Saturday, December 21, 2019

Understanding Wound Ballistics in the JFK Assassination: Lucien C. Haag’s Look at the Unique Properties of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Bullets


The December issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology (Vol. 40, No. 4, pp.336-346) features an important article by respected firearms examiner and author Lucien C. “Luke” Haag that explores the unique characteristics of the ammunition used by Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK assassination and offers a clearer understanding of the ballistic principles that resulted in the president’s death.

Haag, a former Criminalist and Technical Director of the Phoenix Crime Laboratory, with over 50-years of experience in the field of criminalistics and forensic firearms examination, and author of over 200 scientific papers dealing with the effects and behavior of projectiles, brings his first-hand knowledge and testing to bear on questions surrounding the single-bullet theory and Kennedy’s fatal head wound.

The eleven-page article explains in detail why doctors and forensic examiners at the time were not in a position to understand the unique characteristics of the wound produced by the Model 91/38 Carcano rifle and the WCC 6.5mm ammunition used by Oswald – a rather uncommon weapon in 1963.

Bullet design considerations

While the general shape and design of the 6.5mm Carcano bullet are not unique; the 6.5 x 52-mm Carcano cartridge is unique to the Carcano rifle; no other firearm is chambered for this cartridge.

While many other rifle cartridges evolved by the time of the First World War to contain a bullet of spitzer design (pointed-nose shape), the Carcano cartridge retained its original 1891 design, which included a blunt, rounded-nosed bullet, to the end of World War II.

The two bullet designs produced radically different wound ballistic characteristics; Haag tells us. Doctors and forensic ballistic experts were more familiar with wounds produced by the modern pointed-nosed bullet; and far less familiar with those produced by these long, round-nosed projectiles. This led to misstatements of fact by doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and confusion at the autopsy in Bethesda, Maryland.

Haag had two Model 91/38 Carcano rifles at his disposal to conduct firing tests and a quantity of the now-rare Winchester 6.5 Carcano ammunition.

Using a Infinition Doppler radar system, not available in 1963, to determine the G1 ballistic coefficient of the WCC bullets, Haag determined that the WCC bullets would have had a velocity of 1,967 ft/s (600 m/s) at 70 yards – the distance at which President Kennedy and Governor Connally were struck by a single-bullet – and 1,914 ft/s (583 m/s) at 90 yards – the distance at which the president was struck by the fatal head shot.

Wound ballistic characteristics

Haag reports that there is a common expectation that exit wound from high-velocity rifle bullets are larger than the entrance wounds. However, in the case of the WCC 6.5mm Carcano bullets, this is simply not true. Haag found in firing test after firing test that the WCC bullet was extremely stable at it penetrated soft tissue, producing entry and exit wounds that were nearly indistinguishable.

Snapshots of WCC rounds fired through ballistic gelatin and ballistic soap (simulating soft tissue) show the long, heavy cylindrical bullet remains intact and nose-forward during penetration.

By comparison, Haag found that spitzer (pointed) bullet designs began yawing almost immediately (after about 4 inches (10 cm) of penetration) upon entering a block of ballistic soap and undergoes deflection form its original flight path.

Of particular significance, especially in the case of the Kennedy assassination, the WCC bullet lost very little velocity during the perforation process, especially compared with spitzer (pointed) military rifle bullets.

Tracking numerous test firings with the Infinition Doppler radar system, Haag demonstrates that the velocity loss experienced by the WCC Carcano bullets, after perforating a 6-inch long block of ballistic soap (simulating the soft tissues of President Kennedy’s neck) ranged from 150 to 180 ft/s. That means that the WCC bullet exiting the president’s throat would have a residual velocity of approximately 1,800 ft/s – more than enough to perforate anything in the car, including steel.

Even more significant is the fact that Haag’s Doppler radar plots also showed that these bullets always entered a yawing motion after exiting the soft tissue simulants.

“This fact coincides with the yawed entry wound in Governor Connally’s back,” Haag writes.

Haag also discusses the bullet wipe around the bullet hole in the back of President Kennedy’s coat (establishing a certain back-to front bullet path) and the fact that a bullet fired at a 27-degree downward angle (often used by conspiracy advocates, without any testing, to explain the elongated entrance wound on Governor Connally’s back) still produces a round entrance hole. 

