Edgewood Arsenal Bullet Tests

The Warren Commission authorised ballistics tests to be carried out by the Department of Defense at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. Excerpts from the report on these tests, Wound Ballistics of 6.5–mm Mannlicher–Carcano Ammunition, CRDLR 3264, by Alfred G. Olivier and Arthur J. Dziemian, are given below.

Also included below is the text of a letter from Dr Joseph Dolce, a senior scientist at Edgewood Arsenal, commenting on the Warren Commission’s treatment of the evidence provided by the scientists.

CE 399 and the Single–Bullet Theory

The Warren Commission’s account of the assassination of President Kennedy required that all of the non–fatal wounds to Kennedy and Governor John Connally were caused by one specific bullet that had apparently been discovered on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital.

For the commission’s case to be credible, it was necessary that one bullet had entered the president’s back, exited through his throat, entered Connally’s back close to his right armpit, smashed several inches of one rib, exited the right side of his chest, broken the bone at his wrist, and lodged itself in his left thigh: the single–bullet theory. If all of these injuries had not been caused by only one bullet, the assassination could not plausibly have been carried out by only one gunman.

It was also necessary that Commission Exhibit 399, the bullet apparently discovered on the stretcher, was the bullet that had caused all the injuries. The CE 399 bullet had been fired from the rifle that had been found in the Texas School Book Depository, and thus must have been involved in the assassination in some way. If CE 399 was not the single bullet that had caused all the non–fatal injuries:

  • CE 399 must have been planted on the stretcher while Governor Connally was undergoing emergency surgery,
  • or CE 399 must have been entered into evidence dishonestly at a later date.

The commission’s case was made difficult by the fact that this bullet was in almost pristine condition: it was slightly flattened at the base, and it possessed a few scratches, but it was otherwise undamaged. The commission was obliged to demonstrate that this amount of damage to the bullet was consistent with the amount of damage caused to the victims, and in particular to the broken bones suffered by Governor Connally.

The Results of the Edgewood Arsenal Tests

In a general way, the results of the tests were helpful to the Warren Commission. Bullets of the type found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository could have caused the known injuries to Governor Connally. They could have caused the substantial injury to President Kennedy’s skull. Fragments from this type of bullet could have caused the reported damage to the car.

In other ways, the tests were less helpful. The large number of tiny metallic fragments in the president’s skull, which are visible in the X–rays from the autopsy, do not appear to have been replicated in the tests. Such fragmentation is typical of soft–nosed bullets, and not of the metal–jacketed type found in the TSBD. More importantly, all the bullets that had been fired into ribs and wrist bones were more deformed than the CE 399 bullet.

Two photographs in particular were inimical to the commission’s case:

  • Figure A14, on page 35 of the report, depicts four of the ten bullets that had been fired into the wrist bones of human cadavers. All are substantially more deformed than CE 399.
  • Figure A22, on page 44, shows two bullets: one that had been fired into a goat’s rib, and one that had been fired into a block of gelatin. The former was noticeably flattened, while the latter was in a similar state to CE 399.

For comparison, photographs of CE 399 from various angles can be found at http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/Photos_-_NARA_Evidence_-_Magic_Bullet.

The Fate of the Edgewood Arsenal Report

The Department of Defense had supplied twenty documents to the Warren Commission. In 1965, these documents were evaluated before being placed in the National Archives. All were released apart from the Edgewood Arsenal test report, Wound Ballistics of 6.5–mm Mannlicher–Carcano Ammunition. The report was withheld until ten years after the assassination, when it was released to the public as the result of a law suit under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dr Joseph Dolce’s Letter

At the time of the assassination, Dr Joseph Dolce had been the US Army’s most senior expert in wound ballistics. He had participated in informal discussions with members of the Warren Commission staff, but was not called to offer his opinion for the record. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations reviewed the case, Dolce wrote to his senator, offering to appear before the committee. His letter is reproduced below.

