Wednesday, 01 September 2010 22:45

Donald Byron Thomas, Hear No Evil: Social Constructivism and the Forensic Evidence In the Kennedy Assassination – Two Reviews (2, part 1)

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In part 1 of his three-part review, Dr. Mantik looks at Don Thomas' treatement of the ballistics evidence, the backyard photographs, and the President's wounds.

A Comprehensive Review of
Hear No Evil

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Review by Martin Hay

Note 1: Commonly used abbreviations are defined in my Appendix 1.
Note 2: See two of my prior lectures for visual aids –
for the Pittsburg lecture (2003), see: The JFK Autopsy Materials: Twenty Conclusions after Nine Visits; (.pdf file)
for the Dallas lecture (2009), see: The JFK Skull X-Rays: Evidence of Forgery

My Introduction to this Review

When Thomas's peer reviewed paper (Science and Justice 2001; 41: 21-32) first appeared, the media contacted me, and I was glad to praise him. It is a pleasure now to be more specific about this fascinating acoustics work. I have heard Thomas speak on several occasions. On December 28, 2005 (my wife had major surgery that day, so I went from the ICU to the lecture) we hosted him for a large audience of prostate patients receiving proton radiation. Thomas was brilliant as usual, as he adapted his talk and visual aids precisely to the level of the audience. The question and answer session quickly elicited the enthusiasm of our listeners. I would personally echo the comments of Rex Bradford (Thomas's publisher) in his opening comments in the book: Thomas obviously displays keen intelligence, curiosity and honesty. One can scarcely ask for more from a scientist, but (in my opinion) one actually gets more – and that is passion. He has passion for the subject, passion for truth (the oxymoronic title of Specter's book) and, finally, passion for what this seminal event means in American history and for what it reveals about our national character. To appreciate his passion, see his comment (in Chapter 14) about Arlen Specter. I also sense that on occasion he can scarcely refrain from strangling a few of his constructivist adversaries. For all of his work, and for his passion, I salute him. I am pleased to be a fellow traveler.

Foreword by Jim Lesar (May 23, 2010): My Comments

I have met Lesar (a fellow Wisconsin alumnus and fellow basketball addict) on many occasions, including a tête-à-tête dinner. Jim has a marvelous legal mind and is a bulwark for the critical community. His is no generic foreword. On the contrary, Lesar precisely details Oswald's contacts with the DRE, a CIA-funded, anti-Castro Cuban organization. Of central importance is the role of George Joannides as the CIA's case officer for the DRE. This same character also served as liaison to the HSCA (House Select Committee on Assassinations) in its probe of Oswald's links to the DRE – Joannides was brought out of retirement by the CIA specifically for this purpose. Robert Blakey (Chief Counsel for the HSCA) later confessed that he had not known that Joannides had played case officer for the DRE. Furthermore, Joannides did not see fit to tell Blakey of his own dubious history. Precisely at the moment that Joannides emerged from retirement the CIA stopped cooperating with the HSCA. It was not until 1998, thanks to the ARRB (Assassination Records Review Board), that Joannides was finally identified as the case officer for the DRE. Lesar quotes Blakey's top aide, Dan Hardway: "I am now certain that Joannides was hiding evidence of conspiracy to kill Kennedy." Even to the present day, the CIA still stonewalls Jefferson Morley in his efforts to pry lose further records on Joannides.

Lesar next introduces the acoustics story, including Mary Ferrell, who brought the police dictabelt to the attention of the HSCA. As a result of this tape the HSCA concluded that there had been a "probable conspiracy" to kill JFK; in fact, this was the only evidence that they recognized for this conclusion. Lesar then briefly summarizes the history of the acoustic debate, beginning with the original analysis for the HSCA by Barger, Baranek (misspelled as "Beranek"), and Newman (this team identified five possible shots), continuing with the ethically dubious role played by Luis Alvarez with the NRC (National Research Council), and finally the egregious 2003 ABC-TV "documentary" by Peter Jennings. More to the point, Lesar claims that Thomas has demolished the counter arguments to his peer reviewed paper of 2001. These latter issues, in particular, are all addressed in detail below.

My Overview of the Book

CIA cognoscenti will recognize that this book is not a sequel to its near namesake, See No Evil (2002) by Robert Baer; the latter is an autobiographical account of a ground soldier's war (as a CIA officer) against terrorism. It has nothing to do with the JFK assassination. Baer's book, however, is highly recommended to those who want to know exactly how the CIA has gone off track in the past several decades.

Thomas, on the other hand, does recognize the CIA – he cites them ten times. In fact, he fearlessly confronts countless central issues of the entire JFK assassination. For such a Herculean challenge he needs a huge endowment of chutzpah – which he clearly possesses. The risk, of course, is that he will sashay too close to the edge of the chasm, where his knowledge base is thin, and then crash. For the medical evidence, in particular, I shall return to this risky behavior. Though I tend to be a stickler for clarity and brevity in print, Thomas usually gets good marks for writing style, although occasionally I wished he had had an editor (none is identified). Intermittent prolix phrases need more pruning, and clarity sometimes suffers as a consequence. I could not locate an Acknowledgments section, which surprised me, given his expansive survey of a vastly littered landscape, and especially since he was not likely a solitary traveler on his journey. On a personal level, the reader might want to know what exactly drew him to this case and when the initial lightning struck, but no comment is offered. Similarly, when (and why) did he study statistics?

Our national dialogue has long been plagued with stock labels: assassination buffs, conspiracy theorists, regressive right, progressive left, Tea Partiers, radical socialists, bleeding hearts, compassionate conservatives. (Also see 1984 by George Orwell, or "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" (GOPAC Memo, 1996) by Newt Gingrich, or George Lakoff's online discussions of "framing.") The purpose for such labeling (or framing) is simple: to curtail any genuine discussion. The goal of those who label or frame is single-minded – simply winning the debate. This is done merely by spraying a certain color or odor onto a specific argument or even onto a real human being. Such a practice severely limits honest communication and often leads to an impassible gulf between the political left and the political right (or other similarly paired dichotomies). Unfortunately, and surprisingly, Thomas repeatedly uses some of these biased phrases to describe those who oppose the WC (Warren Commission). He does not tell us, though, if he himself is a "buff." Even worse, he does not define such loaded phrases, nor does he explain his motive for perpetuating this media-inspired tradition. Furthermore, almost nowhere does he label WC supporters with parallel phrases, e.g., lone gunman theorists, or even assassination buffs. (Well, there is one odd exception on p. 361, where he implies that John Lattimer – not named in the index – and Luis Alvarez were both buffs, presumably meaning lone gunman buffs.) On rare occasions, Thomas uses the term "critic" for WC opponents. This term clearly carries much less disapprobation, and, in my opinion, should be preferred in neutral discourse. Additional dispassionate options, too rarely employed by Thomas, are "researcher" or "student."

The second part of the title (the social constructivism part) will likely prove jarring for many readers. Given its prominent role in the title, it is puzzling that Thomas does such a meager job of defining his terms. In its first appearance (p. 8) it is a "scientific philosophy." This rendered me almost speechless, as I have sometimes (whimsically) viewed it as an "anti-scientific philosophy." Furthermore, Thomas offers only one reference (Cole 1992). He notes that in this circle of believers science is considered a social process; in fact, and more to the point, scientific conclusions are thought to be merely social constructs. I quote Thomas: "The consequences of the results [of science], as much if not more than the empirical evidence itself, will often steer the scientist to one conclusion over another." In the very next paragraph, Thomas offers a concrete example (but he fails to explain how that example follows from the primary definition):

...the scientists and technical experts who worked on the Kennedy assassination evidence appear to have allowed political considerations to influence their judgment... .

