Tuesday, 28 August 2012 23:11

G. Paul Chambers, Head Shot: The Science Behind The JFK Assassination

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Despite telling us that “consistency with other evidence is very important to scientists”, he appears to have studied each point in isolation and then cherry-picked the details that fit his own thesis. The one point it can really be said that Dr. G. Paul Chambers Ph. D. both makes and proves in his book is that credentials and a good reputation are no proof against being wrong, concludes Martin Hay.


G. Paul Chambers' Head Shot: The Science Behind The JFK Assassination is another one of those books that I probably should have expected would be disappointing. The pre-publicity made some fairly bold promises (such as identifying the second rifle and proving the locations of the other assassins) that, on reflection, were destined to go unfulfilled. But Chambers scientific credentials are pretty impressive—according to his publishers' website Chambers has fifteen years experience as an experimental physicist for the US Navy and is a contractor with the NASA Goddard Optics Branch—and this fact coupled with the praise being heaped on the book by the likes of Cyril Wecht, David Wrone and Michael Kurtz got me pretty excited.

Head Shot was preceded earlier this year by the publication of another scientists' treatise of the JFK forensic evidence, Hear No Evil by Donald Thomas. As I made clear in my review of that book, I am in full agreement with Six Seconds In Dallas author Josiah Thompson when he writes that “Don Thomas has produced the best book on the Kennedy Assassination published within the last thirty years...His book sets the table for all future discussions of what happened in Dealey Plaza” With this in mind, it was difficult not to make comparisons between the two works and it would be fair to say that, to my mind, Chambers' book did not come off favourably. I had hoped that with Thomas' book running to nearly 800 pages, Chambers' relatively slim 250 page volume would be the one I would be happy to recommend to newcomers to the case. But this was not to be. As I hope to show, although there are some good points scattered throughout Head Shot, they are unfortunately out-weighed by a number of factual errors, flawed analysis and glaring contradictions that would be sure sure to mislead the less informed reader.

I

It is only fair that I begin by highlighting some of the better parts of the book. One of the areas that Chambers does a respectable job on is the acoustics evidence first brought to light by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Like Don Thomas, Chambers places great emphasis on the remarkable concordance between the dictabelt recording and the other known evidence because, as Chambers writes, “Consistency with other evidence is very important to scientists.” (p. 73) In their desperate attempts to shoot down the acoustics, anti-conspiracy buffs and Warren Commission adherents like Dale Myers, Gerald Posner and—despite his pledge not to withhold anything from the reader—Vincent Bugliosi, never see fit to report what it was that convinced the HSCA acoustic experts that they had found a genuine audio recording of the shots in Dealey Plaza. Namely, the “order in the data.” The fact is, everything about the Dallas Police dictabelt recording fit together all too well with what was already known about the circumstances of the assassination’ and synchronized perfectly with the other crucial record of the crime; the Zapruder film.

When the HSCA experts analyzed the suspect impulses on the dictabelt alongside the sounds of test shots recorded by an array of microphones placed along the Presidential parade route in Dealey Plaza, “they found something extraordinary...they found a number of significant matches.” (p. 123) Firstly, rather than falling in some random order, the matches fell in the correct 1-2-3-4-5 topographic order. Secondly, as Chambers explains, “When the locations of the microphones that recorded matches in the 1978 reconstruction were plotted on a graph of time versus distance, it was found that the location of the microphones that recorded matches were clustered around a line on the graph that was consistent with the known speed of the motorcade (11 mph), as estimated from the Zapruder film.” (ibid) Thirdly, the fourth impulse in the sequence was matched with “a confidence level of 95 percent” to a shot fired from the grassy knoll. (p. 126) And finally, when the fourth impulse is aligned with the explosion of JFK's head at Zapruder frame 313, the third impulse falls at the only other visible reaction to a shot on the film; the flipping of Governor Connally's lapel at frame 225. This means that the exact same 4.8 second gap between shots is found on both the audio and visual evidence. These correlations between the acoustics and all other known data provide the most convincing reasons to believe that the dictabelt is a genuine recording of the assassination gunfire.

