Chapter 10: Examining the Examinations
The beginning of a detailed examination of the medical evidence, focusing on the manipulation of the back wound's location between 1963 and 1969
For reasons beyond my grasp, the first image in each chapter sometimes
fails to appear. If there's nothing up above, don't despair; you can still see the image here
The Wandering Wounds
Let us now discuss the
medical evidence in the excruciating detail it requires.
While defenders of the FBI and Warren Commission, such as historian Max Holland, like to pretend there is nothing to discuss here, as all the questions have long been answered (In November 1995's American Heritage Magazine, Holland actually claimed that the "passing controversy over the President's autopsy..had been fairly easily resolved"), I suspect the reader will come to agree that the questions publicly asked and answered have been just the tip of the iceberg.
Let us begin, then, by examining the
movement of the President’s back wound.
On the evening of the assassination, an autopsy was performed on the President at Bethesda Naval Hospital. During the autopsy, Dr. J. Thornton Boswell marked the location of the President’s wounds on a pre-existing outline of a body, on a piece of paper called a face sheet. This face sheet was eventually published in one of the 26 supporting volumes of the Warren Report.
On March 16, 1964, almost four months later, however, the autopsy
doctors--Dr. Humes, Dr. Boswell and Dr. Finck--were called to testify before
the Warren Commission. In preparation
for their testimony, and at the urging of Warren Commission counsel Arlen
Specter, Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell met with medical illustrator Skip Rydberg
and created three drawings depicting the President’s wounds. As the doctors were not allowed access to the
autopsy photos, or even the face sheet, during the creation of these drawings, they were forced to rely purely on their memories.
They were not pleased with having to do so. Dr. Humes, in fact, testified that the autopsy photos would demonstrate the wounds more
clearly than the drawings, and admitted that the drawings were “schematic” and imprecise. His use of the word “schematic”
was no mistake, either. A schematic depicts an
“arrangement of ideas into a systematic order,” according to an old Webster’s,
and is thus an admitted distortion. One of the three drawings demonstrates the presumed trajectory of the bullet creating the back wound and depicts the
location of the wounds as viewed from the side. Yet another of the drawings depicts the trajectory of the fatal bullet and presumed position of the President’s head
at the moment of the fatal shot's impact. And the third drawing shows how these wounds might
appear from behind.
And that's just the beginning of the problems related to these drawings. As shown above, the location of the back wound on the face sheet
was several inches lower than the location of the wound on Rydberg's drawings. This was problematic. Since Oswald was believed to have fired at the President
from a sniper’s nest more than 60 feet above and behind the President, it follows that if he were the shooter the President’s back wound would be at
a higher point on his body than the purported exit on his throat. And yet the back wound on the face sheet was below the throat wound...
It should come as no surprise then that the upwards migration of the back wound for the Warren Commission's exhibits was taken
by many as an indication Warren Commission Counsel Arlen Specter had moved the wound to support his “single-bullet theory,” which held that a bullet passed through Kennedy from the sniper's nest location, and proceeded to hit Governor John Connally seated in front of Kennedy.
But it's a bit more complicated than that.
To get a clear understanding of why and how the wounds moved, we must go back to November 22nd, 1963, when the doctors performing the autopsy had a serious problem. They found a small entrance hole on the back of the President’s head, and a large exit hole by his temple, and concluded these holes were caused by the same bullet, but couldn’t figure out what became of the bullet causing a wound in the President’s back. When they learned that a bullet was found on a stretcher in Dallas, they concluded that this bullet must have fallen from the back wound during heart massage. Apparently, neither the doctors nor the FBI agents at the autopsy were aware that Dr. Perry, one of the doctors in Dallas, had already discussed a wound on the President’s throat at a press conference covered by the media.
The next day, however, after talking to Dr. Perry, and realizing he had performed a tracheotomy incision through this throat wound, and had thereby obscured its appearance, Dr. Humes concluded that the bullet penetrating the President’s back had proceeded to exit his throat. What’s important to understand, however, is that Dr. Humes made this deduction without re-inspecting the President’s body, and without even consulting the autopsy photos, which had been seized by the Secret Service. Only adding to his confusion was the unfortunate fact that Dr. Humes was a laboratory pathologist, accustomed to inspecting specimens to confirm a pre-existing diagnoses, and lacked experience as a forensic pathologist, whose job, according to Dr. Cyril Wecht, is “to establish independently the exact cause and manner of death.”
This lack of proper training, then, helps explain Dr. Humes’ inclusion of newspaper accounts in his subsequent report. His inclusion of these items as support three shots were fired from above and behind, furthermore,
helps us understand that Dr. Humes was trying to match the wounds to the shots, as opposed to the other way around.
