HOW FIVE INVESTIGATIONS INTO JFK’S MEDICAL/AUTOPSY EVIDENCE GOT IT WRONG
Gary L. Aguilar, MD and Kathy
I-A. The First Investigation - The Warren Commission
I-B. The Warren Commission Examines Kennedy's Medical/Autopsy Evidence
II. The Justice Department Investigates JFK's Autopsy
III. The Clark Panel
IV. The Rockefeller Commission
V. The 'Last' Investigation - The House Select Committee on Assassinations
Appendix - Tables and Figures
V. THE ‘LAST’ INVESTIGATION – THE HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE ON ASSASSINATIONS
While a book-length discussion of the HSCA’s handling of the JFK medical/autopsy evidence could easily be written, the focus will be narrowed here to highlight factors that, in the authors’ opinions, explain how it was that all of the House Committee’s [HSCA] forensic experts, save Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, came to conclude that the evidence was consistent with Oswald’s guilt.
HSCA investigators, augmented with a large panel of truly expert forensic pathologists and radiologists, were in perhaps the best position ever to lay Kennedy’s medical/autopsy questions to rest for all time. Unfortunately, they did not do so. In essence, what they did instead was rubber stamp the Clark Panel, though not quite unanimously. Longtime Warren skeptic, Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, broke ranks. Recent releases have shed light on the lopsided, pro-Warren outcome. It can perhaps be best understood by knowing the make up of the Forensic Pathology Panel (FPP), and knowing what the experts were given to work with, and what they were denied.
Put another way, the failure can perhaps be best understood by a combination of factors: the manner in which the HSCA ‘handled’ its consulting doctors and perhaps by the backgrounds of the panelists themselves. With the exception of Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, none of the panelists had ever expressed skepticism of the Warren Commission’s findings. And two of the panelists, James Weston, MD, and Werner Spitz, MD, had previously made their support of the Warren Commission a matter of public record. (Weston had appeared on CBS in 1975 supporting the Warren Commission; Spitz, as discussed, was a member of the Rockefeller panel.) In an addendum to the FPP’s published report (FPPR), Wecht wrote a scathing critique that is worth mention.
“I should like to note for the record,” Wecht wrote, “that the FPP and HSCA staff placed much emphasis on and gave a great deal of credence to so-called ballistics studies performed by Dr. John Lattimer, a urologist with no training, experience or expertise whatsoever in forensic pathology. At the same time, the FPP and HSCA paid no attention whatsoever to the ballistics studies performed by Dr. John Nichols, a board-certified pathologist and full-time professor of pathology on the faculty of the University of Kansas School of Medicine …
“Also, I wish to point out for the record that I believe it was quite inappropriate and injudicious to have had the FPPR prepared by Dr. James Weston, in light of his previous involvement in a review of the WCR and his publicly acknowledged and officially recorded stance vis-à-vis the Warren Commission Report. Once again, the fact that Professor Blakey and his staff either assigned, or permitted this assignment to be made to Dr. Weston is clear evidence of their blatant disregard for an objective, impartial approach to all the evidence in this case. Furthermore, at this time, I am not aware of the findings, interpretations and conclusions of other specialty panels that had been created by the HSCA to review the evidence in the JFK assassination. I do not understand how the FPP can prepare a final report without knowing what the final deliberations are of these other specialty panels. This is not the way forensic pathologists function, and I am truly amazed that they would have engaged in such an unprofessional approach in a matter of this magnitude.”
Wecht’s dissent was greeted by the remaining members of the FPP with a silent rebuke. In an HSCA-published response, the other panelists were succinct. Their response, in its entirety, reads: “The majority has considered all the issues raised by the panel minority of one. The conclusions of the panel majority remain unchanged in the absence of additional bona fide evidence.”
Given its reception by so many respected authorities, Wecht’s tirade may be seen as little more than pique on the part of someone who had, prior to his stint on the HSCA, published at least four articles critical of the Warren Commission, had strongly lobbied his fellow panelists, and yet had failed to persuade a single colleague. But in view of what has fallen out in declassified documents about both the HSCA and its FPP, Wecht’s fury no longer seems so exaggerated and unprofessional.
As we will see, the FPP worked without highly pertinent material that was available but suppressed. It also, as Wecht has suggested, exhibited little curiosity about the findings of other, related HSCA specialty panels. So it remains an open question whether the upshot might have been different had the forensic panel been given all the relevant autopsy information, and if the panelists had been just a little less incurious. But, as Wecht had presciently bewailed, the doctors had indeed labored under an HSCA staff-imposed handicap. It turns out that it was significantly greater than even Wecht had imagined. Perhaps the most important example of this deserves some detailed attention.
The Dallas Doctors vs. JFK’s Autopsy Photographs
As previously mentioned, multiple independent and contemporaneous accounts from credible witnesses, especially the treating Dallas doctors, said JFK’s fatal injury was a gaping right-rearward skull wound. The HSCA’s forensic experts took special note of Dallas accounts. Then, as now, Parkland Hospital was a highly regarded trauma center, its physicians thoroughly trained and experienced trauma experts.
Though perhaps it should have, it apparently never occurred to the Warren Commission
that both the Parkland witnesses and JFK’s pathologists had described
JFK’s rearward skull wounds in much the same way, but in a manner that
was difficult to reconcile with an assassin firing from above and behind.
Only after the autopsists had examined the photographs, and after the
Clark Panel had noted an apparent, huge discrepancy between the photographs
and the autopsy report, did a crack begin to appear in the medical case
for Oswald’s sole guilt. The Clark Panel simply closed that crack by
dismissing the rearward location of the skull injuries on the grounds
that the autopsy doctors, who were teaching professors, had made a mistake.
They were insensitive to the peculiarity that if it was indeed an error,
it was a huge one that had also been made in Dallas by a team of seasoned
trauma experts that included a professor of brain surgery. It was the
kind of mistake for which a guilty first year resident physician-pathologist,
to say nothing of professors, would have been seriously faulted.