Predictably, the conclusions of the HSCA scientists received almost instantaneous criticism from the FBI and a National Research Council panel commissioned by the Justice Department. The NRC panel received a great deal of attention because it was chaired by a distinguished Harvard physicist, Professor Norman Ramsey, and had as its most active member a Nobel Prize winner, Luis Alvarez. But despite the credentials of its members, none of whom were actually experts in acoustics, the only remotely significant challenge the panel was able to present in its report was an instance of “cross-talk”. They used this to claim that it placed the suspected shots a full minute after the assassination. However, as Dr. Thomas explained, “there are multiple—five—instances of cross-talk” on the dictabelt that “do not even synchronize with one another...Hence, the cross-talk does not prove that the putative gunshots are not synchronous with the shooting.” (Hear No Evil, p. 662) Discussing the NRC panel, Chambers writes, “A great reputation is no proof against being wrong. In general, criticizing a successful experimental scientist, like [HSCA acoustic expert] Dr. Barger, in his area of expertise is a dicey proposition. Someone who does acoustical analysis for a living is not likely to make major mistakes in his field of investigation.” But, “leaving reputations aside and focusing only on the data, who is more likely to be right?” (pp. 141-142)

As mentioned above, the order in the data is by itself hugely compelling. The last in the sequence of test shot matches occurred at a microphone 143 feet from the first, and the time between the first and last suspected shots on the dictabelt was 8.3 seconds. In order for the Police motorcycle officer whose stuck microphone was suspected of recording the gunfire to travel 143 feet in 8.3 seconds he would need to be traveling at approximately 11 mph—almost the exact speed at which the FBI estimated the Presidential limousine was moving on Elm street. (Thomas, p. 583) As Chambers asks, “What are the odds of that happening randomly?...One could certainly insert a big number for the total number of possibilities, leaving a very small probability that this would happen randomly. But it isn't necessary.” (p. 142) On top of this, we have the fact that the timing of the shots fits so perfectly with the reactions seen on the Zapruder film.

  • “Syncing the final head shot from the grassy knoll to frame 312...” Chambers explains, “the probability of finding the shot that hit Connally to within five frames...is about one in a hundred...Matching up the first shot to the frames before Kennedy reaches the Stemmons Freeway sign and the second shot to a strike of Kennedy behind the sign is another one chance in a hundred times one chance in a hundred for a one-in-ten-thousand chance for an accidental match.”
  • Multiplying all this by the probability of all shot origins falling in the correct order is another one chance in sixteen, “yielding a one-in-sixteen-million chance that the acoustic analysis could match up the timing and shot sequence in the Zapruder film by chance.” Multiplying the probability of both the order in the data and the synchronization of the audio film being random together, “it is readily established that there is only one chance in eleven billion that both correlations could occur as the result of random noise.” (pp. 142-143) [As if all that wasn't enough, Dr. Thomas, who is an expert statistician, calculated the odds of a random impulse having the acoustic fingerprint of a shot from the grassy knoll as “100,000 to one, against.” (Thomas, p. 632)]

So, to return to Chambers' earlier question, “Who is more likely to be right?” The likes of Dale Myers who, despite there being no film or photograph showing the acoustically required position, insists his analysis “proves” the police motorcycle was not where it needed to be? Or “the acoustic and sonar specialists who believe that the sounds of gunshots are apparent on the tapes from Dealey Plaza”? If Chambers' math is correct, and there really is only a one in 11 billion chance that the near-perfect correlations between the dictabelt and the other evidence could occur accidentally, I know where I'm putting my money down.

II

In another highly enjoyable chapter titled “Reclaiming History?”, the author takes Vincent Bugliosi to task for the flawed reasoning that permeated his bloated and tedious tome. To be honest, in his comprehensive multi-part review, Jim DiEugenio has proven six ways to Sunday that picking instances of abysmal logic from Reclaiming History is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But the examples Chambers presents are nonetheless entertaining.