Given Haag’s findings, the position of Kennedy and Connally at the time of the shooting, and the lack of any other bullet damage to the presidential limousine that could be associated with a WCC bullet traveling at 1,800 ft/s – can there really be any doubt about the validity of the single-bullet theory?

The fatal head shot

Haag also found through testing – as did John K. Lattimer and military wound ballistician Larry M. Sturdivan – that the WCC Carcano bullet had the ability to “totally change character” and behave more like a soft-point hunting bullet, yawing and deflecting, when its nose-area was breeched by striking thick skull bone.

The unique properties of the WCC Carcano bullet – in particular, its ability to produce different-looking types of wounds depending on whether striking soft tissue or hard bone – were not known to law enforcement and medical examiners in 1963 and remain little known or understood today.

Consequently, the autopsy pathologists at Bethesda Medical Center on the night of November 22, 1963, were faced with trying to make sense of wounds in the president’s body that had all the characteristics of two different types of bullets.

In reality, Haag assures us, the wounds were produced by one unique type of bullet – the WCC 6.5mm Carcano bullets fired from Oswald’s rifle.

There’s much more in Haag’s dissertation worthy of attention, including a wealth of photographs, charts, and illustrations.

As lifelong wound ballistician Larry Sturdivan once observed: “Physical evidence is always consistent with the truth – even if we don’t immediately understand it, or can’t fully explain it.” [END]

Friday, December 6, 2019

Kennedy Assassination Bullets Preserved in Digital Form

NIST scientists used advanced imaging techniques to create digital replicas of these important historical artifacts


In the palm of his hand, Thomas Brian Renegar held two small metal objects that had changed the course of history. Twisted pieces of copper and lead, they were fragments of the bullet that ended the life of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

A physical scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Renegar was not yet born when the nation was robbed of the young, charismatic leader who fought for civil rights and set America on a course for the Moon. But he felt the weight of history. He picked up one of the fragments using rubber-tipped forceps and, with the care of a jeweler setting a stone, placed it into a housing beneath the lens of a 3D surface scanning microscope.

These artifacts are usually held at the National Archives. They were transported to NIST so that Renegar and the rest of the NIST ballistics team could scan them and produce digital replicas that are true down to the microscopic details.

Viewing the digital replicas on his computer screen, Renegar said, “It’s like they’re right there in front of you.” The National Archives plans to make the data available in its online catalog in early 2020.

Why do this, so many years after President Kennedy’s tragic death? The mission of the National Archives is to provide the public with access to artifacts such as these, and it receives many requests for access to them. This project will allow the Archives to release the 3D replicas to the public while the originals remain safely preserved in their temperature and humidity-controlled vault.

“The virtual artifacts are as close as possible to the real things,” said Martha Murphy, deputy director of government information services at the National Archives. “In some respects, they are better than the originals in that you can zoom in to see microscopic details,” she said.

In addition to the two fragments from the bullet that fatally wounded the president, the digital collection includes another bullet that struck both the president and Texas Gov. John Connally. That one is known as the “stretcher bullet” because it was found lying near Connally at the hospital. The collection also includes two bullets produced by test firing the assassin’s rifle, and a bullet that was recovered following an earlier, failed assassination attempt on Army Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker that was thought to involve the same firearm.

In the lab, the NIST ballistics team used a technique called focus variation microscopy to image the artifacts. At each location along the object’s surface, the microscope created a series of images at different focal distances. By analyzing which parts of those images were in focus, the microscope measured the distance to the object’s surface features. As the lens moved across the object, it built a 3D surface map of the microscopic landscape beneath it, like a satellite mapping a mountain range.

NIST physical scientist Mike Stocker places Warren Commission Exhibit (CE) 399, the so-called "magic bullet", wrapped in a silicone sleeve, on the microscope for a new run. [Credit: Jason Stoughton / NIST]

Renegar and NIST physical scientist Mike Stocker spent countless hours rotating the metal fragments beneath the lens of the microscope to image every facet, then stitching the image segments together where they overlapped. “It was like solving a supercomplicated 3D puzzle,” Renegar said. “I’ve stared at them so much I can draw them from memory.”