Knowledge of these accounts, moreover, would serve to discourage Humes from concluding there were more than three shots fired, or that any of the shots could have
come from anyplace but above and behind. Dr. Humes simply concluded that there
was an entrance on the back and an exit towards the front of the President’s
skull, and an entrance high on the President’s back and an exit near that level
on his throat. Thus, the President must have been hit twice. Since Governor
Connally, sitting in front of the President, had also been hit, this would
account for the three shots heard by the witnesses. It was apparently just that simple for Humes. He really thought he’d figured it out. Keep in mind that he had marginal experience with
wound ballistics and bullet trajectories, and had acknowledged problems with
angles and numbers. Humes just used his
common sense and came to a common sense solution. Four holes and no bullets in
the body meant two shots struck the President. Period.
Unfortunately, a deduction such as
this can have side effects. The
memory research of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus reveals that when people are asked to
imagine a plausible event their imagined events can creep into their memories. It is not illogical, therefore, to presume that Dr.
Humes’ and Dr. Boswell’s attempt to determine--when Kennedy's body was no longer in front of them--if the wound on his back could
connect to a wound in the location of the tracheotomy incision led to their recalling the back wound at a point higher than its actual location, in line with a shot from where they'd been told the rifle had been fired. Thus, the memories of the doctors may have been tainted even before meeting with Warren Commission counsel, and future U.S. Senator, Arlen
But the Warren Commission undoubtedly encouraged the
tainting. On January 27th 1964, in executive session, Chief Counsel
J. Lee Rankin told the Warren Commission that the face sheet (which he called a
picture) placed the back wound below the throat wound and that he would be
seeking the doctors’ “help” along these lines. While it seems clear the Rydberg drawings’ depiction of the back wound above
the throat wound was the very “help” Rankin was looking for, it does not mean the
drawings were deliberate deceptions, however, as the doctors may have honestly come to believe the back wound was above the throat wound.
Note that I wrote "may." As noted by Dr. Cyril Wecht in Six Seconds in Dallas (1967), when one reflects that the autopsists, by their own admission, at one point suspected that the bullet creating Kennedy's non-fatal wound had been forced back out the entrance during cardiac massage, it's quite difficult to imagine how they could possibly have come to believe this entrance was on the back of Kennedy's neck (where it is depicted in the Rydberg drawings), as opposed to being on his back (where it is depicted on the face sheet). It seems likely, then, that the drawings were a deliberate deception.
Even so, events subsequent to the introduction of the Rydberg drawings suggest that the worst deceptions came later. Dr. Humes testified on March 16 that the drawings were schematic and that the autopsy photos would more accurately depict the President's wounds. The transcript to an April 30th executive session of the Warren Commission, furthermore, reflects that Counsel Rankin himself
requested that Dr. Humes be allowed to examine the autopsy photos and compare
them to the Rydberg drawings. This
request, for that matter, was triggered by a memo of that same day from of all men Arlen Specter,
“Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist. Some day someone may compare the films with the artist’s drawings and find a significant error which might substantially affect the essential testimony and the Commission's conclusions. In any event, the Commission should not rely on hazy recollections, especially in view of the statement in the autopsy report (Commission Exhibit #387) that:
"The complexity of those fractures and the fragments thus produced tax safisfactory verbal description and are better appreciated in the photographs and roentgenograms which are prepared."
While Rankin’s request was approved by the only commissioners in attendance--Dulles, McCloy, and Warren--and while a May 12th memo from Specter indicates that an inspection by Humes was forthcoming (see Chapter 3b), no such inspection took place, due to the admitted interference of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who decided to inspect them himself.
Warren's viewing the photos all by himself was one of the most questionable acts in an investigation defined by its questionable acts. As revealed in Edward Epstein's book Inquest (1966), in late May, 1964, around the time he was set to inspect the autopsy photos, Chief Justice Warren suddenly announced that the commission would not be publishing the testimony and evidence gathered at its hearings, including the drawings created by the autopsy doctors. While the reason provided by Warren for this sudden change of heart was the expense of publishing this material, this was a rash decision on his part, one not made with the blessings of his fellow commissioners. This then supports the possibility a private inspection of the photos had led Warren to realize that the doctors' drawings were deceptive, and that he was trying to find a way to keep this hidden from the public. (Warren's decision not to publish the testimony and evidence and autopsy drawings was soon overturned by his fellow commissioners, none of whom had seen the autopsy photos.)
Warren’s stated excuse
for not allowing others to look at the photos, moreover--that he himself had looked at the photos and found them horrible and unnecessary to
the work of the Commission--is truly hard to believe.
Still, when one considers
that Warren was later to admit he found the case against Oswald a relatively
simple matter, and was reported in a November 1966 Newsweek article to have boasted "If I were still a district attorney and the Oswald case came into my jurisdiction, given the same evidence, I could have gotten a conviction in two days, and never heard about the case again," it seems possible he considered his task of being fair to Oswald a pointless one, and that this justified his exclusion of
what he believed to be horrifying medical evidence from the record.
One might think the Chief Justice of the United States would have better sense than to deny such an important case its “best evidence” for personal or political purposes, but this was but one of numerous decisions made by Warren that reflect he saw the commission’s work as political.
An August, 17, 1992 article in U.S. News & World Report,
written with the cooperation of the surviving Warren Commission counsel,
supports that Warren saw the commission's work in this light. Here, it was disclosed that he'd become severely agitated when he was informed that the final report of his commission would not be ready
by July 1, 1964, as originally projected and as promised President Johnson.