In his introduction, Bugliosi recounts a tale of attending a trial lawyers convention at which he sought to “prove in one minute or less that close to six hundred lawyers were not thinking intelligently.” The former prosecutor asked his audience for a show of hands as to how many of them rejected the findings of the Warren Commission and a “forest of hands went up, easily 85 to 90 percent” of those in attendance. He then asked for a “show of hands as to those who had seen the recent movie JFK or at any time in the past had ever read any book or magazine article propounding the conspiracy theory or otherwise rejecting the findings of the Warren Commission.” Again a large number of hands were raised at which point Bugliosi opined, “I'm sure you will all agree...that before you form an intelligent opinion on a matter in dispute you should hear both sides of the issue...With that in mind, how many of you have read the Warren Report?” This time, a much smaller number of hands were raised. “In one minute...” Bugliosi claims, “I had proved my point. The overwhelming majority in the audience had formed an opinion rejecting the findings of the Warren Commission without bothering to read the Commission's report” (Reclaiming History, pp. xxiv-xxv)

Whilst to some—most likely the lazy-minded—Bugliosi's reasoning on this point might appear sound at first blush, like so many of his arguments it is entirely lacking in substance. As Chambers writes, if one were to ask a room full of scientists how many had read the discourses on physics by ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (who believed that the Earth could not rotate because everyone would fly off) very few hands would go up. Why? “Because they already know his conclusions are wrong. If his conclusions are wrong, his reasoning must be flawed as well.” (Chambers, p. 148) The same applies to the Warren Report. If you have read the works of first generation critics like Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg and Mark Lane, who all compared the evidence in the Commission's volumes against the conclusions in its report, then there is no need to read the report for yourself because you already know its conclusions are wrong. Perhaps Bugliosi also believes that before we make up our minds what the evidence tells us about the shape of our planet we need to listen to what the Flat Earth Society has to say.

Chambers goes on to show the reader how Bugliosi's “logic” can be contradictory and ultimately self-defeating. As every assassination student knows, seconds after the shots were fired, dozens of Dealey Plaza witnesses, including Dallas police officers and deputy sheriffs, rushed to the area from which they thought shots were coming: the aptly titled “grassy knoll.” But Bugliosi, who maintains that it “would make absolutely no sense at all” for an assassin to choose the knoll as his firing position, claims that while some of the witnesses might have thought they heard shots coming from that location, “most” were running there to pursue the assassin. He goes on to tell us that the only “possible area where a Dealey Plaza spectator might think, at least on the spur of the moment, an assassin would conceivably fire from” is the knoll and concrete pergola area. Why? Because of its “walls and heavy foliage..he would know that the parking lot area behind the knoll and pergola would be the only area an escaping assassin could run through.” (Bugliosi, p. 850) In response to this silliness, Chambers points out that, “First, none of the witnesses said they based their belief that a shot came from the grassy knoll because they deduced that it was the best location for an assassin to be...” In fact, they all based their conclusion on the sound of the shot or the sight of gunsmoke coming from behind the fence. “Second, if the Dealey Plaza witnesses could figure out on the spur of the moment that the grassy knoll was the perfect location for an assassin because of its proximity to Elm Street, its masking cover of fence and foliage, and its unobstructed escape route back through the railroad yard, couldn't the assassin figure that out as well?” (Chambers, p. 169) Thus, Bugliosi finds himself in the unenviable position of having been hoist with his own petard.

Despite the fact that more than fifty witnesses believed shots were fired from the knoll, Bugliosi has no problem dismissing the relevance of their testimonies. Unbelievably, he is not the least bit impressed by the credibility of this vast number of people. Even though it included Secret Service agents, Presidential aides, Dallas law enforcement and newspaper reporters. As Chambers observes, during his time as a Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Bugliosi put five men on death row for the murder of Sharon Tate and six others and he did so based on the testimony of a single witness. “How is it then” Chambers asks, “that Mr. Bugliosi can dismiss out of hand the fifty witnesses who reported seeing smoke, hearing gunshots, or seeing assassins behind the fence on the grassy knoll? Given that one witness is enough to close a capital murder case, how is it then that Mr. Bugliosi believes that the testimony of fifty eyewitnesses isn't sufficient to warrant an investigation?” (pp. 169-170) It is a valid question indeed. Apparently one witness is enough when lives hang in the balance; but fifty just won't cut it when you're writing a book.

