The Fortean Times Unconvention JFK Lecture

- The Echoes of Dealey Plaza -

The Eternal Flame: Kennedy's Grave at Arlington National Cemetary in Washington D.C.

November 22nd, 2003 marks the 40th anniversary of the Assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I have been smitten by this case since the glut of documentaries on British Television in late 1988, and that interest continues to this day, although, naturally, my interest peaks as the anniversary approaches.

In April 2003, Prague-based journalist Kal Korff gave a lecture at the Fortean Times Unconvention in London. I had no idea what was to await me. At first Kal started off describing himself as pro-Conspiracy, but something must have happened to alter his opinion. It also must have affected his judgement and his memory as he selectively trumped up those aspects of the case that are highly critical of the pro-Conspiracy researchers, while boosting the profile of the more bizarre and unbelievable matters that suited him. I suppose it can't but help his fortchoming book and video later on in the year. What I find most irksome was his continual use of the phrase "This is physics" to dismiss the conspiracy authors and to mask his own shoddy research. To this end, I have written the following rebuttal. It does require some familiarity with the Kennedy case, and time permitting, I will possibly add to it to bring newcomers to the case up-to-date with the background story.


  1. The evidence concerning shots from the rear
  2. When was the first shot fired?
  3. Ballistics Evidence
  4. The Single Bullet Theory
  5. The Jet Effect
  6. The Backyard Photos
  7. Bogus Witnesses
  8. The paper bag

The evidence concerning shots from the rear:

A crack in the windshield of the Presidential Limousine was referred to, based on a photograph by press photographer James Altgens. This picture shows the President reacting to his throat wound, Governer Connally looking over his shoulder, and the Secret Service agents in the follow-up car glancing round (not surprising as they had had a very heavy night on the booze beforehand). This picture shows now damage to the windscreen, but a picture taken at Parklands Hospital after delivery of the mortally wounded President shows a starfish shaped crack near the driver's side mirror, and eyewitnesses reported the damage as being on the interior surface of the car (although some witnesses at Parkland did report that there was a bullet HOLE in the windshield). This was seen as good corroboration for rear shots fired at JFK. However, the windshield is made of a special laminate of safety glass, whereby the damage occurs on the opposite side to the point of inflection. In other words, damage on the inside surface would have come from a shot from the front. When this was pointed out, the "damaged" windshield vanished, to be replaced by an undamaged one.

James Altgen's Press Photograph

When was the first shot fired?

The lecturer made much of the statement by Phil Willis's daughter (whose name I cannot recall off the top of my head!) saying that she stopped running alongside the limousine when the first shot went off. She allegedly said to the lecturer that she had seen a funny man in the Texas School Book Depository (presumably the assasin), and the lecturer made a great play on this fact. However, what the lecturer did not say was that, in 1988, she was interviewed for TV and said that she was under the impression that the headshot came from the FRONT. I must also point out here that Phil Willis said that as the first shot was fired, he stepped off the curb into the road and he took a picture at this time, which can be found distributed on the internet. Also, JFK stops waving and looks around at this time, so there is good corroboaration from the 8mm Zapruder Film.

However, some of the lecturer's other assertions are laughable, even more so when he constantly used his apologetic mantra "this is physics" to justify shoddy research. I recall the lecturer saying that the first bullet went through the tree outside the Book Depository, and that such passage can cause "great defection" in its path, citing witnesses who saw something in the street behind the Limousine, and then mentioning bystander James Tague who was hit by richocheting debris from this missed shot.

All very well and good, except that it doesn't bear scrutiny.

Ignoring the laughable assertion that passage through a tree's branches would deflect a bullet significantly, this first shot would have been angled more or less downwards. For the shot to hit near Tague, some distance away, near the Triple Overpass, the bullet would have had to have gone a lot more horizontal - and miss the Limousine by a couple of hundred yards!

An aerial view of Dealey Plaza.

The letters denote the following location:

A - "The Sniper's Nest", south-east corner window of the 6th floor (5th floor for Europeans) of the Texas School Book Depository Building

B - "The Grassy Knoll", speculated location of second gunman

C - Approximate location of limousine at time of first shot

D - Approximate location of limousine at time of the "neck wound" shot

E - Approximate location of limousine at time of fatal head wound

F - James Tague's location. Note how far away he is from the shots!

G - Abraham Zapruder's filming location, on top of a stone pedestal

James Tague's evidence was ignored until it reached such prominence (in the local press) that officialdom had to do something about it. So, the upper echelons of power traipsied off to the spot and rather than finding the mark in the pavement from which metallic fragments could be obtained, they found that SOMEONE had cemented over the mark. The original assertion was that the brushes used to sweep the streets had obliterated the mark! When this excuse didn't work, this pavement slab was dug up and carted off to Washington for analysis, and a picture was indeed displayed by the lecturer. Shame he didn't mention that someone tried to destroy the evidence.

