Chapter 5, Part 2:
Act of Desperation

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

The Main Weaknesses of Lifton’s Theory

Texas Governor John Connally was unquestionably struck from the rear. “Lifton makes no attempt to explain Connally’s wounds within the terms of his theory. He does not seem to notice the problem at all.” (Powers, Thomas and Alan Rich, “Robbing the Grave,” New York Magazine, February 23, 1981, p. 46) Would Lifton have us presume that Governor Connally volunteered to take a near fatal shot from behind to assist the conspirators in persuading the world that someone was indeed firing from the rear? Or, perhaps the assassins, throwing caution to the winds, chose to shoot Connally from the rear, but not JFK, to that same end, supremely confident in their ability to hit one but not the other by mistake. What if whoever shot Connally (assuming as James Reston, Jr. does, that he was a deliberate target) had missed and instead shot Kennedy by mistake?

Another, even more pivotal weakness of Lifton’s trajectory reversal idea (BE, p. 343) is that it rests upon the assumption that the three bullet shells which were found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository near the window from which the Warren Commission alleged that Oswald fired the shots were planted by conspirators, and upon the further assumption that the plan called for the number of wounds inflicted during the shooting to correlate perfectly with the number of allegedly planted bullet shells.

This, however, is not necessarily so: If a greater number of shells existed than wounds, it could be explained away that one or more of the shots fired had missed their target. If, however, fewer shells existed than wounds “attributable” to them, then the wounds would have to be correlated in such a way as to accommodate the number of shells. Moreover, Lifton makes no effort to address the weighty issue whether the three shells would have been planted before or after the shooting, let alone how or by whom.

Lifton acknowledges this problem:

One fact of my hypothesis was that it demonstrated, in theory at least, that the plotters could know, once they saw the body, how much ammunition was needed, and so could coordinate the planting of bullets with the fabrication of trajectories.

(BE, p. 359)

Really? How would they know how many bullet fragments to plant? Did they know how many times John Connally was struck? Could they plant fragments in Connally’s chest, wrist and thigh?

Wasn’t it necessary, in Lifton’s world, to plant the three cartridge shells beforehand? Ignoring the faults implicit in his a priori reasoning, consider the consequences. I am grateful to researcher W. Anthony Marsh for pointing out that, if the conspirators had planted the three cartridge shells in the Book Depository, but “gotten lucky” and made the fatal hit with one shot from the knoll, the conspiracy would have been immediately exposed. As he further muses, the number of known or suspected separate and distinct shots far exceeded the three shells recovered (JFK’s head and upper back/lower neck, Connally’s chest and wrist, the limousine windshield and chrome topping, and bystander James Tague).

I agree with many students of the case that there are doubts about the legitimacy of CE 399. Looking at the totality of Lifton’s ammunition–planting scheme, however, why plant a whole bullet on a stretcher, but only fragments in the car? What about the fragments that actually were found in the President’s skull, or those that were too minute to recover? Were they planted (and perhaps “sprayed” through the brain) too?

How did the plotters know that a bullet fired from the front would not completely escape the limousine and later be recovered — maybe hours or days after the shooting?

Further Weaknesses

Bullets make tracks through the body, not just holes on the skin surface. Conspirators would have to chance that the autopsy pathologists would not be curious why fake rear bullet entries on the right side of the President’s body and head did not make exits on the left front side of the body and head.

One of the earliest seeds of doubt concerning the case was the eye– and ear–witness testimony that sounds of gunshots attracted their attention to the knoll. Also, Lifton’s conspirators would have had to consider the possibility that a grassy knoll assassin would be apprehended by police or aroused citizens before he could either conceal his weapon or escape or do both.

  • What if Kennedy had lived? What if he had miraculously escaped from Elm Street with only a non–life–threatening throat wound?
  • What if Jacqueline Kennedy or someone else in the limousine had been hit from the grassy knoll or front by mistake?
  • What if an innocent bystander had been accidentally hit by a grassy knoll bullet?

The Back Wound

During the early days of the controversy surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination, critics of the Warren Commission contested the single–bullet theory, that one shot traversed the bodies of both President Kennedy and Governor John Connally causing a total of seven wounds to both men, with evidence from the Commission’s own investigation that the President’s back wound was too low to have followed a trajectory consistent with the Commission’s reconstruction. In Best Evidence David Lifton takes the same body of evidence and bends it to his own purposes, contending that it was fraudulent and, therefore, untrustworthy.