Before moving on, I'd like to add an example of my own that I think demonstrates how easily toppled Bugliosi's arguments are by the evidence he omits. Having claimed, somewhat amusingly, to have proven that Oswald was the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza, Bugliosi tells us that “no group of top-level conspirators would ever employ someone as unstable and unreliable as Oswald to commit the biggest murder in history...” (Bugliosi, p. 977) In fact, he tells us, “To believe a group of conspirators like the CIA or mob would entrust the biggest murder in American history to Oswald, of all people, is too preposterous a notion for any rational person to harbor in his or her mind for more than a millisecond.” (p. 1446) Even if we accept his claim that Oswald was the lone assassin, Bugliosi's claim that this rules out a conspiracy with the CIA is contradicted by the words of the Agency itself!

As Bugliosi was no doubt aware, 1997 saw the declassification of a very interesting document; the CIA's 1953 instructional manual, A Study of Assassination. The would-be killers manual describes a number of assassination scenarios including one code-named “lost.” “In lost assassination” it states, “the assassin must be a fanatic of some sort. Politics, religion, and revenge are about the only feasible motives. Since a fanatic is unstable psychologically, he must be handled with extreme care. He must not know the identities of the other members of the organization, for although it is intended that he die in the act, something may go wrong.” So if we are to believe Bugliosi's portrait of Oswald as an unstable, fanatical leftist with delusions of grandeur, it appears that by the CIA's own admission he would be exactly the type of man it would use as an assassin.

III

It may seem like a trivial point to some but Chambers' treatment of the Warren Commission and its report is just simply inadequate. To be frank, it is shallow and apologetic. The reason being that for information concerning the inner workings and motivations of the Commission the author chose to rely heavily on the book Inquest by CIA-friendly author Edward Epstein. It is more than a little baffling why Chambers would use Epstein's flawed and outdated 1965 book as his main source rather than Gerald McKnight's authoritative work published in 2003, Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. But not only do nearly half of the footnotes for his Commission critique refer to Inquest, Chambers actually titles his second chapter “Edward Epstein” and incorrectly refers to him as “the first person to criticize the conclusions of the Warren Commission in print.” (p. 31)

As most genuine researchers today understand, Inquest was not a true investigation of the Commission and Epstein was never a true critic. And although it seemed to escape the attention of many at the time, this is actually made clear in the introduction to his book written by journalist and political columnist Richard H. Rovere. “Mr. Epstein does not challenge or even question the fundamental integrity of the Commission or its staff” Rovere writes. “He discards as shabby 'demonology' the view that the Commissioners collusively suppressed evidence...His concern when he undertook this study was not with the conclusions the Commission reached; it was with the processes of fact finding employed by an agency having a complex and in some ways ambiguous relationship to the bureaucracy that brought it into being.” (Epstein, pp.. x-xi) Of course, it is not “shabby demonology” to accuse the Commission of suppressing evidence. It is a fact, pure and simple. A single example will be sufficient to prove this point.

As the transcript of the Commission's January 27, 1964, executive session shows, it was fully aware that President Kennedy's back wound was lower than the hole in his throat:

RANKIN: Then there is a great range of material in regard to the wounds, and the autopsy and this point of exit or entrance of the bullet in the front of the neck...We have an explanation there in the autopsy that probably a fragment came out the front of the neck, but with the elevation the shot must have come from, the angle, it seems quite apparent now, since we have the picture of where the bullet entered in the back, that the bullet entered below the shoulder blade, to the right of the backbone, which is below the place where the picture shows the bullet came out in the neckband of the shirt in front, and the bullet, according to the autopsy didn’t strike any bone at all, that particular bullet, and go through. So how it could turn—

BOGGS: I thought I read that bullet just went in a finger’s length.

