Nova (1974–…): Season 40, Episode 22 - Cold Case JFK - full transcript

From PBS and NOVA: Cold Case JFK. For decades, the assassination of John F. Kennedy has fueled dark rumors of conspiracies and mishandled evidence. Now, fifty years later, NOVA asks: Could modern investigators do better? We'll see how state-of-the art forensic tools would be applied to the investigation were it to happen today. At the same time, NOVA takes a critical look at contemporary cases, like the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, to reveal how charges of evidence mishandling and human error can mar even scientifically sophisticated detective work. Will forensics ever be truly foolproof, or does modern technology just give a scientific sheen to a practice that will always be more art than science?

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NARRATOR:
In broad daylight,

in front of hundreds
of witnesses,

a president is murdered.

An act of horrific violence.

JIM LEHRER:
Oh, my God, is he really dead?

I mean, who did this?

NARRATOR:
Within hours,
a suspect is arrested:

Lee Harvey Oswald.

But two days later,
he himself is killed.

MAN:
Came out of nowhere.

That was really the origin
of a lot of conspiracy thinking.



Somebody's trying
to silence him.

NARRATOR:
Since that time, millions of
Americans have been convinced

that the assassination
was not the work of one man,

but a conspiracy.

Can modern forensic science
and ballistics crack the case?

MAN:
Oh good, we got a good trace.

NARRATOR:
Now for the first time,

using state-of-the-art
technology...

MAN:
I'm interested in the distance

from the knoll
to, say, the headshot.

NARRATOR:
...NOVA brings together a team
of experts to analyze the gun,

the bullets,

the crime scene...

Two shooters in the plaza.



NARRATOR:
...and the medical evidence.

Physical evidence doesn't lie.

NARRATOR:
"Cold Case JFK,"

right now on NOVA.

Major funding for NOVA
is provided by the following:

The Corporation
for Public Broadcasting.

And by contributions
to your PBS station from:

Additional funding from:

NARRATOR:
In the New Mexico desert,

firearms experts
tackle an old case

that has never really
gone cold...

the assassination
of John F. Kennedy.

In 1964, one investigation found
there was no conspiracy.

15 years later, a second
investigation said there was.

Now, NOVA asks, could more
sophisticated forensic science

provide new insights and uncover
the truth about JFK's murder?

These men believe it can.

For two years,
they've been working

to reconstruct
the Kennedy shooting.

They're convinced
that ballistics is the key

to cracking the case.

59.5

LUKE HAAG:
The JFK case is the classic
shooting reconstruction case.

55.

It's probably the most historic
case in the last century.

NARRATOR:
Luke Haag has been a forensic
scientist for 47 years.

His specialty is firearms.

50...

NARRATOR:
Working with Luke Haag

is another experienced
ballistics expert

who also happens to be
Luke's son:

Mike Haag.

MIKE HAAG:
Let's go ahead and do one
of the vertical angle shots.

We've got a nice area
of the barrel right here

that's cylindrical...

MIKE HAAG:
My dad is in this business,

and I grew up
even in grade school going out

and helping him with case work
and research involving firearms.

NARRATOR:
Mike Haag is an investigator

with the Albuquerque
Police Crime Lab.

He also teaches
shooting reconstruction

all over the world.

Do a handgun shot
as well...

MIKE HAAG:
This part of the class,
we're looking at multiple

different calibers of types
of bullets going into cars.

The Kennedy assassination
is unfortunately not as easy.

NARRATOR:
It might seem that

reconstructing
the Kennedy shooting,

which happened in broad
daylight, should be simple.

JOSIAH THOMPSON:
There were hundreds
of spectators there,

some 30 people
taking photographs,

over 50 law enforcement people
in Dealey Plaza.

You would think it would be

the easiest case in the world
to solve.

NARRATOR:
Among the witnesses
is a dress manufacturer

with an eight-millimeter
movie camera:

Abraham Zapruder.

He shoots 26 seconds
that have become

the most studied home movie
in history.

JOSIAH THOMPSON:
He keeps the limousine
right in frame

through the whole thing,

as shots are fired,
bullets are flying,

people are hitting the ground
all around him.

Doesn't faze him.

STEPHEN FAGIN:
Ultimately, the film becomes

the crucial piece
of visual evidence

in the assassination
investigation.

NARRATOR:
Yet despite all the evidence
and witnesses,

the JFK case continues to fuel
speculation and debate.

ROBERT BLAKEY:
The Kennedy assassination is
a lot like a Rorschach test.

If you look at the evidence--
the test--

and you give me a statement
about the assassination,

it really tells me more
about you

than it does
about what happened.

FAGIN:
Everything about
the assassination

which points
to Lee Harvey Oswald,

I can share with you
an alternative explanation

which speaks to the possibility
of a conspiracy.

LUKE HAAG:
The controversies
that swirl and develop--

I think there's over a thousand
books and articles.

Not a single one of them,
to my knowledge,

is written by someone
who deals with shooting

and shooting reconstructions.

NARRATOR:
So now Luke and Mike Haag

are focusing on the gun,
bullets, and crime scene

to try and reconstruct
one of the most notorious crimes

of the 20th century.

It happened in Dallas
on November 22, 1963, a Friday.

I remember where I was.

I was with my future wife,
coming out of a music class.

A fellow who was on staff at the
high school came in and said,

"They've shot Kennedy."

I was in kindergarten,

and I remember my teacher
burst into the room crying.

A woman ran out of the record
store near the corner and said,

"The president's been shot."

