the autopsy was at best highly unsatisfactory. It was carried out in a crazy atmosphere with the doctors being hectored and harangued by, amongst others, Secret Service agents. And much of the material vanished.

The timeline of shots

The Warren Commission concluded that the shots were fired within a few seconds, between 4.8 and possibly 7 seconds, and a general consensus with the general estimate being 5 to 6 seconds. In 1967 CBS television carried out a test of whether it is actually possible to fire three shots from a Carcano rifle on target in an allotted time of 6 seconds, using a moving target and a tower to replicate the scene in Dealey Plaza. 11 marksmen tried, and only one managed three hits, and he was a skilled marksman who had practiced on his third attempt. Not one managed two hits on their first attempt. However, I am not convinced that is the correct time period. 

When was the first shot fired? This could be very important understanding what could and could not happen. Certainly it could not have been within the 5-6 seconds assumed by many witness, and used in the CBS test. The timing is usually worked put by cross referencing Governor Connally’s testimony that he reacted to the first shot by turning to look for the source. It is usually assumed that the first shot was fired at approximately frame 160. That would allow for a time of 60 frames, or 3.2 seconds to reload the rifle and fire a second shot, and a total time of just over 8 seconds. However, if we allow an extra second for Connally to have reacted, that gives 4.2 seconds. That gives a total time of just under 9.5 seconds 3 shots. But even this may be wrong. I recently came across a 2013 documentary from National Geographic which argues that the first shot was much earlier than had been thought; that it was fired almost as soon as the President’s car entered Dealey Plaza, and that would be earlier still.   

Conclusions beyond any doubt

It is possible to establish some of the events up to the third shot beyond reasonable doubt. Oswald’s first shot missed – it was seen sparking on the ground and one witness described thinking it was a fire cracker. The timing of this first shot is controversial.   The second shot struck the President in the neck and passed through him and Governor Connally, ultimately lodging in the Governor’s leg. The third shot came from a high powered weapon from behind.  It is not a shot from a pistol – its effect was too traumatic.   

There is no basis whatsoever that the wound caused by the third shot was caused by a sniper hiding on the Grassy Knoll to the President’s right (“Badge Man” and other theories). Sound recordings which allegedly suggested that have been to my mind conclusively demonstrated to be unsafe because, amongst other reasons, the acoustics of Dealey Plaza, and the President’s move backwards is easily explained by the involuntary spasm caused by damage of that level to the brain: the back muscles contract. The wound on the right side of the President’s head is an exit would, and modern day forensic analysis of what photographic evidence remains shows beyond reasonable doubt that the fracture pattern across the skull is only possible as the result of a blow from the rear. No other conclusion is possible. Someone shot the President from behind with a high powered rifle.  According to Howard Donahue, the impact hole reported from the original autopsy – before these findings were revised – and entry and exit damage are consistent with a line which leads inexorably back to the Secret Service limousine travelling behind the President’s car, and to be precise, to the rear left seat.

What I do believe, however, is that by far the most logical explanation for the shooting is that Oswald acted alone, and then one of two things happened. Either he did a dramatically good bit of shooting and the third bullet behaved unusually, or after taking his time for a second shot he left the scene and there was the most almighty accident. Both theories have their problems, but I cannot cut it any other way. On balance, I would go for the Oswald theory but there is still something nagging at the back of my mind. I cannot understand how the first autopsy report would miss-state the area, or indeed the size, of the entry wound. Nor can I understand how a full metal jacket bullet would simply disintegrate like that.    

Perhaps “not proven” in respect of each would be the right verdict. But there is just this. If it had been determined by the Warren Commission that there had been a tragic accident in respect of the third bullet there would have been all hell to pay. And if you were to ask me whether it was highly convenient for Lee Harvey Oswald to be silenced, I would also agree. After all, if he said he had only fired twice, some very awkward questions would be asked.  And as Sherlock Homes said in “The Sign of Four”:

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

©Gildas the Monk.

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