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Wednesday, 05 August 2009 10:55

JFK: Inside the Target Car, Part Two: Or, The Discovery Channel's Idiot Conspirators

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Jim DiEugenio writes about how the Discovery Channel's Inside the Target Car fudged the tests in their JFK assassination reenactment.

See Additional Reviews of Inside the Target Car

After his (planned?) false statement about Jackie Kennedy being in the line of fire, Gary Mack makes another observation. This one is more superficially credible—until one thinks about it. He observes that the bullet path from this particular position on the Grassy Knoll leaves an exit on the left side of Kennedy's head. He then says that this was not evident at autopsy. He then uses this to discount a shot from that position. (He will later unwarrantedly aggrandize this into discrediting any shot from the right front at all!)

He's correct about the autopsy not showing this kind of exit. But he is wrong in the deductive logic of this eliminating any shot from that particular point. Let me explain in detail what I mean. Since the program's Curtailed Alternative doctrine predictably ignores it.

Clearly, something was happening behind the stockade fence. All you have to do is review the record. Let's begin with the startling testimony of Lee Bowers, a worker in the rail yard adjacent to it and behind. From his vantage point in a 14-foot tower, he talked about the three cars he saw driving behind the fence about 25 minutes before the assassination. (Jim Marrs, Crossfire, p. 75) The first car looked like it was searching for a way out or checking the area. (ibid, p. 76) A second car came in about ten minutes later. The driver looked like he was speaking into a phone or a mike since he held something up to his mouth. This car probed a little deeper into the area than the first car. Then a third car came in: it was muddy up to the windows. It was occupied by what appeared to be a white male. This car spent a little more time in the area and then cruised back toward the Texas School Book Depository. At the time of the shooting Bowers saw two men standing between his vantage point and the mouth of the triple underpass. This would seem to approximate the spot, which I described in part one as being the best shooting venue. We all know what Bowers described next: "At the time of the shooting, in the vicinity of where the two men I have described were, there was a flash of light or ... something I could not identify ... some unusual occurrence—a flash of light or smoke or something which caused me to feel that something out of the ordinary had occurred there." (ibid p. 77)

It is interesting—compelling actually—to couple this testimony with that of Sam Holland. In a 1966 interview that will live as long as people study this case, Josiah Thompson talked to Holland in Irving, Texas. He was reluctant to talk to Thompson. Why? Because as I mentioned in part one of this review—and what Gary Mack leaves out—many witnesses complained about what the FBI or Warren Commission did with their testimony. Holland is one of them. He told Thompson that the Commission "had not transcribed his testimony as he had given it." (Thompson, p. 83) So now, three years later, he told Thompson his whole story. While standing in Dealey Plaza, he acted out what he did on 11/22/63. And those photos are memorialized in Six Seconds in Dallas. To anyone looking at them, they become almost seared into one's sub-conscious. Holland told Thompson that he was originally standing on the overpass as he watched the motorcade come toward him. He then heard four shots, with the last two very close together. (ibid) Holland said the third shot sounded like it was from a different class of weapon than the others. Holland also said he saw a puff of smoke beneath some trees on the knoll area. (ibid, p. 121) Thompson then notes seven other witnesses who saw a puff of smoke in that area. (ibid) Three of these—Holland, James Simmons, and Richard Dodd—were so sure the shots came from over there that they ran off the overpass to an area behind the fence. When Holland got there, he could see scores of footprints in the soft ground behind a car. Looking at their pattern, it didn't make sense to him. Why? Because they were all concentrated in a very narrow area, like a lion pacing in a cage. (ibid, p. 122) To cap this fascinating story, Thompson noted another witness named J. C. Price. Price saw someone running from this area with something in his hand, which he said could have been a headpiece. (ibid p. 123) This reminds us of the driver of the car Bowers saw, holding what he thought was a phone or a mike.

Need more? A woman told Dallas Patrolman Joe Smith that the shots came from the bushes up on the knoll. Smith ran behind the fence and smelled gunpowder. While he was there he had his gun pulled. As he was replacing it a man in the area showed him Secret Service credentials. Yet, as Thompson notes, every Secret Service agent had gone to Parkland Hospital with the motorcade. (ibid, p. 125) So who was this guy?