I didn't believe it.

I was with Bobby Kennedy
the day of the assassination

in a meeting,
and we broke for lunch.

I was at Love Field, and I...

Immediately after I got
to the city desk,

I called home
to talk to my wife,

and I said to her,
"Let's get out of this place!"

I was on the left running board
of the follow up car

immediately behind
the presidential vehicle.

(on radio):
The president's car is now
turning onto Elm Street

and it will be only a manner
of minutes before he arrives...

HILL:
All of a sudden,

I heard an explosive noise
over my right shoulder,

and I saw the president
grabbed at his throat,

and I knew something was wrong.

I jumped off the running board
of the follow up car

and ran toward
the presidential vehicle.

As I was running, they tell me
there was another shot.

I didn't hear it.

Just as I was approaching
the president's car,

there was a third shot.

It hit the president
in the head.

And then it exploded out
the right side of his head.

Blood and brain matter
and bone fragments

sprayed out across the people
in the car,

across the trunk, myself,
and Mrs. Kennedy.

Pulled myself up
on the rear of the car,

and Mrs. Kennedy came out
on the trunk.

She didn't even know
I was there.

She wasn't reaching for me;
she was reaching for something

that came off
the president's head.

I grabbed her
and I put her in the back seat

and I screamed at the driver
to get us to a hospital.

NARRATOR:
At 80 miles an hour, with Clint
Hill sprawled across the trunk,

they head for Parkland Hospital.

CLINT HILL:
The president's head was
in Mrs. Kennedy's lap.

And she wouldn't let go.

She didn't want anybody
to see the condition he was in

because it was horrible.

And so I took off my suit coat.

I covered up his head
and his upper back,

and when I did that,
she let go.

And we rushed him
into the emergency room.

JOHN McADAMS:
The Dallas doctors
try to save him,

but it was a hopeless case.

There was simply no possibility.

He'd lost too much brain matter.

NARRATOR:
Texas Governor John Connally
is also wounded.

He will recover.

Back at the crime scene,

witnesses point to the Texas
School Book Depository.

As police search the building,

a TV news cameraman
shoots this footage.

FAGIN:
Deputy Sherriff Luke Mooney

within about 45 minutes
of the shooting

discovered three empty
rifle cartridges.

NARRATOR:
The fired cartridge cases

can be tested and linked
to a specific gun.

The cartridge case holds the
bullet, gunpowder, and a primer.

When the firing pin
strikes the primer,

it creates a spark,
igniting the powder,

which accelerates the bullet
through the barrel.

After the bullet leaves,

the empty cartridge case
is ejected from the gun

so the next cartridge
can be loaded.

The process of loading,
firing, and ejecting

marks the cartridge case
with tiny scratches and gouges

that can be seen
under a microscope.

Markings similar to these can
prove the three empty cartridge

cases were fired by a rifle
also found on the sixth floor.

FAGIN:
And it was only
about ten minutes later

that the rifle location
was found--

a Mannlicher-Carcano wedged
between two stacks of boxes.

NARRATOR:
The Mannlicher-Carcano,
or Carcano,

is an Italian rifle
made during World War II.

The serial number shows this gun
was ordered through the mail

from Klein's Sporting Goods
in Chicago by A. Hidell,

an alias used
by Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Carcano
is a military rifle:

something that might be popular
with gun collectors,

but is almost never seen
by homicide detectives.

LUKE HAAG:
In the United States,

shootings then, shootings now,

don't involve military,
high-velocity rifles

with hard military bullets.

Robert Frazier,
the FBI examiner,

in his testimony said
he'd never seen a 6.5 Carcano.

They had no ammunition
for this kind of gun

in their reference collection.

This is the FBI!

NARRATOR:
Might this highly unusual rifle
have characteristics

that can shed light
on the Kennedy case?

Luke and Mike Haag acquire one
of these rifles for testing.

This is the 6.5 millimeter
Carcano.

"Car-cuh-no" is the proper
pronunciation,

although most Americans say
"Car-can-oh."

It's a mechanically operated
bolt action rifle.

It has an offset, inexpensive
telescopic sight.

NARRATOR:
It's clear that for anyone
planning an assassination,

the Klein's ad offered
far better guns--

a rifle with a much easier
lever action...

(gunshots)

...an American military gun

that could shoot eight bullets
without stopping...

(gunshots)

...and a small,
lightweight carbine

that could fire 30 rounds

as fast as the shooter
could pull the trigger.

(rapid gunfire)

By comparison, the bolt-action
Carcano is slow and clumsy.

So why would any assassin choose
the Carcano?

LUKE HAAG:
It's a matter of price.

This was basically a little less
than $13 for the rifle,

and a little more than
seven dollars for the scope.

And as far as the awkwardness
of it, practice.

NARRATOR:
As they test the Carcano,
Luke Haag discovers

the bullet may be even more
unusual than the rifle itself.

So how do you feel
about where the crosshairs were?

NARRATOR:
Unlike civilian bullets, it's
made with a full metal jacket--

a hard copper shell that
surrounds a soft lead core.

LUKE HAAG:
Here are four typical
military bullets

from the first and second
World War.

They're all full metal jacketed
bullets.

NARRATOR:
They're also pointed.

The Carcano
is basically a cylinder.

The cylindrical shape,

with straight sides
and no taper or sharp point,

affects how the bullet interacts
with the rifling,

spiral ridges in the wall
of the barrel

that spin the bullet
for stability.

Pointed bullets
have much less surface area

contacting the barrel,

so they tend to be less stable
as they exit the gun.