But we get very little more from Thomas about social constructivism. Even though he often mentions it (pp. 211, 292, 309, 314, 323, 448, 598, 618, 660, and 661), his index has only three citations (pp. 8, 91, 737). His final reference (p. 737) clarifies things a bit, but comes far too late: "...these men [the scientific community] had ‘sifted and sorted' the evidence to bring it into accord with the conclusion which they believed." Perhaps Wikipedia can help:

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge..., wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky. [DM: See Mind and Society 1930, 1978].

However, even given a more sturdy definition, this idea needs to be spelled out to show how it applies to the JFK assassination. Some examples from the constructivist literature would help, but none are offered. Alternately, some historical examples would clothe this concept with some real flesh and blood: How about the Nazis' use (or, more accurately, abuse) of their own scientists and engineers? Given the peripheral role (in any explicit sense) of social constructivism in the book, I suspect that most readers would just prefer to skip this philosophy. Furthermore, it is not likely that Thomas's targets were necessarily part of an insider cabal who had agreed in advance that science was merely a social construct – that would be far-fetched indeed. Instead, I would simply have emphasized that all humans are inevitably and deeply subject to social pressures. In particular, I have previously cited the astonishing work of Stanley Milgram, published just before the JFK assassination, but not cited by Thomas. My summary of Milgram's work can be found in my Foreword to In the Eye of History (2005, William Law), or in my online Pittsburgh lecture (the citation is in Note 1, which follows the title of the present review).

Now we come to a deeply divisive issue: the authenticity of the Zapruder film. Thomas immediately makes his bias clear: the Z-film is "hard evidence" (p. 3). However, he offers this in an almost off-handed manner – in the context of describing the film as the sole item that triggered the HSCA investigation. Most believers in Z-film alteration would likely be willing, for the sake of discussion at least, to accept his premise, i.e., they would permit him to build his case on this belief, so long as that assumption is clearly stated from the outset. However, given the countless Z-film issues currently bandied about, he has chosen instead to deliberately ignore the entire controversy, as if he still lived in 1975. Why not merely recognize reality (there is a debate), and also acknowledge these dissidents (lots of serious folks). He could, after all, opt merely to state that he chooses to accept authenticity and proceed forthwith, without wishing to be drawn into this debate. But to don (a pale pun) blinders to this issue, as he does – even if he believes his opponents to be fools – seems disingenuous, and not what one would expect from a scientist. Given his deliberate evasion of this issue, I shall be brief. He could at least have nodded in the direction of physicist John Costella's luminous (he is an expert in optics) work on the film (The Great Zapruder Film Hoax 2003, edited by James Fetzer) or in the direction of Doug Horne's exhaustive account (Inside the ARRB 2009). That would have been intellectually respectable and it would have put newcomers on fair notice that not everyone shares his most fundamental assumption, i.e., Z-film authenticity. But Thomas has instead chosen to totally ignore both of these authors. (Surely there was ample time to review Horne's 2009 book – e.g., Lesar's Foreword is dated as late May 2010.) Thomas has not even cited Horne in his index (even though he occasionally quotes him), whereas, ironically, even Vincent Bugliosi (Reclaiming History 2007), the arch WC loyalist, is cited twice in the index. As an employee of the ARRB, Horne had interviewed (or assisted in interviewing) many of the medical protagonists in the JFK case. He is a serious researcher and the only former government employee to write about the case. He has added much new information, including powerful eyewitness reports of two successive and independent CIA events with the Z-film during the weekend of the assassination. Thomas, however, totally ignores this new evidence about the film. On the contrary, he only regales us with the now hoary story of CIA Item 450 (page 370, footnote 8). I shall come later to several serious and substantive issues raised by Thomas, issues that depend precariously on the authenticity of the film. For the most part, however, I shall try to accept, for purposes of this discussion at least, Thomas's fundamental assumption that the Z-film is authentic.

On a fair number of occasions, usually when I disagree with him, Thomas reaches key conclusions even when the data seem thin to me. When he wants very much to resolve an issue, he tends toward a final conclusion instead of just leaving the case open. To state his bias would be fine, so long as he simultaneously admitted that the evidence was ultimately inconclusive. For example: Did the carbine truly belong to LHO (Oswald)? Thomas says: Yes. Was there really no Mauser on the 6th floor? No Mauser, he says. Another problem raised by this tendency to reach final conclusions prematurely is this: some of these premature conclusions recur later as critical supporting links in the course of other arguments. In other words, these earlier conclusions (e.g., the 6.5 mm object was merely a piece of shrapnel) become cornerstones in later arguments. That means that if his first conclusion were wrong he would also be off track about the second one. Sometimes this problem even cascades.

Did LHO fire a shot that day? (I doubt it.) Most readers would like to know. As I scoured the book for Thomas's answer, I became frustrated. He unequivocally implies that LHO ordered the weapon and that it was found on the 6th floor, but then he tells us that LHO wore a dark shirt, whereas the 6th floor shooter wore a light colored shirt. And there the matter rests. Even in his reconstruction (near the end of the book), he refuses to tell us whether LHO fired the weapon that day. Of course, he is not required to give us his opinion, but think about this: If LHO did not fire, then how did his carbine get to the 6th floor? The reader will not find the answer in this book. Bugliosi, on the other hand, offers a simpler inference from LHO's ownership of the carbine: unless someone stole it from LHO (or he gave it away), then Oswald fired that day. (I doubt that, too.)

Thomas's Introduction: My Comments

Thomas gives us an enlightening summary of the Dealey Plaza witnesses, as first described by Josiah Thompson and David Butterworth. [Also see Cover-Up 1998, Stewart Galanor, p. 171.] Then he recounts the ear-shot experiment, arranged in 1978 by acoustic experts for the HSCA. These results were straightforward: a gunshot from the TSBD (Texas School Book Depository) sounded like a shot from there, while a shot from the GK (grassy knoll) sounded like a shot from that spot. Despite this, the experts insisted that the results were consistent with the official conclusion (only shots from the TSBD). Their argument was simple: if there were only two shots, then most witnesses would have reported two. On the other hand, since only a small number reported two (most heard just one – see Galanor 1998, p. 171), the official conclusion must be correct. Thomas gleefully proceeds to dissect this bizarre argument.

The Daubert decision (1993) is a landmark in American law. No longer can just anyone claim to be an expert witness and appear credible in court. Not even bona fides are enough today. Instead, the expert's method must be recognized as genuine science, accepted by the community at large, and the reliability must be quantifiable as a "rate of error." Thomas implies that Daubert might have saved us from the fiascoes of the WC (they assumed that LHO was the assassin) as well as those of the HSCA (they assumed that the WC truly tried to be objective).

Chapter 1: The Crime Scene (p. 15)

We come now to one of Thomas's main courses. He does a brilliant job of highlighting the facts, only some of which I list here. Unless I protest specifically the reader may assume that I tend to agree with him.