Here, it was also reported that after this failure the White House gave Warren
a new deadline of August 24, the day of the Democratic convention. That this
second deadline was given to Warren
by McGeorge Bundy, Johnson’s National Security Adviser, is especially
Warren's denial that politics played any role in the commission's actions is also quite intriguing... Was he lying? Or was he simply in denial? When asked, in a November 3, 1971 oral history interview performed for the Johnson Library, if conducting the investigation in a campaign year "posed any problem" for the Commission, Warren at first grew confused, and tried to claim the investigation was in '63. He then realized his mistake, and answered "No, no, really it was no factor. It was no factor at all, no factor at all." Okay. When asked, in a March 26, 1974 interview by Warren Commission historian Alfred Goldberg if the Commission's report would have been better if the Commission had had more time, however, Warren said something quite different. He said "We had all the time we wanted. If we had gone any further we would have gone into the political mess of the Presidential campaign." While he then added "There were no avenues left to explore," this was clearly cover for what he'd just admitted. The Commission's report was rushed out, after all, before the fingerprints in the sniper's nest could all be identified, and before the FBI's investigation of a mysterious sighting of Oswald in the company of anti-Castro Cubans could be completed.
That the Warren Commission was infected by political considerations from its beginning, however, can not reasonably be disputed. Heck, even its chief defender, former counsel David Belin, in his book on the assassination, You Be The Jury, acknowledged that the ramifications of Warren’s decision not to replace a no-show senior counsel named Francis Adams for fear how it might look, and to instead dump Adams’ responsibilities in the lap of the relatively inexperienced Arlen Specter, were “indeed chilling”.
comments in his final years, however, should make one suspect there was something more to his
decision to withhold the autopsy photos from the doctors than his simple
concern for the Kennedy family’s privacy, and desire to move the Commission forward. In March 1974, a few months before his death, for example, Warren told Commission historian Alfred Goldberg, who’d asked “On reflection, do you
think it would have been better to have permitted the Commission staff access
to the x-rays of the President?” that “On reflection, I do not believe that
access to the x-rays should have been given. The public was given the best evidence available, the personal testimony
of the doctors who performed the autopsy. In a trial, the court would not have permitted the x-rays to be
introduced because it would have operated against the defendant. This decision was largely mine but the
Warren's answer to Goldberg is both hard to believe and historically inaccurate. Since when has a drawing of a victim’s wounds based upon a doctor’s verbal recollections been considered “better evidence” than a photo taken at the actual autopsy? Particularly when the doctor’s own testimony says the x-rays and photos taken at the autopsy would better demonstrate these wounds? And since when have x-rays been considered too prejudicial to be allowed into evidence? X-rays have been admitted into evidence since 1896. And if Warren was so hesitant to use the x-rays, then how come not one but nine x-rays of Governor Connally's broken bones were entered into evidence and printed in Volume 17 of his Commission's Report?
(In 2013, with the publication of Philip Shenon's A Cruel and Shocking Act, another curiosity about Goldberg's question and Warren's answer would become apparent. Goldberg told Shenon that he'd been shown Kennedy's autopsy photos in 1964--presumably in May. Goldberg said, furthermore, that his viewing of these photos helped him understand "more clearly than before why Warren had been determined to block the staff from seeing them." Well, heck, is it just a coincidence then that Goldberg asked Warren about the x-rays, and said nothing about the photos?)
And that's just the start of it... In 1977, in his posthumously published memoirs, Warren once again discussed the Kennedy assassination medical evidence, and finally confirmed the rumors dating back to at least November 1966 that he'd viewed the autopsy materials. (The 11-18-66 issue of Life Magazine featured an article on Robert Kennedy by Hugh Sidey in which it was incorrectly claimed Robert Kennedy had withheld the autopsy photos and x-rays from the Warren Commission, but correctly claimed Warren had seen these materials. One wonders then, who told these things to Sidey.) In any event, in his memoirs Warren repeated his nonsensical claim that his personally viewing these materials and withholding them from others was not at all unorthodox and was, in fact, in Oswald's best interest. He insisted: "the procedure adopted by the Commission was the one commonly used in criminal court to establish cause of death. In such circumstances, the court would not permit the prosecution to exhibit such a revolting picture because of the prejudice it would instill in the minds of the jury."
Even if Warren truly believed the photos and x-rays to have been too private to be placed into a
public record, why should the autopsy doctors themselves, who’d already seen
Kennedy’s body, and had, in fact, scooped out his brains, have been denied the
opportunity to check their findings against the photos and x-rays they
themselves had taken? The offered
explanation that Warren wanted everything used by the Commission to be made
public just doesn’t fly and is refuted by the thousands of FBI and CIA documents on Oswald he
unquestioningly withheld from this very same public. In sum, then, Warren’s
withholding the autopsy materials from the doctors makes no sense unless one
accepts that Warren was either an
incompetent old fool more concerned with protecting people’s memories of
Kennedy than in solving his murder, or was a competent politician tasked with white-washing what he knew to be a very complicated killing.
