PSC404, Spring 2001
Answers to Assignment 5
Warren Report App. X–XII; Back/shoulder wound
Read: Warren Commission Report Appendices X–XII, “The ten toughest issues,” “The back/shoulder wound.”
1. How do bullets pick up traceable markings as they are fired from a rifle? The sides of the bullet become engraved with the distinctive irregularities of the rifle barrel, as well as with its rifling pattern.
2. To what extent were the bullets retrieved from Officer Tippit’s body traceable to Oswald’s Smith & Wesson revolver? All four retrieved bullets were consistent with the revolver. Depending on the expert, 1/4 or 0/4 came from the revolver. More importantly, all four expended cartridge cases found in the bushes nearby were traced to his revolver to the exclusion of all other revolvers.
3. What is a paraffin test? The paraffin test looks for nitrate on the skin to see if the person has fired a weapon recently. Warm paraffin picks up impurities, including nitrate, from skin and pores. Diphenylamine or diphenylbenzidine reacts to form a blue color if nitrate is present. What were the results of Lee Harvey Oswald’s paraffin tests? Both of Oswald’s hands were positive, but his right cheek was negative. What conclusions can be drawn from these results? No conclusions can be drawn because test is unreliable—it gives both false positive and false negatives: nitrate can get on the skin in other ways, and lack of nitrate does not necessarily mean that the person hasn’t fired a weapon recently.
4. How did the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal simulate Kennedy’s neck wound? They constructed an artificial neck from sequential blocks of gelatin and two sets of animal meat and covered it with animal skin on each side. The thickness of the whole thing was set to match that of Kennedy’s neck, which was estimated at 13 ½ to 14 ½ cm. They then shot the combination with the actual weapon. How much velocity did the WCC/MC bullets lose in passing through the simulated neck? Less than 150 feet per sec from the impact velocity of 1900 feet per sec. Was the bullet still stable when it emerged? It retained most of its stability, and created an exit hole that was only a bit larger and more oval than the entrance hole. In fact, tests showed that WCC/MC bullets would pass through 54 cm of gelatin before beginning to curve (i.e., becoming unstable).
5. List the people whose reports of Oswald’s interrogations are given in Appendix XI. What were their official positions in Dallas, and why would they have participated in the interrogations? Capt. J. W. Fritz was head of the homicide division of the DPD. He was there for obvious reasons. His underlings said that he was a master at interrogating suspects. James P. Hosty, Jr., and James W. Bookhout were from the Dallas FBI. At least Hosty had had previous contact with Oswald and his wife. Manning Clements was also from the FBI’s Dallas office. Thomas J. Kelly was an inspector with the U.S. Secret Service. Harry D. Holmes was the postal inspector for Dallas.
6. List a few common features you found in their reports. Are they enough to provide a reasonable sense of how the interviews went? Oswald seemed intelligent. He gave most answers unemotionally, except where the FBI and his wife Marina were concerned. He denied shooting the president and officer Tippit. He denied owning a rifle or bringing it to the depository that morning. He parried the questions that he did not want to answer. He explained much of his background but denied any role in either shooting. Eventually he asked for Mr. John Abt as a lawyer and decided to stop answering questions.
7–9. Appendix XII contains something like 127 speculations on 10 broad
topics within the assassination, together with the Warren Commission’s answers
to them. They make fascinating reading as well as the perfect preparation for
our entering the world of conspiracy later.
Find nine of these speculations that you think are weak or incorrect. Using reasoning or actual evidence (some of which may have appeared after the Commission was dissolved), show how to counter or disprove each of the answers (i.e., how to demonstrate that an answer portrayed as conclusive is actually uncertain or wrong). As always, make your answers as objective and rigorous as possible. Try to distribute your responses over several topics. Don't just shoot from the hip—think carefully about each answer.
Here are ten responses. There are more.
(a) Speculation #1 under “The Source of the Shots”: The shots that killed JFK came from the railroad overpass. The Commission answered that there is no evidence that any shots were fired from anywhere but the TSBD. I believe this is false. The president’s backward lurch, shown in the Zapruder film, is extremely strong evidence that at least one shot was fired from the grassy knoll.