Ballistics Evidence

Two things for which I am indebted to the lecturer: he showed what had actually happened to JFK's brain after he had been buried (his body was exhumed and his reburied with the brain). The second one are the ballistics signatures of Bullet 399 ("The magic bullet") which showed that it had come from Oswald's rifle. I don't think anyother disputes this. What we are not sure is whether it was indeed fired that day! And, to counter the lecturer's argument that the bullet's chain of evidence was unbroken; it travelled from the Hospital to Washington in the pocket of a Secret Service agent!!! And some witnesses at Parkland Hospital remembered seeing a bullet with a pointed nose, not a round one like the Carcano exhibit 399 bullet. Indeed, the metal fragments recovered from Governor Connally (who was seated in front of JFK and was also hit) make it dubious that they could have come from exhibit 399. What a shame the lecturer didn't discuss this point; instead he wavered by taking Warren Commission critics to task by their description that this bullet is "pristine". Well, it isn't, but to argue over semantics is trivial obsession raised above all else.

Another point of contention: the lecturer said that, initially the police identified Oswald's Manlicher-Carcano rifle as a Mauser, but recanted later on. Granted, shown pictures of the two, they are extremely similar. However, the poicce officer recalled that the rifle he was shown had the word "Mauser" stamped on the barrel! And film footage shows a non-Manlicher Carcano rifle being manhandled from the upper floors of the despository building. With reference to the boxed-off sniper's nest, and the positiong of the three rifle bullets, different photos exist showing different layouts. The photo that was shown of the positioning of the three spent cartridges show two close together and one further away, which is plausible. However, one of the first police into the Book Depository picked up the three bullets (lying SIDE BY SIDE - surely impossible for a bolt action rifle!) for the sake of a journalist who wanted a picture of them, and then tossed them back down on the ground!

The Single Bullet Theory

The Warren Commision relies on two people (JFK and Connally) being hit by the same bullet for a non-conspiracy finding to be tenable. In this, Kennedy is hit in the throat and Connally is hit in the back. If this is not true, then more bullets are needed, and the Warren Commission's case collapses. It got tedious listening to the lecturer saying that the Magic Bullet antithesis to the Single Bullet theory is a "fraud" and "it never happened". His arguments were as vacuous as the Single Bullet Theory.

We know when the first bullet was fired, and it seemingly had no effect on the limousine. We know roughly when Kennedy was hit in the throat ( as he emerged from behind a street sign, as seen by the Zapruder film, even though Doctor's impressions in Dallas was that this was an entry wound in the front of the neck!). However, the lecturer used bogus logic to try to convince us that Connally was hit at the same time, by citing his lapel flapping up. In actual fact, as the photo of Connally's jacket shows, the emerging bullet hole is nowhere near the lapel!

Connally's jacket, with bullet hole circled.

Let us consider what Connally said: he heard a rifle shot, and recognised it as such. He turned round to look over his right shoulder (where the noise had come from) but couldn't see anything. He was turning round to look over his left shoulder when he felt the impact of the bullet that hit him. It doubled him up and he saw that he was covered in blood. If you watch the Zapruder film, you can see this happening. One slight problem for the lecturer: JFK's neck shot and Connally's "bent over" reaction are a couple of seconds apart. Did the bullet pause in mid air during this time?

Zapruder frame 225: The limousine emerging from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. Note that the President has been shot in the throat. Connally is unaffected

Zapruder frame 260: Connally, as he later said, has turned to his right to locate the source of the sound. He is unaffacted. According to the Warren Commision, he has been hit by a bullet that has shattered bones and ribs!

Note: I tried to scan in an image showing Connally's reaction to "his" shot, but the image was too poor to use. I estimate that it occurred somewhere about Zapruder frame 313, the time of the fatal headshot to JFK; by this time, Connally has turned more-or-less back to the forward facing position. Also note that, for Zapruder's camera running at 18 frames per second, this puts a time difference between the JFK neck shot and Connally's reaction at nearly 5 seconds!!

And despite the lecturer saying that the JFK/Connally trajectories could be aligned when one considers that they weren't sitting quite in front of each other (Connally was on a jump seat), photographs taken that day show that, to all intents and purposes, they were sitting almost in a line. And the reconstruction by the US Government, pictures of which were shown in the Warren Commission report, showed that a bullet going through Kennedy's neck would have hit Connaly's LEFT side. Another laughable point raised by the lecturer. He said that critics were "wrong" to suggest the Magic Bullet could not have happened because of the low location of the wound in the back of his clothing. Obviously, a downwards trajectory requires a bullet going through (say) the neckline and emerging from below the adam's apple, where the wound was located.

