NOW THE MATERIAL presented by Epstein and Salandria, and to a lesser extent by Cook and Weisberg, undermines the Commission’s case in two ways. First, they closely examine both the sequence of the shots and the available medical evidence in order to demonstrate that all three shots could not have been fired by Oswald. Secondly, they show that the Commission’s theory is in conflict with the FBI’s on a number of crucial points: Indeed, one can only conclude either that both theories, considered together, are impossible, or that they establish that more than one assassin was firing at the President.
Two of the most important pieces of evidence underlying this demonstration are the FBI’s summary reports on the case and the film taken by Abraham Zapruder, a bystander during the assassination. The FBI’s first summary report was dated December 9, 1963, just after the Warren Commission was appointed. This report is not in the twenty-six volumes and is published for the first time, and only in part, in Epstein’s book. In it, the FBI states simply that “three shots rang out. Two bullets struck Kennedy and one wounded Governor Connally.” This seemed to account for all the wounds; but it ignored incontrovertible evidence that one shot missed the car and its occupants and wounded a spectator.
As Epstein shows, this fact, and the evidence of the Zapruder film, forced the Commission to reconsider the problem. For the film established the time when Kennedy could have been hit, and Connally could have been hit. The speed of Zapruder’s camera is 18.3 frames per second and his film shows that Kennedy was hit between frames 208 and 225. (For reasons never explained, the Commission omitted frames 208-211 from its reproduction of the series in the Report.) It is clear from the medical and photographic evidence that Connally was shot between frames 231 and 240. (The shot that struck Kennedy on the side of the head and killed him was at frame 313.) This leaves less than 2.3 seconds between shots one and two; and the Commission found that it is physically impossible to pull the bolt and reload Oswald’s rifle faster than once every 2.3 seconds (without aiming). Therefore it was impossible for Oswald to have wounded both the President and Connally in separate shots.
Epstein writes that, in early March, Arlen Specter, a Commission lawyer, discussed this time problem informally with Commanders Humes and Boswell, the Navy doctors who had performed the autopsy on President Kennedy. “According to Specter, Commander Humes suggested that since both Kennedy and Connally apparently had been hit within a second of each other, it was medically possible that both men had been hit by the same bullet and that Connally had had a delayed reaction. This hypothesis would explain how both men were wounded in less time than that in which the murder weapon could be fired twiceâ€Ś” (Inquest, p. 115).
On March 16, 1964, when Dr. Humes’s undated autopsy report was first introduced in evidence, it directly contradicted both the FBI report of December 9, 1963, and the subsequent FBI report of January 13, 1964. Dr. Humes’s report stated that the first bullet struck the back of Kennedy’s neck and exited through his throat. The FBI had said “Medical examination of the President’s body had revealed that the bullet which entered his back penetrated to a distance of less than a finger length. (Exhibits 59 and 60).” These exhibits, reproduced in Epstein’s book on pp. 56-57, are photographs of Kennedy’s jacket and shirt. They show clearly a bullet hole 5 1/2-6 inches below the neckline, i.e., in his back. If the bullet had been shot from the Book Depository, it was on a downward course, and thus could not enter the back and exit through the throat unless it was deflected. Further, the FBI report had said, “Medical examination of the President’s body revealed that one of the bullets had entered just below his shoulder to the right of the spinal column at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees downward, that there was no point of exit, and that the bullet was not in the body.”
IF THE FBI DATA are correct, then Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets and the time interval between these shots is much too short (less than two seconds) for both to have been fired from Oswald’s rifle. Hence, either another gun was employed, or two different marksmen were shooting. In either case, the Commission theory is no longer tenable, nor, in view of the time-interval problem, is the theory of the FBI that all the shots came from Oswald’s rifle.
In response to Epstein’s book, Commission staff members have stated that the two FBI reports of December 9th and January 13th are wrong about the wounds, while spokesmen for the FBI have implied, in more ambiguous language, that their reports were in error. (Even before publication, Epstein’s book had the effect of bringing a lot of information to light. Besides the portions of the FBI reports he has published, newspaper and magazine accounts have given the FBI explanations, the history of the autopsy report, etc., items which the Commission did not bother to clarify.) If the FBI did make a mistake, one explanation may be found in Fletcher Knebel’s article in the July 12, 1966 issue of Look. Knebel attributes his explanation to three commission lawyers and one of the autopsy doctors (apparently Dr. Boswell). At the autopsy proper on November 22, 8-11 p.m., the doctors had not found an exit wound (or a bullet channel) and were puzzled. The next day they learned from Dr. Malcolm Perry of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, that there had been a bullet wound in the throat, obliterated by a tracheotomy operation. This led the doctors to conclude that the throat wound (which they never saw) was the exit wound. Their report was completed on November 24, and sent to the White House on the 25th. The Secret Service then received the report, and, according to statements published recently, sent it to the Commission on December 20 and to the FBI on December 23.