(b) #5 under same topic: Jean Hill said she saw a man run toward the triple underpass and disappear. The Commission responded that it could not corroborate Hill’s report. Nevertheless, they could not disprove it.
(c) Speculation #7 under the same topic: More than three shots, perhaps as many as five or six, were fired at the President and Governor Connally. Although the weight of the evidence indeed favors only three shots, there is no way to prove that there could not have been more. The Commission "concluded," not "proved."
(d) Speculation #13 under same topic: JFK’s throat wound was one of entrance, according to Parkland doctors. The Commission said that the doctors claimed it to be either an entrance or exit wound, and then accepted it as an exit wound after the autopsy. Both claims seem exaggerated or false. Dr. Kemp Clark clearly called it an entrance wound at the press conference, and some of the Parkland doctors believe it to be so to this day. Nothing is served by diminishing this mistake, for there are good reasons why that exit wound strongly resembled an entrance wound.
(e) Speculation #8 under “The Assassin”: Laboratory tests showed that the remains of the chicken lunch found on the sixth floor were two days old. The Commission's answer to the effect that the remains were left there by Bonnie Ray Williams on the 22nd does not directly address the question of lab tests. The Commission should have stated that the remains were not tested because Williams's explanation was considered sufficient.
(f) Speculation #13 under the same topic: Oswald could not have fired three shots from the TSBD in 5.5 seconds or less. The Commission responded that experts had fired three shots from the same rifle within 5.5 seconds. This claim is very misleading. It fails to note that only one of three experts did, and that stationary targets were used.
(g) Speculation #14 under the same topic: Oswald was not a good enough shot to have done the deed. The Commission appealed to his ranking of “marksman” while in the Marines. Better to have noted that “marksman” was a relatively low ranking. Best to have noted that the actual display of shooting was not very good—one shot missed everything, one hit the body instead of the head, and the last shot came within an inch or so of missing the head altogether.
(h) Speculation #19 under same topic: The WCC/MC ammunition was 20 years old, and thus unreliable. The Commission responded that the ammunition was being made currently. This claim appears to be false. According to Winchester-Western, this type of ammunition had not been made since 1944 (see Mark Lane, Plausible Denial, p. 411).
(i) Speculation #1 under “Oswald and U.S. Government Agencies”: Oswald worked for FBI or CIA. The Commission responded that directors of both agencies testified that he had not worked for them, and that these claims were buttressed by lack of documentation for any link to either agency. As discussed previously, secret agents must remain secret, and directors may lie concerning them. Official records may also be destroyed.
(j) Speculation #5 under “Conspiratorial Relationships”: Ruby and Oswald were seen together at Ruby’s Carousel Club. The Commission claimed that all such assertions had been investigated and found baseless. But serious reports continue. Beverly Oliver, the “Babushka Lady” of the Zapruder film and a former singer at the Carousel Club, now claims that Ruby introduced her to Oswald at the club, and that she subsequently saw him there several times. Oliver is now married to a Baptist minister, and seems to be making her claims in good faith.
10. The issue of the height of Kennedy’s
neck/back wound remains very contentious within the JFK community. Use what you
already know about the physical evidence to try to decide whether this issue
really matters to getting the right answer about the assassination. In other
words, can it be worked around?
It can be worked around quite easily by using something like the following sequence of reasoning with reliable evidence:
1. There is one entrance wound in the neck/back.
2. There are no bullets in the body.
3. There is a wound in the throat that must be an exit wound.
4. There is a downward line of sites of damage that extends through the neck to the exit in the throat.
5. There is one entrance wound in Connally's back, which is nonpristine because of its size and shape and because of the lessened degree of damage done by the bullet.
6. The fragment in Connally's wrist is tied by NAA to the stretcher bullet, which is tied by ballistic markings to Oswald's rifle to the exclusion of all other rifles.
These six pieces of evidence collectively mean that Oswald's rifle was responsible for all the damage to the men's bodies. This makes the height of the back wound immaterial to this reasoning. Thus, we do not have to know it in order to draw the right conclusion.
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