The presidential limousine, on the day of the assassination. Kennedy and Connally are seated more-or-less in a line.

The lecturer made the feeble remark that the shirt and jacket could have ridden up (showing an unconvincing photograph), to make the wounds line up. The holes in Kennedy's back, shirt and jacket are 5 1/2 inches below the neckline. At the presentation, Korff said that Kennedy's reaction after the "neck" shot was consistent with a wound to a vertebra in the back! How on earth could the clothing have ridden up so high to ensure that the trajectories line up? Simple: they can't. Eyewitnesses at the autopsy recalled that the wound in the back was probed, but was found not to have transitted the body.
JFKs' jacket, showing a bullet hole 5 3/4 inches below the neckline
JFKs' shirt, showing a hole 5 3/4 inches down from the neckline
JFKs' back, taken at the autopsy, showing a bullet wound

The Jet Effect

One again, this old chestnut was raised as an attempt to explain why Kennedy's head flew backwards upon impact from a bullet to the back of the head ( and the lecturer using the repulsive suggestion that "this is how you go on holiday" - ie. the jet effect). Basically, the jet effect relies on a bullet blasting a path through a medium, which then shoots forward in a stream, forcing the object back towards the shooter. Look at the Zapruder film though. The blood appears as a halo and covers everyone and everything in the vicinity; a jet would go towards the front of the limousine and this is NOT observed. In fact, the police outriders to the rear were hit by the blood and brain material, one so hard that he thought that he had been hit! This is the opposite direction the posited direction of the fictional jet effect. I have heard that the jet effect is applicable to bullets that are termed "frangiable" (ones that are designed to break apart into hundreds or thousands or pieces), and not to the Carcarno ammunition allegedly used that day. The jet effect theory is almost as ludicrious as the Neuromuscular spasm theory used to explain away the effect when the Zapruder film came to the American people's widespread attention in the mid-1970s. Personally, I prefer Newton's 3rd Law ("Action and reaction are equal and opposite"). It has remained inviolate for millenia and explains why, when you hit something, it moves in the opposite direction. Kennedy may have been unique in history but I doubt even he could break the laws of physics!

The Backyard Photos

Again, the lecturer disparaged the Warren Commission critics for suggesting that the photos showing Oswald holding guns and rifles in his backyard may been faked to incriminate him. What the lecturer did not say was that, after the film JFK was released, another backyard photo was unearthed from the police, showing a blank, white space where the figure of "Oswald" would have been. Who made this, why, and where was Oswald?

The lecturer took great pains to point out that Oswald had a cleft in his chin in his photograph and the backyard pictures, but this diverted attention from the real focus of attention: not only do the shadows (under his nose, for instance) fall in different directions, but Oswald has a round chin. The backyard photos show a square chin. At the police interrogation, Oswald claimed that the photos were a composite showing his head on someone else's body.

Bogus Witnesses

It was right of the lecturer to decry the bogus witnesses of the assassination, such as Jean Hill et al. A shame his logic amounted to little more than a dismissal of all eye and earwitnesses. Why didn't he mention people like railroad worker S.M.Holland who was standing on the Triple Land Overpass, and saw not only that the JFK throat shot and the Connally shot must have been from different bullets, but also saw a puff of smoke that emerged from behind the picket fence on the Grassy Knoll as the fatal head shot was fired? By the time he and his colleagues got to the location, whoever it was who had fired the shot had gone, leaving footprints, cigarette butts, and a muddy mark on one of the cars there where someone had stood to get a better view of the motorcade. Also in the air was the smell of gunpowder. And there are other credible witnesses, like Billy Newman who was with his young son. When the fatal shot occurred (from behind him, on the Knoll), he dived to the ground and covered his son. When interviewed a few minutes later by a TV station, he affirmed that the shot had come from over this shoulder.

It seems ludicrous that the lecturer could get away with the bald statment that "80% of witnesses said the shots came from the Book Depository". That percentage of people may indeed have said that some shots came from the building, but the majority said that some shots, included the fatal shot came from the Knoll. Interestingly, all these witnesses were dismissed by the Warren Commission on the grounds that they were mistaken.

The "paper bag"

The lecturer made peripheral mention of the paper bag used to transport the broken down Carcano rifle into the School Book Depository Building. However, there are a number of problems with this. Oswald was driven to work that day, and yes, he did have a large brown paper bag with him.

He was asked what was in it, and he said "curtain rods" (for refurbishing someone's house - sorry, I can't remember whose!). He left the car carrying the bag by cupping the contents between his armpit and his palm. The problem is the broken down rifle is significantly longer than this distance! And when the paper bag was found, there were no traces of oil on it - odd, for a very oily rifle!

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