For their parts, the Parkland witnesses virtually unanimously described JFK’s skull injuries in a way that echoed the description of the senior treating physician, Neurosurgery professor Kemp Clark, MD. On the day of the murder, after examining JFK’s head wound, Dr. Clark wrote that, “There was a large wound beginning in the right occiput extending into the parietal region,” he wrote, “Much of the skull appeared gone at the brief examination....” (Emphasis added.) Clark’s claim of a rearward skull defect was also repeated by Parkland witnesses Drs. Marion Thomas Jenkins, Malcolm Perry, Robert McClelland, Charles Carrico, Ronald Coy Jones, Gene Aiken, Paul Peters, Charles Rufus Baxter, Robert Grossman, Richard Brooks Dulaney, Fouad Bashour, and others. (See Table 1) Intriguingly, Dr. Clark’s account is a reasonable match to the autopsy report’s description of a ‘parietal-temporal-occipital’ skull defect. It does not, however, match the autopsy photographs. They show an “antero-lateral” defect – a defect in front of JFK’s right ear involving the top of his head, but with no visible defect behind the ear. (See Figure 7) Thus, it is nowhere near the occipital area specified in the autopsy report or by the Parkland doctors. Admitting that the conflict was a problem, the HSCA boasted that it had solved it.
HSCA Refutes Dallas Doctors on JFK’s Head Wound
The HSCA devoted considerable attention to resolving the conflict between the
autopsy photographs and the Dallas doctors. Summarizing its solution
to the paradox, the HSCA wrote, “Critics of the Warren Commission’s
medical evidence findings have found (sic) on the observations recorded
by the Parkland Hospital doctors. They believe it is unlikely that trained
medical personnel could be so consistently in error regarding the nature
of the wound, even though their recollections were not based on careful
examinations of the wounds ... In disagreement with the observations
of the Parkland doctors are the 26 people present at the autopsy. All
of those interviewed who attended the autopsy corroborated the general
location of the wounds as depicted in the photographs; none had differing
accounts … it appears more probable that the observations of the
Parkland doctors are incorrect.” (Emphasis added.) The HSCA said that its conclusion
was supported by, “Staff interviews with persons present at the autopsy.”
Unfortunately, none of those interviews were released with the release
of the report in 1979.
This stunning suppression of contradictory evidence, which as we shall see included withholding it from the very medical experts responsible for conducting the HSCA’s analyses of autopsy and other medical evidence, is by itself sufficient reason to call into question the HSCA’s entire medical position. But misstating and suppressing the nonsensitive assertions of its own witnesses was not all the HSCA did to impeach witness accounts of a gaping rearward wound in JFK’ skull.
The HSCA also said it had validated compelling autopsy photographs that show no defect where myriad credible witnesses, both in Dallas and in the morgue, say they saw one. The images show a gaping wound in front of JFK’s right ear and toward the top of the front of his skull. The back of the skull is virtually pristine. The authenticated autopsy images gave the HSCA powerful ammunition to shoot down witnesses who said JFK’s skull gaping skull wound was in the rear. But the HSCA was apparently shooting blanks, a fact the HSCA apparently preferred to leave hidden until the required declassification date in 2028.
For, whereas the HSCA boasted of the authenticity of JFK’s autopsy photographs, a new document reveals that in fact those images flunked a key HSCA authentication test: the pictures failed a test intended to link them to the camera in the Navy morgue that was supposed to have taken them. The images never were, therefore, authenticated. Nor, apparently, will they ever be. The morgue camera that the Navy sent to the HSCA for the tests disappeared sometime after the examination.
Overlooked Witnesses and Evidence
The HSCA’s sweeping conclusions required more than just selectively reporting on its own investigative findings. Also required was ignoring statements by well-placed Warren Commission witnesses. For example, in 1963 Secret Service agent Clinton Hill had reported that he saw a wound on “the right rear portion of the skull.” Secret Service agent, Roy Kellerman, told the Warren Commissions that JFK's skull defect was “To the left of the (right) ear, sir, and a little high; ... (“the rear portion of the head”) was absent when I saw him.” After Secret Service agent William Greer manually demonstrated the defect's location to the Commission, his interrogator, Arlen Specter, asked, “Upper right side, going toward the rear, and what was the condition of the skull at that point?” Greer: "The skull was completely--this part was completely gone.” (Emphasis added throughout) The HSCA’s suppressed autopsy witnesses said much the same thing.
James Curtis Jenkins, then a Ph.D. candidate in pathology, worked as a laboratory technologist with the autopsy team. In a suppressed interview, the HSCA's Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy recorded that Jenkins had said, “he saw a head wound in the ‘...middle temporal region back to the occipital.’” (Emphasis added.) Jenkins prepared a diagram for the HSCA that was released with his interview. It matches his verbal description, showing a defect in the right rear of the skull.
FBI agent James Sibert was interviewed by the HSCA's Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy who, in a once-secret report, wrote that, "Regarding the head wound, Sibert said it was in the "...Upper back of the head." (sic) In an suppressed affidavit prepared for the HSCA, Sibert wrote that, "The head wound was in the upper back of the head.” He also wrote that there was “a large head wound in the upper back of the head with a section of the scull (sic) bone missing... .” Sibert sketched a drawing of the skull wound and traced a small wound square in the central rear portion of the skull, slightly above the level depicted for the ears but well below the level depicted for the top of the skull. (Emphasis added.)
Tom Robinson was the mortician who prepared John Kennedy's remains for burial. Robinson prepared for an open casket funeral, so the preparation of the skull was especially meticulous. Robertson described the skull wound in a suppressed 1/12/77 HSCA interview with Andy Purdy and Jim Conzelman:
Purdy asked Robinson: "Approximately where was (the skull) wound located?"
Robinson: "Directly behind the back of his head."
Purdy: "Approximately between the ears or higher up?"
Robinson, "No, I would say pretty much between them." (Emphasis added.)
Jan Gail Rudnicki was Dr. Boswell's lab assistant on the night of the autopsy. HSCA’s Mark Flanagan on 5/2/78 interviewed Rudnicki. In the once-secret memo, Flanagan wrote that Rudnicki had said, the “back-right quadrant of the head was missing.” (Emphasis added.)
