The Wounding of Governor John Connally

by Ron Hepler


The Single (Magic) Bullet Theory continues to endure as the official version of the wounding of Governor John Connally. Many highly regarded critics of the Warren Commission, rightly dismiss the idea that one bullet wounded both men, but accept the general time frame of the Governor's wounding. But if the presence of a fact, or the lack of a necessary fact makes a theory impossible; then that theory must be discarded, and a new theory developed which includes all of the known facts. To date what has been occurring is rather to ignore the evidence that doesn't fit the existing theory. I would like to offer a different scenario of the wounding of Governor Connally; one that is observable on the Zapruder film, is backed up by numerous testimony, and is supported by scientific evidence.

When I first began studying this case I was attracted to the wounding of Governor Connally because little attention had been paid to it, yet it is central to the Single Bullet Theory. I had read about the Governor's Lapel Flap, shoulder drop, and puffed cheeks. While I recognized that the time separation between these events logically precluded that they were all the result of a single bullet strike, I had no reason to believe that the Governor had not been wounded during that time frame. In this commonly accepted view, the Governor was wounded shortly after the throat shot to the President, but long before the fatal headshot. But, two thirds of all ear witnesses of three shots, including Secret Service Agents William Greer and Roy Kellerman seated in the front of the limousine, tell a story diametrically opposed to this. These witnesses heard a single shot followed by a pause, then two shots in rapid succession.

THE CONNALLY'S ASSESMENTS
Governor Connally told the Warren Commission, "I was turning to look back over my left shoulder into the back seat, but I never got that far in my turn. I got about in the position I am in now facing you, looking a little bit to the left of center, and then I felt like someone had hit me in the back."(1) He elaborated to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) "...so I was in the process of, at least I was turning to look over my left shoulder into the back seat to see if I could see him. I never looked, I never made the full turn. About the time I turned back where I was facing more or less straight ahead, the way the car was moving, I was hit. I was knocked over, just doubled over by the force of the bullet. It went in my back and came out my chest about 2 inches below and to the left of my right nipple. The force of the bullet drove my body over almost double and when I looked, immediately I could see I was just drenched with blood. (2)

This sequence of events where the Governor turns to the left just prior to being hit is also reported by Mr. S.M. Holland, who was standing on the triple overpass, in Mark Lane's documentary film, Rush to Judgment -- The Plot to Kill Kennedy. "The first bullet, the President slumped over and Governor Connally made his turn to the right and then back to the left and that's when the second shot was fired and knocked him down to the floorboard."

Mrs. Nellie Connally supported her husband's description in her testimony to the House Select Commitee:

Mr. DODD: "So, you are still looking at the President and it is your recollection that you then heard what sounded like a second shot?
Mrs. CONNALLY: "Yes.
Mr. DODD: "Is that correct?
Mrs. CONNALLY: "Yes. What was a second shot."
Mr. DODD: "At that point your husband, Governor Connally, slumped over in your direction?"
Mrs. CONNALLY: "No, he lunged forward and then just kind of collapsed." (3)

What the Governor, his wife, and Mr. Holland aptly describe is Newton's Law of Conservation of Momentum. It says that when an object in motion collides with a stationary one, all momentum will be conserved, or in other words all momentum will be accountable after the collision. This conservation of momentum results in the deceleration of the bullet, accelerating the torso as the bullet penetrates the body impacting bones, etc.

IDENTIFYING THE IMPACT
When I learned of these statements concerning the impact of the bullet, it was immediately apparent that such forward motion would pinpoint the time of the impact within one frame of the Zapruder film, so I decided to look for that motion. At frame 224, the time of the Lapel Flap there is no motion that matches the description given by the Governor . So I looked at Frame 236, the shoulder drop, surely if the bullet drove his shoulder down it would have driven him forward; but no. What about frame 238, the puffing of the cheeks? Still no cigar. So rather than accept that the Governor was not yet wounded most researchers choose to ignore the statements of the two people most intimate with the event, the wounded man and his wife who was seated next to him at the time of the shooting.

So I continued to let the VCR run in slow motion. During the headshot sequence I thought I saw the governor driven forward. I replayed the headshot sequence time after time at normal speed, in slow motion, and in single frame step mode, often covering the President with my hand so as to be able to focus completely on the Governor without my eyes being drawn to the headshot.



