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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 15: Medical Evidence Part 3 (Single Bullet Theory Part 3)

Updated: Apr 23

So far, we’ve talked about the president’s throat wound, and back – or back of the neck wound, depending on your JFK worldview, the Warren Report’s position on those wounds, and the Sibert and O’Neill report. We began exploring the chain of custody of Commission Exhibit 399 – the so called magic bullet itself - in the last episode. Today, we’ll continue reviewing the single bullet theory by looking at more details about this mysterious artifact.


One more thing on this bullet - CE 399 - there is a document known as Commission Exhibit 2011, which is a response from the FBI to questions from the Warren Commission about various items of physical evidence.[1] The report says on page 2 that FBI Agent Bardwell Odum questioned both Tomlinson – the guy who found the bullet, and Wright – the Hospital security chief on June 12, 1964.

We talked earlier about a discrepancy between what O.P. Wright told Josiah Thompson and what CE 2011 attributes to Wright. According to CE 2011, Wright couldn’t identify the specific bullet, but he said CE 399 looked like the one he found. Yet, he told Thompson that the one he found was completely different and was pointed, not round like CE 399. After searching the underlying records at the National Archives that would support the FBI memo – CE 2011, Thompson and his fellow researcher, Dr. Gary Aguilar couldn’t find any documents from Agent Odum, or anything else to support the idea that Tomlinson and Wright had said CE 399 looks like the bullet they saw.[2]

So, Dr. Aguilar personally reached out to Agent Odum to see if he could shed some light on the discrepancy since he was the one who interviewed Wright according to the FBI’s Report.[3] When he spoke to Odum to ask him about it, Odum said QUOTE “I didn’t show it – CE 399 – to anybody at Parkland. I didn’t have any bullet. I don’t know where you got that from, but it is wrong.” Odum then confirmed that Dr. Aguilar was asking about the bullet they found at Parkland. Then Odum said QUOTE “I don’t think I ever saw it even.”[4]

To recap, the FBI told the Warren Commission that Agent Odum interviewed the first two people to find the so-called magic bullet and they both said bullet looked basically like what they saw, but they didn’t know for sure. But, Odum, when asked in 2002 by researchers, said that he never showed a bullet to anyone at Parkland and didn’t even see CE 399. Sure, he was 82 years old at the time, but why would he lie about that? And remember, there are no original documents that support Agent Odum interviewing Tomlinson and Wright. So, his story is consistent with all of the documents except for the summary document – CE 2011.

Odum’s incredible claim appears to be further supported by a declassified FBI airtel memo from the FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge, Gordon Shanklin to J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. The memo written on June 20, 1964 says QUOTE “neither Darrel Tomlinson, who found the bullet at Parkland Hospital, nor O.P. Wright [the Personnel Officer] who obtained the bullet from Tomlinson and gave to Secret Service … can identify [the] bullet.” Notably, this airtel is 8 days after Odum would have obtained the identification of the bullet from Tomlinson and Wright according to CE 2011.[5]

Thigh Bullet v. Wrist Fragments

If CE 399 was in fact found on Governor Connally’s stretcher at what point did it come out of his thigh? We have a clue to this question from a Parkland Hospital press conference. After operating on Connally, Dr. Robert Shaw said that he had not yet taken the bullet out of Connally’s leg, and that it was still in his left thigh and would be taken out before he went to the recovery room.[6] Here is Dr. Shaw at that press conference on the day of the assassination:

“The bullet is in the leg. It hasn’t been removed. This is a very insignificant factor though. It will be removed. Left thigh. But, there is no significant injury to the left thigh. Before he goes to the recovery room” (asked when will it be removed?)[7]

The issue with this timeline is that Tomlinson found the stretcher bullet at 1pm, but the press conference was later in the afternoon.[8] If the bullet was still in Connally’s thigh after the first surgery, per the testimony of Dr. Shaw, then the bullet on the stretcher could not be the one that came from Connally’s thigh.

