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During the autopsy, the prosectors recognized two bullet wounds on the back of President Kennedy. They attributed the transverse wound of the low neck to an entering bullet and associated the longitudinal wound of the upper back with an exiting bullet. The conflict between these wounds and the scenario of a solitary rear shooter compelled the authorities to fuse the two wounds into one rear wound of entry.
Part One - Myth of the Moved Back Wound
Contrary to common belief, two subsequent investigations placed President Kennedy’s back wound in essentially the same location as the Warren Commission. Commander Humes during his testimony centered the back wound at 14 cm. below the right mastoid process and 14 cm. from the right acromial process. The Clark Panel located the wound approximately 15 cm. medial to the right acromial process and 14 cm. below the right mastoid process. Unfortunately, the Forensic Pathology Panel reported only the ordinate of the back wound. They estimated the midpoint of the wound at 13.5 cm. below the right mastoid process.
The reported locations of the back wound determined from the actual corpse and autopsy photographs agree too within one centimeter, a distance equal to the largest dimension of the reported abrasion surrounding the bullet hole. For all practically purposes the disagreement in location is inconsequential especially when compared with the pivotal differences in the forensic descriptions of the wound by the concerned parties.
Commander Humes introduced the back wound with a surprisingly complete forensic description. He specified the shape, length of both axes and the orientation of the longer axis relative to an anatomic feature of the body.
Source: WC testimony of Commander James J. Humes - 2H, 351
Commander HUMES - These exhibits again are schematic representations of what we observed at the time of examining the body of the late President. Exhibit 385 shows in the low neck an oval wound which excuse me, I wish to get the measurements correct. This wound was situated just above the upper border of the scapula, and measured 7 by 4 millimeters, with its long axis roughly parallel to the long axis of vertical column.
End of quotation.
The description of the wound as oval tells the analyst that the bullet struck with an negligible angle of yaw. Both dimensions of an oval or elliptical wound enables the analyst to calculate the incidence angle between the direction of the bullet and the perpendicular to the wound. The third specification of the angular orientation of the longer axis with the vertical column completes the description of the striking angles of the bullet by giving the analyst the azimuthal angle. The accuracy of this analysis is dependent upon how well the reported oval approximates an ellipse.
Part Two - Slipping One Under the Table
The Clark Panel reviewed the autopsy photographs of the back wound. They reported:
Source: Clark Panel Report
There is an elliptical penetrating wound of the skin of the back located approximately 15 cm. medial to the right acromial process, 5 cm. lateral to the mid-dorsal line and 14 cm. below the right mastoid process. This wound lies approximately 5.5 cm. below a transverse fold in the skin of the neck. This fold can also be seen in a lateral view of the neck which shows an anterior tracheotomy wound. This view makes it possible to compare the levels of these two wounds in relation to that of the horizontal plane of the body.
A well defined zone of discoloration of the edge of the back wound, most pronounced on its upper and outer margins, identifies it as having the characteristics of the entrance wound of a bullet. The wound with its marginal abrasion measures approximately 7 mm. in width by 10 mm. in length. The dimensions of this cutaneous wound are consistent with those of a wound produced by a bullet similar to that which constitutes exhibit CE 399.
End of quotation.
These reports by the Warren Commission and the Clark Panel on the bullet hole and the surrounding abrasion contained no conflicting details. In fact, the reported locations of the wound were in agreement and the incidence component of the striking angles calculated from the dimensions of these two distinct features of the wound agreed too within the error arising from the single digit precision of the reported measurements.
The description of the abrasion as "7 mm. in width by 10 mm. in length" seemed to be in accord with earlier testimony by Humes on the bullet hole in the back.
