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The Mystery of the 7:30 Bullet

by

John Hunt
© 2006

Introduction

In 2004 I petitioned the National Archives and Records Administration for access to most of the Kennedy assassination artifacts related to the conveyance of evidence to the FBI Laboratory. After a lengthy struggle, and literally hours before I was due to set off for the National Archives (NARA), I won an important battle. Steven Tilley, then Director of the JFK Collection, finally granted most of my requests.

I, a non-scientist, would be allowed access to the historic artifacts because NARA deemed my proposed examination to be, to use their term, "unique" in the history of the JFK case. For reasons beyond the scope of this essay, I was literally stunned by NARA's unexpected last-minute acquiescence. I was also elated. With a wide smile I slipped the two magnifying glasses I would use in tandem into my already-packed luggage. 1


I traveled to NARA for my fifth extended stay and so it came to pass that on July 30, 2004, I conducted an examination that had never before been performed in the JFK case; I attempted to track the JFK ballistic evidence through time via its chain of custody as marked on the evidence itself. What I found startled me.

 

Elmer Lee Todd Gets a Bullet

Among other artifacts I examined that day was the original envelope in which the CE-399 "Magic Bullet" [AKA FBI Q1] had been conveyed from the White House to the FBI Laboratory. In doing so, I discovered that the FBI agent who took possession of the bullet at the White House, Special Agent (SA) Elmer Lee Todd preserved the chain of custody by noting the time and circumstances under which he took possession of the bullet. Todd noted that he had:

Received from Chief Rowley, USSS, 8:50 PM.11-22-63.
E. L. Todd.
(See Figure 1.)


Figure 1. The envelope in which FBI SA E. L. Todd
delivered a bullet to the FBI Lab on 11/22/63. [Author's computer scan.]

 

On the day JFK died, Todd took possession of a bullet at the White House and brought it to the FBI Laboratory. There, he turned the bullet over to the man who had been appointed Lead FBI Examiner in the JFK assassination investigation, SA Robert A. Frazier of the Firearms and Toolmarks Division. Frazier later identified CE-399 as the same bullet Todd handed to him on November 22, 1963 during his Warren Commission testimony.

As we saw in PHANTOM IDENTIFICATION OF THE MAGIC BULLET, the historic CE-399 bullet introduced into evidence before the Warren Commission is not the same bullet SA Todd handled on the day of the assassination. Unfortunately, whatever bullet Todd actually handled that day has apparently been lost to history.

 

To the mystery of the missing "Todd Bullet" we add another:

The Mystery of the 7:30 Bullet.

If the bullet Todd handled on 11/22/63 was not CE-399, the inescapable conclusion is that either two bullets were recovered on the day of the assassination, or CE-399 was switched for the original "Todd Bullet" at some later point. Having discovered this evidentiary anomaly, I asked myself: Is there any evidence for the delivery of two bullets on 11/22/63? The answer turned out to be, yes.

The first clue comes not from what is in the record, but from what is not. Specifically, Robert Frazier's chain-of-custody notes regarding the "Todd Bullet."

Consider this scenario: Frazier was appointed Lead Examiner in the JFK assassination before the end of the working day (5:00 PM) on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. His appointment was no accident as Frazier was the most experienced firearms and toolmark examiner on the FBI staff at the time of the assassination. Frazier would later be elevated to the position of Section Chief of the Firearms and Toolmark Division of the FBI Laboratory after his boss, SA Roy H. Jevons either retired, resigned, or died. Before sundown, Frazier was advised that a bullet had been recovered in Dallas and was in transit to Washington. He was instructed to be at the ready to make an examination of the bullet immediately upon arrival, no matter what the hour.

The clock ticked and Frazier awaited the bullet's arrival, perhaps busying himself by working on pending cases. Eventually, SA Todd came through the door with an envelope containing the bullet in question. Frazier did what he had done a thousand times before; he followed his time-honored M.O. by noting the time of delivery and the name of the person from whom he had received the evidence.

The first piece of evidence was in hand and the FBI's accountability for that evidence had begun. Lee Oswald was still breathing at that point and using that breath to strenuously deny responsibility for the assassination. Criminal litigation was imminent and preserving the integrity of the evidence for that trial was of paramount importance, especially to Robert Frazier, for as Lead Examiner his head was on the chopping block in the event that evidence went missing or had a no legal chain of possession.

The chain-of-possession documentation Frazier was responsible for would have taken two forms: handwritten notes detailing where, when, and by whom evidence was handed to Frazier and 3 x 5 custody cards documenting who handled the evidence and when.

