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Single Bullet Theory

Views of side and base of Commission Exhibit 399. The nick in the base was caused by the FBI when removing lead for testing. The bullet is squeezed but otherwise undamaged.
Views of side and base of Commission Exhibit 399. The nick in the base was caused by the FBI when removing lead for testing. The bullet is squeezed but otherwise undamaged.

Much of the early critiques of the Warren Report focused on the implausibility of the "single bullet theory", wherein the Commission attempted to explain how Oswald had killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally with just three shots. In particular, the Zapruder film showed Connally reacting to being hit too soon after Kennedy for Oswald to have operated the bolt-action Carcano and fired again. Were the two men hit by different bullets fired from two different rifles?

The solution created by Commission counsel Arlen Specter was to posit that both men had been hit by a single shot which entered JFK's upper back, exited his throat, and then struck Connally, breaking a rib and shattering his wrist, and finally coming to rest in his thigh. The "magic bullet" deemed to have done all this was found somewhat mysteriously on a stretcher near an elevator in Parkland Hospital, about an hour after the victims had been brought there.

Some of the problems with the Single Bullet Theory (SBT) which have been pointed out by critics include:

  • Timing. The Zapruder film shows Kennedy clearly wounded as much as a second before Connally, and the Commission's idea of a "delayed reaction" by Connally is implausible. Connally himself was certain he had been struck by a separate bullet.
  • Trajectory. The Parkland doctors believed the neck wound to be an entrance, not an exit. Further, the location of Kennedy's back wound - as measured by the shirt and jacket holes, medical witnesses, autopsy photos, and other evidence - is too low for a shot fired from the 6th floor of the TSBD to have exited the neck wound where it did. The Warren Commission misrepresented the back wound location in drawings.
  • "Pristine" Bullet. Commission Exhibit 399, the bullet found on the stretcher, is virtually undamaged and had no blood or tissue on it. Its appearance is consistent with having been fired through the rifle into water or cotton, recovered, and then planted. Also, there is a serious question as to whether the minimal amount of lead missing from the base of CE-399 can account for the fragments left behind in JFK and Connally.

Recent discoveries in the FBI records have even raised the question of whether the bullet found on the stretcher is actually CE 399.

Defenders of the SBT point out that alternative shooting scenarios require bullets which were never found in bodies or recovered in the limousine, and that the HSCA's Neutron Activitation Analysis (NAA) confirmed the theory.



A Philadelphia Lawyer Analyzes the President's Back and Neck Wounds, by Vincent Salandria.

Trajectory of a Lie, by Milicent Cranor.

   Part I - The Palindrome.
   Part II - Neck and Torso X-Rays: Selectivity in Reporting.
   Part III - Big Lie About a Small Wound in Connally's Back.

Tracking CE 399: The "Stretcher Bullet" and the Case for a Dallas Conspiracy, by Jerry McKnight.

The Single Bullet Theory, by John McAdams.

If At First You Don't Succeed: Robert Blakey, the HSCA, and the Return of the Single Bullet Theory, by Joe Biles.

The Case for a Bunched Jacket, by John Hunt.

The Third Wound, by Milicent Cranor.

Breakability: CE-399 and the Diminishing Velocity Theory, by John Hunt.

Jack Ruby at Parkland Hospital: Was He There or Wasn't He?, by John J. Johnson.

The Magic Bullet: Even More Magical Than We Knew?, by Gary Aguilar, MD and Josiah Thompson.

The Mystery of the 7:30 Bullet, by John Hunt.



Medical Reports from Doctors at Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Tex. Warren Report p.516.

Autopsy Report and Supplemental Report. Warren Report p.538.

ARRB Medical Documents:

Warren Commission testimony:

Commission Exhibit 385. Drawing of bullet passing through neck.

Warren Commission Executive Session of 27 Jan 1964, p.193-196. Revealing medical discussion about back and neck wounds.

NARA DNA Tests on Bullet Nose Fragments. These tests were completed in 2000.

Other Links

Gerald Ford's Terrible Fiction on JFK Lancer. Includes before-and-after wording of the Warren Report regarding the location of the back wound.

Related Starting Points


CE 399 CE 399. 8 views of the "magic bullet," taken by the National Archives.
HSCA Ex 145 HSCA Exhibits. HSCA Exhibits include drawings depicting the alleged path of CE 399.

Books of Interest

    The Bastard Bullet
Raymond Marcus
Rendell Publications, 1966
    Six Second In Dallas
Josiah Thompson
Bernard Geis, 1967
    False Mystery: Essays on the Assassination of JFK
Vincent J. Salandria
Square Deal Press, 2004
    Kennedy and Lincoln
John K. Lattimer
Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1980
Stewart Galanor
Kestrel Books, 1998
    Post Mortem
Harold Weisberg
Skyhorse Publishing, 2013

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