Frame 315

Frame 321

Frame 326

Frame 338

That was it. The bullet obviously impacted him under the armpit at frame 315 as he attempted to raise himself from his wife's lap. The first evidence of motion is visible at frame 316. He is driven forward as is shown in frame 321 and hits the back of the front seat at frame 323. He immediately collapses just as Mrs. Connally had described in frame 326. A second violent motion is noticeable at about frame 338 when run at normal speed. This motion is most likely the impact of the wrist shot that then goes on to cause the thigh injury. Evidence of the Governor's wounding after the headshot was noted by Robert Groden in his book, "The Killing of a President. (4) as Shot # 6.

All indications are that the Governor was the victim of the last two shots of what was obviously a four shot volley aimed at the President's head. The first shot of this volley, at frame 312, was apparently only a tangential hit, gently shoving the President's head forward and possibly denting the windshield frame of the limo. The second shot from the Grassy Knoll at frame 313 was a solid impact, driving the President's head violently backward. With JFK's head deflected from its targeted location, the third shot sailed past at frame 315 and into the Governor's back shattering his fifth rib, rupturing his right lung and exiting out of his chest. The last shot, fired at about frame 338, impacts the Governor's wrist, shattering the radius bone with the remains coming to rest in his thigh.



Frame 312

Frame 313

Frame 315

Shots occurring almost simultaneously, such as at frames 312, 313, & 315 would likely not be differentiated, but heard as a single shot and its echoes by witnesses; although some witnesses including the Governor himself, apparently did hear them as automatic weapon fire. Whereas, the late shot at frame 338 would certainly be differentiated and heard as a separate shot; thereby matching the reports of the majority of ear-witnesses. Coordinating the fire into such volleys is a logical strategy to hide additional shots as echoes.

Having determined that the Governor had been wounded immediately after the headshot to the President, what caused the Lapel Flap, Shoulder Drop and Puffed Cheeks?

NELLIE'S QUICK REACTION
A close analysis of the Zapruder film will reveal that Nellie Connally was the first to react defensively, by turning and pressing her back against the left side of the car. In frame 190, and the Willis Photo #5(5), taken at about the same time, Nellie is still facing forward indicating that she had not yet recognized the threat; but in frame 240, she can be seen to be in this position with certainty. Her location as evidenced by her hair, which is essentially all that is visible, appears already fixed as early as frame 225. Considering that she cannot be seen to make a turn after exiting from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, it is appparent that she had already assumed the position much earlier. Her testimony to the HSCA indicates that she made the turn while hidden from the camera by the Stemmons Freeway sign, "I just heard a disturbing noise and turned to my right from where I thought the noise had come and looked in the back and saw the President clutch his neck with both hands." (6)



Willis #5

Frame 225

Frame 240

While the Secret Service agents appear thoroughly confused, Nellie has analyzed the threat and is galvanized into action to pull her husband from the line of fire and down into her lap. She testified to the Warren Commission, "I just pulled him over into my arms"(7); and to the HSCA, "...the only thing I could think of to do was to pull him down out of the line of fire, or whatever was happening to us and I thought if I could get him down, maybe they wouldn't hurt him anymore. So, I pulled him down in my lap." Nellie's left hand can be seen grasping the Governor's left arm to pull him into her lap at frame 273.



Frame 273

THE LAPEL FLAP
Gerald Posner, in his book "Case Closed" (8), wrongly described the fact that Governor Connally's lapel flapped up at about frame 224, as evidence of a bullet strike. For such a bullet to penetrate both men, as proposed in the Single Bullet Theory, the right to left trajectory through Connally would have to line up with JFK's neck and the weapon.

At frame 224, Connally is seated erect, relaxed with his torso facing forward. The trajectory of the bullet that entered under his right armpit and exited below his right nipple was measured by Dr. Robert Shaw, Governor Connally's attending physician, at an angle of 27 degrees relative to the forward facing torso(9). If this trajectory were traced backwards at frame 224, the bullet would have passed several feet to Kennedy's right.