Source: WC testimony of Commander James J. Humes - 2H, 361
Commander HUMES - I--our previously submitted report, which is Commission No. 387, identified a wound in the low posterior neck of the President. The size of this wound was 4 by 7 mm., with the long axis being in accordance with the long axis of the body, 44 [sic] mm. wide, in other words, 7 mm. long. We attempted to locate such wounds in soft tissue by making reference to bony structures which do not move and are, therefore, good reference points for this type of investigation. We then ascertained, we chose the two bony points of reference we chose to locate this wound, where the mastoid process, which is just behind the ear, the top of the mastoid process, and the acromion which is the tip of the shoulder joint. We ascertained physical measurement at the time of autopsy that this wound was 14 cm. from the tip of the mastoid process and 14 cm. from the acromion was its central point--
Mr. SPECTER - That is the right acromion?
Commander HUMES - The tip of the right acromion, yes, sir, and that is why we have depicted it in figure 385 in this location. This wound appeared physically quite similar to the wound which we have described before in 388 "A," with the exception that its long axis was shorter than the long axis of the wound described above. When the tissues beneath this wound were inspected, there was a defect corresponding with the skin defect in the fascia overlying the musculature of the low neck and upper back.
End of quotation.
The defect corresponding with the skin defect in the fascia expresses a relationship that is reminiscent of the relationship between the corresponding oval defect on the outer table of the skull and the lacerated scalp wound. Humes later explained that a tunnel connected the corresponding defect of the skull with the defect of the scalp. So the usage of corresponding in the relationship between the skin and the fascia defects implies connection by a tunnel. This implication is consistent with a tangential entry by the bullet.
A decade later, the Forensic Pathology Panel upset this apparent harmony between the testimony of Commander Humes and the report of the Clark Panel concerning the back wound. Under the direction of Humes, H. A. Rydberg drew a picture of the bullet hole on Kennedy's back. This drawing, CE 386, shows that the longer axis of the bullet hole made a 15-degree counterclockwise angle with the long axis of the body.
Guided by the autopsy photographs, Ida Dox drew a picture of the abrasion surrounding the bullet hole on Kennedy's back. This picture shows the longer axis of the abrasion approximately perpendicular to the long axis of the body and ninety degrees from the direction of the longer axis of the bullet hole shown on CE 386.
Forensic analysts recognize that the direction of the longer axis of an elliptical bullet hole or an elliptical abrasion coincides with the tangential component of the striking velocity of the bullet. For this reason, members of the Forensic Pathology Panel who saw CE 386 or read the medical testimony of Humes should have recognized the ninety degree misalignment between the longer axis of the abrasion and the longer axis of the bullet hole.
The choice of words by the Clark Panel in describing the abrasion is especially interesting since Humes used similar words for the two characterizing dimensions of the bullet hole. Humes testified, "The size of this wound was 4 by 7 mm., with the long axis being in accordance with the long axis of the body, 44 [sic] mm. wide, in other words, 7 mm. long." Apparently the Clark Panel used the mental association of width with wide and the association of length with long to conceal an approximate ninety-degree misalignment between the longer axes of the bullet hole and the abrasion. This verbal trick by the Clark Panel placed the Forensic Pathology Panel in the awkward position of having to reconcile the pivotal differences between the Rydberg drawing of the bullet hole and the Dox drawing of the surrounding abrasion.
Part Three - An Integration by the Forensic Pathology Panel
Doctor Michael Baden confirmed the transverse orientation of the longer axis the abrasion as shown by the Dox drawing by referring to a blowup of the actual perforation that showed a wider abrasion toward 3 o'clock than toward 9 o'clock.
Source: HSCA testimony of Dr. Michael Baden
Mr. KLEIN. And the panel found an abrasion collar on the wound of the President's back of the kind you have shown us in these drawings?
Dr. BADEN. Yes, sir. This represents a diagram, a blowup of the actual entrance perforation of the skin showing an abrasion collar. The abrasion collar is wider toward 3 o'clock than toward 9 o'clock, which would indicate a directionality from right to left and toward the middle part of the body, which was the impression of the doctors on reviewing the photographs initially at the Archives.
End of quotation.
Baden reported that viewers of the autopsy photographs concluded that the wider portion of the abrasion placed the entering bullet on an inward and leftward course. This conclusion is one part of the contradictory reports of the direction of the entering bullet.