In 2005, I decided to research Warren’s comment that the x-rays could not have been used in a court of law because they would have “operated against the defendant” and instill "prejudice" in "the minds of the jury." I concluded he was citing Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. It holds: “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading of the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” Introduction to Criminal Evidence by Jon R. Waltz discusses this a bit further. It says that photographs are admissible provided that:
- The relevance of whatever the photographic evidence depicts must be demonstrated;
- The evidence must be shown to constitute a true and accurate representation of what it depicts; and
- The probative worth of the photographic evidence must not be outweighed by a potential for unfair prejudice stemming from its gruesome or inflammatory nature.
On the other hand, Waltz notes that “Ever since Franklin
(Franklin V. State, GA, 1882) it has been the rule that photographs and films
are not ruled inadmissible simply because they depict in a graphic way the
details of a shocking or revolting crime. They will be deemed inadmissible only if they are irrelevant to the
issues in the case or where their probative worth is outweighed by their
potential for unfair prejudice.” Furthermore, Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence holds that “'Relevant
Evidence' means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact
that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less
probable than it would be without the evidence,” and Rule 402 holds that “All
relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the
Constitution of the United States…”
These rules then lead me to conclude that the autopsy photos would have been inadmissible for the prosecution of Oswald, but thoroughly admissible for his defense. Let us be clear, then: if Oswald had lived and went to trial, his defense would have been entitled to view the photos and to hire an expert to inspect them. If this expert found anything on the photos and x-rays that suggested there was more than one shooter, or that the shots were fired from somewhere other than behind, Oswald’s defense would have been free to enter the photos into evidence, submit them before a jury, and have their expert give his opinion.
But Jack Ruby deprived Oswald of his life, and Earl Warren
deprived Oswald of a fair trial (in the court of public opinion). The Warren Commission asked the President of
the American Bar Association, Walter E. Craig, to advise the commission whether
“the proceedings conformed to the basic principles of American justice.” There is no indication Warren ever told Craig
he'd decided to keep the medical evidence away from anyone who might be able to
And there's yet another reason to believe Warren's decision to withhold the photos was inappropriate. While Warren
was the sole commissioner to view the photos, and was supposed to report back
on what he saw to the other commissioners, he was not accompanied by an expert
when he viewed the photos, and was by no means qualified to offer an expert
opinion on what he saw. The
circumstances undoubtedly called for an expert witness. Waltz defines an expert
witness as someone whose “opinions, inferences, or conclusions depend on a
special skill or training not within the ordinary experience of lay jurors.” He
also states that “it has generally been true that an expert witness must first
describe the data on which his or her opinion, inference, or conclusion is
based or, in the alternative, the witness must testify in response to a
hypothetical question that sets forth the underlying data.” Warren
created no record detailing why he was expert enough to interpret the photos,
and what methodology he used in interpreting them. It seems clear, therefore, that if Oswald had been tried in a court of law, and been convicted, after the
presiding judge had behaved like Warren
and prevented the autopsy evidence from even being examined, Oswald’s
conviction would have been overturned.
Ironically, the court over-turning Oswald’s conviction might very well have been Warren’s own.
Dox Back Wound/Fox Autopsy Photo
But that's not the only reason this tracing is important.
Since the back wound tracing is a near-exact likeness of an alleged autopsy photo first printed
by writer David Lifton, the release and publication of this tracing strongly suggests that the autopsy photos made available to
the research community by former Secret Service agent James Fox are indeed
copies of the originals in the National Archives.
With this in mind, then, we can compare the photo to the tracing/drawing, to see if anything was left off. When
one does that one finds that the chief difference between the Fox photo
and the Dox drawing is that a small mark near the bullet entrance,
apparently dried blood, has been left off the drawing.
There is also what appears to be a fold in the back of the neck at the
top of the ruler in the drawing, that is unseen in the photo. Now, these could both be innocent mistakes. It is interesting, nonetheless, that both
these mistakes helped the HSCA with its argument that there was one back wound,
near the neck, consistent with a shot from the Texas School Book
That the wound in the drawing is clearly wider than tall, however, is a bit more problematic. The measurements on Kennedy's face sheet for this wound were 7 by 4. This suggests, then, that it was in fact 7 mm wide by 4 mm long, and the exact opposite dimensions of the wound described in Dr. Humes’ testimony before the Warren Commission, and depicted in the Rydberg drawings. Humes had, after all, told the Commission "The size of this wound was 4 by 7 mm., with the long axis being in accordance with the long axis of the body, 4 mm. wide, in other words, 7 mm. long."
Since Humes was not allowed to consult
autopsy photos before over-seeing the creation of the Rydberg drawings,
of course, it remains possible that he
was merely confused, and that he'd created the drawings in accordance
with his conclusion the bullet creating this wound had come from above.
The Clark Panel reinspecting the photos in 1968, however, had no such excuse. Their report claimed: "The wound with its marginal abrasion measures approximately 7 mm in width, and 10 mm in length." It then offered "The dimensions of this cutaneous wound are consistent with those of a wound produced by a bullet similar to that which constitutes exhibit CE 399." Hmmm... they were thereby suggesting that the wound as measured at autopsy--a wound 40% as long--was not consistent with CE 399.
