Friday, 15 December 1995 21:51

The Magician's Tools

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One thing seems certain: what did the majority of witnesses hear when Connally was shot? Nothing, writes Milicent Cranor.

From the November-December, 1995 issue (Vol. 3 No. 1) of Probe

"The most important tools of the magician are diversion and timing."
~ Anonymous Victorian conman, inspiring his class of beginning pickpockets with the secrets of a loftier trade.

Seriously Out of Synch

Three shells, three shots. When was shot #2? According to the government, Kennedy and Connally, hit by shot #2, are wounded five seconds before the head shot. Yet, shots #2 and #3 have been called "close together." Shots fired five seconds apart might be called "close together" but never a "flurry."

The vast majority of witneses said they heard only one shot before the two or more "close together" shots. Many of these witnesses were not only explicit about what they meant by close together ("simultaneous"), they were also clear about when the flurry occurred – during the time the head exploded. Before that, they heard only one shot, apparently the one that struck Kennedy in the throat. What happened in between?

By all accounts, the first shot was fired before the limousine disappeared behind the Stemmons Sign (from Zapruder's viewpoint). Most of us believe he reacts to the throat wound at this time. Kennedy emerges from behind the sign and, as others have noted, he goes forward a few inches – violently. This little movement, obscured by his suddenly rising arms, may indicate a separate shot to the back. Soon after, Connally is hit. Kellerman said he heard only one shot, then no more until the time of the "flurry." Clint Hill said he heard one shot before the "double sound" he associates with the head wound, and nothing in between. (In the Altgens photo, the equivalent of Z-255, Hill has not yet reacted.) Samuel A. Kinney heard one shot, then a second, and "the second shot was fired and I observed hair flying from the right side of his head." I'm assuming this second shot was a head shot because of the similarity between his testimony and George Hickey's: "I heard a loud report...[then] I heard two reports which ... appeared to me completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession there seemed to be no time element between them. The first shot of the second two seemed as if it missed because the hair on the right side of his head flew forward and there didn't seem to be any impact against his head. The last shot seemed to hit his head..." Again, a second shot associated with disturbing Kennedy's head. Rather than "hair" flying forward, I think what they saw was the bone flap that appears seven frames before the acknowledged head shot on the Nix film (I describe corroborating evidence for this in "The Magic Skull," The Fourth Decade, July, 1995).

Some witnesses seemed unaware of even the first shot. Mary Moorman, for example. She took two Polaroid photos of Kennedy. By the time she took the second picture (the head shot), at least two shots had already been fired. Yet, she said she heard a shot for the first time as she took this second picture. Charles Brehm is another witness who seemed unaware of the shots at first. As noted by David Lifton, Brehm is clapping his hands as the car passes him, a time when at least two shots had been fired.

An Apparent Contradiction

Governor Connally said he did not hear the shot that hit him. Neither, apparently, did Mrs. Connally. She said she heard a shot, turned around, saw Kennedy in distress, and kept her eyes on him until her husband was hit.

"I never again looked in the back seat of the car after my husband was shot. My concern was for him..." The strange thing is, except for a quick glance at Connally as he changes posture, Mrs. Connally continuously stares at Kennedy – for two full seconds of surviving film after her husband has been hit. Another oddity: Governor Connally said he cried out, "Oh, no,no,no," after he was hit. Mrs. Connally claimed he said it before he was hit.

I think they were both right.

Mrs Connally could have meant that before she heard the second shot, Connally cried out. What she really heard was probably the first of the flurry that struck Kennedy's head.

Evidence of Subsonic Bullets

Robert Shaw, MD described the hole through Connally as a "small tunneling wound," noting the "neat way in which it stripped the rib out without doing much damage to the muscles that lay on either side of it." Kennedy's back wound was apparently even less. A supersonic bullet would have done much more damage. One thing that would render a supersonic bullet subsonic is a silencer.

