The fragments and the reasons for analyzing them
Five basic fragments were recovered from the car, the hospital, and the men’s bodies. They and their masses are listed in Table 1 below, which represents the pieces received by the FBI laboratory and analyzed spectroscopically by them (see later section). The source of this information is a little-known FBI memo of 11 June 1979 from a “JWK” to the HSCA. Their locations are shown in Figure 1, with the stretcher bullet Q1 being associated with Governor Connally's left thigh because that is where it originally was. (See discussion below.)
Table 1. Bullets and fragments received by the FBI.
Total weight, grains
Total weight, milligrams
CE 399 (Q1)
Bullet from stretcher (lead core plus jacket)
CE 567 (Q2)
Bullet fragment from seat cushion (lead core plus brass jacket)
CE 569 (Q3)
Bullet fragment from front seat (jacket)
CE 843 (Q4,5)
Two lead fragments from President’s head
CE 842 (Q9)
Three lead fragments from Connally’s arm
CE 840 (Q14)
Three lead fragments from rear carpet
0.9, 0.7, 0.7
58, 45, 45
CE 841 (Q15)
Scraping from inside surface of windshield
Figure 1. Original locations of the five basic fragments.
The infamous stretcher bullet, or “magic
bullet” (Q1), was found in Parkland Hospital associated with a stretcher
believed by the Warren Commission to have been Governor Connally’s. At about 2
p.m. the day of the shooting, the stretcher was moved by Mr. Darrell Tomlinson,
chief engineer of the hospital. It bumped against a wall in the hallway, and the
bullet rolled out from under the mattress and fell onto the floor. Tomlinson
showed it to his fellow employee O. P. Wright, who picked it up and gave it to
Secret Service Agent Richard Johnsen, who in turn gave it to Secret Service
Chief James Rowley.
Several fragments were recovered from the presidential limousine. It was flown to Washington the evening of 22 November aboard an Air Force cargo plane and driven directly to the Secret Service garage, where it was examined thoroughly for additional evidence. Many people do not appreciate how thorough this search was. Here is the relevant testimony of FBI Special Agent Robert A. Frazier to the Warren Commission. The first part (5H66) describes the condition of the limousine. Frazier was being questions by staff member Arlen Specter:
Q. Mr. Frazier, did you have occasion to examine an automobile which was the vehicle used customarily by the President of the United States in parades?
A. Yes; I did.
Q. When did that examination occur?
A. In the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, at the Secret Service garage here in Washington, D.C.
Q. I now hand you a photograph previously identified for the record as Commission Exhibit No. 344 and ask you if that depicts the car which you examined?
A. Yes, sir; it is.
Q. I hand you a subsequent exhibit of the Commission, No. 346, showing the interior view of the automobile and ask you if that depicts the automobile which you examined?
A. Yes, sir; however, it wasn't in this condition. It wasn't as clean as it is in Exhibit 346.
Q. What was the condition with respect to cleanliness?
A. There were blood and particle of flesh scattered all over the hood, the windshield, in the front seat and all over the rear floor rugs, the jump seats, and over the rear seat, and down both sides of the side rails or tops of the doors of the car.
Q. Is that condition depicted by Commission Exhibits 352 and 353 to the extent that they show the interior of the automobile?
A. Yes, sir.
On pages 5H71–572, Frazier describes the search process, again being questioned by Arlen Specter:
Q. Was there any evidence in any portion of the car that the automobile was struck by a bullet which exited from the President's neck under the circumstances which I have just asked you to assume [the SBT]?
A. No, sir; there was not.
Q. And had there been any such evidence would your examination of the automobile have uncovered such an indication or such evidence?
A. Yes, sir; I feel that it would have.
Q. Was your examination a thorough examination of all aspects of the interior of the automobile?
A. Yes, sir; for our purpose. However, we did not tear out all of the rugs on the floor, for instance. We examined the rugs carefully for holes, for bullet furroughs, for fragments. We examined the nap of the rug, in the actual nap of the rug, for fragments and bullet holes. We pulled the rug back as far as we could turn it back and even tore the glue or adhesive material lose around the cracks at the edges of the rug so we could observe the cracks to see whether they had been enlarged, and we examined all of the upholstery covering, on the back of the front seat, on the doors, and in the rear seat compartment, the jump seats, the actual rear seat, the back of the rear seat, and we examined the front seat in a similar manner, and we found no bullet holes or other bullet impact areas, other than the one on the inside of the windshield and the dent in side the windshield chrome.
Q. Had any of these portions of the automobile been struck by the bullet exiting from the President's neck, which I have described hypothetically for you, would you have found some evidence of striking?
A. Yes, sir.
[Commissioner Allen Dulles continues the questioning.]
Q. When was this examination made?
A. Between 2 and 4:30 a.m. on November 23, 1963.
Q. That was about 10 hours, 12 hours after the assassination?
A. Yes, sir; 14 to 16 hours.
Q. Fourteen to sixteen hours.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. May I ask, do you know in whose custody the automobile was prior to your examination from the time it was shipped on the airplane?
A. When I arrived there were two Secret Service men present but I do not recall their names. They were introduced to me and they were there during the entire examination but I don't recall their actual names. The car was under guard in the Secret Service garage in Washington, D.C.
Other than that I do not know.
Q. Was this a joint examination by you and by the Secret Se or was the examination made by the FBI?
A. No, sir; by the FBI at the request of the Secret Service who had already examined the interior of the car for personal effects and other items.
Q. Did they certify to you or advise you that the car had been under their custody during this 14- to 16-hour period?
A. I don't recall whether they actually stated that. What they stated was that the car had immediately been flown to Washington and placed in this garage and kept under surveillance the entire time.
Q. Thank you.
During the above examination, two Secret Service Agents noticed two
large fragments on the front seat and retrieved them (Q2 and Q3). They were
given to an FBI agent, who then delivered them to the FBI laboratory.
