By John Hunt


In preparation for an upcoming 2003 trip to the National Archives II (NARA) in College Park MD, I had conducted a slew of keyword searches using NARA’s JFK document search engine.[1] Among the many words I honed in on were "bullet", "bullets", "trajectory", "wound", "X-ray", "Harper", "skull", and a host of similar words related to the medical and ballistic aspect of the President John Kennedy assassination. Each hit led to a Record Identification Form (RIF), which is the standardized form in which documents released under the JFK Act were submitted to NARA. Each record set has its own unique RIF number. Once a promising RIF is located, the document set can be ordered through the mail for a steep fee or requested in person at NARA.

One trick I learned through years of RIF surfing is to intentionally misspell words. We are, after all, human. One such effort led to an intriguing discovery and this essay. That word was “BULLETT” with two “Ts” and it led to RIF #182-10001-10029. The document, dated 08/13/93, was sent to NARA by the Department of Justice Civil Branch (DOJCIVIL in NARA speak).

What intrigued me most was the fact that the title indicated that there existed photographs of some unknown bullet path re-creation that was attributed to the Warren Commission (WC). As you can imagine, I was eager to view that file and on January 24, 2003, the moment of truth had arrived. I checked out the document cart and wheeled it over to my workstation. (See Figure 1.)


Figure 1. Just in front of the open document box are the remarkably clear 35 mm full-frame color slides of the Zapruder film Life Magazine produced for the FBI in 1964. Some forty-plus years after the fact, the slides showed not a hint of degradation. Between the box and laptop is the high-end scanner I used to scan the various documents, prints, and negatives.



Contained within the file was a series of nine black and white prints dated “JAN 69” which are hand number 1-9 with a red marker. The first image is unremarkable; it shows a human skeleton as seen from the right side. (See Figure 2.)


Figure 2. WC Photo #1.

The second image is another story, for it shows the skeleton from above with a black rod marking a severe right-to-left, back-to-front trajectory. Hand written in pencil is a notation which reads “40°”. Measurements taken using Photoshop confirm that figure. (See Figure 3,)


Figure 3. WC Photo #2.


At this point it is important to note that, according to NARA JFK Archivist Martha Murphy, it was the submitting agency who filled out the various fields on the RIF forms, then submitted that information electronically on 3.5” floppy discs. Whatever information or lack thereof on the RIFs at NARA is not the work of National Archives personnel. (Of note is that fact that the FBI regularly left the date field blank even though virtually all their files are dated. Lazy or obfuscatory?)

Although the prints appear to have been struck in January 1969, that does not preclude their having been produced by or for the WC in 1964. The question is, were they? Unfortunately, I could find nothing else about this recreation using the RIF system or searching through likely WC documents sets at NARA. A clue is the fact that the Clark Panel report also found in DOJCIVIL. It’s RIF # is 182-10001-10001, which is only 28 RIF's away from the skeleton photos. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the photos were housed in the same file as the Clark Panel report.

The third image shows the upper torso of a skeleton from behind with pertinent structures labeled. (See fig. 3)


Figure 4. WC Photo #3.


It would appear that the photo diagram was prepared to aid those unfamiliar with the anatomy of the human skeleton. 

So far, the sequence of images appears to represent the beginning of an attempt to define the trajectory of a bullet path through JFK’s neck. The forth image shows the skeleton from the front. The trajectory indicated by the rod is severely steep and passes over the first rib and clavicle. (See fig. 4.)


Figure 4. WC Photo #4


This shot could not have come from any permanent structure behind or in front of John Kennedy in Dealey Plaza. This wound pattern, were it to be the case, would represent a “blimp shot.” So far, no one has reported seeing a blimp floating over Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963.

The next image, photo #5, is similar to #4 with the exception that the trajectory is not as steep and passes beneath the first rib. (See fig. 5.)


Figure 5. WC Photo #5.


Before we go further in discussing this new evidence, we must go back; nearly 50 years in fact, to a point when we as a society in general were not as forensically savvy as we are today. Times, however, were changing.