If the lapel flap is not the result of a bullet hit nor the result of wind as some assume, the only logical cause of the lapel flap is Nellie pulling to the left on the back of her husband's suit coat in her attempt to ... pull him down out of the line of fire. Evidence of Mrs. Connally's effort is that the "V" of his lapel is no longer centered, but is moved to the right beginning with frame 223, then causing the lapel flap at frame 224.



Frame 222

Frame 223

Frame 224

The shoulder anchors the lapel at the top while the button anchors it at the bottom. A leftward tug on the back of the coat pulls all slack out of the fabric. As tension continues to increase, the middle of the lapel is able to move. This movement of the middle of the lapel fold causes the fold to flap open.

THE SHOULDER DROP
Governor Connally's shoulder can be seen to drop sharply at frame 238, while his torso remains essentially stationary. This movement was reported as evidence of a bullet hit by Dr. Cyril Wecht in his testimony to the HSCA (10). Governor Connally was not hit in the upper arm or the shoulder, either of which could have driven the shoulder down; but instead he was wounded under the armpit. In addition, the trajectory through the body of 25 degrees downward, as measured by Dr. Shaw (11), would have transferred the majority of its momentum in the forward direction instead of downward, as was noted by the Governor and his wife.

This shoulder motion could only have been the result of a downward pull on his right arm or coat sleeve by his wife in her attempt to extricate him from the line of fire. Since his torso was turned to face the right side of the car at this point in time, his right arm was within Nellie's reach. The fact that his right arm is not visible throughout this event is further indication that it was behind his back. During this time he rotates further around to the right as a result of Nellie pulling on his right arm/coat sleeve. Note that he remains in the same shoulder down orientation in frame 261, over a second later. If he had been struck by a bullet the shoulder would have rebounded upward after ending its downward travel; instead it is obviously being pulled down. Additional evidence of the pull on his right coat sleeve is that the collar and lapel of his coat are pulled toward his right shoulder.



Frame 236

Frame 238

Frame 240

Frame 261

THE PUFFED CHEEKS
The puffing of Connally's cheeks, visible at frame 238, is believed by many to be evidence of the compressive effects of a bullet or rib fragments penetrating the lung. At well over 1000 feet per second, the bullet rips through the chest cavity and the lung, opening them so that no pressure is retained. The puffing of cheeks would require a much slower building of pressure. This puffing of his cheeks can only be due to abdominal muscular tensioning prior to his lung being ruptured. This is certainly the result of being pulled off balance, backward, by his wife. Such abdominal muscular tensioning results in pressure upon the diaphragm. In most cases people hold their breath to add support to abdominal strain, thereby puffing the cheeks. The same condition occurs when exercising the abdominal muscles; such as with sit-ups.

Both attempts of tugging at his coat and arm are consistent with Nellie's final success in getting him into her lap; so too is the puffing of his cheeks as he resisted the backward pull.

Additional evidence that the Governor was not hit between frames 220 and 240, is the fact that he does not exhibit the effects of the impact of a bullet. A high velocity bullet that destroys 5 inches of his fifth rib, parts of which practically explode out of his chest, would cause severe pain. It was described to the Warren Commission by Dr. Shaw as "... both a shocking and painful wound" (12). The pain would be evident as a grimace of agony on his face. It is NOT! His facial expression is one of being startled and confused. Shortly there after, as he is falling into his wife's lap, he can be seen watching the President with interest; an activity that he later denies. This obvious concern for the well being of another, visible in frame 273, is not the action of a severely wounded man.



Frame 273

TRAJECTORY OF THE BACK WOUND
Importantly, while raising himself and turning left, his torso was leaned over toward Nellie from the seat that he originally occupied. This left leaning angle of the torso relative to the normal vertical posture, rotates the bullet's apparent trajectory clockwise. With this rotation, the downward angle of the shot gives the erroneous appearance of a more right to left trajectory through the body; which of course is exactly what we see with his wounds.

A photo of the limousine taken at Parkland Hospital (13) has evidence of the emergence of this bullet. There is a severe dent in the lower left corner of the chrome panel surrounding the ashtray in the back of the front seat. This final impact before falling to the floor of the car, would be consistent with the trajectory described earlier as well as bullet fragments retrieved from the vehicle.

