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Friday, 23 April 2021 06:14

Bending the Story on a Bent Bullet

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Milicent Cranor uncovers serious issues with Dr. Gary Aguilar, Dr. Douglas DeSalles, and Bill Simpich’s assessment of Navy doctor James Young and Dr. Randy Robertson in their article entitled Summary of Robertson’s Salient Mistakes. She attempts to set the record straight, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of this obscure piece of evidence regarding the “bent bullet.”


In October of 2017, I posted this story on WhoWhatWhy, “Navy Doctor: Bullet Found in JFK’s Limousine, and Never Reported.”

If you’re familiar with the medical evidence in the matter of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, you may know that, during the president’s autopsy, skull fragments found in the limousine and street were brought to the autopsy table. What you may not know is that something else was allegedly found in the limousine and brought up with the skull fragments—but not reported.

Decades later, Dr. Randy Robertson, a board member of the Assassination Archives and Research Center, came upon obscure documents concerning this important piece of evidence.

According to Navy doctor James Young, a bullet was included in an envelope with the bone fragments and he had a chance to inspect it before passing it on to the pathologists. He wasn’t sure if it was made of copper or brass, but here’s what he said about its shape:

“…it was slightly bent on the end. It was not a straight bullet. In other words, it had hit something and it bent…”

For more details on Young’s account, please scroll down to Appendix A.

Recently, the very existence of that bullet has been challenged. This report is strictly in response to that specific challenge.

It appears in one segment—point 4—of a much longer article, “Summary of Robertson’s Salient Mistakes” by Gary Aguilar, MD, Douglas DeSalles, MD, and Bill Simpich, JD.

In Point 4, the authors focus on discrediting two people: James Young, the Navy doctor who said he saw the bullet, and Randy Robertson, who believed him.

Issue 1

The authors say, “Dr. Young used the term ‘slug’ to describe it and it is on this term that Robertson builds his case that a ‘whole bullet’ was found in the limousine.”

It seems far more likely that Robertson saw the “slug” as a whole bullet simply because of Young’s description of it—which the authors do not include in their paper.  

Young used the term “Bullet” with greater frequency than the word “slug.” He said “bullet,” about six times in the Oral History interview and three times in his letter to Gerald Ford.

They reinforce this false premise: “After doing the Oral History interview, Young wrote to President Gerald Ford asking Ford if he knew anything about the ‘brass slug’ Chiefs Mills and Martinelli [sic] had found in the limo. Ford replied, ‘No, he didn’t know anything about it, had not heard anything about it ever.’”

It appears that Aguilar et al. did not read much of the material, not even the short bits. “Bullet” is hard to miss in this correspondence. From Young to Ford:

Two of the corpsmen left and returned sometime later with three varying sized pieces of President Kennedy’s skill bones. In addition, they brought back in an envelope a spent misshapen bullet which they had found on the back floor of the “Queen Mary” where they had found the pieces of skull bones. The bullet and pieces of skull were given to Dr. Jim Humes.

I have never seen anything written about that spent bullet in the Warren Report or elsewhere. Do you recall any testimony or comments which would clarify my concerns?

From Ford to Young:

As a member of the Warren Commission I was very conscientious about my participation in the hearings. However, I have no recollection of “the spent bullet” you refer to.

Young also said that he would ask Arlen Specter to “look into what happened to that bullet.” 

The above makes it clear that Young frequently referred to a “bullet,” and much less frequently, called it a “slug.” So, why fault Randy Robertson for assuming Young was talking about a bullet when that is exactly what he called it?

More important, whatever shape the bullet was in, it was an important piece of evidence that went unreported.

Issue 2

The authors assert that Young confused the little fragment (CE 569) shown below with a whole bullet:

No ‘non-fragmented bullet with a bent tip’ ever existed. Robertson made up its existence out of an ambiguity in Young’s use of the term ‘slug.’ No ‘complete bullet’ was ever found in the limousine. Dr. Young was referring to Q3, later designated C3, and even later designated CE 569.

How could Young have been referring to that little fragment—the base of a bullet, not the tip—when he never even saw it? He did not go down to the garage with the petty officers. Nor did those officers bring it back to the autopsy. Those fragments were turned over immediately to the FBI. And that fragment (CE 569) does not remotely resemble what Young described.

Dr. Aguilar’s argument has all the credibility of what a man told the judge when he was being tried for shooting his mink-encased mother-in-law in the family garage. He said, “Your honor, I thought it was a raccoon!”

