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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Dr. Cyril Wecht and Governor Connally's Coat Bulge

Here is a nice clip of Gerald Posner and Dr. Cyril Wecht arguing about Governor John Connally's coat bulge. At about thirty seconds in, Posner starts quoting from a Rockefeller Commission memo.

Here is the lapel flip or coat bulge:

Robert Smith was Dr. Wecht's co-author in his article in Forensic Science on the medical evidence:

Vincent Bugliosi discussed the coat flip in his book, Reclaiming History: (pages 3070 - 3073 in the Kindle edition)

The only problem is that the “lapel flip” label is not accurate in its implications. It has been considered to be accurate because the photo of the front of Connally’s suit coat shown in the Warren Commission volumes (CE 683, 17 H 340) is a poor copy and doesn’t show where the bullet actually exited his coat. This is why Dr. Robert Piziali, a doctor of biomechanics and mechanical engineering, in discovering the lapel flip while preparing for the short mock trial of Oswald at the American Bar Association’s meeting in San Francisco in 1992, ended up testifying that “the bullet passed through Governor Connally’s lapel” (Transcript of ABA mock trial, August 10, 1992, San Francisco, published in American Jurisprudence Trials, vol.56, p.113). Author Gerald Posner wrote that “the Governor’s suit lapel flips up . . . at the exact area where the Governor’s suit and shirt have a bullet hole” (Posner, Case Closed, pp.329–330). But I secured from the National Archives a photo of the bullet hole in the front of Connally’s suit coat, and it is not on the right lapel, or even close. It was measured to be 34.5 centimeters (about 133⁄5 inches) below the upper border of the coat’s collar, and 15 centimeters (almost 6 inches) to the right of the midline (7 HSCA 144). The corresponding hole to Connally’s shirt was measured to be 27.9 centimeters (almost 11 inches) below the shoulder seam, and again, 15.7 centimeters (just over 6 inches) to the right of the midline. (7 HSCA 145; CE 686, 17 H 343) Since the hole in the governor’s suit coat was below and to the right of his lapel, the bullet couldn’t have passed through and “flipped” the governor’s lapel as believed by many. Indeed, the exit hole being in the right lapel never did make any sense since we know the bullet exited from the governor’s body right below his right nipple, nowhere near the right lapel.

However, although the lapel flip cannot be used to argue that the bullet exited the lapel around Z224, since we know it didn’t, it is certainly possible that the bullet exiting Governor Connally’s body beneath his right nipple around this very time caused the sudden change and bulge in his right lapel. But even here, we have to allow for the possibility that Connally’s lapel bulge was caused by something else, such as a gust of wind. The wind was very gusty in Dealey Plaza at the time of the shooting, but the likelihood that it caused the lapel bulge in that particular eighteenth of a second, and additionally, to the same side of Connally’s suit coat that we know the bullet penetrated, is extremely remote. 

In 1994, Dr. John K. Lattimer and three colleagues, Angus Laidlaw, Paul Heneghan, and Eric J. Haubner, attempted to verify Dr. Robert Piziali’s findings by duplicating the shooting in Dallas as closely as possible. They created a simulation of President Kennedy’s size 16 neck, using fresh pork muscle, and assembled a special rack to hold a rib cage at a distance of twenty-four inches from the neck (the distance they computed Connally was in front of Kennedy). A white dress shirt, necktie, and tropical worsted jacket were placed over the rib cage to simulate the clothing the governor wore that day. An array of arm bones, encased in simulated forearms, was arranged in front of the right lapel of the “governor” to simulate Connally’s arm, and the entire mock-up was backed up with a bullet trap, where the test bullets were recovered. The experimenters fired Western Cartridge Company 6.5- millimeter ammunition (from the same lots used by Oswald) through an identical model Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. A video camera and a high-speed 35-millimeter motion picture camera captured the results. 

Lattimer knew from his previous experiments that the test bullet would almost certainly “tumble” after passing through the simulated neck (just as the bullet did during the assassination) and strike the mock-up of the governor’s “back” at about the point where he was actually hit. Sure enough, as the bullet tumbled and plowed into one of the ribs, removing 4.5 centimeters (13⁄4 inches was destroyed during the actual assassination), it exited at a point compatible with the exit wound in Connally’s right chest. The flying fragments of rib and soft tissue, which were blown out by the tumbling bullet, ripped a large ragged hole in both the shirt and the jacket, just as Oswald’s bullet had done in Dealey Plaza. The test bullet then struck one of the forearms arrayed in front of the jacket, and was finally stopped by the bullet trap just beyond. 

When the high-speed films were examined, Dr. Lattimer and his associates discovered that the suit coat bulged out about six inches in one-tenth of a second, snapping back shortly thereafter. Of particular importance is the fact that subsequent test rounds that were fired directly into the mock-up of the governor without first passing through the mock-up of Kennedy’s neck produced no bulge of the jacket. Without the tumble caused by the bullet’s passage through the simulated neck, there was no billowing of the jacket. According to Lattimer and his colleagues, the bulge of Governor Connally’s jacket, starting at Z224, “does indeed establish, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the exact moment when bullet 399 went through him.” (Lattimer, Laidlaw, Heneghan, and Haubner, “Experimental Duplication of the Important Physical Evidence,” pp.517–522)

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on Dr. Cyril Wecht

A letter from Dr. Wecht to Thomas Stamm on the head shot.

A letter from Dr. Wecht to Sylvia Meagher on the head shot.

Dr. Wecht exchanges letters with Sylvia Meagher.

Wecht writes Harold Weisberg about Garrison.

A ridiculous claim from Wecht's book.

Wecht revisits an old controversy.

Dr. Wecht believes that JFK's throat wound was one of exit.

Wecht believes that David Ferrie died of natural causes.

Wecht makes an error on Ruby's nightclubs.

He wears it like a badge of honor.

Dr. Wecht writes that Cherami was not killed by a gunshot.


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