At this late date, it could be fairly asked whether or not we need another book offering a “reconstruction” of the JFK assassination. The official investigations were so poorly conducted, the post mortem inquest so sloppy and incomplete, that concerned and curious citizens were left with many more questions than answers about exactly what transpired in Dealey Plaza. However, as author Don Thomas argues, the problem lies not so much with the evidence itself but with the way in which the forensic scientists tasked with analyzing it allowed political considerations to color their judgement and dictate their conclusions. This Thomas labels as “Social Constructivism.” As he writes, “science is a social process” and “scientific conclusions are social constructs. The consequences of the results, as much if not more than the empirical evidence itself, will often steer the scientist to one conclusion or another.” (Thomas, p. 8) And as Thomas sets forth, when properly analyzed, the forensic evidence in this case demonstrates overwhelmingly that President Kennedy's murder was the result of a well-executed conspiracy.
Don Thomas is one of very few experts on the acoustics evidence—the Dallas Police dictabelt recording that forced the HSCA's conclusion of a “probable conspiracy”—and as would be expected it is this which provides the back bone for his reconstruction. But with Hear No Evil Thomas has greatly broadened the scope of his inquiry to show how all the pieces of the forensic puzzle can be put together to form a cohesive whole. Among the topics covered are the “sniper's nest,” the fingerprint evidence, Neutron Activation Analysis, the Tippit Murder, Thomas Canning's trajectory analysis, the paraffin casts and Jack Ruby's lie detector test. Thomas subjects all of the above, and more, to an intriguing micro-analysis that I am convinced will impress the majority of serious assassination researchers despite the controversial nature of many of his conclusions.
As is to be expected in a book that totals in excess of 700 pages, Hear No Evil is not without fault and there are occasional errors of fact and omission—some of which will be discussed later in this review. But the objective-minded reader is not likely to find that these impact greatly on the reliability of Thomas' research or the credibility of his central thesis.
I'll begin by discussing what I see as one of the major highlights of Hear No Evil: Thomas' brilliant and compelling discussion of President Kennedy's head wound. It is Thomas' contention that the massive explosion so graphically depicted in the Zapruder film was caused by a single bullet fired from the grassy knoll and that, contrary to official claims, there is no evidence of a rear-entering shot to the head. He rejects claims that the autopsy materials have been fabricated and states “It is not clear to this author why anyone would suppose that the photographs are fakes when in fact they fail to support the official version of the President's wounds.” (p. 248)
The official version is depicted in the infamous Rydberg drawings of Kennedy's head wound which show a small entry hole in the back of the skull and a large exit defect on the right. (CE386 and CE388) As most researchers know, the Rydberg drawings were not based on a study of the autopsy photographs and X-rays but verbal descriptions given by chief prosector, Dr. James J. Humes. Dr. Humes offered the exact same description in his Warren Commission testimony: “...there was a defect in the scalp and some scalp tissue was not available...When we reflected the scalp, there was a through and through defect [emphasis mine] corresponding with the wound in the scalp.” (2H352) Contrary to Humes' claims, no such “through and through” hole is seen in the autopsy X-rays. As Doug Horne revealed in his recent multi-volume set, Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, the ARRB asked three independent forensic specialists to review the JFK autopsy collection and these experts were unanimous in concluding that the X-rays show no entry hole of any kind in the back of the head. (Horne, pgs. 584-586) In fact, both of Humes' colleagues at the autopsy, Dr. J. Thornton Boswell and Colonel Pierre Finck, had already admitted that this was not the case. Boswell explained to the HSCA pathology panel that what was actually discovered upon reflection of the scalp was a small, bevelled notch on the edge of the large defect, and that a semicircular notch on a late arriving bone fragment that was detached from the skull was interpreted as completing the circumference of the inferred hole. (7HSCA246, 260) As Thomas points out, (p. 266) confirmation of Boswell's account can actually be found in the Commission testimony of Dr. Finck (2H379) and the proof that their recollections are correct is found on the back of the autopsy face sheet where, on the night of the autopsy, Boswell provided a drawing of the bone fragment and the notch in the edge of the large defect. (CE397)
When Dr. Humes “broke his silence” by speaking to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992, he claimed that the beveling around this notch in the back of the skull was “proof” that the bullet had entered the back of the head: “It happens 100 times out of 100...It is a law of physics and it is foolproof—absolutely, unequivocally, and without question.” (JAMA, May 27, 1992) Beveling of the skull, as Humes himself explained, is essentially the same as what occurs when a BB is fired through a window: there is a small hole on the outside of the glass where it enters and a larger “crater” on the inside where it exits. But just how “foolproof” is it? Thomas reports that “Contrary to the autopsy doctors assertions, beveling of the bone is not a reliable indicator of an entrance or exit wound.” (Thomas, p. 272) When dealing with a through and through bullet hole, it is usually a valid indicator but even then, as HSCA forensic pathology panel member Dr. John Coe has reported, beveling can often occur on the impact side. (ibid.) And when dealing with fragments or margins of bone, as were JFK's autopsy doctors, “all bets are off.” As Thomas explains, “This is because the laminate nature of cranial bone lends itself to chipping that can easily be confused with beveling.” (p. 273) The truth is, as the autopsy report essentially reveals, in reaching their conclusion the autopsy doctors relied less on the forensic evidence in front of them and more on reports coming in from Dallas that the gunman was located above and behind the Presidential limousine. Their location of the in-shoot was based on little more than an inference and their “unequivocal proof” never existed.