If you held one of the original fragments in the palm of your hand, you would see that the metal is warped and twisted into a complex shape. But magnified on the computer screen, it is a world unto itself: a highly complex and undulating terrain that bends, dips and doubles back. Zoom in, and you can see rifling grooves left by the barrel of the gun. Zoom in closer, and you can see the microtopography — ridges and scratches that would be far too fine to feel with your fingertip.

The focus variation scans had a horizontal resolution of 4 micrometers, about one-tenth the width of a human hair, and a vertical resolution of 0.5 micrometers, or eight times better. This allowed the scans to record the depth of minute scratches in the metallic surface of the artifacts. Other members of the team, including mechanical engineers Xiaoyu Alan Zheng and Johannes Soons, used a technique called confocal microscopy to image selected regions of the artifacts at higher resolution.

Although this was an unusual project for the NIST ballistics team, its members do spend a lot of time imaging bullet surfaces. Their regular work has them researching advanced forensic techniques for identifying firearms used in crimes.

For more than a century, forensic examiners have matched pairs of bullets by viewing them under a split-screen comparison microscope. If the striations on a pair of bullets — or on microscopic photographs of those bullets — line up, examiners might consider them a match.

The NIST ballistics team is developing methods for comparing bullets using 3D surface maps, which can provide greater detail and accuracy than comparing two-dimensional images. It’s also developing methods so that, instead of just saying whether or not two bullets appear to match, forensic examiners will be able to statistically quantify their degree of similarity. This research is part of a larger effort by NIST to strengthen forensic science so that judges, juries and investigators have reliable, science-based information when deciding guilt or innocence.

Robert Thompson, the NIST forensic firearms expert who oversaw the project, said that the bullet fragments from the Kennedy assassination were bent and distorted in ways that made them difficult to image. “The techniques we developed to image those artifacts will be useful in criminal cases that involve similarly challenging evidence.”

The team did not conduct any forensic analysis of the bullets from the Kennedy assassination. This project was strictly a matter of historic preservation. However, once the National Archives makes the data available to the public, anyone who is interested in analyzing those bullets will be able to do so without risking damage to the originals.

Though Renegar is too young to remember the event that indelibly marked the memories of an earlier generation, he feels deeply connected to that day in history. Speaking for the entire team, he said, “It was an honor to put our expertise toward such an important project.” 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Not Fade Away

The author at the scene of the Tippit shooting in 1985 (left) and 2019 (right). [Photo: DKM © 2019]


It’s been more than thirty-four years since my first trip to Dallas and during a recent visit in September I noted not only how much had changed, but how much was literally gone.

At Elm and Houston, the scene of the president’s assassination, the Dallas County Records Building and the Criminal Court Building are in the middle of a massive face-lift. Dealey Plaza itself, designated in 1993 as a National Historical Landmark, has been altered over time to accommodate visitors – some of those alterations have effectively changed the landscape. Rented scooters littered the sidewalks on my recent visit, marring the beauty of the plaza.

I couldn’t help but notice that Tenth and Patton, the scene of the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit in Oak Cliff, has taken the largest toll. On my first visit in 1985, the neighborhood, for the most part, looked as it did in 1963. On subsequent visits to the area over the next thirty-four years, I witnessed the neighborhood slowly vanishing, one building at a time. Today, it is unrecognizable – except for two dwellings, which are original to the time.

The vanishing landscape

Now, Tenth Street ends abruptly just west of Patton; no longer connecting with Crawford. Tennis courts have been erected on the northeast corner of the intersection, where three houses once stood. W.H. Adamson High School has largely taken over two-square blocks of property, demolishing the entire neighborhood northwest of the shooting scene. The homes where numerous eyewitnesses lived – Helen Markham, Barbara and Virginia Davis, Ann McRavin, Frank Cimino, and C. Frank Wright are all gone.

Along Oswald’s escape route, only ‘The Gentlemen’s Club’, Marr Brothers, Dudley Hughes Funeral Home and the former Ballew Texaco Service Station (now Santos Mufflers and Radiators) buildings remain. The rest – Dootch Motors, Johnnie Reynolds Used Cars, two antique furniture stores (leveled in 1964), Dean’s Dairy Way, and the Abundant Life Temple are all gone.