Frazier himself found three tiny fragments of lead (Q14)
that had been lodged in the rear carpet
under Mrs. Connally’s jump seat. They were placed into a container and taken
to the FBI Crime Lab. In addition, a tiny amount of lead
scraped from the area of the crack in the windshield.
During the autopsy at Bethesda, X-rays of the president’s brain revealed that a multitude of tiny fragments were lodged there. Only two were large enough to be retrieved (Q4, 5). They were given to Secret Service Agents James W. Sibert and Francis O’Neill, Jr., who transported them immediately to FBI Headquarters.
Three small fragments of lead (Q9) were recovered from Governor Connally’s arm during surgery. They were removed by Dr. Gregory and given to Nurse Audrey Bell, who placed them in a container and gave them to Bob Dolan of the Department of Public Safety, who gave them to Will Fritz of the Dallas Police, who passed them on to the FBI.
number of fragments in Q9
Believe it or not, no one can agree on how many fragments composed Q9. Evidence exists for one, two, three, and four fragments, and some people hold very strong opinions about what these differences in number might mean. Jerry McLeer, for example, argues that the original Q9 was a single fragment, and that the appearance of "more" fragments at the time of the HSCA proves that Q9 had been tampered with in the interim. We need to look into Q9 moire carefully because tampering and falsification are serious matters and because few people realize the extent of differences in number actually reported for Q9. The only hope of resolving the conflict lies in reviewing the claims systematically and critically.
We begin with Dr. Charles Francis Gregory of Parkland Hospital, who worked on Mr. Connally's wrist that day. His "Operative Record" of Mr. Connally, written on the day of the assassination and reproduced on pages 533–534 of the Warren Commission Report, states that "Small bits of metal were encountered at various levels throughout the wound and these were wherever they were identified and could be picked up were picked up and have been submitted to the Pathology Department for identification and examination." Note that this statement clearly is in the plural: "…these…were picked up and have been submitted to the Pathology Department…" The original evidence envelope from Parkland Hospital, a photograph of which appears on the Warren Commission's page 17H841 and on the HSCA's pages 1HSCA468 and 7HSCA392, contains the handwritten description "Bullet fragments." An accompanying photograph of the fragments in a plastic box, on the same three pages, shows one unambiguous large fragment plus two to four tiny dark specks that might also be fragments. The caption for the second HSCA photo reads "CE 842, four lead-like fragments, removed from Governor Connally." This first-day evidence shows unambiguously that Q1 originally contained multiple particles.
When Dr. Gregory testified to the Warren Commission on 21 April 1964, he confirmed his report from the day of the assassination that he had removed multiple particles from Connally's wrist wound. This time, however, he was more specific, testifying that three fragments had been present in Connally's wrist wound, one larger one and two smaller ones, and that he had removed only two, the large one and one of the smaller ones. Unfortunately, Dr. Gregory was not fully always consistent. His first reference to the fragments said "two or three fragments of metal which presumably were shed by the missile after their encounter with the firm substance which is bone" (4H119). The next passage, reproduced below, refers to three fragments that were like flakes (4H120). Dr. Gregory was being questioned by Arlen Specter:
Q. Will you continue to describe what that X-ray shows with respect to metallic fragments, if any?
A. Three shadows are identified as representing metallic fragments. There are other light shadows which are identified or interpreted as being artifacts.
Q. What is the basis of distinction between that which is an artifact and that which is a real shadow of the metallic substance?
A. A real shadow of metallic substance persist and can be seen in other views, other X-ray copies, whereas artifacts which are produced by irregularities either in the film or film carrier will vary from one X-ray to another.
Q. Is it your view that these other X-ray films led you to believe that those are, in fact, metallic substances?
A. As a matter of fact, it is the mate to this very film, the lateral view marked "B", which shows the same three fragments in essentially the same relationship to the various levels of the forearm that leads me to believe that these do, in fact, represent metallic fragments.
Q. Will you describe as specifically as you can what those metallic fragments are by way of size and shape, sir?
A. I would identify these fragments as varying from five-tenths of a millimeter in diameter to approximately 2 millimeters in diameter, and each fragment is no more than a half millimeter in thickness. They would represent in lay terms flakes, flakes of metal.
Q. What would your estimate be as to their weight in total?
A. I would estimate that they would be weighed in micrograms which is very small amount of weight. I don't know how to reduce it to ordinary equivalents to you.
It is the kind of weighing that requires a microadjustable scale, which means that it is something less than the weight of a postage stamp.
Q. Have you now described all the metallic substances which you observed either visually or through the X-rays in the Governor's wrist?
A. These are the three metallic substance items which I saw.
[Aside: Dr. Gregory underestimated the mass of the fragments by a factor of one thousand. If we assume the fragments to be circular, or pill-shaped, their mass would be their volume multiplied by their density:
M = Vρ = πR2Hρ
where M = mass, V = volume, R = radius, H = height, and ρ = density. In the cgs system of units, M will be in grams, V in cm3, R and H in cm, and ρ in g cm-3. Numerically, we take R to be 0.5 mm, the midpoint of Gregory's range, H to be his 0.5 mm, and ρ to be 11.3 g cm-3, and get:
= Vρ = πR2Hρ = (3.14)(0.05 cm)2(0.05
cm)(11.3 g cm-3)
= (3.14)(0.05 cm)3(11.3 g cm-3) = (3.14)(125 x 10-6 cm3)(11.3 g cm-3)
= 4.4 x 10-3 g = 4.4 mg
As opposed to Dr. Gregory's estimates of masses in micrograms, the actual masses of fragments the sizes he observed would have been in milligrams, or a thousand times greater. Moral: always check off-the-cuff estimates, even if they come from an M.D.]
In discussing CE 399 later, Specter asked Dr. Gregory if it appeared to have
enough lead missing to account for the metal that he observed in Connally's
wrist. Keep in mind that Gregory thought there was a thousand time less metal in
the wrist than there actually was. He then replied: "It is possible but I
don't know enough about the structure of bullets or this one in particular, to
know what is a normal complement of lead for this particular missile. It is
irregular, but how much it may have lost, I have no idea." Luck for Dr.