The hole in the scalp was accurately described in the autopsy report as a “lacerated wound.” The cause of this laceration, as Thomas explains it, is tied in with another mystery that has baffled researchers for decades: The large round fragment attached to the outer table of the skull. The official explanation for this fragment is that it represents a cross-section of the bullet that sheared off on impact but this,as the majority of experts agree, is an impossibility. Thomas writes that such “shavings” are “not uncommon, with soft lead bullets not jacketed bullets...such shavings are characteristically lunate, or C-shaped, following the typically circular margin of the entrance hole.” (p. 282) The implausibility of a completely round cross section of a fully-jacketed bullet attaching itself to the outer table of the skull has been dismissed by even Warren Commission devotee and ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan who now claims it must be an “artifact” on the X-ray. This, of course, is akin to conspiracy buffs who label every piece of evidence that doesn't fit their pet theory as “fake” or “altered.” But Thomas provides a real explanation for the presence of this fragment: Shrapnel that broke off from the bullet which struck the street behind the limousine and pancaked against the bone. “Once it is understood that the metal on the outside of the President's skull is a shrapnel fragment,” he writes, “one realizes that there is no evidence that a bullet entered the back of the President's head. Moreover it explains the anomalous fracture pattern noted by researchers [Cyril] Wecht and [Randy] Robertson which suggested a second hit.” (p. 283)
Properly interpreted, the evidence shows that the bullet struck the right temple and exited “through the right posterior parietal region of the head near the midline.” (p. 290) The path of the bullet is established by the track of “bullet dust” on the lateral X-ray and it shows a bullet travelling from front to back. (p. 283) The entrance hole in the temple, seen by witnesses like mortician Tom Robinson, is actually visible as a “lesion in the skin” in the autopsy photographs and lines up with the notch in the frontal bone seen in photograph No. 44. It is here that the track of bullet dust begins and it it extends to a point above both officially proposed entrance locations. Little wonder, then, that the HSCA pathology panel was”unable to totally explain the metallic fragment pattern.” (7HSCA224)
In a separate chapter, Thomas deals with the argument often proposed by Warren Commission defenders that a bullet fired “from the direction of the grassy knoll entering the right quadrant of the President's head must of necessity exit the left rear quadrant of the head.” Thomas argues that such a proposition “is not based on an understanding of terminal ballistics.” (p. 437) A bullet will usually continue on a straight-line trajectory until it strikes a hard surface at which point it will deflect. The amount of deflection is difficult to predict, “but a basic rule of thumb for any object in motion is that it will tend to take the path of least resistance.” (p. 435) In the JFK case, with a bullet fired from the knoll “and coming at a high, close to 60° angle, with a tangential strike in the temple near the hairline where the surface of the skull slopes strongly backwards and leftward, one would expect the bullet to deflect upwards and leftward as well (the path of least resistance).” (p. 436) In short, Thomas shows that the forensic evidence is perfectly consistent with the suspicion most JFK researchers hold after their first viewing of the Zapruder film: The President's fatal wound was delivered by a bullet fired from behind the picket fence atop the grassy knoll.
