Commission Exhibit 399 (CE-399) has been called the "Magic
Bullet" by critics due to its extraordinarily lithe aerobatics
and the structural rigor it maintained after have smashed up
dense bones. The dubious nature of the bullet's condition when
compared to the feats attributed to it caused early researchers
like Josiah Thompson to fix the bullet with a gimlet eye.
The suspiciously intact bullet's bona fides do look good on the
first pass. However, closer inspection reveals problems; the
participants failed to ID CE-399 as the bullet they handled on
the day of the assassination.
I asked myself, Is the bullet sitting in the National Archives
today really the same bullet recovered at Parkland Memorial Hospital
in the wake of the Kennedy assassination? I decided to put the
issue to the test.
It was on March 16, 1964 during James Humes' testimony before
the Warren Commission (WC) that CE-399 was first introduced into
evidence. Arlen Specter related on the record that CE-399's bone
fides were "subject to later proof," but would be introduced
with the proviso that the bullet was the same "missile which
[had] been taken from the stretcher which the evidence now indicates
was the stretcher occupied by Governor Connally." The fact
that Humes was the first witness to testify about CE-399, yet
had played no part whatsoever its chain of custody, forced Specter
to introduce CE-399 "subject to later proof." Fifteen
days later, Specter queried SA Robert Frazier on CE-399's provenance:
EISENBERG. Mr. Frazier, I now hand you Commission Exhibit 399,
which, for the record, is a bullet, and also for the record,
it is a bullet which was found in the Parkland Hospital following
the assassination. Are you familiar with this exhibit?
FRAZIER. Yes, sir. This is a bullet which was delivered to me
in the FBI laboratory on November 22, 1963 by Special Agent Elmer
Todd of the FBI Washington Field Office.
EISENBERG. Does that have your mark on it?
Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, it does.
EISENBERG. The bullet is in the same condition as it was when
you received it?
FRAZIER. Yes, sir; except for the marking of my initials and
the other examiners.(3H428) [March 31, 1964]
established that the CE-399 bullet before him was the same one
he'd received from SA Elmer Todd on 11/22/63. But Frazier's testimony
that CE-399 was the same bullet handed to him by SA Todd, in
and of itself, does not begin to establish whether or not it
was the same bullet that actually came off the stretcher in Dallas.
Oddly, Elmer Todd was never called to testify before the WC.
Nor were SA Richard Johnsen, or chief of Parkland Hospital security
and former DPD detective, O. P. Wright, whom both figure prominently
in the chain of custody of CE-399.
The WC did call on the employee who actually found the bullet.
On March 20, 1964 the WC took Parkland Hospital orderly, Darrell
Tomlinson's testimony. That was a mere four days after CE-399
was introduced during Humes' testimony. Incredibly, Tomlinson,
whose testimony was taken in Dallas, was queried extensively
about where he found a bullet (which stretcher), but was never
shown CE-399 or asked to identify it as the bullet he found the
day Kennedy was assassinated. Having Tomlinson ID the bullet
is the "proof" that would have established that the
bullet's bone fides were in order. But that didn't happen. What
did happen was that the day after Tomlinson testified, Robert
Frazier delivered CE-399 to the WC (See Figure 1).
Figure 1 - WC "chain of custody" sheet I found
the FBI Lab files at NARA. (C1 is CE-399).
Arlen Specter's promise to subject CE-399 "to later proof"
establishing that it was the bullet found in Dallas was hollow.
Why? By the end of this brief essay we will have our answer.
After Tomlinson's testimony was taken, the WC finally became
interested in establishing CE-399's bone fides. Figure 2 below
is an FBI internal chain of custody card I found in the National
that the bullet (designated "Q1" and "C1"
by the FBI) was checked out and sent to Dallas on June 2, 1964.
The reason? The WC had requested that the FBI have the various
participants identify CE-399 for the record. The bullet went
to Dallas and was returned to the FBI Lab on June 22nd. An FBI
airtel of June 20, reveals a snag in the WC/FBI plan -- neither
Tomlinson nor Wright (the man who turned the bullet over to the
SA Johnsen) could ID CE-399. The airtel also advised:
Obtain [CE-399] from FBI Laboratory and thereafter immediately
exhibit to SA Robert [sic] E. Johnson [sic], Secret Service,
who is attached to White House detail, and to James Rowley, Chief,
Secret Service, to have [CE-399] identified. If neither
can identify, C1 should then be examined by SA Elmer Lee Todd
for the purpose of identifying item by inspection [emphasis added].
