Richard Popkin’s Response to Crawford’s Response to The
The New York Review of Books, 6 October 1966, pages 32–34
To the Editors:
Mr. Crawford’s careful argument for the possibility of the Warren
Commission’s single-bullet theory restricts itself to only a few of the
problems involved. He rightly centers the issue first on the question, where the
first bullet hit Kennedy. If the wound is where the FBI reports of December 9,
1963 and January 13, 1964 say it is, and if it had the character they give it,
then one bullet could not have wounded Kennedy and Connally. The FBI reports
place the wound too low to have made the journey supposed for the single bullet,
and the FBI claim is that the bullet did not pass through Kennedy’s body, and
so could not have entered Connally’s. I think Mr. Crawford would agree with
me, and with other critics, that if the FBI reports are right, the
Commission’s single-bullet hypothesis is impossible.
Mr. Crawford chooses to accept the “official autopsy” report over the FBI reports on the grounds that the former is “based on a diagram made by the doctors during the examination,” and is “first-hand, precisely measured, and orally transmitted.” At first glance, these certainly seem good reasons for preferring to believe the doctors’ report over the FBI ones. However, the choice is not so simple, and I believe that when all of the factors are considered, it is easier to accept the FBI reports as accurate than to accept the “official” autopsy report, at least until the doctors give us some explanation of the discrepancies.
To begin with, the crucial Exhibit 397 cited by Mr. Crawford, which
fortunately survived the fire, when Dr. Humes burned the “preliminary”
autopsy notes on November 24th, does give these precise measurements;
but it also has a diagram clearly (and precisely?) locating the wound in the
back, at least six inches below the neck (the relevant part of the diagram is
reproduced here). This first hand evidence, marked by the doctors at the time
they were studying the body, definitely conforms to the FBI’s location of the
wound. This firsthand evidence bears no relation to Exhibit 385, prepared at the
direction of Dr. Humes when he was to present the autopsy findings to the
Commission, in which the diagram shows the bullet entering the back of the neck
and exiting through the throat. And I trust Mr. Crawford would agree that if the
bullet entered where shown on the firsthand diagram, 397, and was on a downward
path, it would have to exit in the chest and not the throat, unless Kennedy had
been bent way over.
The evidence of Exhibit 397 is confirmed by other firsthand testimony. Secret Service Agents Greer and Kellerman who were present at the autopsy described the wound as being in the shoulder (II:81 and II:127). Kellerman further described the scene at the autopsy, when Colonel Finck was probing this shoulder wound, and Finck said, “There are no lanes for an outlet of this entry in this man’s shoulder” (II:93). All of this definitely seems to confirm the FBI version of the autopsy. Further, at the conclusion of the autopsy, Secret Service Agent Hill was called in specifically to see where the wounds were, so that he could, if necessary, testify on this later on. Hill gave as his firsthand observation, “I saw an opening in the back about six inches below the neckline to the right-hand side of the spinal column” (II:143).
Since I wrote my article, a more impressive firsthand document has come to light, Commission Document No. 7 in the National Archives papers, discussed in Professor Thompson’s letter. This is the original report on the autopsy by FBI Agents O’Neill and Sibert, who were present at the time, and who dictated their report on November 26. (It is remarkable that neither O’Neill nor Sibert were called as witnesses by the Commission, when it is obvious from their document that their information formed the basis for the FBI reports of December 9th and January 13th.) I don’t know if Mr. Crawford has seen this report, and whether he finds in weighing the “official” autopsy against the FBI reports and the eyewitness reports of the secret service men, this changes the balance. O’Neill and Sibert give a blow-by-blow account of the autopsy, with much precise detail as to what was done and what was found. On the fourth page of their report they state that, “During the latter stages of this autopsy, Dr. Humes located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column.” They then described Dr. Humes probing this opening with his finger, determining that the trajectory of the missile was 45º–60º downward, and that the missile went in only a finger’s length. According to Sibert and O’Neill, “Dr. Humes stated that the pattern was clear that the new bullet had entered the President’s back and had worked its way out of the body during external cardiac massage…”
All of this firsthand evidence—the position of the wound on the autopsy diagram in Exhibit 397, the reports of five people who saw the wound, including one who was asked specifically to witness the condition of the body—seems to corroborate the FBI claims, and to cast doubt on the doctor’s report. According to the Greater Philadelphia Magazine, August 1, 1966, issue, Dr. Humes refused to discuss the discrepancies between the autopsy report and the FBI statements. The quotation attributed to him hardly inspires confidence: “I am not concerned with what was in the FBI report. We did our job and we signed the report and it was very straightforward and unequivocal. We don’t feel we should discuss the matter any more. That is the position we are taking and that is the position we have been instructed to take by our superiors.”