Over the past decade, no single researcher has worked as hard as Don Thomas at bringing the acoustics evidence back into the assassination debate and, as would be expected, it is a focal point of Hear No Evil. Many of the details involved in an analysis of the dictabelt recording are highly technical in nature and the average reader will, like myself, find this section of the book a little hard to absorb at times. Thankfully, as he has done in previous papers and lectures, the author shows that the most compelling reason to accept the acoustics is not particularly technical at all. This Thomas refers to as “the order in the data.”
On the day of the assassination, the microphone on a police motorcycle travelling in the Presidential motorcade had become stuck in the “on” position and the sounds had been recorded on a dictabelt machine at Dallas police headquarters. When the dictabelt was brought to the attention of the HSCA in 1978, it asked the top acoustics experts in the country to analyze the recording to see if it had captured the sounds of the assassination gunfire. James Barger and his colleagues at Bolt, Baranek & Newman (BBN) discovered six suspect impulses on the tape that occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m.—the time of the assassination—and reported that on-site testing needed to be conducted at Dealey Plaza. There, microphones were placed along the parade route on Houston and Elm Streets and test shots were fired from the two locations witnesses had reported hearing shots; the Texas School Book Depository and the grassy knoll. BBN found that five of the impulses on the dictabelt were found to acoustically match the echo patterns of test shots fired in Dealey Plaza. One of these, the fourth in sequence, matched to a shot fired from the grassy knoll. As Thomas explains, “the mere fact that the suspect sounds had matched to some of the test shots is not particularly significant. However, the order and spacing of the matching microphone positions followed the same order as the sounds on the police tape.” (p. 583)
If the sounds on the dictabelt were not the assassination gunshots, “a match would be as likely to appear at the first microphone as the last...And if all five happened to match, as these had, they would fall in some random order...But the matches were not random. They fell in the exact same 1-2-3-4-5 topographic order as they appear chronologically on the police recording.” (ibid)
- The first impulse matched to a test shot recorded on a microphone on Houston Street near the intersection with Elm.
- The second to a microphone 18 ft north on Houston.
- The third to a microphone at the intersection.
- The fourth to a microphone on Elm.
- And the fifth to the next microphone to the west.
On top of all this, the distance from the first matching microphone to the last was 143 feet and the time between the first and last suspect impulse on the tape was 8.3 seconds. In order for the motorcycle with the stuck microphone to cover 143 feet in 8.3 seconds it would need to be travelling at a speed of approximately 11.7 mph which fits almost perfectly with the FBI's conclusion that the Presidential limousine was averaging 11.3 mph on Elm Street. (ibid)
Finally, the gunshots on the dictabelt synchronize perfectly with the visual evidence of the Zapruder film. There are two visible reactions to gunshots on the Zapruder film. One of these occurs at Z-frame 313 with the blatantly obvious explosion of President Kennedy's head. The other occurs between fames 225 and 230 when the Stetson hat in Connally's hand flips up and down, presumably as a result of the missile passing through his wrist. This is preceded at Z-224 by the flipping of Connally's lapel which has been cited by many as pinpointing the exact moment the bullet passed through his chest. When the fourth shot on the dictabelt, the grassy knoll shot, is aligned with Z-frame 313, the third shot falls at precisely Z-224! (p. 604) This perfect synchronization of audio and visual evidence is either one heck of a coincidence or the final proof that the suspect impulses on the dictabelt really are what the HSCA experts claimed there were. Unfortunately, this remarkable concordance was hidden from the public when HSCA chief counsel, Robert Blakey, in a “socially constructive” move, convinced the experts to label the third shot as a “false alarm.”