Many of Oak Cliff’s old haunts – including Austin’s Bar-B-Cue at Hampton and Illinois – have long ago disappeared. The barbecue where Officer Tippit moonlighted on Friday and Saturday nights was eradicated in 2007 to make way for a CVS Pharmacy.

No one expects everything to last forever, but it’s disheartening to see places you’ve known or have significance in your life to vanish in your time. I suppose it’s depressing because those vanishings are a reminder that one day, we too, will pass.

The perpetual drumbeat

While the landscape has changed, one thing that remains constant in this ever-changing world is the drumbeat of conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination.

When I got hooked on studying the assassination back in 1975, the events of Dallas were still classified a ‘current event’. Research was done in libraries, correspondence transmitted by letter via the U.S. Postal Service, and interviews were conducted in person or by telephone with the actual participants of November 22, 1963. Research papers were held ‘close-to-the-vest’ until every stone had been overturned and when the work was finally revealed, the arguments made were supported with citations so that others could verify and hopefully accept the work.

The Internet and social media have changed all that. Today, researching the Kennedy assassination is not about facts at all. It’s about who can globally broadcast the latest tidbit first. Whether it’s a new cockamamie theory or a fourth-hand story about a “new witness”, the focus is inevitably on the so-called ‘researcher’ and who can make a name for themselves. In short, it’s all about ego.

Newsflash! There’s not much left in a fifty-six-year-old murder case that has arguably gotten more attention (including two official government investigations) than any other single moment in history!

I truly wonder what these Johnny-come-lately ‘researchers’ are expecting to find?

Forum trolls

One visit to any Kennedy assassination forum (take your pick) where discussions about the case continue ad nauseam tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs fifty-plus-years after the fact:

  • The same questions asked over and over again (and answered over and over again).
  • Discussions that begin innocently enough; then quickly disintegrate into name-calling.
  • A wasteland of supposition, innuendo, and myth that is accepted as fact
  • A demonstrative left-leaning bias that excludes any individual person or thought that dares to challenge the left-leaning status quo
And perhaps the most important observation:
  • Not one single, verifiable new fact about the assassination has ever been revealed on one of these forums. Not one!
That fact, and that fact alone, has kept me from participating in most of those forums. Simply put, there’s nothing new to learn; and as such, for serious researchers (perhaps more old-school than new), those forums are a colossal waste of time.

Now, of course, there are a few exceptions – forums where logic and reason tend to rule and where an honest effort is made to disseminate true facts – but these forums are far and few between.

Eventually, everyone interested in the case discovers where the “action” is and, through no fault of the moderators, the forum becomes infiltrated by the stupid who ruin a good thing. Soon, someone decides to start a “new” forum, where reason and logic will once again reign, and the cycle begins again.

There are some thoughtful individuals with good intentions who frequent these forums with the hope of offering facts instead of craziness. Unfortunately, they are soon overwhelmed by the foolish who see it as their duty to prove just how “smart” they are by driving these unwanted heralds of reason and logic from the forum. They usually succeed.

I used to tangle with people on these forums. No more. It took me some time to realize that they didn’t really want to hear that their thesis was all wet and didn’t hold up under scrutiny. (I get it, who does?) I eventually came to the conclusion that everyone has to make their own journey – from madness to reality – or not.

The young and naïve

You can forgive the young and naïve who are just starting out on their journeys. Like many of us years ago, they have succumbed to the lure and fascination of the coolest hobby anyone could ever have. They find themselves asking the same questions we did:
  • Was Oswald a victim?
  • Was he caught up in an intelligence operation not of his own making?
  • What if it happened to me?
  • What if I were framed for a crime I didn’t commit?
  • Wouldn’t I fight with every fiber of my being to fight the injustice?
  • And with Oswald dead, shouldn’t I fight on his behalf?
  • Isn’t that what I would want?
The old-timers

But what about the old-timers who have been on the journey for a good part of their lifetime? I often wonder:
  • Haven’t they figured out that the evidence shows that Oswald isn’t the victim, he’s the perpetrator?
  • Haven’t they figured out that a committed leftist assassinated our president in order to elevate his own ego and that his act contained little regard for the effect it would have on the future of the United States of America?
  • Haven’t they figured out that Oswald got what he wanted – fame and notoriety?
  • Why haven’t they finished the journey?
  • Why haven’t they been able to reason their way out of their own arguments?
Many people begin their study of the assassination suspecting a conspiracy. I certainly did. That’s no secret. Gradually, however, I uncovered flaws in my own thinking through laborious research and study, and eventually changed my mind, largely through my own diligence.