Lifton argues that the wound in President Kennedy’s back was shallow and had no exit because it was artificially made by the conspirators during the alteration of Kennedy’s body. He reminds us that Sibert and O’Neill’s account of the unsuccessful probing of that wound at autopsy is “inconsistent with the subsequent autopsy conclusion that the bullet passed all the way through…” (BE, p. 344). (Here, Lifton overstates his case. The inconsistency was only with a downward trajectory from back–to–front.) Distracting his readers with autobiographical musings, Lifton does not detain us with an explanation of why he relies on the Secret Service description of the head wound, while rejecting their description of the back wound as a sham. (BE, pp. 311–312)

How does Lifton account for the fact that the President’s back wound was too low to support a downward trajectory from the sixth floor of the Depository? How could such a crucial mistake arise in such an elaborate scheme? Lifton theorizes that back wound was fabricated before anyone knew of the throat wound. (See BE, p. 347 fn.) The mistake in placing the fake back wound too low was due to his conspirators’ ignorance. (BE, p. 374) It may be asked why, if the conspirators were ignorant of the throat wound, which could later be termed the exit for a bullet, they found it necessary to create the back wound at all? In other words, why deliberately create a wound for which there would be no apparent exit? Naturally, Lifton has an answer for this. He theorizes that the conspirators meant for the so–called “stretcher bullet” (CE 399) discovered at Parkland Hospital to be “paired” with the false back wound that they would create, so they planted the bullet at Parkland Hospital. (BE, p. 345) Further, according to Lifton, this was the only purpose of the wound — to link it to an “Oswald bullet”, not to conceal the true nature of the wounds on the front of the body. (See BE, page 347 fn., and pages 372–374)

Weighing the weaknesses and the risks inherent in such a scheme, the argument appears preposterous:

  • It commits the conspirators to using up one whole bullet out of three (i.e., the shells found in the depository).
  • (Would not Lifton’s conspirators have had to make absolutely sure, before planting the bullet, of how Kennedy indeed was hit? Wouldn’t it be careless of them not to? In other words, Lifton wants it both ways: a careful, pre–planned scheme to alter the body, but with no immediate reconnaissance to determine what alterations were necessary or tolerable.)
  • It assumes that no Parkland doctor, nurse or orderly would even have the opportunity to observe the President’s back;
  • It assumes the bullet would indeed be found and turned over to the Secret Service, not lost or pocketed by a souvenir hunter;
  • It assumes Jacqueline Kennedy would be silent as to whatever she observed.

A more elegant and obvious solution, it seems, would have been simply to embed a slug in the back wound and have it found at autopsy. Would this not have provided the strongest possible case against Oswald?

Lifton’s thesis that the back wound was fake, and any evidence that it was real was invented for corroboration, labors under a weighty burden of evidence.

Secret Service Agent Glen Bennett

Secret Service Agent Glen Bennett was riding in the right rear seat of the Secret Service follow–up car behind the presidential limousine. Bennett saw a shot hit the President in the back, probably the second shot fired in the assassination. During the return trip to Washington aboard Air Force One on the afternoon of the assassination, Bennett wrote the following notes in hand:

The President’s auto moved down a slight grade and the crowd was very sparse. At this point I heard a noise that immediately reminded me of a firecracker. I immediately, upon hearing the supposed firecracker, looked at the Boss’s car. At this exact time I saw a shot that hit the Boss about 4 inches down from the right shoulder; a second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the Boss’s head.

(CE2112 at 24H 542)

But see Bennett’s formal typed report, in which he differs on sequence.

I heard what sounded like a fire–cracker. I immediately looked from the right/crowd/physical area/and looked towards the President who was seated in the right rear seat of his limousine open convertible. At the moment I looked at the back of the President, I heard another fire–cracker noise and saw the shot hit the President about four inches down from the right shoulder. A second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the President’s head.

(CE1024; 18H760)(dated 11–23–63)

Since David Lifton’s theory requires that President Kennedy was not shot in the back, because he alleges that shots were fired only from in front, Lifton is forced to insinuate that Bennett was in on the plot, and that his reports of what he observed were intended to provide a “cover story” for the plotters. In Chapter 11 of Best Evidence, Lifton asks why else the Director of the Secret Service, James Rowley, would have sent Bennett’s reports to the Warren Commission. Lifton fails to mention, of course, that by providing Bennett’s reports, Rowley was offering eyewitness evidence that the location of the back wound was far below where the official autopsy results placed it.

If Rowley intended to prove either the existence or the location of the back wound to the Warren Commission, his effort was certainly redundant. The Commission both received and ignored abundant evidence in this regard. Lifton did not consider an equally plausible motive: Secret Service Agent Kellerman testified that no one was aware of the wound in President Kennedy’s back until his body was lifted up from the autopsy table by one of the pathologists, Lt. Col. Pierre Finck. As I discussed in Chapter Four, Kellerman’s testimony directly contradicted a field memorandum filed by the FBI’s Sibert and O’Neill as an adjunct to their narrative report on the autopsy. There, the FBI agents reported that, during a conversation that included Kellerman, Dr. Burkley referred to the back wound before the start of the autopsy. Rowley’s transmittal of the Bennett reports to the Commission contradicted the sworn testimony of another of his agents, Roy Kellerman. Rowley may have meant to alert the Commission that Kellerman’s testimony was erroneous, perhaps even deliberately untruthful, by providing them with the Bennett statements. This could have been a bureaucrat’s canny ploy to wash his hands clean of a possibly deliberate effort by the Secret Service to discredit the FBI’s reporting of the autopsy.

