FIVE MYTHS ABOUT THE JFK ASSASSINATION

Michael T. Griffith
1998
Revised and Expanded on 2/11/2009

1. Oswald's alleged shooting feat would have been relatively easy, if not very easy.

Although most lone-gunman theorists know this assertion is erroneous, one will still see it advanced from time to time. It is demonstrably false.

For years, the standard belief among Commission supporters was that Oswald scored two hits out of three shots in just under 6 seconds (5.6 seconds, to be exact). But, it has become increasingly apparent that it would have been virtually impossible for even a skilled gunman to have performed such a feat.

The extreme unlikelihood of the 2 hits/3 shots/6 seconds scenario was highlighted by the 1967 CBS rifle test. CBS hired eleven highly skilled marksmen to participate in a fairly (though not totally) realistic simulation of the conditions under which Oswald would have had to fire. Not one of the eleven expert shooters managed to score two hits on his first attempt--Oswald would have had only one attempt. In fact, of the eleven CBS shooters, seven failed to score two hits out of three shots on any of their attempts.

Years earlier, when the Commission hired three Master-rated marksmen to attempt to duplicate Oswald's alleged feat, using the supposed murder weapon itself, two of them fired no faster than 3.35 seconds per shot on their first series. Again, Oswald would have had only attempt. According to the 2 hits/3 shots/6 seconds scenario, Oswald would have had to aim and fire his first shot in no more than 1 second, and then fire his last two shots, to include working the weapon's difficult bolt, at the maximum rate of 2.3 seconds per shot. What's more, by all accounts Oswald did not target practice for a good month prior to the assassination.

In the Commission's rifle tests, Mr. Staley took 3.35 seconds per shot, while Mr. Hendrix took 4.1 seconds per shot. Mr. Miller took 2.3 seconds per shot (the riflemen's first names were not given), but he did so only after discarding the scope and using the iron sights. These world-class shooters missed the head and neck areas of the target 17 out of 18 times, even though they fired from an elevation of only 30 feet and even though their targets were stationary.

As it has become increasingly apparent that no gunman, no matter how skilled, could have scored two hits in three shots in 5.6 seconds on his first attempt, lone-gunman theorists have sought to "expand" the supposed single assassin's firing time to over 8 seconds. Some WC supporters say he would have had 8.2 seconds, while others put the time at 8.4 seconds. However, the only way WC supporters can increase the time span is to assume that their lone gunman fired his first shot at around frame 160 of the Zapruder film and that he completely missed both Kennedy and the huge limousine. By any objective standard, this is an extremely farfetched suggestion. At Z160 the sixth-floor gunman would have been firing at the limousine from a distance of less than 140 feet, and from 60 feet up. How could even a mediocre rifleman have possibly missed the entire car from such a distance? One can imagine that the gunman could have completely missed Kennedy: Perhaps he fired at Kennedy's head and just missed the target by a fraction of an inch. But the entire limousine? How? Even the WC admitted it was improbable that its lone gunman would have been so inaccurate on his first and closest shot.

There has never been a rifle test in which marksmen of average or slightly above average ability scored two hits out of three shots against a moving target in less than 6 seconds on the first attempt. As mentioned, even the expert riflemen who took part in the CBS rifle test failed to do so.

A fair, realistic test would be one that used persons recently out of the military who had qualified with about the same scores as Oswald's best Marine rifle score. On Oswald's best day at the range as a Marine, he barely managed to qualify at the level of "Sharpshooter," and this was after weeks of intensive practice and instruction. "Sharpshooter" is the second, or middle, of three qualification levels in the Marines. Many new recruits who have had little or no experience with rifles qualify at this level after a few weeks of practice and training.

It is fair to ask why all of the so-called "Oswald" rifle tests have utilized only highly experienced, expert riflemen. One can't help but suspect that if a realistic "Oswald" rifle test were conducted with shooters who had recently qualified at the middle level of the Marine marksmanship test, not one of them would score two hits out of three shots in 6 seconds, or even in 8 seconds, and probably not even in 10 seconds. I would be willing to wager a large sum of money that even if this test were conducted with hundreds of such shooters, not one of them would score two hits out of three shots in 6 or 8 seconds on his first attempt. I would also wager that not one of them would do so on his second attempt, nor on his third attempt, nor on his fourth attempt. After several tries and a little coaching from an expert, and after having several chances to see how the target car moved and at what points they needed to fire, perhaps a few such shooters could score two hits in 8 seconds. If the firing time were limited to 6 seconds, I don't think any of them would ever score two hits.

