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Warren Commission Report: Page 86« Previous | Next »

(CHAPTER III - The Shots From the Texas School Book Depository)

The President's Head Wounds

The detailed autopsy of President Kennedy performed on the night of November 22 at the Bethesda Naval Hospital led the three examining pathologists to conclude that the smaller hole in the rear of the President's skull was the point of entry and that the large opening on the right side of his head was the wound of exit.148 The smaller hole on the back of the President's head measured one-fourth of an inch by five-eighths of an inch (6 by 15 millimeters).149 The dimensions of that wound were consistent with having been caused by a 6.5-millimeter bullet fired from behind and above which struck at a tangent or an angle causing a 15-millimeter cut. The cut reflected a larger dimension of entry than the bullet's diameter of 6.5 millimeters, since the missile, in effect, sliced along the skull for a fractional distance until it entered.150 The dimension of 6 millimeters, somewhat smaller than the diameter of a 6.5-millimeter bullet, was caused by the elastic recoil of the skull which shrinks the size of an opening after a missile passes through it.151


Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, Chief of the Wound Ballistics Pathology Branch of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, who has had extensive experience with bullet wounds, illustrated the characteristics which led to his conclusions about the head wound by a chart prepared by him. This chart, based on Colonel Finck's studies of more than 400 cases, depicted the effect of a perforating missile wound on the human skull.152 When a bullet enters the skull (cranial vault) at one point and exits at another, it causes a beveling or cratering effect where the diameter of the hole is smaller on the impact side than on the exit side. Based on his observations of that beveling effect on the President's skull, Colonel Finck testified: "President Kennedy was, in my opinion, shot from the rear. The bullet entered in the back of the head and went out on the right side of his skull * * * he was shot from above and behind."153


Comdr. James J. Humes, senior pathologist and director of laboratories at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, who acted as chief autopsy surgeon, concurred in Colonel Finck's analysis. He compared the beveling or coning effect to that caused by a BB shot which strikes a pane of glass, causing a round or oval defect on the side of the glass where the missile strikes and a belled-out or coned-out surface on the opposite side of the glass.154 Referring to the bullet hole on the back of President Kennedy's head, Commander Humes testified: "The wound on the inner table, however, was larger and had what in the field of wound ballistics is described as a shelving Or coning effect."155 After studying the other hole in the President's skull, Commander Humes stated: "* * * we concluded that the large defect to the upper right side of the skull, in fact, would represent a wound of exit."156 Those characteristics led Commander Humes and Comdr. J. Thornton Boswell, chief of pathology at Bethesda Naval Hospital, who assisted in the autopsy, to conclude that the bullet

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