Gregory that he didn't try to answer any more precisely!
A short while later came another exchange that described the color of the fragments and indicated that only two of the three were removed. Arlen Specter was again the questioner:
Q. Do you know what the color was of the fragments in the wrist of the Governor, Dr. Gregory?
A. As I recall they were lead colored, silvery, of that color. I did not recall them as being either brass or copper.
Q. Are there any other X-rays of the Governor's wrist which would aid the Commission in its understanding of the injuries to the wrist?
A. Only to indicate that there were two fragments of metal retrieved in the course of dealing with this wound surgically.
For the subsequent X-rays of the same area, after the initial surgery indicate that those fragment are no longer there.
And as I stated, I thought I had retrieved two of them. The major one or ones now being missing. The small one related to the bone or most closely related to the bone, and I will put back up here—
Q. On the new X-rays which you put up, would you identify them first by indicating the date the X-ray was taken?
A. Yes; the date of the X-ray is the same, November 22, 1963, and they may be identified as Exhibit "C" anteposterior view postoperative, which is this one.
Q. Did they dear the same numbers, Dr. Gregory?
A. They will bear the same numbers; yes.
Mr. Dulles. I think you had better get them marked.
We haven't got them marked yet "A," "B," and "C."
Representative Boggs. Postoperative, these are after the operation?
A. These two. This one was made before the wound was dealt with.
Q. Which one?
A. "A" is the one made before the wound was dealt with surgically.
Senator Cooper. Could you mark it 4 "A," "B," "C," and "D," Doctor?
Mr. McCloy. Is that "B," we have another "B" here, you know?
A. This is "C." "A" and "B" are comparable X-rays, one made before and one made after the operation was carried out.
Before the operation, you will note a large fragment of metal visible here, not visible in this one. You will also note a small satellite fragment not visible here. A second piece of metal visible preoperatively is still present postoperatively.
No effort incidentally is made to dissect for these fragments. They are small, they are proverbial needles in hay stacks, and we know from experience that small flakes of metal of this kind do not ordinarily produce difficulty in the future, but that the extensive dissection required to find them may produce such consequences and so we choose to leave them inside unless we chance upon them, and on this occasion, those bits of metal recovered were simply found by chance in the course of removing necrotized material.
Other than that the X-rays have nothing more to offer so far as the wrist is concerned.
An enhanced X-ray of the wrist wound before the surgery, reproduced on
7HSCA155, shows one large fragment, two smaller ones, and possibly a third
smaller one near the big one. This confirms Dr. Gregory's description.
The last of Dr. Gregory's references to the metallic fragments again indicated that he had removed multiple fragments:
Q. Dr. Gregory, does that report show the name of the nurse to whom you turned over the metallic fragments?
A. There are two nurses who are identified on this page. One is the scrub nurse, Miss Rutherford, and the second is the circulating nurse. Mrs. Schrader.
Q. And is one or the other the nurse to whom you turned over the metallic fragments?
A. I do not remember precisely to whom I handed them. I do not know.
In summary, Dr. Gregory testified that he removed two of the three 9or
more) fragments shown by X-rays to have been in Governor Connally's wrist wound.
The situation then turns murkier. The Dallas Police Department's report on the assassination, CE 2003, "Investigation of the Assassination of the President," which is reproduced in full on pages 24H195–404, contains three lists of evidence that include Q9 but offer contradictory information about its number of fragments. The first of these, an official-looking list that was typed on DPD letterhead and signed as a receipt by FBI agent Vince Drain (24H252), refers to "bullet fragment" and gives as quantity "1". A second list, not on letterhead but containing additional information such as who found the evidence and where, and whom they gave it to (24H260), says "bullet fragments," in agreement with the original evidence envelope. A list prepared by the FBI as part of its 23 November report to Dallas Police Chief Jesse E. Curry (24H262) returns to "metal fragment."
An FBI report of 30 November 1963, a week after the assassination, by SA J. Doyle Williams and reproduced on 7HSCA155 ff., states that:
Doctor Charles Francis Gregory, Parkland Hospital, stated he and Doctor Tom Shires and other staff physicians performed surgery on Governor John Connally on November 22, 1963. He states surgery performed by him was done on the Governor's right arm, and that he removed from the arm a small fragment of metal. He stated the metal fragment was placed into a transparent container for preservation, and that during the operation, he recalled no other pieces or bits of metal being removed from the Governor's body.
Doctor Gregory was asked whether or not he removed or saw another doctor remove a small fragment of metal from the left thigh of Governor Connally, and he states that although X-rays indicated the possibility of a small fragment of metal embedded in the left thigh that no surgery was performed to remove same.
Doctor Gregory stated Surgery Supervisor Audrey Bell took custody of the fragment of metal removed from the Governor's arm, and that the ultimate disposition of the metal which was considered to be of possible evidentiary value, could best be explained by Miss Bell. He stated he did not on his own knowledge know, however, but he had been advised [that] Miss Bell obtained a receipt from State Trooper Bob Nolan [a State of Texas highway patrol officer] and transferred the metal fragment to him in accordance with instructions from the Governor's office at Parkland Hospital.
It appears that SA Williams was not the greatest reporter. Not only did he get the number of fragments wrong in this report, but he got the source of the bullet wrong in his earlier report on the subject, which was dated 23 November. The HSCA (7HSCA156) quotes from this report as follows:
Bobby M. Nolan, Texas highway patrolman, Tyler district, was interviewed relative to a bullet fragment removed from the left thigh of Governor Connally, which was turned over to him at Parkland Hospital in Dallas for delivery to the FBI.