  1. Eleven witnesses said they saw a gunman in the TSBD.
  2. Police inspector Herbert Sawyer radioed a suspect description at 12:44 PM: 30 years old, 5" 10" tall, 165# with a .30-30 carbine. [DM: This was hardly LHO; nor does it match Howard Brennan's description.]
  3. Nearly all the LHO evidence was compromised by the DPD (Dallas Police Department); furthermore, the WC hid this fact. Carl Day's assistant, Robert Studebaker, had no formal training and only three weeks on the job, but Will Fritz was the worst offender (p. 125).
  4. The WC sometimes even promoted evidence known to be false.
  5. The SS (Secret Service) disturbed the crime scene in the limousine at Parkland.
  6. Handwriting experts agreed that LHO's writing was on the order for the carbine. [DM: However, see post office box rules for receipt of items not addressed to the owner of the box, (Galanor 1998, p. 89 and Document 37).]
  7. The fibers on the carbine's butt plate matched LHO's shirt, but they were not unique.
  8. None of the witnesses described the shooter as wearing a dark or plaid shirt; they said it was light colored. (LHO wore a burgundy plaid shirt and black slacks.)
  9. The ex-con Givens initially said he met LHO in the lunchroom at 11:50 AM; only later did he reverse himself. The WC ignored the fact that he had recanted his original statement and instead used him as a witness against LHO.
  10. The WR (Warren Report) lied: it said no other witness had seen LHO during the lunch break.
  11. Carolyn Arnold told the FBI that LHO had stood inside the front door just minutes before 12:30 PM. The WC did not depose Arnold.
  12. The 6th floor carbine belonged to LHO (p. 25). [DM: Maybe it did – I'm still open-minded.] Thomas, however, also cites the recollection of Buell Wesley Frazier that LHO had carried the package under his arm, which was impossible even with a dissembled M-C. Frazier's sister had confirmed this recollection. If that is accepted, then Thomas does not address the question of how the M-C got into the TSBD.
  13. Mrs. Paine stored packages of curtain rods wrapped in brown paper in her garage. The WR omitted this bizarre fact.
  14. The DPD did not find LHO's prints on the paper wrapper, but the FBI found them there later!
  15. No gun oil was found on the paper wrapper, even though the FBI said it was well-oiled.
  16. No direct evidence linked the paper wrapper to the gun.
  17. No conclusive evidence linked the blanket (or any other object at the Paine's) to the carbine.
  18. The fibers on the paper wrapper may have come from LHO's blanket.
  19. The WC did not have photos of the paper wrapper at the sniper's nest.
  20. No official report identifies the discoverer of the paper wrapper.
  21. Will Fritz hinted that the paper had been discovered later – and also that it had not been found in the sniper's nest – although four officers said they saw it in the sniper's nest.
  22. The boxes in the sniper's nest had been piled up that day by a work crew. The crew said they had not seen LHO that day.
  23. Neither the HSCA nor the WC had firm evidence that LHO had visited the 6th floor during the critical time interval, or even that he had ever been there that day.
  24. The boxes in the crime scene photos were an ex post facto reconstruction. Actually three different arrangements can be seen in extant photos.
  25. Tourists to the 6th floor can still view the "gun-rest," but there was none.
  26. Chicken bones prove that someone (probably Bonnie Ray Williams) was in the sniper's nest, at around 12:15 PM, furthermore, he may not have left before 12:25 PM. The WC had placed LHO in the sniper's nest by 12:00 PM.
  27. Givens (the ex-con) was the only witness to place LHO at the crime scene, but that was only after he had recanted his original statement.
  28. The only evidence for LHO at the sniper's nest was his fingerprints on boxes.
  29. Police Chief Jesse Curry said there was no evidence to place LHO with the gun at the time of the shots.
  30. At least three TSBD employees, other than LHO, went missing afterwards.
  31. The FBI stated that the paper wrapper matched the paper commonly used in the TSBD, but another report (p. 63, footnote 55) stated the exact opposite. Therefore the FBI might have lied. [DM: Bugliosi conveniently ignored this paradox.]

My Summary (these summaries include editorial comments from me). The WC and FBI manipulated both the evidence and the eyewitnesses. It is difficult to place LHO in the sniper's nest during the shooting.

Chapter 2: Fingerprint Evidence (p. 67)

  1. The handling of the fingerprint evidence was irregular.
  2. Mac Wallace did not leave his fingerprints at the sniper's nest (p. 91). [DM: This still does not seem conclusive to me. On the other hand, why would Mac risk exposing LBJ?]
  3. The palm print on the carbine was not planted (pp. 68, 76-79, 110-111).
  4. An unknown print was found on the foregrip of the carbine. These prints were under seal at NARA (National Archives and Records Administration); therefore the FBI and WC knew about them.
  5. Unknown prints were on the paper wrapper and on the box next to the window. Why was no effort made to find their owners?
  6. Recent court decisions, based on Daubert (p. 71), have challenged the validity of fingerprint evidence in general. [DM: This challenge seriously weakens the fingerprint case against LHO, a matter that Bugliosi does not address.]

Chapter 3: Gunshot Residues (p. 95)

Only one conclusion can be drawn: the DPD was incompetent and both John Gallagher and Vincent Guinn were deceptive, perhaps on purpose. Thomas does not define GSR, but it probably means "gun shot residues." I would add the following data, cited by Paul Chambers (Head Shot 2010, p. 172). The FBI conducted a control study in which seven men fired the M-C and then had paraffin tests taken of their cheeks. Via neutron activation analysis, all seven showed nitrates, whereas LHO had none (Chambers citation: Paraffin test records, 75-226 file, Weisberg Archives).

Chapter 4: The Murder Weapon (p. 117)

Note: see Appendix 3 for definitions of ammunition terminology.

  1. No 7.65 mm Mauser was found. According to Thomas, Will Fritz made this mistake at initial identification, and after that everyone else just quoted him. Eugene Boone said that Fritz had made the first ID (Horne 2009, Vol. 4, pp. 1102-1103). Curiously, a Mauser had been seen in the TSBD just two days earlier (p. 123). [DM: On the other hand, Gary Savage in JFK: First Day Evidence 1993, p. 157, claims that the carbine was discovered by Seymour Weitzman and Eugene Boone. But I still wonder if a Mauser was found – after all, the M-C (Mannlicher-Carcano) carbine was clearly labeled: CAL. 6.5, MADE ITALY, 40", C2766 (p. 119). Furthermore, Seymour Weitzman, who had operated a gun shop, submitted an affidavit the very next day that cited a Mauser.]
  2. No purpose can be served by giving credence to the allegations of Roger Craig or Frank Ellsworth. Ellsworth said the carbine was on the 4th floor, while Craig always insisted that he had seen a 7.65 Mauser. [DM: Thomas does not explain himself well here. Furthermore, his syntax is peculiar: Why should anyone care an iota about what ultimate purpose is served, so long as truth is served? Curiously, Thomas seems to believe Craig's statement, which implies that Fritz had picked up the casings in the sniper's nest. (p. 152, footnote 22).]
  3. Captain Fritz was incompetent and had no formal training in forensics.
  4. The photos of the three casings were taken after Fritz had picked them up.
  5. Although Fritz took written notes of his LHO interview, he told the WC that he had not (p. 152, footnote 25).
  6. The sniper's nest was mauled before the crime scene unit got there.
  7. The HSCA Firearms Panel could not duplicate the dent on the lip of CE-543 (one of the three cartridges found on the 6th floor).
  8. Lt. Carl Day never found his personal identifying mark on CE-543 (p. 133).
  9. Two sworn, but contradictory, versions exist for the chain of custody of CE-543; these were given by the same person!
  10. If CE-543 was fired during the assassination, then the dent and the deeper firing pin impression must have been made after the assassination.
  11. The scope was misaligned (and loose), but the degree of misalignment is still unknown. The lands and grooves were partly effaced. The bolt action was stiff. The firing pin and spring were rusty and worn, even though the FBI claimed the carbine was well oiled.
  12. Lt Day did not have time to dismount the scope or to search for prints.
  13. Arlen Specter has built a long political career by inventing fictions to explain away inconvenient facts.
  14. The M-C carbine was the least precise of military rifles. Thomas actually uses both nouns (for the weapon) in the same paragraph (p. 120).
  15. Robert Blakey (HSCA), the FBI, the Army and CBS all demonstrated that the carbine was inaccurate and unwieldy; then all of them said the opposite.
  16. The Walker bullet was distinct (spectrographically) from the JFK bullets.
  17. An American company, Western Cartridge, produced four lots of M-C bullets for the US Marine Corps in 1944. That was the origin of the Walker bullet. But why did the US produce four million rounds that were only useable by the Italian army? Was the US (via the CIA) plotting a military coup to evict the communist government of Italy (as they did in Iran, Guatemala, and the Philippines)?
  18. Robert Frazier (FBI), in retirement in 1995, suggested that the CIA furnished this ammo to Italy, but added that it was sold back on the US market.
  19. The accuracy attributed to LHO could only have been achieved with great luck – but it was not his lucky day.