RANKIN: That is what they first said. [Author‘s emphasis]

As the Commission collected the facts of the shooting it quickly became obvious that the only way it would be able to pin the blame solely on Oswald would be to endorse Arlen Specter's Single Bullet Theory. But this meant that the back wound had to be higher than the throat wound. The answer to this apparently insurmountable problem was simple: Commission member and future president Gerald Ford simply moved the wound up the body to the back of President Kennedy’s neck. (McKnight, p. 193) And to insure that they got away with it, the Commission kept the autopsy photos out of its report and the accompanying 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits. No matter what the Commission's apologists want you to believe, this one decision is solid proof that the Warren Commission was engaged in a deliberate cover-up and suppression of evidence. Period.

Quoting Epstein, Chambers writes that the Commission operated with dual purposes. “If the explicit purpose of the Commission was to ascertain and expose the facts, the implicit purpose was to protect the national interest by dispelling rumors.” (Chambers, p. 32) Hogwash! The Commission had one purpose and one purpose only: To insure that the buck stopped with Oswald. Ascertaining and exposing the facts was only its official charge. In practice it was never part of the equation.

In the days following the assassination, President Johnson had received a number of false reports from the CIA’s Mexico City station claiming that two months previously, Lee Harvey Oswald had been in Mexico City meeting with communist agents. CIA station chief, Winston Scott, claimed to have uncovered evidence that Cuban Premiere Fidel Castro, with possible Soviet support, had paid Oswald to assassinate President Kennedy. Johnson, already shaken up by information he received from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover that someone impersonating Oswald had been in contact with the Soviet embassy in Mexico, began to see the specter of nuclear war looming large over Washington. (McKnight, p. 24) As we now know, LBJ had been at the receiving end of an elaborate ruse orchestrated by the CIA, aimed at laying the blame for the assassination at Castro's door. Its ultimate goal appears to have been provoking a U.S. invasion of Cuba.

After leaving office, Johnson told Walter Cronkite of CBS news that on becoming president he had discovered that Kennedy “had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” JFK, he had been led to believe, had tried to kill Castro, but Castro had got to him first. Johnson, it appears, had fallen for the CIA's deception, hook, line and sinker. But rather than risk nuclear war with the USSR by retaliating against the Cubans, he chose instead to pin the blame squarely on Oswald's shoulders. At the suggestion of columnist Joe Alsop and Yale Law School’s Gene Rostow, LBJ selected a Presidential Commission as the best way to achieve this end. When he chose Earl Warren to chair the Commission, Johnson explained to the reluctant Chief Justice that 40 million lives were hanging in the balance. As historian David Wrone explains, “Clearly, LBJ was implying that if the public perceived Oswald to be part of a much larger plot—that is, a communist conspiracy—there would be calls for retaliation, which would quickly escalate into nuclear war. For that reason...the crime had to be shown to be the work of Oswald alone...With that realization...Warren accepted the chairmanship of the commission, seeking to shut down the communist conspiracy rumor mill and confirm Oswald as the lone assassin.” (The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination, pp. 144-145) This was the one and only purpose of the Warren Commission and it is clearly evident in any honest study of its investigation.

IV

In my view, Chambers' handling of the medical evidence is by far the most disappointing aspect of this book. I found myself shaking my head in several places, and I think my jaw actually dropped at one point. He makes a number of bold statements without backing them up or even mentioning the evidence to the contrary. He pushes an outdated and incredible theory involving the handling of Kennedy's body. And he makes one particular claim that many may find beyond belief.

Taking what some readers may feel is too long a digression in what is a fairly slim book ostensibly about the Kennedy assassination, Chambers attempts to explain “How Science Arrives At the Truth.” In so doing, he relates the story of “Piltdown Man”, a famous anthropological hoax concerning the finding of a skull and jawbone from a previously unknown early human that “hindered progress in the field of anthropology for decades.” It took more than forty years for the fossils to be exposed as a 600-year-old human skull and an 800-year-old lower jawbone from an orangutan that had been chemically stained to make them appear ancient. (Chambers, pp. 65-71) Chambers proceeds to tell us that “In the final analysis, Kennedy's corpse is America's Piltdown Man.” (p. 113) Why does he say that? Because he subscribes to David Lifton's body alteration hypothesis.