As well as questioning the Warren Commission’s decision to ignore his evidence, Dolce made several pertinent points:

  • The two doctors whose evidence the commission did take, Olivier and Dziemian, did not testify in accordance with their experimental findings.
  • Exit wounds are invariably larger than entrance wounds, as was the case with all ten of the Edgewood Arsenal experiments on human wrists. The larger wound on Connally’s wrist, however, was assumed to be the entrance wound.
  • The pathologists at the autopsy should have dissected the bullet’s supposed path through the president’s neck.
  • The CE 399 bullet could not have caused so much damage and remained virtually intact: “one bullet striking the President’s neck, the Governor’s chest and wrist, should be badly deformed, as our experiments at the Edgewood Arsenal proved.”

About the Edgewood Arsenal Report

Questionable Assumptions

The report contains several questionable assumptions that do not affect the validity of the results. For example:

  • It was assumed that only three shots were fired, all of them by Lee Oswald.
  • The stretcher on which a bullet was found was probably not that of Governor Connally, according to the testimony of Darrell Tomlinson, who discovered the bullet: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, pp.130ff.
  • More fundamentally, CE 399 was probably not the bullet that was found on that stretcher. See Gary Aguilar and Josiah Thompson, ‘The Magic Bullet: Even More Magical Than We Knew’ at history–matters.com.
  • A bullet almost certainly entered President Kennedy’s upper back, not his neck.
  • The entrance wound in the president’s skull was assumed to be close to the external occipital protuberance, as the pathologists claimed. Study of the Zapruder film later revealed that the angle of the president’s head at the moment of impact was such that a bullet entering at this low point and exiting at the top of the head could not have come from the sixth floor of the TSBD.

Location and Discussion of the Documents

The report is now stored at the National Archives. A scan in PNG format is available online at http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=62296.

Dr Joseph Dolce’s letter is also at the National Archives (NARA RIF no: 180–10084–10430). A scan is available online at: http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=99785.

For a detailed discussion of the Edgewood Arsenal tests and the Warren Commission’s treatment of the evidence, see:

Excerpts and Links

The excerpts from the report, below, omit material that is irrelevant to the Warren Commission’s case: the path of the bullets through flesh, the amount of energy spent, and the effects of temperature. Links are given to the photographic evidence contained in the report. Dolce’s letter is reproduced in full.

Wound Ballistics of 6.5–mm Mannlicher–Carcano Ammunition

By Alfred G. Olivier and Arthur J. Dziemian

Introduction (p.7)

Under the authority of Executive Order No. 11130, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which states that “All Executive departments and agencies are directed to furnish the Commission with such facilities, services and cooperation as it may request from time to time,” the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy requested that these Laboratories conduct a series of experiments designed to simulate, if possible, the wounds received by President Kennedy and Governor Connally on 22 November 1963. It was hoped that information might be obtained that could relate the three shots that were reported to be fired to the wounds received by the President and the Governor.

For these experiments the rifle used by the assassin (Commission exhibit 139, serial no. C2766 was used [figure A1, appendix A (all figures, A1 through A24, are in appendix A)]. The ammunition used for these experiments was the 160–gr, 6.5–mm, Mannlicher–Carcano–type ball, manufactured by Western Cartridge Company, East Alton, Illinois (figure A2, part A). The lot number was WCC 6000 (figure A2, part B). This is believed to be the same type of ammunition used by the assassin. These bullets have a gilding metal jacket, whereas the Italian–made military ammunition uses steel–jacketed bullets.

Procedures (p.8)

Experimental procedures were divided into six general categories as follows:

  • tissue–retardation studies,
  • shots at gelatin–filled and coated human skulls,
  • shots at human–cadaver arms,
  • shots at the ribs of anesthetized goats,
  • energy studies in 20% gelatin tissue models,
  • and effects of ammunition temperature upon velocity.

Procedures: Human–Skull Study (p.9)

The human–skull studies were conducted to see if the 6.5–mm Mannlicher–Carcano bullet would inflict massive skull wounds, such as the President received. A full–jacketed blunt–nosed bullet of this type tends to be very stable and should not cause such massive wounds unless the nose of the bullet were to flatten or deform severely, causing rapid slowdown with a resultant increase in kinetic–energy expenditure within the cranium. Before conducting these tests, the experimenters were of the opinion that only an unstable bullet or a soft–nosed hunting bullet could produce such damage.

