FORENSIC METALLURGY ASSOCIATES
Technical Investigation Pertaining to the
First Shot Fired in the Kennedy Assassination
22 November 1963
Frank S. DeRonja
Forensic Metallurgy, M.S. Metallurgical Engineering
20 November 2011
In May of 2010, producers at the National Geographic cable channel, NatGeoTV, requested Forensic Metallurgy Associates to participate in an inspection of a traffic signal assembly in Dealey Plaza at the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets in Dallas, Texas.
On 22 November 1963, this assembly consisted of a transformer base situated on the northwest corner of the intersection; a vertical steel pole, 18.5 feet in height, affixed to the base; a curved horizontal mast arm with an effective length of 15 feet, attached to the pole and supported by two brace rods; and a traffic signal that was attached onto the end of the mast arm.
President Kennedy’s limousine passed underneath this signal assembly prior to his fatal shooting and just before Abraham Zapruder began filming the assassination (see figure 1, below). The purpose of the inspection was to determine if the signal assembly displayed any bullet metal damage. If so, that would corroborate that Lee Harvey Oswald fired his first shot from a sixth floor window in the Texas School Book Depository just before the Zapruder film began, and that the bullet missed the presidential limousine and its occupants because it struck the signal assembly overhanging Elm Street.
Figure 1: Still photo taken during a re-staging of the assassination by the Secret Service on 27 November 1963. The ghost image, which is inserted, approximates the position of the presidential limousine on November 22 at the moment Abraham Zapruder re-started his camera.
Although the Warren Commission (1964) and House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979) considered various explanations for why the first shot missed, the signal assembly had never been subjected to any forensic examination. This oversight occurred because the obstruction presented by the signal assembly to the line of sight from the sixth floor window occurred before the Zapruder film started, and the film was always presumed to have captured the entire shooting sequence (see figure 1, above).
This report summarizes the results of inspections of various portions of the traffic signal assembly; corresponding forensic metallurgy observations; limited laboratory testing of exemplars; and the relationship of the technical findings to known factual information. All of the photos accompanying the report can be enlarged by clicking on them.