Source: Report of the Forensic Pathology Panel
(247) Several members of the panel believe, based on an examination of these enhancements, that when the body is repositioned in the anatomic position (not the position at the moment of shooting) the direction of the missile in the body on initial penetration was slightly upward, inasmuch as the lower margin of the skin is abraded in an upward direction. Furthermore, the wound beneath the skin appears to be tunneled from below upward.
End of quotation.
An examination of the abrasion collar, a characteristic associated with the bullet hole, provided the other member of the contradictory reports of the direction of the entering bullet. In particular this characteristic placed the entering bullet on an inward and upward course. The 90-degree misalignment between the longer axes of the bullet hole and the abrasion yield contradictory reports of the direction of the entering bullet.
The above graphic shows a cross section of a tunneling wound due to transit by a bullet at a considerable angle of incidence. Light gray represents skin and the fascia is depicted as dark gray. The distance between the diagonal boundaries coincides with the smaller dimension of the surface hole while the larger dimension equals the vertical gap between the lower and upper portions of the tunnel. This graphic represents the wound track before reduction in diameter by elastic relaxation and swell of tissues.
When viewed from a normal perspective with the line of sight perpendicular to the surface one sees an elliptical perimeter enclosing a deepening trough. An underlying layer of tissue becomes hidden when the thickness of the outer layer of tissue exceeds a threshold value. For the bullet hole described by Humes, this threshold is about the one-quarter inch thickness of the outer layer of skin.
During his testimony before the Warren Commission, Humes provided details on the layer of tissue beneath the skin of the back wound. He said, "The defect in the fascia which is that layer of connective tissue over the muscle just beneath the wound corresponded virtually exactly to the defect in the skin."
If the bullet entered the back tangentially per the opinion of Humes and implied by an oval hole then tunnels would have connected the defects at the boundaries between differing tissues. So the observation of the defect of the fascia just beneath the wound "corresponded virtually exactly to the defect in the skin" disputes Humes’ opinion of a tangential entry and conflicts with description of the hole as oval.
Part Four - Belated Enlightenment Trumps Continued Ignorance
During the late eighties, the leak of the Fox photographs shed new light on the handling of the back wounds by the Bethesda prosectors and the two subsequent medical panels.
A high resolution reproduction of Fox 5 shows a transverse abrasion with relative dimensions of 7 to 10 and a longitudinal feature with relative dimensions of 4 to 7. This bulb-shaped feature appears approximately four centimeters below and to the left of the abrasion. The dimensions of this feature are consistent with a buttressed exit at a moderate yaw angle by a bullet of lesser caliber than a MC bullet.
The Assassination Records Review Board deposition of Doctor Humes credits Fox five.
Source: ARRB deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes
Q Were there any other injuries on the back of President Kennedy other than those that are exposed to--
A Well, you say those. I don't know what this little dot down below is.
Q Let's take them one at a time. There is one mark that appears to be high at approximately the second-centimeter line.
Q Is that the wound that you were identifying as the wound of entry?
A Yes, sir.
Q And when you were referring to the mark somewhat below, you were referring to something at approximately the six-centimeter mark?
A Yeah, I don't know what that is. A little drop of blood or what, I have no idea.
Q Was there more than one wound of entry--
A No, there was not.
Q And you're reasonably confident that the wound of entry is the one that is at the higher--
A Yes, sir, I am.
Q Is that correct?
A Yes, sir.
End of quotation.
Humes clearly identified the transverse abrasion described by the Forensic Pathology Panel as the wound of entry and demoted his earlier longitudinal bullet hole to a little drop of blood.
Part Five - Summation
Members of the Forensic Pathology Panel were not miracle workers. Under the circumstances the best that they could do was to combine features of the longitudinal bullet hole as misrepresented by Humes with the transverse abrasion observed on the autopsy photographs. This combination unintentionally produced evidence of an altered wound that is fully explored in part two of Punching Holes.
The purpose of their combination was to conceal the existence of two separate back wounds. The altered wound had a transverse abrasion surrounding a longitudinal hole with tunneling and the other wound misrepresented by Humes as an oval hole made by a tangential entry of the bullet had the defect of the fascia just beneath the defect of the skin.