No Chain Left

I have conducted a page by page search of the entire FBI Laboratory files (135 boxes) on four separate occasions. I did so specifically to track the ballistic evidence through time. I have likewise scoured the General FBI HQ files (62-109060) Dallas Field Office and “Bulky” files for the same reason. Having done so, I feel confident stating as fact that neither the custody cards nor Frazier's notes detailing Todd's delivery of the CE-399/Q1 "Magic Bullet" are in the National Archives. What became of Frazier's notes and why? No official explanation exists and so we must speculate. Fortunately, there are enough clues left in the FBI files such that believe I have the answer. That, however, is a story for another day.

One particular document I ran across in the FBI Lab files at NARA purports to establish the "Todd-to-Frazier" portion of the bullet's chain of custody. Frazier titled the document, "History of Evidence." (See Figure 2.)


Figure 2. - Frazier's "History of Evidence."
[Author's computer scan.]

Notice that Frazier detailed when and who delivered the early ballistic evidence. The document gives the appearance of having been written at one sitting with one pen and is in all likelihood not a contemporaneous listing of the evidence. 2

More likely, it was prepared sometime later, probably as an aid memoir for Frazier during his WC testimony. Note that Frazier listed the time he took possession of the "Todd Bullet" as "7:30 PM."

A second document authored by Frazier also purports to establish the time the "Todd Bullet" was delivered to the FBI Lab; it is Frazier's original copy of his "Laboratory Work Sheet" that went to DPD Chief Curry under Hoover's name on 11/22/63. (See Figure 3.)


Figure 3. Frazier's 11/22/63 "Laboratory Work Sheet." 3
[Author's computer scan]

Frazier detailed the chain of custody for the various pieces of ballistic evidence by adding marginalia to his "Laboratory Work Sheet." For a second time, Frazier noted that Todd delivered a bullet at "7:30 PM." (See Figure 4.)


Figure 4. Frazier's "Todd" time notation on his original copy of the
11/22/63 report that went to Curry under Hoover's name.
[Author's computer scan]

Frazier says the bullet arrived at 7:30 PM, yet Todd noted that he took possession of the bullet at the White House at 8:50 PM. How could Frazier receive a bullet from Todd at "7:30 PM" in the Lab when Todd himself did not take possession of the bullet until an hour and twenty minutes later at "8:50 PM?" Under less suspicious circumstances, the anomaly might well be written off as a product of the "vagaries of evidence collection." The fact that Todd's mark is not on the CE-399 bullet and Frazier acknowledged receiving the "Todd Bullet" by putting his personal mark (RF) on the "8:50 PM Todd envelope" complicates the issue further.

If the historical CE-399 bullet is not the same bullet Todd handled on 11/22/63 and CE-399 was not substituted by the FBI for the original "Todd bullet," then the conclusion is inescapable: a second bullet had been recovered and delivered to the FBI Lab.

A document I ran across in the files of the FBI Dallas Field Office (DFO) just may indicate that two bullets were in transit to Washington on the day of the assassination. Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the DFO, Gordon Shanklin created a memo to file on 11/22/63. (See Figure 5).


Figure 5. The "Shanklin Memo To File" referencing the
existence of two bullets on November 22,1963.
[Author's computer scan.]

Shanklin wrote that:

Mr. BELMONT [FBI Assistant Director, Allan H. Belmont] from SOG [Seat Of Government, i.e., FBI HQ in D.C.] advised that they have made arrangements with Secret Service to secure the bullet that apparently killed President KENNEDY and that Secret Service in Washington was calling SORRELLS here and instructing him to turn the gun over to us and that I should after receipt of the gun, also secure the bullet that shot Governor CONNALLY and have an Agent get on the plane and take the gun and the other bullet to Washington.

The Bureau should be called as to when the plane would arrive so that the Laboratory could be there to meet the man and make the examination immediately.

[RN124-10027-10263, emphasis added.]

 

According to Shanklin's memo, FBI Headquarters in Washington was aware of the existence of two bullets; one that killed Kennedy, and another associated with Connally's wounds. However, the memo can be read two ways, one conspiratorial, one benign.

 

A BENIGN READING

The memo indicates that Alan Belmont was aware that both Kennedy and Connally had been injured during the assassination gunfire, which comes as no surprise. Belmont was also likely aware of reports that multiple shots had been fired during the course of the assassination. Given his limited early understanding of the events, it could well be that Belmont's reference to a Kennedy bullet and a Connally bullet reflects the fact that he was aware that both men had been shot and speculated that they were hit by separate bullets. No films of the shooting had been processed at that early hour and so Belmont would have no way of knowing whether or not Connally was wounded by a shot that also hit Kennedy. It could be that Belmont was of the mind that two separate woundings meant there were two bullets to be recovered; thus his reference to two separate bullets.

