May 17, 2007

Back to the Grassy Knoll

Take this for what it's worth:

In a collision of 21st-century science and decades-old conspiracy theories, a research team that includes a former top FBI scientist is challenging the bullet analysis used by the government to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot the two bullets that struck and killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The "evidence used to rule out a second assassin is fundamentally flawed," concludes a new article in the Annals of Applied Statistics written by former FBI lab metallurgist William A. Tobin and Texas A&M University researchers Cliff Spiegelman and William D. James.

The researchers' re-analysis involved new statistical calculations and a modern chemical analysis of bullets from the same batch Oswald is purported to have used. They reached no conclusion about whether more than one gunman was involved, but urged that authorities conduct a new and complete forensic re-analysis of the five bullet fragments left from the assassination in Dallas.


Tobin, Spiegelman and James said they bought the same brand and lot of bullets used by Oswald and analyzed their lead using the new standards. The bullets from that batch are still on the market as collectors' items.

They found that the scientific and statistical assumptions Guinn used -- and the government accepted at the time -- to conclude that the fragments came from just two bullets fired from Oswald's gun were wrong.

"This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets," the researchers said. "If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely," the researchers said. If the five fragments came from three or more bullets, that would mean a second gunman's bullet would have had to strike the president, the researchers explained.

If I'm reading this right, there is no new evidence of a second shooter, just a criticism of the bullet analysis used at the time.

How they can jump from questioning the methodology, to postulating that there may have been three or more bullets and a second gunman, should be a red flag. They have no data to support their third bullet/second gunman theories.

Retro-Trutherism. How chic.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 17, 2007 09:47 AM

The story is by ex-AP's John Solomon who is famous for jumping to conclusions.

Posted by: not the senator at May 17, 2007 10:04 AM

Maybe Teddy will start advancing the theory that there was a second driver that evening in Chappaquiddick. Oh wait, he'll never get asked about it.

Posted by: Buckley F. Williams at May 17, 2007 10:23 AM

Oswald was a nutcase. It was his rifle found at the book depository, they did a roll-call of all employees after the shooting who had clocked-in that morning, and only Oswald was missing. I've never worked for a commercial ammunition maker, but I'm sure lot numbers on boxes in 1963 were hardly reliable. We didn't have bar codes then.

Posted by: Tom TB at May 17, 2007 10:56 AM

Back in college my Intro to Historical Methods class focused on the Kennedy assassination. I think that most of us finished the semester more confused about what had happened than we had been before we began, but there were two pieces of evidence that had me wondering: first, testing (during the House Select Committee examination, I think) showed that it was not possible to fire Oswald's rifle as quickly as it needed to be fired to replicate the shooting as shown in the Zapruder film; second, the unscathed bullet that purportedly fell out of Kennedy onto the stretcher at the hospital.

Neither, of course, is conclusive of anything, but they were the biggest pieces of the puzzle that I couldn't fit in anywhere.

Also: let's remember that there are, in fact, conspiracies in the world. This may not be one of them, but questioning The Received Wisdom doesn't of necessity make one a nut.

Posted by: Doc Washboard at May 17, 2007 01:46 PM

Discovery channel did a show where they duplicated everything Oswald did that many people claimed was impossible. They timed the shooting with someone actually walking those same steps. They timed his walk home. And they even duplicated his shot nearly exactly. The only difference is in their shot the bullet hit two ribs instead of one and didn't have enough energy to penetrate the leg. Otherwise the bullet took the exact same, extremely unlikely patch that it would have during the assassination. Of course, this doesn't rule out a conspiracy, and someone else could have been involved, but him being the lone gunman is entirely plausible.

Posted by: n2sooners at May 17, 2007 04:07 PM

Get ready for Rosie to declare that human bone has never fragmented bullets.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at May 17, 2007 07:11 PM

I've never understood why people have no problems accepting that Squeaky Fromme and Hinckley were nutcases, nothing more, while they construct elaborate conspiracy theories around Oswald.

He was just a nutcase who happened to not miss. Squeaky and Hinckley missed. Could have gone the other way for any of these situations.

Posted by: Moon6 at May 17, 2007 09:25 PM

Check out the book "Mortal Error" by the gentleman that demonstrated that a shooter could get off 3 rounds accurately within the span of time that Oswald had.

Ironically the writer comes to the conclusion that the 3rd shot that blew off the back of President Kennedy's head most likely was accidental round from a member of the Secret Service detail who was standing in the moving limousine which followed the vehicle that carried the president.

The scenario: The driver of the president's vehicle speed up when he realized that they had come under fire and then the driver of the trailing limo accelerated to keep up. This caused the Secret Serviceman to fall back & squeeze off an accidental round motorcade. So there is possibl ity of a 2nd gunman without a conspiracy.

Posted by: moremeaning at May 17, 2007 11:39 PM

This cockroach-like conspiracy theory has been allowed to fester for 40-odd years and we wonder why Rosie and friends can get a mind numbingly high percentage of the American people to believe their crap!
The beauty of conspiracy theories is that anything that tends to disprove the theory automatically becomes part of the conspiracy. It's the same childish magical thinking that pervades the Middle East with stories of x-ray glasses on our soldier and force fields on our tanks.
Americans like to think we are pretty sophisticated but too many are living in the intellectual equivalent of mud huts by the Euphrates.

Posted by: TBinSTL at May 19, 2007 02:48 AM

Sorry, guys, but believing that the Warren Commission conclusion is wrong is not at all the same as trutherism -- far, from from it. I am a litigating lawyer with 30 years experience who, among other things, deals with evidence in my profession. After reading a lot about the JFK assassination and watching the Zapruder film, I concluded that it was not Lee Harvey Oswald shooting from the Texas Book Depository Building. The Warren Commission conclusion does not work -- too many impossibilities (e.g., the "magic bullet," the "neuromuscular reaction" supposedly causing JFK's head to snap back duplicating what would happen if he were shot from grassy knoll), too much in the way of contradictory evidence (eyewitness accounts of seeing what appeared to be a shots from the grassy knoll), statements by the attending Parkland medical people who based on the wounds, placed the shots as coming from the front, and autopsy evidence that appears contaminated. As for what did really happened on November 22, 1963, I think that it is not something that we will likely ever know. Based on everything, I think that there was some kind of conspiracy or perhaps a series of conspiracies. What it or they were, one can't tell.

Posted by: Phil Byler at May 19, 2007 06:58 PM

To moon6: it is not a matter of resisting the idea that Oswald might have been a nut case. It is a matter of the evidence of what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dallas that does not square with the Warren Commission conclusion about Oswald but that does square with Oswald being what he said he was -- a patsy. By the way, he was, according to the Marine records, a terrible shot.

To n2sooners: the Discovery Channel program was clever, but it did not establish much of anything. What counts are: that you had to be able to shoot 3 shots from the unsighted rifle that Oswald supposedly used, be in the first floor cafeteria 90 seconds later drinking a coke with no one having seen you traverse down from the sixth floor and later in the police station test nagative for rifle discharge residue; that the "magic bullet" take the trajectory it supposedly did causing as much damage as it supposedly did and come out pristine; that the JFK head snap backward, seen on the Zapruder film, could not have been caused by a neuromuscular reaction (too fast and too pronounced) and thus had to be caused by a shot from the front where 50 witnesses thought was where the shots came from; and that the Parkland medical statements about the wounds placed the sots coming from the front (grassy knoll was in the front and the Texas Book Depository Building was in the rear).

Posted by: Phil Byler at May 19, 2007 07:29 PM