Former HSCA staff investigator, Gaeton Fonzi, wrote in his brilliant book The Last Investigation, that, “Chief Counsel Blakey was an experienced Capitol Hill man. He had worked not only at Justice but on previous Congressional committees as well. So he knew exactly what the priorities of his job were by Washington standards, even before he stepped in.” (Fonzi, p. 8) Blakey, who later admitted that before he took the job he had found the idea of a conspiracy in the JFK case “highly unlikely,” (ibid. p. 259) was destined not to stray too far from the Warren Commission's conclusion that only three shots were fired and all were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. As such, the acoustics evidence presented him with a big problem. As Thomas puts it, “The acoustical evidence simply did not mesh well with the Warren Report...Blakey's problem was not just that a total of five putative gunshots were detected by BBN's test procedures, but that these shots came too close together.” (Thomas, p. 584) In 1964, the FBI established that “Oswald's” rifle required 2.3 seconds between shots and, as Special Agent Robert Frazier testified, this was “firing [the] weapon as fast as the bolt could be operated.” (3H407) But the first three shots on the dictabelt had all come from the general vicinity of the book depository and came only 1.65 and 1.1 seconds apart. To “solve” the problem, Blakey acquired a Mannlicher Carcano similar to the one found on the sixth floor and, together with a group of Washington police officers, practised firing the rifle as fast as possible. Apparently, by “point aiming”—which means not really aiming at all—Blakey and HSCA counsel Gary Cornwell were able to squeeze off two rounds in 1.5 and 1.2 seconds respectively. (8HSCA185) This farcical display was enough to satisfy Blakey about the “probability” that Oswald fired the first two shots on the tape. He then told the acoustics experts that the third shot, coming only 1.1 seconds after the second, could not be what their analysis told them it was. And in another socially constructive move, the scientists played along.
The truth is that all three matches were as valid as each other and what the acoustics evidence actually showed was that there may have been a second rearward assassin and a triangulation of crossfire—just as critics like Josiah Thompson had been saying since 1967. But a Washington man like Blakey was not about to admit that the “buffs” had been right all along. In a conversation with Thomas in 1999, “Blakey confided that he knew he would take a lot of heat for the grassy knoll shot and he didn't want to dilute his case with the weak evidence for a fifth shot.” (Thomas, p. 590) By putting political considerations before the evidence, Robert Blakey did history a huge disservice and helped obscure the truth about the assassination. By cutting out the crucial third shot, he had essentially hidden the perfect synchronization between the dictabelt and the Zapruder film and it was for this very reason that many JFK researchers rejected the validity of the acoustics evidence. One can only wonder what reception the Dallas police dictabelt would have received had Blakey had the courage to stand up for the truth.
There are a number of points in Hear No Evil that are likely to be controversial among critics and conspiracy theorists and chief among these is the author's acceptance of the single bullet theory. But for Thomas there is a distinction to be made between the single bullet theory and the “magic bullet theory.” According to Thomas, the single bullet theory is the hypothesis that only one bullet caused all seven non-fatal wounds to JFK and Governor Connally and the magic bullet theory is the belief that this bullet was CE399—the near pristine round allegedly found on a stretcher at Parkland hospital. He finds it necessary to make this distinction because he accepts the former and rejects the latter.
The majority of the book is firmly rooted in the forensic evidence so it was a surprise to see the author engaging in a great deal of speculation as he does when attempting to explain the origin of CE399. Thomas advances the hypothesis that the magic bullet was actually recovered from the turf in Dealey Plaza and FBI agent, Doyle Williams carried it over to Parkland where, after being refused access to the room in which Kennedy's body was being held, he left it on an unattended stretcher. The problems with this theory are numerous, and to the author's credit he does emphasize that it is just a theory, (p. 416) but for me its biggest flaw is that it does not account for the vast body of evidence indicating that CE399 was not the bullet found at Parkland.