Procedures: Human–Arm Study (p.10)

For this study, amputated arms from human cadavers were used in an attempt to simulate the wrist wound received by Governor Connally. Ten arms were used for these tests.

The operative record, as dictated by Dr. Charles Gregory in the Commission report, located the entrance wound “on the dorsal aspect of the right wrist over the junction of the distal fourth of the radius and the shaft.” He further stated that it “was approximately 2 cm in length and rather oblique with the loss of tissue with some considerable contusion at the margins of it.” The doctor located the exit wound “along the volar surface of the wrist about 2 cm above the flexion crease of the wrist and in the midline.” The operative report does not mention the site of the exit wound, but Dr. Gregory later stated that it was a very small slit that was almost obscured by one of the creases on the volar surface of the wrist.

The cadaver wrists used for this study were positioned (figure A6) so that the path of the projectiles through the wrists would be the same as the one through the wrist of the Governor. The distance from rifle to target for these studies was 70 yd, as this was believed to be about the distance from the assassin to Governor Connally if the Governor had been struck by a second shot after President Kennedy had been struck by the first. Velocity–recording screens were placed behind the wrists (figure A6) to record the exit velocities of the bullets. The bullets were recovered from cotton waste and polyethylene foam. An average striking velocity for this distance was obtained just before the arm shooting commenced.

Results: Human–Skull Study (p.14)

Three shots were fired to determine the striking velocity of the bullet at 90 yd. The recorded velocities were 1,790, 1,833, and 1,854 ft/sec. The average striking velocity at this distance was 1,826 ft/sec.

Ten skulls were shot at this range, and extensive damage was produced in each instance. The bullets broke up to a greater or lesser degree in at least nine of the skulls. This was determined by recovered fragments (figure A9) and radiographs (figure A10). Figures A11 and A12 show some of the typical skull damage produced by this bullet. A piece of unclipped goat skin that was used to cover the target area on one of the skulls is shown in figure A13.

Results: Human–Arm Study (pp.14–15)

Five shots were fired to determine the striking velocity of the bullet at 70 yd. The average striking velocity for this distance was 1,858 ft/sec. Exit velocities were obtained for 7 of the 10 shots. The average exit velocity was 1,776 ft/sec, giving an average velocity loss, through the wrist, of only 82 ft/sec.

A most interesting finding from this series of shots was the comparative sizes of the entrance and exit wounds. In every instance the exit wound was larger than the entrance wound. The average size of the entrance wound for the 10 shots was 0.7 by 3.3 cm, the longer dimension being caused by the acute striking angle of the bullet. The average size of the 10 exit wounds was 2.0 by 6.7 cm. In contrast, the entrance wound in the Governor’s wrist was described as being larger than the exit wound. It is quite certain that the larger of the Governor’s wrist wounds was the entrance wound for the following reasons:

  • because fibers from his suit were found in this area;
  • because of the small slit–like nature of the other wound, indicating a low velocity;
  • and because it would be impossible for the Governor to orient his wrist in such a fashion that the wounds would be reversed without holding his arm in such a position that it would be easily noticeable in the movie films of the shooting.

Figure A14, parts A and B, shows some of the recovered bullets. The bullets in part A are more flattened than those in part B, because the former hit the hard cortical bone of the shaft, and the latter hit nearer the epiphysis, where the cortical bone thins out and the softer cancellous bone is present.

Figures A15 and A16 show some typical wrist wounds produced by this bullet. In every instance, the wounds that were produced in the wrists of the cadavers were larger than the wound of Governor Connally’s wrist.

Results: Goat–Thorax Study (pp.15–16)

Of the 13 goats that were wounded, 7 received fractured ribs from direct hits and 2 received fractured ribs from near misses. Because of the obliquity at which the bullets struck the goats, five of the animals had larger entrance wounds than exit wounds. In two animals, the bullets made long superficial lacerations with no definite entrance and exit holes. In only one animal, goat no. 12965, did the bullet strike and pass along the rib in a manner similar to the one that wounded Governor Connally. This goat received a comminuted fracture along 13 cm of the rib’s length (figures A19, parts A and B, and A20) as compared to the 10–cm–long comminuted fracture of the Governor’s rib. The goat’s lung (figure A21, part A) was wounded, and two small bone chips were found in the lung. The diaphragm had a laceration (figure A21, part B) from which four bone chips were removed at autopsy.

