Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Head Wounds Revisited

Back in August 2010, I detailed on this blog my belief that author Dr. Donald B. Thomas was most likely correct in asserting that President Kennedy was struck in the head by only one bullet, fired from the grassy knoll. Having revisited the works of radiologist Dr. Randy Robertson and neuroscientist Dr. Joseph N. Riley, I have realized that Dr. Thomas (and I) must be wrong and that, in fact, JFK's skull was hit by two separate bullets¾one from the right front and one from the rear. More than this, the evidence shows that the rear entrance wound was precisely where autopsy doctors Humes, Boswell, and Finck said it was in their report: "2.5 centimeters to the right, and slightly above the external occiptal protuberance [EOP]”.


Much of my own personal confusion about the rear entry wound was caused by the contradictory official accounts; most especially the fact that official U.S. government panels had moved the wound 10 cm up the skull from where it was located by the autopsy surgeons. On top of this, there appeared to be disagreement among the autopsy doctors themselves about the very nature of this alleged entry hole, with Dr. James J. Humes claiming that it was a "through-and-through" hole in an otherwise intact plate of bone, Dr J. Thornton Boswell saying it was a semi-circular notch on the margin of a larger defect, and Dr. Pierre Finck appearing to give both versions at different times. Add to this the fact that the Assassination Records Review Board asked three independent experts to review the autopsy materials, and none of them could locate an entry hole anywhere on the skull, and it seemed obvious that the whole story was built on a lie. The whole reason they couldn't get their stories about the alleged rear entrance hole straight, I thought, was that no such hole ever existed.
I thought wrong.
Reason to Reconsider
It was reading Walt Brown's unique book The Warren Omission that sent me back to the head wounds. Brown highlighted a passage from the testimony of Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman that, although I had read his testimony at least twice before, I had somehow managed to forget. Asked by the Commission to describe what he saw at the Bethesda autopsy, Kellerman described a large exit wound, approximately 5 inches in diameter, in the right rear of the head. He continued:

KELLERMAN: Entry into this man's head was right below that wound, right here.
SPECTER: Indicating the bottom of the hairline immediately to the right of the ear about the lower third of the ear?
KELLERMAN: Right. But it was in the hairline, sir.
SPECTER: In his hairline?
KELLERMAN: Yes, sir.
SPECTER: Near the end of his hairline?
KELLERMAN: Yes, sir.
SPECTER: What was the size of that aperture?
KELLERMAN: The little finger.
SPECTER: Indicating the diameter of the little finger.
KELLERMAN: Right. (2H81)
Despite Arlen Specter's somewhat ambiguous interjection, "to the right of the ear", it is clear that by describing an entry that was at the "lower third of the ear" Kellerman provided independent corroboration of an entrance wound low down on the back of the skull; just as described in the autopsy report. And, in fact, Kellerman clarified this in a sketch he prepared for the HSCA:
For me, this was extremely compelling because I could see no reason for Kellerman to have lied. With this is mind, I decided to go back to the statements and testimonies of the various individuals present at the autopsy. It occured to me that in my previous readings I had always been looking for recollections of the exit wound. This time I wanted to see who else, if anyone, remembered the entrance wound.
Re-reading the statements reaffirmed my recollection that the majority of those who saw the President's body only recalled the large 17 cm wound on the right side of the head described in the autopsy report as an exit. This is probably not surprising given how shocking this massive wound must have been for many of them. However, there were a few witnesses who gave evidence of an entrance wound in the rear. There was Richard Lipsey, aide to U.S. Army General Wehle, who told Andy Purdy of the HSCA that there was an "entrance in the lower head...just inside the hairline." [1] There was FBI Agent Francis O'neill who told Purdy that "The autopsy doctors felt that the bullet that entered the head struck the centre, low portion of the head" [2] and prepared a sketch showing this low entry wound.
And there was Bethesda photographer John Stringer whose ARRB testimony includes this exchange:

Q. Now let me point out to you a circle, which is on the back of the skull¾that's a small, self-contained circle¾which Dr. Boswell identified as being the entrance wound, or what he believed to be the entrance wound. Does that small circle seem to be, to you, accurate in terms of showing where the hole was in the --
A. I though it was over here.
Q. When you say "over here", you're pointing more towards the external occipital protuberance?
A. Yes.
Q. Is that right?
A. Yes. (pgs. 87-88)
Alongside Kellerman, these witnesses provided independent corroboration for an entrance wound not simply in the rear, but lower down on the back of the skull near the EOP¾precisely where Humes and Boswell said it was. Conversely, I could not find a single witness who saw an entrance wound higher up, in the "cowlick" area, where most modern lone nutters wish to believe it was.
The "Tell Tale Trajectory Lines
Roughly two decades ago, Dr. Randy Robertson and Dr. Joseph N. Riley independently studied the X-rays and identified the same defect in the skull as being the wound of entrance.
To his credit, researcher Pat Speer (who understands as much about the medical evidence as any of us laymen could be expected to) has trumpeted this finding for a good number of years. And with good reason since this defect is located precisely where the autopsy doctors said the entrance wound was. Yet for some time I remained unconvinced, at least partly because the independent experts contracted by the ARRB had not identified it as an entry hole. In the end, it was Dr. Robertson's compelling article, "The Tell Tale Trajectory Lines", that caused me to reconsider my position.
As Dr. Robertson explains, there are two converging (or diverging) pencil lines on the right lateral skull X-ray that were drawn by Dr. John Ebersole, the radiologist present at Kennedy's autopsy. In a November 1, 1966, inventory of the autopsy materials, the autopsy doctors described these as "angle lines" but did not elaborate further. [3] When the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel (FPP) studied the X-rays over a decade later, Dr. James Weston raised the possibility that these might actually represent trajectory lines and so Ebersole was called upon to explain their presence. According to Robertson, "Dr. Ebersole was not a willing participant and would have preferred not to have come to Washington to testify" but was persuaded to do so in a phone conversation with the head of the FPP, Dr. Michael Baden. "In an interview to his hometown Lancaster, Pennsylvania, newspaper, Dr. Ebersole said that the most important reason for his consenting to go to Washington was to clear up a matter about pencil lines present on the X-rays." [4] Apparently, Dr. Baden had convinced him that it was important they get the "right" explanation on record.
In his testimony before the FPP, Ebersole claimed that "sometime within a month of the assassination" he recieved a call from Dr. James Young of the White House medical staff. "Dr. Young asked me if I could review the skull X-rays for the purpose of getting some measurements for a sculpture." [5] In so doing he made the two pencil lines on the X-ray; a horizontal line from the nasion to the occiput, and a vertical line from the high point of the forehead back to the occiput. According to Dr. Ebersole, these represented anatomical landmarks that would be recognized by an artist. He also claimed that the whole thing was conducted in such secrecy that he had to give his measurements in verbal code over the telephone. But as Dr. Robertson points out, none of this makes any sense. If a sculpture of President Kennedy really was to be made, why would poor quality X-rays of his decimated, post-mortem skull be used when good quality pre-mortem skull X-rays were available? Why was there any need for secrecy if the measurements were being made for a sculpture that would presumably be on public display? And what special experience and qualifications did Dr. Ebersole possess that other radiologists did not?
It is quite obvious that Dr. Ebersole's story was designed to cover-up the fact that the two pencil lines on the X-ray both lead to the entrance hole at the EOP; an entrance hole the FPP was determined to deny the existence of. Why? Because, as Dr. Joseph N. Riley observed, "If the rear entrance wound is located where Humes et al. described it, it proves a second shot to the head. The fragments distributed in and the damage to the cerebral cortex cannot be due to the shot described by Humes et al.” because “the wounds are discontinuous.” [6] Indeed, the trail of metallic debris ends more than 10 centimetres above the entrance in the EOP which is quite obviously one of the reasons why it was deemed necessary to move the entry hole up the skull. As I noted in my previous post about the head shot from the knoll, the dispersion of the fragments reveals the direction in which the missile passed through the head. When a bullet disintegrates on striking a skull, the smaller, dust-like fragments are found closer to the entry point and the larger particles are found closer to the exit. This is because the larger fragments, having greater mass, have greater momentum and are carried further away from the point of entry. And what we see on the autopsy X-rays is that the smaller particles are located at the right temple and the larger ones towards the top back part of the skull; revealing a front to rear trajectory.