In 1964, the Warren Commission asked the FBI to establish chains of custody for various items of evidence including CE399. On July 7, the Bureau provided a 3-page report laying out the bullet’s chain of possession and claiming that on June 12, FBI agent Bardwell Odum had shown CE399 to the two Parkland hospital witnesses who found the bullet, Darrell Tomlinson and O.P. Wright, and neither man could "positively identify" it. (24H412) Additionally, the same report notes that the next two men in the chain, Secret Service agent Richard Johnsen and Secret Service chief James Rowley “could not identify this bullet as the one” they handled. (ibid) Two years later, Josiah Thompson interviewed O.P. Wright and asked him what the bullet he had handled that day looked like. He showed Wright a photograph of CE399 and he “rejected” it “as resembling the bullet Tomlinson found on the stretcher.” Wright, a former police officer experienced in firearms, explained that the bullet he saw had a “pointed tip” and even showed him a similar .30 caliber round from his own desk. (Six Seconds In Dallas, p. 175) When interviewed, Tomlinson was less certain saying “only that the bullet found resembled either CE572 (the ballistics comparison rounds) or the pointed, .30 caliber bullet Wright had procured for us.” (ibid)
The fifth link in the chain, FBI agent Elmer Todd was in the White House when he purportedly received the bullet from Rowley. Todd marked the bullet with his initials (24H412) and then passed it along to Robert Frazier at FBI HQ. The problem is, Todd's initials are not on CE399! In 2003, meticulous JFK researcher John Hunt proceeded to “track the entire surface of the bullet using four of NARA‘s preservation photos.” The following year, he visited the National Archives where he was able to inspect the assassination materials for himself. Hunt discovered that there were only three sets of initials on CE399: RF (belonging to Robert Frazier), CK (FBI Agent Charles Killion), and JH (which was the mark used by FBI Agent Cortlandt Cunningham to avoid confusion with “cc,” the notation for carbon copy). Todd’s mark was nowhere to be found. And Hunt discovered yet another problem. Frazier marked the time he received CE399 on his November 22 laboratory worksheet as “7:30 PM.” He wrote the same time on a handwritten note he titled “History of Evidence” and likely used as a memory aid during his Commission testimony. The problem is, Todd also made a note of the time he received a bullet and according to the handwritten notation he made on the original envelope that contained it, he received the stretcher bullet at “8:50 PM.” So how could Frazier receive a bullet from Todd at FBI HQ one hour and 20 minutes before Todd was handed the same bullet at the White House by Chief Rowley? He could not. When considered alongside the fact that Todd’s initials do not appear on CE399 and the fact that the four men preceding him in the chain of possession did not recognise it when shown, there is only one plausible explanation: There were two bullets in Washington that day; CE399 and the pointed-tip missile found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital. CE399 was used to pin the blame for Kennedy’s assassination squarely on Lee Oswald’s shoulders. The stretcher bullet was made to disappear.
I find it hard to believe that Thomas was unaware of the problems wit CE399's chain of possession and it is a shame that he chose not to address them. But it is possible that he may have hit on something important by contending that the magic bullet was originally found in Dealey Plaza. A Dallas police officer, Joe W. Foster, told the Commission he had “found where one shot had hit the turf” after striking a manhole cover (6H252) and, in fact, a series of photographs taken by Black Star photographer, Jim Murry, show Foster and other officers inspecting the lawn." (Thomas, p. 403) In these pictures a sandy-haired man in a suit, later identified by Dallas police chief Jesse Curry as an FBI agent, is seen apparently picking a bullet out of the grass and putting it in his left pocket. Could this bullet actually be CE399? As Thomas notes, “Two contingencies make the story even more compelling. First, CE399 is in the minimally damaged condition one would expect of a fully jacketed bullet having buried itself into the soggy turf...Second, the manhole cover is in a direct line with the center lane of Elm Street and the southeast corner window of the sixth floor of the book depository.” (p. 402) It is, of course, pure conjecture but it could just be that this unidentified FBI agent carried the bullet straight to FBI HQ in Washington. This would explain how Robert Frazier could have CE399 in his possession over an hour before Elmer Todd received the stretcher bullet in the White House.
Thomas omits a number of important details when suggesting what role Oswald might have played in the conspiracy and it was surprising to discover that he accepted the Warren Commission's claim that Oswald had carried the Mannlicher Carcano rifle into the building in a brown paper bag disguised as curtain rods. Far more shocking, however, was to find him making the claim that there is “little reason to doubt that the weapon found on the sixth floor belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald.” (p. 25) On the contrary, as recent research has shown, there is plenty of reason to doubt. The Commission claimed that Oswald had ordered the rifle (serial no. C2766) from Klein's Sporting Goods of Chicago on March 20, 1963. He had ordered the rifle in the name of A. Hidell and it had been shipped to PO Box 2915, Dallas, Texas, Oswald had ordered the weapon using a coupon from American Rifleman magazine and paid the $24.45 with U.S. Postal Order no. 2,202,130,462. FBI document examiners testified that the handwriting on the order form, postal order and envelope was Oswald's and Marina Oswald testified that the rifle in question did indeed belong to her husband. It appeared to be an open and shut case—but appearances can be deceiving. In fact, there is no evidence that Oswald ever received the rifle.
