A former secret service agent who was present during the assassination of President John F Kennedy has cast doubt on the "single bullet" theory, sometimes mockingly called the "magic bullet" theory, nearly 60 years after the President's death.
On November 22, 1963, Paul Landis was standing on the running board of a car behind the President when the gunshots were fired. Shortly afterwards, in written statements, Landis said that he had heard two gunshots. Now he says that he heard a barrage of shots. It's not the only detail that differs from his initial report.
According to Landis, who spoke to the New York Times ahead of an upcoming memoir, when he and fellow agent Clint Hill coaxed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy out of the car at the hospital, he noticed two bullet fragments – one of which he touched, but left in place – and another bullet lodged in the leather seating behind where Kennedy had been sitting.
Landis says he took this bullet and placed it in his pocket, with the intention of giving it to a superior. However, while in the hospital he claims he placed the bullet on the President's gurney in order to keep the evidence with his body.
A bullet was found in the hospital, but on the stretcher of Governor John B Connally Jr, who had been riding in the President's car and was hit in multiple places. Partly based on this and the three spent shells found on the sixth floor of the book depository under the window, the Warren Commission into the assassination concluded that three shots had been fired.
One – dubbed the "single bullet" – went through Kennedy's neck and hit Connally, one went into Kennedy's head, killing him, and one missed, possibly hitting a curb and causing a fragment to hit a nearby citizen's cheek.
The commission believed that the bullet must have become dislodged from Connally in the hospital, explaining why it was on the stretcher. Landis thinks that maybe the stretchers were pushed together at some point, with the bullet being transferred next to Connally, and that the bullet he found in the car had shallowly penetrated Kennedy's back, before coming dislodged.
People have been skeptical of the "single bullet" theory, not just those who believe there was a second shooter, so this claim has raised some interest. A key question for skeptics is why the bullet was so intact if it passed through both men and caused significant injury. The bullet – determined to come from the rifle used by Lee Harvey Oswald – only lost one or two grains of its original 160 or 161 grains in weight, according to the New York Times.
The claim that this bullet was moved will be fuel for conspiracy theories, especially of a second shooter. The Warren Commission determined that the single bullet must have caused the injuries to Kennedy and Connally, given how long it would take for Oswald to reload his rifle. However, footage shows Connally reacting to being shot a few seconds after Kennedy reacted to the first shot, puzzling the commission.
Landis told the New York Times that he had not wanted to come forward with the information, for fear that he had done the wrong thing removing the bullet from the car. After the assassination, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and did not want to talk about it. Then in 2014, a fellow secret agent present at the assassination attempted to discourage Landis from speaking out. Always a believer that there was a lone shooter, now he says he isn't so sure.
“At this point, I’m beginning to doubt myself,” he told the New York Times. “Now I begin to wonder.”
While the story is interesting, it doesn't necessarily follow that a second shooter was involved. It could mean, for example, that the bullet thought to have missed the car actually ended up inside it. As well as this, Landis's account has drawn doubt from others present at the scene.
“I believe it raises concerns when the story he is telling now, 60 years after the fact, is different than the statements he wrote in the days following the tragedy," agent Clint Hill, who clambered onto Kennedy's car in an attempt to save him, told the New York Times. “In my mind, there are serious inconsistencies in his various statements/stories.”
Which, while not satisfying, will probably be enough to leave people arguing over the assassination for another 60 years to come.