John Ebersole, MD was the attending radiologist at JFK's autopsy. During his suppressed HSCA testimony the doctor said, “The back of the head was missing... .” After he was shown the autopsy photograph with the back of the scalp intact, Ebersole commented, “You know, my recollection is more of a gaping occipital wound than this, but I can certainly not state that this is the way it looked. Again we are relying on a 15 year old recollection. But had you asked me without seeing these or seeing the pictures, you know, I would have put the wound here rather than more forward.” Yet Ebersole claimed that “I had the opportunity" (to examine the back of JFK's head, while positioning the head for X-rays). Later Ebersole admitted, “...perhaps about 12:30 (AM) a large fragment of the occipital bone was received from Dallas and at Dr. Finck's request I X-rayed these (sic)... .” If it was an occipital bone fragment that arrived, the defect must indeed have been posterior. The occipital bone is at the base of the rear of the skull. (The authors are unaware of Ebersole’s having prepared a diagram for the HSCA.)
Philip C. Wehle, then Commanding officer of the military District of Washington, D. C., described the head wound to the HSCA's Andy Purdy on 8-19-77. The declassified memo recorded that, “(Wehle) noticed a slight bruise over the right temple of the President but did not see any significant damage to any other part of the head. He noted that the wound was in the back of the head so he would not see it because the President was lying face up; he also said he did not see any damage to the top of the head, but said the President had a lot of hair which could have hidden that... .” (Emphasis added.) No diagram from Wehle has surfaced. If the photographs depicting a skull defect antero-laterally are accurate, it is hard to imagine how such a defect would have been invisible to Wehle with JFK lying face up.
FBI agent Francis X. O'Neill prepared a diagram for the HSCA showing a defect in the right rear quadrant of JFK's skull. (See Figure 8)
The only statement the authors found in the secret HSCA interviews that is not frankly incompatible with the photographic images, which only imperfectly suggest an antero-lateral defect (personal opinion of author Aguilar having seen the original images at the National Archives by permission of the Kennedy family), is that attributed to Captain John Stover, then Commanding Officer of the National Naval Medical School. The HSCA's Mark Flanagan reported that, “Stover observed ... a wound on the top of the head ... .” Since Stover omits mention of the only gaping wound that is visible in the autopsy photographs – the one on the side of JFK’s skull – his account is of little use to defenders or critics of the images.
Whether over forty witnesses at both Parkland and Bethesda miraculously made the identical error in describing a right-rear defect, rather than an antero-lateral defect, is problematic to say the least.
What about witness reliability? Though eyewitnesses are sometimes dismissed as unreliable, the reigning authority on eyewitness testimony, Elizabeth Loftus, claims witnesses are not always unreliable. In fact, there are circumstances in which their reliability is high. In part, her evidence is based upon a 1971 Harvard Law Review study. Marshall, Marquis and Oskamp found that when test subjects were asked about “salient” details of a complex and novel film clip scene they were shown, their accuracy rate was high: 78% to 98%. Even when a detail was not considered salient, as judged by the witnesses themselves, they were still accurate 60% of the time.
Loftus has identified the factors that tend to degrade witness accuracy, most of which are relevant to the Kennedy case. Principal among them are: poor lighting, short duration of event, or a long duration between the event and when a witness is asked questions about it, the unimportance of event to the witness, the perceived threat of violence during the event, witness stress or drug/alcohol influence, and the absence of specialized training on the witness’s part. Absent these factors, Loftus’s work shows that witnesses are very reliable.
With respect to JFK’s skull damage, which in the Marshall study would have been considered a “salient detail,” none of Loftus’s adverse circumstances were present that would explain how both the witnesses in Dallas and in the morgue might have erred. Both groups were working as highly trained experts in their usual capacity, and in their usual circumstances and setting. Moreover, both groups had more than ample time and opportunity to make accurate observations, many of which were recorded immediately. The overwhelming odds are they were right. Yet the autopsy photographs apparently prove that virtually all the witnesses were wrong, and wrong in the same way. So even if one were to accept witness error as the explanation, one would then have to explain how the witnesses had made the exact same mistake by agreeing JFK had a gaping skull wound in the back of his head.
Whatever the truth, the HSCA apparently misrepresented Warren Commission testimony, as well as its own witnesses’ descriptions. The public was thus given false assurances that the better-placed, and so more credible, witnesses at JFK’s autopsy had refuted the doctors in Dallas and so there was no need to invoke conspiracy.
Keeping the Forensic Consultants in the Dark
In 1994, HSCA counsel Purdy spoke at a public conference hosted by the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) in Washington D.C. During his presentation, he explained that he had searched in vain for signs of conspiracy in JFK’s autopsy evidence. When these suppressed statements and diagrams depicting JFK’s rearward skull damage were projected in slide form before the entire audience, Purdy backed down. After all, his signature was plainly visible at the bottom of most of the documents. In retreat, he conceded he was “unhappy” the HSCA had reported, “All of those interviewed who attended the autopsy corroborated the general location of the wounds as depicted in the photographs; none had differing accounts... .”
Purdy was quick to add, however, that he hadn’t written the statement, and
that he didn’t know who had. The report in which these HSCA misstatements appears
is prefaced with the following statement: “Materials submitted for this report
by the committee’s forensic pathology panel were compiled by HSCA staff members
Donald A. Purdy, Jr. and T. Mark Flanagan.”
Perhaps Mr. Purdy’s denial is factual because neither Purdy nor Flanagan actually
furnished the writer of the false passage with the damning interviews. If that
is the case, however, the writer’s comment – “All of those interviewed who attended
the autopsy corroborated …” – makes little sense.
More enlightening about this episode, however, were the comments of HSCA forensic
consultants, Michael Baden, MD and Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, who were also
present with Purdy on the podium. Despite their positions as the HSCA’s
medical consultants, neither Baden nor Wecht had ever seen this important
autopsy evidence. Purdy hadn’t let his own autopsy experts know about
any of these autopsy witnesses.
So on the mystery of who authored the falsehoods about the autopsy witnesses, one must therefore not discount the possibility that chief counsel, Robert Blakey, might have played a role. Although Blakey specifically denied to author Aguilar writing this unfactual section of the report (as did perhaps the one other possible choice, Richard Billings), it is not impossible to imagine that Blakey might himself have written this section to help keep the lid securely fastened over the revelations of the autopsy witnesses he had apparently already hidden from his medical consultants.
But the Bethesda witnesses’ statements were not the only evidence the public could not be trusted with. There was, as we will see, also evidence impugning not only the authenticity, but the integrity, of the autopsy photographs, evidence that was similarly kept from the HSCA’s forensic consultants. Alas, the forensic experts themselves might have been more curious than they were. For they seemed insensitive to what several of their own key witnesses had told them: some of JFK’s autopsy images are missing.
