Saturday, 20 November 2021 22:01

The Strange, Strange Story of Governor Connally’s Shirt & Coat and Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez

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Benjamin Cole continues his expose of the evidence regarding the bullet holes in Governor John Connally’s clothing by tracing their curious, even wacky, journey, dubious chain-of-custody, and contamination, culminating in the bungled failures of the Warren Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations to properly analyze them in ascertaining the facts of the JFK assassination.

Not only does the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 remain a riddle in terms of the actual perpetrators, but innumerable aspects of the case defy explanation or are simply inexplicable. As JFK researchers know, there is seemingly not a single straight line in the entire saga and that includes the confounding topic of the Arrow-brand dress shirt and the suit-jacket worn on November 22 by Governor John B. Connally.

As reported here, it was 50 years after the assassination that Connally’s shirt and suit were put on display by the Texas State Library & Archives Commission on mannequins inside a large glass enclosure.

Fortunately for researchers, the physical display in Austin in 2013 was supplemented by an extensive online photograph collection of the clothing, including a picture of the rear bullet-hole in the fabric of Connally’s shirt. The hole was helpfully measured by commission staff and labelled at “3/8th by 3/8th inches.”[1]

Longtime JFK researcher and Connally-wounding specialist Gary Murr has provided an even better photo, one that he personally authorized the shooting of, which illustrates similar measurements for the bullet-hole. It even more clearly reveals the mysterious straight lines of cloth above and below the hole.

The straight lines alongside the bullet hole in the rear of Connally’s Arrow shirt may have been caused by technicians removing cloth for testing. Note the one-inch scale.

In any event, the Archive and Murr photographs alone are a near death-blow to the “tumbling” or single bullet theory (SBT) theory of the JFK assassination.

Why? The large slug from a Mannlicher Carcano rifle, of Western ammo manufacture, measured a little more than a ¼ inch in diameter and 1¼ inches in length.

The Warren Commission Single Bullet Theory (SBT) posits that the slug, after first passing through JFK’s neck, then tumbled and plunked Gov. Connally sideways, on its long side.

But the bullet hole in Connally’s shirt, as measured by the Archives or in the Murr photograph, is scarcely larger than the diameter of the Western ammo slug, and moreover, is no larger, and in some respects smaller, than the bullet hole in the rear of JFK’s shirt.

No one has ever suggested a bullet tumbled as it struck JFK in the back.

Setting that aside, let’s review the strange tale of Governor Connally’s post-JFK assassination traveling shirt and coat.

The Journey of the Governor’s Shirt

Long before Connally’s Arrow shirt and suit jacket ended up on display in Texas, they first, of course, visited the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on Nov. 22 1963.

The timeline thereafter appears to be:

  1. Connally’s suit jacket and shirt, but evidently not the trousers, were then mysteriously hand-carried in bloody paper bags to Washington, D.C. by Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, who stored them in his office closet for an estimated two weeks.

  2. Two Secret Service agents then took the garments, but not to the FBI. Evidently on orders from the White House, the clothes were sent back to Texas and Mrs. Connally. The Governor’s wife might have washed the shirt in a tub of cold water, but more likely sent the clothes to professional cleaning service.

  3. Then, possibly, the shirt and coat and other garments, were sent to the Texas Archives in Austin, Texas, although this is not verified.

  4. The Governor’s clothes were then sent back to Washington and to the Warren Commission offices on April Fool’s Day 1964, where they were examined.

  5. The Connally assassination-day clothes were then finally sent on eight days later to the FBI lab, also in Washington.

Yes, the above journey is what happened to primary evidence—Connally’s shirt and suit jacket—in the assassination of a US President and serious wounding of a Texas Governor.

Researcher Murr has put his gimlet eye for decades on the inexplicable journey of Connally’s clothing, and yet even he has concluded there are still unexplained holes in the story. Much of the following account rests upon the work of Gary Murr.

Parkland Memorial Hospital

After being shot, Connally was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital where the Governor’s shirt and coat were removed in preparation for surgery. A Parkland Hospital nurse testified before the Warren Commission in 1964 that she had exited the room in which Connally awaited surgery, visited an impromptu waiting room, handed two paper bags containing Connally’s coat, tie, and shirt, but not his trousers, to one Cliff Carter, and made out a receipt thereof.[2]

Parkland Hospital Receipt

Indefatigable researcher Murr has uncovered the probable receipt, although a description of the clothes is not on the receipt. The receipt does indicate $163.59 in cash (about $1,467 in 2021 dollars) was taken from Connally’s clothes and given to the hospital cashier. Murr points out there was yet a third paper bag, likely containing Connally’s pants, but they are not part of this story.