LUKE HAAG:
They're only gripped
by the gun barrel

back at the very end
of the bullet.

This allows the rest
of the bullet

to do just a little bit
of wiggle

as it's going up the barrel and
as it emerges from the barrel.

The Carcano bullet,

the rifling begins grabbing it
clear up here at the nose.

That's uncommon.

I've never seen any other,

even other 6.5 rifles
that do this.

NARRATOR:
In 1963, little was known
about the Carcano rifle

and its unique ammunition.

But within hours
of Kennedy's death,

Dallas police have arrested
the man who owns it:

Lee Harvey Oswald.

As reporters swarm in,
Dallas homicide cops

keep working the biggest case
of their lives.

LUKE HAAG:
They had recovered the firearm,

cartridge cases,
Oswald's fingerprints.

They had the case sewed up
in an excellent way

within two days of the incident.

I give them high marks.

Physical evidence is the main
thing that we're relying upon.

I figure we have sufficient
evidence to convict him.

JOHN McADAMS:
The key evidence,

essentially all of it would have
been admissible at trial.

NARRATOR:
Police are also learning more
about Lee Harvey Oswald.

An ex-Marine
with a security clearance,

he's a Communist

who lived more than two years
in the Soviet Union,

raising the terrifying question
of Russian involvement.

JIM LEHRER:
Was he put up to this
by the Russians?

As a nation, we would have
to take retribution.

We would have to fire back
if they killed our president.

NARRATOR:
Sunday morning, less than
48 hours since Kennedy's death,

Dallas police start transferring
Oswald to county jail.

(gunshot)

ANNOUNCER:
He's been shot!

Lee Oswald has been shot!

There's a man with a gun.

It's absolute panic,
absolute panic.

There's no question about it,
Oswald has been shot.

NARRATOR:
On live television, Oswald is
shot and killed by Jack Ruby,

a strip club owner
with a long arrest record.

JOSIAH THOMPSON:
An assassination
that came out of nowhere,

that had no explanation,
now gets weirder and weirder.

NARRATOR:
Now there will be no trial,
no answers to the questions:

Did Oswald kill Kennedy?

Did he have help?

Did Jack Ruby silence him
as part of a conspiracy?

JEFFERSON MORLEY:
Pollsters go into the field,
and within a week,

60% of respondents are saying

more than one person
was responsible.

JIM LEHRER:
There is no question
that Ruby killing Oswald

raised, big time,
the possibility of a conspiracy.

JOHN McADAMS:
Policy makers were very,
very sensitive

to talk about
a Communist conspiracy,

because it had very important
and very dangerous

foreign policy implications.

NARRATOR:
Five days later,
now President Lyndon Johnson

announces that a commission

headed by Chief Justice
Earl Warren will investigate.

BLAKEY:
We're looking back at it now

as if all they had to do
was just do fact finding.

That's not true.

The need that led
to the Warren Commission

was not to find out
what happened,

but to assure the American
people what didn't happen.

NARRATOR:
The Warren Commission will spend
ten months investigating.

But before they even start,

some of the most
critical evidence

in the crime of the century
has been lost forever.

The problem begins
at Parkland Hospital

when John Kennedy
is pronounced dead.

Dr. Earl Rose,
Dallas County Medical Examiner,

is required by law
to perform an autopsy.

Well, that was not
what we wanted to hear.

We were going to take
the president's body

back to Washington.

McADAMS:
It doesn't exactly
come to blows,

but there's almost
the implicit threat

that the Secret Service people

will pull their guns
if they have to.

HILL:
In the end,
they accepted the fact that

that's what was going to happen
and did happen.

NARRATOR:
They take the body
to Air Force One.

HILL:
We, the agents who brought
the president there to Dallas,

alive, vital, energetic,

and now we're carrying his body
in a casket

in the presence
of his now widow,

it was very traumatic.

Quite emotional.

LEHRER:
Those Secret Service guys
were just beside themselves,

you know, trying their best

to be cool and calm
and professional.

To lose a president, good God!

There's nothing worse
for a Secret Service agent.

NARRATOR:
They take the body
to Air Force One.

Then, when it seems like
nothing else could go wrong

for the Secret Service agents,
something does.

HILL:
With the handles on,

the casket was too wide
to go through the doorway.

NARRATOR:
As Jacqueline Kennedy waits,
they break off the handles.

Returning to Washington,

again the subject of an autopsy
is raised.

THOMPSON:
In a bullet murder,

there is no area of evidence
more important than the autopsy.

You can infer the trajectory
of the bullets.

So the autopsy
in the Kennedy assassination

is absolutely critical.

NARRATOR:
But the autopsy decision

is made by the wrong people
for the wrong reasons.

JOHN McADAMS:
The whole Kennedy entourage does
not understand the distinction

between just an autopsy
and a forensic autopsy.

Kennedy was a Navy man,

so the autopsy's gonna be done
at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

A couple of ordinary
hospital pathologists

are assigned to do the autopsy.

Meanwhile, nobody asks

whether James Humes
and J. Thornton Boswell,

the two hospital pathologists,

are in any way qualified
to do this autopsy.

They weren't.

VINCENT DI MAIO:
These people were not
forensic pathologists.

They knew they weren't
forensic pathologists.

But they were military people
and they were ordered

to the autopsy,
so they had to do it.

NARRATOR:
Friday evening,
Kennedy's autopsy begins.

They start with X-rays,

which reveal bullet fragments
in the brain.