Dr. Richard Lindenberg of the Rockefeller
Commission medical panel, a close associate of Dr. Fisher of the Clark Panel, moreover, repeated the Clark Panel's lie about the length of the wound. After inspecting the photos in 1975 he wrote a report describing the back wound
in the photo as “7 mm in width and 10 mm in length.” So much for his credibility.
My observation that the wound was wider than tall is shared by basically everyone to
view the photo, including single-assassin theorist John Lattimer, who
described the wound seen in the photo as
“6 mm x 8 mm in size, with the longer axis transverse” (meaning wide).
Since the 15 by 6 entrance in the skull described on the face sheet was also transposed in Humes' testimony to be 6mm wide by 15mm long, and since the re-interpretation of these measurements was helpful in convincing the public the shots came from above, one might rightly wonder--hmmm--if the transposition of the measurements taken at autopsy in Humes' testimony was yet another part of the “help” offered Rankin.
It’s important to remember, however, that Kennedy's entrance wound measurements were determined by the Army doctor Pierre Finck, and that Finck’s precise method of wound measurement--whether he consistently listed width before length or vice-versa-- may not have been known to the Navy doctors Humes and Boswell.
So the evidence on this is unclear. It may be that Humes just screwed up.
But if he did so, he did so repeatedly. He had Rydberg place the back wound in the wrong location on the drawings. He had Rydberg draw this wound with the incorrect proportions. And he claimed he'd provided the measurements taken at autopsy to Rydberg to help him with his drawings, when he almost certainly did not...
Yep, although Humes testified that “We had made
certain measurements of the wounds and of their position on the body of the
late President, and we provided these and supervised directly Mr. Rydberg in
making these drawings,” it seems clear he was either horribly mistaken about this, or lying through his teeth.
Just ask the man who was taking his testimony, Arlen Specter. Humes testified on March 16, 1964. And yet Specter, in his 4-30-64 memo to Rankin, wrote “Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist. Some day someone may compare the films with the artist’s drawings and find a significant error which might substantially affect the essential testimony and the Commission's conclusions. In any event, the Commission should not rely on hazy recollections..."
And just ask Rydberg. In 2001, Skip Rydberg emerged from the shadows to tell his story. He spoke to researcher Barry Keane, and made an appearance at the 2003 Lancer Conference in Dallas. Rydberg revealed at this time that Humes did not provide him with any measurements regarding the President's wounds.
But that's not all Rydberg revealed. A 2002 article on Rydberg by Barry Keane, updated in 2007, reproduced a 3-27-64 letter of commendation provided Rydberg for the creation of his drawings. This letter, from Humes', Boswell's and Rydberg's superior, Capt. John Stover, described the circumstances of Rydberg's creation of the drawings. It reported: “During the period 12 to 15 March 1964 you were called upon to prepare, on extremely short notice, highly technical medical illustrations, using only verbal instructions given you by officers of this Command. These illustrations were required and utilized in a presentation by this Command before a very high level agency of the United States Government. This work was performed in an outstanding fashion, in a most expedient manner, and utilized for the most part off-duty hours. The illustrations thus produced most accurately depicted the situation required.”
The "situation required," not the "reality observed"...
And should that not be telling enough, there's also this. When Rydberg asked Dr. Boswell in May, 1968, for a recommendation,
Boswell wrote back that he was “somewhat circumspect about putting anything in
writing or discussing this due to continuing controversy.”
Hmmm... We have good reason, then, to think Humes' "mistakes" were not only not mistakes, but deliberate misrepresentations of the evidence.
It did seem a bit of a coincidence that his "mistakes" all helped the Warren Commission sell that Oswald acted alone.
Well, then why would he specify in his testimony that the autopsy photos would better reflect the President's wounds?
Well, the thought occurs that he was having second thoughts...
Well, then, what about Arlen Specter, the man who urged the doctors to create the drawings, then took their testimony, then put the Rydberg drawings into evidence? If he knew the drawings were inaccurate, why did he later ask that they be compared to the autopsy photos?
Was he having second thoughts as...well?
What was his role in all this?
Back Wound in Motion
As we've seen, the Rydberg drawings were made at the request of the Warren Commission. As we've seen, Chief Justice Earl Warren prevented anyone from checking their accuracy.
This should lead us to conclude, then, that, as of May 24, 1964, the day of the Warren Commission's re-enactment of the shooting, the wound locations depicted on the Rydberg drawings were presumed to have been accurate.
This raises an intriguing question...why weren’t they used in the re-enactment? I mean, news photos of the re-enactment, published in, among other places, the New York Times, make it clear as day that on May 24, 1964, more than two months after the Rydberg drawings had been placed into evidence as the official representations of the president's wounds, those running the re-enactment had relied upon other sources when placing a chalk mark on the back of the stand-in for President Kennedy, in order to designate the wound location.
Well, why was this done?
