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Bullets from JFK Assassination being Digitized for Everyone to See

Lee Harvey Oswald, the bullet, and JFK. All images Getty
Lee Harvey Oswald, the bullet, and JFK. All images Getty

Ever wanted to handle evidence, such as the actual bullets, from the JFK assassination? The public will be able to do so early next year, though not in person. Bullets relating to the killing are being digitized, so anyone can check out the small items that altered the Free World forever.

The project has been a joint effort between Washington DC’s National Archives and NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The aim is to bring interested parties detailed computer models of this historic ammunition.

Users of the online archive will get up close and personal with the JFK bullets without leaving so much as a fingerprint (well, maybe a digital one). The Daily Mail writes the replicas are “even more useful than the actual bullets because they can be rotated and magnified to a high degree without special microscopes or other equipment.”

JFK speaking at Rice University

How is it done? A technique called focus variation microscopy is employed. This creates a 3D image from multiple microscopic images of varying focal distance. Another practice known as confocal microscopy boosts the resolution of the images.

Martha Murphy of the National Archives comments that “every groove in the bullet, every nick” will be discernible. The team have rendered 6 bullets in total, starting with 2 fragments from the projectiles that killed President Kennedy in 1963. NIST’s press release describes them as “Twisted pieces of copper and lead”.

JFK funeral
President Kennedy’s family leaving his funeral at the U.S. Capitol Building

John Connally, Governor of Texas, was hit by a third bullet. This earned the title of “stretcher bullet” due to it only being found once Connally reached the hospital. Convicted assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had attempted to kill Maj Gen Edwin Walker 7 months before his infamous crime. Oswald used the same weapon, and so this bullet has also been rendered for the collection.

Finally there are 2 bullets shot from the JFK gun by authorities. The Mail writes they “were fired from the gun recovered from the crime scene to test its general handling and ballistic properties.”

JFK assassination
President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination.

Ballistics and other forensic arts are forefront in experts’ minds, as they present these deadly artefacts to the world like never before. The Washington Post writes, “When fired, gun barrels produce microscopic markings known as striations on bullets and cartridge cases.”

The striations are then examined. “Forensic examiners present comparisons of the striations of test shots and used bullets during trials of criminal cases.” The article adds, “The technique is more than a century old, however.”

Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald

NIST explain further what their work could mean for crime busting: “instead of just saying whether or not two bullets appear to match, forensic examiners will be able to statistically quantify their degree of similarity.” The outcome hopefully being that “judges, juries and investigators have reliable, science-based information when deciding guilt or innocence.” Evidence such as the twisted bullet fragments that killed Kennedy can be put under greater scrutiny, delivering more accurate results.

Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald moments before being shot and killed by Jack Ruby.

“It was like solving a supercomplicated 3D puzzle,” said scientist Thomas Brian Renegar, quoted by NIST. Surely someone with the most strained eyes in the world by this point, he also claims he can draw the complex evidence from memory!

The renderings are bound to draw the attention of both amateurs and pros alike. John F. Kennedy’s assassination was arguably the main talking point of the later 20th century. Despite Lee Harvey Oswald being named as the killer, much speculation exists as to whether this was the case. Oswald couldn’t speak much for himself – he was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby 2 days later (Nov 24th).

The Mail explores the infamous “grassy knoll” theory, which states “the president made a ‘back and to the left’ movement just after being shot. This, according to proponents of the second gunman explanation, suggests JFK was shot from the front by a person standing on a small hill on the northwest side of Dealey Plaza, otherwise known as the grassy knoll. But, the theory has been disputed countless times over the years.”

Related Article: The Heartbreaking Way JFK’s Kids Learned of their Father’s Fate

Whether it sheds new light on one of America’s most shocking events is far from likely. However the prospect of better forensic analysis in tackling crime makes the endeavor in itself worthwhile.