Many others who ventured down the same path I did, did not. In my view, they remain stuck in a quagmire of their own making; a place which truth and logic are unable to penetrate. I can only hope that one day they will find a way out.

The new vampires

In addition to the young & naïve and the old-timers, there is a new generation of ‘researcher’ – the bloodsucking vampire – who has discovered the assassination case and has found it to be perfect vehicle to feed their own insatiable ego. These vampires grew-up with a world view that hinges on social media like and dislikes, friends and unfriending, and a belief that all things are free to them.

They don’t give one good goddamn about the sweat equity of others; the years of dedication required to establish personal relationships with witnesses, police officers and the family of the deceased; or the monetary costs involved in performing decades of research. They have landed in the world and, as they see it, everything is theirs for the taking.

For them, so-called “researching” it is all about stealing the lifework of others to fast-track their own social media personas and to feather their own infantile egos.

They join a long conga-line of other self-absorbed individuals who have come and gone without nary a whisper about their own accomplishments for the simple reason that they have none.

What can one say about such bloodsuckers who regurgitate lies about the JFK assassination or the Tippit murder – hurtful lies that they know for a fact cause pain and heartache to surviving members of the slain policeman’s family – and pass those lies off as truth, as if those lies hadn’t been debunked long ago? That’s not what I call a search for truth; that’s called the spreading of disinformation. And it’s hurtful, to real people. And when their lies and disinformation are pointed out, they claim, “I didn’t know!”

I didn’t know 

I didn’t know? Every time I hear that phrase, I think of Mr. Hand (played by actor Ray Walston) in the 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

In the film, Mr. Hand confronts classroom stoner Jeff Spicoli (played by Sean Penn) about his perpetual tardiness and asks, “Why are you always late?”

Spicoli replies with a doofus smile, “I don’t know.”

Astounded, Mr. Hand writes “I don’t know” on the blackboard. Mr. Hand giggles at the phrase and its implications, and says, “I’m going to leave your words on this board for all my classes to enjoy, giving you full credit of course, Mr. Spicoli.”

Spicoli stupidly responds, “Well, alright!” as if it’s a compliment.

Mr. Hand can only shake his head in wonderment and disgust.

“I didn’t know.” Really? How could anyone doing real research on the assassination not know? Thirty-years ago, that excuse might’ve worked, but today, literally every bit of information is at one’s fingertips. It’s called a cell phone and it connects to the Internet – I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T. (In fact, I used this ingenious invention to look up the scene I recalled from Fast Times to get the quote right. See how it works?)

No folks, the reality is not that they don’t know, it’s that they don’t want to know. You see, the truth ruins the big ego party and everyone is going to go home. Boo-hoo.

These self-absorbed vampires deserve what they’ll eventually reap. It’s called Karma.

Ripped off

It’s no secret that people in the so-called research community monitor what I write and what I’ve done. I don’t monitor them; they monitor me. People send me information on occasion. Sometimes it proves useful; most of the time it doesn’t.

I don’t steal from others. When I wrote my book, “With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit,” or when I write my blog articles, I give credit where credit is due with a full, professional citation (not some half-assed crap designed to hide where I got it).

I’m proud of what I’ve written, proud of my research and proud of the work I’ve done over the years on this case. I don’t accept or trust anyone else’s work on this case without fully scrutinizing and vetting it first. And I don’t talk about anything I haven’t fully vetted. I don’t have a reason to steal information from anybody about the Tippit shooting or the Kennedy assassination. They need to steal it from me. And they do.