To begin with, when Oswald opened PO Box 2915 in October, 1963, he listed “Lee H. Oswald” as the only person authorized to receive mail. (17H679) U.S. Postal regulation no. 355.111 clearly states that “Mail addressed to a person at a PO Box who is not authorized to receive mail shall be endorsed 'addressee unknown' and returned to sender.” How then could Oswald have received a rifle ordered in the name of A. Hidell? The Warren Commission dealt with this problem by having Postal Inspector Harry Holmes testify that “when a package is received for a certain box, a notice is placed in that box regardless of whether the name on the package is listed on the application.” Holmes also claimed that the person would not be asked for identification “because it is assumed that the person with the notice is entitled to the package.” (R121) Although the commission chose to interpret it differently, what Holmes essentially stated was that anyone with a key to Oswald's box could have picked up the package. However, it should still have been possible to discover exactly who picked up the rifle because that person would have been required to sign postal form 2162. In 1963 it was legal to sell firearms through the mail as long as strict regulations were followed. Postal regulation 846.53a required that both the shipper and the receiver fill out and sign form 2162, which was to be retained for four years. The Commission gave no indication that they ever looked for the form and there is no indication that Postal Inspector Harry Holmes ever volunteered it. The most likely reason that Holmes withheld this important information is that he was helping out his friends at the Bureau. He was, after all, an active FBI informant.
As it turns out, Holmes and other inspectors at the Dallas General Post Office (GPO) were well aware of Oswald long before the assassination and had informed the FBI about Oswald receiving “subversive materials.” On April 21, 1963, Holmes himself advised FBI Special Agent James Hosty that Oswald had been in contact with the Fair Play For Cuba Committee. (CD11, Report of SA Hosty, 9/10/63) And this in itself gives us further reason to doubt that Oswald had ever received the rifle. Is it reasonable to believe that Postal Inspectors felt it was important to report that Oswald was receiving subversive materials and literature written in Russian, but did not feel it was worth informing the bureau that an alleged communist had ordered a rifle?
Finally, just as there was no paper evidence of Oswald receiving a rifle when there should have been, there was no eyewitness either. As researcher John Armstrong noted, “In 1963 the GPO in Dallas had a stable work force of employees who were loyal...worked the same job for years...and knew many of their customers by name. There is little doubt that that postal employees were aware of Oswald because of the unusual nature of material he was receiving...But, according to Holmes, Postal Inspectors in Dallas made exhaustive inquiries in an attempt to locate employees who remembered handling or delivering a large package to Oswald, but without success” (Harvey & Lee, p. 453)
With the above in mind, I believe it is reasonable to ask whether or not Oswald had even ordered the rifle in the first place. In this regard, it would appear that the Warren Commission presented a pretty solid case. But again, appearances can be deceiving. Postal order no. 2,202,130,462 was postmarked “Mar 12, 63 Dallas, Tex. GPO” and the envelope in which it was sent was postmarked “Mar 12 10:30 am Dallas, Tex. 12.” (17H635) This means that the money order was purchased between 8:00 am (when the office opened) and 10:30 am on March 12. Records show that from 8:00 am to 5:15 pm of March 12, Oswald was working at Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall, 11 blocks away from the GPO. Therefore, Oswald could not have purchased the money order. Even more problematic, the postmark on the envelope establishes that it was dropped in a mail box in postal zone 12—several miles west of downtown Dallas. Could Oswald have walked 11 blocks to the GPO, purchased the money order, travelled several miles west (for no apparent reason) to mail it before 10:30 am, and then made his way back to work without anyone noticing he was gone? No, he could not. The evidence establishes, therefore, that Oswald neither purchased nor mailed the money order used to purchase the assassination weapon.
What this means is that the entire case for Oswald ordering the Mannlicher Carcano rests on analysis of the handwriting on the order form, postal order and envelope. The question is, is handwriting analysis an exact science? The answer is no. For example, during the 1969 trial of Clay Shaw, a question arose as to whether or not Shaw had signed an airline guest book as “Clay Bertrand.” The prosecution produced a handwriting expert who said he did. The defence produced one who said he did not. What this illustrates, in my opinion, is the tendency of such “experts” to side with whoever is paying for their time. And given that the analysts testifying for the Warren Commission were government employees, in conjunction with what we've learned above, I see no reason to trust their “expert opinions.”