Belmont's instruction to Shanklin was specifically to "secure the bullet that shot Governor Connally." Thus it would appear that Belmont was unaware that Secret Service Agent Richard Johnsen had already taken possession of the bullet and was headed back to Washington aboard AF1. Either that, or the conversation between Shanklin in Dallas and Belmont in Washington occurred before Johnsen took possession of the bullet, which is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, the memo does not mention the time the conversation occurred. We know that Johnsen left Parkland at approximately 1:26 PM CST on the 22nd with the bullet in his pocket. If Belmont was ignorant of that fact, the reference to two bullets needing to be recovered could be written off to speculation and/or poor communication.

 

A CONSPIRATORIAL READING

The conspiratorial reading is obviously that Belmont's reference to two bullets was based on information that two bullets needed to be recovered because two bullets were known to exist. The question for me became: Is there any evidence that two bullets were in play on 11/22/63? The answer, as it turns out, is, yes.

The first evidence for two 11/22/63 bullets is the fact is that SA E. L. Todd marked a bullet that day, and it was not CE-399. 4
That alone would seem to establish that two bullets were moving through the halls of power the day John Kennedy was killed. That is, of course, one too many bullets for the Lone Assassin scenario.

I scoured the FBI files for any corroboration for a second 11/22/63 bullet and I found one. It came in the form of a memo from Belmont to his direct superior, Clyde Tolson, the No. 2 man in the FBI hierarchy. 5
(See Figure 6.)


Figure 6. The Belmont "Two Bullet Memo"
on the bullet in transit. [Author's computer scan.]

Belmont related that:

I [Belmont] talked to SAC Shanklin in Dallas [marginalia relates that the time of the call was at 9:18 pm.]. He said arrangements have been made with Carswell Air Force Base to fly one of our Agents up to Washington with the rifle that was recovered by the police together with the fragments of the bullet taken from Governor Connelly [sic] and the cartridge cases. I told SAC Shanklin that [sic] Secret Service had one of the bullets that struck President Kennedy and the other is lodged behind the President's ear and we are arranging to get both of these. I told him to notify us when the gun will reach Washington so we can have the Laboratory standing by.
[RN 124-10018-10310, emphasis added.]

 

Notice that Belmont specifically related that the "Secret Service" was bringing back to Washington a bullet that was connected with JFK's wounds as opposed to Connally's. Whatever it was that allowed Belmont to make the critical distinction at "9:18 pm" that the bullet came from Kennedy, not Connally, is a mystery. What is not a mystery is that, according to Robert Frazier, the Belmont "9:18 PM Bullet" that was still in transit had already been received in the FBI Lab at "7:30 PM."

Did Frazier hide from his superiors the fact that the "Todd/Secret Service" bullet had arrived hours before? Highly unlikely. Was Belmont ignorant of the fact that Todd had already received and delivered to the Lab the "Todd/Secret Service" bullet? If that were the case, Belmont would have to have been way out of the loop, which is also highly unlikely. And not only would Belmont have to have been in the dark, but the entire upper echelon of the FBI Machine would likewise have to have been asleep at the wheel. Consider the names checked off on the CC list at the top right of the Belmont "Two Bullet Memo" in Figure 6. (See Figure 7, a close up.)

 


Figure 7. CC list on the Belmont "Two Bullet Memo"
and the "9:18 pm" time notation. [Author's computer scan.]

The top brass at the FBI each read and initialed the document. Of particular note is the check mark after Conrad's name. Ivan W. Conrad, it will be recalled, was the Director of the entire FBI Laboratory operation. His initials (IWS) appear to the left of his name on the memo in indicating he read and understood the information. How is it possible that Frazier took possession of a bullet at "7:30 PM" and yet the top brass were ignorant of that fact two hours later? Confusion in the wake of an event as momentous as the assassination of a sitting president is inevitable. But consider this fact: Ivan Conrad's office was on the same floor of the DOJ building as Lead Examiner, Robert Frazier's, and Frazier's direct Supervisor, Roy H. Jevons. (See Figure 8.)

 


Figure 8. Office locations of the various FBI personnel on 11/22/63.
[Author's computer scan.]

