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Bugliosi's back wound blunder


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While reading the chapter on President Kennedy’s autopsy in Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, I stumbled across a series of incredible blunders. The sheer size and nature of these blunders is such that one should wonder just how many other blunders are scattered throughout the book’s 1600 pages. It should make one wonder, furthermore, if Bugliosi really has a strong grasp of the evidence he supposedly studied for 21 years.

On page 421, while discussing President Kennedy’s back wound, and its relationship to President Kennedy’s throat wound, Bugliosi cites the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, and Dr. Charles Petty. Petty explains that even though the back wound was lower than the throat wound when President Kennedy was in the anatomic position, that this was still consistent with a bullet connecting these wounds’ being fired from above and behind Kennedy, should Kennedy have been leaning forward when struck. In support that Kennedy was leaning forward when struck, Petty cites the HSCA trajectory analysis of Thomas Canning, and its assertion that Kennedy was leaning forward 11 to 18 degrees forward when struck. (Bugliosi fails to note that this measurement was Canning’s estimate of Kennedy’s position more than 1.5 seconds before the HSCA believed Kennedy was struck and over 3 seconds before the point Bugliosi elsewhere theorizes Kennedy was struck.)

On pages 422 and 423 Bugliosi uses Kennedy silhouettes to demonstrate that the bullet track could have been upwards in the body should Kennedy have been leaning forward as proposed by Petty. He then states, “With the exception of Dr. Wecht, the HSCA understood this issue, and as opposed to the Warren Commission (see later discussion) dealt with it properly.” This statement includes two substantial errors. The first one is that Dr. Wecht failed to understand this issue. Dr. Wecht’s disagreement with the single bullet theory trajectory embraced by others is not based on a misguided belief that a bullet fired from above could not go upwards within the body should Kennedy have been leaning forward when struck, but that Kennedy was, in fact leaning forward when struck. (The Zapruder film depicts no such lean until after Kennedy is clearly injured.) The second error is that the HSCA handled the issue of the forward lean “properly.” As mentioned, the HSCA trajectory analysis of Thomas Canning held that Kennedy was leaning forward 11 to 18 degrees when first struck. What Bugliosi conceals from his readers (at least at this point) is that Canning also concluded, after an extensive study of the Zapruder film, that Kennedy was leaning forward just 11 degrees when struck in the head at frame 313 of the Zapruder film, and that, therefore, Kennedy was leaning forward, got struck in the back, sat up slightly, and was then struck in the head. As anyone who’s ever watched the Zapruder film should know, this is absolutely untrue. (I go into this in great detail in The Tangled Web chapter at patspeer.com.)

But this blunder is just a lead-in to what follows. After agreeing that the wound was on the back, and not on the neck, and that it was slightly below the throat wound in the anatomic position, Bugliosi reverses himself, and fails to even notice! At the top of page 424, after explaining to his readers that he won’t stoop so low as to publish the autopsy photos unauthorized for public use, he totally misrepresents the autopsy photos already in the public domain. He states, “Perhaps the clearest visual evidence of the fact that the entrance wound in the back was definitely above the exit wound in the throat appears in one of these photos taken of the left side of the president’s head as he is lying on his back, his head on a metal headrest. Only the wound in the throat is visible, not the wound on the upper right back. However, it couldn’t be clearer from this photo that the wound in the back was definitely above the exit wound in the throat.”

This statement is both bizarre and incorrect. It’s bizarre because Bugliosi has already concurred with the HSCA pathology panel and argued that the back wound was below the throat wound, and now he’s siding with “single-assassin theorists” at odds with the panel’s conclusions. He can’t have it both ways. It’s incorrect because Kennedy is flat on his back in the photo and such a position would roll his shoulders outward and lift slightly the skin and muscle between the shoulder blades, distorting the location of the wound. A quick measurement of the President’s skull and proportions, moreover, demonstrates that the entrance location proposed by these anti-HSCA pathology panel “single-assassin theorists” and apparently accepted by Bugliosi, is barely half the distance from the back of the President’s skull measured at the autopsy, and confirmed by subsequent panels. (This is demonstrated in Part 3 of my video series available at patspeer.com and Youtube.)

There is much in Bugliosi’s book to make one scratch one’s head. Unfortunately, there is also quite a bit to make someone knowledgeable on the case shake his head, and yell “NO, NO, NO, I can’t believe you said that!” It seems clear to this researcher that Bugliosi bit off more than he could chew, and took shortcuts through the evidence in order to avoid sharp corners. In doing so, I fear he’s only added to the divide between those suspecting a conspiracy and those quite sure that Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy.

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