In a nutshell, Lifton believes that because the original statements of the Parkland Hospital physicians who treated the moribund President indicated that he was shot from the front, but the autopsy surgeons in Bethesda concluded he was struck only from behind, his body must have been stolen whilst aboard the Presidential aircraft, Air Force One, and the wounds altered to conform to the official story. Of all the many, many problems with Lifton's wild and outlandish theory perhaps the most destructive is the fact there was never any opportunity for the body to be stolen. As David Wrone explains, “Lifton omits from his account that the body was wet, dripping in blood and other fluids that, when lifted from the coffin, would have left telltale signs and alerted aides, crew, and guards...Further, when the pallbearers placed the coffin on board, steel wrapping cables were placed around it and its lid to prevent shifting during takeoff and landing and in case of air disturbances in flight, as must be done to cargo on airplanes for safety. Removing and replacing such cables would have required time and opportunity that were unavailable to any would-be conspirators. In addition, the casket was under ample armed guard at all times during the flight, a fact that Lifton neglects to mention.” (Wrone, p. 133)

In an interview with author Harrison Livingstone in 1987, long-time aide and friend to President Kennedy Dave Powers swore that “the coffin was never unattended.” He called Lifton's book “The biggest pack of malarkey I ever heard in my life. I never had my hands or eyes off it [the coffin] during the period he says it was unattended...we stayed right there with the coffin and never let go of it. In fact several of us were there with it through the whole trip, all the way to Bethesda Naval Hospital. It couldn't have happened the way that fellow said. Not even thirty seconds. I never left it. There was a general watch. We organized it.” (Livingstone, High Treason, p. 40)

Chambers is well aware of this problem, but he tries to talk his way round it. Bear with me: he first he makes mention of the street magic of illusionist David Blaine and the famous disappearing Jumbo Jet illusion performed by David Copperfield. Based on this he reasons that “if one asks if it were possible to pull sleight-of-hand or use misdirection to make Kennedy's body disappear, sneak it off the plane, alter it, and return it, the answer would have to be in the affirmative.” (Chambers, p. 112) I actually couldn't believe what I was reading at this point. Does it really deserve a response? Just who does Chambers think was involved in this conspiracy? Siegfried and Roy? What makes it even worse is that Chambers is employing a classic double-standard. In a separate chapter he argues for the authenticity of the Zapruder film precisely because “No opportunity existed in the film's chain of custody to enable conspirators to filch and alter the film.” (p. 188) Of course, he is right about the Zapruder film but he should have applied the same reasoning to Lifton's flawed allegation.

But Lifton is not the only source whom Chambers allows to lead him up the garden path. He also buys into the disinformation spouted by Gary Mack and the Discovery Channel in their absolutely appalling documentary, Inside the Target Car. Chambers writes that “if a 6.5 mm frangible round struck Kennedy in the back of the head, it likely would have blown his head off. This was proven by a live-fire test into the head of an anthropomorphic dummy representing Kennedy conducted by the Discovery Channel in 2008.” (p. 162) For those who missed the show, Mack had world class marksman Michael Yardley fire a soft nosed hunting bullet from a .30 caliber Winchester rifle at a dummy head. Shockingly, the “replica” head was completely obliterated; there was quite literally nothing left above the “neck.” Whilst it's easy to understand how the average viewer might have taken this display at face value it is harder to believe that someone with a Ph. D. in physics could be suckered by the Discovery Channel. But suckered Chambers was.