For more than three decades, lone nut believers have been citing Vincent Guinn's Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) of the JFK ballistic evidence as proof that Oswald was the lone gunman. Guinn told the HSCA that he had demonstrated through the use of NAA that a fragment of lead from Connally's wrist did in fact come from CE399 and that “one of the two fragments recovered from the floor of the limousine and the fragment removed from the President's brain during the autopsy were from a second bullet.” (HSCA Report, p. 45) There was, he claimed, “no evidence of a third bullet among those fragments large enough to be tested.” (ibid) In short, Guinn claimed to have scientifically proven that only two bullets struck the occupants of the limousine and both came from Oswald's rifle. Following in the footsteps of Erik Randich, Pat Grant, Cliff Spiegelman and William A. Tobin, Don Thomas shows that there is absolutely no validity to Guinn's claims and that examination of the data “leads one to conclude that Guinn's opinions derived more from his personal views than from the metallurgical evidence.” (Thomas, p. 452)
To begin with, Dr. Guinn's objectivity was always open to question. As Thomas writes, “Guinn denied under oath that he done any work in connection with the Warren Commission investigation.” (ibid) But this was a bald-faced lie. Guinn was “one of three scientists who had conducted tests in consultation with the FBI for gunshot residues on Lee Harvey Oswald's paraffin casts. When those tests seemed to exculpate Oswald, Guinn had agreed to keep the results secret...Guinn's dishonest denial that he had performed analyses in connection with the investigation of Kennedy's death in 1964 must be considered in determining the credibility of his congressional testimony in 1978.” (pgs. 452-453) On top of this, the integrity of the evidence Guinn tested was also in doubt. When he came to weigh the fragments, Guinn found that their individual weights did not correspond to the weights of the fragments tested by the FBI in 1964 despite the fact that the FBI test was not destructive. Speaking to press reporters after his HSCA testimony, Guinn hypothesized, “Possibly they would take a bullet, take out a few little pieces and put it in the container, and say, 'This is what came out of Connally's wrist.' And naturally if you compare it with 399, it will look alike...I have no control over these things.” (Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 83)
Thomas quotes from a number of scientific studies that cast serious doubt on the reliability of NAA. One such study by a team of scientists from Gulf Atomic Corporation of San Diego reported in 1970 that “the application of NAA to the comparison of two bullet leads can show two samples to be different...but it cannot show two samples to be the same in most cases.” (p. 454) In fact, the two most popular manufacturers of the time, Remington and Winchester, were making bullets that were “practically indistinguishable from one another.” (ibid) A more recent review in 2004 by the National Research Council found that “Available data do not support any statement that a crime bullet came from a particular box of ammunition.” (p. 455) This is in direct contradiction to Guinn's claims that not only were Carcano bullets unique but that each Carcano bullet was distinguishable from all others.
In 1964, the FBI had conducted NAA tests on the assassination bullet fragments with inconclusive results. In his HSCA testimony, in an obvious attempt to explain how he was able to succeed where the Bureau failed, Guinn claimed that he had more information to go on. Specifically, “a great deal of background data...on WCC Mannlicher Carcano bullet lead.” (7HSCA566) But what background data was that? As Thomas explains, “Only he and the FBI had ever analyzed Carcano bullets.” (p. 476) For his study, Guinn acquired 14 Western Cartridge Company Carcano bullets and took four samples each from three bullets to test for homogeneity. He reported, “...you simply don't find a wide variation in composition within individual WCC Mannlicher Carcano bullets.” But, Thomas informs, “contrary to Guinn's assertion, the antimony levels within individual Carcano bullets do have a wide variation, and moreover, a close reading of the appendix to his report reveals Guinn admitting that he knew these samples were not homogeneous.” (p. 470)
As normal scientific practice dictates, in order to make any meaningful claims about the relationship between the bullets and the fragments, “one first has to know the degree of variation within bullets, not just the reliability of single measurements of a single sub-sample.” (p. 480) To this end, the analyst needs “replicated readings from multiple samples to account for heterogeneity and reproducibility. Guinn never conducted such tests.” (pgs. 480-481) Dr. Guinn expected researchers to take on faith “that a single reading of a single specimen from the core of CE399 was all the data one needed.” (p. 481) What Guinn did not reveal in his testimony was that the FBI had sub-sampled CE399 and the results showed that “All of the Dallas specimens were generally somewhat similar to one another in their Sb and Ag concentrations, but there was a wide spread in the values for individual samples and among the groups of samples.” (ibid) This again directly contradicted Guinn's claim that there was little variation among bullets but great variation within individual rounds.