2. The case against Oswald in the slaying of Officer J. D. Tippit is ironclad and it proves Oswald was guilty. Why else would he have killed Tippit? Several witnesses identified Oswald as Tippit's killer.

If Oswald had been tried for the murder of Officer Tippit, the eyewitness testimony against him would have been destroyed under competent cross-examination. The Commission's star witness in the case, Helen Markham, markedly contradicted herself and made false statements, not to mention the fact that initially she described the killer in terms that did not resemble Oswald. None of the Commission's other witnesses actually saw the shooting. One of those witnesses initially said he could not positively identify Oswald as the assailant, but then later changed his story after being shot in the head. This same witness gave a description of the killer's jacket that differed from the jacket that Oswald allegedly discarded in the vicinity of the crime scene. (The story surrounding the jacket itself is rather suspicious. For one thing, to this day no one knows who discovered it, and the coat was initially described as being "white," whereas the coat in evidence is clearly gray.) A few other points should be mentioned:

* The witness with the best view of the shooting, Domingo Benavides, at first said he could not identify the killer, and, incredibly, Benavides was not taken to a police lineup. Weeks later, Benavides's brother was shot--in mistake for him, according to Benavides and his father-in-law. When Benavides testified before the Warren Commission, he would only say that a picture of Oswald "bore a resemblance" to Tippit's killer, and he seemed to identify a dark jacket as the one the assailant had worn, whereas the Commission claimed the killer wore a light gray jacket. Only years later did Benavides make a "positive identification" of Oswald as the gunman. When Benavides was contacted a few years ago, he was hesitant to talk about the case, in part because he said he believed federal agents were monitoring his phone conversations.

* Two witnesses to the Tippit slaying described the killer in terms that did not resemble Oswald at all. Police records indicate that even the WC's star witness against Oswald in the Tippit shooting, Helen Markham, originally told police Tippit's killer had bushy hair, whereas Oswald's hair was straight.

* Officer J. M. Poe marked two of the empty shells found at the crime scene with his initials, a standard chain-of-evidence procedure, but none of the shells produced by the FBI and the Dallas police as evidence of Oswald's guilt had Poe's markings on them. WC apologists claim Officer Poe was "mistaken," but Poe initially told the Secret Service he was positive he had marked the shells, and even under tough questioning from the WC, Poe said he believed he had marked the shells. Moreover, one of Poe's superior officers testified he ordered Poe to mark some of the shells.

* A key component of the official story about the Tippit slaying is that "Oswald" was walking away from Tippit's car as Tippit approached him from behind. In other words, Oswald and the car were supposedly moving in the same direction. However, the available evidence strongly indicates the killer was walking toward the car (west). Two credible witnesses at the scene reported this was the case, as did the initial Dallas police and Secret Service reports on the slaying. Only Mrs. Markham belatedly claimed Oswald was walking away from the car as it approached him. This is a crucial point because if the killer was in fact walking toward Tippit, then it could not have been Oswald (unless someone drove Oswald to the scene and then, for some inexplicable reason, Oswald started walking back toward the direction of his rooming house). Henry Hurt explains,

One of the most glaring discrepancies of all is seen in the accounts of the direction in which Tippit's killer was walking just before Tippit stopped. William Scoggins, a cab driver who was an eyewitness, testified that the gunman was walking west toward Tippit's car prior to the shooting. Another witness [Jim Burt] reported similarly. Reports from the Dallas police as well as the first reports of the Secret Service reflect the same impression. Despite the preponderance of evidence that the killer and Tippit's car were moving toward each other, the Warren Report concluded the killer was walking in the opposite direction. The commission version held that Tippit's car overtook the pedestrian killer. (Reasonable Doubt, pp. 149-150, original emphasis)

* The first two reports on the Tippit slaying to go out over the radio said Tippit's killer had used an automatic pistol, not a revolver. The first report originated with Dallas policeman H. W. Summers, who said he had an "eyeball witness to the getaway man" and that the man was "apparently armed with a .32, dark finish, automatic pistol." The second report came from Sergeant Gerald Hill, who was one of the first officers to arrive at the crime scene. After examining a shell found nearby, Hill said the casing indicated the suspect had used an automatic pistol. As anyone familiar with firearms knows, it's very hard to mistake a revolver shell for an automatic shell. There is an obvious difference between the two. I quote leading criminalist and forensic expert Larry Ragle:

If they are discarded at the scene, revolver casings [shells] are readily distinguishable from casings designed for semi and full automatic pistols. The difference is in the base. Revolver rounds have a wider base, a lip, extending out beyond the diameter of the body of the shell casing. This lip keeps the rounds from sliding out the front of the cylinder when their chamber is not aligned with the barrel or frame. (Crime Scene, pp. 156-157)

3. The single-bullet theory (SBT) is highly credible, if not proven fact. It explains how and why the bullet that struck Kennedy at "the base of the neck" exited his throat and went on to strike Governor Connally near his right armpit. In short, the SBT accounts for all of Kennedy and Connally's non-fatal wounds.

According to the WC, one bullet hit Kennedy in the back of the neck, exited his throat, entered Governor Connally's back, caused all of his wounds, and yet emerged from the governor in nearly pristine condition, and was found later at Parkland Hospital. This bullet, known to many as the "magic bullet," is listed as Commission Exhibit (CE) 399.

The SBT is untenable. Even one of the Kennedy autopsy doctors called it "most unlikely." And Dr. Charles Gregory, one of the physicians who treated Governor Connally, said the bullet that hit the Governor "behaved as though it had never struck anything except him." Dr. Robert Shaw, the doctor who operated on Connally's chest, has strongly rejected the SBT. Governor Connally himself insisted he and JFK were hit by separate bullets.

More bullet fragments were removed from Connally's wrist than are missing from CE 399, and at least one fragment remains in his body to this day. Nurse Audrey Bell, the Parkland nurse who assisted with the surgery to the Governor's wrist, insists that far more bullet fragment material was removed from the wrist than is missing from CE 399, and her account is supported by the 11/22/63 Parkland operative record on the wrist surgery. Therefore, the magic bullet could not be the same missile that hit Connally.

WC apologists cite the neutron activation analysis (NAA) conducted by Dr. Vincent Guinn for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Guinn analyzed CE 399 and some alleged fragments from Connally's wrist and from the limousine. He concluded it was "very likely" and "highly probable" they were from the same ammunition. However, given the fragments Guinn tested, as well as those he did not test, not to mention the serious questions concerning CE 399's origin, it is impossible for his NAA to support the magic-bullet theory or the lone-gunman scenario.

When Guinn began his analysis, he found that a can which had contained fragments that had apparently struck the limousine's windshield was empty, so he could not test them. The fragments from Connally's wrist that were tested in 1964 were (and still are) missing and thus were not analyzed either. Of the fragment specimens that were available to Guinn, one of them, CE 569, could not be tested because it was only the copper bullet jacket with no lead inside. In addition, Guinn later conceded that none of the wrist fragments available for his test weighed the same as those listed as evidence by the WC, and that he did not test the same samples that were tested by the FBI in 1964. Also, critics have found discrepancies in Guinn's test results. Some researchers argue that Guinn's NAA results contradict Guinn's summary of them, namely, that his results do not prove that the tested bullet material came from the same kind of ammunition. Moreover, no one can be sure that any of the samples that were alleged to have come from the limousine really came from the limousine, since the FBI didn't attempt to establish a chain of possession for the supposed limousine fragments until weeks after the assassination.  In addition, recent scientific research casts further doubt on Guinn’s NAA claims:

In a collision of 21st-century science and decades-old conspiracy theories, a research team that includes a former top FBI scientist is challenging the bullet analysis used by the government to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot the two bullets that struck and killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The "evidence used to rule out a second assassin is fundamentally flawed," concludes a new article in the Annals of Applied Statistics written by former FBI lab metallurgist William A. Tobin and Texas A&M University researchers Cliff Spiegelman and William D. James. . . .

Tobin, Spiegelman and James said they bought the same brand and lot of bullets used by Oswald and analyzed their lead using the new standards. The bullets from that batch are still on the market as collectors' items.

They found that the scientific and statistical assumptions Guinn used -- and the government accepted at the time -- to conclude that the fragments came from just two bullets fired from Oswald's gun were wrong.