My Summary. At best, the sixth floor evidence is confusing – for the boxes, the weapon, and the ammunition.

Chapter 5: Photogrammetry (p. 157)

Thomas does not define this term, but he should have. See my Appendix 2. For a reference, see Elements of Photogrammetry 1974, by Paul R. Wolf. Here are Thomas's chief conclusions for this chapter.

  1. LHO owned the M-C carbine.
  2. LHO's remarkable ID cards suggest his involvement in skullduggery, more than the WC wanted to know.
  3. The backyard photos are authentic – the strap change from rope to leather by itself is compelling. [DM: Although Thomas makes a good case, I am still not convinced that all these photos are authentic. Regarding the LIFE photo, see Galanor, Document 30. Also see Galanor's Document 36, a silhouette--shown here in my Figure 1-which was found in the DPD files, but is not discussed by Thomas, or even by Gary Savage. Galanor's Document 30 is also worth a look.]
    Figure 1. Silhouette of Backyard Man
  4. If photos of LHO's body had been inserted into this image later (in the darkroom), then, according to Thomas, during stereo viewing, these photo inserts would seem to float detached above the background (p. 162). [DM: I emphasize this point – because I saw precisely this effect at NARA on the back of JFK's head. This result means to me exactly what Thomas says it must mean: someone altered JFK's haircut in the autopsy collection. I shall return later to this discussion, partly because Thomas concludes that these autopsy photos of the back of the head are authentic. But they can't be – we disagree profoundly here.]
  5. Three photos of Walker's home were found among LHO's possessions – and they had been taken with LHO's camera.
  6. DeMohrenschildt called Walker a fascist and compared him to Hitler; LHO admired DeMohrenschildt. Two weeks after this comment LHO began to reconnoiter at Walker's place and more than two weeks after that he ordered the carbine. [DM: This is all fascinating but still not proof that LHO fired at Walker.]
  7. Thomas discusses the window boxes at some length. But I wonder why this section is segregated from the earlier discussion of the boxes?
  8. Badgeman is an optical illusion. [DM: Gary Mack, one of its discoverers, will surely be relieved to hear that.]
  9. Black Dog man, however, may be real. His role may have been to discourage tourists from getting too close to the shooter behind him.
  10. Someone in the DPD sold backyard photos to the media. [DM: William Manchester in TheDeath of a President 1967, p. 635) claims that Marina got $5000 for one of these photos; she also got $20,000 for LHO's diary. Manchester also states that Marina destroyed some of these photos.
  11. Regarding the various photos of the window boxes, their photographic sequences cannot be established, at least not by measuring shadow lengths.

My Summary. Although Thomas accepts all of the backyard photos as authentic, I am not yet fully persuaded. He does not discuss Marina's destruction of some of these, nor does he address the silhouette.

Chapter 6: The Zapruder Film (p. 193)

  1. The Zapruder family released an enhanced version of the film, with frame numbering, which is an invaluable aid for researchers. [DM: Most of this sentence is incorrect. For a detailed critique, see "Which Film is the Z-film?" by James Fetzer in The Great Zapruder Film Hoax, 2003, p. 29.]
  2. Physicists Don Olson and Ralph Turner (Journal of Forensic Science 1971) published a frame-by-frame analysis of the Z-film. They concluded that JFK was first hit during Z-186 to Z-190. Like Paul Hoch and Arthur Snyder, both Olson and Turner had been students of Luis Alvarez.
  3. JBC (Connally) swiveled quickly to the left during Z-162 to Z-167. Michael Stroscio (spelled "Strocio"), a Duke physicist, found a jiggle onset at Z-152, which matches JBC's swivel.
  4. JFK jerked forward during Z-194 to Z-207. Jackie snapped her head around quickly to look at JFK during this same interval.
  5. At Z-224, JBC stiffened and his lapel flapped. [DM: See Costella's Z-224.]
  6. At Z-313, JFK's head bursts open. Thomas claims that the timing of the head shot is not in doubt. [DM: This latter claim ignores a large foothill of contrary evidence – see my discussion in Assassination Science 1998, edited by James Fetzer (pp. 285-292). Also, see my discussion in Fetzer 2003, pp. 299-301; in this latter analysis, the head shot seems closer to Z-321, as opposed to Z-313. As often the case for the Z-film, appearance is not quite reality.]
  7. Given all of the above shots, we now have one shot too many for the WC.
  8. The jiggle analysis by Alvarez assumed a six frame delay for reaction time, but that is far too long for a reflex. Alvarez failed to distinguish between a voluntary reaction and a reflex.
  9. Alvarez changed his critical frames: in AJP (1976) he listed Z-177 and Z-215, but earlier he had cited Z-197 and Z-227 (pp. 205 and 219, footnote 43). [DM: I heard Alvarez give his talk in Los Alamos in 1975.]
  10. The blur at Z-313 cannot derive from a sniper's nest shot, but it is consistent with one from the GK. [DM: This is a crucial issue, too long ignored by WC loyalists. I agree with Thomas about this – and have for some time. Also, see my frame-by-frame analysis of the Muchmore film (Fetzer 2003, p. 302); no hints of any gunshots appear here at all, despite the fact that Muchmore was closer to the TSBD than was Zapruder. This paradox raises deep questions: Does jiggle analysis have any value at all? Or was the Muchmore film altered, possibly in a simple-minded way, perhaps with the expectation that it would not be so closely scrutinized for alterations (as the Z-film would be)? And why is the Muchmore film damaged at precisely the head shot frame? (The Killing of a President 1993, Robert Groden, p. 37.)]

My summary. Reconstruction of the Dealey Plaza crime scene, based on the extant Z-film, is at best a soft science. If the film has been altered, then reconstructions based on it are rather hopeless. On the other hand, the analytical work of Costella, which focuses on film anomalies, is in another league and, for some, provides actual proof of alteration. My observations on the Muchmore film raise another thicket of questions. Thomas does not address any of these concerns.

Chapter 7: The Neck Wound (p. 221)

We now arrive at a subject of profound interest to me – the medical evidence. Here Thomas and I have some major accords but also some weighty disagreements. For example we both believe in evolution – of the autopsy report. Horne (Murder in Dealey Plaza 2000, edited by James Fetzer, pp. 271-273) has documented these likely changes, over a surprisingly long time interval (Thomas, p. 230). Also see Horne's update (9/24/2010). Thomas and I both agree that a shot struck JFK from the front, very near the hairline, directly above the right orbit. But after these agreements, things go off track, quite badly in fact.

Thomas claims (p. 232) that Malcolm Perry's surgery (at Parkland) completely obscured the throat wound. Perry, however, actually claimed the opposite: he said that he had left the wound "inviolate." Thomas does not cite evidence for his contrary conclusion.