Questions Arise about JFK’s Autopsy Photographs
To refute chronic doubts about the autopsy photographs, the HSCA claimed its consultants had authenticated the images – that is, proved them untampered with. While those assurances have not stilled all doubts about the extant images, the HSCA never addressed the problem that had smoldered since LBJ made note of Attorney General Clark’s concern about the “question of the missing (autopsy) photo.” (See above.)
All of JFK's pathologists and photographers, as well as Bethesda pathologist-witness, Robert Karnei, MD, recalled the taking of photographs that do not now exist. As previously discussed, the major argument that the photographic file is inviolate, and presumably dependable, is the Justice Department-prepared, 11/10/66 statement regarding the X-ray and photographic inventory. Signed by Humes, Boswell, Ebersole, and Stringer after they examined the materials, the last sentence of that document reads, “The X-rays and photographs described and listed above include all the X-rays and photographs taken by us during the autopsy, and we have no reason to believe that any other photographs or X-rays were made during the autopsy.”
Much new evidence exists, most of it only recently declassified, indicating that there are valid reasons to believe autopsy photographs are missing. Finck, for example, was certain that he never saw the photos of the skull (not scalp) wound, internal and external aspects, whose taking he said he had supervised. In addition to bemoaning their absence in his own notes, Finck had the following exchange before the HSCA’s forensic panel:
Charles Petty, MD: “If I understand you correctly, Dr. Finck, you wanted particularly to have a photograph made of the external aspect of the skull from the back to show that there was no cratering to the outside of the skull.”
Petty: “Did you ever see such a photograph?”
Finck: “I don't think so and I brought with me memorandum referring to the examination of photographs in 1967... and as I can recall I never saw pictures of the outer aspect of the wound of entry in the back of the head and inner aspect in the skull in order to show a crater although I was there asking for these photographs. I don't remember seeing those photographs.”
[Though the HSCA consultants heard Finck’s testimony, this interview was withheld from the public when the HSCA published its report and volumes. It was finally released by the ARRB in the 1990s.]
Purdy himself had noted in unpublished records that, “STRINGER (sic) said it was his recollection that all the photographs he had taken were not present in 1966 (when he first saw the photographs).” No photographs now exist of the interior of JFK’s chest. But among the principals present at the autopsy it was unanimous that such images were taken. (Excepting Finck, who was apparently never asked about interior chest photos.) Purdy conducted many of these interviews, and should have known the content of all of them, yet there is no record he ever explored this important controversy.
The HSCA’s suppressed records, however, speak for themselves:
· Autopsy photographer John Stringer: “remembers taking 'at least two exposures of the body cavity.”
· James H. Humes, MD, “...specifically recall(ed photographs) ... were taken of the President's chest ... (these photographs) do not exist.”
· J. Thornton Boswell, MD: “...he (Boswell) thought they photographed ‘...the exposed thoracic cavity and lung...’ but doesn't remember ever seeing those photographs.” 
· Robert F. Karnei, MD, (a pathologist who, though not a formal member of the autopsy team, lent a hand with JFK’s autopsy: “He (Karnei) recalls them putting the probe in and taking pictures (the body was on the side at the time) (sic).”
· Assistant autopsy photographer, Floyd Reibe: “[H]e thought he took about six pictures –‘I think it was three film packs’ - of internal portions of the body.”
There may be autopsy photographs besides those of JFK’s skull and chest that are missing.
In 1998, the Washington Post reported that the autopsy photographer of record, John Stringer, said he did not take the current set of autopsy photographs of JFK’s brain. Stringer’s statement was but one of many controversies surrounding these key images. For example, while the right lobe of “JFK’s” brain appears severely disrupted in the pictures, little of the substance of actual brain looks to be missing. (See Figure 9) If the images are valid proof little brain matter was lost, how then do we make sense of the Zapruder film and the reports from close witnesses? The film shows a copious discharge of brain matter erupting from JFK’s skull. The limousine occupants said bits of brain were spattered about the interior of the limousine, leaving a residue on the occupants and on at least one motorcycle cop, as well as leaving a large enough chunk on the rear trunk lid that Jackie crawled out to fetch it. Humes, for example, has said that, “two thirds of the right cerebrum (right main lobe of the brain) had been blown away.”
Though seemingly contradicting the film and the witnesses, the brain images from the autopsy jibe pretty well with the weight of JFK’s brain in the official, “Supplementary Report” of the autopsy: 1500 grams. The problem with that weight is that the normal, undamaged human brain weighs on average only about 1350 grams. So a 1500 gram brain would be a significantly larger than an average, complete brain.
What exploding brain matter then is visible when Kennedy’s head pops? What extruding brain material created the “jet effect” some have argued propelled JFK’s head rearward? Officially, virtually none, it appears. It was this sort of contradictory evidence that led the ARRB to formally suggest that there may actually have been two different post mortem exams – of two different “JFK” brains. Though not cited by the ARRB in its “two brain” hypothesis, Stringer strengthened the Review Board’s case for two different JFK brains when he said the extant images weren’t those he’d taken. He also heartened skeptics who believe that the Zapruder film and Humes were right that more of JFK’s brain should be gone than appears missing in the autopsy photographs and in the official brain weight.
Stringer’s disavowal dramatizes one of the great ironies regarding autopsy photographs. As already discussed, Stringer, as well as Humes and Boswell, had signed an affidavit (prepared by the Justice Department and dated 11/10/66) that declared no autopsy photographs of JFK were missing. Subsequently, and quite independently, all three said that in fact some were missing, apparently including the brain pictures Stringer had taken. One imagines that the Justice official who had originally prepared the affidavit in 1966 failed to impress upon his accommodating signatories the importance of sticking to the story no images were missing, even after 1966.
This whole issue might easily have been unraveled by the HSCA in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, no one at the HSCA apparently knew the evidence well enough to ask the autopsy team why they had spoken out of both sides of their mouths about the completeness of the photo file. Well, why did they?
It is unlikely an indisputable explanation will ever be found to account for the actions of all the signatories. Nevertheless, the autopsy photographers gave the ARRB illuminating explanations for their having signed a similar, untruthful attestation. The ARRB located and published an affidavit dated 11/22/63 that both autopsy photographers had signed – ARRB Exhibit #78. The document specified the number of pictures the photographers had taken on the night of the autopsy and handed over to the custody of Secret Service Agent Roy H. Kellerman.