So why did Dr. Ebersole draw those trajectory lines? Dr. Robertson explains:
We can now go back to the time when Dr. Ebersole first drew these angle lines and ask ourselves what artist might have been interested in these specific lines which do not conform to any known " anthropomorphic" measurements. We should have a high degree of suspicion, as did one member of the FPP, that these were indeed trajectory lines. Given that they were drawn on the lateral skull x-ray of a homicide victim who suffered a gunshot wound to the head with one line being on the horizontal and the other corresponding to the points of entry and exit described in the autopsy report, this seems a very likely possibility. Dr. Ebersole's story about the purpose of these lines did have some elements of truth in it except their true purpose. In fact there was an artist who might have been very interested in this trajectory in the first few months after the assassination. That artist was Harold Rydberg who was preparing CE 388. By an amazing coincidence the pencil lines drawn on the lateral skull x-ray match almost to the degree the trajectory lines present on CE 388. They both measure very close to 32 degrees. [see graphic below with pencil lines highlighted in red] It is beyond my imagination to believe that these matching trajectory lines were drawn on CE 388 without the direct or indirect use of the measurements off the lateral skull x-ray. Interestingly the perspective of CE 388 is in the same straight side view of the head just as the lateral x-rays. There are strong implications that the x-rays were used as a template for CE 388 which made no attempt to take into account the tilted attitude of the President's head towards the left at the moment the fatal head wounds struck. When CE 388 and the lateral skull x-ray are compared side by side you see that they both intersect the skull at the same level _slightly above the EOP. The clue that they point to is the transverse fracture of the right occipital bone which was created as a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano bullet entered the back of the skull at this lower level. [7]
Reading the above was a revelation for me. In his HSCA FPP testimony, Dr. Ebersole was asked a number of times where he thought the bullet entered the skull but he never gave a meaningful answer, saying at one point, “...I would say on the basis of those might say one would have to estimate there that the wound of entrance was somewhere to the side or to the posterior quadrant.” [8] But I believe Dr. Robertson's analysis shows that Ebersole knew damn well where that entrance wound was. And as a qualified diagnostic radiologist he also knew damn well what it meant: JFK was struck in the head by two different bullets from two different directions.
Sequencing the Head Shots
In his classic 1967 book, Six Seconds in Dallas, Josiah Thompson was the first author to posit that JFK was shot from three different directions. He was also the first to realise that there were two shots to the head; one from the Texas School Book Depository and one from the Grassy Knoll. And because he discovered by taking measurements from the Zapruder film that Kennedy's head moves forward approximately 2.5 inches in 1/18 of a second, right before it is driven violently backwards, Thompson reasoned that the rear entering shot came first. But whilst Thompson was correct about the big picture, he was wrong about the details. Anyone who has visited this blog before probably knows that I am a firm believer in the validity of the acoustics evidence. It is my belief that the acoustics provides us with hard scientific evidence of the number and sequence of shots and that this hard evidence is of far greater weight than subjective interpretations of the Zapruder film alone. And what the proper synchronization of the dictabelt and the Zapruder film tells us is that the shot from the depository came approximately 0.7 seconds after the shot from the knoll.
The first of the two head shots came from the Grassy Knoll and struck at Zapruder frame 313 causing the head to explode in what Dr. Donald Thomas has labelled a typical “Kronlein Schuss” (named for the German ballistics expert who first demonstrated the effect with clay-filled skulls). The energy deposited as the bullet passed through the brain imparted a momentum so great that a temporary cavity was formed. Consequently, a violent wave of hydraulic pressure was applied to the cranium causing it to burst open. The effect was worsened by fractures radiating from the point of entrance giving way under pressure from the brain fluid and macerated tissue, which then burst out through the upper right side of the skull. As forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht told me, the bullet that did the damage was “most likely was some kind of 'soft lead' (i.e., frangible) ammunition rather than the kind of bullet that is the 'hero' of the SBT” which was “military type ammunition that would have produced a different pattern of fragmentation and overall craniocerebral damage. According to Dr. Wecht, “A FMJ [full metal jacket] bullet should not produce” the “lead snowstorm within the brain” that is seen on the autopsy X-rays. [9] This “soft lead” bullet came in at a high, almost 60° angle and struck tangentially at the right temple near the hairline. Breaking up as it penetrated, it took, as objects in motion tend to do, the path of least resistance so that it was deflected upwards and leftwards; exiting high in the posterior near the midline.
The second shot, coming from the depository building at approximately Z327, entered the back of the skull slightly above the EOP and exited near the supra-orbital ridge. This bullet¾likely a 6.5 mm Mannlicher Carcano round behaved as would be expected and did not disintergrate and leave a trail of missile dust in its wake. And because the "pressure vessell" of the skull had already been compromised, it did not create an "explosion" of bone, flesh and fluid as did the shot from the right front. It did, however, create the considerable damage to the subcortex, part of which was described in the Supplemental Autopsy Report as "a longitudal laceration of the right hemisphere which is para-sagittal in position approximately 2.5 cm to the right of the midline which extends from the tip of the occipital lobe posteriorly to the tip of the frontal lobe anteriorly." [10] According to Dr. Joseph N. Riley, who has a Ph.D in neuroscience and specializes in neuroanatomy and experimental neuropathology, the subcortical damage is itself proof that the bullet did not enter 10 cm higher in the skull as the Clark and HSCA panels claimed. "If a bullet entered where the panel places the entrance wound", he writes, "it is anatomically impossible to produce the subcortical wounds." [11]