I’ve been ripped off some many times it’s pathetic. References to my work, without citation or acknowledgment, have appeared on the Internet and in published books. In many cases, my citations (I know it’s my citation because they used my format) are used to get around citing my book or my work or mentioning my name. It’s an old trick. Photographs that appeared in my copyrighted book and on my copyrighted website (and nowhere else) have appeared on other Internet websites and in published books without permission and in violation of Intellectual Property laws. The theft is so transparent, it’s sickening.

I could bitch and complain more, but what’s the point? Those naïve few who continue to hide behind ‘Fair Use’ laws, or think they can violate Intellectual Property laws without consequence, are certain to get a big bite taken out of their arse.

Not fade away

While there are a few bloodsucking nincompoops that populate the so-called ‘research community’, I am grateful and blessed to have the many intelligent followers that give due consideration to what I have written about a case that I have spent the better part of a lifetime working on. It was my great pleasure to meet several more of them during my recent Dallas trip.

They are the champions of truth, and as such, will ensure it not fade away.

Friday, August 30, 2019

James R. Leavelle, dead at 99


James R. Leavelle, the legendary, iconic Dallas detective whose grimace in the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald captured the horror of a nation, has died. He was 99.

Leavelle had just celebrated his 99th birthday on Saturday with family and friends in Colorado. He fell and broke his hip on Monday and died Thursday while recovering from the surgery intended to mend the break.

I first met Jim in 1983 while conducting a series of interviews for a Michigan radio special that was broadcast to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the assassination. He was gracious, polite, and more than accommodating.

I soon learned that Jim could open doors for you that would otherwise remain closed. During research for my book, With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit, the retired detective provided phone numbers and names of fellow officers I should talk with. If Jim said you were okay, you were gold. 

Jim was inundated with requests for interviews from all over the world. During the thirty-six years that I knew him, I tried to be mindful of his time and only called on him when I felt it was absolutely necessary. He never saw it that way, though. “Call me anytime,” he’d say. Not just to me, but to a lot of people. He was that kind of guy.

I think he liked the limelight, at first, but later grew tired of the same old questions and accusations. He told me once about going down to Dealey Plaza and hanging around to talk to people – many of them on the conspiracy side of the subject. Most of them wouldn’t have any idea who they were talking with, until he told them. “I thought you looked familiar!” they’d exclaim.

One fellow had a stack of paper about a foot high, Jim told me, and said it was his book manuscript and wanted to know if Jim would read it.

“I’m not going to read all that,” Jim replied. “Why don’t you just give me the bottom line?” The would-be author then laid out a complex web of deception and conspiracy involving members of the Dallas police force – many of whom Jim had worked with. Jim said all he could do was laugh and shake his head.

I leaned on Jim twice during the past three decades, and both times he responded without hesitation.

The first time was in November, 1998, when I invited him to come out to a book signing at Barnes and Noble in north Dallas to launch my book. He was joined by veteran Dallas reporter Hugh Aynesworth, retired FBI supervisor Robert P. Gemberling, and fellow retired Dallas police officers Paul L. Bentley and Walter R. Bardin.

The Barnes and Noble patrons were treated to a surprise, first-hand roundtable discussion about the events of the assassination from the men who were there. Across town, one-hundred-or-so JFK assassination researchers were attending an annual conference featuring the latest conspiracy theories. Sadly, they never knew what they missed.

The second time I called on Jim was in November, 2001, when I asked him to participate in an on-camera interview for a film I was producing at the time, Ordinary Hero: The J.D. Tippit Story. He heartedly agreed and brought along fellow retired officers Elmer L. Boyd and T.L. Baker. We spent a memorable afternoon together.

I later learned that Jim had some very kind things to say about me, which he expressed to J.D. Tippit’s youngest sister. Jim was never one to let a chance to offer a kind word slip by.

I never felt compelled to ask for Jim’s autograph. Knowing the man, as I did, was honor enough. And I wasn’t alone.

James Robert Leavelle was the consummate professional; a man of high ideals and the epitome of firm but compassionate law enforcement in the twentieth century. He led a full life and left behind many friends. May the same be said of us.

My sincere and humble condolences to his family and the many members of his extended police family who knew him and worked alongside him.

Jim, you were a true inspiration and I was proud to call you my friend. God love you. We sure did.