ARRB counsel Gunn asked Stringer: Do you see the phrase, next to last sentence, of the document – that I’ll read it to you: ‘To my personal knowledge, this is the total amount of film exposed on this occasion.’ Do you see that?”
Gunn: “Is it your understanding that that statement is incorrect?”
Stringer: “Well, yes … .”
Gunn: “When you signed this document, Exhibit 78, were you intending to either agree or disagree with the conclusion reached in the second to last – next to last sentence?”
Stringer: “I told him that I disagreed with him, but they said, ‘Sign it.’”
Gunn: “And who is ‘they’ who said, ‘Sign it.’?
Stringer: “Captain Stover.” [Stringer’s superior, the Commanding Officer of U.S. Naval Medical School.]
Although Gunn did not push the point any further, later in this same interview Stringer made the concession that, “You don’t object to things.” Gunn responded, “Some people do.”
“Yeah, they do.” Stringer observed, “But they don’t last long.”
Similarly, regarding the same (11/22/63) affidavit, the second signatory, assistant autopsy photographer Floyd Riebe, testified that this declaration “would be incorrect, yes.” Reibe explained that the document was inaccurate because it did not list the 35-mm images he said he had taken in JFK’s morgue. Reibe justified his signing in much the same way Stringer had:
ARRB counsel Gunn asked Reibe: “If this statement had been given to you to sign to authenticate rather than [Captain] Stover, would you have signed this statement?”
Riebe: “If I was ordered to, yes … We was (sic) shown this and told to sign it and that was it.”
Jeremy Gunn did not further explore this matter with Riebe. And, alas, though he had the opportunity in the late 1990s to ask Drs. Humes and Boswell why they had signed off on the completeness of the inventory in 1966, he unfortunately never did. This, despite the fact the ARRB believed that Humes’ prior testimony about missing autopsy notes had not been entirely truthful.
Now-missing autopsy images seen in 1963
With so many reports of images having been taken that do not now exist, the question naturally arises: Did anyone ever see autopsy images that have since disappeared? The answer, apparently, is yes.
In a previously suppressed HSCA interview, former White House photographer, Robert Knudsen, who has since died, reported that he developed some negatives from JFK’s autopsy, which he examined while he processed them on November 23, 1963. During the HSCA’s investigation, he was shown the complete photographic inventory. Repeatedly resisting pressure to back down, Knudsen insisted that in 1963 he saw at least one image not in the inventory in 1978. “I feel certain that there was the one [photograph] with the two probes [passing through JFK’s chest],” he said.
Knudsen described an image with metal probes which passed completely through JFK’s body from the back to the throat. Describing the path of the probes under oath, he said, “the point in the back (where the probe entered) was a little bit lower than the point in the front … So the probe was going diagonally from top to bottom, front to back … .” (The HSCA’s forensics panel was kept in the dark about Knudsen’s interview.)
Robert Karnei, MD, a pathologist who attended the President's autopsy, gave the HSCA a similar account in a once-secret interview. The HSCA reported that, “ [Karnei] recalls them putting the probe in and taking pictures [the body was on the side at the time] [sic].”
Elsewhere in the record there is a fascinating indirect corroboration of autopsy images having been taken with a probe passed through Kennedy’s body. In a once-secret, internal CBS memorandum, written to describe a private conversation between autopsist Humes and a CBS Washington bureau associate, one reads that, “Humes said one X-ray of the Kennedy autopsy would answer many questions that have been raised about the path of the bullet going from Kennedy’s back through his throat … Although initially in the autopsy procedure the back would could only be penetrated to finger length, a probe later was made – when no FBI men were present – that traced the path of the bullet from the back going downwards, then upwards slightly, then downwards again exiting at the throat. One X-ray photo taken, Humes said, clearly shows the above, as it was apparently taken with a metal probe stick of some kind that was left in the body to show the wound’s path.”
Oswald is supposed to have fired from above and behind JFK, who was sitting upright when he took the nonfatal bullet. If the back wound was indeed the point of entrance, and the throat the exit, Oswald would have had to have fired from a much lower perch than the sixth floor of the School Depository for the back wound to have been lower than the throat wound. [It is worth recalling here that both Rockefeller Commission expert Werner Spitz, MD and the entire HSCA forensic panel concluded that the path from JFK’s back wound to his throat wound had been upward.]
As we have seen, several witnesses claim autopsy photographs that were taken have vanished. But have any witnesses ever testified to seeing now-missing autopsy pictures? The answer is yes.
Saundra Kay Spencer, a photographic technician who developed and printed JFK autopsy images at the Naval Photographic Center (NPC) in November 1963, told the ARRB that she saw an image that revealed a hole one to two inches in diameter in the backside of JFK’s skull. She located the spot on a diagram of a human skull, marking a defect that is considerably larger than, and well below, the small spot interpreted by the HSCA as a wound of entrance. (See Figure 10)
Moreover, she said that the images she developed looked nothing like those in the current inventory, but instead showed JFK’s wounds all “cleaned up”: “…none of the heavy damage that shows in these [National Archives] photographs were visible in the photographs that we did.” Moreover, the paper on which the current photographs are printed is not the paper that was used by her lab in 1963, a point on which she expressed confidence because she had kept in her personal possession, and produced for the ARRB, some of the distinctly different paper that was used at the NPC at the time she printed JFK’s autopsy images.
The significant witness evidence that the ARRB had compiled undermining the HSCA's autopsy conclusions is not the only reason the Review Board found to mistrust the HSCA’s autopsy analysis. It also made the fascinating discovery that the Select Committee had not been entirely frank when it reported that it had authenticated JFK's autopsy photographs.
Did the HSCA Really Authenticate JFK’s Autopsy Photographs?
Given the centrality of autopsy photographs, whose bona fides the Justice Department, the Clark Panel and the Rockefeller Commission took as a given, the HSCA quite rightly sought scientific validation. It got it, announcing that the committee had authenticated the images. But in a footnote in the HSCA’s Volume 6, the committee hinted at a niggling flaw in its endeavor. It reported:
“Because the Department of Defense was unable to locate the camera and lens that were used to take these [autopsy] photographs, the [photographic] panel was unable to engage in an analysis similar to the one undertaken with the Oswald backyard pictures that was designed to determine whether a particular camera in issue had been used to take the photographs that were the subject of inquiry.”
