Former Texas Gov. John B. Connally was buried in an east Austin cemetery Thursday after a frantic and unsuccessful effort to get family permission to extract bullet fragments left in his body almost 30 years ago.
FBI officials in Dallas had recommended that an attempt be made to recover the evidence and settle a longstanding controversy about whether Connally was hit by the same bullet that wounded President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, just before Kennedy was killed by another bullet that tore into his skull.
Dallas FBI agent Oliver Revell said he feared that a barrage of lawsuits would be discomforting to the Connally family in the years ahead unless the fragments were recovered.
"We hate to intrude into the family's grief," Revell said a few hours before the final graveside ceremonies, "but it's going to happen sooner or later. I'm afraid the family is going to be harassed on this until it's resolved."
The "single bullet" or "magic bullet" theory was crucial to the Warren Commission's findings that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed the president and wounded Connally as the two men rode together in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.
Connally's family and friends were upset and angry over the last-minute hubbub over the bullet fragments, which began Wednesday, a day after Connally died, with requests from Kennedy assassination researchers urging the Justice Department to step in. A spokesman at Justice said officials attempted to contact the family Thursday morning after receiving the FBI recommendation but were unsuccessful.
"It's really offensive," said George Christian, a longtime Connally friend and once his press secretary. "Nobody in the Connally family that I know of ever heard of these fragments."
Revell said there was a fragment in Connally's thigh and perhaps some traces in a wrist. The nonprofit Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) urged Attorney General Janet Reno on Wednesday to secure the fragments and compare them, using neutron activation analysis and other sophisticated tests, with the nearly intact bullet the Warren Commission said the pieces came from. The bullet was found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital and was believed to have dropped out of Connally's thigh.
"If the family would agree and we can examine those under current technology," Revell said, "we could do one of two things. We could say, "yes indeed, this was the bullet (that hit both men) and there is no basis for saying there were additional shots.'
"But if the mass and metallurgy don't match, we've got a different ballgame."
Christian protested that so far as he knew, the AARC never contacted Connally while he was alive to express their concerns. "It's not good enough to say now that he's dead, take it out," Christian said. "He could have made provision for it if he'd known about it . . . But they have an agenda and they want everybody to follow it, no matter who they're tramping on."
One of the signers of the AARC letter, Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and longtime critic of the Warren Commission, said he realized "some people are probably calling us ghoulish," but he said a skilled surgeon could have extracted the fragments in 10 minutes after X-rays determined where they were.
Some bullet fragments were extracted from Connally's wrist at Parkland Hospital in 1963. Tests in 1977 for the House assassinations committee matched several bits with the "pristine bullet," but questions about their authenticity arose because they did not have the same weight as fragments tested years earlier, and inconclusively, by the FBI. The FBI fragments disappeared.
The 76-year-old Connally's body lay in state in the state capitol for two hours Thursday morning, and then was carried across the street to the historic First United Methodist Church where he and his wife, Nellie, were married 52 years ago.
Among those at the funeral service were former President Nixon, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and present Gov. Ann Richards. Lady Bird Johnson delivered a eulogy, remembering that "John was always the "can do' man, as Lyndon would say." Twenty years ago, Connally delivered a eulogy for her husband, former President Lyndon Johnson.