The testimony of Commander James J. Humes presented to the Warren Commission provided all the right clues to dismiss the descriptions by Parkland medical professionals of the large wound of the right-rear quadrant of President Kennedy’s head as evidence of a frontal shot.
Part One - Reports of the Parkland Medical Professionals
The medical professionals of Parkland Hospital consistently placed the large wound of President Kennedy’s head in the posterior hemisphere. Doctor Gene Coleman Akin observed brain substance extruding from the back of the right occipitalparietal portion of his head. From the vantage point of the feet, Dr. Charles Rufus Baxter saw lacerated brain oozing from a large wound in the temporal parietal plate of bone. Nurse Diana Hamilton Bowron reported that the condition of the back of Kennedy’s head was very bad. The report by Dr. Charles James Carrico described a large gaping wound of the right occipitoparietal area, with an estimated size of 5 to 7 cm. Dr. William Kemp Clark reported a large wound of the right occipitoparietal region of the President’s head. The initial impression of Dr. Ronald Coy Jones was a large wound of the right posterior side of the head. Dr. Robert Nelson McClelland from the head of the table observed the head wound very closely. He noted that the right posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted, parietal bone protruded through the scalp, fractures extended almost along its right posterior half and into occipital bone. Based upon a superficial examination of the head, Dr. Malcolm Oliver Perry observed a large injury of the right occipitoparietal area of the head. Dr. Paul Conrad Peters observed a large defect in the right occipitalparietal area with an apparent loss of bone and brain. From the left side, Dr. Kenneth Everett Salyer observed a major wound of the right temporal area.
Figure One - Bones of the Skull
The report by Dr. Baxter of a temporal parietal wound was especially helpful in localizing the injury described as occipital-parietal by several witnesses. The boundary between the occipital and the parietal bones on the right side of the head extends from the base of the skull to the inferior border of the superior-right-posterior octant. The fortuitous mention of the temporal bone localizes the injury to a small portion of the occipital-parietal boundary nearer the temporal bone.
The Parkland doctors noted details that have forensic value. Carrico believed there was cerebellar tissue in the wound. Clark observed damaged cerebellar tissue while Marion Thomas Jenkins thought part of the cerebellum was herniated from the wound. Upon looking into the skull cavity, McClelland saw that cerebellar tissue had been blasted out.
Anatomically the source of cerebellar tissue, the cerebellum, resides beneath the bones of the inferior-posterior of the skull. So the several reports of cerebellar tissue are consistent with a wound that extended into the inferior-right-posterior octant of the head.
Doctor Carrico described avulsions of the calvarium and the scalp while Doctor Perry noted a large avulsive injury of the right occipitoparietal area of the head.
Nurse Patricia B. Hutton filed the most consequential report pertaining to the head wound. Unlike other reports that described the location and significant features of this injury, Hutton reported placement of a pressure dressing on the massive opening on the back of the head. Despite the brevity of her report, the single sentence shows that medical professionals of Parkland Hospital treated a large posterior wound of President Kennedy’s head. Doctor Carrico corroborated Hutton on the treatment of the large head wound. On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, he wrote an admission note that stated "attempt to control slow oozing from cerebral & cerebellar tissue via packs instituted."
Part Two - Conciliatory Attitude of the Warren Commission
Lawyers immediately recognized that an official denial of President Kennedy’s large posterior wound by the Warren Commission or the prosectors of Bethesda would have labeled the Parkland doctors as mal practitioners. This act along would have encouraged the hospital or its doctors to file a lawsuit. However, the Parkland press conferences and the subsequent stories by the media made the large posterior head wound common knowledge. Under these circumstances an official denial of the wound would have practically necessitated legal action.
The Warren Commission adopted a conciliatory attitude toward the Parkland doctors. The commission reported that the autopsy disclosed the large head wound observed at Parkland Hospital. Later the commission detailed these observations. They wrote, "Doctor Clark who most closely examined the head described a large gaping wound of its right rear portion." In accordance of its policy of full disclosure of the observations by the Parkland doctors, the commission included a report by Doctor Clark on the treatment of Kennedy that localized the head wound at the right occipitoparietal region.