Well, the thought occurs that someone--in this case, Warren Commission Junior Counsel Arlen Specter--was trying to be accurate. An April 30, 1964 Specter
memo, after all, admitted that, in opposition to Dr. Humes’ sworn testimony, and in opposition to Specter’s subsequent words
in the Warren Report, the Rydberg drawings “were made from the recollections
of the autopsy doctors as told to the artist.”
The measurements on the face
sheet were not used in the creation of the Rydberg drawings, and Arlen Specter knew it. It seems likely, then, that he wanted to see for himself if his single-bullet theory made sense--when using the actual locations of Kennedy's wounds.
In any event, the Warren Report says that for the re-enactment “The wounds of entry and exit on the
President were approximated based on information gained from the autopsy
reports and photographs.” Well, this is curious. Which photographs? Certainly not the ones Chief Justice Warren withheld from the doctors?
Oh, yeah? Specter, in his 2000
autobiography, Passion for Truth, finally shed some light on this matter. He admitted that on the day of the re-enactment in Dallas he was shown an autopsy photo of
the back wound by a member of the Secret Service, Thomas Kelley. (The Saturday
Evening Post had mentioned Kelley’s name in regards to this incident in 1967
and Kelley had admitted his role to researcher Harold Weisberg a few years later.) While Specter didn’t say he consulted this
photo before approving the chalk mark on the jacket of the stand-in, one can
only assume he used it to confirm its location.
Specter and Kelley’s use of the photos wrongly denied them
in their passion for truth can only be considered admirable. And yet...
When one looks at the re-enactment photo published in the New York Times and re-printed in the Doubleday edition of the Warren Report, it is clear that a bullet passing through the chalk mark on the President's stand-in’s back and continuing on to hit Connally’s stand-in in his armpit would most likely exit from the President’s stand-in’s chest, and not his throat. Specter had seen the Zapruder film. He knew Kennedy wasn’t leaning forward before the first shot. He knew, for that matter, that the theory he was testing left no room for deflection and he knew--from the photo Kelley showed him--that the chalk mark was accurate and that the wounds didn’t align.
It is truly troubling, then, that on June
4, 1964 Thomas Kelley testified that the location for the chalk mark used during the re-enactment was "fixed from" CE 386, a drawing in which the wound is presented at the base of the neck. As shown on the slide above, the entrance on this drawing was inches away from the
entrance used during the re-enactment. While it's true, for that matter, that Kelley claimed they'd also conducted "an
examination of the coat which the President was wearing at the time" this actually makes matters worse, as it suggests that the bullet hole on the coat aligned with the wound on CE 386, when that simply wasn't true.
That Kelley's inaccurate testimony was no simple mistake becomes clear, moreover, once one realizes that the man taking his testimony, and leading him to make such a claim, was someone who undoubtedly knew better--you guessed it, Arlen Specter.
And it's even worse than that. Not only did Specter extract false testimony from Kelley regarding the source of the chalk mark used in the re-enactment, he asked Kelley if Exhibit 386 was the "basis for the marking of the wound on the back of the President's neck" when he knew full well this mark was not on the neck, but on the back.
obvious deception suggests, then, that Kelley was covering for Specter, and keeping from the
record that Specter had looked at an autopsy photograph that proved the Rydberg drawings--already part of the record--inaccurate.
As FBI agent Robert Frazier, only moments later, told Commissioner Allen Dulles that the location of the chalk mark used in the re-enactment was determined by the measurements on the face sheet, Kelley’s lie may also have been designed to hide that these measurements proved the wound Specter had taken to claiming was on the back of Kennedy's neck...was really inches lower on his back.
Arlen Specter: Back to Back and Face to Face
That Arlen Specter was willing to cut corners to prop up his single-bullet theory is confirmed,
moreover, by further examination of the FBI photos of the May 24, 1964
trajectory analysis. In one photo the Kennedy stand-in is seen leaning
as far forward as one might possibly conceive Kennedy was leaning before
he was shot. And yet the trajectory rod held by Specter aligning Connally's back wound with Kennedy's throat wound passes inches
above the chalk mark designating the location of
Kennedy's back wound. A second photo is taken from the opposite angle; this one, however, only shows the JFK stand-in from the front and gives little
indication of where the trajectory rod passes in relation to the back
That Specter opted to have this second photo submitted into evidence as Warren Commission Exhibit CE 903, as the one and only official depiction of the single-bullet theory, when this photo fails to even show the location of the back wound, speaks volumes, IMO.
(When shown the images on the slide above, single-assassin theorist John McAdams reacted in a typically dismissive manner. On 1-16-2010, on the alt.aassassination.jfk newgroup, he wrote: "Specter pretty much had it nailed. The rod he has placed is very close to the true trajectory, probably as close as it can be without getting a rapier and running through the guys in the car." McAdams sidestepped, of course, that the problem was not that the rod was at the wrong angle, but that the rod was placed at the proper angle, and connected Connally's back wound to Kennedy's throat wound, but somehow still passed inches above the chalk mark designating the location of Kennedy's back wound.)There are still other curious details about the May 24 re-enactment. For one, Specter used Connally’s actual jacket in the re-enactment in order to establish the entrance location on his back, but disregarded the entrance location on Kennedy’s jacket, even though, according to both the 1964 Warren Commission testimony of Thomas Kelley and the 1977 testimony of Lyndal Shaneyfelt in a civil suit brought by Harold Weisberg, the coat was at their disposal during the re-enactment.