Thomas claims that Dr. Perry made his original incision rather large, and Thomas quotes Perry as saying that he did this on purpose: Perry wanted to see clearly on either side of the trachea. This Perry citation, however, poses the same problem for Thomas that he has insistently proffered for the Dealey Plaza witnesses (e.g., ex-con Givens): observations made closer to the original event are intrinsically more reliable than those made later. Perry actually made this statement to the ARRB, well over three decades after the assassination. On the contrary, when he was first asked about his incision (Best Evidence 1980, David Lifton, p. 347) it was only 2-3 cm across. However, as time passed, like Pinocchio's nose (and even Humes's recall of the size), it progressively grew. Charles Crenshaw said that the tracheotomy in the photo did not match the one he saw in Dallas. Joe D. Goldstrich, a medical student, who had been learning about tracheotomies that very morning (at Parkland), and who had seen JFK's neck before and after the tracheotomy, said that when he saw the incision in the autopsy photo, he was stunned (JFK: Breaking the Silence 1993, Bill Sloan, pp. 84-97). John Ebersole, the autopsy radiologist, expressed his horror to me at seeing such a large and irregular incision and said he would never do one like that. The implications of a small incision at Parkland, as compared to the large one at Bethesda, are indeed frightening. Nonetheless, the consequences must be faced. (See Horne 2009, Volume IV, p. 1011.) Thomas also implies that, during the autopsy, George Burkley did not know about the throat wound. On the contrary, Burkley had advised George Barnum during the autopsy about the throat wound (Lifton, p. 671). After all, Burkley had been in the Parkland ER, where he had pushed steroids. Would he really have missed seeing (or at least hearing about) the throat shot? Even Boswell later told the media that he knew about the throat wound during the autopsy. And then there is Manchester, who claims that Humes and friends had learned of Perry's press briefing that same day; they supposedly even learned that Perry's surgery had obscured the anterior neck wound. Manchester actually states that Humes telephoned Perry after midnight (Manchester 1967, pp. 432-433). Quite remarkably, this late night phone call is precisely consistent with what Dr. John Ebersole told me.

The Parkland doctors, quite aside from Perry, were very clear that the throat wound represented an entry (p. 245, footnote 34). Dr. David Stewart also said that all of the Parkland doctors in attendance had concluded that the throat wound was an entry (Post-Mortem 1975, Harold Weisberg, p. 60).

Regarding body alteration, Thomas makes his bias clear (p. 225): there was none. That clearly places him outside the camp of David Lifton and Doug Horne. My views have been spelled out in my review of Horne's book.

But Thomas does not address body alteration in any detail. He does, however, accuse the autopsy photographer of failure to document the head wound properly. (In my opinion, this does accurately describe the extant photograph.) However, since this individual, John Stringer, presumably was the award-winning photographer, this by itself, raises questions about the authenticity of the autopsy collection. But Thomas is reluctant to open that Pandora's Box.

I agree with Thomas that, in their hurry to remove JFK's clothing, the nurses' scalpels created the slits in the shirt. (p. 312. He cites the doctors, but I suspect he really means the nurses.) I have seen the shirt at NARA; that scalpels caused these slits seems obvious. But Thomas concludes that, despite its small size, the throat wound was an exit wound. He does so based on (1) the non-frangibility of a metal-jacketed bullet (e.g., the M-C bullet) and (2) the buttressing of the skin while supported by the collar (see Lattimer's experiments). However, for multiple reasons this argument stretches credulity beyond reason. I suspect that Thomas is merely trying here to build his case for the SBT (single bullet theory).

Regarding the throat wound I would add the following. WC loyalists like to cite medical articles that ER personnel cannot reliably distinguish entry from exit wounds. Even if true, though, that comment obfuscates the situation here. To the contrary, in this particular case several facts supersede those medical reports: (1) such a tiny exit wound could not be duplicated in experiments by Olivier and Dziemian at the Edgewood Arsenal (see Inside the ARRB 2009, Douglas Horne, Volume IV, p. 1083 and Michael Kurtz, The Assassination Debates 2006, p. 35); and Milton Helpern--who had done 60,000 autopsies--said that, under similar conditions, he had never seen an exit wound that was so small. Where Death Delights, 1967, Marshall Houts). The reader should also view the goatskin tests by Army Wound Ballistics experts (Galanor 1998, Document 3). In addition, note that the pertinent eyewitnesses actually recalled the wound as lying above the tie and above the shirt collar; if so, then Lattimer's buttressing notions are quite irrelevant.

Then there is the question of the magic bullet, which Thomas does not accept as authentic (although the HSCA did). As Thomas summarizes, its provenance has been extensively investigated by Josiah Thompson, with recent assistance from Gary Aguilar. In the face of the persistent refusal of the relevant witnesses to identify this bullet, most likely it would never have been admitted at trial – and that alone would thoroughly devastate any magic bullet case. (Curiously, David Wrone has made a similar argument against the chain of custody for the Zapruder film; see Assassination Science, 1998, p. 265. Wrone claims that a good lawyer could have kept the film out of the courtroom.) A final telling blow against the magic bullet derives from the NPIC (National Photographic Interpretation Center): before political leverage was exerted, their scenario actually included a frontal throat shot!

I turn next to Thomas's claim that the SBT is still alive and that this bullet entered JFK's back, traveled anatomically upward (despite flying downward from the 6th floor of the TSBD), exited JFK's throat and then struck JBC. This should be just a matter of human anatomy, but the problem is in precisely identifying the entry and exit sites. Thomas admits that this is a challenge (especially to achieve the final upward trajectory), but he hangs his case on these items: (1) JFK was tilted far forward when struck and (2) JFK's arms were up at that moment. In my opinion, these items cannot save the day. The first problem is the actual level of the back wound – serious disagreement persists here. Thomas even admits that the medical evidence is ambiguous. That alone should cause him to hesitate. Burkley's death certificate places the back wound at T3 (Galanor 1998, Document 8). Ebersole, in his conversation with me, placed it at T4. The single specialty in which knowledge of internal anatomy must correlate precisely with external anatomy is radiation oncology – that was Ebersole's specialty (and it is my own, too). The bullet hole in the shirt and coat are nearly at the same level as one another; the hole in the coat lies eight centimeters inferior to the horizontal shoulder seam in the shirt. It also lies three centimeters inferior to the top of the scapula. (I measured these distances on a male model at NARA; also see Galanor 1998, Document 6.) For additional evidence supporting such a low back wound, see Assassination Science, pp. 110-111. Then there is Diana Bowron, a Parkland ER nurse, who saw the back wound and described it as far too low for the SBT; see her notation on the autopsy photo (Killing the Truth 1993, Harrison Livingstone, p. 368; or Horne 2009, Vol. 4, pp. 1070-1072). Also see the photo of the hole in JFK's coat (Thomas, p. 227).

On the other hand, both the autopsy photo (Galanor 1998, Document 12) and the autopsy diagram (the descriptive sheet – see Galanor 1998, Document 5) place the wound much higher, close to the level of T1 or T2. While before the ARRB, when shown the autopsy photo, Boswell chose T2. Now to give Thomas a fighting chance to make his case for the SBT, I shall adopt the higher level of T1 for this discussion. But where did the bullet exit? While before the WC, Charles Carrico (a surgeon, who saw the wound at Parkland) clearly implied that the wound was above the necktie and above the shirt collar (p. 236). Bowron also reported seeing this wound before JFK was undressed (Horne 2009, Vol. 4, p. 1079) – but she could not have seen it unless it had been above the tie. Thomas, on the other hand, has chosen not to believe either of these witnesses. On the contrary, he states: "the bullet passed below the necktie." The autopsy describes the wound at the level of 3rd or 4th tracheal ring. However, Lifton notes that Dr. Baxter, who was in the ER, described the incision at the 2nd ring (WC Vol. 6 p.42). Charles Crenshaw placed it at the 2nd or 3rd ring (Trauma Room One 2001, Charles A. Crenshaw, p. 62). If the bullet struck above the collar (as the witnesses and tracheal levels strongly suggest), then Lattimer's experiment with the buttressed collar (p. 235) is totally irrelevant. However, giving Thomas his best chance again, we adopt C7 for the throat wound (Thomas likes this). A bullet traveling forward from the level of T1 to C7 (see Galanor 1998, Document 13) must travel upward (with respect to JFK's body). Given a shot from the TSBD, is this truly feasible? JFK's elevated arms do nothing useful to change to position of C7 with respect to T1. And was JFK really that far forward? Thomas merely states that JFK was leaning forward at Z-224, the supposed critical frame. However, and somewhat astonishingly, he offers no quantitative analysis at this point. Despite this, though, he concludes that a bullet struck the back and exited the throat. In summary, it would seem that Thomas's zeal to protect the SBT suppresses a full recognition of the desperate paradoxes here. The reader should also recall that we have chosen only the most favorable evidence for the SBT, i.e., C7 for the throat site (it was likely higher) and T1 for the back site (it was likely much lower).