"This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets," the researchers said. "If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely," the researchers said. If the five fragments came from three or more bullets, that would mean a second gunman's bullet would have had to strike the president, the researchers explained. (“Scientists Cast Doubt on Kennedy Bullet Analysis,” The Washington Post, May 17, 2007; see also http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070517142528.htm; and Gary Aguilar, “Is Vincent Bugliosi Right that Neutron Activation Analysis Proves Oswald’s Guilt?”)

Another major problem with the magic-bullet theory is that Kennedy and Connally were not in the proper alignment for the magic bullet to have caused all of the governor's wounds. According to WC apologists, however, some experts have proven that a line drawn "through Connally and Kennedy's wounds leads right back, straight as an arrow" to the sixth-floor window." This alleged straight line is based on downright fanciful speculation, and it is contrary to eyewitness testimony and to the photographic evidence. The author of the HSCA's trajectory study admitted he could not get the "straight line" to match up when JFK's back wound was considered. He also admitted that the margin of error in his analysis of the head shot was so great it could allow for a shot from the Dal-Tex Building and even from the County Records Building.

Dr. David Mantik's recent research at the National Archives definitely appears to refute the SBT once and for all. Dr. Mantik, a physicist and radiologist, was permitted to examine the original x-rays at the National Archives, along with the autopsy photographs. I quote from Harrison Livingstone's book Killing Kennedy and the Hoax Of The Century:  

Mantik measured the width of the spine directly on the X-ray. He estimated the front-to-back distance of the body as 14 cm (typical for males of this size) and the distance of the back wound from the midline (4.5 cm to 5.0 cm) was given by the HSCA. He measured distances on the photographs as well. The wound seen in the front of the throat at Parkland was placed at the midline. [Quoting Dr. Mantik] "When I placed these measurements onto a cross section of the body at the seventh cervical vertebra and then connected the bullet entry and exit sites by a straight line, I immediately saw that the 'magic' bullet had to go right through the spine. This path would have caused major damage to the spine and would have been very obvious on the chest X-ray. In fact, there is no major trauma like this anywhere in the spine.

[Still quoting Dr. Mantik] "Because of the impenetrable vertical barrier produced by the transverse process up and down the entire cervical spine and because of the total width of the cervical spine, there is no place for the bullet to pass through anywhere in the neck and still exit through the midline of the throat. If, instead, the upper chest (thoracic spine) is considered as a possible bullet trajectory site, then another problem arises. The bullet would have had to go right through the lung. But no lung damage of this type was seen by the pathologists and none is seen on the X-rays either. This 'magic' bullet simply cannot enter through the back wound and then exit through the throat wound without hitting the spine--or else causing major lung trauma!

"It is odd that this rather simple construction with exact measurements has never been done before. its very simplicity, however, provides direct evidence that the object which entered the back could not have exited at the front of the throat. This throat wound, which looked like an entrance wound to the Parkland physicians when they first described it [original emphasis], may indeed have been an entrance wound." (emphasis added)

Dr. Mantik's discovery confirms the conclusions of the late Dr. John Nichols, who was a professor of pathology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Although Dr. Nichols was not permitted to study the autopsy x-rays and photos, he deduced from the trajectories involved and from his knowledge of human anatomy that no bullet could have gone from the back wound to the throat wound without smashing into one of the transverse processes of the spine. Said Dr. Nichols,

Figure 6 is the view through Oswald's telescopic sight at Frame 222, showing the depressed angle of 20.23 degrees prevailing at the first shot as measured in the FBI reenactment. I have both measured and calculated the lateral angle at this frame to be 9.21 degrees. Elementary anatomy indicated that the minimum lateral angle for the bullet to miss the transverse processes and emerge in the midline [of the throat] is 28 degrees; this is obviously impossible from Oswald's alleged firing position.

Yet another problem with the SBT is the location of the wound in President Kennedy's back. Lone-gunman theorists claim there was an entrance wound in the back of President Kennedy's neck, on the lower right-hand side. They do so in order to account for his throat wound. They say the bullet that allegedly hit the back of Kennedy's neck exited his throat.  

However, the back wound was actually located about five and a half inches down in the back, near the third thoracic vertebra. WC apologists strenuously deny this, but it is confirmed by President Kennedy's death certificate, by an original autopsy face sheet (marked "verified" by JFK's personal physician), by the transcript of the 1/27/64 WC executive session, by an FBI report on the autopsy, by the holes in the President's shirt and coat, by former Parkland nurse Diana Bowron, and by four medical professionals who attended the autopsy. Moreover, recently released HSCA documents have provided further corroboration for the back wound's low location. Three federal agents who saw the back wound drew diagrams of it for HSCA investigators. Those diagrams have now been released, and they show that each agent placed the back wound well below the neck (and visibly below the throat wound).