Here is where the first oddity surfaces: Cliff Carter was not related to Connally, nor did he work for him. He was not even an employee of the State of Texas. He was a close aide and money-bagger for soon-to-be President Lyndon Baines Johnson. For whatever reason, Carter then had freshman U.S. Congressman Gonzalez of the 20th district in San Antonio—yes, San Antonio and not Dallas—accept the coat and shirt in the paper bags, described in many accounts as “blood soaked.” Gonzalez had been in the fateful Dallas motorcade with Connally and Kennedy, but several vehicles back.

Now, one might think Carter and Gonzalez would make dead certain that Connally’s garments, which were valuable primary evidence in the crime of the century, would immediately find their way to either the Dallas Police Department or the FBI. As Gonzalez recounted matters later for several JFK researchers, he tried to give the clothes to someone in authority while in Dallas, but was rebuffed, and thereafter ended up on the Air Force Two jet headed back to Washington, “nearly unconscious” that he still held the two blood-soaked paper bags in his hands.[3]

The Air Force Two jet until that very day had been LBJ’s jet and ferried the remainder of Johnson’s entourage back to Washington, excepting those already ensconced on Air Force One.

Worth noting is that in 1961 then-Vice President LBJ, who was also perhaps still the most powerful politician in Texas, appeared at shopping centers and supermarkets in San Antonio to support Congressman Gonzalez in his first and successful bid for national office. Gonzalez was his own man, but also a Congressional freshman and an LBJ protege.

Congressional Closet?

As Gonzalez relates matters, upon departing Air Force Two, he returned to his office and placed the blood-soaked paper bags into his closet, untouched and unopened, where they sat for two or more weeks. Of course, FBI HQ is also in Washington DC, but Gonzalez did not send the clothes there. He also did not drive by himself one day on his way to work and deliver the clothes, but said he did try to contact authorities about the paper sacks.

Back to Texas

The timelines are fuzzy, but as related by the late publisher Penn Jones of the Midlothian Mirror, author Fred Newcomb, and in Murr’s research, Gonzalez said that eventually LBJ’er Cliff Carter sent two “Secret Service men” for the blood-soaked paper bags at his Washington office, but while Gonzalez was back in Texas among his constituents. An assistant in his office gave the paper bags to the Secret Service pair, but did not receive a receipt.[4]

Researcher Murr has unearthed documents that reveal the governor’s wife had contacted the FBI on Nov. 28. Working through the authority of the governor’s office, she had asked about the location of her husband’s shirt, jacket, and other items.

Mrs. Connally recounted one version regarding Connally’s clothes to Life magazine in 1966, “We finally located John’s shirt and suit coat, which we were concerned about because the wallet and personal papers in his breast pocket, in Congressman Henry Gonzalez’ clothes closet in Washington.” In Mrs. Connally’s 1966 account, persons unknown then delivered the Governor’s blood-soaked garments to Mrs. Connally, then residing in the Texas Governor’s Mansion.[5]

In any event, as Mrs. Connally related to Life magazine, she had the shirt and suit jacket in her possession for “seven weeks.” Then she decided to dip the shirt into cold water several times, remove flesh and blood, and to “preserve it.”

Investigators were not concerned about Connally’s clothes, as she recalled, in her interview with Life magazine. “I told the Secret Service, and I guess the FBI, that I had the clothes, but nobody seemed interested.” After that, she related, “someone finally came to pick up his clothes.”

By Mrs. Connally’s 1966 account, she did not have the clothes or jacket laundered or dry-cleaned.

And so, for decades, there was something of a mystery of who had professionally cleaned and pressed Connally’s shirt and jacket before their arrival at the Commission in Washington. Maybe there still is.

But four decades later, and further confusing matters, Mrs. Connally also provided a second version of what happened to Connally’s assassination-day clothes. This was on the 40th anniversary of her husband’s shooting, in her book, From Love Field, published in 2003:

Much later (after November 22), I received his clothes in the mail, unpressed and uncleaned, in exactly the same condition as when they had been cut from him at Parkland. I couldn’t bear to look at the blood, nor did I feel right about destroying them, so I told the cleaner to remove the stains as best he could but do nothing to alter the holes or other damage, which is exactly what he did.[6]

Oddly, in her 2003 rendition of events, Mrs. Connally does not say why she wanted her husband’s clothes back.