It's also clear that Kennedy
had a tracheotomy in the ER

to insert a breathing tube.

But the pathologists
don't realize

there's a wound there as well.

They did not know that
the tracheostomy,

which they saw, had obscured
a wound in the throat.

NARRATOR:
Then they find a bullet hole
in his back,

which quickly becomes a problem.

McADAMS:
They had what was clearly
an entrance wound in the back,

and they couldn't account
for the bullet.

THOMPSON:
The doctors are in a quandary

because they got a bullet hole
in Kennedy's back,

they do total body x-rays,
there's no bullet in the body.

So if a bullet hit Kennedy
in the back, where did it go?

NARRATOR:
But the doctors
aren't shown crucial evidence

that would reveal
where the bullet went.

DI MAIO:
The clothing had been taken away
by the police.

Well, examination of the
clothing is part of the autopsy.

It's very important to know.

NARRATOR:
Kennedy's shirt collar and tie
show a bullet exited his throat,

but doctors don't know that.

Then, they learn a bullet

has been found on a stretcher
at Parkland Hospital,

so doctors assume it worked
its way out of the body

during cardiac massage.

With that,
they conclude the autopsy

and the body is taken
to lie in state.

Now the doctors
must write their report

without access to the body,
x-rays, or photos.

DI MAIO:
This is crazy!

I mean,
these guys saw the wound.

Why can't they see the photos?

And they saw the x-rays
only once.

NARRATOR:
After speaking
with the Dallas ER doctors,

they conclude Kennedy
was hit by two shots

fired from behind and above.

One went through his neck,
the other shattered his skull.

McADAMS:
So the bottom line is

Kennedy did not have the kind
of autopsy he should have had.

NARRATOR:
Because proper measurements
and documentation were not done,

the Kennedy autopsy

will fuel controversy
and debate for decades.

But there is another body of
evidence still to be dissected,

one that allows the murder
to be analyzed

a fraction of a second
at a time:

Abraham Zapruder's home movie.

NARRATOR:
Testing Zapruder's camera,
the FBI learns a crucial detail.

JOSIAH THOMPSON:
The Zapruder film chops time up
into 18ths of a second.

So you have snapshots
every 18th of a second.

NARRATOR:
Investigators will use the film
to establish a timeline.

The majority of witnesses
heard three shots.

The first bullet
evidently missed,

and has never been found.

Most agree the fatal head wound
was the third and final shot:

Zapruder frame #313.

The earliest sign of trouble
is at frame 225,

when the car emerges
from behind the sign.

JOHN McADAMS:
Kennedy has clearly been hit
at Zapruder frame 225.

Connally's not showing
obvious pain

until the 235, 236, 237 range.

NARRATOR:
Rewinding to before the sign,
neither man appears hit.

So clearly, both are shot
somewhere between frame 210,

when they disappear,
and frame 240,

a time span of 30 frames.

So you've got 30 Zapruder
frames, that's all you've got.

And you've got two guys
to wound.

NARRATOR:
30 frames is 1.6 seconds.

THOMPSON:
But now, whoops,

the FBI tested the rifle,
it can't be fired that fast.

It can only...

you need 2.3 seconds
to fire it twice.

There's not enough time
for a single gunman

to fire two shots
during that timeframe.

NARRATOR:
So if a single gunman
could not wound both men

during that 30-frame interval,

there must have been
two shooters-- a conspiracy.

MORLEY:
Then, if that were true,
you had a hell of a problem.

It was much more convenient

to have one man,
one lone nut, was responsible.

NARRATOR:
To explain how one shooter could
wound both men in 1.6 seconds,

Arlen Spector, a lawyer
for the Warren Commission,

concludes Kennedy and Connally
were shot by the same bullet.

JOSIAH THOMPSON:
The Single Bullet Theory:

an enormous Achilles' heel

in the whole Warren Commission
reconstruction.

The theory says a bullet
hit Kennedy in the back,

exited his throat,
went on to hit Connally,

exited the chest,

hit Connally in the wrist,
breaking the radius bone,

and then buried itself very
shallowly in his left thigh.

The single bullet theory
has traditionally been

maybe the single most
controversial thing

that the Warren Commission
came up with.

One of the most important people

who didn't believe
the single bullet theory

was Governor Connally.

NARRATOR:
Connally and his wife Nellie

disagree with the timing
of the theory.

MORLEY:
Connally said,

"The first bullet hit Kennedy
and the second bullet hit me."

And his wife Nellie said
the same thing.

NARRATOR:
In the film,

Connally does appear to react
later than Kennedy,

as if they were not hit
by the same shot.

MORLEY:
For the single bullet theory
to be true,

Governor Connally
had to be wrong.

And Connally was completely
unequivocal.

"That is not what happened."

And Connally was
an experienced hunter;

he was a man who knew his way
around a gun.

NARRATOR:
Skeptics also point
to the condition of the bullet

found on Connally's stretcher.

MORLEY:
That bullet was almost pristine.

And that's what's called
the magic bullet.

NARRATOR:
This is the Carcano bullet
the Warren Commission said

caused seven separate wounds
in Kennedy and Connally.

McADAMS:
People who see
the supposed single bullet

will look at it and say,

"It couldn't possibly have
inflicted seven wounds,

because it ought to be
more damaged than that."

LUKE HAAG:
How on earth can a rifle bullet
go through two people

and look essentially undamaged?

NARRATOR:
Now Luke and Mike Haag
are conducting experiments

using a Carcano rifle

to evaluate
the single bullet theory.