It is also suspicious that no attempt was made to measure the right to left trajectories of bullets entering the car from the sniper’s nest, while the car traveled down Elm. This allowed the commission and its experts to say the alignment of Kennedy with Connally was close enough without their having to make any actual calculations. This was a little too convenient.
Specter's presentation of the trajectory analysis in the Warren Report is also quite suspicious. At one point he acknowledges that the FBI measured the approximate trajectory needed to support the single-bullet theory during the May 24, 1964 re-enactment, and that this angle was then compared against the locations of the President’s and Connally’s wounds. Reflecting the testimony of the FBI’s Lyndal Shaneyfelt, who'd asserted that the rod representing the single-bullet trajectory in the photo passed through a position on the back of the stand-in “approximating that of the entrance wound,” Specter then concludes that “the angle was consistent with the trajectory of a bullet passing through the President’s neck and then striking Governor Connally’s back…The alinement of the points of entry was indicative and not conclusive that one bullet hit both men…Had President Kennedy been leaning forward or backward, the angle of declination of the shot…would have varied…The angle…was approximately the angle of declination reproduced in an artist’s drawing…made from data provided by the autopsy surgeons.”
Specter was thus citing CE 385, which he knew to have been created without Rydberg's having access to the autopsy measurements, and which he knew to be inaccurate after viewing the photo of Kennedy's back wound, as support for the single-bullet theory central to the commission's single-assassin conclusion.
When one considers that, should Specter have returned to Washington and informed the
Commission that their operating premise of Oswald’s sole guilt was made
doubtful by his failure to get a couple of wounds to align--and
that he’d used evidence expressly denied him to make this determination--his
career would have been in jeopardy, then one can see how easy it was for him to
decide the trajectory connecting Connally's and Kennedy's wounds was “close enough,” and get Kelley and others to play along. Specter was, after all, a mere 33 year old assistant district attorney at the time. He was by no
means an expert in forensic pathology or wound ballistics. And besides, the
proposal for the re-enactment (contained in an April 27 memo by Norman Redlich)
promised chief counsel Rankin and the Commission that the point of the
re-enactment was not to establish the facts “with complete accuracy, but merely
to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was
the sole assassin.”
It is said that behind every great man is a crime. One might grant, then, that Senator Arlen Specter’s “crime” was one of rejecting his self-identified “passion for truth” for the benefit of his career. An old story, indeed… and as American as apple pie…
This news even made the papers. When asked about the change, Ford explained to a reporter that he believed this wording was more precise. Many conspiracy theorists, by then familiar with the back wound photo published in best-selling books, however, scoffed at Ford's words, and assumed him to have been lying through his dentures.
But I'm not so sure. Perhaps Ford had been confused by the Rydberg drawings, which did indeed depict the back wound as residing at the base of the neck.
And perhaps there was more to Ford's confusion than just his looking
at a drawing and assuming it was accurate. When one reads Chapters Two
and Three of the Commission's report, the chapters to which Specter
contributed, it seems incredibly clear that someone, almost certainly Specter
himself, but perhaps his immediate superior Norman Redlich, who also
worked on these chapters, went back at the last moment and changed its
references to a back wound to references to a neck wound. And missed a
couple... (In his 2000 memoir Passion for Truth, Specter claimed that Redlich "essentially let my work stand, especially the key points about the assassination and the Single-Bullet Conclusion.")
In any event, these changes were almost certainly made before Ford ever saw the chapter. It seems likely, then, that Ford changed the wording of that one passage to bring it back in line with the other (inaccurate) references to the wound within the report, and that he was not consciously lying when he did so.