 

Frazier answered to Jevons and Jevons answered to Conrad. Given the short chain of command, is it possible that Ivan Conrad was unaware of the fact that a bullet had been delivered to his Laboratory at 7:30 PM on 11/22/63? The answer must be, Yes, but just barely.
After the final paragraph on page two of the Belmont "Two Bullet Memo" we find the scratch of a man whom people feared, even in death: J. Edgar Hoover. (See Figure 9.)

 


Figure 9. Hoover's mark on page two of the Belmont "Two Bullet Memo."
[Author's computer scan.]

 

If Lee Oswald alone killed JFK, then all the problems we find with the FBI and the ballistic evidence are the product of chance. Under that scenario, it absolutely strains the imagination to think that a memo containing egregiously inaccurate information on the nature of the JFK ballistic evidence would make it all the way up to J. Edgar Hoover.


9:18 PM or 7:30PM?

Notice once again in Figure 6 that Belmont related at 9:18 PM on 11/22/63 that the "Secret Service" bullet was to be delivered at a future time. If Todd took possession of the "Secret Service" bullet at 8:50 PM at the White House, took ten minutes to pack up and get to his car, took ten minutes to drive the few blocks to the FBI Lab, took ten minutes to park and make his way up to the seventh floor of the DOJ building and hand the envelope to Frazier, that would put him and the "Todd/Secret Service" bullet at the Lab at approximately 9:20 PM. Due allowances being made for the variability of clock settings, that scenario comports with Belmont's comment that the bullet was still in transit at 9:18 PM because it would still have been in transit at that point. "

So the questions are begged: If the "Todd/Secret Service" bullet arrived at the FBI Lab near 9:20 PM, what became of the Frazier "7:30 Bullet?" Was the 7:30 bullet what we would come to know as CE-399? If so, who delivered it to Frazier? When? Where did it come from? Where did the bullet Todd handled go? "

As we saw in
FRAZIER SPEAKS, if the evidence collection from Kennedy's limousine was on the up and up, counting to 6 proved an overwhelming challenging for Robert Frazier on the night of the assassination. Is the innocent explanation for the "Mystery of the 7:30 Bullet" to be that Bob Frazier could not tell time as well?

EPILOGUE

After a long and ugly day, Secret Service Agent Richard Johnsen finally arrived back at the White House. In his pocket was the bullet that had been recovered from a bloody hospital stretcher in Dallas. Johnsen handed the bullet over to his boss, James Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service. White House stationary was rolled into a typewriter and Johnsen began striking the keys. (See figure 10.)


Figure 10. Secret Service Agent Richard Johnsen's
chain-of-custody note made on White House stationary.
[Author's computer scan.]

 

Having finished his note, Johnsen handed it to Rowley, who handed it to E. L. Todd, who handed it to Robert Frazier, who handed it to the National Archives in 1964 where it sits today. Johnsen had finished up his note with the following:

Richard E. Johnsen
Special Agent
7:30 pm
Nov. 22 1963

If SA Richard Johnsen was able to accurately tell time, then the "Secret Service" bullet from Dallas could not have been in Frazier's hands at "7:30 PM." Whatever happened to the 7:30 Frazier bullet remains a mystery.


1. I'd not invested in the high-powered microscope I'd hoped to employ because I was convinced that NARA would continue to deny all of my requests to examine the various artifacts. Tilley gave in at the last second and I was left with no time to travel to the store and buy the microscope I had my eye on. I explained the situation to a renowned Forensic Document Examiner who suggested I use a low-tech setup he'd used in a few pinches; two large magnifying glasses held together with rubber bands. The day came and I examined , scanned, and photographed the artifacts at NARA. On my portable equipment cart was $4,500 worth of high-tech notebook computers, digital cameras, and a top-of-the-line Epson scanner. Also on the cart were two $1.29 magnifying glasses cobbled together with rubber bands. They worked marvelously. RETURN

2. The Drain "Dallas Evidence," Q6-9, bears no date or time, and thus obfuscates the circumstances surrounding their arrival at the FBI Lab. Suffice to say for now that that was no accident. RETURN

3. The letters BX followed the PC control number on many reports on the JFK evidence for which Frazier was responsible. Frazier confirmed my suspicion that "BX" was his FBI code symbol during our 2004 telephone interview. RETURN

4. That Todd marked the bullet SA Johnsen brought to Washington from Dallas is established by FBI reports, but none authored directly by Todd. RETURN

5. I was unaware at the time I scanned the original at NARA that a copy of the document had been published as ARRB MD-176. RETURN


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