It's worth remembering that for years the back wound was claimed to be above the throat wound. Then, the HSCA reinvestigated the case and turned up evidence that the wound was in fact below the throat wound, and, moreover, that the bullet must have had a slightly upward trajectory in order to have exited the throat! WC apologists accept the HSCA's location for the wound but claim that Kennedy was leaning so far forward that the bullet was able to cause the throat wound and then strike Governor Connally, yet no photo or footage of the assassination shows Kennedy leaning that far forward. If the wound's location at the third thoracic vertebra is acknowledged, then the SBT is invalid no matter how far forward one wants to assume Kennedy was leaning. Even the HSCA's location for the back wound poses severe problems for the SBT.

4. A highly credible witness saw Oswald firing from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building (TSBD) during the shooting and later identified him in a police lineup.

This witness's name was Howard Brennan, who at best gave problematic testimony. In fact, Brennan failed to make a positive identification of Oswald in a police lineup on November 22, even though he had seen Oswald's picture on TV beforehand. Only after weeks of "questioning" by federal agents did Brennan positively identify Oswald. Moreover, Brennan insisted that the man he saw in the window was wearing a light-colored regular shirt or jacket, while Oswald wore a brownish shirt to work that day (see also below). Brennan's boss believed that the federal agents who "interviewed" Brennan "made him say what they wanted him to say." The boss added that after Brennan was repeatedly interviewed by the agents for weeks, Brennan "came back a nervous wreck." The House Select Committee apparently found Brennan's testimony to be so flawed that it did not even bother to interview him, even though he was still alive.

There are some serious problems with any attempt to put Oswald on the TSBD's sixth floor during the shooting, much less to identify him as the man who was seen firing a rifle from the sixth-floor window:

* Oswald wore a long-sleeved brownish button-down shirt to work on the day of the assassination. Yet, the five witnesses who saw a gunman firing from the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository stated that the man was wearing a light-colored shirt.

WC defenders have suggested that Oswald had removed his brownish shirt and was wearing his T-shirt during the shooting. However, four of the five witnesses reported that the upper-body garment worn by the gunman had a collar (the fifth witness said it was either a regular shirt, i.e., a shirt with a collar, or a T-shirt).

* The rifle that Oswald supposedly used had a scope on it. But, the Commission's star witness, Howard Brennan, said he saw about three-fourths of the rifle and that he saw no scope. Yet, if the rifle had been the Carcano in question, the scope would have been visible to Brennan. Brennan, it should be pointed out, was farsighted. His vision for anything at a distance was "extraordinary" (Gerald Posner, Case Closed, p. 250). However, again, Brennan, though he could see three-fourths of the rifle, saw no scope. (Interestingly, another witness who saw a rifle in the sixth-floor window before the shooting likewise said the rifle had no scope on it. Yet, the alleged murder weapon had a scope on it when it was found under a stack of boxes on the Book Depository's sixth floor.)

* Two witnesses who were watching the motorcade from the window beneath the sniper's nest said they heard shells hit the floor above them during the shooting, and that they even heard a rifle bolt being worked. However, they said they heard no movement in the nest after the shots were fired.

* One credible witness, Lillian Mooneyham, a law clerk working in a nearby building, told the FBI that she saw a man standing a few feet back from the sixth-floor window four to five minutes after the shooting. The HSCA photographic panel concluded that photographs taken of the sixth-floor window showed a rearranging of boxes within two minutes of the assassination. Who was the man seen by Mrs. Mooneyham? Who was rearranging the boxes in the window? Whoever it was, it could not have been Oswald.

* Oswald was seen in the second-floor lunchroom no more than 90 seconds after the shots were fired. The evidence indicates that Oswald could not have made it from the sixth-floor window to the lunchroom in this amount of time. In the WC's reenactments, the Oswald stand-in, walking at a brisk pace, could only get to the lunchroom by skipping and fudging on several of Oswald's alleged actions. Similarly, the man who spotted Oswald in the lunchroom, Patrolman Marrion Baker, in "reenacting" his 11/22/63 movements, made it to the lunchroom in only 75 seconds, even though he moved considerably slower than he did on the day of the shooting, indicating that he saw Oswald in the lunchroom as early as 60-70 seconds after the shots were fired.