THE GOVERNOR CRIES OUT
According to the Warren Commission Report, `Observing his blood covered chest as he was pulled into his wife's lap, Governor Connally believed himself mortally wounded. He cried out, "Oh, no, no, no. My God, They are going to kill us all".'(14) It is quite evident on the Zapruder film that he was NOT yet covered with blood when he was pulled into Nellie's lap as is obvious in frame 273; and this sequence of events is not supported by the Connally's testimony to the HSCA, as noted earlier. But, he does appear to be mouthing these words during this period.

While it makes perfect sense for him to make such an exclamation after hearing the first shot, and prior to being wounded himself; it is ludicrous to expect this of a man who had " a sucking wound of the chest". This description of his chest wound and ruptured lung was given to the Warren Commission by Dr. Shaw as "...he had what we call a sucking wound of the chest. This would not allow him to breathe."(15) The "sucking wound of the chest" allows air to be inhaled and exhaled via the wound, rather than through the windpipe, larynx, etc. This inability to breathe would essentially eliminate any significant amount of air across the larynx, precluding his crying out.

Nellie supports the timing issue with her testimony to the Warren Commission, "...As the first shot was hit, and I turned to look at the same time, I recall John saying, `Oh, no, no, no., Then there was a second shot, and it hit John..."(16). She reinforced the timing with her statement to the HSCA, "...John had turned to his right also when we heard that first noise and shouted, `no, no, no,' and in the process of turning back around so that he could look back and see the President--I don't think he could see him when he turned to his right--the second shot was fired and hit him. (17) The Governor's statement to the HSCA indicates that he was having trouble keeping his story straight, "When I was hit, or shortly before I was hit--no, I guess it was after I was hit--I said first, just almost in despair, I said, "no, no, no,...". (18) This Freudian slip indicates that he actually made the statement before he was wounded, but that did not fit the official story and had to be altered.

THE LAST SHOT
The last shot, apparently a belated final round of the four shot volley, strikes Connally in the wrist and thigh at about frame 338 as he lay across the car. He can be seen to make a violent movement immediately after frame 338, which is evidence of the bullet's impact. Timing for this shot is supported by data developed during the acoustic analysis of the Dallas Police radio tape, performed by Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc., as well as data on the camera motion analysis of the Zapruder film by W. K. Hartman, and Frank Scott separately for the HSCA (19). This bullet's trajectory, if extended back through the approximate location of JFK's head, would most likely originate from the roof of the Dallas County Records Building, where a spent 30.06 cartridge was found in 1975 by an air-conditioner repairman (20).

SUMMARY
Contrary to popular belief, Governor Connally was not wounded until after the fatal headshot to the President. Several strange occurrences, such as the lapel flap, the shoulder drop, and the puffed cheeks that have been ascribed to be the result of bullet hits, actually were due to Nellie's continued and eventually successful efforts to pull her husband down into her lap and out of the line of fire. The key to determining the actual timing of the Governor's wounding is the transfer of the bullet's momentum to the torso as it impacts the rib bone. This momentum transfer is visible immediately after the headshot to the President. Both bullets that wounded the Governor were part of a final volley that included probably 4 shots in a little over 1 second.


Notes

  1. Robert J. Groden & Harrison Edward Livingstone, "High Treason" (New York: Berkley Book 1990) p.272-273
  2. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. 1, p.42
  3. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. 1, p.52
  4. Robert J. Groden, "The Killing of a President" (New York: Penguin Books 1993) p.37
  5. Robert J. Groden, "The Killing of a President" (New York: Penguin Books 1993) p.24
  6. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. I, p.40
  7. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H147.
  8. Gerald Posner, "Case Closed", (New York: Random House 1993) p.329-30
  9. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H138.
  10. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. 1. p.343
  11. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H138.
  12. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H132.
  13. Robert J. Groden, "The Killing of a President" (New York: Penguin Books 1993) p.70
  14. The Warren Commission Report (1964) p.50.
  15. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H139.
  16. The Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits 4H147.
  17. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. I, p.40
  18. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. I.
  19. The Report of the Select Committee on Asssassinations U.S. House of Representatives; Vol. VI, p.26
  20. Jim Marrs, "Crossfire - The Plot that Killed Kennedy" (New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers 1989) p.308-09


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