Do we need to know the height of the back wound?
February 2001

    One of the disappointing aspects of the JFK case is the endless confusion that surrounds the medical evidence. Even though a careful examination of the medical evidence reveals that much of it is much more solid than is usually portrayed, confusion persists. For this reason, I believe it would be helpful to carefully consider which pieces of medical evidence are expendable, i.e., are not really needed to get the right answer about the assassination. Let us begin with the height of the back/neck wound. This issue is contentious because the high position leads to a downward trajectory through the neck and out the throat, and a logical connection to Connally's back and thereby to the single-bullet theory (SBT), whereas the low position leads to a horizontal or slightly upward track that is often said not to hit Connally or create the SBT.
    Let us grant for the sake of argument that we cannot know whether the back wound was low or high. Let us then set forth the other pieces of evidence that we do know, and see whether we can still connect that bullet with Connally. If we can, the NAA and ballistic data take over and tie the bullet conclusively to Oswald's rifle. If we cannot, we fall into some sort of never-never land.
    Here is the logical train of evidence without the height of the back wound or the inclination of the trajectory through the neck:

  1. Bullet A passed from the back to the throat and out.
  2. Bullet B (nonpristine) entered Connally's back well below Kennedy's throat and on a downward course.
  3. Bullet B was fired from Oswald's rifle because the wrist fragment was linked chemically (by NAA) to the stretcher bullet (CE 399), which was linked ballistically to Oswald's rifle.
  4. If Bullet A did not become bullet B, we have four problems: (a) A must have disappeared out of the car without a trace; (b) A must have been fired horizontally or upward so as to miss the car, which means from a ground-level position near the corner of Elm and Houston (i.e., near the motorcade and the crowds); (c) B had to conveniently appear at the same time to replace A; and (d) in order for B to be nonpristine, it must have hit something (the live oak tree?) between the sixth floor and Connally's back. These four problems make a very complicated scenario, indeed.
  5. But if Bullet A became Bullet B, these problems disappear: (a) A didn't disappear because it passed into Connally as B; (b) A, becoming B, was traceable to Oswald's rifle up high rather than being fired from ground level in a crowd; (c) no second bullet B had to conveniently appear; and (d) B was nonpristine because it had (as A) passed through Kennedy. This amounts to the single-bullet theory.
  6. Simplicity, even common sense, demands that we go with step 5 and the SBT—the choice isn't even close.

   This simple line of reasoning shows how the SBT flows naturally from the evidence with or without the the height of the back wound. Thus, that height is not needed to understand the assassination properly.
    There's more, though. Once the conclusion in step 6 is granted, the downward trajectory through the neck follows automatically, and from it follows the high position of the back wound.
    But we didn't need to go through all this trouble, because two factors unambiguously place the back wound at the high position: (1) the autopsy observation that the back wound was above the right scapula, and (2) Dr. Lattimer's elegant drawing of the downward line of injuries between the back wound and the throat wound. So two independent lines of reasoning establish the high position of the back wound.

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