* While giving his final sworn statement, Patrolman Baker initially said that when he spotted Oswald, Oswald was standing in the lunchroom with a Coke in his hand. Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry told reporters on 11/23/63 that when Oswald was seen in the lunchroom, he had a Coke in his hand. As late as ten days after the shooting, major press releases were still mentioning the detail that Oswald was holding a Coke when first spotted in the lunchroom. Oswald himself told the police that he was standing by the soda machine in the lunchroom holding a Coke when Baker confronted him. The importance of this detail can't be overemphasized, for it constitutes further evidence that Oswald was not on the sixth floor during the shooting. The WC had a hard enough time in its reenactments just trying to get the Oswald stand-in down to the lunchroom in time to be spotted by Baker without factoring in the Coke-buying. That is, the Commission had to assume that Oswald bought the Coke after he was seen by Baker.

* When Baker approached Oswald in the lunchroom, he noticed that Oswald was perfectly calm and relaxed, not out of breath at all. This does not sound like the description of a man who had just shot the President of the United States and who had then made it from the sixth-floor window down to the lunchroom in 60-90 seconds. Similarly, when Oswald took a taxi back to his boarding house, he was, according to the cab driver, perfectly calm. Indeed, the cab driver reported that Oswald even offered his cab to an elderly lady.

* According to the WC, Oswald walked through the second-floor foyer door leading to the lunchroom just "a second or two" before Baker allegedly spotted "movement" through the foyer door's window (Warren Commission Report, p. 151). However, the Commission never explained how Oswald could have done this without being seen by Roy Truly, who was running ahead of Baker. Furthermore, Baker himself said that the foyer door was shut or nearly shut when he spotted the unspecified "movement." This is important because that door had an automatic closer. In order for the door to be shut or almost shut when Baker supposedly discerned "movement," Oswald would have had to go through it a good three to four seconds beforehand. But, if Oswald did so, (1) he would not have been visible to Baker through the window by the time the door was shut or nearly shut, and (2) he would have been easily spotted by Truly, who, again, was running ahead of Baker.

If one wants to allow a second or two from the time Baker reached the top of the stairs and the time he spotted "movement," that only makes things worse for the WC's scenario. Supposedly, Oswald was a fleeing assassin. Assuming that he came down the stairs in an effort to escape, he naturally would have wanted to get away from the stairwell as fast as possible so that no one would suspect he had just come down the stairs. Yet, if one theorizes that Baker didn't spot "movement" until a second or two after he, Baker, reached the top of the stairs, and that Oswald went through the foyer door early enough not to be seen by Truly, then it becomes even harder to understand (1) how the foyer door would not have been completely shut by that time, and (2) how Baker could have seen any "movement" at all since Oswald would have been well out of his sight by then.

5. Governor Connally's right shoulder really does not dramatically drop in frames 237-238 of the Zapruder film. This is just an optical illusion created by the movement of Jackie Kennedy's hand.

Nearly all WC apologists make this claim. They do so because their theories of the shooting cannot allow for Connally being struck by a missile after Z224. Only a tiny handful of lone-gunman theorists believe Connally was hit after Z224. The vast majority of them now accept Gerald Posner's new version of the SBT, which says the alleged magic-bullet strike occurred at Z223-224. But, is the dramatic shoulder drop just an optical illusion? No, it isn't.

Professor Josiah Thompson, in an analysis of the Zapruder film in his watershed book Six Seconds In Dallas, determined Connally was struck at right around frame 236, and the dramatic shoulder drop was a major reason for this conclusion:

. . . Yet the clearest indication of the impact of a bullet is the sudden collapse of the Governor's shoulder. (pp. 71, 74) 

A few researchers, however, have claimed that the shoulder drop is an optical illusion caused by the rapid movement of Mrs. Kennedy's hand, but Thompson's precise measurements indicate that the shoulder does in fact drop. He provides a graph charting the slope of Connally's shoulder in relation to the top of the limousine's door, from frames 230 to 240. Concerning these measurements, he says the following:

This shoulder collapse can be seen quite readily by comparing the slope of the Governor's shoulder against some relatively constant line-- such as the top of the car door. When we do this we find that the slope steepens dramatically at Z238 by some 20 degrees, and remains steep through successive frames. (Six Seconds In Dallas, p. 74)