Nolan stated his instructions were apparently not clear at the outset and that following contact with his superior officers while at the Dallas Police Department, he turned the bullet fragment over to Captain Will Fritz [Dallas Police Department] at approximately 7:50 p.m. He stated he had no further information concerning the matter and that his only participation in this series of events was the acceptance of the fragment and delivery of same to Captain Fritz.
The HSCA went on to note that all the members of the medical panel except Dr.
Cyril Wecht agreed that the fragment discussed in this early report was the one
from Governor Connally's wrist, not one from his thigh.
FBI agent Robert A Frazier, in a continuation of his testimony from above, testified of only one fragment (5H72). Again he is being questioned by Arlen Specter:
Q. Was a fragment of metal brought to you which was identified as coming from the wrist of Governor Connally?
A. It was identified to me as having come from the arm of Governor Connally.
Q. Will you produce that fragment at this time, please?
A. This one does not have a Commission number as yet.
Q. May it please the Commission, I would like to have this fragment marked as Commission Exhibit 842.
(Commission Exhibit No. 842 was marked for identification and received in evidence.)
Q. Now, referring to a fragment heretofore marked as Q9 for FBI record purposes, and now marked as Commission Exhibit No. 842, will you describe that fragment for us, please?
A. Yes, sir; this is a small fragment of metal which weighed one-half a grain when I first examined it in the laboratory. It is a piece of lead, and could have been a part or a bullet or a core of a bullet.
However, it lacks any physical characteristics which would permit stating whether or not it actually originated from a bullet.
Q. Are its physical characteristics consistent with having come from Commission Exhibit 399?
A. Yes, sir; it could have.
Q. Were the characteristics of the fragment identified as Commission Exhibit 842 consistent with having come from the fragment heretofore identified as Commission Exhibit 569?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Would you set forth from the records of the FBI, if you have those before you, the chain of possession of the fragment identified as Commission Exhibit 842, please?
A. Commission Exhibit 842, that is the one from Governor Connally's arm, was delivered to me in the FBI laboratory on November 23, 1963, by Special Agent Vincent E. Drain of the Dallas Office of the FBI, who stated he had secured this item from Capt. Will Fritz of the Dallas Police Department.
I do not know where Captain Fritz obtained it.
The next evidence on the number of fragments in Q9 comes from Vincent P. Guinn,
the radiochemist who reanalyzed the fragments for the HSCA. His report to the
HSCA noted (page 1HSCA514) that the Q9 he received contained one larger fragment
and two smaller ones. A subsequent table (1HSCA517) showed that the larger
fragment weighed 16.4 mg, the two smaller ones 1.3 mg together. His testimony
(1HSCA497) also referred to Q9 as consisting of one larger fragment and two
smaller ones. Thus there is no doubt that Guinn's Q9 comprised three fragments.
A casual reader might be confused by this part of Guinn's report, inadvertently thinking that the two small fragments in Q9 might have been pieces he took from the larger one for analysis, in the way he did for some of the larger fragments. But the table clearly shows that such aliquots, called "drillings," did not apply to Q9. Of the assassination fragments (Guinn's "Group I"), only Q1 (CE 399) was drilled. A 50-mg piece was cut from Q2 (front seat), but this is also clearly indicated. So the two "tiny specimens" of Q9 were received that way by Guinn.
The question of number is further confused by the testimony of the HSCA's G. Robert Blakey and its firearms panel (1HSCA442 ff.). In his introduction, Blakey referred to "fragments from Governor Connally's wrist" (1HSCA442). Before Committee Counsel James McDonald questioned the panel about a group of fragments that included Q9, he referred to it as "a bullet fragment found in Governor Connally's arm." (1HSCA466) It appears, however, that some sort of jargon is involved here and that this reference, singular as it appears, does not automatically mean that Q9 was a single fragment—the careful reader will note that McDonald also used the singular "fragment" for Q14, which at that time comprised two fragments (photo on 1HSCA468), and for Q4,5, the fragments from Kennedy's brain, which although almost universally referred to as two fragments is shown in a photo (page 1HSCA469) to actually be three—two larger ones and one very small one. The photo of Q9 (1HSCA468), which shows the particles very clearly because the top of the plastic case has been opened, reveals as many as five particles—one large one and up to four tiny ones. The tiny one in the upper right is probably an artifact because it is elongated, almost like a streak or defect in the photo. The tiny one at the lower left may also be an artifact because it is small enough not to have any detectable area and because at least one similar "particle" appears on the top of the opened case, where no true particle should be.
The "Summary and Conclusions" section of the March 1979 "Report of the Firearms Panel" confusingly describes Q9 as follows:
CE 842—Four lead-like fragments. The smallest was identified as having come from Governor Connally's arm. The panel found that the largest fragment weighed 0.3 grain. The other fragments were too small to weigh. Because of the small size of the fragments, no further examinations were conducted on this exhibit.
We can only assume that in spite of the second sentence in this paragraph, all
the fragments came from Mr. Connally's arm.
The conflicting evidence for the number of particles in Q9 is summarized below in Table 1a.
Table 1a. The number of fragments reported for Q9, in rough chronological order.