Whatever Rowley’s motivation may have been, however, there are certainly less sinister possibilities than the one that Lifton proposes.

The President’s Clothing

Lifton alleges that the plotters created fake holes in the rear of the President’s clothing. The holes in the clothing were artificially inflicted in the wrong locations, however, because the conspirators, not realizing the existence of the throat wound at the time, had committed the mistake of making the back wound too low. (Best Evidence, Chapter 9) How does he dismiss the discrepancy in the holes’ sizes? The conspirators made another mistake. If that is the case, however, their “mistake” was most fortuitous. For one thing, it left minute traces of copper embedded in the margins of the “fake” bullet holes: “Minute traces of copper” were found around the edges of the holes in the back of the jacket and shirt. (FBI, Memo of Jevons to Conran, November 26, 1963, #62–109060–1086). Also, Lifton’s conspirators “mistakenly” made one hole higher on the back than the other.

Consider the testimony of FBI Special Agent Robert Frazier, who was assigned to the FBI laboratory’s firearms identification unit in Washington, D.C.:

Mr Frazier
There was located on the rear of the coat 5–3/8 inches below the top of the collar, a hole, further located as 1–¾ inches to the right of the midline or the seam down the center of the coat; all of these being as you look at the back of the coat. (5H 59)
Mr Specter
Did any tests conducted on the coat disclose any metallic substance on that area of that hole?
Mr Frazier
Yes, sir. I had a spectrographer run an analysis of a portion of the hole which accounts for its being slightly enlarged at the present time. He took a sample of cloth and made an analysis of it.… Traces of copper were found around the margins of the hole in the back of the coat, and as a control, a very small section under the collar was taken, and no copper being found there, it was concluded that the copper was foreign to the coat itself. (5H59)
Mr Frazier
I found on the back of the shirt a hole, 5–¾ inches below the top of the collar, and as you look at the back of the shirt, 1–1/8 inch to the right of the midline of the shirt, which is this hole I am indicating. (5H 60)
Mr Dulles
Is the hole in the shirt and the hole in the coat you have just described in a position that indicates that the same instrument, whatever it was, or the same bullet, made the two?
Mr Frazier
Yes; they are. They are both — the coat hole is 5–3/8 inches below the top of the collar. The shirt hole is 5–¾ inches, which could be accounted for by a portion of the collar sticking up above the coat about a half inch.
Mr Dulles
I see.
Mr Frazier
And they are both located approximately the same distance to the right of the midline of both garments. Now, on the front of the shirt, I found what amounts to one hole. Actually, it is a hole through both the button line of the shirt and the buttonhole line which overlap down the front of the shirt when it is buttoned.
Mr Specter
Mr Frazier
This hole is located immediately below the button being centered seven–eighths of an inch below the button on the shirt, and similarly seven–eighths of an inch below the button hole on the opposite side.
The Chairman
You are speaking of the collar button itself, aren’t you?
Mr Frazier
The collar button.
The Chairman
Mr Frazier
In each instance for these holes, the one through the button line and the one through the buttonhole line, the hole amounts to a ragged slit approximately one–half inch in height. It is oriented vertically, and the fibers of the cloth are protruding outward, that is, have been pushed from the inside out. I could not actually determine from the characteristics of the hole whether or not it was caused by a bullet. However, I can say that it was caused by a projectile of some type which exited from the shirt at that point and that is again assuming that when I first examined the shirt it was — it had not been altered from the condition it was in at the time the hole was made.
Mr Specter
What characteristics differ between the hole in the rear of the shirt and the holes in the front of the shirt which lead you to conclude that the hole in the rear of the shirt was caused by a bullet but which are absent as to the holes in the front of the shirt?
Mr Frazier
The hole in the front of the shirt does not have the round characteristic shape caused by a round bullet entering cloth. It is an irregular slit. It could have been caused by a round bullet, however, since the cloth could have torn in a long slitlike way as the bullet passed through it. But that is not specifically characteristic of a bullet hole to the extent that you could say it was to the exclusion of being a piece of bone or some other type of projectile.


FBI photos taken of the President’s jacket and shirt are part of the Warren Commission exhibits in the National Archives and have been published in numerous books about the assassination. Lifton’s imagined conspirators had such a hot streak that day that they made it appear as though a bullet entering the President’s back would have had to turn upward to exit his neck.