Now, I could not confirm the time of Dr. Shaw’s press conference. So, I took a look at the original medical reports from Parkland Hospital. The Operative Report on Governor Connally says that the operation on his back and ribs began at 1:35pm and ended at 3:20pm.[9] The medical report notes in the last sentence, “As soon as the operation on the chest had been concluded, Dr. Gregory and Dr. Shires started the surgery that was necessary for the wounds of the right wrist and left thigh.”[10]

Next, I looked at the medical report filed by Dr. Shires which describes the treatment of Connally’s thigh wound. It says that x-rays revealed that a bullet fragment was embedded in the femur.[11] There is no mention of a bullet being found at any time. The surgery was from 4pm to 4:20pm. So, according to the official medical records from Parkland, there was never a bullet found from Connally’s thigh.

Now, according to Connally in his autobiography, a bullet fell out of his thigh and was picked up by a nurse.[12] Connally says:

"..the most curious discovery of all took place when they rolled me off the stretcher, and onto the examining table. A metal object fell to the floor, with a click no louder than a wedding band. The nurse picked it up and slipped it into her pocket. It was the bullet from my body, the one that passed though my back, chest and wrist and worked itself loose from my thigh.[13]

Governor Connally’s description of how the bullet in his thigh was found is in direct conflict with the Warren Report’s description of how CE 399 was found. This appears to be a different bullet because it has an entirely different chain of custody. Here, in the granular details, is where it gets really interesting.

According to the Warren Report, and as we have seen confirmed in Dr. Shires medical report, after Governor Connally’s surgeries were concluded, “a small metallic fragment remained in the Governor’s leg.”[14] Other than CE 399, the only bullets or fragments that were recovered from Connally are in Commission Exhibit 842, which contains the bullet fragments that came from Governor Connally’s wrist.[15]

The official story, as told by CE 842, is that Nurse Audrey Bell gave Dallas Police Officer Bobby Nolan metal fragments from Connally’s wrist. But, according to Nurse Bell and Officer Nolan, that’s not exactly what happened.

Officer Nolan, in an interview with researcher Robert Harris, says that while he was in the hospital an unknown nurse came up to him because he was in uniform and gave him what she described as “a bullet that came off of Governor Connally’s gurney.”[16] Nolan says the item was in a sealed little brown envelope and that he did not check for himself to see if it was a bullet or fragments. Officer Nolan brought the envelope to the Dallas Police Headquarters and gave it to Captain Will Fritz.[17] He was interviewed by the FBI the next day and in that interview confirmed that the bullet came from Connally’s left thigh.[18]

The idea that Officer Nolan had a bullet from Governor Connally’s thigh is also supported by an interview with Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade in the Dallas Morning News. Wade said,

I also went out to see (Gov. John) Connally, but he was in the operating room. Some nurse had a bullet in her hand, and said this was on the gurney that Connally was on. I talked with Nellie Connally a while and then went on home.

When Connally was asked “What did you do with the bullet? Is this the famous pristine bullet people have talked about?

A: I told her to give it to the police, which she said she would. I assume that's the pristine bullet.[19]

But according to Nurse Audrey Bell’s sworn testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board, she processed four bullet fragments from Connally’s wrist – not thigh - and gave the fragments to plain clothes federal agents who were either FBI or secret service.[20] Nurse Bell says she never had possession of a bullet from Governor Connally’s thigh or even fragments from his thigh. Her sole involvement was with processing bullet fragments from Connally’s wrist.

The statements from Nurse Bell to the ARRB and Officer Nolan to the FBI tend to support the idea that the two of them never interacted on the day of the assassination [doubled]. Instead, critics argue, the Warren Commission made it sound like Nurse Bell was giving bullet fragments from Connally’s wrist to Nolan, when in reality an unknown nurse gave Officer Nolan an envelope with a full bullet in it from Connally’s thigh. Then, that full bullet was lost and a narrative was constructed that Nurse Bell had actually given Officer Nolan the wrist fragments.

Warren Report defenders point out that Officer Nolan’s initials are on the wrist fragment envelope sheet for CE 842 and someone would have had to forge Officer Nolan’s initials. That’s exactly what conspiracy theorists believe happened. They argue that forging initials would not be very hard to do.