Critics of the official version had serious reservations about the WC’s conclusion that the bullet that entered JFK’s back emerged from his neck below the Adam’s Apple. The problem was that the hole in the back of the jacket is substantially lower than the hole in the neck band at the front of the shirt. The question became, "How does a bullet fired from the 6th floor of a building produce a sharply upward trajectory in the victim?" The short story is that it is my conclusion that the jacket and shirt were bunched up when the shot struck. An essay I authored in 1999 makes that case and so we will not rehash the issue here.[2]

In 1968, JFK autopsy prosector, J. Thornton Boswell, sent a letter to Attorney General Ramsey Clark petitioning for an independent re-examination of the conclusions spelled out in the official autopsy report. Obviously, the goal was to discredit the critics.


In 1968, the Justice Department chose four experts to review the JFK autopsy and ballistic evidence. Ramsey Clark was the US Attorney General at the time and the panel has come to be known as “The Clark Panel.”

The four experts met in Washington for two days in late February 1968.  They submitted  a report on their findings to the Justice Department on February 27, 1968. Oddly, the report was withheld from the public until January 16, 1969, the same month and date as on the “WC” photos.

Based upon an examination of the autopsy photos and Kennedy’s shirt and jacket, the panel concluded that a bullet entered Kennedy’s back, followed a downward path to exit at the upper margin of the tracheotomy incision in the front of the neck. The panel based their conclusion about the comparative levels of the two wounds based upon a fold of skin seen in the autopsy photo of the back hole and the same fold as seen from the front. The fact is that the folds of skin and shoulder are in two different positions in the two photos. If and how the Clark Panel took that into account remains a mystery, and by extension, just how they arrived at their “approximate” figure remains a mystery as they did not see fit to set that out in their report.



There are many serious deficiencies in the manner in which John Kennedy’s autopsy was conducted. Also troubling is how the information (or lack thereof) was conveyed in Commander James J. Humes’ subsequent autopsy report.

One failure in particular fueled the controversy over nature of the bullet path in Kennedy’s neck; the height of the back wound was measured from the mastoid process (the bony bump behind your ear). The standard measurement would be taken in the anatomic position from the top of the head down in the anatomic position. Below in Figure 6 is a copy of a photo of JFK’s back taken during the autopsy.


Figure 6. JFK autopsy back wound photo.


Humes located the wound thusly: "Situated on the upper right posterior thorax just above the upper border of the scapula there is a 7 x 4 millimeter oval wound. This wound is measured to be 14 cm. from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process."

The problem we find here is that the human head is exceptionally mobile. The figure “14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process” is entirely dependant upon the attitude of the head relative to the relatively stable back wound. Move the head 1 cm toward the back wound and the measurement could have been “13 cm.” Move it 1 cm forward and the number could have been “15 cm”. The next two photos in the WC series demonstrate that someone was aware of the problem and tried to quantify it. Below in Figure 7 is WC photo #7.


Figure 7.  WC Photo #7.


The first thing to note is that the pose of the “President” loosely approximates the relationship of Kennedy’s head and back wound as seen in the autopsy photos. The WC was not supposed to have seen that autopsy photos but we know they did. The WC struggled to hammer the physical evidence into place in order to offer up the "Single Bullet Theory", which was critical to allowing the crime to be committed by a single assassin. In this photo, the mastoid process is marked and a black dot representing the back would is placed 14 cm away. Whoever ran this series of re-creations then stood the model up and re-measured the distance to the back wound. (See Figure 8.) 


Figure 8.  WC Photo #8.


The distance between the mastoid and the “wound” increased to 18.7 cm. Of course, the model was not JFK but the exercise in photos 8 and 9 is illustrative of an important point. No photo exists of the autopsy prosectors actually measuring the distance during the autopsy. Therefore, no one knows what position JFK was in when the measurements were taken. The historical record is virtually non-existent on the President’s posture when the photos were taken. The closest I could find are the testimony of autopsy photographers John Stringer and Floyd Riebe given before the ARRB in 1996-97.