Note the final notation on the chain-of-custody card in Figure
2, which relates that CE-399 was taken from the FBI Lab by "Elmer
Todd WFO [Washington Field Office] 6/24/64." That
is exactly what happened; SA Elmer Lee Todd (deceased) showed
CE-399 to Rowley and Johnsen at the White House, and neither
could identify the bullet as the one they'd handled seven months
prior. Not having marked the bullet with their initials, a failure
to positively ID the bullet might be written off as bureaucratic
CYA caution. Not so, Elmer Todd.
Tomlinson, Wright, Johnsen, and Rowley all failed to positively
ID CE-399. Thus it fell to Elmer Todd to make the positive
ID, which he did. And just how did Todd accomplish that? He purportedly
recognized the initials he placed on the bullet on the day of
the assassination (CE 2011, at 24H412, CD 2).
The question for me became, is Todd's mark on the CE-399 bullet?
To answer that question, I put together an illustration using
photographs of CE-399. I was able to track the entire surface
of the bullet using four of NARA's preservation photos. Image
No.1 in Figure 3 starts the rotation, with each successive photo
having the bullet turned approximately 1/4 turn clockwise as
viewed from above.
sets of initials appear on the bullet: RF, CK, and JH. RF and
CK were easily identifiable from FBI Laboratory documents at
NARA. RF was Lead examiner in the JFK case, SA Robert Frazier.
CK was SA Charles Killion, who'd assisted Frazier. The third
set of initials, JH, proved somewhat problematic. At first I
though it might be SA John Handley, who served under Malley,
but they were both assigned to the General Investigative Division,
not Firearms and Toolmarks.
I asked Robert Frazier who "JH" was when we spoke in
2003. He related that JH was SA Cortlandt Cunningham. I asked
why that was, and Frazier said that it was to prevent confusion
in the event that Cortlandt Cunningham had to mark a document.
He said that "CC" might be confused with "cc,"
the notation for carbon copy. To avoid confusion, Cunningham's
mark became JH.
Something else Frazier told me that day cinched the identification
of Cunningham as JH, the JFK assassination was the only case
in the history of the FBI where more that one Examiner was assigned.
Frazier was to be the Lead Examiner and Killion and Cunningham
would verify his conclusions. Frazier's WC testimony backs that
EISENBERG. Mr. Frazier, did any other firearms experts in the
FBI laboratory examine the three cartridge cases, the bullet,
and the two bullet fragments which you have testified as to today?
Mr. FRAZIER. Yes, all of the actual firearms comparisons were
also made by Charles Killion and Cortlandt Cunningham. These
examinations were made separately, that is, they made their examination
individually and separately from mine, and there was no association
between their examination and mine until both were finished.
2003 recollection during our phone conversation matched his 1964
WC testimony. To that we add just one of many examples where
Frazier, Killion, and Cunningham all marked evidence; the envelope
in which the Connally wrist fragment was delivered to the FBI
Lab (See Figure 4):
Figure 4. Computer scan I made of the actual Q9 Connally wrist
ragment envelope at NARA in 2004 with the initials RF. CK, and
is no question but that only three sets of initials appear on
CE-399. There is likewise no question that they have all
been positively identified: RF was Robert Frazier, CK was Charles
Killion, and JH was Cortland Cunningham. (See Figure 5.)
can be sated as a fact that SA Elmer Lee Todd's mark is not on
the historical CE-399 bullet.
The only benign explanation for the lack of a "Todd mark"
would seem to be that the area of the mark was removed when a
sample of copper was taken from the nose for Optical Emissions
Spectrography testing. That explanation, however, doesn't wash,
for Todd allegedly spotted his mark many months after the EOS
tests had been undertaken. Where, then, is Todd's mark?
That Todd really did mark "a" bullet on November 22,
1963 would seem to be a fact. If he did, the bullet sitting in
the National Archives, the same one ballistically linked to Oswald's
rifle, is not that bullet. The question is begged; What happened
to the bullet that really was recovered from a hospital stretcher
in Dallas the day John Kennedy was killed?