Issue 3

Aguilar et al. present a “foundational document” on the fragments discovered in the car, a document that does not mention a whole bullet—so we are to believe the bullet never existed:

This is all Robertson says about Dr. Young and the ‘bent brass slug’ that Chief Mills or Marinelli [sic] found on the floor of the Presidential limousine. This is odd since one of the most foundational documents in the case—Commission Document 80, a 15-page document including photos and another SS Report—tells in granular detail how the various fragments were discovered on the evening of November 22nd.

We in the research community have seen many documents that are false, misleading, incomplete, or otherwise not reliable.

A passage in this “foundational” document contains intriguing information that may explain how the bullet, or whatever Young was talking about, could have been picked up by Martinell and carried—but unseen—because it was submerged in brain. (And this might explain why FBI firearms expert Robert A. Frazier never saw it.) (See Appendix B for a longer quote from the “foundational” document, CD 80.)

They then recovered a three-inch triangular section of skull. Martinell also recovered what was apparently a quantity of brain tissue from the back seat of the car.

Question 1: Could that “quantity of brain tissue” have embedded the bullet, or whatever Young called a bullet, so that it was—at the time—out of sight?

Question 2: Whether it contained any metal or not, why didn’t Humes report that “quantity of brain tissue” when he reported the bone fragments? After all, it’s evidence. There should be a description of it, and whether it was searched for bullet fragments. (Humes reported plenty of trivia, so why not this?) Could that brain tissue have been cerebellum?

But then Humes was quite deceitful when it came to reporting things directly related to the wounds. For instance, incredibly, he never even mentioned the gross condition of the cerebellum in the autopsy report or his testimony. Not one word on how much of it was left. We only have Parkland Hospital’s descriptions of the organ (very damaged, half of it missing…) This was one of the most talked about pieces of gore in all the literature on the head wound. I seem to be the only one concerned with this omission. (Click here for details)

A related mystery: Clint Hill and others have said that hair was attached to the large bone fragment. That hair should have been documented, combed for bullet fragments—and used to help identify where the bone fragment came from. His hair was longish on top, but considerably shorter in back. What happened to it? 

Question 3: Why didn’t Aguilar et al. mention this “quantity of brain” picked up by the petty officer along with the skull fragments—and not reported? It is clearly relevant.

And here’s a discrepancy that may have a mundane explanation, but should be noted:

Aguilar et al. said, “This ‘whole bullet’ is never mentioned in the notes FBI Agent Robert Frazier kept during his forensic examination of the limousine at the Secret Service garage between 2:00 AM and 4:30 AM on the morning of November 23rd.”

But, according to the “foundational document,” the petty officers who picked up the bone fragments and Secret Service agents arrived much earlier—at 10:00 PM. 

[Re the question about why the bullet was not mentioned by Frazier, the above may explain it. Or not.]

Issue 4

The authors try to close the case and snuff out Dr. Young’s contribution:

Now with the whole story of what happened in the White House garage fully described in various reports, whatever Dr. Young thought he was seeing is rendered irrelevant. We know what happened. It was not just Martinelli [sic] and Mills who searched the limousine…

“Rendered irrelevant?” Not so fast.

“We know what happened.” Aguilar doesn’t seem aware of the simplest, most basic, most relevant facts upon which to base his theory—that Young confused the little fragment found in the front of the car with the less damaged bullet Young says was found in the back of the car and brought to the autopsy table along with the skull fragments.

The Basic facts need repeating:

  • Young never even saw that little fragment. He stayed in the autopsy room and never went down to the garage where the limousine was, and where the front seat fragments were found. Petty officers were sent.
  • The front seat fragments were turned over to the FBI and whisked away. (Commission Exhibits 567 and 569)
  • The front seat fragments were NOT brought back to the autopsy table.
  • So how could James Young have confused a spent bullet (or any form of a bullet) with CE 569 which is the hollow base of a bullet—with no tip, bent or otherwise?

When it comes to this case, it’s hard to know what to believe. But sometimes we know what not to believe. Considering all the deception we have seen, all the lies by major players about major issues, the planting of evidence, the destruction of evidence—why is it so hard to believe James Young?

Aguilar et al. seem to believe official stories:

The other bullet fragment found in the front seat area is shown in figure 31. The simplest explanation is clearly that CE 567 dropped down into the front seat area after striking the windshield at 328/329. CE 569 likewise dropped into the front seat area at 328/329 after striking the rear-facing chrome strip shown in Figure 30.

