Friday, 25 January 2019 22:04

Bullet Trails on the Zapruder Film?

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When there is enough humidity, bullets traveling over a certain velocity always create vapor trails. They last only milliseconds, and usually go unseen unless captured on film. Following is an explanation of this phenomenon, and a suggestion that it might explain the white lines seen on the Z film.

Years ago, on a shadowy website for snipers, I saw an interesting complaint. It had to do with the problem of killing people in very humid weather. The sniper was concerned about bullet trails leading back to his hidden position. These tell-tale bullet trails are condensation, not muzzle flashes, and certainly not tracers.

The trails he was worried about are water vapor. A bullet creates a partial vacuum in its path, and a vacuum is very cold. Moisture in the air condenses around things cold. If you quickly pump an aerosol can until it’s nearly empty, it will become cold inside, and the can will “sweat,” that is, moisture in the air will condense on it.

In dry air, any vapor trails created are quickly absorbed. But in humid weather, vapor dissipates more slowly. That’s why you can see your breath in the winter only when it’s cold enough and humid enough.

Here is what a trail caused by a 6.5mm, 122 grain bullet traveling very fast (over 3000 feet per second) through “very humid” air looks like, as recorded by a high speed camera:

We do not know what kind of bullets were fired at Kennedy, or their muzzle velocity, but it is doubtful they were as fast as the one above. (Weatherman Dan Satterfield told me in a private email that at 12:30 in Dallas on that day it was 66 degrees, with a west wind of 15-20 MPH. He did not know the humidity, but it had rained earlier.)

Trails on the Zapruder Film?

I suspected that such trails show on the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, especially in frame 313. But what I claim to be bullet trails leading to the head are assumed to be matter leaving from the head—the two long, fairly straight, white lines.

On some of the earlier copies of the film, the lines are longer. On other copies, the lines are not only shortened, they are smeared together. I have been unable to find a copy of the film as clear as the one I saw years ago, but here is a copy of frame Z-313 that isn’t bad:

Over 20 years ago, I showed those Zapruder frames to two scientists—one from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, and one from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel—both of whom wish to remain anonymous. Both agreed: the lines are most likely bullet trails.

In any case, they said condensation trails from bullets had to have occurred, whether seen or not.

Since they would not allow me to quote them by name, I asked for a textbook reference on the phenomenon. One suggested a book I could not get my hands on. The other told me to look into the work of Daniel Bernoulli—and the phenomenon of an aircraft’s “wingtip vortices”, which are easy to see:

Go here for a fuller explanation. (Note: these are not the “contrails” that come from a jet engine’s exhaust. The wingtips are not excreting vapor, they are causing it to form.)

(I am not the only researcher to suggest the white lines are bullet trails. In the early 90s, when I went to Jim Lesar of the Assassination Archives Research Center to tell him of my findings, he had no comment, but showed me a letter from Robert Morningstar, another researcher interested in the white lines. Morningstar’s interpretation was nothing like that of the scientists. He called them “heat tracks.”)

Exploding Brain

Bullet-related exploding brain looks nothing like those lines.

Consider what happens when a bullet fired by a high powered rifle perforates the skull: the bullet goes in and out, leaving holes in the skull that are almost the same size. Milliseconds later, a process known as “cavitation” takes place. Exploding brain thrusts open the skull, creating adherent as well as loose bone fragments, and a massive wound—usually on top, regardless of where the bullet enters. This process is known as “cavitation.” How it happens:

“With high-velocity wounds, there is ... a sudden sharp increase in intracranial pressure ... (and a) temporary cavity ... formed by the radial motion imparted by the missile, through creation of oscillating positive and negative pressure along the path of the missile ...” (Youmans, J.R. (ed.), Neurological Surgery, Vol.4, p. 2056, W.B. Saunders Company) 

Scientists discovered the difference between holes created by cavitation, and those created by exiting bullets when they shot empty skulls. Without brain or brain simulant, there is no cavitation. And both entrance and exit wounds were almost the same size. The exit wound is usually only slightly larger because the bullet deforms or tumbles. Sometimes the bullet takes a small amount of adjacent skull with it, and then the hole is bigger.

If exploding brain creates massive holes—and we know JFK had a massive hole at the top of his head extending into the right rear—then how could exploding brain appear as two long, rather straight, slender lines? Or, as some say, exiting bone fragments leaving the head, one behind the other?

Fluid forced through small holes under high pressure will come out as long streams—but would such streams have the strength to blow off so much bone?

And why would they remain in the air—afterward?

The more visible line seen on the Zapruder film is broken into small, fairly evenly spaced, individual bits. Magnified, the bits seem to be little spirals. The most prominent one lies across Kennedy’s head in frame 313, leaning to the right at about a 50 degree angle.

This bullet trail—if that indeed is what it is—suggests the bullet skated across Kennedy’s right temple, creating a shallow tangential wound that flipped out a flap of bone—and kept on going.

Did Rockefeller Commissioner See Those Lines?

An exchange between Robert Olsen of the Rockefeller Commission and John Lattimer, MD, who examined the autopsy materials (President’s Commission on CIA Activities, 1975, pages 28-30):

Doctor, did you find any evidence whatever that would support postulating a tangential shot from the front or right front which would not have penetrated the President's head, but merely would have glanced off the right side of his skull?.

Lattimer said he saw no such evidence.

What about the possibility of the President having been struck from the rear ... and then that being followed, within a fraction of a second, by a tangential blow by a bullet from the front, or the right front, glancing off the right side of the head? Is there any possibility?

Again Lattimer said he saw nothing to indicate that. But why did Olsen ask such questions?

Following the Trail

In the early 90s, I went on a fool’s errand to Dealey Plaza to see if I could find where that bullet trail might have led back to. The most likely spot, in my non-expert opinion: The sniper was to the left of Zapruder, firing from behind the pergola through one of the lattice holes, about midway between the left and right side of the crescent-shaped structure, concealed from behind by the parked cars. The shot would have been nearly horizontal.

All just conjecture, of course.

Last modified on Saturday, 01 January 2022 19:19
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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