|Source, Date||Reference||No. fragments||Remarks|
|Dr. Gregory's "Operative Record", 22 November 1963||WCR 533–534||>1||Several in wound; some removed.|
|Original evidence envelope, Parkland Hospital, 22 November 1963||17H841; 1HSCA468; 7HSCA392||>1||Contains the description "Bullet fragments." Labeled "Q9."|
|WC photo of fragments in plastic box, November 1964.||17H841||3–4||One large fragment and 2–3 smaller ones.|
|Dr. Gregory's testimony to the WC, 21 April 1964||4H119–120||2||3 fragments in wound; 2 removed.|
|Enhanced X-ray of wrist, 22 November 1963||7HSCA155||3–4||Before fragments removed.|
|DPD's second list of evidence transferred to FBI, from DPD's report on the assassination, 22 Nov. 1963 (CE 2003)||24H260||>1||"Bullet fragments taken from body of Governor Connally." "Mrs. Audrey Bell, Operating room nurse, to Bob Nolan, D.P.S., to Capt. Fritz, to Crime Lab, to FBI.|
|FBI's list of evidence received from DPD, from DPD's report on the assassination, 23 Nov. 1963 (CE 2003)||24H262||1||Metal fragment|
|DPD's list of evidence transferred to FBI on 26 November 1963, from DPD's report on the assassination (CE 2003)||24H252||1||"Bullet fragment taken from the body of Gov. John Connally" N.B. This cannot be part of Q9.|
|FBI report by SA J. Doyle Williams, 30 November 1963||7HSCA155 ff.||1||"A small fragment of metal" was removed from Connally's arm.|
|Testimony of SA Robert A. Frazier to WC, 6 May 1964||5H72||1||"A small fragment of metal."|
|HSCA's Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey, 6 September 1978||1HSCA442||>1||"Fragments"|
|HSCA Counsel James McDonald, 6 September 1978||1HSCA466||1||"A bullet fragment." He also called Q14 (two fragments) and Q4,5 (three fragments) "a bullet fragment."|
|V. P. Guinn's report to HSCA, September 1978||1HSCA514||3||One larger (16.4 mg) and two smaller (1.3 mg combined)|
|V. P. Guinn's testimony to HSCA, 8 September 1978||1HSCA497||3||One larger and two smaller|
|Findings and Conclusions of the [HSCA] Firearms Panel, March 1979||7HSCA367||4||One weighed 0.3 grain; the others were too small to weigh.|
|HSCA photos of fragments in plastic box, 15 April 1978||1HSCA468; 7HSCA392||3–5||One large fragment and 2–4 smaller ones.|
|Caption to HSCA photo, 15 April 1978||7HSCA392||4||"Four lead-like fragments"|
What can we conclude from Table 1a? First, that the table can be divided into
three zones whose numbers of particles appear to differ. The first zone includes
the first six entries, from the operation on Governor Connally through the time
when the fragments were turned over to the FBI. These non-FBI entries all speak
of multiple fragments in the wound and removed from the wound. They are credible
because they include two reports from Dr. Gregory, the physician who worked on
the wound and removed the fragments, two photos of the fragments, and the
evidence sheet from the operating room that is clearly marked "Bullet
fragments." Taken together, these pieces of evidence claim that two to four
fragments were involved, with the actual numbers being >1, >1, >1, 2, 3–4,
The second zone comprises all three FBI citations and the DPD's list of evidence transferred to the FBI on 26 November. The latter is italicized because the late date means that the "bullet fragment taken from the body of Gov. John Connally" cannot mean Q9—it had been transferred to the FBI four days earlier. The three FBI documents cite one fragment only and are used, for example by McLeer, to argue that SA Frazier introduced only one fragment into evidence as Q9. Not only is this position not required in principle, because Frazier could have simply ignored one or more tiny fragments too small to analyze by optical emission spectroscopy, but it seems inconsistent with the evidence envelope, on which is written both "Bullet fragments" and "Q9." This means that the cognizant FBI authorities knew perfectly well that Q9 comprised multiple fragments when they were admitting it into evidence.
The third zone consists of seven citations from the HSCA, all but one of which refer again to multiple fragments (>1, 3, 3, 4, 4, 3–5, and 1). The sole case for a single fragment is HSCA Counsel James McDonald, who disqualified his characterization from further consideration here when he called both Q4,5 (three fragments) and Q14 (two fragments) "a bullet fragment."
So how many fragment were there in Q9 anyhow—one, two, three, four, or five, or can the answer even be known? To find out, we list all the possible resolutions (hypotheses) and begin with the simplest one that can explain the data. Here are the basic possibilities:
Explanation 1 is the most complex of these four because it represents tampering
before and after the FBI reports. It also is unlikely to be true because, as
noted above, it is contrary to the FBI's marking "Q9" on an evidence
envelope that explicitly says "Bullet fragments." Explanation 2 is the
simplest, if it is available. Explanations 3 and 4 are of intermediate
complexity. So we first look into #2 to see whether it is feasible. One of the
other reasons that justifies beginning with the straightforward,
nonconspiratorial #2 is that no other reliable evidence for conspiracy has
surfaced in 37 years of hard searching.
The Warren Commission's numbers of >1, >1, and >1 are consistent with both the 2 and the 3–4, 3–4. In order to make the whole set consistent, either the 2 or the 3–4 must be wrong. The more likely candidate for being wrong is the 2, in my judgment at least, because it represents a later judgment by Dr. Gregory that is more specific than his first report of "some" of the "several" fragments being removed. If 3 rather than 2 were removed, the whole set would be consistent at 3. Of course, the whole set could also be consistent at 4, but that would require one extra fragment, and so we begin with three fragments.
The HSCA values are easier to reconcile. The >1 is consistent with the 3, 3, 4, 4, and 3–5, of course. The 1, from Counsel McDonald, doesn't count because McDonald referred to everything as a single fragment. The common denominator of 3, 3, 4, 4, and 3–5 is 3 or 4, with 3 being preferred because the observations supporting it are stronger and the number is smaller. The 3 also agrees with the common-denominator 3 from the WC's numbers.
Thus in two quick strokes we have found that three fragments is the most likely number of fragments common to the Warren Commission and the HSCA's observations. Being the simplest interpretation of all the observations in Table 2, it becomes the working hypothesis for the number of fragments in Q9. To get this number, all that was needed was to assume Gregory's later report to be off by one fragment and to delete Counsel McDonald's number. Thus the original number of 3 for Q9 stands until some stronger evidence topples it.
number of fragments in Q4,5
It is widely recorded and accepted that two fragments were removed from JFK's brain during the autopsy and entered into evidence as such. There really were three, however. Here is the relevant testimony to the Warren Commission of FBI Special Agent Robert A. Frazier, on 6 May 1964. Except where noted, he is being questioned by Arlen Specter:
Q. Were any metallic fragments brought to you which were purported to have been found in the head of President Kennedy?
Mr. Dulles. Or body?