What Really Happened?

Of course, at this late date there is no way to verify which account of Mrs. Connally’s is the true version; or if there is another, even truer version to be told. For the record, Connally’s clothes were not cut from his body, but merely removed, and were not sent to her in the mail.

In addition, researcher Murr is dubious that valuables were in the Connally suit breast pocket, post-assassination. The hospital’s records that are extant indicate valuables were removed from Connally’s clothing with the cash being sent on to the hospital cashier.

There is another puzzler: Photos commissioned by researcher Murr show the inside breast pocket of John Connally’s Oxxford Clothes-brand jacket as having been pierced by the same bullet that passed through him.

If there had been a billfold or wallet in that breast pocket it likely would have been pierced by a bullet—and thus would also be important evidence.

The bullet hole in the interior right side of Connally’s jacket, showing a hole through the breast pocket.

After Mrs. Connally had the clothes professionally cleaned and pressed, it appears the shirt and suit and other items were then sent to the Texas State Archives, although Murr says this bit of the garment’s itinerary has not been verified.

In any event, on March 30, 1964, the Warren Commission (WC) asked the Secret Service to bring Connally’s jacket and shirt to Washington for examination. By March 1964, nearly five months had passed since the assassination and no investigative body had examined Connally’s clothing. The shirt and jacket arrived at the WC on the suitable date of April 1st.

When the WC asked Governor Connally about the condition of the clothes on April 21, 1964, he responded, “They, the Archives of the State of Texas, asked for the clothing, and I have given the clothing to them. That is where they were sent from, I believe, here, to this Commission.” Researcher Murr is dubious about Connally’s answer, noting the Governor’s lawyerly use of the qualifying word “believe.” However, there are no hard records from what location the garments were sent to the WC.

There is an internal memo that reveals the WC examined the Connally clothes before sending the garments to the FBI. WC staffer Norman Redlich wrote on April 10th to Lee Rankin, “We have examined Governor Connally’s clothing and sent it to the FBI Lab for tests on the question of exit and entry holes.” The WC wanted some evidence to work into its single-bullet theory.

In any event, Robert Frazier, the FBI’s lead firearms and ballistics examiner at the time, told the WC that Connally’s shirt and jacket had been subjected to “cleaning and pressing.” Thus, no trajectories could be divined from the bullet holes in the items. More importantly, the cleaning and pressing of Connally’s shirt and coat were remarkably effective and evidently removed metallic traces from the bullet holes, effectively enough that the technology of the day, spectrographic analysis, could find nothing.[7]

Later the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) would also subject Connally’s assassination-day clothes—including his shirt—to testing and would find traces of copper, iron, and lead.

HSCA Tests

Nearly 15 years after the JFK murder, and after who knows how much handling by Secret Service men, spouses, dry-cleaners, WC staff, Texas Archive staff, and FBI investigators, Connally’s garments would be subjected to even more exacting tests, conducted by the Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas at the behest of the HSCA.[8]

The tests were so sensitive that iron was detected near the bullet holes in Connally’s clothes, from blood that had been deposited in 1963, despite the passage of time and the professional cleaning of years earlier. Yes, evidently Connally did not have “iron poor blood,” and that iron had been detected around the bullet holes in Connally’s clothing, claimed the institute.

Lead was found near the rear bullet hole in Connally’s shirt along with amounts of copper, but considered “trace” or too small be meaningful. However, a curiosity of the 1978 testing is that less copper but more lead was found at the rear bullet hole in Connally’s shirt than from a “back control” sample.

Given that the WC and HSCA storyline is that a copper-jacketed bullet passed through Connally, the finding of trace amounts of lead in the rear hole in the Governor’s clothing is interesting. Copper, in amounts considered meaningful, was found “in the region of the defect in the right front,” of Connally’s suit coat. “The results would indicate that the apparent borderline copper analysis is due to the lining containing some copper. Iron, apparently from blood, was still detectable near the right front defect in the coat, despite dry cleaning,” reported the Institute of Forensic Sciences.

The results of the 1978 testing, as usual in all matters JFK, raise more questions than answers.

