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PHANTOM IDENTIFICATION

OF THE MAGIC BULLET: E. L. TODD AND CE-399

 John Hunt
© 2006

 

Warren Commission Exhibit 399 (CE-399) has been called the "Magic Bullet" by critics due to its extraordinarily lithe aerobatics and the structural rigor it maintained after have smashed up dense bones. The dubious nature of the bullet's condition when compared to the feats attributed to it caused early researchers like Josiah Thompson to fix the bullet with a gimlet eye.
 
The suspiciously intact bullet's bona fides do look good on the first pass. However, closer inspection reveals problems; the participants failed to ID CE-399 as the bullet they handled on the day of the assassination.
 
I asked myself, Is the bullet sitting in the National Archives today really the same bullet recovered at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the wake of the Kennedy assassination? I decided to put the issue to the test.
 
 
Phantom Identification 
It was on March 16, 1964 during James Humes' testimony before the Warren Commission (WC) that CE-399 was first introduced into evidence. Arlen Specter related on the record that CE-399's bone fides were "subject to later proof," but would be introduced with the proviso that the bullet was the same "missile which [had] been taken from the stretcher which the evidence now indicates was the stretcher occupied by Governor Connally." The fact that Humes was the first witness to testify about CE-399, yet had played no part whatsoever its chain of custody, forced Specter to introduce CE-399 "subject to later proof." Fifteen days later, Specter queried SA Robert Frazier on CE-399's provenance:
 

Mr. EISENBERG. Mr. Frazier, I now hand you Commission Exhibit 399, which, for the record, is a bullet, and also for the record, it is a bullet which was found in the Parkland Hospital following the assassination. Are you familiar with this exhibit?

Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, sir. This is a bullet which was delivered to me in the FBI laboratory on November 22, 1963 by Special Agent Elmer Todd of the FBI Washington Field Office.

Mr. EISENBERG. Does that have your mark on it?
Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, it does.

Mr. EISENBERG. The bullet is in the same condition as it was when you received it?

Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, sir; except for the marking of my initials and the other examiners.(3H428) [March 31, 1964] 

Frazier established that the CE-399 bullet before him was the same one he'd received from SA Elmer Todd on 11/22/63. But Frazier's testimony that CE-399 was the same bullet handed to him by SA Todd, in and of itself, does not begin to establish whether or not it was the same bullet that actually came off the stretcher in Dallas. Oddly, Elmer Todd was never called to testify before the WC. Nor were SA Richard Johnsen, or chief of Parkland Hospital security and former DPD detective, O. P. Wright, whom both figure prominently in the chain of custody of CE-399.
 
The WC did call on the employee who actually found the bullet. On March 20, 1964 the WC took Parkland Hospital orderly, Darrell Tomlinson's testimony. That was a mere four days after CE-399 was introduced during Humes' testimony. Incredibly, Tomlinson,  whose testimony was taken in Dallas, was queried extensively about where he found a bullet (which stretcher), but was never shown CE-399 or asked to identify it as the bullet he found the day Kennedy was assassinated. Having Tomlinson ID the bullet is the "proof" that would have established that the bullet's bone fides were in order. But that didn't happen. What did happen was that the day after Tomlinson testified, Robert Frazier delivered CE-399 to the WC (See Figure 1).
 


Figure 1 -  WC "chain of custody" sheet I found in
the FBI Lab files at NARA. (C1 is CE-399).

Astonishingly, Arlen Specter's promise to subject CE-399 "to later proof" establishing that it was the bullet found in Dallas was hollow. Why? By the end of this brief essay we will have our answer.
 
After Tomlinson's testimony was taken, the WC finally became interested in establishing CE-399's bone fides. Figure 2 below is an FBI internal chain of custody card I found in the National Archives:
 


Figure 2
 

Notice that the bullet (designated "Q1" and "C1" by the FBI) was checked out and sent to Dallas on June 2, 1964. The reason? The WC had requested that the FBI have the various participants identify CE-399 for the record. The bullet went to Dallas and was returned to the FBI Lab on June 22nd. An FBI airtel of June 20, reveals a snag in the WC/FBI plan -- neither Tomlinson nor Wright (the man who turned the bullet over to the SA Johnsen) could ID CE-399. The airtel also advised:
 
Obtain [CE-399] from FBI Laboratory and thereafter immediately exhibit to SA Robert [sic] E. Johnson [sic], Secret Service, who is attached to White House detail, and to James Rowley, Chief, Secret Service, to have [CE-399] identified.  If neither can identify, C1 should then be examined by SA Elmer Lee Todd for the purpose of identifying item by inspection [emphasis added].
 