The report of the commission rephrased key points in the testimony of Commander Humes. They repeated the all inclusive phrase used in the autopsy protocol that placed the large head wound " chiefly the parietal bone but extending somewhat into temporal and occipital regions." They reported that the fatal bullet shattered the right side of the President’s skull and included an awkward description of a tangential entry by saying that the bullet struck at a tangent or an angle.
The removal of President Kennedy’s body by armed Secret Service Agents from the jurisdiction of the State of Texas deprived the Parkland doctors of the oversight and protection afforded by the Office of the Medical Examiner. This forced removal strengthened the basis for a legal complaint by Parkland Hospital or its doctors. The Warren Commission weakened this basis by reporting the observations of Secret Service Agents Greer and Hill. In particular, upon arrival at Parkland Hospital William Robert Greer saw that the top and right rear side of the head was all blown off and from the top of the back seat of the limousine, Clinton J. Hill noticed a portion of the President’s head on the right rear side was missing.
Part Three - All the Right Clues
The testimony of Commander James J. Humes provided all the right clues to dismiss an exit wound of the right-posterior quadrant of President Kennedy’s head as evidence of a frontal shot. As a preliminary step, Humes attributed the 6 mm dimension of the scalp wound being less than the 6.5 mm diameter of the bullet to elastic recoil of the skin. This shows that he used the term wound to refer to the bullet hole.
Instead of specifying the shape of the 15 by 6 mm hole in the scalp, Humes noted that the shape was quite similar to the corresponding oval defect on the outer table of the skull. The ovalness of this defect excludes a strike by a tumbling or a bullet with a considerable yaw that would have made a defect resembling a rectangle with rounded corners.
Figure Two - Holes made by bullets moving right with yaw angles of zero, twenty, forty and sixty degrees
Commander Humes attributed elongation of the bullet hole in the scalp to a more tangential entry than the other missile that produced the less elongated wound of the back of the neck. Had Humes reported an elliptical hole in the scalp there would be no doubt of a highly tangential head shot. Instead he offered an opinion whose merit depended upon a subjective interpretation of "corresponding oval" to describe the defect of the outer table of the skull.
The pyramidal skull fragment that arrived later that evening from Dallas as a separate specimen had a portion of a roughly circular perimeter judged to be part of an exit hole. X-Rays of the specimen that revealed radio-opaque material near the perimeter confirmed their judgement. This fragment enabled Humes to label a notch with a bevel on the outer table of the skull as a point of exit. The later testimony by Humes described his method to analyze the trajectory through the head and perhaps intentionally documented the errors of his ways.
Source: WC testimony of Commander James J. Humes - 2H, 370
Mr. SPECTER - Could you state for the record an approximation of the angle of decline?
Commander HUMES - Mathematics is not my forte. Approximately 45 degrees from the horizontal.
Mr. SPECTER - Would you elaborate somewhat, Doctor Humes, on why the angle would change by virtue of a tilting of the head of the President since the basis of the computation of angle is with respect to the ground?
Commander HUMES - I find the question a little difficult of answering right off, forgive me, sir.
Mr. SPECTER - I will try to rephrase it. Stated more simply, why would the tilting of the President’s head affect the angle of the decline? You stated that was--
Commander HUMES - The angle that I am making an observation most about is the angle made that we envisioned having been made by the impingement of the bullet in its flight at the point of entry. This angle we see by the difference of the measurement of the two wounds.
Figure Three - 45-Degree Transverse Angle
Unfortunately Humes informally referred to the transverse plane as the horizontal plane. However, drawing a green line on CE 388 to represent the transverse plane of the head shows that the assumed trajectory makes an approximate 45-degree angle with the transverse plane. This construction clearly shows how a bullet with at a moderate declination angle can transit a victim on an anatomically upward course.
Immediately following the testimony of Humes, Arlen Specter asked Lieutenant Colonel Finck "Is that to say that there was a 45-degree angle of declination from the point of origin to the point of impact, from the point of origin of the bullet where the bullet came from a gun until the point where it struck President Kennedy?" Chief Justice Warren intervened and thwarted the question whose answer by Finck would have specified which horizontal plane either geographic or anatomic they used to reference the 45-degree angle.