As the authors know very well, the “stretcher bullet” was planted. Yet they trust the government version on the front seat fragments. While I have no reason to doubt that claim—I have no reason to believe it either.

And I keep remembering something Roy Kellerman said. He’s the Secret Service agent who sat in the front passenger seat of JFK’s limousine, the place where the fragments were found. From his interview with the HSCA:

Kellerman recalled that when he was in the car just moments after the shots he observed “a splattering of metal around me.” And he said there had to be “four or five metal fragments in the car.”

Four or five? Had to be? But only two were reported. (I’m assuming he was not referring to tiny lead particles. Those were probably too numerous to count.) This could have an innocent explanation, but not necessarily.

And then there’s the odd story of the undertaker who said a federal agent had shown him a glass vial filled with fragments taken from Kennedy’s head – 10 fragments. Yet, the lead pathologist said he only removed two fragments. (ARRB MD 180, p.3) (Someone else made a similar claim, but I can’t remember who.)

In most of these cases of gross discrepancies, it’s impossible to find hard proof of who is right. But there is one thing you can prove: when a person makes a false claim about what is, or is not, in a particular document. Whether the false claim is a lie, or a mistake, is a matter of judgment.

Personal Note

I know all three of the authors (Aguilar, DeSalles, and Simpich) quoted above and suspect the ideas expressed in Point (4) of the larger paper are mostly those of Dr. Aguilar, whose work was trusted by the other two, but that’s just my theory. And I believe they dashed out that article too quickly, in defense of a comrade, Josiah Thompson, whose book Randy Robertson has harshly criticized. I can sympathize with this impulse. The problem is—they did it at the expense of James Young, who seems to have done nothing to deserve such disrespect. And if they succeed in snuffing out all references to this unprovable, but still interesting bit of evidence, then they also did it at the expense of future research.

Addendum

One theory about what happened to the bullet James Young said he saw:
A family member of the late George Burkley, Kennedy’s personal physician, reportedly told researcher John Titus that “something relating to the assassination—something very important—was stolen from Dr. Burkley as he traveled between airports on his way to Denver.”

Click here to read Titus’s story about what happened when he reported this to former Warren Commissioner David Slawson. And click here for more.

Appendix A

James Young, MD, one of Kennedy’s personal physicians who attended the autopsy, believes he witnessed something strange that was never reported anywhere, apparently.

Soon after the autopsy, he wrote a memoir about what he saw for his children. He revisited that memoir in 2001 during an interview with the US Navy Medical Department Oral History Program.

The lead pathologist, James Humes, MD, said bones were missing from JFK’s head, and asked two petty officers (Chiefs Thomas Mills and William Martinell) to retrieve any bone fragments left in the president’s car. (p. 53)

They came back with an envelope that contained three pieces of skull as well as a “brass slug about half a centimeter in diameter and distorted.” Later in the interview he said:

I came across this issue of the bullet [while looking at the memoir]…

They picked up the bullet off of the floor in the back of the car. Well, I decided that this is something, you know, the third bullet has never been decided about ever, apparently…I went through the entire Warren Commission book…I went through the whole thing and there was nothing in it.

Now, at that particular time nobody said anything about this. And I know what we did. We brought that in, I mean Chief Martinell and Chief Mills went…got the stuff off of the floor in the back seat, brought it back out to us and we gave that to Commander Humes at the time…

[…]

So, the bullet, again, was a copper jacketed bullet like a military bullet?

No, it was a brass jacket…I don’t know, maybe it was copper, I couldn’t tell. But it was that color or brass and it was slightly bent on the end. It was not a straight bullet. In other words, it had hit something and it bent…and so I called Tom Mills and I said, “Tom do you recall this situation?’ He said, ‘Yes I do’ and he said, ‘You’re exactly right.’ He said, ‘We did bring that slug out from the back…’

The last time Young tried to talk to Mills, Mills said he didn’t want to talk about it. He’s not the only one.

Appendix B

From Aguilar et al.’s paper: On the Mary Ferrell site it is described as “Commission Document 80 - Secret Service Report of 06 Jan. 1964 re: Presidential car.” Below is a photocopy of a paragraph from page 2 of the Report:

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 April 2021 03:33
Milicent Cranor

Milicent Cranor is currently a senior editor at whowhatwhy.org. She has been a creative editor at E.P. Dutton (fiction, non fiction); comedy ghostwriter; co-author of numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals; editor of consequential legal and scientific documents; former member of the American Mensa Society. Milicent was a frequent contributor to Probe.

More in this category: « Tom Bethell: A Study in Duplicity

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