As author Don Thomas reported, “human heads do not disintegrate when struck by rifle bullets, even high-powered hunting rounds. They do burst open and are considerably deformed, as can be seen in photographs of such victims in [Vincent] DiMiao's (1993) textbook Gunshot Wounds, but they do not disintegrate.” Like Jim DiEugenio and Millicent Cranor, Dr. Thomas immediately recognized the problem with Mack's live-fire test; “whatever materials went into the construction of the model heads...they were far more fragile than the real thing.” (Thomas, p. 366) In other words, the test was rigged. And what makes Chambers' acceptance of this farce all the more puzzling is that he himself postulates that Kennedy's head was struck by a frangible round!

Chambers makes his biggest blunders when discussing the autopsy X-rays. He attempts to cast doubt on their authenticity by writing matter-of-factly that “Kennedy's face was described as undamaged by witnesses” but “the official x-rays of Kennedy's head appeared to show a large portion of his front right skull missing.” (pp. 103-104) As he admits, he bases this on the work of researcher Robert Groden who has been making this claim for a couple of decades now. The problem is, as far as I'm aware, not a single medical professional has ever supported Groden's obviously erroneous interpretation of missing frontal bone. So the question is: Why would a scientist like Chambers defer to the unqualified opinion of Bob Groden, who has absolutely no medical qualifications and no training in reading X-rays rather than, say, Dr. David Mantik or Dr. Joseph N. Riley, two men who actually do have such qualifications? I found this extremely disturbing and perplexing to say the least. But based largely on this incorrect interpretation Chambers concludes that “The official autopsy x-ray photo released to the public is clearly not that of Kennedy's head.” (p. 109)

But Chambers is withholding from his readers the steps the HSCA took to authenticate the X-rays over thirty years ago. The committee asked two forensic anthropologists, Dr. Ellis R. Kerley and Dr. Clyde C. Snow, to study the autopsy X-rays alongside pre-mortem X-rays of President Kennedy. As their report states, “It is a well established fact that human bone structure varies uniquely from one individual to another...so that the total pattern of skeletal architecture of a given person is as unique as his or her fingerprints. Forensic anthropologists have long made use of this fact in establishing the positive identifications of persons killed in combat...” (Vol. 7 HSCA p. 43) After performing their analysis, the experts concluded that “the skull and torso radiographs taken at autopsy match the available ante mortem films of the late President in such a wealth of intricate morphological detail that there can be no reasonable doubt that they are indeed X-rays of John F. Kennedy and no other person.” (ibid. p. 45) On top this, a forensic dentist, Dr. Lowell J. Levine, compared the X-rays with JFK's previously existing dental records and reported that the “autopsy films…are unquestionably of the skull of President Kennedy” and that “the unique and individual dental and hard tissue characteristics which may be interpreted from the autopsy films...could not be simulated.” (ibid. p. 61)

The findings of these experts have never been questioned or challenged by any medical or forensic professionals and can rightly be said to establish that the X-rays are indeed of President Kennedy. It is one thing to claim, as Dr. Mantik does, that they have been altered in order to hide evidence of a blow-out to the back of the skull. But for Chambers to insist that the “official autopsy x-ray photo released to the public is clearly not that of Kennedy's head” is not just misleading; it is downright wrong. For me, this was far and away Chambers' worst moment.

But the statement that is sure to antagonize and confuse the largest majority of conspiracy believers is the following: “The doctors at Parkland Hospital noted no wounds of any kind on Kennedy's face, the rear of his head, or the left side of his head.” [my emphasis] (Chambers, p. 205) Once again, I was flabbergasted. It has been so well documented in so many places that it is barely worth repeating here, but the vast majority of Parkland staff reported a wound that had all the appearances of an exit in the “right occipitoparietal” region of the skull—the right rear. In fact, this is superbly recorded in books by the two authors Chambers relied upon so heavily for his medical analysis; Robert Groden and David Lifton. In chapter 13 of his bestselling book, Best Evidence, Lifton quotes extensively from the sworn testimonies of the Dallas physicians and their descriptions of the President's head wound. For example he quotes Dr. Ronald Jones as having seen “a large defect in the back side of the head.” Dr. Charles Carrico as recalling “a large gaping wound, located in the right occipitoparietal area.” And Dr. Malcolm Perry as locating the wound in the “right posterior cranium.” (Best Evidence, paperback edition, p. 367) For his photographic record of the assassination, Groden went one better. He published pictures of well over a dozen Dallas witnesses—including seven doctors and a nurse—placing a hand to their own heads to demonstrate the location of the wound. All put a hand near the back of the head. (The Killing of a President, pp. 86-88)

How all of this could have escaped Chambers' attention is completely beyond me.