The phrase "see by the difference of the measurement of the two wounds" shows that Humes measured an angle between the direction of transiting bullet and an anatomic plane of the head. This the method consists of making two measurements then calculating the angle. In particular they calculate the difference in distances of the two wounds along perpendiculars to transverse plane. Then they calculate the difference in distances of the two wounds along a parallel to the transverse plane. The desired transverse angle is the inverse tangent of the quotient of the former difference divided by the latter difference. Obviously this angle derives its name of transverse angle from the formal name of its reference plane.
Humes' method assumes that the bullet transited a straight path as it made both wounds. If previous work showed both assumptions were true then this calculation would have given a physically meaningful angle with respect to the transverse plane of the head. Commander Humes concluded his remarks by confusing the calculated transverse angle with an angle made by impingement of the bullet at the point of entry.
Analysts calculate the incidence angle between the flight of the impinging bullet and the perpendicular to the wound at the point of entry. They take the angle between the perpendicular to the wound and the geographic horizontal as a measure of the orientation of the victim. From this information they can calculate the declination angle of the striking bullet without assuming that a track connected both wounds and that assumed track was straight.
Figure Four - Consistent Head Shot Trajectory
The line segment NP represents the perpendicular to the entry hole at point P. The trajectory of the bullet symbolized by QP makes an incidence angle of -65 degree with the perpendicular. This geometric construction ensures consistency between the trajectory of the bullet and the dimensions of the elliptical hole.
Now the forensic analyst is free to rotate the entire graphic to impart the known declination and lateral angles to the trajectory of the bullet. For a shot from the Texas School Book Depository the 15-degree declination angle places the plane of the face 10 degree from horizontal. This alignment allows any rotation about the hips and lean of the head relative to the torso that correctly orientates the head.
Mentally extending the trajectory to exit the head causes the imaginary line to intersect the skull in the vicinity of the large wound reported by Parkland. Further this extrapolated trajectory crosses the skull at notch that is highly reminiscent of the notch intersected by the trajectory labeled "out" on figure three. This coincidence suggests that they meticulously prepared CE 388 to illustrate Humes’ error and provide an alternative trajectory that couples the right-posterior exit wound to a shot from behind and above.
Shortly after the assassination reports by the media placed President Kennedy in position for this alternative trajectory. Tom Whalen of Fort Worth radio station, WBAP, reported that President Kennedy was shot in the head and fell face down. Moments later Edwin Newman of NBC repeated the report. Further, CE 397, the handwritten notes that preceded the typed protocol, reported. "Three shots were heard and the President fell face downward to the floor of the vehicle bleeding from the head." The underlined words were crossed out and replaced by the word "forward."
Part Four - Floating a Trial Balloon
The Parkland doctors with the exception of an anesthesiologist explicitly placed the large gaping wound at the right-posterior quadrant of the head. They implicitly localized the wound as extending into the inferior-right-posterior octant by documenting the presence of cerebellar tissue in the wound.
Arlen Specter understood that dismissal of the head wound observed at Parkland as evidence of a frontal shot required localization of the wound to the superior-right-posterior octant of the head. He employed declaratory questions to effect this placement of the wound. He asked doctors Baxter and Clark, questions pertaining to another bullet hole that mentioned a hole or wound at the top of the head. Both doctors answered the questions negatively without objections to the declared hole or wound at the top of the head.
Doctor Perry enabled Arlen Specter to connect the right inferior entry wound of the skull reported by Bethesda with right posterior wound observed at Parkland.
Testimony of Dr. Malcolm Oliver Perry on March 25, 1964
Mr. SPECTER. Based on the information in the autopsy report about a 6- by 15-mm. hole in the lower part of the President’s skull on the right side in conjunction with the large part of the skull of the President which you observed to be missing, would you have an opinion as to the source of the missile which inflicted those wounds?
Dr. PERRY. Since I did not see the initial wound which you mentioned, the smaller one, and only saw the large avulsive wound of the head and the scalp, there is no way for me to determine from whence it came.
Mr. SPECTER. Well, if you assume the presence of the first small wound, taking as a fact that there was such a wound, now, would that present sufficient information for you to formulate an opinion as to source or trajectory?
Dr. PERRY. Well, I couldn’t testify as to exact source, but if the wound, the smaller wound that you noted were present, it could certainly result in the large avulsive wound as it exited from the skull. As to the ultimate source, there would still be no way for me to tell.