While before the ARRB, Frank O'Neill, one of the two FBI agents at the autopsy, openly scoffed at the SBT. He had seen for himself the level of the throat wound (the incision for the tracheotomy) and the level of the back wound, so he knew what he was talking about. He also ridiculed Boswell for later (verbally) elevating the back wound noticeably higher than Boswell's own autopsy diagram had shown.

But that is not even the last of the problems for the SBT – we have not yet considered the anatomic conundrums in the horizontal plane. Although Thomas cites (p. 237) my CT scan of an adult male (Galanor 1998, Document 45), he seems not to recognize its full import, or if he does, he evades it. This scan clearly demonstrates that a bullet entry at 5 cm to the right of the midline (in the back) and an exit near the midline of the throat must either (1) demolish bone--which was not seen on the autopsy X-rays or (2) transit some lung tissue, thus producing a pneumothorax (also not seen at the autopsy by the pathologists nor visible now on the autopsy X-rays).

Thomas also cites the abrasion collar seen in the back wound, which implied that the projectile was traveling upward (with respect to the body). However, such an abrasion could also have resulted from any projectile (e.g., a bullet fragment or even flying debris) that bounced up from the street. In my opinion (see discussion below) it was more likely a bullet fragment, rather than an intact bullet. In any case, though, the HSCA pathologists (p. 440) concluded that the (intact bullet) trajectory was anatomically upward, which seems absurd for a downward bullet trajectory from the TSBD.

Even though Thomas admits that the autopsy report was later altered (p. 230), he concludes this section by claiming, somewhat paradoxically, that there is no compelling reason to believe that the available evidence has been altered! Although he does not explicitly list his cited "available" evidence, he must mean the level of the back wound – after all, evidence for its location is all over the back. (Also recall that Gerald Ford decided to play pathologist and elevate the back wound into the lower neck – some powerful motive was surely at play here.) The wildly inconsistent level of the back wound alone leaves the door open to possible alteration of the autopsy photo. On other grounds, I am suspicious that at least one autopsy photo has been altered, but with so much other evidence tampering (as Thomas himself often notes), why must he slam the door so tightly closed against just one more example of this? I have addressed these issues of tampering in the autopsy x-rays and photos (see my Dallas lecture). These questions of deception should be decided purely by the evidence – preconceptions will not avail here.

Finally, there is lots of evidence that the back wound, although one of entry, did not penetrate (p. 231), and therefore cannot be consistent with the SBT. For starters, Humes initially reported that a bullet fell out of this wound via cardiac compression and did not penetrate. JAMA (January 4, 1964) reported that the first bullet struck the upper right shoulder, but then fell out of the back (see Thomas's long quotation on p. 228). Thomas even notes that someone at JAMA, in order to report this, must have had access to first hand information from the autopsy. That also seems likely to me. Furthermore, in an early WC transcript (January 27, 1964), J. Lee Rankin read from a document (presumably the contemporaneous autopsy report) that a fragment had exited the front of the neck – this was obviously no intact bullet transit. The entire paragraph (Rankin's quote) is as follows:

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, and 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 [emphasis added] 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. (Whitewash IV: Top Secret JFK Assassination Transcript 1974, Harold Weisberg, p. 102.)

Directly contrary to the above statement, it cannot escape the reader's attention that the autopsy photo shows the back wound above the shoulder blade. To clarify whether or not the commissioners actually possessed autopsy photos, we have this dialogue between John McCloy and J. Lee Rankin during a WC executive session (January 27, 1964):

Mr. McCloy: ...They talk about the colored photographs of the President's body – do we have those?
Mr. Rankin: Yes, it is part of it, a small part of it.
Mr. McCloy: Are they here?
Mr. Rankin: Yes.
(Whitewash IV: Top Secret JFK Assassination Transcript 1974, Harold Weisberg, p. 133.)

In short, the case for the SBT is highly tenuous and plainly inconsistent with a wide array of data. To traumatize Thomas's case for the SBT even more, though, just note that he does not even attempt a rigorous defense of the SBT, nor does he attempt any quantitative analysis of the 3D paradoxes. That he is capable of such an analytic approach, however, can readily be seen in his Chapter 12.

A few corrections are in order for the footnotes. Footnote 12: Crenshaw did not settle with the AMA for $300,000; it was $213,000. Footnote 39: The recorded interview with John Ebersole, the autopsy radiologist, was not by Gary Aguilar, but rather by me. I keep a copy of this tape safely in a top drawer in my desk; NARA has the original. I also transcribed that interview for Murder in Dealey Plaza 2000, edited by Jim Fetzer (p. 433). My CT scan (cited by Thomas) also appears in that book.

My Summary. A frontal projectile that did not exit (perhaps a shard of glass) might have caused the neck wound. The superficial back wound was probably caused by a bullet fragment (or piece of debris) that bounced up from the street.

Chapter 8: The Head Wound (p. 247)

Thomas wonders why anyone would suggest that the photographs are fakes when they do not support the WC. To this, I would answer: Whoever said that the WC cared about consistency? Ultimately, though, the evidence must speak for itself; preconceptions about the WC are irrelevant. None of the Parkland doctors recognized the photo of the back of the head – not one of them! Even the medical assistants at the autopsy did not recognize these photos (William Law, In the Eye of History, 2003 – see my Foreword), nor did the FBI agents at the autopsy (see their ARRB transcripts). I saw JFK's floating posterior scalp via stereo viewing at NARA, no matter how I viewed these photos (of that particular view), that can only mean photo tampering. However, this effect was seen solely in this view of the posterior scalp, but in no other autopsy photos. Furthermore, we should not really care in advance whether the photo supports one theory or another, but only whether it is accurate. Surely the back of the head cannot represent reality. The photographer was supposedly John Stringer, highly respected among his peers and a multiple award winner. Furthermore, he (initially) confirmed that the large skull defect (hole) was at the right rear, a conclusion that even Thomas apparently endorses. There is something very wrong with that photo of the posterior scalp. At the very minimum, it is highly misleading – surely not consistent with Stringer's well-documented skills.

Thomas enthuses over Dr. Lawrence Angel's reconstruction of the skull (p. 251), especially his placement of the Harper fragment (see my Figures 2 – 4 here).


Figure 2. Angel's placement of the Harper fragment (in blue). The delta fragment here (in red) lies anterior to the coronal suture. I borrowed this colored sketch from John Hunt; the uncolored version was published by the HSCA.
figure 3
Figure 3. Harper fragment photos from the Dallas pathologists. The outer surface is on the left: note the faint lead smudge (arrow) at the upper left, on the very edge. The inner surface is on the right.
figure 4 Figure 4. X-ray of the Harper fragment. Note metallic debris, circled on the left, and shown enlarged on the right. This is the same site as the lead-like smudge that is identified on the photograph in my Figure 3 – just rotate either photo by 180º for easier comparison. John Hunt is acknowledged (and thanked) as the source for this X-ray, which he discovered at NARA.