The first experiment is a test

of the stability and penetrating
power of the Carcano bullet.

Could it pass through Kennedy,
Connally's torso,

then Connally's wrist,
and into his thigh?

And if so,
what condition would it be in?

Mike Haag
will test fire one round

into one of the oldest
ballistic test materials.

LUKE HAAG:
Pine boards.

By setting up a group of boards,

you can learn
a number of things:

Does the bullet deflect?

Is it going to deviate?

And once it deviates,

is it now going to snap
or break or deform?

And then, of course,
how deep does it go?

NARRATOR:
They'll use a timing device
called a chronograph

and Doppler radar to measure
the speed of the bullet,

as well as high-speed video.

Gun's going hot,
range is hot.

Five, four,
three, two, one!

(gunshot)

Range is safe.

Velocity 2,089,
ten feet beyond the muzzle.

NARRATOR:
The instruments show the bullet
is traveling

just under 2,100 feet per second
as it leaves the gun--

almost twice the speed of sound.

High-speed video, recording
20,000 frames per second,

shows the Carcano bullet
is perfectly straight and stable

as it hits the target.

Nice round hole.

Okay, we can see our entry hole.

The wood's intact.

Nothing coming out
the back side.

Let's start from the back.

Now we've got something in here.

Clearly feel
they're bound together

where we've got that
stress crack across the top.

So we're at
exactly three feet.

NARRATOR:
The bullet has penetrated
36 inches.

But what condition is it in?

HAAG:
The nose of this bullet is
undeformed;

it's still perfectly round.

This sort of simple
demonstration or experiment

shows us a number of things.

That this bullet is a very hard,
very stable bullet;

it's just plowed through
three feet of pine boards.

These bullets are capable

of passing through
two human beings.

NARRATOR:
But this test only shows the
bullet in one medium-- wood.

In the single bullet theory,

it passes through multiple
materials:

Kennedy's neck, then air,
then Connally.

So the next step is
to recreate what happens

when a Carcano bullet hits
human tissue.

It's basically a splash.

We're basically a bag of water.

If you throw a rock into
the water, the water parts.

So does muscle tissue
to high-velocity bullets.

NARRATOR:
To learn how muscle tissue parts

when penetrated
by a Carcano bullet,

they'll use two different
tissue simulants:

ballistic gelatin
and ballistic soap.

Both have the same density
and resistance to penetration

as human muscle,
but they behave differently

when struck by a bullet.

LUKE HAAG:
We're looking at

a temporary cavity in gelatin
that opens up, then collapses.

NARRATOR:
But ballistic soap freezes
the moment in time,

preserving the wound cavity.

HAAG:
That temporary cavity
is formed

by the splash, by the plow
of the bullet through,

but it stays there.

NARRATOR:
The pine boards have
already shown

that a Carcano bullet can easily
go straight through two people.

But the single bullet theory
is all about what it does

after it emerges
from Kennedy's neck.

Does it remain intact?

Is it deflected?

What happens to its velocity?

How fast was it going?

That's important to know,

what kind of damage can we
expect it to do

to another gunshot victim,
such as Connally, or to the car.

NARRATOR:
In these three feet-- the space
between Kennedy and Connally--

lie the answers that prove
or disprove

the single bullet theory.

They'll start with the soap.

HAAG:
It's very similar to Neutrogena,

that clear amber soap
that you can see through.

This has the same density and
same resistivity to penetration

as muscle tissue.

I've also put
this cloth on here,

so we can see a phenomenon
called bullet wipe.

Range is hot.

HAAG:
Five, four, three, two, one...

First thing to notice

is this cloth
with the bullet hole in it.

The dark ring
you see around there

is a phenomenon known
to forensic scientists

as bullet wipe.

It's the smudgy material
on the surface of a bullet

that literally wipes off

as it pushes through the first
surface it encounters.

This is important because it
tells you direction:

this is an entry.

There is bullet wipe
around the small, round hole

in Kennedy's coat.

Okay, I've removed the cloth
and the skin simulant.

Here we have something
different.

We have a representative
of the temporary cavity,

that the tissue would have been
hurled out, propelled out,

but in a real person,
or in tissue or gelatin,

it'd collapse back.

This is the exit, and we can see

it's very little different
in size than the entry.

Okay, I've sectioned
this lengthwise

along the wound track.

And the noticeable things are
that it's perfectly straight.

NARRATOR:
But near the exit, the wound
path gets wider.

Something's happening
to the bullet.

This is the entrance.

The bullet stays stable, stable,
stable, nose forward.

Over here's the exit,
and it's just starting to yaw.

NARRATOR:
Yaw means the bullet is changing
its orientation in flight.

It's still moving
in a straight line,

but it's starting to tumble.

High-speed video shows
the bullet beginning to yaw

after it emerges from the soap.

Now they try a shot
through gelatin.

Five,

four, three, two, one...

The wound path opens up,
then collapses.

And just like firing through
soap, the bullet goes into yaw.

Another yawing, tumbling moment.

LUKE HAAG:
It's almost in perfect yaw.

Maybe an 80 instead of 90.

NARRATOR:
Behind the target
is a witness panel,

a piece of quarter-inch
sheetrock.

It's three feet beyond the soap,

the same position Connally was
in, three feet beyond Kennedy.

The witness panel records
the bullet's orientation

after exiting Kennedy's neck.

We've got
an intact bullet.

It's not deformed.

We can see
the profile of it--

there's the nose,
there's the heel or the base--

but it's going sideways.