Mr. SPECTER. Well, could you tell sufficient to comment on whether it came from the front or back of the President?
Dr. PERRY. In the absence of other wounds of the head, the presence of the small wound which you described, in addition to the large avulsive wound of the skull and the scalp which I observed would certainly indicate that the two were related and would indicate both an entrance and an exit wound, if there were no other wounds.
Mr. SPECTER. And which would be the wound of entrance, then?
Dr. PERRY. The smaller wound-the smaller wound.
End of quotation.
In this manner, Arlen Specter had Perry acknowledge the feasibility of a relationship between the inferior-right-rear entry wound and a superior-right-rear exit wound. Specter obtained an endorsement of this relationship from Dr. Clark by asking whether the entry wound described by Humes was consistent with his observations of the large head wound.
Part Five - Escape Clauses
The introduction of the Rydberg drawings by Commander Humes included a disclaimer. He explained that the artist, H. A. Rydberg, had a brief period of two days to prepare his drawings, had no photographs from which to work and relied upon verbal descriptions. Humes acknowledged the impossibility of producing drawings that were absolutely true to scale without the aid of photographs.
CE 385 is a profile drawing of a back to throat transit by a bullet. The Parkland doctors did not see the back wound so the depiction of this injury as a entry wound could not have been a point of contention. Although during the Friday afternoon press conference, Doctor Perry initially identified the throat wound as an entrance he modified his statement by saying that the wound appeared to be an entrance. So the illustration of the throat wound as an exit site did not conflict with Perry’s interpretation of the wound.
The artist’s conception of the rear view of the head, CE 386, showing the two entry wounds and the superior-right-rear portion of the large defect was a mixed bag. This drawing showed a small wound of the inferior-right-rear of the head whose elongated elliptical shape placed the missile on course for an exit from the superior-right-rear of the head while showing intact bone where the Parkland doctors reported the large right-rear wound of the head. Humes made the appropriate excuses for this drawing of the large defect by noting that the radiating and crisscrossing fractures made verbal description of the defect very difficult.
CE 388 shows a profile drawing of the perforating head wound with the missile exiting from the superior-right-front of the head. Humes apologized for the schematic nature of the diagrams that were drawn to a certain extent from memory and a certain extent from the written record. Further the description of the exit as "a large irregular defect of the scalp and skull on the right involving chiefly the parietal bone but extending somewhat into the temporal and occipital regions" in the autopsy protocol, CE 387, counteracted the potential damage to Parkland by picturing a frontal exit.
The Rydberg drawings had another purpose. They pictured a large head wound that resembled composite drawings based upon the reports of the head wound witnesses and the published Zapruder frames.
Part Six - Strengthening The Cover Story
In his Warren Commission testimony, Humes attributed elongation of the 6 mm by 15 mm scalp wound to a tangential entry by a bullet. He described the wound as a laceration whose shape was quite similar to the oval defect of the outer table of the underlying skull. The vagueness of these descriptions raised doubts as to whether the scalp wound was compound or simple. If a skull fragment lacerated a portion of the scalp then the two dimensions of the wound would not be related to the incidence angle of the bullet. However if the wound were simple and its shape matched the oval defect of the skull then the given dimensions would show that a bullet entered the scalp with an incidence angle in excess of 60 degree.
Following a review of the autopsy materials Humes strengthened his case from a highly tangential entry by the head shot. Humes reported that the scalp wound appears to be a laceration and tunnel with actual penetration of the skin obscured by the top of the tunnel. This report of the obscured penetration by the top of the tunnel corroborated Humes’ opinion that a more tangential entry by a bullet accounts for a more elongated scalp wound.
Figure Five - A Tunneling Wound
Figure five shows a cross section of a tunneling wound. Light gray represents soft tissue and the skull 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.
When viewed from a normal perspective with the line of sight perpendicular to the surface one sees an elliptical perimeter enclosing a deepening trough. The underlying bone becomes hidden when the thickness of the soft tissue exceeded the 6 mm minor axis of the elliptical surface hole divided by the sine of the 65-degree incidence angle. This threshold is one-quarter inch. So the viewer would have seen, but not necessarily recognized, that the deepest visible portion of the trough terminated on bone.