The Parkland Nurses

Sylvia Meagher, in a note to page 140 of her treatise, Accessories After The Fact, called attention to another of Arlen Specter’s shenanigans in the development of the medical evidence:

Two nurses who had assisted the team of doctors in the emergency room remained there with the President’s body after he was pronounced dead. Both nurses testified that they undressed the body, cleaned it, and wrapped it in sheets. The natural question for counsel to pose was whether either of the nurses had seen a wound in the President’s back while performing these procedures, but this was not asked. (6H136–137, 141)

Harrison E. Livingstone will reveal in a book soon to be published that one of the Parkland nurses, Diana Bowron, who was within close proximity to the President at all times, has been located. She was one of those who washed and cleaned the body after death to prepare it for transport. She has been interviewed and has made a signed statement. She has also examined the purported photograph of the back wound. She says there was a bullet wound in Kennedy’s back at Parkland, approximately six inches below the juncture of the neck and shoulder.

The Throat Wound

Lifton suggests an attempt to hide the throat wound from the autopsy pathologists (BE, p. 545), but he does not explain why his conspirators would not likewise have attempted to conceal the holes in the President’s shirt collar, and the nick in the tie.

About the throat wound. If it was an entrance, as the Liftonites contend, then why would the entering bullet make such a neat round hole in the throat yet only a small tear in the right lateral wall of the trachea? And, where would that bullet have gone? In the nearly twenty–nine years since the Warren Commission’s evidentiary appendices were published, no one has yet proposed a persuasive answer to either of these questions.

The Windshield

Mr. Lifton has alleged that damage sustained to the windshield of the presidential limousine during the assassination was also faked to support the illusion of shots fired from the rear. Lifton got a copy of former Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry’s book, JFK Assassination File, in December 1969. (Lifton, David. Postcard to Sylvia Meagher, December 13, 1969). Had he studied the clear photographs in Curry’s book, as researcher W. Anthony Marsh has done, he would have found a nice one of the limousine at Parkland Hospital’s emergency room loading dock, taken moments after the assassination. The photo shows damage to the windshield and its chrome trim.

Hedging the Bet: Photo and X–Ray Alteration

How does David Lifton deal with the fact that the medical technicians say the autopsy photos are fake? For example, X–ray technician Jerroll Custer has said that the autopsy X–rays now in the National Archives are not the ones that he took during the autopsy, and are not of President Kennedy. (Livingstone, Harrison E., High Treason 2. Carroll & Graf, New York: 1991, p. 130) While it is difficult at times to tell, it appears that David Lifton argues for either one of two propositions:

  • Either the alteration of the President’s body that he terms a “medical forgery” was so skillful that it fooled the pathologists at the autopsy bench,
  • or else it was bungled and the pathologists were fully aware of the scheme.

Lifton theorizes that the rear head wound that he believes was seen in Dallas was “erased” by restoring the back of the head, at least on the autopsy photos and X–rays (BE, pages 505–506) He suggests that the false photographic and X–ray record was created after midnight.

Was President Kennedy’s body altered to deceive the autopsy surgeons, or to deceive the camera? Was there no alteration to the body, but falsification of the photographic record? These questions are central to the conspiracy question, yet after leading his readers through several hundred pages of endless speculation before raising them, Lifton does nothing more than to fudge his answers.

If the “medical forgery” of wounds on the President’s body that Lifton has imagined was so good, why substitute faked photos and X–rays? Lifton replies:

“The plot was elegant in conception but bungled in execution,” he is reported to have explained. “What was supposed to happen isn’t what did happen … and that’s why what did happen looked so chaotic and blundering.”

(“His J.F.K. Obsession: For David Lifton, The Assassination is a Labyrinth Without End,” Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1988, Id.)

In other words, Lifton’s bogeymen, though unknown and invisible, are subject to Murphy’s Law.


Lifton’s conspiracy theory, which earns a new definition for “internal logic”, requires assassins firing frangible bullets only from somewhere in front of Kennedy for the purpose of leaving the rear of his body unmarked, and for leaving only shallow entrance wounds later to be enlarged to appear as exits, and further calls for post hoc accessories to the crime manually creating rear entrance wounds to mislead the autopsy surgeons.

His assassins could not risk firing from behind Kennedy for fear of creating undesired trajectories, although rear–to–front trajectories are exactly what they wanted!

In Lifton’s arcane world, everyone purposefully acts in a certain way to achieve diametrically opposite results. He claims to enjoy a profound psycho linguistic empathy and rapport with Dr. Humes, the chief autopsy pathologist. As I discussed in Chapter Three, no matter what Humes has said in his testimony, Lifton always seems to know what he really means.

Lifton ignores that the autopsy X–rays and photos were secreted away; that physical specimens from the autopsy are still missing; and, that the chain of possession of all these items is muddled. Why would these events have occurred if, as Lifton asserts, a perfectly planned medical forgery framing Lee Harvey Oswald went undetected?

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