Q. Or body of President Kennedy?
A. Yes; they were.
On November 23, at 1:45 a.m., the two metal fragments in this container were delivered to me in the FBI laboratory by special Agent James W. Sibert, and Special Agent Francis O'Neill of the Baltimore office of the FBI who stated they had obtained these in the autopsy room at the Naval Hospital near Washington, D.C., where they were present when they were removed from the head of President Kennedy.
Q. Is there any specification as to the portion of the President's head from which they were removed?:
A. No, sir; they told me that there had been numerous particles in the head but only these two had been removed, the others being very small.
Q. May it please the Commission I would like to have those marked and admitted into evidence as Commission Exhibit No. 843.
Mr. Dulles. It shall be so marked and admitted under those numbers.
(Commission Exhibit No. 843 was marked for identification and received in evidence.)
Q. In the event we have not already had 842 admitted into evidence, I move, Mr. Dulles, for the admission into evidence of 842 which was the fragment from Governor Connally's arm.
Mr. Dulles. That shall be admitted.
Q. Moving back to 843 will you describe those fragments indicating their weight and general composition?
A. These fragments consisted of two pieces of lead, one weighed 1.65 grains. The other weighed .15 grain. They were examined spectrographically so their present weight would be somewhat less since a very small amount would be needed for spectrographic analysis.
Notwithstanding this precise description of Q4,5 as comprising two fragments, it
really was three fragments—the two mentioned by Frazier plus another, much
tinier, one. The three are shown together in a clear photo of Q4,5 presented on
page 17H841 of the Warren Report. A very similar photo taken for the HSCA
appears on page 7HSCA392, with the caption "Figure 18—CE 843, three
lead-like fragments removed from President Kennedy's brain during the
autopsy." The three fragments look just the same as in the WC photo,
although they are arranged slightly differently in the circular plastic box.
Figure 18 also contains a ruler with the date 6/30/78.
The the tiny third fragment in Q4,5 carries a significance beyond Q4,5. Its presence demonstrates that the FBI would, apparently routinely, focus on larger fragments and ignore tinier ones, even to the point of not counting them. Just as the "two" fragments in Q4,5 were actually three, the "fragment" Q9 was actually three. Q4,5 shows that the appearance of "extra" fragments in Q9 was nothing unusual. It is as though the FBI didn't consider a tiny piece of metal to be a fragment until it reached a certain size.
Having said all this, we must admit that a problem remains. Vincent Guinn, who analyzed Q4,5 between the time that it was photographed by the Warren Commission and the HSCA, reported only two fragments, of weights 41.9 and 5.4 mg (0.65 and 0.08 grain). Thus both weights had decreased by a factor of two, presumably because of material taken for the FBI's NAA. It is not clear why Guinn said nothing about the tiny third fragment. This does not appear to be a serious problem, however, because it was there before Guinn and after him.
of custody and planted fragments
It is widely held by WC critics that no legally valid chains of custody exist for these bullets and fragments. This belief has fostered a deep suspicion among the critics that some or all of these fragments may have been planted or substituted for the real fragments by the FBI, presumably in an attempt to deflect attention from the conspiracy to Lee Harvey Oswald. If so, the subsequent ballistic and chemical analyses would be meaningless. How should we view this suspicion?
One can respond to it in at least three ways. First, any immediate substitution or planting would imply an incredible degree of sophistication and control on the part of the FBI. They would have to have anticipated the shooting, the type of weapon to be used, the types of fragments and where they would be found, etc. Such information could not have been known in advance unless the FBI were deeply involved in the conspiracy, and maybe not even then. Bullets would have to be fired from the weapon in advance and fragments of various sizes and shapes gathered. They would have to be substituted so carefully that no one who handled the evidence would notice the fraudulent fragments. It is possible, though, that fragments could have been substituted later in the process, for example after the spectroscopic analysis, because those data were so bad that chemical differences among the fraudulent fragments would never have been noticed. On the other hand, it is harder to replace fragments later in the process because they had been registered and placed into guarded containers.
Second, it is not clear why the FBI (or anyone else) would have gone to all this trouble and then covered up the indecisive results of the first NAA (as they viewed them). It doesn’t make sense.
Third, and most important, the principles of sound reasoning do not allow us to accept the idea of planting or substitution until reliable, specific, positive evidence has been advanced for it. The two competing explanations for the fragments are: (1) they are genuine and have legally binding chains of custody—i.e., they are just what they seem; and (2) they are fraudulent, having been substituted for the originals by the FBI or other powerful agency at some point after the shooting. The Principle of Parsimony, or Occam’s Razor, works very straightforwardly here. Both scenarios explain the data equally well. The second explanation is more complex, however, because it requires an additional conspiracy and intervention by the FBI. Thus the first explanation, that the fragments are genuine, must be chosen first. The additional act of tampering may not be incorporated into the explanation until specific physical evidence for it is produced. To the best of my knowledge, no such evidence has been produced. Suspicion and distrust may abound, but they are not hard evidence. (Possible planting is discussed in more detail at the end of the section on Guinn's NAA.)
Having said all this, let us now turn to the chains of custody. When evidence is used in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove that each step in its discovery and whereabouts can be documented. Ideally, all evidence would be discovered by a trained crime-lab technician or investigator and would be immediately tagged and photographed in place. This seldom happens in the real world, though. It is therefore necessary in these nonideal situations for the prosecution to have everyone who might have handled the evidence testify to what they found and what they did with it. When the evidence is documented with care, the defense would likely stipulate to its admission. Why call undue attention to evidence potentially harmful to a client? With respect to the Kennedy/Connally crime scene evidence, the investigators showed every sign of being aware of the chain-of-custody requirements as they carefully documented the evidence.