Figure A22 shows this bullet after recovery from cotton waste and polyethylene foam. For comparison, figure A22 also shows a bullet that struck a gelatin block at a similar velocity and was then caught in the same material. This latter bullet is relatively undeformed. The bullet that was recovered from Governor Connally’s stretcher was flattened somewhat but not as much as was the one from the goat. The pristine bullet that struck the goat lost 265 ft/sec velocity in passing through the animal. The bullet that struck the Governor, if pristine, would have lost about 400 ft/sec velocity because of the thicker torso. It would have lost much more if the bullet was yawing somewhat when it hit the Governor. The bullet that passed through the goat was yawing badly, perhaps tumbling end over end, when it struck the velocity–recording screen about a foot behind the goat (figure A23).

Discussion: Human–Arm Study (pp.17–18)

The human–arm study revealed several interesting facts.

  1. The average velocity loss through the wrist for the seven shots for which exit velocities were obtained was only 82 ft/sec.
  2. For the 10 cadaver wrists, the entrance wound was smaller than the exit wound in every instance. Governor Connally’s wrist had a larger entrance wound than exit wound.
  3. The damage done to the cadaver wrists was greater than was the damage done to the wrist of Governor Connally.
  4. The bullets that struck the bones in the cadaver wrists were deformed on the front end (figure A14). The bullet found on Governor Connally’s stretcher was slightly deformed but the front end was not deformed.

From the preceding facts, it can be deduced that the bullet that struck the Governor’s wrist was probably yawing (larger entrance wound than exit wound) and was probably traveling at a much reduced velocity, because even though yawing it did less damage (and suffered less deformation) than would a high–velocity, pristine bullet.

Another wound not mentioned before was a small wound in the Governor’s thigh. This was described as a shallow puncture wound. This wound was compatible with a nearly spent bullet, but not one traveling at a high speed, as were the bullets that exited the wrists of the cadavers.

Discussion: Goat–Thorax Study (p.18)

In only 1 of the 13 goats that were used for these tests was the path of the bullet along the rib similar to the one that wounded the Governor. In both instances the bullet did not enter the pleural cavity but grazed the rib, throwing secondary bone fragments into the pleural cavity. The only striking difference between the two shots was that the bullet that was recovered after passing through the goat was flatter than was the bullet that was recovered from the Governor’s stretcher. Possibly, the bullet that struck Governor Connally struck at a slower velocity, because of passage through the President’s neck, than the one that hit the goat.

Conclusions (p.20)

The results indicated that the wounds sustained by the President and by Governor Connally, including the massive head wound of the President, could be produced by the above type of bullet and rifle.

Tissue–retardation studies showed that the bullet that wounded the President in the neck had enough remaining velocity to account for all of the Governor’s wounds. If it had struck the car, the damage would have been very evident and much greater than the slight damage that was found on the windshield.

Shots at human skulls demonstrated that this stable, blunt–nosed, military bullet was capable of inflicting massive head wounds. Some of the recovered bullet fragments greatly resembled those that were found in the President’s car. It was probably a fragment of this type that damaged the windshield.

It is more difficult to draw a firm conclusion from shots at the goat thorax. The wound received by Governor Connally could have been produced by either the shot that hit President Kennedy in the neck or by a separate shot. If it was a separate shot, then the bullet that hit the President in the neck must be accounted for.

The bullet that struck Governor Connally in the wrist was probably the same bullet that produced the chest wound and subsequently produced the small wound in the thigh. The comparative sizes of entrance and exit wounds, the amount of bone damage, and the lack of bullet deformation all indicate that the wrist was struck by a tumbling bullet traveling at a reduced velocity.

My Thoughts re President J. F. Kennedy Assassination

By Joseph R. Dolce, MD, FACS

I am the Chief Consultant for the US Army in wound ballistics at the Edgewood Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. I have been dealing with high velocity missles for the Army for the past twenty–five years and I feel that there are no forensic pathologists in this country who have had the experience I have had with this type of missile. The forensic pathologist in civilian life, deals primarily with homicides caused by slow velocity missiles.