Finally, as more than one author has noted e.g. Richard Mahoney, John Davis, and Lamar Waldron, there exists an FBI report which states that two police officers saw some men standing behind the wooden fence on the knoll on November 20th. The men were engaged in what appeared to be mock target practice. They were aiming what looked like a rifle over the fence. When the patrolmen made their way up the knoll, the men disappeared in a nearby parked car. The policemen thought little of this episode until after the assassination. They then reported it to the FBI. The Bureau made a report on this that is dated November 26th. Yet this report was never made part of the official FBI record of the assassination. And it was not declassified until 1978. (For a depiction of the episode, see Ultimate Sacrifice, p. 704).

Of course, this program notes the Warren Commission evidence for there being a sniper's perch on the sixth floor of the Depository e. g. the boxes and shells near the window. And, at first, the show implies it was Oswald at this post. Then later—when all semblance of objectivity has disappeared—it calls the shot from this position "Oswald's shot". Yet, further indicating its agenda, when it comes to the stockade fence on top of the knoll, the program mentions none of the above. Not Bowers, not Holland, not Smith, not Price, not the policemen. Not one word about any of it.

Because Gary Mack and the narrator are strangely mute about all the above, let us give voice to it. One obvious way to interpret it all is like this:

  1. Two days before the assassination, a hit team was testing out a firing point behind the fence.
  2. On the morning of the assassination, the team was transported behind the fence via a staggered three car caravan, leaving two men in place who were being communicated with by radio.
  3. This ended up being one of the firing points in Dealey Plaza as evidenced by gunshot sounds, a flash of light, and a puff of smoke.
  4. The hit team was furnished with fake official ID to protect themselves after the fact, because they knew their shot would attract witnesses to the area.

I believe there is a good reason the show leaves all of this crucial information about planning in advance out. Because if they included it, the audience would realize how illogical—actually absurd—one of the show's main underlying assumptions is. Namely that the conspirators would use the same weapon and ammo as the alleged assassin was supposed to. Because in light of all the above, if they did do that, they must have been mentally retarded. Why? Because a shot from that site with that weapon and ammunition would clearly prove there was a conspiracy and Oswald did not kill President Kennedy! For, from his vantage point, how could Oswald fire a shot that exited the left side of Kennedy's head? He could not. So the autopsy would prove Oswald an innocent man. So, to a lesser extent, would the Zapruder film. Are we really to believe that Gary Mack 1.) Forgot about all of the evidence above, and 2.) Never once thought of this stupid paradox in the weeks, maybe months, he worked on this program? I don't buy it. And if you do, I have a bridge in Arizona to sell you.

As I have said, I personally do not believe a shot came from that particular site. If I had to bet on it, I would say it came from further down the fence toward the overpass. Yet a shot from that second point would not have produced the left side exit the producers clearly wanted. Which is probably one reason the producers did not fire from there. But, from a study of the Zapruder film, testimony like the above, and the medical evidence, I have for a long time believed that the shot from the front was a frangible bullet: one that exploded on contact with the skull. And before anybody says that the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that this was not the case, I will reply that the HSCA was talking through its hat on this—as it did on many matters. I have communicated with CIA associated people on this issue. Believe me when I say the following: What these guys can put in rifles is literally beyond imagining. They can create very dense and heavy projectiles that, upon impact, all but disappear. Therefore, in any normal crime scene inquiry, you would overlook the traces. And this is obvious if you think about it. If you had an almost unlimited black budget to tinker with, and wizards of weaponry like George Nonte and Mitch Werbell were on your payroll, you should be able to come up with things that would be beyond the horizon. That is what you pay men like that for in the first place: To disguise a black operation. Not the Three Stooges stuff inherent in Gary Mack's goofy fable which amounts to this: After previously scoping out a firing point, you then make sure you incriminate yourself. And in the process you exculpate the guy who is the designated patsy. Based on this, let us give the show a new title: Discovery Channel's Idiot Conspirators.


Yardley: What are we basing this bullet hole on historically Gary?

Mack: We're basing it on something that the Warren Commission did not have in 1964; the actual autopsy photographs and x-rays ... which were examined officially in the late 1970's. We know that there is a bullet entry hole up in this area ...

The above statement is so studiously deceptive that it reminds me of a trick by Uri Geller. But it is imperative that Gary Mack makes it. If not, his "experiment" will have serious problems in this segment. Let me explain why in detail.

