JFK Assassination: What Is the Single-Bullet Theory?

Among the melee of conspiracy theories that have risen and fallen in the years since the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one theory has remained the focus of intense debate: the single-bullet theory.

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This theory, supported by the 1964 findings of the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy's assassination, posits that the president was shot by the same bullet that also injured Texas Gov. John Connally, who sat in the front seat of the presidential limousine. Some critics sarcastically refer to this as the "magic-bullet theory."

The findings of the Warren Commission, and the 889-page final Warren Report, have been much maligned by analysts over the years. Even Attorney General Robert Kennedy (JFK's brother) is on record as saying the Warren Report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship," and three members of the commission expressed doubts about the single-bullet theory. (Top 10 Persistent JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories)

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According to proponents of the single-bullet theory, as the presidential motorcade made its way past the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald raised his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and took aim at Kennedy's head, six stories below.

With a single shot from Oswald's rifle, a 6.5-millimeter bullet pierced Kennedy's suit coat from the rear before puncturing his body to the right of his spine. The bullet exited Kennedy's body through the front of his neck below his Adam's apple.

The bullet — later dubbed Commission Exhibit 399, or CE 399 — then punctured Connally's back, shattering his fifth right rib bone. After exiting the front of Connally's chest, the bullet shot through his right wrist, breaking one of his wrist bones, before burying itself beneath the skin of Connally's left thigh.

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Unlikely path of travel?

This path of travel — considered highly unlikely by critics of the single-bullet theory — means CE 399 went through the bodies of two adult men, tore through about 15 inches of human flesh, broke two bones and punctured 15 different layers of clothing.

The bullet was recovered at Parkland Memorial Hospital on a gurney in the hospital corridor. It was later determined that the gurney was next to the one that carried Connally into the hospital.

The single-bullet theory doesn't exclude additional shots, or additional bullets hitting the president. Most witnesses and analysts believe that a total of three shots were fired. Whether those additional shots were fired by Oswald or by a second gunman — perhaps from a nearby hill now referred to as "the grassy knoll" — remains a subject of intense debate, especially among conspiracy theorists.

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