In effect, the HSCA was saying that it was unhappy the original camera was unavailable to totally close the loop. Nevertheless, it expressed satisfaction the loop had been closed enough for confidence in the images because it had found features in the extant images that showed a kind of internal consistency one would find only in authentic images. Those consistencies – the presence in the collection of “stereo pairs” of images, and so on – essentially comprised virtually the entire HSCA case for authentication. But there was an important part of the story the HSCA didn’t tell in either the text or in the footnote.
Luckily, in the late 1990s the JFK Review Board’s Doug Horne did tell it, after he excavated that part of the story from suppressed HSCA files. It is a rather different story than the one implied by the HSCA’s comment, “Because the Department of Defense was unable to locate the camera and lens that were used to take these [autopsy] photographs.” Regarding that very sentence, Horne wrote, “By late 1997, enough related documents had been located and assembled by the authors to bring into serious doubt the accuracy of the HSCA’s [statement].” It was not precisely true the Department of Defense had been unable to locate the camera used to take JFK’s autopsy photographs. After what chief counsel Robert Blakey bitterly complained had been a pattern of stonewalling, the DoD finally lifted a finger.
It turns out that in fact the DoD had found the camera. The DoD wrote the HSCA that the Naval Hospital only had one camera of this type in its possession and that, “the only [camera] in use at the National Naval Medical Center in 1963” had already been sent to the HSCA for study. The HSCA, however, wasn’t pleased with the camera the Defense Department had sent. In a letter asking the Secretary of Defense to look for another one, HSCA chief counsel Robert Blakey explained the problem:
“[O]ur photographic experts have determined that this camera, or at least the particular lens and shutter attached to it, could not have been used to take [JFK’s] autopsy pictures.”
Whereas the HSCA had publicly asserted it had been unable to perform corroboration tests on JFK’s autopsy photographs because original autopsy camera could not be located, the suppressed record suggests that the camera was found, and that the HSCA had in fact conducted corroboration tests, tests that showed the camera didn’t match Kennedy’s images. The HSCA staff elected to keep this nonsensitive information from the public. They also withheld it from their forensic consultants who, like the medical experts on the Clark and Rockefeller panels, had reasonably assumed the pictures were authentic when they formulated their conclusions.
Horne reported that Kodak, which had done work for the Review Board, found no evidence the current autopsy images had been falsified. And as Horne emphasized in his memo, the HSCA’s misstatement, as misleading as it is, may not be as sinister as it seems at first blush. The type of camera used was a “view” camera. It had a flat, square back that houses the double-sided film packs, and an attached bellows. Attached to the front of the bellows are an interchangeable lens and shutter mechanism, which may be switched out for different tasks. Though no records were ever produced suggesting the Navy had ever acquired any additional lenses and shutters besides those that accompanied the camera to the HSCA’s experts, it is possible that the particular lens and shutter used in 1963 may have been replaced by the time the DoD fetched the camera for the HSCA in 1977.
And so a different lens or shutter might explain why the camera didn’t match JFK’s photographs. But unfortunately, there is no certainty that a different lens and shutter actually do explain the mismatch. Horne searched through the files for the tests the HSCA had conducted that proved a mismatch, but could find none. He also searched for the camera, only to discover that it has vanished without a trace. [Given the importance of the images to the case, it is difficult to understand why the Select Committee didn’t pursue the matter further. If the only problem was a mismatch between the photographs and “the particular lens and shutter attached to” the camera, the HSCA could easily have acquired and tested all possible combinations of lenses and shutters used by that type camera. They then could have determined if any combination was capable of producing matching images.]
So while Horne was unable to confirm an innocent explanation for the mismatch, he was unable to exclude the obvious, sinister explanation: photo tampering. The Kodak finding that the extant images reveal no tampering may prove that the extant images themselves have no internal inconsistencies that would prove tampering. It cannot, however, prove that no images are missing, which, evidence suggests, may well be the case. Nor can it disprove another possibility that was suggested by eyewitness Saundra Spencer (above): that Spencer did in fact see a different set of images than the current set. For while “stereo-pairing” of images showing JFK’s facial features may be useful in arguing for their authenticity, “stereo-pairing” does not prove that pictures of the back of JFK’s head are internally consistent with the rest of the photographs.
The theory of some kind of photographic “doctoring,” therefore, is not mere lunacy; it has significant support in the record. In fact, when Francis O’Neill, one of the FBI agents who had witnessed JFK’s autopsy, was shown the autopsy photograph revealing no damage to the backside of JFK’s head, he told the ARRB under oath, “This looks like it’s been doctored in some way.”
Michael Baden and the Mystery of JFK’s Autopsy Photographs
Famed New York coroner Michael Baden, MD was the chairman of the HSCA’s panel of forensic consultants. He is a favorite of Warren loyalists because he is the most prominent, and among the best credentialed, spokesman who argues from the autopsy evidence for Oswald’s guilt. His pro-Warren conclusions are cited in books by anti-conspiracists. Typical of such comments are those of Jim Moore, author of the book, “Conspiracy of One,” who praised Baden for his deep learning and his objectivity: “I’ve included Dr. Baden’s comments [in my book] to illustrate to even the die-hard skeptics that those most familiar with the case (and without an axe of their own to grind at the public expense) (sic) believe that a lone assassin wounded Governor Connally and killed President Kennedy.”
In his 1989 book, “Unnatural Death,” Dr. Baden offered an extraordinary explanation for the problems there are with JFK’s autopsy photographs:
“The [autopsy] photographer was there, the corpsman who usually took pictures of damaged hearts and cirrhotic livers and other diseases. He was snapping away when he caught the attention of an FBI agent, who came up to him and asked for his clearance. ‘Clearance?’ said the corpsman. ‘This is my job.’ The agent took away his camera, exposed all the film, and threw him out. (The exposed film is in the archive.) (sic) ‘We’ve got our own man taking pictures,’ the FBI agent said. The FBI photographer, who had clearance, was in the same quandary as Humes. He had never taken autopsy pictures before and was untrained in photographing gunshot wounds. The photographs of the body’s interior were out of focus … Before the President was buried, no one, either in Dallas or Washington, looked at both sides of the body, front and back, and realized that a bullet had entered the back and exited the throat … .”