V

The final point that needs to be addressed is what for some may be the selling point of Head Shot—the author's professed identification of the rifle used by the grassy knoll gunman. Chambers writes that “Because Kennedy's head recoils backward at the moment of impact, it is reasonable to conclude, based on the law of conservation of momentum, that the bullet that struck him arrived from the front side of the head, remained trapped inside, and never exited.” (p. 205) He notes that the Zapruder film shows multiple jets of blood, bone, and brain matter discharging from the right side of JFK's head and declares that this is consistent with the use of a small caliber, high-velocity frangible round traveling at approximately 4,000 feet per second. “A prime candidate” he tells us, “for the high-speed rifle with high accuracy and a small-caliber round is the [Winchester] .220 Swift, a favorite assassination weapon of the 1960s.” (pp. 207-208) Then with the help of some fancy mathematics he affirms, at least to his own satisfaction, that .220 Swift was indeed the murder weapon.

The most immediately obvious problem with this conclusion is the authors' previously mentioned belief that there was no exit wound anywhere in the head. If the wound seen in the right rear of the skull by the Dallas physicians was, as their descriptions indicate, a point of exit, then it goes without saying that Chambers' theory is off to a false start. But there is another piece of scientific evidence—evidence that Chambers accepts and promotes—that directly contradicts his identification of the murder weapon: The Dallas Police dictabelt.

As Don Thomas has written, the muzzle velocity of the grassy knoll rifle can be determined from its acoustic fingerprint:

The distance from the assassin's position behind the stockade fence to the motorcycle's microphone was an estimated 220 feet. At an ambient temperature of 65ºF the velocity of sound is 1123 feet per second...the arrival time of the muzzle blast [was calculated] at 195.6 milliseconds after the gun was fired. The precedence of the shock wave was...25 milliseconds...Therefore, the arrival time of the latter was 170.9 milliseconds after firing. Again, the shockwave emanated from a point on its trajectory just before striking the President, which was a distance of 141 feet in front of the motorcycle. The time for the shock wave to travel that distance was 125.5 milliseconds. The difference, 45.4 milliseconds is the bullet's flight time. This calculates to a mean velocity of 2202 feet per second. Adding 11.5 percent for air resistance gives a calculated muzzle velocity of 2455 feet per second.” (Thomas, p. 600)

Because the HSCA scientists' analysis allowed ±5 feet for the location of the shooter there is a degree of error built in to this figure—approximately ±104 feet per second. This means that the grassy knoll rifle had a muzzle velocity of approximately 2,350 to 2,550 feet per second which is considerably less than the 4,000 feet per second muzzle velocity of the .220 Winchester Swift. Therefore the reader must make a choice between Chambers' reconstruction of the head shot—which is based on a dismissal of both the hard evidence of the X-rays and the soft evidence of the Dallas doctors' testimonies—and his acceptance of the dictabelt which the author previously told us has only a 1 in 11 billion chance of not being an authentic recording of the shots. The two are not compatible.

In the end I believe this contradiction sums up Chambers' work. Despite telling us that “Consistency with other evidence is very important to scientists” he appears to have studied each point in isolation and then cherry-picked the details that fit his own thesis. The one point it can really be said that Dr. G. Paul Chambers Ph. D. both makes and proves in his book is that credentials and a good reputation are no proof against being wrong.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 21:59
Martin Hay

Martin Hay is a writer and musician living near London. He has been a keen student of the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King for over 15 years and, as well as contributing popular articles to CTKA, maintains his own well-regarded blog, The Mysteries of Dealey Plaza.

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