I appeared before the investigating team of the Warren Commission at the VA Building in Washington, D.C. on April 21, 1964. At that time, I reviewed all the X–rays and Zapruder film along with Governor Connaley [sic], his wife and his doctors. At that time, Governor Connaley sat on my right, while reviewing the Zapruder films and he (Governor Connaley) specifically told me, that he did not know that his wrist was injured until he reacted fully from anesthestia [sic] and noted a plaster cast on his right hand and forearm — but, in an interview with Life magazine — he goes on to say how his wrist was injured.

I am disturbed as to why I was not asked by the Warren Commission to give final testimony, even though Doctors Olivier and Dzimean [sic], to whom I serve as their Consultant were called, to give final testimony. I had advised these doctors to conduct certain experiments at Edgewood — which they did — and their findings were not consistent with their testimony.

Dr. Olivier accepts Dr. Gregory’s impression of what was the entrance and what was the exit wounds of Connaley’s right wrist, in spite of the fact, that his experiments on ten (10) cadaver wrists proved just the opposite — yet, he is willing to accept the conclusions of Gregory, who has no wound ballistic experience. This is extremely important, as he then tries to fit the yaw and the tumbling effects to coincide with Gregory’s interpretations — this is wrong and this is the part of the investigation that has been criticized so bitterly in medical circles. Personally, I strongly believe that the wrist wound in a separate and distinct wound made by one of the shots by Oswald. Also — this bullet is not deformed and yet, the bullets that struck the cadaver wrists are badly deformed, and these same bullets did not go through a neck or through a chest wall. In the experiments on ten cadaver wrists, all the exit wounds are larger than the entrance wounds — this is a known fact — yet, Dr. Olivier chose to accept Gregory’s thoughts of Connaley’s wound as just the opposite.

I feel that the first bullet fired by Oswald went through the President’s neck and caused him to become paralyzed even though the bullet did not strike the spine. This is due to the fact that you can have an injury to the spinal cord with high velocity missiles without the missiles striking the cord, because of the large temporary cavity produced by high velocity missiles. I can demonstrate amd [sic] prove this fact by several films which we have developed at the Edgewood Arsenal. The autopsy should have included a section of the cervical spinal cord, which I am sure would have demonstrated a hemorrhage.

I am convinced that the one bullet theory is wrong, because of the fact, that one bullet striking the President’s neck, the Governor’s chest and wrist, should be badly deformed, as our experiments at the Edgewood Arsenal proved. There never was a bullet in Governor Connaley’s left thigh, but just a small fragment which I feel came from the third bullet which struck J.F.K. in the head. My testimony on the one bullet theory are [sic] clearly written in Dr. Thompson’s book — “Six Seconds in Dallas” on pages 152 and 206.

I feel that the sequence of the bullets is as follows:

  1. The first bullet went through JFK’s neck and this is the so–called pristine bullet
  2. The second bullet went through Governor Connaley’s chest and wrist and the film clearly demonstrates Connaley’s wrist against his chest wall. I feel that this is the bullet that is missing
  3. The third bullet struck JFK in the head and one fragment of this bullet struck Connaley in the left thigh and also struck the windshield of the car

I feel that Oswald was the sole assassin who fired the three shots.

This is not an unusual deduction with high velocity missiles and we are compounding this investigation because it happens to be the President of the U.S. who was assassinated.

I have waited so long to express my thoughts, because I did not realize that the testimony given by my colleagues at Edgewood, was so different from what we had discussed and proved by experiments at Edgewood.

I am in the private practice of General Surgery & trauma and have had a great deal of experience in my private practice with gun shot wounds, also I served 37 years in the U.S. Army and Army reserves and have had wide experience with wounds caused by high velocity missiles.

I am a retired colonel of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

I am a board certified surgeon and a Fellow and the American College of Surgeons and also, the Army’s ballistics expert and I feel that I should be given the opportunity to express my thoughts before a responsible group of people.

I have been awarded the following decorations for my work in Wound Ballistics

  1. The Distinguished Civilian Service Medal — the Army’s highest civilian service award
  2. The Legion of Merit — the Army’s fifth highest military award.

Joseph R. Dolce, M.D. F.A.C.S.

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22 November 1963

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