Although rich with the sort of dark implications that set conspiratorialist’s heart aflutter, unfortunately only one of Baden’s five factual assertions is true – the one about autopsy negatives being exposed. The rest are false. It is not true, for example, that the FBI fired the experienced Navy autopsy photographer from the Kennedy shoot. In a 1992 Journal of the American Medical Association interview, JFK’s pathologist, James Humes, called Baden’s imaginative tale, “an incredible lie … the official photos [that were] taken by John Stringer were never touched.” Humes seethed at Baden’s having called the Navy’s photographer – “who usually took pictures of damaged hearts and cirrhotic livers” – a corpsman: “The medical school’s director of photography was a civilian, John Stringer.” While Humes’s remarks were published after Baden’s book appeared, Baden had reason to know about Stringer even at the time he wrote his book.
Stringer’s photographic work during JFK’s autopsy was first documented in November 1963 by the very official body Baden had charged with usurpation – the FBI. Written by the only two FBI agents who were present in the morgue, Francis O’Neill and James Sibert, this so-called “Sibert and O’Neill” report is an oft-cited source. It is the sort of document that Baden must have seen during his tenure with the HSCA. In contrast to Baden, Sibert and O’Neill refer to a “complete listing of photographs and X-rays taken by the medical authorities of the President’s body.” There is no reference to images taken by an untrained, inexperienced FBI substitute photographer whose qualifications consisted of “clearance.” Stringer was also one of the four who had (apparently falsely) attested to the completeness of the photo inventory by signing the January 10, 1967 ‘Report of Inspection,’ a document that Baden probably would also have seen.
Moreover, Baden was wrong to suggest that JFK’s photographer had never photographed an autopsy before. Stringer was an experienced practitioner and teacher. Humes once described Stringer as “one of the best medical photographers in the world.” And, as the Review Board learned, Stringer was acknowledged by his peers as such a master of the craft that the Navy routinely sent men to Stringer to learn the tricks of medical/autopsy photography under the master’s exacting tutelage.
Baden’s story was not entirely without foundation, however. Some film was confiscated by authorities during the autopsy. Baden was probably thinking of a similar episode, one in which an un unauthorized corpsman’s film was removed from his camera by the Secret Service, not the FBI. That corpsman was apparently Floyd Reibe who, though he was Stringer’s assistant, was not the man who usually took autopsy photographs. [Although the Secret Service had confiscated some of his film, Reibe apparently did in fact play a role in photographing some aspects of the autopsy.] As Humes correctly pointed out in JAMA, “no one from the FBI even had a camera, let alone the intention to take autopsy photos.”
In Baden’s defense, though, it is only fair to note that ten years had passed between Baden’s official duties and the writing of his book. So, one might argue, 1960s evidence for Stringer’s role might not have loomed very large in the late 1980s.
What should have perhaps loomed a bit larger is the work of the HSCA forensics panel. The Panel’s report, which Baden, as chairman, must have at least glanced at, (though he did not actually write it) occupies the greater portion of volume 7. On page 10 of that volume, one reads:
“Stringer and Reibe took the autopsy photographs under the direction of Dr. Humes … Stringer also stated that a federal agent took a camera from Reibe and exposed the film. This apparently occurred because the agent felt Stringer was the only person authorized to photograph the body and that Reibe was only to assist Stringer and not take photographs on his own initiative.” [It is not clear, however, that all the images Reibe took were destroyed. Both the HSCA and ARRB developed evidence that even though some of his pictures were confiscated, he may have taken others that were not.]
Thus, Baden had good reason to know that the man who usually took autopsy photographs at Bethesda was the same man who actually took JFK’s, and that the FBI had not replaced him with someone of their own choosing. Intriguingly, two pages later, the HSCA’s forensics report drew Stringer into a controversy the HSCA never really explored:
“Stringer, one of the photographers, stated that [besides Humes] he also thought he had taken some interior photographs of the President’s chest.”
There is a particular irony to this observation. In this HSCA passage, the forensics panel cited Stringer as corroborating Humes’s assertions that now-missing interior body photographs were in fact taken. In his book, by contrast, Baden had written that “photographs of the body’s interior were out of focus.” But Stringer’s and Humes’s point was that in the official inventory there are no photographs of the interior of JFK’s body – in or out of focus. Since Baden had seen the inventory himself, and since he had heard Stringer’s and Humes’s testimonies, the forensics chairman had reason to know this fact, too.
The question of missing images was one that the HSCA would have done well to have addressed. Because, as previously explored, it wasn’t just Humes and Stringer who had said that photographs that were taken on the night of the autopsy are missing, so also had the assistant photographer, Reibe, and three other physicians – Boswell, Finck and Karnei.
Although it claimed it had located no medical/autopsy evidence supporting conspiracy, the HSCA nevertheless wrote, “The Committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of conspiracy.” Given that orientation, it is hard to fathom why the HSCA’s evidence about the autopsy camera and autopsy witnesses were misrepresented in a way that undermined the HSCA’s own conspiracy conclusions. And why, if not to intentionally hide those dark implications, the HSCA elected to withhold the nonsensitive documents from the public. It is also difficult to explain why so much autopsy-related evidence, including the conflicted autopsy camera evidence, was withheld from the authorities the HSCA had hired as their expert interpreters. It is also hard to fathom why the forensics panel was not more curious about the President’s personal physician, George Burkley, MD, or about reports of missing autopsy photographs.
But the fact remains that much was withheld and misrepresented, and that the experts didn’t distinguish themselves by aggressively pursuing closure to gaps in the evidence. And so, on the inadequate base of data it had, the forensic panel drew conclusions that, at least as pertains JFK’s known wounds, left Oswald a reasonable suspect.
*HSCA Appendix D: A Critique of President Kennedy: Autopsy. Six Seconds in Dallas, (sic) by Josiah Thompson.
*Wecht, CH, Smith, RP. The Medical Evidence in the Assassination of President Kennedy. Forensic Science, 3:105 – 128, 1974.
* Wecht, CH. JFK Assassination: A Prolonged and Willful Cover-up. Modern Medicine, 10/28/74.