If this is what happened, it could account for the discrepancy between the FBI’s first report and the autopsy report. But why didn’t the supposedly thorough FBI ask for the autopsy report, or check with the doctors? How, indeed, could the FBI have conducted an effective investigation without at least ascertaining the contents of the autopsy report? Is the December 9th FBI report an accurate account of what the doctors found from their one and only look at the body on November 22? Is the doctors’ later report based only on inferences from a wound they never saw? (It is interesting that Knebel indicates the final autopsy may be wrong: “The doctors may well have erred in their autopsy finding.” On what? Where the entrance wound was, perhaps?)
This explanation, which the FBI seems willing to underwrite, indicates a high degree of incompetence. The FBI says its first reports “were merely to chart a course and were not designed to be conclusive” (Look). Does that mean they were supposed to be inaccurate? They were prepared at the request of the President to get the basic facts, at a time when the FBI was the only official investigative agency dealing with the case. The reports were considered to be of “principal importance” by the Warren Commission when it started out. And how can the FBI explain that after receiving the autopsy report on December 23 it still issued a supplemental report on January 13, 1964, containing false information on the most substantive question: Where did the first bullet hit Kennedy and where did this bullet go?
THE FBI HAS NOT AS YET tried to explain why its report of January 13 contradicts the autopsy report. In the Los Angeles Times of May 30, 1966, Robert Donovan quotes an FBI spokesman as saying only that “the FBI was wrong when it said there was no point of exit’.”
“The FBI agents were not doctors, but were merely quoting doctors, the FBI spokesman said.”
So it would seem that even when the FBI states bluntly that “X is the case,” this can be wrong, and only based on hearsay. This raises the problem of determining when the FBI is reliable. (Was it when it said Oswald was not an FBI agent?) How reliable are its many, many reports in the twenty-six volumes? When is the FBI to be taken at its word?
If the FBI reports are false, is the Commission position then defensible, in view of the FBI photos of Kennedy’s jacket and shirt published in Epstein’s book? Its one-bullet theory depends in part on this bullet following approximately the path described in the sketch in the Commission Exhibit 385, entering the back of Kennedy’s neck, and exiting at his throat on a downward path, then entering Connally’s back and exiting below the nipple, going through his wrist, and finally reaching his femur (Commission Exhibits 679-80 and 689). But if Kennedy was shot in the back, then there is something basically wrong with the very possibility of the Commission theory. A bullet traveling downward would have exited from the chest, where there was no wound, and would have struck Connally at too low a point to inflict the damage.
So the FBI pictures of the President’s clothing become very significant. Some of the comments on Epstein’s book by hostile critics who were associated with the Commission appear to concede that the FBI may have been right in locating the bullet in the back; and the FBI photographs definitely indicate that this was the case. Suggestions have appeared that Kennedy could have been bending over at the time, and so a bullet in his upper back could have exited from his throat (without hitting his chin??). But if this were so, the bullet would obviously have been too low to hit Connally where it did; and the Zapruder pictures clearly rule out the possibility that Kennedy was bending over at this time. The Detroit Free Press, June 5, 1966, p. 22A, offers another possibility, that Kennedy’s coat was hiked up and bunched at the time. They offer a photo “taken just seconds before the first bullet.” The issue is of course the condition of his clothes at the very moment. Zapruder’s pictures don’t show this; and they portray only a front view of Kennedy. However, if the jacket was bunched, it seems most unlikely that a bullet fired at neck level would leave only one hole in the jacket nearly six inches from the top of the collar. And even if it were somehow possible, this would still leave the problem of the shirt. Would a buttoned shirt hike and bunch in this manner, that is, rise in such a way that a point nearly six inches below the top of the collar would at that moment be at neck level, and not be doubled over? (Commission Exhibit 397, 17:45, has an autopsy chart showing the bullet in the back, not the neck.)