Here's an actual fired
Carcano bullet,

and we can see it's almost
perfectly in profile.

Connally's coat has
this kind of a hole in it.

NARRATOR:
And so does Connally's back,
according to his surgeon.

In test after test,
the Carcano bullet

moves straight through
tissue simulant,

but tumbles
when it reenters the air.

LUKE HAAG:
Time after time,

the instant this bullet is back
out into the atmosphere,

it goes into yaw.

That was a real surprise.

I can't explain it,

but from a science standpoint,
it's repeatable.

NARRATOR:
A bullet hitting sideways
has much more resistance,

which helps explain
Connally's wounds.

HAAG:
Just like holding your hand

out the window of a car
going 90 miles an hour,

so you feel a lot of resistance;

if you put your hand like that,
you feel very little.

So when the bullet hits
Connally,

it's now going sideways
and it does a lot of damage.

NARRATOR:
The sideways bullet has a bigger
profile and is slowing down.

That makes it easy for it
to break bones

without much damage to itself.

And, in fact, the stretcher
bullet is damaged.

McADAMS:
If you look at it end-on,
it's mashed very considerably.

It's actually in an oval shape,
not round.

So it has suffered some damage.

NARRATOR:
And it's exactly the type
of damage a bullet would get

from hitting sideways.

Operating on Connally's wrist,
doctors found bits of lead.

Luke Haag thinks the soft lead
was squeezed

out of the bullet's
hard copper jacket

like toothpaste from a tube,
because it was going sideways.

A soda can filled with soft
plastic illustrates.

If I put forces on this this way
and keep it straight,

it's strong.

If I put force on it
like this...

now it's going sideways.

Some of the lead gets
squeezed out.

Because now the bullet's
sideways when it hits hard bone,

some of this breaks off.

NARRATOR:
A straight line
through JFK's neck,

elliptical holes
in Connally's back and coat

with no bullet wipe,

bits of lead in the wrist,
a bullet noticeably flattened,

with lead bulging
out the bottom,

and tests showing
the Carcano bullet

consistently turns sideways.

To Luke Haag, the single bullet
theory adds up.

HAAG:
There's no reason
not to conclude

that the single bullet theory
as proposed by Arlen Specter

is the correct one.

NARRATOR:
But there's another
Warren conclusion

some find hard to accept:

that the fatal head shot,
the third shot,

entered from the rear.

It will take 12 years for this
controversy to erupt,

because the public
has never seen

the Zapruder film in motion
until March 1975.

Because this is
very heavy.

It's the film shot

by the Dallas dress
manufacturer,

Abraham Zapruder...

NARRATOR:
When they're shown the film
in motion, viewers are stunned

to see the direction Kennedy
moves when he's hit in the head.

GERALDO RIVERA:
And now, at the bottom
of the screen, the head shot.

That's the shot that
blew off his head.

And as you can see clearly,

the head is thrown violently
backwards.

Kennedy goes backwards
like this.

Back and to the left.

He's thrown backwards
and to the left.

If he's hit by a bullet
from behind,

why would his head go
in the direction

that the shot came from?

It seems more likely that he was
driven backwards

by a bullet from the front.

But the Warren Commission had
been telling us all along

he got hit
in the back of the head.

That convinced a lot of people
there had to be a conspiracy,

because they assumed he was
thrown back and to the left

by a shot from the right front.

MORLEY:
If there was a shot
from the front,

then there were clearly
two gunmen,

and there was some kind
of conspiracy.

And that tidal wave of public
concern and anger, really,

eventuated in the formation
of the House Select Committee.

NARRATOR:
In 1976, the House Select
Committee on Assassinations

begins investigating the murders

of John Kennedy
and Martin Luther King.

Three years later,
many of their conclusions agree

with the Warren Commission:

Lee Harvey Oswald
fired three shots;

the first probably missed,

the second hit Kennedy
and Connally,

the third-- the head shot--
killed Kennedy.

But there is one
major difference,

and it's a bombshell.

The House Select Committee finds
there were two gunmen;

there was a conspiracy.

The evidence
for this startling conclusion

is audio recordings
from a police motorcycle.

Some say the recordings
indicate a fourth shot.

But they've been controversial
from the beginning.

Experts disagree about
what's on the recordings.

And the analysis of them
has been roundly criticized.

In 1982, the National
Academy of Sciences

examined the acoustic evidence.

McADAMS:
They concluded, no,

these conclusions
are simply invalid.

MORLEY:
And so the acoustic evidence,

while I find it
very interesting,

I would say it's not decisive.

NARRATOR:
But controversial recordings
aside,

what did witnesses
actually hear?

A fair number of witnesses said
the shots came

from the Depository

and a fair number from the
direction of the grassy knoll.

NARRATOR:
The grassy knoll is
a slight rise

on the northwest side
of Dealey Plaza.

If there were a gunman here,

that could explain a shot
from the right front.

But many witnesses
simply weren't sure

where the shots came from.

McADAMS:
A fair number of people,

when asked where the shots
came from,

said there was no way to tell,

there was too much
reverberation.

(gunshots, shouting)

NARRATOR:
The Kennedy assassination is
just one example

of the difficulty of pinpointing
gunshots.

Locating where shots are coming
from is hard for anyone,

even trained soldiers.

Especially
in urban environments.

MICHAEL HARGATHER:
It's a major problem for our
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan

to be able to understand
where shooters are

in these urban environments.

Multiple buildings,
multiple locations

that the shock waves
reverberate off of

can give us multiple
sound signatures.