The only hole that exhibited copper in more than trace amounts was the “defect” or very small hole in the front of Connally’s jacket, where a bullet exited. But here, a control sample—that is cloth not associated with a bullet strike—first yielded an even larger amount of copper than cloth near a bullet hole. But the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences said the high copper count in the control cloth was “aberrant,” as proved by repeat analyses of other control samples.

You can’t make this stuff up. Test until you get the right results. It should be noted that the HSCA investigation, like the WC investigation, did not have a “defense counsel” who asked probing questions about evidence in question.

Cliff Carter

Cliff Carter, the LBJ aide who put the two bloody sacks of clothing into Congressman’s Gonzalez’s hands on November 22, is also worth pondering. Carter was regarded as a “bagman,” who would collect cash for LBJ’s campaigns, or for other expenses, and handled other dark areas for LBJ.

According to Billy Sol Estes, Carter was also aware of the planning for the murder of Henry Marshall, a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigator who learned of Estes’ illegal scheme to illegally buy certain cotton allotments from smaller farmers. Agriculture agent Marshall was found dead in 1961 of five gunshots from a single-shot bolt-action rifle, and carbon monoxide poisoning to boot, but Texas authorities deemed the death to be a suicide. That ruling stood for decades, until a Grand Jury in 1985 reviewed the case and almost certainly corrected the ruling to murder.

In later years, Estes, who graced the cover of Time magazine 1962, would tell unverifiable tales regarding a clutch of murders of people in LBJ’s orbit.

But for the purposes of this story, the inquiry would be: Did Carter, even within two hours of the JFK hit, and in Parkland hospital, have presence of mind to recognize that controlling evidence could be important to the outcome of the JFK investigation?

Did Carter actually advise Gonzalez to take the two bloody paper sacks containing Connally’s clothes and then to sit tight until further instructions were received? Thus, Gonzalez became an unwitting “cut out” man in the sequestering of primary evidence.

Indeed, was “controlling the evidence” second nature for Carter, after having been involved in various and serious LBJ scrapes with the law, up to and including murder? In other words, gain control over evidence first and always in every untoward event, then later determine if there are advantages to withholding or releasing evidence?

Moreover, Mrs. Connally’s tale about wanting the assassination-day shirt and suit-jacket back to retrieve a wallet also does not hold water. First, hospital records indicate Connally’s money and valuables were removed from his clothing. Secondly, if the hospital staff had missed a wallet, and left it in a suit jacket breast pocket, why did not Mrs. Connally ask for the wallet back and not bloodied clothes?

At this late date, mind-reading Carter and divining who may have given instructions to Mrs. Connally or Gonzalez is a parlor game. Back in 1964 no one at the WC grilled Mrs. Connally, Carter, or Gonzalez about the inexplicable treatment of the bloodied sacks of clothing. Carter died in 1971, taking whatever secrets he had with him.

Back to Gonzalez

Of course, the JFK saga contains an unlimited amount of coincidences and many, many unusual turns of events.

In 1976, the U.S House voted 280–65, to establish the Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in order to investigate the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. A vote that followed the national screening of the Zapruder film on the TV show Good Night America in 1975. The chairman of the HSCA was outgoing Congressman Thomas Downing of Virginia, who harbored deep suspicions about the JFK case. And he hired a tough, well-regarded Philadelphia District Attorney, one Richard Sprague, as HSCA Chief Counsel.

But Downing would soon retire, and he turned over the reins to Gonzalez—yes, the very same Gonzalez who 13 years prior had hand-carried Connally’s assassination-day clothes to his closet in Washington, where they mysteriously sat for two weeks.

At first, the ascendance of Gonzalez was comforting to JFK researchers, as he also seemed dubious about the WC conclusions and the nature of the JFK case. The irony of what was to follow is almost cosmic.

Veteran JFK researcher Jim DiEugenio interviewed Downing in his office in Newport News back in the 1990s. The former congressman showed DiEugenio the ballot that Gonzalez submitted for Chief Counsel in September of 1976 and that Sprague’s nomination had been made by Gonzalez himself.

So, it appeared in late 1976 that the HSCA has a no-nonsense and smart chief counsel, backed by a solid chairman (the question of Connally’s clothes having been long forgotten).

Yet as JFK researchers know, as soon as Sprague began to probe connections between Lee Harvey Oswald and the CIA, and connections between the Miami office of the CIA and anti-Castro Cuban exiles, stories began appearing in influential print publications questioning Sprague’s ethics and work history back in Philadelphia.