Thomas states that Guinn's HSCA report stands alone in the field because no single study of bullet metal either before or since “has ever claimed to be able to distinguish individual bullets from within the same production batch. There was no scientific basis for Guinn's claim that Carcano bullets are unique, or that individual Carcano bullets are materially different from one another.” (p. 472) As metallurgist, Erik Randich, and chemist, Pat Grant, reported in the Journal of Forensic Science in 2006 after reviewing the JFK bullet evidence, “The lead core of the bullets [Guinn] sampled...contained approximately 600-900 ppm [parts per million] antimony and approximtely 17-4516 ppm copper...In both of these aspects the...MC bullets are quite similar to other commercial FMJ [full metal jacket] rifle ammunition.” Therefore, the Kennedy assassination fragments, “need not necessarily have originated from MC ammunition. Indeed, the antimony compositions of the evidentiary specimens are consistent with any number of jacketed ammunitions containing unhardened lead.”
Over recent years, the JFK assassination literature has come to be dominated by claims that evidence has been altered or outright fabricated in order to conform to the official story. If we are to believe everything we read, the President's body was hijacked and his wounds were manipulated, his brain was switched before it went missing from the archives, the autopsy photos and X-rays have been altered, the Zapruder film is a fabrication, Oswald's body was switched with that of an imposter...the list goes on. In fact, one prominent researcher went so far as to suggest that there were actually two complete sets of evidence—one real and one fake! Undoubtedly there are legitimate areas of concern but at some point we have to step back and realize that the problem may not be with the evidence so much as it is with the researcher. It is for this very reason that Don Thomas' Hear No Evil is a breath of fresh air.
One area that has baffled critics for decades is the medical evidence. The autopsy record has undoubtedly been altered in the sense that crucial materials such as the President's brain, microscopic tissue slides and autopsy photographs known to have been taken have been removed from the archive. But does it necessarily follow that what we are left with is fake? The answer, as Thomas demonstrates, is no. The fact is, the autopsy X-rays of the skull completely contradict the official account of the President's head wound. So why would conspirators go to the trouble of fabricating evidence that contradicts the story they wish to promote? The same can be said for the Zapruder film which shows Kennedy being slammed backwards and leftwards by the impact of a shot from the right front. In this regard, Thomas shows how people like Luis Alverez, John Lattimer and Larry Sturdivan all constructed dubious theories “for the purpose of explaining away the obvious reason for the head snap, and all suffer, not only from implausibility, but from a failure to fit the evidence.” (p. 370)
This is the true strength of the book and the reason why I believe it will be such a valuable contribution to the literature. Thomas shows that the problem is not the evidence but how it has been interpreted in the cause of “social constructivism.” He explains how Alverez knowingly “rigged” his experiment to produce a “jet recoil effect.” (Chapter 10) And how NASA rocket scientist, Thomas Canning, fudged the data and moved the President's wounds to make it appear that the bullet trajectories were consistent with a gunman in the sixth floor window. (Chapter 12) He proves that Vincent Guinn lied under oath and cherry-picked the ballistic data in order to pin the blame on Oswald. (Chapter 13) And he shows how the HSCA forensic pathology panel deliberately misrepresented JFK's head wound. (Chapter 8) In short, he demonstrates that there is no need to doubt its veracity because “the overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that there was a conspiracy.” (p. 728) And he fits it all into a sound reconstruction of events that is sure to spark at least the occasional heated debate—but you'll have to buy the book to find out the details!
Links to information mentioned in this article:
- Rydberg drawings of Kennedy's head wound
- The Mystery of the 7:30 Bullet by John Hunt
- HSCA Pathology Panel (on the autopsy materials)
- HSCA Public Hearings Exhibits
- Is Vincent Bugliosi Right that Neutron Activation Analysis Proves Oswald's Guilt? by Gary L. Aguilar (Erik Randich, Pat Grant, Cliff Spiegelman and William A. Tobin Study)
- Early Papers on the Acoustic Evidence by Don Thomas
- Luis Alverez' tests by Steward Galanor
- Testimony of Dr. James Barger, 5 HSCA 650