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JFK Secret Service Agent Told A Different Story About Bullet in 1983

Secret Service agent Paul Landis has told his JFK bullet discovery story twice before, with each account differing in important details.

Over the past few days, the internet has been abuzz with the revelation of purportedly history-changing information about one of the most important and shocking events of the 20th century: the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Secret Service agent Paul Landis, who was with the president's motorcade that day, has come forward with the assertion that he found an intact bullet on the top of the back seat of the President's limousine, and put it on the stretcher with the President's body.  This and more will be detailed in Landis' upcoming book, The Final Witness. The media at large is interpreting this information as a potentially startling revelation that challenges the "magic bullet theory" of the assassination.  However, Landis has told at least two previous versions of this story over the past four decades, which differ in important details.

JFK, 1963 Oval Office portrait.
JFK, 1963 Oval Office portrait.

According to the current account, as related by the New York Times and Vanity Fair among others, Landis found an intact bullet resting on the ledge at the top of the back seat of the limo, pocketed it, and after arriving at Parkland Memorial Hospital, placed it on JFK's stretcher.  The contention then becomes that the bullet was jostled or shifted onto Texas Governor John Connally's stretcher, where it was found, which (without getting into the weeds here) ultimately gives rise to the single-bullet or magic-bullet theory.  As noted across the media, Landis did not mention these details or anything related to recovering a bullet when interviewed the week after the assassination.  This new revelation is being characterized as the result of a 2014 realization by Landis that his memories differed substantially from the publicly known version of events.

However, in 1983, Landis was interviewed by the Associated Press for a story that appeared in countless newspapers around the country on the 20th anniversary of the assassination. He did have a bullet recovery story to relate at that time, which differs in important detail from what is currently being asserted.  At that time, he characterized the find as a bullet fragment and said he simply gave the fragment to someone.  This 1983 account simply says, "There was a bullet fragment on the top of the back seat that he picked up and gave to somebody."

Landis and several other Secret Service agents who were there that day were interviewed for the book The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence in 2010, and that book gives another different account of this moment from Landis' perspective.  Notably, after seeing the bullet fragment in this version, he places it on the seat itself, and pockets "a bloody Zippo lighter with the presidential seal on it" rather than the bullet fragment.  The Kennedy Detail says, "When Agent Paul Landis helped Mrs. Kennedy out of the car he saw a bullet fragment in the back where the top would be secured. He picked it up and put it on the seat, thinking that if the car were moved, it might be blown off. And then he saw a bloody Zippo lighter with the presidential seal on it. He picked it up and put it in his pocket."

In some broader regards, current accounts of Landis' perspective on the JFK assassination are consistent with his past interviews.  He has repeatedly stated from 1983-present that for decades, he avoided reading media about the assassination, and has had significant trouble processing the events of the day of the assassination in its aftermath.  Landis was a part of one of the most shocking historical moments of the 20th century, after all, and I have no wish to denigrate him here.  Simply put, this is not the first time Landis has told his story about this discovery, and the most straightforward explanation for the changing details of his recollection of these events is simply a fading memory with the passage of time.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press since 1996. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler, and has been with Bleeding Cool since its 2009 beginnings. Wrote extensively about the comic book industry for Wizard Magazine 1992-1996. At Avatar Press, has helped publish works by Alan Moore, George R.R. Martin, Garth Ennis, and others. Vintage paper collector, advisor to the Overstreet Price Guide Update 1991-1995.
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