Besides the questions this raises, there seems to be a further problem. Mr. Crawford mentions that in the “official” autopsy report, the doctors claim to have found bruises on the strap muscles and the lining of the chest cavity and a tear in the trachea. One wonders, in view of the Sibert-O’Neill data, and the testimony of Greer and Kellerman, when the doctors found those injuries. They are not mentioned in the Sibert-O’Neill report nor in the testimony of the Secret Service agents, and the next day the doctors no longer had the X-rays. Are the doctors’ findings based on first-hand observation, recollection, or what? Are they based on data destroyed by Dr. Humes on November 24th? Some elucidation on this score now seems in order, regardless of what Dr. Humes’s superiors say.
Since one fundamental point on which the very possibility of the Commission’s theory rests is the location of this wound, I’m sure Mr. Crawford would agree that this basic question can easily be settled by the examination of the autopsy photos and X-rays. If they confirm the FBI statements, then the Commission theory is clearly impossible.
Lacking these photos, we can go on to argue the next point, the holes in the clothes. The clothes only present a problem if the wound is in the neck. The holes conform to the FBI description, and to that of Agent Hill. But if the wound is in the neck, then the question arises as to how it was possible for there to be holes 5-3/8 and 5¾ inches below the top of the collar, from the same bullet? Even if one were to accept Mr. Crawford’s modifications (which I don’t), which make the problem one of accounting for a 2–3 inch discrepancy, one still has to explain how the shirt and coat can ride up, hike up, bunch up, or hunch up so that the cloth is not doubled over.
It should be pointed out that though the argument is over a couple or a few inches, these details are crucial. The schematic drawing in Exhibit No. 385, showing the path of the bullet from neck through throat, just about fits with their alleged trajectory, and Dr. Humes, in testimony, at least four times claimed it was a “neck” wound. Any correction downward in the location of the back wound will raise difficulties, quickly bordering on impossibilities. Dr. Humes, Arlen Specter, and others have offered explanations of the holes in the clothing that will not require relocating the back wound further down, but I think these are hardly credible or satisfactory. (The article in the Greater Philadelphia Magazine, pp. 82–83, has a hilarious quotation from a recent interview with Specter in which he tried to explain the holes in the clothing.)
The next point raised by Mr. Crawford concerns the time when Governor Connally was wounded. Both the Governor and his wife testified that he was hit by the second shot. The Commission claimed he was hit by the first shot but had a delayed reaction. Mr. Crawford suggests Connally was shot by the time of Zapruder frame 229. I haven’t had the opportunity to study the colored slides of the Zapruder pictures at the National Archives. The Commission, which did examine the pictures at length, placed the hit at between frames 235 and 240. If they had adopted Mr. Crawford’s view they would have avoided the delayed reaction theory. As far as I know, they have never suggested such a solution. Specter, when pressed recently on this issue, said: “You can’t tell from the films when Connally was hit, you just can’t tell” (Greater Philadelphia Magazine, p. 44). It is interesting that Vincent Salandria, who has made an intensive study of the slides, claims that Connally was probably hit much later, and he offers some very convincing evidence for his contention. If true, this would rule out the single-bullet hypothesis entirely. Others, including Sylvia Meagher (excerpts from her detailed study of the discrepancies in the Warren Report appear in the September and October issues of The Minority of One), have examined the Zapruder film and have come to conclusions very different from those of Mr. Crawford. If one accepts, as I did, the Commission’s conclusion as to when Connally was hit, then the problem remains, is the delayed reaction theory tenable? And can the testimony of the Governor and his wife be dismissed?