It is now my conviction that I was wrong to believe there was only one shot to President Kennedy's head. The medical evidence shows damage to the skull and brain, as well as bullet fragmentation, that cannot be accounted for by a single bullet. Together with the eyewitness accounts, the post mortem X-rays establish that there was indeed an entrance wound in the back of the skull at the level of the EOP; just as Humes, Boswell, and Finck claimed all along.
Postscript: A Word About the Forward Motion
As I noted above, I believe that the hard evidence of the dictabelt recording is of far greater validity than subjective interpretations of the images on the Zapruder film, and this evidence establishes that the Knoll shot came first. But I know that there are no shortage of students and theorists who doggedly cling to the belief that the alleged 2.5 inch forward movement of Kennedy's skull between Z-312 and Z-313 can only be due to a shot from the rear. These folks may be interested to learn that the man responsible for introducing that theory, Josiah Thompson, has since abandoned it altogether.
In his online article “Bedrock Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination”, Thompson writes, “In the years since those measurements were made, I've learned I was wrong. Z312 is a clear frame while Z313 is smeared along a horizontal axis by the movement of Zapruder's camera. The white streak of curb against which Kennedy's head was measured is also smeared horizontally and this gives rise to an illusory movement of the head. Art Snyder of the Stanford Linear Accelerator staff persuaded me several years ago that I had measured not the movement of Kennedy's head but the smear in frame 313. The two-inch forward movement was just not there.”
Whether or not Thompson is correct that the alleged forward motion is an optical illusion is a matter of intense debate. What is beyond dispute is what Thompson didn't notice which is the simple fact that the Zapruder film shows all of the occupants of the limosuine move dramatically forward at almost the same instant as Kennedy and continue to do so after he is hurled backwards by the shot that exploded the right side of his head. This fact is clearly demonstrated in the following two gifs from researcher David Wimp:

It stands to reason that the same force which caused the other limo occupants to lurch forward also affected the President. The question is, what was that force? Well Physicist Luis Alverez may have inadvertently provided the answer when he used the Zapruder film to calculate the velocity of the limousine on Elm Street. Alverez found that the limo began to decelerate a little under one second before the head shot at approximately frame 300:

Based on this, it appears likely that, for whatever reason, Secret Service driver William Greer had touched the brakes and that this is what caused the limo occupants to lurch forwards¾all except JFK who was quickly thrown backwards by the first head shot. With the above in mind, the reader can hopefully see that claims the forward motion must have occurred as the result of a bullet impact from the rear have little to no basis in fact.
1. Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) Medical Document 87, page 9.

2. ARRB Medical Document 47, page 5.

3. ARRB Medical Document 12, page 1.

5. ARRB Medical Document 60, page 5.

8. ARRB Medical Document 60, page 28.

9. January 12, 2012, private email from Cyril Wecht.

10. ARRB Medical Document 4, page 1.







  1. Good Day Martin.... Thanks for a thoughts-provoking piece.

    Per your....

    "The second shot, coming from the depository building at approximately Z327, entered the back of the skull slightly above the EOP and exited near the supra-orbital ridge",

    .... One question (of several) .... Where do you think that Z-327-striking bullet (or its bullet fragments) trajected-to after exiting President Kennedy's head?

    Best Regards in Research,


  2. Thanks Don,

    I'll admit that I can't give much of answer your question.

    I would assume that the bullet came out largely intact and ended up outside the limo. From there it's impossible to know where it went really IMHO. I find lone nutters often ask, "where did your extra bullets go" as if they can account for all three in their scenario when obviously they cannot. Perhaps if the FBI/DPD sealed off and forensically searched the plaza we might have more answers.

    I don't know if that really answers your question.

  3. Dear Martin,

    I read your very interesting and correct comments to the book "Head Shot" by G. Paul Chambers.

    First of all, the most evident error by Chambers was in misinterpreting the physical law of "momentum conservation", wrongly believing that Kennedy's head could have been violently pushed back to the left, ONLY if the fatal bullet did not exit from his head.
    Unfortunately this wrong belief (which leads Chambers even to wrongly and incredibly deny what MANY witnesses reported: i.e. a large wound in the rear right occipital side of JFK's skull) is totally flawing his work.

    For those who love Physics, and are interested in a better and more precise interpretation of the correct physical laws about the impact of the fatal bullet on Kennedy's head, I suggest to read my recent paper (just 30 pages!):

    where you can find also a full analysis (never performed before) on the OBLIQUITY of the fatal bullet, showing why a "straight" bullet from the 6th floor of TSBD could not break up at all by penetrating a human head , whereas a bullet at 60° obliquity (as the fatal bullet that struck Kennedy's head) is reaching the highest level of fragmentation, and that's the reason why so many minute fragments where found during the autopsy.


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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