From an opening in the top of the head the viewer’s line of sight nearly coincided with the axis of the tunnel. Under these conditions they see a nearly round hole surrounded by a roundish bevel. These considerations explain the report by Humes during his ARRB deposition of having seen an "almost round hole, but a little bit more ovoid" hole on the inner table of the skull.
Part Seven - A Word of Mass Disruption
During the later sixties, lawyers with the civil division of the Department of Justice were in contact with the Bethesda prosectors. During his ARRB deposition, Commander Boswell testified that Carl Eardley, a Department of Justice attorney, requested that he petition the department for a civilian panel to review the autopsy documentation.
On May 29, 1967, a Department of Justice memo from Cliff Sessions, Director of Public Information, to Acting Assistant Attorney General Carl Eardley contained suggested questions and answers for Humes to give during an upcoming interview. The answer to the second question stated "We found that two bullets struck the President, both from the rear. One entered the back of the skull and exited through the right front. The other entered the back of the neck and exited through the throat."
In June of 1967, CBS broadcast a five-minute interview of Commander Humes by Dan Rather. During this interview Rather asked, "And the exit wound?" Humes described the exit wound with one adjective that upset three years of carefully planned pacification of Parkland Hospital. Humes replied, "And the exit wound was a large irregular wound to the front and side-right side of the President’s head." This localization of the right side exit wound to the frontal quadrant of the head contradicted every report by the medical professionals of Parkland as well as the testimony and reports submitted by Humes to Warren Commission.
Part Eight - Domestic Pacification
Attorney General Ramsey Clark requested the formation of the Clark Panel. On February 26 and 27 of 1968, the Panel reviewed the autopsy photographs and X-rays and other evidence pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy. However, the release of the report was delayed by nearly one year. In 1969, the report was deposited with a federal district court in Washington, D. C.
The review of autopsy photographs by the Clark Panel dispelled any reasonable doubts concerning a highly tangential entry by the bullet. They described the shape of the scalp wound as elliptical. The previously reported dimensions of 6 mm by 15 mm placed the bullet entering at a 65-degree angle of incidence and the near alignment of the longer axis with the long axis of the head placed the bullet on course for exit from the superior-right portion of the head.
Source: Clark Panel Report, page 7
Photographs 7, 14, 42, and 43 show the back of the head, the contours of which have been grossly distorted by extensive fragmentation of the underlying calvarium. There is an elliptical penetrating wound of the scalp situated near the midline and high above the hairline. The position of this wound corresponds to the hole in the skull seen in the lateral X-ray film #2. (See description of X-ray films.) The long axis of this wound corresponds to the long axis of the skull. The wound was judged to be approximately six millimeters wide and 15 millimeters long. The margin of this wound shows an ill-defined zone of abrasion.
End of quotation.
The explicit description of the 6 mm by 15 mm bullet hole in the scalp as elliptical enables an analyst to calculate the incidence angle between the direction of the entering bullet and the perpendicular to the wound site as 65 degree. Further the Rydberg drawing, CE 386 shows that the 15-mm major axis of the wound made a 18-degree clockwise angle with the long axis of the head. A forensic analyst would use these details to construct a three-dimensional representation of the direction of the entering bullet. The dimensions of the elliptical hole gives a trajectory of [ ( 15/6 ) 2 - 1 ] .5 or 2.29 unit parallel to the surface for one unit directly into the head. The analyst wound resolve the 180-degree ambiguity in the direction of the component parallel to the surface by having it point toward the large void in the skull. In turn they resolve the distance parallel to the surface into 2.29 cos (18) or 2.18 unit superiorly along the longer axis of the head and 2.29 sin ( 18 ) or 0.71 unit rightward. Normalizing these measures gives a trajectory of 0.40 unit directly into the head, 0.87 unit superiorly and 0.28 unit to the right. Although the depth of penetration for a bullet on this course initially increased the curvature of the head would have reversed the deepening of the track and would caused a highly tangential exit from the superior-right-posterior of the head.
The description of the penetrating scalp wound as elliptical supports the notion that Parkland Hospital or its doctors had instituted legal action in response to the nationally broadcast comment by Humes of a front-right exit by the fatal bullet. Perhaps this description of the entry scalp wound as elliptical was the compromise that avoided the lawsuit which could have been the civil trial of the century.
