President Kennedy’s Assassination—40 years later


Robert A. Frazier and Charles L. Killion

Special Agent Firearms Examiners (retired)

FBI Laboratory

Washington, D.C.


AFTE Journal, Volume 35, No. 4 (Fall 2003)


Received: January 12, 2003

Peer Review Completed: January 3, 2004


Key Words: Assassination of President Kennedy; Wounding of Governor Connally





      An article to set forth the true facts concerning the firearms aspect of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the wounding of Governor John Connally on November 22, 1963.




      It is 2003. This will be the fortieth year since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Governor John Connally was wounded. In the event of further claims purportedly presenting the facts of the episode it was decided (by the authors) that it was time to set out the true facts relating to the actual shooting situation—no conjecture, no suppositions, no wishful thinking and especially no speculations. The great majority of the active firearms examiners today were not in the profession in 1963. We trust that this article will be of special interest to these examiners.

      One example of the misconceptions which have occurred was from a television program aired by CBS. According to their investigator, it took approximately 4.6 seconds minimum to fire Oswald’s rifle three times and significantly more time must be added (because of recoil) to aim and fire the second and third shots. The true facts are these: Oswald’s bolt action rifle, a relatively low velocity weapon, does not create a great deal of recoil. Further, its bolt action ejection and loading process was “glass” smooth. Three Special Agent examiners of the Firearms and Tool Marks unit of the FBI Laboratory, Cortlandt B. Cunningham (now deceased), Charles L. Killion and Robert A. Frazier, having never fired the rifle for speed before, each fired this rifle not just for speed but for speed and accuracy. By actual tests it was demonstrated that a skilled person can fire three aimed shots with Oswald’s rifle in less than five seconds.

      Next, claims have been made that the same bullet could not have struck both President Kennedy and Governor Connally in the back. The President’s Commission, after gathering all the pertinent photos and movie camera films, reenacted the shooting with the aid of engineers with their transits for placing the limousine foot by foot along its route. The reenactment was observed by Robert Frazier from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building and photographed by Lyndal Shaneyfelt, a qualified photographer from the FBI Laboratory. Special Agent Shaneyfelt mounted a movie camera on the telescope sight on Oswald’s rifle and photographed the reenactment for record. The Zapruder movie film, a much quoted “source,” does not show the President at the time the President was shot in the back because that part of the vehicle was behind a large sign. The reenactment photos taken through Oswald’s rifle do capture this view. The President on his hydraulically raised rear seat was facing forward and Governor Connally was turned slightly around to the right and because he was sitting on a jump seat was lower than the President and was in perfect alignment to be struck by the bullet exiting the President’s throat. Remember these facts: 1. The bullet which struck the President had to have struck in the vehicle and no bullet holes were found in the limousine, and 2. The bullet which struck the Governor made an elongated entrance hole such as bullet would make which was starting to tumble as a result of passing through an intermediate target (the President) with a subsequent loss of velocity and stability.

      Some claims have been made that the head wound of the President resulted from a shot fired from the front. Similarly, white smoke seen on the grassy knoll to the right front of the limousine has been quoted as supporting a frontal snot. Modern smokeless powder ammunition does not produce white smoke and the ammunition involved in the assassination was modern, reliable ammunition made by the Western Cartridge Company of East Alton, Illinois.

      Further, consider the autopsy results and study the movie films and it is incontrovertible that the President was shot in the back of the head. When examining the movie film remember to study the whole film including that part in the sprocket area and beyond to the edge of the film. It was all exposed by the lens, not just the area seen when normally projected or printed.

      Several facts must be considered when determining bullet direction:

1.      The bullet fragments, identified with Oswald’s rifle, residues and impact areas were in the front seat area of the vehicle and on the inside surface of the windshield;

2.      A bone fragment was seen leaving the President’s head in a forward direction;

3.      Tissue particles were found on the hood of the vehicle, and

4.      Bone craters in a definite fashion as a bullet passes through it. A small entrance hole and a larger exit hole results in a cone shaped hole. Colonel Pierre Finck, head of the wound ballistics section of Walter Reed Army Hospital, found just this type of hole as he assisted in the autopsy of President Kennedy. Much of the confusion in this regard is because a large volume of tissue was blown upward by the passing bullet and was seen in the next few movie frames as being behind the President. Actually, the President was moving out from under this cloud of tissue.


      In summary, any theory, conclusions, suppositions or purported explanations covering the firearms aspect of the assassination of President Kennedy and the wounding of former Secretary of the Navy, Governor Connally must encompass each and every one of the following facts:


Neck wound of President Kennedy:

1.      Bullet wipe present on the outside of the back of the President’s coat identifies point of entrance.

2.      No bullet was found in the President’s body (full body X-ray).

3.      Bullet wound in back of lower neck was smooth, regular in outline.

4.      Bullet wound in front of throat was ragged.

5.      Shirt fibers at the hole through the button line and button hole line of the President’s shirt were pushed outward.


Head wound of President Kennedy:

1.      Bone cratering identifies bullet entrance at rear.

2.      Both large bullet fragments were found in the front seat area of the vehicle.

3.      No bullet was found in the President’s head.

4.      Lead deposits were found on the inside surface of the windshield.

5.      Tissue particles were found on the hood of the moving vehicle.


      The worksheets, tests, targets, photographs and reports of the examiners are preserved in the Archives of the United States. The testimony of the FBI examiners, that of Joseph Nicol, Firearms Examiner, Superintendent, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation for the State of Illinois, who conducted a duplicate firearms identification, and that of the persons who conducted the autopsy can be found in the twenty-six volumes of the Hearings Before the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Much of the testimony can be reviewed on the Internet. Congress years later commissioned another examination of the firearms identification matters by a group of forensic experts which confirmed the above firearms examinations results.


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