Was Oswald Framed?
Commission Exhibit 399, the so-called magic bullet, had sustained too little damage to have caused Connally's wounds, and was probably not found on Connaly's stretcher.
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The rifle and bullet shells which had been discovered on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository pointed unambiguously to Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin of President Kennedy.
The evidence assembled and considered by the Warren Commission, however, demonstrated that Oswald almost certainly had not been involved in the assassination. The rifle and bullet shells must, therefore, have been planted in order to frame Oswald.
The Magic Bullet: Commission Exhibit 399
Perhaps the most blatant indication of the framing of Oswald was the emergence of an unlikely candidate for the single bullet which supposedly caused all of Kennedy’s and Connally’s non–fatal injuries.
A bullet was discovered on a stretcher outside the operating theatre in Parkland Hospital, Dallas, at around the time when Governor Connally was undergoing emergency surgery. The Warren Commission was told that this bullet was of the same type as those found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, and that it had been fired from the rifle discovered on the sixth floor.1
Several problems soon emerged with the nature and provenance of what became known, derisively, as the magic bullet.
The CE 399 Bullet and Connally’s Wounds
It became clear that this bullet alone could not have caused all of Connally’s injuries:
- Despite the great destruction it had apparently caused, the bullet had suffered very little damage. Its base was slightly squashed, and its copper sheath possessed several fine scratches, but the bullet was otherwise intact. It was supposed to have destroyed four inches of one of Connally’s ribs and shattered the radius bone in his wrist, one of the densest bones in the human body. To determine whether the condition of the bullet was consistent with these injuries, two sets of tests were conducted:
- More metal had been deposited in Governor Connally’s wounds than was missing from the bullet. The surgeons who operated on Connally noted several tiny fragments of bullet lead in his wrist, as well as a larger fragment in his thigh. Other fragments may well have been washed out when the wounds to the torso and wrist were cleaned prior to surgery. The only part of the CE 399 bullet which was not sheathed in copper, and from which the lead fragments could have come, was the base, but the only piece missing from the base was a very small sample taken by the FBI for testing. Even without that sample and another taken from the nose, the weight of the bullet was within the normal tolerance of intact bullets.4
The Provenance of the Bullet
It also became clear that the bullet presented to the Warren Commission had not come from Governor Connally’s stretcher.
There had been two stretchers outside the operating theatre: one had held Connally, while the other had had no connection with either Connally or Kennedy. Darrell Tomlinson, the hospital employee who discovered the bullet, was insistent that he had found it on the other stretcher.5
Not only had no bullet been found on Connally’s stretcher, but the bullet produced in evidence was not in fact the one discovered at the hospital. The Warren Commission’s bullet, Commission Exhibit 399, was not shown to Tomlinson during his testimony. Another hospital employee, O.P. Wright, who also saw the bullet on the stretcher, was not called to testify. Three years later, a researcher showed a photograph of the CE 399 bullet to Wright, who claimed that the bullet he had seen on the stretcher was of an entirely different type.6
More Evidence that Oswald was Framed
Like the bullet shells and rifle found on the sixth floor, the magic bullet appears to have been planted in order to incriminate Lee Harvey Oswald. Three other areas of evidence also indicated that Oswald had been framed:
- Oswald’s impersonation in Mexico City about seven weeks before the assassination.
- The appearance of Oswald, or someone impersonating him, in Dallas at around the same time.
- Oswald’s career as a defector to the Soviet Union and as an agitator in New Orleans.
- Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.435. At the time of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977, it was claimed that neutron activation analysis was able to match the CE 399 bullet to fragments of bullets found in the presidential car, but this theory has since been debunked. For a layman–friendly account of the issue, see Gary Aguilar, ‘Review of Reclaiming History,’ The Federal Lawyer, November/December 2007.
- The US Army report on its test, Wound Ballistics of 6.5–mm Mannlicher–Carcano Ammunition, was classified, and only became known to the public ten years after the assassination. A photograph of the least damaged of the ten bullets was published by the Warren Commission: Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 17, p.850 (Commission Exhibit 856). The Army report contains a photograph of four bullets, all severely damaged, on page 35. For photographs of CE 399, see Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 17, p.49 (Commission Exhibit 399) and the Mary Ferrell Foundation website.
- Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.437. Photograph of the intact bullets: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.17, p.258 (Commission Exhibit 572). Although the FBI examiner did not describe his method, it is standard procedure to fire bullets into tubes of cotton in order to create a rifling pattern on the outside of a bullet without destroying the bullet. The inside of a rifle barrel contains ridges and grooves in a spiral pattern which cause a bullet to spin in the air, increasing the accuracy of its flight. By examining the rifling pattern on a test bullet, it is possible to determine that a bullet of the same type has been fired from a specific rifle.
- The metallic fragments in the wrist: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.4, pp.120ff, and ibid., p.113; see also ARRB MD 184, pp.2f. The fragment in the thigh: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.4, p.125. The weight of the bullet: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.5, p.68.
- See Warren Commission Hearings, vol.6, pp.130ff for the pressure put on Tomlinson to change his mind. President Kennedy’s stretcher was in a different part of the hospital, and could not have been the source of the bullet. The Warren Report claimed disingenuously that the fact that the bullet had not come from Kennedy’s stretcher increased the likelihood that it must have come from Connally’s; see the Warren Report, p.81.
- Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas: a Micro–Study of the Kennedy Assassination, New York: Bernard Geis Associates for Random House, 1967, p.175. The story is complicated by the bullet’s inadequately documented chain of custody, and by an FBI memo to the Warren Commission which claimed falsely that both Tomlinson and Wright had confirmed that the official bullet, CE 399, was the one they had seen on the stretcher. See Gary Aguilar and Josiah Thompson, ‘The Magic Bullet: Even More Magical Than We Knew’ at history–matters.com; and Robert Harris, ‘The Connally Bullet’ at jfkhistory.com.
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