On May 7, 1997, some 33 years after the autopsy, Riebe was asked if JFK had been rolled to take the photo of the back. He replied, “I don’t think so. Not all the way over.”[3] 

John Stringer testified before the ARRB on July 16, 1996. He was asked if he took photographs with the president lying on his stomach. Stringer replied, “I think so.”[4] Interestingly, Stringer also testified that he took photos of JFK’s back while his torso and head were held up in the seated position on the autopsy table.[5] No such photos, if such ever existed, survive.

In the final analysis, we will probably never know how Humes accomplished the measurements.


Where did the bullet that entered the back go? Without getting into the nitty gritty (which is covered at length in the JFK assassination literature and documentaries), Kennedy had a small bullet wound in his throat below the Adams Apple when he arrived at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. It was visually identified as a wound of entry by Dr. Malcolm Perry but might not have been. JFK was noted to be experiencing extreme agonal respiration [involuntary, spasmodic gasps of breath, the body’s instinctive attempt to breathe under duress]. By a monumentally unfortunate twist of fate, the wound was located at the exact point where tracheotomies are performed. Dr. Malcolm Perry made the tracheotomy incision right through the bullet hole. Below, in Figure 9, is an autopsy photo of JFK’s neck as seen front the front.



Figure 9. The small notch in the lower edge of the incision was reported
by the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel as a portion of the bullet hole.


According to Humes and his assistants, they did not know JFK had a bullet hole in his throat during the autopsy. Humes told the HSCA the incision obscured the bullet hole “very gorgeously for us.”[6] Whether that was true or not can never be known. Had they spotted the wound and measured down from the top of the head, then measured the distance between the back wound and throat as seen from the top, a close approximation of the bullet trajectory could have been had. But, unfortunately, that apparently didn’t happen.




Photo #6 shows the skeleton from the front with the trajectory rod in a level attitude. See figure 10.)



Figure 10.  WC Photo #6.
Note that the trajectory rod passes beneath the first rib.


Of note is the fact that in all the photos taken from the front, the rod passes just above the suprasternal notch, a semi-circular shaped depression in the breast plate.  (See Figure 11.)




Figure 11. Suprasternal Notch.


What makes this of interest is that the wound in JFK’s throat was well above the suprasternal notch. (JFK’s Suprasternal Notch is denoted by the red arrow in Figure 12)



Figure 12. JFK’s Suprasternal Notch.


Clearly, the incision is well above the suprasternal notch. In Figure 12, Kennedy’s shoulders appear to be raised slightly and his head is tilted slightly back. This body position serves to enhance the appearance of the distance between the lower edge of the incision and the suprasternal notch. Even so, the distance between the two appears to be about the length of the incision, which Humes described as being a “6.5 cm. long transverse wound with widely gaping irregular edges.” If we adjust the incision downward somewhat in our mind’s eye to account for the body position, the incision is still nowhere near the suprasternal notch. Therefore, whoever was responsible for the WC Skeleton photos cheated any trajectory downward by lowering the wound in the neck (whether knowingly or unknowingly). This brings us to the final remaining WC Skeleton photo.




In photo #9 we find the trajectory rod passing from back to front at an upward angle, which makes it impossible for the shot to have come from the 6th floor of the Depository where the assassin was supposed to have shot from. That some official entity entertained the possibility that the bullet that entered JFK’s back took an upward attitude is undeniable. The only way to get that trajectory to line up with the Depository “sniper’s nest” would be to blatantly cheat and bend JFK well forward in the limousine into a position the Zapruder film proves was not the case. At no point did the President attempt to tie a shoe in Dealey Plaza. This is exactly what the HSCA shamelessly pretended was the case in their 1979 final report. Shame on Michael Baden and the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel.



Figure 13.  WC Photo #9.


Whatever else can be said about this most interesting series of photographs, someone at some point after the assassination was allowing for the possibility that the path through JFK’s neck was anatomically upward. This, of course, means conspiracy.




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