Part Nine - Holes in the Cover Story
The dismissal of the large wound of the right-rear quadrant of President Kennedy’s head as evidence of a frontal shot required a face down posture. However, the majority of the Dealey Plaza head shot eyewitnesses who reported the direction in which President fell cited to the left or toward Mrs. Kennedy.
Charles F. Brehm said a shot hit the head and the President rolled over to his side. The last shot according to George W. Hickey made the President fall forward and to his left again. Clinton J. Hill saw the President slump more toward his left. According to Jean Hill the President fell across his wife’s lap. Emmett J. Hudson saw the President slump over and Mrs. Kennedy pulled him into her lap after he got hit in the head. After hearing two additional shots, Roy H. Kellerman saw Kennedy slumped into Mrs. Kennedy’s lap. Samuel A. Kinney saw the President fall to the seat and to the left toward Mrs. Kennedy. Similarly Paul E. Landis, Jr. saw President Kennedy slump out of sight toward Mrs. Kennedy. Gayle Newman heard a shot, saw blood all over the side of the head and Mrs. Kennedy grab the President and he kind of lay over to the side. According to Jean Newman the President fall to his left and his wife jumped up on her knees. William Eugene Newman, Jr. saw the President hit in the side of his head and fall back and appear as if Mrs. Kennedy was holding him. From the followup car, Emory P. Roberts saw a small explosion of the right side of the President’s head at which time the President fell further to his left.
A few witnesses were vague as to the direction in which Kennedy fell. James W. Altgens stated that the head shot caused the President to move a bit forward and knocked him enough to come right on down. After hearing three loud reports, Nolan H. Potter saw Kennedy slump over. Linda Kay Willis realized that the President had been shot when she saw him falling over. Likewise, Mary Elizabeth Woodward saw the President fall over.
None of these head shot eyewitnesses reported President Kennedy in position with his face down for a bullet to have entered the inferior-right-rear and exited the superior-right-rear of his head.
Humes testified that photographs of the occipital wound were taken from both tables of the skull.
Source: Warren Commission Testimony of Commander James J. Humes - 2H, 352
Commander HUMES - Experience has shown and my associates and Colonel Finck, in particular, whose special field of interest is wound ballistics can give additional testimony about this scientifically observed fact.
This wound then had the characteristics of wound of entrance from this direction through the two tables of the skull.
Mr. SPECTER - When you say "this direction," will you specify that direction in relationship to the skull?
Commander HUMES - At that point I mean only from without the skull to within.
Mr. SPECTER - Fine, proceed.
Commander HUMES - Having ascertained to our satisfaction and incidentally photographs illustrating this phenomenon from both the external surface of the skull and from the internal surface were prepared, we concluded that the large defect to the upper right side of the skull, in fact, would represent a wound of exit. A careful examination of the margins of the large bone defect at that point, however, failed to disclose a portion of the skull bearing again a wound of--a point of impact on the skull of this fragment of the missile, remembering, of course, that this area was devoid of any scalp or skull at this present time. We did not have the bone.
End of quotation.
However, in privileged communication of February 10, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Finck reported that photographs were missing. He wrote. "I saw no photos of bone of entry; I thought we had photographed the outside and inside of entry wound in skull. There were 2 4X5 sheets of color film with no image."
The missing photographs of a longitudinal defect of the skull and the observed photographs of an elliptical and longitudinal scalp wound compound these insurmountable problems for a highly tangential entry by a bullet.
The prosectors reported a 6 mm by 15 mm hole in the scalp without mentioning a surrounding abrasion. This report in itself is troubling since the scalp is a thin layer of soft tissue covering the firm bone of the skull. These circumstances produce an especially prominent abrasion surrounding an entry wound. The Clark Panel revealed that the failure of the prosectors to mention the abrasion was not an oversight. Instead the panel explained that an ill-defined abrasion surrounded the 6 mm by 15 mm elliptical hole in the scalp.
The absence of a prominent abrasion is sufficient to discredit a bullet as the cause of the scalp wound and the evidence to corroborate the oval defect of the skull failed to develop.