CE 399 (Q1), the stretcher bullet, has a tight chain of custody. It was found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital by maintenance employee Darrell C. Tomlinson within about an hour of when Kennedy and Connally arrived there. He pointed it out to O. P. Wright, the personnel officer of the hospital, who actually picked it up and gave it to Special Agent Richard E. Johnsen of the United States Secret Service, Washington, D.C., at the hospital. Special Agent Johnsen passed it to James Rowley, Chief of the U.S. Secret Service, who used a receipt prepared by Johnsen. Chief Rowley then passed it to Special Agent Elmer Todd of the FBI’s Washington Field Office at the FBI Laboratory, who marked it with his initials and then gave it to SA Frazier on 22 November 1963, who also marked it. This chain of custody is legally binding.
CE 567 (Q2), the nose of a WCC/MC bullet, was found on the front seat of the limousine just to the right of the driver by Mr. Paul Paterni, Deputy Chief of the United States Secret Service, late on the 22nd of November while the car was in the Secret Service garage. He then gave it to White House Detail Chief (of the Secret Service) Floyd M. Boring, who gave it to FBI liaison Special Agent Orrin Bartlett, who passed it to FBI Special Agent Frazier at 11:50 p.m. on 22 November, according to records maintained by SA Frazier. This chain of custody is also legally binding.
CE 569 (Q3), the base of a bullet (brass jacket only), was found on the floor between the right front seat of the limousine and the right front door by Chief Hospital Corpsman Thomas G. Mills of the U.S. Navy, who was assigned to the White House doctor’s office. Corpsman Mills gave it to FBI liaison Special Agent Orrin Bartlett, who passed it to FBI Special Agent Frazier at 11:50 p.m. on 22 November, according to records maintained by SA Frazier. This chain of custody is also legally binding.
CE 843 (Q4,5), two fragments from the president’s head, was removed from the head in the autopsy room of Bethesda Naval Memorial Hospital and given to FBI Special Agents James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill of the Baltimore Field Office, who then took it to the FBI Laboratory and gave it to Special Agent R. A. Frazier at 1:45 a.m. on the 23rd of November. A receipt was written at Bethesda. This chain of custody is also legally binding.
CE 842 (Q9) comprised three fragments from Governor Connally’s arm. They were placed into an evidence envelope in Parkland Hospital, on which was written the date and time (11/22/64, 1400 hours), the name of the individual from whose body they were removed (Governor John Connally), the area of the body from which they were removed (right arm), and the attending doctor and nurses (Gregory, Rutherford, Schroeder, Bell). A photograph of this envelope appears on page 12H841 of the Warren Commission Report. CE 2003 includes a copy of the original evidence list from the Dallas Police Department (24H260), which reads: “Bullet fragments taken from body of Governor Connally…Mrs. Audrey Bell, operating room nurse to Bob Dolan, Department of Public Safety to Capt. Fritz to Crime Lab, FBI.” Mr. Dolan gave the envelope to Captain Will Fritz of the Dallas Police Department, who passed it on to Special Agent Vincent E. Drain of the Dallas Office of the FBI, who gave it to FBI SA Frazier on the 23rd of November 1963. This chain of custody is also legally binding.
CE 840 (Q14) comprised three tiny fragments from the carpet of the rear floorboard. They were found by Special Agent R. A. Frazier of the FBI, and possibly others, in the early morning of 23 November in the Secret Service garage in Washington, D.C., after the limousine was flown back from Dallas. There is no need for a chain of custody because SA Frazier was the repository of fragments within the FBI.
In summary, all the fragments have legally valid chains of custody. Chain of custody for these fragments is a nonissue.
(It will be seen below that these fragments can be accepted as genuine even without any chains of custody. This is because the suite of reliable physical evidence from the assassination is so interlocking, interwoven, mutually consistent, and redundant that each piece is fully supported by the others. The pieces must all be genuine because some of them cannot have been faked. For details about this surprising principle, see "The minimum physical evidence must all be genuine.")
about the weight of CE 399
Critics have repeatedly advanced the argument that the four fragments in Connally's wrist and thigh contained too much mass to have come from CE 399. They expressed themselves semiquantitatively in ways that do not hold up. This argument can be considered by comparing the mass lost by the bullet with the mass represented by the fragments.
The amount of mass lost by CE 399 cannot be known precisely because it was not weighed beforehand. Ranges or averages of unfired bullets of that type must be provided instead, and the final weight subtracted. Weights of unfired WCC/MC bullets have been estimated at least three times. (1) Special Agent Robert A Frazier of the FBI weighed three test bullets and got 160.85, 161.5, and 161.1 grains. That averages to 161.15 ± 0.33 grains. Subtracting the final weight of CE 399, 158.6 grains, gives 2.55 ± 0.33 grains missing, all of which was presumed to be lead. (2) Dr. John Nichols, University of Kansas Medical Center, weighed an unspecified number of WCC/MC bullets. His result was 161 ± 0.07 grains. (Unfortunately, his standard error of 0.07 grains cannot be further interpreted until the number of bullets on which it is based is known.) Nichols's average of 161 grains is indistinguishable from Frazier's 161.15 grains when significant figures are considered. Taken at face value, however, it yields a loss of 2.4 grains of lead. (3) Dr. John K. Lattimer and sons, in a careful work that has been underpublicized, weighed 100 WCC/MC bullets from the four lots that had been produced. The weights ranged from 159.80 grains to 161.50 grains, and averaged 160.84 grains, a little lighter than the 161.15 and 161 grains from the first two estimates. Their average was probably much sounder statistically because of the large numbers of bullets it represented. Their median weight was 160.80 grains. The Lattimers' average weight yields a loss of 2.2 grains of lead. Thus the three sets of weights of unfired MC bullets give possible losses ranging from 1.2 to 2.9 grains of lead, and best estimates of 2.2 to 2.6 grains.