* Cyril Wecht interviewed by Ken Rankin in Physician Management, October, 1975 (Part I: The Evidence); (Part 2: The Cover-up”), November, 1975.
* Wecht, CH. A Post Mortem on the Warrenfeller Commission. Juris, December, 1975.
 See discussions by author Aguilar in: Murder in Dealey Plaza, edited by James Fetzer, Chicago: Catfeet Press, 2000, 2001, and in: Charles Crenshaw. Trauma Room One. New York: Paraview Press, 2001.
 HSCA rec. # 189-10089-10178, agency file # 000661, p.2. Also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #63, see p. 2. On the day of their interview Purdy and Conzelman signed a diagram prepared and also signed by Robinson. The sketch depicts a defect directly in the central, lower rear portion of the skull. (HSCA doc # 180-10089-10179, agency file # 000662), also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #63, p. 14.
 HSCA rec. # 180-10105-10397, agency file number # 014461, p. 2.) The authors are unaware of any diagram Rudnicki might have prepared.
 HSCA record # 10010042, agency file # 002086, p. 2.
 Loftus, Elizabeth F. Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996, p. 25 – 26.
 Marshall, Marquis and Oskamp, Vol.84:1620 - 1643, 1971.
 E Loftus, JM Doyle. Eyewitness Testimony: Civil and Criminal, Second Edition. Charlottesville: The Michie Company, 1992
 Report of Inspection by Naval Medical Staff on 11/1/66 at National Archives of X-rays and Photographs of President John F. Kennedy. In: Weisberg, H., Post Mortem, p.573. Also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #13, see p. 11.
 HSCA rec. # 180-10093-10429. Agency file # 002070, p. 11. Also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #19, see p. 11. Stringer apparently was not satisfied with the explanation given him for the missing photos, for the HSCA reported, “He (Stringer) noted that the receipt he had said some of the film holders (sic) had no film in one side of the cassettes. He said the receipt said this happened in two or three of the film holders where one side only was allegedly loaded. He said he could understand it if the film holders were reported to have poorly exposed or defective film but could not believe that there were any sides on the film holders which were not loaded with film...."
 A. Purdy. HSCA, JFK Collection. RG #233, file #002198, p.5.
 David Lifton, Best Evidence, p.638.
 George Lardner. “Archive Photos Not of JFK’s Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board – Staff Member Contends 2 Different Specimens Were Examined,” Washington Post 11/10/98. See also ARRB deposition of John Stringer, July 16, 1996, p. 221.
 This issue is further discussed in: The Medical Case for Conspiracy, which is chapter 8 of the book, Trauma Room One by Charles Crenshaw, MD. New York: Paraview Press, 2001.
 Memorandum for file, August 28, 1996 by the ARRB’s Doug Horne, entitled “Questions Regarding Supplementary Brain Examination(s) Following the Autopsy on President John F. Kennedy."
 This issue is further discussed in: The Medical Case for Conspiracy, which is chapter 8 of the book, Trauma Room One by Charles Crenshaw, MD. New York: Paraview Press, 2001.
 HSCA Agency File Number 002198, page 5.
 From an internal CBS MEMORANDUM (sic) dated 10 January 1967 written from Bob Richter to Les Midgley, reproduced in: Heearing Before the Legislation and National Security Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, First Session, November 17, 1993, p. 233. Also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #16.
 Memorandum for File, written by Doug Horne for the JFK Review Board, entitled, “Unanswered Questions Raised by the HSCA’s Analysis and Conclusions Regarding the Camera Identified by the Navy and the department of Defense as the Camera Used at President’ Kennedy’s Autopsy, p. 2.
 The HSCA encountered significant difficulty with the Department of defense. In an executive session, chief counsel Robert Blakey complained that “the Committee should be made aware of the situation with respect to the Department of Defense. The staff had gotten virtually no cooperation from the Department of Defense on a number of issues – access to records, access to the camera involved in the autopsy, removing of the order of silence dealing with the military personnel associated with the autopsy … The record of contacts, including letters and personal phone calls, in our effort to get this done is disturbing, disheartening, and it paints not a pretty picture of the general lack of attention to the Committee’s business.” See HSCA Executive Session Transcript of February 27, 1978, p. 34 -36.
 This sentence is taken from a letter sent by John G. Kester, Assistant to Secretary of Defense Brown for HSCA-related matters in response to the HSCA’s request for the camera used at the autopsy. Cited in Memorandum for File, written by Doug Horne for the JFK Review Board, entitled, “Unanswered Questions Raised by the HSCA’s Analysis and Conclusions Regarding the Camera Identified by the Navy and the department of Defense as the Camera Used at President’ Kennedy’s Autopsy," p. 4.
 This is discussed at length in an essay written by author Aguilar, in: Charles Crenshaw, MD, Trauma Room One. New York: Paraview Press, 2001, p. 213, 227, 278. See also: sworn testimony of FBI agent Francis O’Neill before the ARRB, 9/12/97, p. 158.
 See numerous references to Baden in the book Case Closed by Gerald Posner; New York: Anchor Books – Doubleday, 1993.
 Jim Moore. Conspiracy of One – The Definitive Book on the Kennedy Assassination. Fort Worth: The Summit Group, 1990, p. 193.
 Michael Baden, MD. Unnatural Death – Confessions of a Medical Examiner. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990, p. 11.
 Sibert and O’Neill report. Reproduced in: Harold Weisberg, Post Mortem. Frederick, Maryland, 1975, p. 536. Or in: Richard Popkin. The Second Oswald. New York: Avon Books, 1966, p. 126. Also reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #44.
 See ARRB interview with the Bethesda Naval Hospital photographer, Earl McDonald, who followed in John Stringer’s footsteps. McDonald said Stringer, the “senior medical photographer” at Bethesda, had trained him in autopsy photography at the Naval Hospital in the 1970s. McDonald, who himself rose to become Bethesda’s “senior medical photographer,” (1986 – 1989) described Stringer as “an award-winning medical photographer and an exacting teacher.” In: ARRB Medical Document #228.
 “Dr. (George S.) Loquavam prepared the initial draft and conclusions of this [the HSCA’s Forensic Panel] report. Subsequently it was redrafted and edited by Dr. (James) Weston … .” Quoted from: HSCA, vol. 7:75. The final editor, Weston, had appeared in the 1975 CBS series supporting the Warren Commission findings.