On the next point, bullet No. 399, I think that Mr. Crawford has gone too far in his attempts at rebuttal. I said that “almost all the medical experts…held that No. 399 could not have done all the damage to Governor Connally, let alone Kennedy.” Mr. Crawford totals up seven medical witnesses, and attempts to show four on my side and three against. Two of the autopsy surgeons, Humes and Finck, were asked specifically if No. 399 could have inflicted wounds on Connally. Humes said, “I think that extremely unlikely,” and that he couldn’t conceive from what part of 399 the fragments in Connally could have come. Finck said, “No; for the reason that there are too many fragments described in that wrist.” Dr. Gregory and Dr. Shaw had been the physicians who attended Governor Connally. Dr. Shaw said it was “difficult to believe” that No. 399 did the damage because of the amount of metal in the Governor’s wrist. Dr. Gregory had doubts whether the bullet had sufficient velocity to cause all the wounds, and he also held that the wound in Connally’s wrist was caused by a distorted missile with sharp edges. Thus all four of these gentlemen held that it was unlikely or impossible for No. 399 to have done all of the damage. The three others cited by Mr. Crawford, Dr. Olivier, Dr. Dziemian, and Dr. Light, were not present at the autopsy; nor did they treat Governor Connally. They enter the case because they were assigned to test the penetration effect of bullets on goats and on simulated targets such as skulls filled with gelatin. Of the three, only Dr. Light is an M.D. Olivier is a veterinarian, and Dziemian a Ph.D. in physiology. (Their experiments, which the Commission took seriously, hardly inspire confidence, especially in the way Dr. Olivier extrapolated his findings in Connally’s case.)
These three gentlemen were asked if they thought one bullet could have gone through Kennedy and Connally, and if they thought that the bullet that went into Connally had previously hit Kennedy. This is quite different from asking them if No. 399 could have done the damage. In fact, on two of the pages Mr. Crawford refers to (V:86 and V:92), bullet No. 399 is not mentioned. The answers offered by Drs. Olivier and Dziemian in no way deal with the question whether No. 399 is the bullet that did all the damage, or whether they think No. 399, in its present shape, could have done all the damage. On V:90 Dr. Olivier is asked whether one of the fragments in Connally’s wrist could have come from No. 399, and he said yes. He was next asked, “Do you have an opinion as to whether, in fact, bullet No. 399 did cause the wound on the Governor’s wrist, assuming if you will that it was the missile found on the Governor’s stretcher at Parkland Hospital?” (An assumption that is definitely not justified by the evidence.) Dr. Olivier’s answer was, “I believe that it was. That is my feeling,” which seems to refer to the bullet’s location rather than its activities, and hardly seems expert testimony as to whether No. 399 could have done the whole job.
Dr. Dziemian, who said he thought the probability was very good that one bullet caused all the wounds to Kennedy and Connally, was never asked if No. 399 could have been that bullet, or if the fragments found in Connally were compatible with the supposition that No. 399 had done the damage. Hence his testimony is irrelevant to the point at issue. (It is interesting that Specter, in questioning Dziemian, gave the angle of declination in Kennedy as 45º and in Connally as 25º–27º [V:92].) Dr. Light, who did deal with the question of No. 399, said that he based his opinion neither on the condition of the bullet, nor on the anatomical findings, nor on Dr. Olivier’s tests. He based his opinion solely on where Connally and Kennedy were sitting, and on the report that one bullet, No. 399, was presumably found on Connally’s stretcher, and that no other bullet was found. Indeed, Dr. Light indicated he had reservations about his colleague’s tests, and said that on the basis of the anatomical data and the tests alone, he couldn’t draw a conclusion as to whether one bullet had hit Kennedy and Connally. I think an objective reading of the testimony of Olivier, Dziemian, and Light, leads to the conclusion that one of them (Dziemian) was not really asked whether No. 399 could have done all of the damage; that another (Light) gave an answer that is irrelevant, since he did not deal with the data; and that Olivier was not asked about the question at issue (all of the damage) and his answer is unclear. It is also questionable whether the three of them are experts in the sense that Humes, Finck, Shaw, and Gregory are. (Dr. Light, the only one of the three who is a medical doctor, pointed out that none of them had seen Connally’s wounds “in the fresh state or at any other time” (V:96), and the testimony doesn’t indicate that any of them saw No. 399. Light, in fact, said that “nothing about that bullet” led him to his conclusions.
In view of this, I think that Dr. Olivier is the only one of the three witnesses cited by Mr. Crawford who can be held to have offered “expert” testimony about No. 399, and he only testified as to whether it could have caused the wrist wound on Connally. The four I cited, Humes, Finck, Shaw and Gregory, who did get asked, and did answer whether No. 399 could have done all the damage, gave very skeptical or negative responses. So I think my original statement holds, and that the score is at best 4–1, at worst 4–0 against No. 399 by the medical experts, since Dziemian didn’t answer the question at issue, and Light didn’t deal with No. 399 per se.