This exchange took place before the simulation of a shot from the sixth floor of the Depository. As previously noted, the show now drops all pretenses of neutrality, and labels this as "Oswald's shot". Yardley asks Gary Mack about the precise placement of the rear skull shot into Kennedy. Mack replies with the above deceptive quote. He then points to the upper part of the modeled skull, a bit to the right of the midline.

It is hard to believe that Mack does not understand how wrong he is here. Let us begin on the evening of November 22, 1963. That night at the autopsy in Bethesda, and contrary to what Mack says, the doctors looked at the x-rays! And at least two members of the Warren Commission had the photos: Arlen Specter and Earl Warren. (There is a strong hint that J. Lee Rankin saw a photo of the back wound, since he talks about it being clearly lower than the throat wound.) So for Mack to tell the public that the Commission did not have these exhibits is simply not accurate

But it's worse than that. In the time period of late 1966 and early 1967, there is evidence that the autopsy doctors were brought back in to look at the photos and x-rays. The 1966 visit was called a military review and the pretext was to sort out and classify these exhibits. In 1967, the visit was provoked by the strong reaction to the criticism of the Warren Report then peaking in the press. As former CBS employee Roger Feinman has reported, this visit was done with the help of John McCloy in order to help CBS defend the Commission. This controversy eventually resulted in former Warren Commission assistant counsel David Slawson writing a memorandum to Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Slawson requested that the Justice Department begin an official medical review to stave off the threat of a more wide-ranging and wholesale inquiry. The Slawson memo resulted in 1.) What appears to be the autopsy doctors looking at the exhibits again, and 2.) A new panel of forensic pathologists "officially examining" the photos and x-rays for a review of the medical evidence. This new panel, formed in 1968, was headed by pathologist Russell Fisher and is called the Clark Panel.

Question: In light of the above two paragraphs, how can Mack misinform the public that these photos and x-rays were not officially reviewed until the late seventies? But an even better question is this: Why is he saying it when he knows better?

Because the Discovery Channel wanted to go with the new and revised entry point in the rear of Kennedy's skull. The one Gary Mack deceptively says "we know" about. The Warren Commission entry point, as confirmed by the original autopsy team, was at the bottom of the skull, at a point called the external occipital protuberance—the EOP. But this trajectory created problems with the Warren Commission exit point, which was on the right side of the head, above and to the right of the ear. As Josiah Thompson pointed out in his book Six Seconds in Dallas (p. 111), at Z frame 312, Kennedy's head is not anteflexed enough to make this work. And the Warren Commission understood this because in the false drawings prepared for Arlen Specter, Kennedy's head is anteflexed much too far—looking down into his lap—in order to cure this problem. (See ibid. At that page, you can see the dramatic comparison in forward lean for yourself.)

Consequently, and contrary to what Mack says, Russell Fisher and the Clark Panel—working from the photos and x-rays—first revised this entry point upward by four inches in 1968. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), in 1978, then agreed with the Clark Panel revision. Unlike what Mack wants the public to believe, this official "review" did not happen 15 years later. Another key point Mack leaves out: The original autopsy doctors—James Humes, Thornton Boswell, and Pierre Finck—did not agree with this new and raised entry point.

It is this disturbing landmark in the medical evidence that the program needs to tiptoe by. So it falsely states that 1.) The Commission never saw the photos and x-rays, and 2.) There was no official review of them until the late seventies. The clear and deceptive implication is that the autopsists missed the raised entry in the cowlick area because they did not have either the x-rays or photos. The supposition being that if they did, they also would have placed the entry wound up high. Again, this is inaccurate. Because when the pathologists saw these exhibits during the HSCA they mightily resisted the cowlick placement of the entry wound in the skull.

The following was Discovery Channel's problem. If the show admitted that the rear entry wound moved up in the space of about four years it would have trouble explaining how it happened. Because in real life this is almost unheard of. And further, contrary to what Mack's certitude about an entry wound in the cowlick, the evidence strongly suggests that this later raised entry was manufactured after the fact. A point that the show also avoids by using this sleight of hand. (See Section Five of Part Four of my review of Reclaiming History for the troubling details.)

But it's even worse than that. As Gary Aguilar has pointed out, the Commission actually performed shooting experiments with Dr. A. Olivier on this specific issue. When firing at the EOP, the shot exited at the supraorbital process—the bony ridge above the eye. (WC Vol. 5 p. 89) The resulting damage was something resembling a blow-out wound to the right upper face. (See the skull photos and a discussion of this issue in Gary Aguilar's essay in Murder in Dealey Plaza, p. 184) The problem with it was that 1.) This exit is not noted in the official autopsy report, and 2.) It is not evident in the photos. One has to wonder if all these evidentiary problems with the EOP entry caused Fisher to rework the original autopsy by raising this wound.