It is harder to estimate the amount of mass in the fragments that were recovered. One Dallas doctor estimated the fragments from Connally's wrist to be in the microgram range (one microgram equals 15 micrograins). The three fragments recovered from Connally's arm weighed a total of 0.5 grains, or about 20% of the mass missing from CE 399. Thus the missing mass of CE 399 can easily account for the fragments recovered.
But what about the mass of the fragments not recovered from Connally's wrist? Lattimer and associates did another interesting experiment. They took 2.1 grains of lead that had been extruded from one of their test bullets (about the same mass as that missing from CE 399) and sliced it into thin slices of about the same size as seen on Connally's X-rays. They were able to get 41 such slices (Figure 1a below).
Figure 1a. Forty-one slices of lead from 2.1 grains of extruded lead. [From page 278 of J. K. Lattimer, Kennedy and Lincoln, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.]
lack of debris on CE 399
The authenticity of CE 399 has also been attacked because its surface allegedly showed no debris from the bodies of the two men. First off, we must be careful to read the testimony properly. FBI Special Agent Frazier first stated that he did not have to clean the bullet because "The bullet was clean and it was not necessary to change it in any way." [WC III 428] In response to a follow-up question about lack of blood or other material on the surface, he expanded: "Not any which would interfere with the examination, no, sir. Now there may have been slight traces which could have been removed just in ordinary handling, but it wasn't necessary to actually clean blood or tissue off of the bullet." [Next page] Frazier was thus acknowledging that some residue might have been left on the surface, but he didn't pay much attention to it.
Frazier's observations are supported in the scientific literature. Here are two quotes that were posted to one of the JFK newsgroups by Elliot Perry a couple years ago:
In three separate shooting incidents involving multiple gunshots, two FMJ bullets and one bullet fragment found at the scene (one from each case) were investigated for the presence of biological material from the victim after perforation. The surface of the missiles, which did not show obvious tissue traces when examined under a microscope, was swabbed. PCR typing of up to five STR loci was performed on the small amounts of DNA extracted, which were even below the detection limit of the slot blot quantification in one case. Nevertheless, individualisation of cellular material from the perforating projectiles was successful in each of the three cases presented. Consequently, identification of the victim wounded by a perforating bullet can reliably be achieved if contamination or removal of evidentiary material by improper handling is prevented. [International Journal of Legal Medicine 110: (2) 101-103, April 1997]
DNA typing of cellular debris from perforating bullets was investigated following shooting experiments. A total of 14 perforating gunshots were fired into 9 calves. PCR typing of tissue fragments was done using bovine-specific primers flanking a 247 bp segment within the bovine lactoglobulin gene. Positive amplification results were obtained for all 9 hollow point (HP) and all 5 full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets. In contrast to HP bullets the smooth surfaces of the FMJ bullets did not have visible biological material, which resulted in weaker bands in the DNA analysis compared to HP bullets. Tissue seemed to accumulate at the base of the projectiles... By individualizing tissue on perforating bullets, the bullet and the victim it passed through can be linked. This can assist the investigation of gunshot deaths, especially when several persons are involved in a gun fight. [International Journal of Legal Medicine 108: (4) 177-179, February 1996]
Perry summarized the quotes as follows:
So FMJ bullets that go through targets don't have visible tissue on them, and may not have tissue that can be seen using a microscope. Modern techniques can still isolate enough material to do DNA tests that can identify the victim, but this sort of test was clearly unavailable to crime labs in 1963. I don't see where there is any grounds for saying CE399 should have had obvious signs of tissue on it, nor is there any reason to accuse the investigators in 1963 of not using tests to match whatever microscopic material was on the bullet to JFK and JBC. At worst they may have made a mistake in not handling the bullet like it was a moon rock in the hopes that decades later, tests might be developed that could indeed get genetic material from the bullet to compare to JFK and JBC's DNA.
The shortest possible summary of the above is, "No debris, no problem."
reasons for analyzing the fragments
The main goals of analyzing the lead fragments elementally were to try to determine how many bullets struck the men, how many rifles fired them, what kind of ammunition they represented, and possibly also whose rifles they were. To do this, the FBI tried to link the little fragments chemically to the two big ones, both of which had been traced ballistically Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle to the exclusion of all other rifles. If each of the tiny fragments matched one of the big ones, all the fragments would probably have come from only two WCC/MC bullets from Oswald’s rifle, i.e., from a single shooter in the Depository. If one or more of the little fragments failed to match the big ones, then presumably another bullet or another rifle had been involved. Another bullet would not necessarily mean conspiracy, but another rifle would.
Made available to the author by W. Anthony Marsh of Somerville, Massachusetts
According to testimony of FBI Special Agent Robert A Frazier (Warren Commission Hearings, Volume V, page 73), the two metal fragments from the president’s head, jointly labeled CE 843 by the Warren Commission, were retrieved during the autopsy by FBI Special Agents James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill, Jr., of the Baltimore FBI office. They were taken directly to the FBI laboratory in Washington, where they were turned over to Frazier at 1:45 AM on 23 November. Sibert and O’Neill also reported to Agent Frazier that there were numerous other fragments in the president’s head, but all were too small to retrieve. Sibert and O’Neill apparently caused some later confusion by a poor choice of words that night. In a receipt for the fragments that they issued to Capt. Humes’s superior on the evening of the 22nd, they referred to them as “a missile,” a term that they also used in their overall report for the killing bullet. When researcher David Lifton (Best Evidence) first saw this receipt in 1969, he became suspicious and wrote the FBI for an explanation. When they replied with a letter that didn’t answer the question, he sent another letter. This elicited a personal reply from the FBI. In Best Evidence, Lifton calls this an “irregularity in documentation” (p. 558).
 J. R. Waltz, Criminal Evidence, Second Edition, Chicago, Nelson Hall Law Enforcement Series, 1983, p. 30. Also see F. Lee Bailey and Henry B. Rothblatt, Crimes of Violence: Homicide and Assault, New York and San Francisco, The Lawyer’s Cooperative Publishing Co., 1973, p. 90.
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