The question of the weight loss to No. 399 is a bit cloudy, since no one knows its original weight. The FBI expert, Robert Frazier, said it had not necessarily lost any weight at all. The figures I gave were based on the average weights of pristine 6.5 bullets, which indicated that the estimated loss of 2.5 grains brought No. 399 close to the maximum weight of the samples. And Dr. Shaw did testify (IV:113), that, “There seems to be more than three grains of metal missing…in the wrist.” Dr. Gregory, who minimized the weight of the fragments still in the wrist, admitted that the largest fragment or fragments extracted—“the major one or ones”—had been lost (IV:123), and thus could not be measured or weighed. There was also presumably some loss in Kennedy’s clothes and body, in Connally’s clothes, chest and femur.
A further point raised by Mr. Crawford is more serious. For those who do not accept the Commission’s one-bullet hypothesis, there is a genuine problem of explaining where the bullets went. If one accepts the FBI reports as accurate, there is a bullet that entered Kennedy’s back, did not exit, and was not in the body. If Kennedy’s throat wound was an entrance wound, there is another bullet to account for. If No. 399 is not either of the first two bullets, what became of all of them? As of the present moment, I know of no satisfactory answer. The FBI expert, Frazier, was careful to leave open the hypothetical possibility that a bullet could have been deflected on striking the President and “may have exited from the automobile” (V:173). And two witnesses (Mrs. Baker [VII:508–509] and Mr. Skelton [VI:2382] believed they had seen a bullet hit the pavement near the Presidential car. The bullets that hit Kennedy and Connally may have fragmented, and some of the fragments may have disappeared. Bit I do feel that it behooves those of us who are critical of the Warren Commission account, to offer a satisfactory counter-explanation that deals with the details, as well as the large issues. It may be, if the FBI reports are accurate, that at the present state of the evidence, neither the Commission nor its critics can offer a completely consistent explanation of what happened. I think Mr. Crawford has tried hard to offer a modified version of the Commission theory, but I do not feel that it really does the job. The discrepancies between the “official” autopsy report and the FBI accounts have not been explained away, nor has any genuine reason for credence in the “official” autopsy report been developed, since the first-hand testimony of several observers seems to support the FBI reports. Mr. Crawford’s reading of the Zapruder pictures seems to be unique to him, and doesn’t agree with either the Commission’s readings, or those of the critics who have studied them. The problem of No. 399 remains, since Drs. Olivier, Dziemian, and Light offer us little or no information on the subject.
In view of all this, as I said in my article, a new investigation is urgently required, and it should start by examining the fundamental data of the X-rays and the autopsy photographs, so that we can know what is really a possible explanation.
It will not help to resolve these problems to suggest, as Mr. Crawford does, that a one-bullet hypothesis is possible, if only Connally’s position vis-à-vis Kennedy is considered. I think nobody doubts, in the abstract, that a one-bullet hypothesis could account for the wounds. The problem is whether it could in view of the known data, and whether No. 399 can be the bullet in question. I don’t think Mr. Crawford has made a real case for the Commission’s one-bullet hypothesis, since all of the problems with that theory still remain, and I think that we will only find out if the Commission’s theory is at all possible, if we are allowed to settle the question of where Kennedy was wounded.
A final point I’d like to comment on is that raised at the end of Mr. Crawford’s letter, namely whether the data offered by the Commission is honest, or whether some has been fabricated or suppressed (by the Dallas Police, the FBI, or the Commission). Unlike some of the critics, I do not believe an explanation based on malevolence is acceptable, unless it seems to be the only way to account for the data. I think there is a real difference between those who are willing to assume the worst—that the Dallas Police, the FBI, and the Commission were either part of the plot, or corrupt—and those who try to explain their failings by incompetence, blunder, and mistake. I still fall in the latter group, and in this I seem to be in agreement with the defenders of the Commission who have commented on my article. Epstein’s work, plus some of the explanations that have been leaked in the press, indicate the kinds of incompetence that occurred with respect to specific episodes. This is still a long way from accounting for all of what happened. If the autopsy photos and X-rays confirm the FBI’s accounts, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain confidence in the integrity of some of those involved. Considering what is at issue, I think the Commission owes it to us the public to answer the critics, to justify itself, and to produce the basic data of the X-rays and the photos. Then, either the public will be reassured, and the critics silenced, or we will know the lengths that our supposed best investigative forces and “impartial experts” have gone to curry to the public’s desire for a simple satisfying theory that one lonely alienated nut, all by himself, killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. If the FBI reports turn out to be accurate, the public should be immediately informed as to the identity of those superiors who are now telling Commander Humes what to say, and what not to say. If the FBI reports are inaccurate, we deserve an explanation of how this elite, expensive police force could have been so grossly incompetent in perhaps the biggest case of its career.
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