Please note: all of this utterly fascinating material would have made a much more interesting, honest, and educational program than JFK: Inside the Target Car. Yet Gary Mack disposes of it all in the space of about two fraudulent sentences. He has to of course because he does not want Yardley firing at the Warren Commission's EOP location. Because as noted by Aguilar, that could risk a shot exiting through Kennedy's face. And that would create a real fracas for the official story wouldn't it? Mack's cheap trick with the medical evidence prevented it. Discovery Channel was determined from the outset to uphold the Commission—even if it meant revising the Commission's own conclusions! Because remember, the Commission went with the lower EOP entry point.

The above is a perfect illustration of what I said at the beginning of Part One about the risk in oversimplifying a complex and changing phenomenon: that one will end up inherently falsifying it. And this is what the show does in dealing with all the above in the space of about two sentences. All of this ducking and weaving in order to avoid fully informing the audience.


Bypassing all of the above, Yardley takes his "Oswald" shot at the revised and raised cowlick area. He hits it. But as I wrote in Part One, this creates still another problem for the show. As he wrote in his online discussion afterwards, Gary Mack says that the bullet did not fragment. He immediately tried to dispose of this problem. I understand why he wants to dispose of it ASAP. But it won't go away. If his demonstration is to have scientific validity, this important point can't be ignored. For in the second federally sanctioned JFK investigation, the one by the HSCA—the one the show is abiding by with the raised skull entry wound—the bullet did fragment. But it was a rather bizarre fragmentation. The head and tail of the bullet ended up in the front of the car. And the middle of the bullet somehow got stuck at the outer table of the skull high in the back of the head. This is probably one reason why Mack wants to dispose of this matter as quickly as possible. He doesn't want to have to explain that rather weird phenomenon. Even though he (falsely) says the HSCA discovered the raised entry placement, he doesn't want to explain the fragmentation that goes along with this raised entry. Why? Because it's not explainable. In fact, experts have called it unbelievable.

But that is not all. In the Clark Panel x-rays there is also a particle trail traveling horizontally across the top of the skull. This presumably represents the progress of this bullet across the top of Kennedy's head. The problem is the trail does not match up with either the in shoot or out shoot point. Again, the show mentions none of this.

Now, as Milicent Cranor has pointed out, it was not mandatory that the Discovery Channel experiment precisely duplicate this key issue about the bullet breaking apart in the middle. But it should have accomplished something that was at least similar. In other words, the bullet should have broken someplace. The fact that it did not break at all would suggest two logical deductions. Neither of which the show wishes to entertain.

  1. Either the projectiles striking Kennedy's head were not Mannlicher Carcano bullets, or

  2. The snake oil cooking I described in part one was boiling over. That is, the Adelaide T ∓ E "exact replicas" of the human head were no such thing.

Because the official autopsy in this case was so curtailed and incomplete—which is another area of the medical evidence this show does not want to get into—we cannot answer this question with real certainty. But I actually think number one could be true, and number two almost has to be true. Concerning the first, as I mentioned before, the shot from the front may well have been a frangible type of bullet that broke into bits upon impact, thereby leaving this weird particle trail in the skull.

But there can be little doubt about number two. I recorded my surprised reaction in part one of this review about the skull breaking into smithereens when struck by a hunting bullet. Well, that was reinforced when this happened. Clearly, the manufactured skull did not create enough resistance to the bullet. And considering the background of Adelaide T ∓ E, the past history of Discovery Channel and their JFK specials, plus what the Sixth Floor represents, one has to wonder if it was by design. That is, they knew they could not duplicate what the HSCA said happened to this bullet. So they went ahead and created easily breakable skulls to give the viewer what they wanted to show: an unobstructed and visually discernible path through the top of the skull.