According to Vincent Bugliosi, the Chain of custody is a “giant non-issue.” Bugliosi says that “Since we know that the bullet was fired from Oswald’s Carcano rifle, and wasn’t found on Kennedy’s stretcher, it had to be found on Connally’s stretcher.”[21] Sure, that’s true, but only assuming everything else that the Warren Report alleges is true. Bugliosi says that we know CE 399 is the bullet that did the damage because we know that Oswald did it.

Yeah, but what if he didn’t? Or what if he did, but there was also another shooter?

Bullet Fragment/Weight/Condition Issues for CE 399

Another hot topic with CE 399 is the weight of the bullet. We know the weight of the bullet before it is fired by weighing other similar Carcano ammo, and we know the weight of CE 399. Parkland doctors found bullet fragments inside of Connally’s body. Warren Report critics argue that the total weight of those fragments plus the weight of CE 399 is more than the weight of a Carcano bullet.

The Warren Report says, QUOTE “All the evidence indicated that the bullet found on the Governor’s stretcher could havecaused all his wounds. …An X Ray of the Governor’s wrist showed very minute metallic fragments, and two or three of these fragments were removed from his wrist. All these fragments were sufficiently small and light so that nearly the whole bullet found on the stretcher could have deposited those pieces of metal as it tumbled through his wrist.”[22]

So there you have it from the Warren Report – there was only a tiny amount of fragments found in Connally’s wrist, such that CE 399 could have caused the wounds [doubled]. To reach this conclusion, the Warren Report fairly summarizes the statements of Dr. Shaw, Dr. Gregory, and Dr. George Shires from their March 1964 depositions.[23] However, the Warren Report conclusions about whether CE 399 could have been the magic bullet are not consistent with what Dr. Shaw and Dr. Gregory said the second time before the commission in April 1964. At that time, the doctors were able to view the Zapruder film, CE 399 itself, and other physical evidence they had never seen before.

In his April testimony, Dr. Shaw said “Examination of the wrist both by X ray and at the time of surgery showed some fragments of metal that make it difficult to believe that the same missile could have caused these two wounds. There seems to be more than three grains of metal in the wrist….I feel that there would be some difficulty explaining all of the wounds as being inflicted by bullet Exhibit 399 without causing more in the way of loss of substance to the bullet or deformation of the bullet.[24] Dr. Gregory similarly gave testimony that doubted the plausibility of the single bullet theory.[25]

Two autopsy surgeons also opined on the topic of whether CE 399 could have been the magic bullet. Dr. Humes said that it was “most unlikely” that CE 399 caused the injuries. “This missile is basically in tact. Its jacket appears to me to be intact and I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in the Governor’s wrist.”[26] Regarding whether CE 399 was the bullet that came from Connally’s thigh, Dr. Humes said, “I think that extremely unlikely because reports from Parkland tell of . . . X rays taken there described as showing metallic fragments in the bone, which apparently by this report were not removed and are still present in Governor Connally’s thigh.”[27] Dr. Finck, in his April testimony, noted that “the bullet which inflicted the wound on Governor Connally’s right wrist could not have been CE 399 because there are too many fragments described in that wrist.”[28]

According to the Warren Report, the weight of CE 399 is 158.6 grains. The weight of a single unfired Carcano bullet is 160.84 grains on average, with a range of 159.8 to 161.5. The bullet fragments from Governor Connally’s wrist weighed 2 grains.[29] Thus, if you add the 2 grains from the wrist to the 158.6 grains from CE 399, you have 160.6 grains. This is within the average range of a Carcano bullet.

The continuing controversy about the weight of CE 399 relates to the mysterious thigh fragment. The argument is that since there is a bullet fragment that is still in Governor Connally’s femur, you can assume that - at a minimum - the femur fragment would make the weight of the bullet too heavy to be plausible. After Governor Connally died there was an unsuccessful attempt to plead with then-Attorney General Janet Reno for any remaining bullet fragments to be removed from Connally’s thigh so that they could be weighed and compared to CE 399.[30] That request was not granted.