But there are serious problems with this. First, Angel was not told that there was a hole in the occipital bone (a hole that Thomas apparently accepts), so Angel's options were severely constrained, especially after he named the large delta fragment as frontal bone (I agree with this latter placement). Second, Angel did not see the X-ray of the Harper fragment, which was not discovered until much later. Even worse though, Thomas does not even cite this X-ray, which was discovered at NARA by John Hunt. (Another correction is in order here: John Hunt is not a doctor, but rather a baccalaureate graduate.) It turns out to be an absolutely critical clue. The X-ray (my Figure 4 here) shows metallic like debris just where an (apparent) lead smudge is seen in the photograph. The Dallas pathologists (not the Parkland MDs) who examined this bone also described this smudge as lead-like. (I spoke to one of them myself.) Now here is the point about Angel's reconstruction (seen in my Figure 2 here): in his sketch, the lead smudge on the Harper fragment would lie near the skull vertex, just left of the sagittal suture. (Angel clearly states that the sagittal suture is visible on the Harper fragment which is also consistent with his sketch.p. 250) But here is the bad news for Angel: the smudge does not match anyone's entrance or exit point. Perhaps even worse though is this: Angel's placement requires that the lead smudge be on the outside of the fragment, which implies a bullet entry near the skull vertex! What Angel would have said had he known about the occipital defect and/or if he had seen the Harper X-ray, we will never know. More to the point, when I performed my own reconstruction, using a real skull X-ray (the only such attempt ever made, to my knowledge, under fluoroscopic guidance), the Harper fragment ended up mostly in the occipital area (see my Figure 5 here).




Figure 5. This is my reconstruction of JFK's posterior skull, showing the Harper fragment (H), McClelland's bone flap (McC), and bone islands C and D. The 6.5 mm "metal" object (blackened here) lies on the small bone island inferior to the letter D (at the oblique arrow). Also see Fetzer 2000, p. 227, or my Dallas lecture, slide 21. Based on a high quality color photo of the Harper fragment, I had earlier placed the lead smudge at the site indicated here by L. I would still do so now, just based on that photo. However, the X-ray places it instead at the site indicated by the horizontal red arrow. The photo also shows an apparent smudge consistent with the X-ray site, but it is not as marked as at site L (on the photo). If one site must be chosen, then the X-ray should serve as the final arbiter. In that case, two sites of shrapnel must lie very close together, i.e., the one on the Harper fragment and the tiny one on the lateral skull X-ray (at the rear). The latter one correlates with the 6.5 mm object seen on the AP X-ray.


Even after a great deal of arm twisting by the HSCA (which favored a site 10 cm higher), the pathologists stubbornly clung to their EOP entry site. They also identified a hole in the scalp that perfectly overlapped the entry site in the bone. This distinctly contradicts Thomas, who states that the scalp hole matched the upper wound (see Figure 8.10 by Thomas). No pathologist ever said that – and only the pathologists could possibly have made the correct correlation. On the contrary, they have always consistently cited the much lower EOP entry.

Thomas claims that some researchers (no buffs here) have interpreted photo #44 (also known as F8) as a posterior view of the skull. Surely he means me (Murder in Dealey Plaza, 2000, p. 293), from which my Figure 6 (here) has been taken. (For more illustrative details, see my Dallas lecture, slide 22.)


Figure 6. In my interpretation, this is the posterior skull: photo F8 (alternately #16, #17 in b&w, or #44, #45 in color). The arrow identifies the EOP entry wound that Humes selected while before the ARRB. His identification strongly implies that this indeed is a posterior view.


It is strange that Thomas should be so certain that this is not a posterior view, despite never viewing this photo at NARA. I have not only done so, but have viewed it repeatedly in stereo. The upper left hand corner cannot be appreciated in reproductions, but it is highly relevant. In that corner, part of the abdomen is visible: the subcutaneous fat is seen folded out (as it was during the autopsy) and even a nipple is visible. Until the recent review by the ARRB, I was the only observer to note these features. Now, however, I am not alone: one of the ARRB experts, Robert Kirschner (a forensic pathologist, no less), saw the same anatomy in this corner of the photo. (See my Dallas lecture, slide 58.) Those specific anatomic landmarks in that corner can mean only one thing: this is a posterior view of the skull. But there is more. When this photo was originally catalogued (during the "military review" by the autopsy personnel on November 1, 1966), they actually described it as a posterior view. Furthermore, when the ARRB asked Humes to identify the posterior skull bullet entry, he identified a site (see my Figure 6 above) that unequivocally proves that he – perhaps subconsciously – interpreted this photo as a posterior view. My correlation of several bone fragments based on (1) the photos – as viewed in stereo, (2) the X-rays, and (3) Boswell's diagram is totally self-consistent. Such consistency can mean only one thing: this is the posterior skull (see my Figure 5 here and my discussion in Fetzer 2000, pp. 292-295). This latter discussion places the Harper fragment mostly in the occiput. It is also noteworthy that Thomas does not even attempt a similar correlation of the X-rays, photographs, and the autopsy descriptive sheet – as my analysis does. The reader might also profit from a review of John Hunt's reconstruction, as it includes useful critiques of the HSCA. (Google "A Demonstrable Impossibility." )

Thomas argues against the pathologists' EOP entry by citing the trauma in the brain photos. This is, however, a step into a deep morass. Horne has extensively documented the case for a surrogate brain (see Fetzer 2000, p. 299). My Optical Densitometry data add even more power to Horne's argument. ( See Assassination Science, pp. 120-137 and 153-158), and "Paradoxes of the JFK Assassination: the Brain Enigma," by Cyril Wecht and me, in The Assassinations 2003, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease .) The lateral X-rays (the OD measurements, especially) clearly imply virtually no brain on either the left or right side in that large dark area at the front. Paradoxically, though, the brain photos show nearly intact brain in the entire frontal region (on both left and right sides). Something is radically wrong here – either the X-rays are inaccurate or the brain photographs are inaccurate (both cannot be correct). But Thomas does not even recognize this profound paradox. Furthermore, the supposed photographer, John Stringer, denies taking this brain photo, which means that it is an orphan – no one has claimed it. To base any case whatsoever on such frail evidence, as Thomas does, can only be fraught with serious risk.

But Thomas next leaps to an even more controversial conclusion: a metal fragment on the posterior skull caused the severe and numerous fracture patterns seen on the X-rays. (Thomas and Angel call this "The Radiopaque Lump" – see my Figure 7 below.) By taking this step Thomas has become a true iconoclast – no expert has ever made such a proposal. But the real problem lies on the lateral skull X-ray: here there is only a very tiny metal fragment, far too small to cause such skeletal trauma (see my Figure 8). The problem is that Thomas has based his case on only the AP skull X-ray, where the 6.5 mm metallic object (within the right orbit on my Figure 7) dominates the image. The two supposedly sequential skull X-rays (AP and lateral) are so radically inconsistent with one another that a profound paradox ensues. To date, despite innumerable experts (including those employed by the ARRB), no one has solved this deep mystery, unless, of course, my proposal of subsequent X-ray alteration in the darkroom is accepted (see my Dallas lecture or Assassination Science, 1998, pp. 120-137).


Figure_7 Figure 7. The AP skull X-ray. Note the 6.5 "metal" object within the upper right orbit (vertical red arrow). The elongated fragment (7 x 2 mm), lying above and slightly to the viewers' left of the first one (horizontal red arrow), was authentic and was removed by Humes. The trail of debris (oblique blue arrow), in turn, lies above this, at the very top of the skull. The single tiny piece of shrapnel in the left scalp is indicated by the horizontal blue arrow.
figure 8 Figure 8. The right lateral skull X-ray. Note the faintly visible, tiny metal fragment at the far rear (oblique blue arrow), just inferior to the discontinuity (fracture). This fragment correlates with the 6.5 mm object seen on the AP X-ray. The 7x2 mm fragment, removed by Humes, is at the very front (horizontal red arrow). The single tiny piece of shrapnel in the left scalp is indicated by the horizontal blue arrow.