NARRATOR:
At New Mexico Tech, Professor
Michael Hargather studies

shock waves caused
by explosions.

Using a special
high-speed camera,

extremely bright focused light
and a reflective screen,

his team takes pictures
of sound.

HARGATHER:
We can literally photograph
the invisible:

small density differences
within the air.

What we're going to see here
with the shadowgraph system is

we're going to see a line

that is the shadow cast
by that shockwave.

Down...

HARGATHER:
That line represents
the interface

between the unshocked
ambient air

and then what we call
the shocked air

behind that shock wave.

HARGATHER:
John, you ready?

Ready!

Camera's ready.

NARRATOR:
Photographing a high-speed
rifle bullet

reveals two different
shock waves.

One, V-shaped, is created
by the bullet traveling faster

than the speed of sound,

the other by the gases
that propel it.

HARGATHER:
There's really multiple pieces
to this event.

The bullet, we can talk
about it being supersonic

as it exits the gun,

because it's traveling faster
than the speed of sound.

And the burning
of the gunpowder,

that produces what we call
a muzzle blast.

NARRATOR:
So, with a supersonic rifle
bullet, like the Carcano,

an observer can hear two sounds:
the crack of the bullet passing

followed by the blast of the gun
that fired it.

Like so.

All bouncing and echoing between
the buildings in Dealey Plaza.

HARGATHER:
In a complicated geometry,
like Dealey Plaza in Dallas,

you could get multiple shock
reflections in that geometry.

And so someone could hear
multiple sounds

from a single shot.

NARRATOR:
But regardless
of what people heard,

was a shot from the grassy knoll
even possible?

To hit Kennedy
from the right front,

possibly explaining why he moved
back and to the left,

what trajectory would the bullet
have had to take?

In 1963,

the Warren Commission had to
calculate trajectories manually.

Today, investigators have
a different tool:

3D laser scanning.

TONY GRISSIM:
What the laser scanner does
is it spins around

and it makes millions and
millions of laser measurements

that are very, very accurate.

And the result is
it greatly enhances

the data collection process
at a crime scene.

Say I want to do
a high-res scan here

on the sixth-floor window...

NARRATOR:
Laser scan specialist
Tony Grissim

is working with ballistics
expert Mike Haag

to create a 3D virtual model
of Dealey Plaza.

The laser system is going
to put a laser

up into the mirror system,
which directs it

at a 90-degree angle
over to this enclosed cube.

And then when the laser rotates
around the scene,

you're able to come away
with 360 degrees of data.

NARRATOR:
The first step is to scan from
multiple points in the plaza,

including the sixth floor
of the Book Depository.

MIKE HAAG:
When I first started
in this business,

if you went into a typical crime
scene, you might walk out

having used your tape measure,
your roller wheel.

And it was inevitable that
you would realize later

that you missed a measurement.

Do we know the camber
of the road?

Do we know how high
the curb was?

Did you take it?

I didn't take it. Did you?

It's all in the computer.

We've done a panoramic scan
already;

now we're going to do
what's called a detailed scan

just of the actual window.

NARRATOR:
Processing such a huge amount
of data will take weeks.

When it's done,
all of Dealey Plaza--

every building, window,
streetlamp and tree--

exists in a computer, accurate
to an eighth of an inch.

Mike, can we go and take
a vantage point

looking at the grassy knoll
and pick some points

and look at distances and
trajectory from there

to the limousine location when
the headshot actually occurred?

The 3D laser scan data allows me
to look at any shot I want to,

including the grassy knoll shot,

the shots from the sixth floor,
missed shots, anything.

NARRATOR:
It's all about angles
and distances.

I'm interested in the distance
from the knoll

to, say, the headshot and
the knoll to the neck shot.

NARRATOR:
Mike Haag wants to evaluate
a grassy knoll trajectory.

Maybe right about behind
that tree, around in there.

Could we also see

what the vertical angle
would be, the downward angle.

So, from the top of the
stockade fence, for example,

to the president's head.

McCORMICK:
Sure.

MIKE HAAG:
If it came from the knoll,

we're looking
at about 105 feet.
That's correct.

NARRATOR:
When the distances and angles
are all calculated,

the answer is clear.

MIKE HAAG:
So 105 feet,

-4 degrees downward
if we define horizontal as zero.

NARRATOR:
In the 3D virtual Dealey Plaza,

a trajectory from the grassy
knoll to Kennedy is possible.

MIKE HAAG:
The distances are certainly
within realm

of a typical firearm,

but you would have to have had
an entrance wound

in the front right area
of the president's head.

NARRATOR:
Clearly the right side
of Kennedy's head

is terribly injured;
his skull is shattered.

But is this devastating damage
an entrance wound?

The only way to know for sure

would be to examine
Kennedy's skull.

Since that's impossible,

a team at the Boston University
School of Medicine

will instead try
to virtually reconstruct

Kennedy's head wound.

Greg Mahoney is
a forensic artist;

James Pokines,
a forensic anthropologist.

Leading the team is
Peter Cummings,

a pathologist who specializes
in gunshot wounds to the head.

What I typically do with a
gunshot wound to the head case

is I'll try
to reconstruct the skull

by taking the fragments
and putting them back

into the place where
they belong anatomically.

NARRATOR:
Several fragments of Kennedy's
skull were recovered,

from his scalp, the limousine
and Dealey Plaza.

To see if there's any sign
of a shot from the grassy knoll,

the team tries to piece together
the fragments.