But if more than 1 grain remained in Governor Conally’s thigh, CE 399 plus the grains associated with it, becomes too heavy to be the same Carcano bullet.

The Pristine Bullet v Firing Tests

Finally, we can’t talk about CE 399 without discussing its condition. It has been described as a “pristine bullet.” But, it’s not exactly pristine. If you look at the bullet from the bottom, you can tell that it’s deformed.[31] The question is whether it was as deformed as you would expect it to be after going through one person and then hitting a rib and a wrist bone in another person.

Luckily for us, there were tests done to determine what the bullet would look like after being shot so that we can compare CE 399 to other rounds of the same type of ammo. Army Wound Ballistics expert Dr. Alfred Olivier tested 260 rounds of the same type of Ammo that Oswald allegedly used from the same Carcano rifle that was found in the Schoolbook Depository. In total, we have 4 bullets in the record from these tests. We can compare those bullets to CE 399.

The first bullet of the FBI ballistics tests is CE 856, which was fired into a human cadaver wrist and had its nose completely flattened. There is also CE 853, which is more deformed than CE 399, but we do not know what it was shot at. Finally, the FBI fired the two bullets in evidence as CE 572 as additional comparison bullets. These two bullets closely resemble CE 399. Researchers have speculated that the FBI fired the bullets into cotton bales to avoid fragmentation, but we do not know what these two bullets were actually fired at.[32] The Warren Report did not disclose that information.

When the HSCA reopened the case, they put all four available test bullets next to CE 399 so that they could more easily be compared.[33] You can take a look at the differences for yourself. The two bullets that are closest to CE 399 are the ones from CE 572 that the FBI fired (into what, we don’t know). You can see CE 856 on the end. It is the one bullet that we know with certainty was fired into a human wrist. If a bullet is flattened by hitting a human wrist, wouldn’t it be in even worse shape if it hit ribs and then a wrist.

Add to all of this that CE 842 shows the size of the fragments that came from Connally’s wrist. And those fragments are just too big to have come from CE 399. There are also additional fragments that remained in his body. It’s hard to believe that fragments of the size that came out of Connally’s wrist could have come from CE 399.[34] And if you think they did, where exactly on CE 399 do you think the grains came from?

One last thing about the condition of CE 399: when you look at the pictures of it, you’ll see that there is a small dent that is noticeable at the tip of the bullet. Second only to the mild deformation in the bottom of the bullet, the most noticeable defect in the bullet to me is this dent. We learn from the testimony of FBI firearms expert Robert Frazier that QUOTE “On the nose [of the bullet] is a small dent or scraped area. At this area, the spectrographic examiner removed a small quantity of metal for analysis.”[35] So, that little dent wasn’t a defect in the bullet from hitting something – it was a place where a piece of the bullet was removed to be analyzed at the lab.

Sure, that bullet was fired. It’s not completely pristine, but it’s hard to believe that this particular bullet CE 399 would have only that damage at the bottom of the bullet based on everything we heard today. But there is much more to discuss.

Next time on Solving JFK: We’ll look at the evidence related to President Kennedy’s fatal head wound. Did that shot come from the back or from the front?

[1] CE 2011, at 1 - [2] Josiah Thompson and Dr. Gary Aguilar, The Magic Bullet: Even More Magical Than We Knew, [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] See James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland at 67. [7] , at 3:50 [8] [9], at 531 [10], at 532 [11] , at 535 [12] DiEugenio at 67. [13] Governor Connally, In History’s Shadow, See also [14] Warren Report at 56. [15], CE 842 [16] [17] [18] DiEugenio at 67. [19] [20], see also ARRB MD 184 [21] Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, End Notes, p 431 [22] Warren Report at 95. [23] 6H 83-112 [24] 4H 113-114 [25] [26] 2H 374-375 [27] 2H 376 [28] 2H 382 [29] [30] [31] [32] See Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After The Fact, p 172-73. [33] HSCA F-294 - [34] [35] Frazier Warren Commission Testimony at 428,

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