Thomas accuses Humes and friends of dissembling about this queer 6.5 mm object (as seen on the AP X-ray). He thinks they actually saw it, which of course they have always denied. All three of them – independently – denied this before the ARRB. And when I asked Ebersole (from my own specialty) about it, he immediately and forever stopped talking about the assassination (listen to my tape of our conversation at NARA). Even worse, though, many bystanders saw those X-rays at the autopsy and not one of them reported this strange 6.5 mm object, despite the fact that such large metallic objects were the sole point of taking X-rays that night. The real problem with this forgery though is that the 6.5 mm object is so radically inconsistent on the two X-ray views. The optical density data clearly demonstrate this. Even the experts for the ARRB strongly emphasized this point. (Regarding these experts, see my Dallas lecture, slides 38-40.) The FBI agents, too, are consistent with my view: they locate the largest piece of metal at the front of the skull (and add that Humes removed it). While the next largest lay at the rear (the tiny one seen on the lateral X-ray). I agree with this FBI report. Thomas thinks these two FBI men locate the largest fragment at the rear, but that is a gross misunderstanding. Furthermore, when interviewed by the ARRB, these men did not recall anything like the 6.5 mm "metal fragment" on the AP X-ray. Finally, there is the clinching statement by Larry Sturdivan, the HSCA ballistics expert: despite seeing nearly 20,000 cases of gunshot trauma, he had never seen anything like this. He does not believe that the 6.5 mm object represents a piece of metal. I agree – it's not a piece of metal. In fact, it is quite irrelevant to the Dealey Plaza crime scene. (It is, however, relevant to the crime scene – of illegal alteration – that later occurred in the darkroom.) Sturdivan believes that this curious object was an accidental artifact. I disagree – it is a deliberate artifact, placed at a most incredible, but pertinent, location.

The trail of metallic-like debris across the top of the skull X-rays warrants some comment. Thomas notes that this is consistent with a shot from the front. I agree. He also emphasizes that it is not consistent with a shot from the EOP. I agree again. But that is not the end of the matter. The 6.5 mm object that so dominates the AP X-ray is not on that main trail of debris. Thomas agrees with this off-trail location (p. 268, Figure 8.8), but then adds that this site (for the 6.5 mm object) matches the puncture wound in the right temple. I found these comments confusing: Thomas believes in only one headshot; therefore, in his interpretation, shouldn't all the debris (except for shrapnel) lie on just one trail? Exactly how does he distinguish between the main trail of bullet debris and a right temple entry, or does he consider them identical? I could not be certain. Moreover, that off-trail location for the 6.5 mm object is anything but trivial. Thomas might reply that the 6.5 mm object is merely shrapnel, but there are two problems with that: (1) the lateral X-ray is inconsistent with the AP – the lateral shows only a faintly visible fragment at the corresponding site, and (2) Thomas has just associated this 6.5 mm object with a right temple entry, so the 6.5 mm object can't also be shrapnel. And that's where the matter rests.

Furthermore, where did that 7x2 mm fragment come from (the one that Humes removed)? It is also well off the main trail. I cannot be certain, but one possibility is that it derived from the posterior EOP shot, the one cited by the pathologists. Of course, that would promptly mean two head shots. See Horne (2009, pp. 1147-1155) for a thorough discussion of multiple head shots. (Click here for my review of Horne's book, as well as my discussion of multiple headshots.)

Then there is another problem: although the experts have been rather quiet about this, there are, in fact, multiple tiny metal fragments scattered widely over the skull X-rays (on both views). There are also multiple, tiny fragments immediately below – and even inside (!) – the 6.5 mm object (see my Dallas lecture, slide 33). The most obvious extraneous fragment is high on the left side of the skull, lying within the scalp. This is visible on virtually every reproduction I have seen. It is even faintly visible in Thomas's low resolution image; it is readily seen in my Figures 7 and 8 here. As viewed at NARA, this tiny object certainly looks like metal; it is visible, and spatially consistent, on all three skull X-rays at NARA, so it is hardly an artifact. It must be shrapnel. The small piece at the rear (cited by the FBI and visible on the lateral X-ray; see the blue arrow in my Figure 8) must also represent shrapnel; that would imply a strike from the rear. Note that this is well off the main trail of debris. Thomas is therefore at least partly right: there was a piece of shrapnel at the back of the skull – but it was tiny, far too small to cause skull fractures. (See my Dallas lecture, slide 25.) So now the key question is this: Was the back wound also caused by shrapnel? Although I cannot prove this, all of the evidence, including Humes's inability to find a trail through the tissue there, is totally consistent with this interpretation. If so, the SBT is dead. Unfortunately, this possibility (of shrapnel to the back) is not even considered by Thomas, and that is a great loss.

Thomas quotes Vincent DiMaio as saying that the trail of debris does not fit with a full metal jacketed bullet, but rather fits with a high velocity hunting bullet. But no one considers a mercury bullet, which I have discussed elsewhere (see my Figure 9).


figure 9
Figure 9. Close-up of the bullet trail on the right lateral skull X-ray. Most fragments have very fuzzy borders, as mercury droplets might.


I cannot say with certainty that it was a mercury bullet, but I can confirm that the borders of the fragments (as viewed at NARA) in the so-called trail are remarkably fuzzy. That stands in stark contrast to the metal fragments that were removed and are known to be metal (lead); by contrast, their borders on the X-ray film are sharply defined. I have repeatedly observed this distinction at NARA. In an odd coincidence that I have previously noted, such devastating mercury bullets were described – in 1963 – in The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

James Sibert (whom I have met) and Frank O'Neill (spelled "O'Neil" by Thomas) heard Humes's comment about surgery to the top of the skull. When interviewed again about this before the ARRB, both men adamantly refused to change their story. Thomas apparently does not believe them, but it should be noted that James Jenkins, whom I find highly credible (and whom I have met), also heard this same phrase spoken by Humes during the autopsy (Horne 2009, Volume IV, pp. 1036, 1038). Horne spends several pages addressing this significant issue, a discussion that Thomas omits.

Thomas apparently believes that the "red spot" seen in the posterior head photo was the site of a shrapnel landing. Of course, the pathologists all insisted that there had been no damage of any kind there. In fact, on some NARA photos (especially the black and white set), I saw hair growing directly out of this site. Thomas also insists that the scalp must have been cleaned up before this photo. On the other hand, the ARRB (including Horne) repeatedly quizzed autopsy personnel about this very issue: every one of them denied that any cleaning had been done before these photos were taken, so the source of Thomas's conclusion is a mystery.

I close this chapter with another major issue. Thomas proposes that a right frontal head shot (the entry I agree with), exited through the right occiput (which implies that there was a large hole in the right occiput). There are several serious problems with this:

(1) the trail of debris is far above this exit site, so why is the exit so low?

(2) The lateral deflection for a GK shot must be astonishingly large for this occipital exit site.

After all, the gunman is quite far to the side: Thomas cites the angle as 60º (p. 372, footnote 68). However, the specific illustrative figure cited in this footnote (Figure 16.9) does not appear in the book – in fact, there are no figures in Chapter 16 after Figure 16.6. But the central question is this: How can such a large deflection occur, merely by striking a skull? Thomas offers only one citation for this: a German publication from 1971 (that he introduces in a later chapter – and which I discuss below). On the other hand, Cyril Wecht was specifically asked about this proposed huge deflection by Bugliosi. And here is the clincher: Wecht clearly denied that such a large deflection was possible – and Cyril is the summa cum laude of forensic pathologists.

My Summary. It is extremely hard to attribute JFK's head trauma to a single bullet. A mercury bullet may have struck from the front. The GK shot, if any, missed.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:02
David Mantik

David W. Mantik, MD, Ph.D., is a board certified radiation oncologist who previously served on the tenure-track physics faculty at U. Michigan. He received his PhD in physics from U. Wisconsin, his MD from Michigan, completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford, and held a Junior Faculty Clinical Fellowship at USC.  He has visited the National Archives on nine separate occasions and has written extensively about the JFK medical evidence, particularly the autopsy images.  He has recently published an e-book, JFK’s Head Wounds.

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