Cummings hopes that
reconstructing the skull

will show whether or not

there's an entry wound
in the right front.

When the process is complete,

the team sees only evidence
of a rear entry wound.

Everything I've seen is
consistent

with a relatively simple
scenario.

Bullet enters here and comes out
roughly in this area.

I don't know where
the exit wound is.

There's not a discrete
exit point.

NARRATOR:
But this is only an experiment,

using publicly available copies
of autopsy photos and X-rays.

To learn more, Cummings goes
to the National Archives,

where the high-quality originals
and Kennedy's clothing are kept.

The Kennedy family has granted
him access on NOVA's behalf,

but no cameras are allowed.

CUMMINGS:
It was a real honor.

It's something
that I grew up with.

As a boy, seeing the Zapruder
film was one of the things

that really fueled my interest
in doing forensics.

This was John F. Kennedy
and I was handling his clothing.

Even though I went there
for a very specific reason,

a scientific reason,

certainly that moment
wasn't lost on me.

The photographs themselves
are crystal clear.

The sharpness is amazing.

You can get a lot of detail
from them.

Much better than anything
you can find

that's publicly available.

NARRATOR:
Even so, they're not perfect.

A photo intended to document
the entry point is unclear,

because for whatever reason,

the autopsy doctors did not
shave the head wound.

The brain yields
more information.

This is a drawing
of President Kennedy's brain

that was done for one of
the investigative committees.

We see the wound track that
extends from the occipital pole,

the back of the brain,
the back tip of the brain,

all the way up through
the front of the brain.

NARRATOR:
A shot from the grassy knoll
would have exited

through the left side
of Kennedy's brain

but that is largely undamaged.

Moving on to an X-ray
of Kennedy's skull,

multiple fractures are evident.

To Cummings, the pattern
of fracture lines is a clue

to the bullet's direction.

CUMMINGS:
As the bullet impacts the skull,

the fracture lines will radiate
off from that point of impact.

As that's happening,

the head is also expanding

from this incredible
pressure wave

that's occurring
inside the head.

NARRATOR:
In tests at the
Biophysics Laboratory,

an Army research center,
Carcano bullets were fired

into human skulls filled
with ballistic gelatin.

First, the impact of a bullet
entering from the rear

causes fractures
to radiate forward.

But almost at the same instant,

a pressure wave inside the
gelatin causes a second wave

of fractures in a perpendicular
direction,

just like what Cummings sees
on the Kennedy X-ray.

So you have these long fractures
that'll radiate out

from an entry wound and then you
have these concentric fractures

that happen perpendicular to
the original fracture lines.

NARRATOR:
If Kennedy had been shot
from the grassy knoll,

the primary fracture lines would
radiate backwards

from the front.

But the X-ray shows
the opposite:

they radiate forward
from the rear.

Based on this fracture pattern
in the skull,

I think we can
definitively say no.

There was no shot from the side
or from the front.

NARRATOR:
But there is one
lingering mystery:

where exactly was
the entry wound?

For 50 years, confusion
over its precise location

has fueled controversy.

The autopsy doctors said
it was low.

The House Committee put it
four inches higher.

One scientist thinks the autopsy
doctors were right.

Larry Sturdivan is an expert
in wound ballistics.

He worked
at the Army's Biophysics Lab

where the skull tests were done.

Sturdivan thinks
the House Committee assumed

there must be a straight line
from the bullet's entry to exit,

in order to line up
with the sixth floor window.

STURDIVAN:
Probably the reason
that they developed

the higher impact point was
simply to explain the fact

that that sort of line
could line up

with the schoolbook
depository window.

I don't know why they assumed

that it had to make
a straight path.

NARRATOR:
But in the test
at the Biophysics Lab,

Carcano bullets did not follow a
straight path inside the skull,

because they were deformed
on impact.

STURDIVAN:
The bone is hard enough

and strong enough and dense
enough to deform the bullet.

When it destabilizes,
it begins to yaw.

As soon as it begins to yaw,

it develops a lift force
like an airplane wing.

And it will inevitably take
a curved path.

NARRATOR:
This is consistent
with the physical evidence.

The bullet that hit Kennedy's
head fragmented,

leaving pieces in the brain
and in the car.

Sturdivan thinks the pressure
wave created by the bullet

inside the brain also explains
Kennedy's movement backward.

STURDIVAN:
The tissue inside the skull

was being moved around.

It caused a massive amount
of nerve stimulation

to go down his spine.

Every nerve in his body
was stimulated.

Now, since the back muscles
are stronger

than the abdominal muscles,

that meant that Kennedy arched
dramatically backwards.

NARRATOR:
After 50 years, one of the most
witnessed murders in history

is still discussed and debated.

Science can explain some things:

how a relatively intact Carcano
bullet could wound two men

and how a shot from behind

could cause Kennedy's
backward movement.

But when it comes
to the Kennedy assassination,

there are some explanations
science cannot provide.

McADAMS:
History doesn't always
make sense.

Here's a nothing person

who brought down the leader
of the free world.

LEHRER:
In a few seconds,

one guy gets off three rounds--
chook, chook, chook.

Changes the course
of history forever.

NARRATOR:
No experiments can show why
someone would take a rifle

to a high window
and pull the trigger.

But they can show it's probable
that Lee Harvey Oswald did

and that his shots alone killed
President John F. Kennedy.

The essence of good
forensic science

is to look at what are
the competing explanations

of an event.

And if you can rule out
that which is impossible,

that which remains--
however seemingly improbable--

is the truth.

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