Note the final notation on the chain-of-custody card in Figure 2, which relates that CE-399 was taken from the FBI Lab by "Elmer Todd WFO [Washington Field Office] 6/24/64."  That is exactly what happened; SA Elmer Lee Todd (deceased) showed CE-399 to Rowley and Johnsen at the White House, and neither could identify the bullet as the one they'd handled seven months prior. Not having marked the bullet with their initials, a failure to positively ID the bullet might be written off as bureaucratic CYA caution. Not so, Elmer Todd.
 
Tomlinson, Wright, Johnsen, and Rowley all failed to positively ID CE-399.  Thus it fell to Elmer Todd to make the positive ID, which he did. And just how did Todd accomplish that? He purportedly recognized the initials he placed on the bullet on the day of the assassination (CE 2011, at 24H412, CD 2).
 
The question for me became, is Todd's mark on the CE-399 bullet? To answer that question, I put together an illustration using photographs of CE-399. I was able to track the entire surface of the bullet using four of NARA's preservation photos. Image No.1 in Figure 3 starts the rotation, with each successive photo having the bullet turned approximately 1/4 turn clockwise as viewed from above.
 


Figure 3
 

Three sets of initials appear on the bullet: RF, CK, and JH. RF and CK were easily identifiable from FBI Laboratory documents at NARA. RF was Lead examiner in the JFK case, SA Robert Frazier. CK was SA Charles Killion, who'd assisted Frazier. The third set of initials, JH, proved somewhat problematic. At first I though it might be SA John Handley, who served under Malley, but they were both assigned to the General Investigative Division, not Firearms and Toolmarks.
 
I asked Robert Frazier who "JH" was when we spoke in 2003. He related that JH was SA Cortlandt Cunningham. I asked why that was, and Frazier said that it was to prevent confusion in the event that Cortlandt Cunningham had to mark a document. He said that "CC" might be confused with "cc," the notation for carbon copy. To avoid confusion, Cunningham's mark became JH.
 
Something else Frazier told me that day cinched the identification of Cunningham as JH, the JFK assassination was the only case in the history of the FBI where more that one Examiner was assigned. Frazier was to be the Lead Examiner and Killion and Cunningham would verify his conclusions. Frazier's WC testimony backs that notion up:
 

Mr. EISENBERG. Mr. Frazier, did any other firearms experts in the FBI laboratory examine the three cartridge cases, the bullet, and the two bullet fragments which you have testified as to today?

Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, all of the actual firearms comparisons were also made by Charles Killion and Cortlandt Cunningham. These examinations were made separately, that is, they made their examination individually and separately from mine, and there was no association between their examination and mine until both were finished. (3H440)

 

Frazier's 2003 recollection during our phone conversation matched his 1964 WC testimony. To that we add just one of many examples where Frazier, Killion, and Cunningham all marked evidence; the envelope in which the Connally wrist fragment was delivered to the FBI Lab (See Figure 4):
 


Figure 4. Computer scan I made of the actual Q9 Connally wrist f
ragment envelope at NARA in 2004 with the initials RF. CK, and JH.
 

There is no question but that only three sets of initials appear on CE-399. There is likewise no question that they have all  been positively identified: RF was Robert Frazier, CK was Charles Killion, and JH was Cortland Cunningham. (See Figure 5.)

 
Figure 5
 

It can be sated as a fact that SA Elmer Lee Todd's mark is not on the historical CE-399 bullet.

The only benign explanation for the lack of a "Todd mark" would seem to be that the area of the mark was removed when a sample of copper was taken from the nose for Optical Emissions Spectrography testing. That explanation, however, doesn't wash, for Todd allegedly spotted his mark many months after the EOS tests had been undertaken. Where, then, is Todd's mark?
 
That Todd really did mark "a" bullet on November 22, 1963 would seem to be a fact. If he did, the bullet sitting in the National Archives, the same one ballistically linked to Oswald's rifle, is not that bullet. The question is begged; What happened to the bullet that really was recovered from a hospital stretcher in Dallas the day John Kennedy was killed?  

 


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