The Shot That Missed

  • Posted 11.14.13
  • NOVA

Witnesses to JFK's assassination heard three shots, and police found three cartridges in Oswald's perch. Nevertheless, only two bullets were ever found. Could this missing bullet have hit a tree or the pavement? And if so, why was it never located? Forensics experts Luke and Mike Haag perform tests with a Carcano rifle to solve the mystery of the missing bullet.

Running Time: 03:38


The Shot That Missed

November 14, 2013

NARRATOR:  One lingering mystery about the Kennedy assassination concerns a shot that missed. The Warren Commission found that one shot passed through Kennedy, then hit Connally.  A second shot hit Kennedy in the head. But police found three fired cartridge cases in the School Book Depository and the Commission concluded there were three shots fired, even though a third bullet was never found.  So what happened to the other shot?

LUKE HAAG: If there’s an early shot, as so many eye and ear witnesses believe, including Connally, right after the car turns the corner. Could it have struck the southern oak tree, one or more branches, and been diverted?  Could it have struck the street?

NARRATOR:  Luke and Mike Haag are conducting tests to find out what might have happened to a first shot that missed.

LUKE HAAG: One of the choices is a southern oak tree that stands to interfere with the shooter’s view as the car turns onto Elm Street.  This array of branches is going to demonstrate what a Carcano bullet will do or not do when it strikes one or more branches.

NARRATOR:  The witness panel behind the branches will show if the bullet gets deflected off course, or if it’s damaged or deformed in any way.

LUKE HAAG: So, everyone’s ready? Doppler’s ready? High speed video ready? Gun Ready? Five. Four. Three. Two. One.  Let’s go have a look.

This is the first branch struck. Over on my side is a shallow graze.

NARRATOR:  The bullet struck four of the branches. And when Luke examines the witness panel, the results are clear.

LUKE HAAG: Virtually no deflection.  If you draw a line through all of these strikes to here, or if we put the laser on it, we’d see something maybe an inch or so of deflection.

If the southern oak had been struck in Dallas, the damage would have been apparent—the bullet would have been intact, it would have been destabilized, it would have gone into the asphalt on Elm St.

NARRATOR:  The next test will investigate what would happen to a Carcano bullet that hits asphalt.

LUKE HAAG: From the laser scanning data, I know that that asphalt creates about a 30-degree angle with the sixth floor window. That’s what we’ve set up here. We’ve got a section of highway asphalt here. We’ll see what happens to the bullet.

MALE VOICE: Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

NARRATOR:  When they check the witness panel for signs of fragments, the result is unexpected.

LUKE HAAG: The fragments of asphalt and stone basically come back out like a volcano erupting, but they don’t go out to the sides. So a person could be standing within a couple of feet of an event like this and not be hit by material.

NARRATOR:  Inspecting the asphalt, there’s another surprise.

LUKE HAAG: There’s loose debris down here in the crater, which is I’d say maybe an inch and a half deep. But there is no bullet, not even a piece of a bullet.

NARRATOR:  The Haag’s tests have shown that if Oswald’s first shot did miss the car and hit the pavement, the bullet would have completely disintegrated, and the physical evidence would only have lasted a few days.

LUKE HAAG: As soon as the street sweepers, the rain, and more traffic comes along, within days that crater that was nice and fresh and had very delicate edges and pulverized rock and loose material is now just a dimple in the road. 



Rushmore DeNooyer
Anna Rothschild
Rushmore DeNooyer
Original Footage
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013


President Kennedy's Final Hour
© WPA Film Library
Warren Commision Exhibits
Courtesy National Archive, Public Domain
JFK Limousine
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain


(main image: Carcano Bullet)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013

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