The dramatic shoulder drop, which occurs in 1/18th of a second, has been noted by everyone from Jim Moore to Howard Donahue to Richard Trask to Robert Groden, among many others. Moore has this to say about the shoulder drop:

The problem Dr. Lattimer, the Warren Commission and the HSCA investigators share is the sudden drop of Connally's right shoulder at frames 237-238. Portions of the human frame don't suddenly drop 20 degrees without some significant outside force acting upon them. And, when you consider that this shoulder drop took place within an eighteenth of a second, that outside force must have been very significant indeed. Impact on the Governor's back, then, most likely took place at Zapruder frame 237. Interestingly enough, Connally's doctors also reviewed the Zapruder film and placed the moment of impact at about frame 236. (Conspiracy of One, pp. 168-169)

It's interesting to note that the team of photographic interpreters who provided the expert analysis for LIFE magazine's famous 1966 article on the assassination also noted the shoulder drop. Significantly, the team concluded the drop was caused "by the impact of the bullet" ("A Matter of Reasonable Doubt," Life, November 1966, p. 47; cf. pp. 42-44). Governor Connally himself placed the moment of impact at Z234, and he said he was certain he was not hit prior to Z231. His doctors studied the Zapruder film and placed the hit on Connally at around Z236.

Governor Connally and his wife both described the bullet's impact in terms that seem to corroborate the shoulder drop. For example, Mrs. Connally said that her husband "lunged forward" as a result of the bullet's impact (1 HSCA 52). The Governor said the bullet's impact felt like someone had hit him with a sharp blow and that it made him "pitch forward" (1 HSCA 46, 53; see also 1 HSCA 42). He told the WC that the missile's impact felt as though someone had doubled up his fist and struck him hard just below his right shoulder (4 H 144; Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas, p. 74). In addition, when interviewed for the 1993 CBS documentary Who Shot JFK? The Final Chapter, Connally said the shot knocked him forward.

Raymond Marcus points out another way to track the shoulder drop, and that is by making the simple observation that in Z238 Jackie's red roses are suddenly more visible than in Z236-237. This has nothing to do with the location or movement of Jackie's hand. In Z236 you can see where her hand is, and you can faintly see a small part of the roses beneath it. It is important to note that there is a space between her hand and the roses. In Z237 her hand has risen ever so slightly, but the roses are still only barely visible, which is to be expected since there was already a space between her hand and the roses anyway in Z236 and earlier. But, in Z238 the roses are suddenly more visible. Why? Because Connally's right shoulder has been driven downward in the fraction of a second between frames 237 and 238. Large portions of the human frame don't drop nearly 20 degrees in 1/18th of a second without being acted upon by a significant external force.

Given recently developed evidence that the Zapruder film has been significantly edited, we cannot be certain that the shoulder drop occurred at the same time in the original film as it does in the current film. It might have occurred later in the film. At this point we can't be certain. One of the early federal reenactments placed a shot at about Z275, and there is a pronounced jiggle episode at just before Z290, which indicates Zapruder's reaction to the sound of a shot fired a split-second earlier (which equates to about Z275). The principal point here, though, is that the shoulder drop establishes that Connally was wounded well after Kennedy was wounded, and that therefore the men were struck by two separate missiles, just as Connally himself insisted.

The HSCA's photographic evidence panel concluded Kennedy was hit at around Z188, and that this shot was fired at about Z186. There is strong evidence for this conclusion. In Z188 the President's cheeks are seen to puff. At around Z195 Kennedy's right hand appears to freeze. By Z206 he is clearly starting to bring it down to the level of his chest or throat. Phil Willis said he snapped Willis slide 5 because he was startled by the sound of a shot, and slide 5 was taken at around Z200. At Z195, SA George Hickey begins to turn his head to the right. At Z207, Howard Brennan suddenly looks to his right. By Z202-204, Mrs. Kennedy has made a sudden sharp turn to the right, toward her husband. All of these reactions occur .5 to 1.3 seconds after Z186. There is also a pronounced jiggle episode in the Zapruder film between Z189 and Z197, providing yet another indication that a shot was fired in the mid-Z180s. A key indicator that JFK was certainly hit before Z223 is that when Mrs. Kennedy reemerges into view from behind the road sign at Z223, she is looking intently at JFK, so obviously he had begun to visibly react well before Z223.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed an Advanced Hebrew program at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.  He is also the author of a book on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996).