And by doing this, they do not have to explain another mystery about this revised entry point. Which is this: both the Clark Panel and HSCA largely based this raised entry point on a circular 6.5 fragment at the back of the skull table. The dimensions, of course, exactly duplicate the shells allegedly used by Oswald (which no one in Dallas recalls selling to him). But further, no one at Bethesda saw this circular object on the x-rays the night of the autopsy! Yet how could they have missed it? In light of this fact, I understand why Mack does not want to talk about this issue. Not only does the non-fragmentation seriously impact the validity of his "exact replicas", it also affects the credibility of his "knowing" there was a raised entry wound at the rear of the skull. Why? Because his "simulation" does not leave the 6.5 mm fragment—or anything approximating it—in the skull. Which, as previously stated, was one of the major reasons for raising the skull wound in the first place. But even though its not there, Mack raised the wound anyway.

So much for Gary Mack's oh-so-certain knowledge of this cowlick entry wound in the skull. It's a "certainty" that his own experiment belies.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. And I'm not trying. But I'm still not done.


Let us now discuss Yardley's so-called "Oswald shot". Because something odd happened with it. When Yardley hit his shot, the whole right side of the "replica's" head flew off. Including what appears to be the right front top of the forehead. Yet this is not the kind of impact that is shown on the Zapruder film, written about in the autopsy report, or shown in the autopsy photos. In those photos, the forehead is intact.

And this directly relates to another important point. Toward the end of the show, Mack brings on two alleged experts in blood spatter analysis. For this segment, they pose what looks like a white plaster bust in Kennedy's position in the car. They then place what looks like a target mark on it for the exit point. The mark was located in the upper forehead on the right side. My BS antennae sprung up about a foot in the air. Because if you read the autopsy report, this is not where the doctors located the exit wound. They located it on the right side of the head in the parietal area. Which is back from the forehead. (Most authors give the location as above and to the right of the ear on the right parietal.) Besides being utterly surprised and puzzled, I didn't know how to explain it. Are we really to believe that Gary Mack, and the producers, and the director never read the autopsy report? As I said, this was very puzzling.

A couple of minutes later I wasn't puzzled anymore. At that point, I understood why they placed it wrong. And I should have known. Inevitably, in this age of computer graphics, the producers wanted to superimpose a line on the screen that traced back from a hole in the dashboard that the Yardley shot created, through this exit, and to the sixth floor window. And so with this Yardley exit, you can do that. But with the exit described by the autopsy doctors you cannot. So in addition to the dubious entrance wound, this show gives us an exit wound that does not correspond to the autopsy report. All in order to keep Oswald as the lone assassin.

After this long and excruciating dog and pony show, the two witnesses are shown photos of the alleged "blood spatter pattern" in the car as adduced by this ersatz experiment. Now let me ask a logical question in light of the above: If the manufactured skulls were not close to being what real skulls are like, and if the entrance point on the skull was wrong, and if the exit point on the skull was wrong how could the end result be the same? But let me add one more point here. The stuff that is ejected from these skulls upon bullet impact seems about as exact a substitute for blood as the manufactured heads are for real skulls. The stuff looks like something out of a "B" horror movie, maybe The Green Slime. But let us discount the color, what bothers me is the texture. The texture may possibly approximate brain matter, but it does not appear to be close to blood. In any real experiment there should have been at least two things ejected from the skull, brain matter and blood. I didn't see that here. Further, the actual photos taken of the car after it got to Washington only appear to show blood on the back seat. There was little if any of the spatter that was projected forward. So there was no control for this final part of the demonstration. With all these specious variables, with no control factor, and the proven untrustworthiness of the producers, the reliability of these witnesses who confirm the green slime at the end is worth very little.

But that is not really the end. The end is afterwards with Gary Mack looking out the so-called sniper's perch onto Dealey Plaza. Get it? That is where the shot that killed JFK came from. And with that posed and pre-planned shot, we understand what this program has been all about. From the selection of Adelaide T ∓ E, to all the cheating on the marksmanship, to the selection of that particular front shot, to the lie about Jackie Kennedy being in the line of fire, to the mentally impaired hit team which wanted to exculpate the patsy, to the oh-too-frangible skulls, to the wrong exits and entrances etc. etc. etc. all the way down the line. It was all done so the show could leave us with that final frame staring out the Sixth Floor window. Which is probably why The Sixth Floor Museum and Mack agreed to go along with the charade.

But for one informed viewer, that shot did not suggest what the producers wanted—that is Oswald as the lone assassin. For me it was Discovery Channel, Gary Mack and the Sixth Floor as assassins of the truth.

I will try and explain how it happened in Part Three.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 05:18
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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