Perception of Gunfire

There is usually variation among witnesses in the perception of anything, especially gunfire. Variation in hearing ability, attention span, the location of witnesses compared with the location of the marksmen, all could create apparent inconsistencies. A shot fired from 100 yards away is 20 decibels softer than one fired 10 yards away [20xlogarithm (base 10) of the ratio of the distances], all other factors being equal. Furthermore, loud noises are deafening, just as bright lights are blinding, temporarily. The pupil contracts in bright sunlight and takes time to adjust to a dark room, and muscles supporting the eardrum contract in self defense following a loud noise, making the ear deaf to quieter sounds. Thus, two shots could sound like one, depending on the witness's location. And one shot can sound like two if the location is conducive to echo. Three shots from the same place, fired five seconds apart, would produce either three echoes, or no echo. That sound follows impact isn't a factor here because of the distances involved. How to know which sounds go with which wounds? Will Greer said the last two shots were fired "simultaneously," and that Connally moved at that time. Hit earlier, Connally was probably only flinching, or reacting to yet another shot. Greer's assumption is probably "witness confusion," a real phenomenon, but it could mean any testimony that does not agree with your theory.

Prying Apart the Last Two Shots

"Close together" could mean "closer together," if the time between shots #1 and #2 could be lengthened, which may be why some claim shot #1 came as early as Z-160. But another solution to the problem is this hypothetical statement:

"You only heard an echo. Look at this map. There were only three shots, and witnesses say the car was clear over here near this sign, when Connally fell. That was shot #2. And the car was down here several feet away when the head opened up. That was shot #3. You couldn't have heard a flurry, the car didn't move that fast. We even have it on film."

Zapruder was on his perch well before the motorcade arrived, and he could have been removed "for security reasons." And surely they knew in advance that people film such motorcades. Did they want a record of it, one they could edit? One that would record the "second" shot? Bang........Bang.......Bang?


The following people heard only one shot before the flurry, which occurred at the time the head exploded:


Jack Bell (AP):"in quick succession" (NYT 11/23/63, p.5)
George Hickey:"in rapid time element between" (18H762)
Roy Kellerman:"flurry...plane breaking the sound barrier...bang, bang"; (2H76)
Clinton Hill:"The second shot had "an echo...double sound" (2H144)
Mary Woodward:"The second two shots were if one were an echo of the other... with the second and third shot...I saw the head explode" (A∓E,II )
Will Greer:"simultaneously" (2H118)
Glenn Bennett:"A second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the President's head." (18H760)
Rufus Youngblood:"in rapid succession." Rufus Youngblood (Robert MacNeil's The Way We Were, 1988, Carroll ∓ Graf)
Warren Taylor:"in the instant that my left foot touched the ground, I heard two more bangs" (CE1024)
Seymour Weitzman:"simultaneous" (7H106)
Linda Kay Wills:"two real fast bullets together" (7H498)
Lee Bowers:Rapped his knuckles on a table showing the near simultaneity of the last two. (Mark Lane 1966 Tape)
Junior Jarman:"third shot was fired right behind the second" (3H204)
Carolyn Walther:"almost at the same time" (C.E.2086)
Toney Henderson:"in rapid succession" (C.E.208)
Mrs. Lyndon Johnson:"in rapid succession." (H565)


Mr. and Mrs. William Newman who stood on the curb slightly to the left of Zapruder describe the opposite pattern, BANG-BANG, nothing, then BANG. This may be related to location.


The purpose of silently creating wounds between audible shots #1 and #2 may not have been to disprove the closeness of shot #2 to shot #3, but one thing seems certain: what did the majority of witnesses hear when Connally was shot? Nothing.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 22:33
Milicent Cranor

Milicent Cranor is currently a senior editor at She has been a creative editor at E.P. Dutton (fiction, non fiction); comedy ghostwriter; co-author of numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals; editor of consequential legal and scientific documents; former member of the American Mensa Society. Milicent was a frequent contributor to Probe.

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