Based on some rather picayune bureaucratic and procedural tensions, HSCA Chairman Gonzalez began attacking Sprague publicly, called him a “rattlesnake,” and loudly roasted him for misconduct and mismanagement. Sprague’s rather small and iffy budget was scrutinized and challenged and the Philly DA was accused of not following the Committee’s directions.

Gonzales ultimately tried to fire Sprague, but on such flimsy grounds that the full committee overruled the firing. Nevertheless, the well was poisoned, and the erstwhile Philly DA did leave his post when he was told his departure was a condition of the HSCA obtaining future funding.

Even Gaeton Fonzi, the superb JFK researcher who was a staffer on the HSCA under Sprague, and who authored the book, The Last Investigation, strained to explain Gonzalez’ behavior, offering little more insight than Gonzalez was “flying off the handle.”

To this day, a good explanation of Chairman Gonzalez’ behavior at HSCA—on the surface, inexplicable—has not been rendered. The veteran researcher DiEugenio does offer up one possible explanation in his book The Assassinations: That there were moles planted on the HSCA to exacerbate the antagonism between Sprague and Gonzalez and one issue was Gonzalez and his curious role in the post-JFKA sojourns of Connally’s clothes.

For those familiar with the history of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and his 1969 investigation of the JFKA, the possibility of moles or CIA-plants on the HSCA staff is not hard to believe—Garrison’s staff was infested with national security state operatives, some of whom actually leaked information to defense counsel for Clay Shaw, the CIA operative who Garrison suspected played a role in handling Lee Harvey Oswald.

After both Sprague and Gonzalez left the HSCA, the new chairman was the diffident Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio, who brought in Robert Blakey, a US Justice Department mafia prosecutor, as HSCA chief counsel.

Blakey was entirely the wrong man for the job: an earnest civil servant and mob-hunter who, at that time, believed in, and vowed cooperation with, the CIA—the very agency, due to its extensive ties to anti-Castro Cubans and hostile relations with JFK, that was and is most suspect in regards to the JFKA.

As I said, you can’t make this stuff up.

Thus Gonzalez, who inexplicably kept assassination-day evidence—Connally’s clothes—in his office closet in 1963 without informing authorities, then also inexplicably helped torpedo the HSCA investigation of the JFK case 15 years later.


The WC, as it did so often when convenient, exhibited oceanic apathy regarding the strange post-JFK murder treatment of Connally’s assassination-day shirt and coat. As noted by researcher Murr, “There likewise was no effort undertaken by anyone associated with the Warren Commission to establish just who was responsible for the cleaning and pressing of components of the Governor’s clothing.” Neither the WC or HCSA asked Gonzalez how it was he chose to secretly stash Connally’s crime-day clothes, with bullet holes, in his Washington D.C. for two weeks after the JFK murder. Or why the Secret Service sent the garments to Mrs. Connally, instead of the FBI, when they retrieved the clothes from Gonzalez’ office.

Like so many aspects of the JFK case, the tale of Connally’s shirt and coat is unfathomable and more than deeply suspicious, yet simple bungling cannot be ruled out. But when the tale of Connally’s garments is added up with too many similarly suspicious explanations of events and evidence surrounding the JFK assassination, the weight of the whole JFK murder story shifts. There are simply too many stories akin to the Connally shirt and coat tale for comfort.

[1] Details of Governor Connally’s Damaged Clothing.

[2] Warren Commission, Volume VI: Ruth Jeanette Standridge.

[3] Forgive My Grief, Volume II.

[4] Ibid.

[5] November 25, 1966, Life, “A Matter of Reasonable Doubt.”.

[6] “From Love Field: our final hours with President John F. Kennedy,” 2003, Nellie Connally.

[7] Warren Commission, Volume III: Robert A Frazier.

[8] See “Soft X-ray and Energy-Dispersive X-ray Analyses of Clothing,” Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, 2/1/78, Vol. 7, HSCA.

Last modified on Saturday, 20 November 2021 23:27
Benjamin Cole

Benjamin Cole has been reading about the JFKA since the event, digesting the weekly LIFE magazine subscriptions that came in the mail. A lifetime financial journalist, Cole discovered the online world of the JFKA 10 years ago, and dove back in. Cole is deeply impressed with the best elements of JFKA community, and hopes to play a small role going forward.  

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