I mean, just look at this... Here are the diverse and confusing references to the wound in Chapters Two and Three of the report. And yes, these are all references to the same wound, a wound the primary writer of these chapters, our man from Philadelphia, Arlen Specter, knew to be inches below the shoulder line after viewing the back wound photo. (Page numbers come from the version of the report on the National Archives website)
- One bullet passed through the President's neck p. 48
- The autopsy also disclosed a wound near the base of the back of President Kennedy's neck p.61
- The nature and
characteristics of this neck wound p.61
- The President's Neck Wounds p.87
- another bullet wound was observed near the base of the back of President Kennedy's neck p.88
- in its path through the President's neck p.88
- By projecting from a point of entry on the rear of the neck p.88
- Concluding that a bullet passed through the President's neck p.88
- the doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital rejected a theory that the bullet lodged in the large muscles in the back of his neck p.88
- the surgeons were unable to find a path into any large muscle in the back of the neck p.88
- This led to speculation that the bullet might have penetrated a short distance into the back of the neck p.88
- Dr. Perry did not know about either the wound on the back of the President's neck or the small bullet-hole wound in the back of the head p.90
- After reviewing the path of the bullet through the President's neck p.91
- the experts simulated the neck p.91
- The autopsy disclosed that the bullet which entered the back of the President's neck p.91
- After the examining doctors expressed the thought that a bullet would have lost very little velocity in passing through the soft tissue of the neck p. 91
- A photograph of the path of the bullet traveling through the simulated neck p. 91
- The clothing worn by President Kennedy on November 22 had holes and tears which showed that a missile entered the back of his clothing in the vicinity of his lower neck p.91
- all the defects could have been caused by a 6.5-millimeter bullet entering the back of the President's lower neck p. 92
- The back of the stand-in for the President was marked with
chalk at the point where the bullet entered p. 97
- The position of President Kennedy's car when he was struck in the neck p.97
- the point of impact on the President's back p. 98
- the next point at which the rifleman had a clear view through the telescopic sight of the point where the bullet entered the President's back p.98
- the President was probably shot through the neck between frames 210 and 225 p. 105
- the bullet which passed through the President's neck p. 105
- The bullet that hit President Kennedy in the back and exited
through his throat p. 105
- at the time when the President was struck in the neck p. 105
- which followed the shot which hit the President's neck p. 106
- A surveyor then placed his sighting equipment at the precise point of entry on the back of the President's neck p. 106
- That angle was consistent with the trajectory of a bullet passing through the President's neck p. 106
- the angle of that shot could have accounted for the wounds in the President's neck p. 106
- of a test simulating the Governor's chest wound with the neck and wrist experiments p.107
- concluded that it was probable that the same bullet passed through the President's neck and then inflicted all the wounds on the Governor p. 109
- Referring to the President's neck wound p. 109
- Thus, the Governor's wrist wound suggested that the bullet passed through the President's neck p. 109
- the bullet which entered the Governor's chest had already lost velocity by passing through the President's neck p. 109
- as to whether the same bullet did or did not pass through the President's neck p. 109
- it was probable that the same bullet traversed the President's neck p. 109
- After a bullet penetrated President Kennedy's neck p. 109
- From the initial findings that (a) one shot passed through the President's neck p. 111
- Agent Bennett stated: ... I looked at the back of the President. I heard another firecracker noise and saw that shot hit the President about four inches down from the right shoulder p. 111
is possible, of course, that Bennett did not observe the hole in the
President's back p.111
- 30 to 45 frames (approximately 2 seconds) later than the point at which the President was shot in the neck p. 112
4.8 to 5.6 seconds between the shot which struck President Kennedy's
neck p. 115
- That approximation was most probably based on the earlier publicized reports that the first shot struck the President in the neck p. 117
Thus, the back wound
was officially moved to the back of Kennedy’s neck by a series of
mistakes and/or wishful thoughts and/or deliberate fabrications,
first by Humes and Boswell in the original creation of the Rydberg
then by Warren in his withholding of the photographs, then by Specter in
failing to report the inaccuracy of the Rydberg drawings, and his
pushing that the wound was on the neck in the report, and finally by
and his fellow commissioners in their changing certain passages of the
report to be consistent with Specter's (and possibly Redlich's)
misrepresentations. Truth by committee had become a lie.
Specter and the Strap Muscles
Now I know some out there would prefer I give long-time Senator Specter the benefit of the doubt. And I would prefer to do so myself. But I just can't. If there had been but one or two misstatements or misrepresentations in Specter's chapters in the Warren Report and subsequent statements regarding his work for the commission, one might grant he'd simply made a mistake as to the location of the back wound in the photo shown him by Kelley, and had failed to double-check Humes' measurements to see where the wound was actually located.
But, sadly, this is not the case. There is, instead, a whole slew of misstatements and misrepresentations, all contributing to Specter's "Single-Bullet Conclusion."
Consider the presentation of the back wound bullet trajectory in the Warren Report... On page 90 of the paperback, it claims "The autopsy examination further disclosed that, after entering the President, the bullet passed between two large muscles, produced a contusion on the upper part of the pleural cavity (without penetrating that cavity), bruised the top portion of the right lung and ripped the windpipe (trachea) in its path through the President's neck." On page 91, it appears to build upon this, and relates: "While the autopsy was being performed, surgeons learned that a whole bullet had been found at Parkland Hospital on a stretcher which, at that time, was thought to be the stretcher occupied by the President. This led to speculation that the bullet might have penetrated a short distance into the back of the neck and then dropped out onto the stretcher as a result of external heart massage. Further exploration during the autopsy disproved that theory. The surgeons determined that the bullet had passed between two large strap muscles and bruised them without leaving any channel, since the bullet merely passed between them."
reading this, one would undoubtedly come to believe the two large strap
muscles in the second quote are the two muscles mentioned in the first
quote, and were on the back of Kennedy's neck.
And one would be right.
While taking the testimony of Dr.s Baxter and McClelland, Specter made
reference to the bullet's passing between the "strap muscles of the shoulder" and "strap muscles on the posterior aspect of the President's body,"
respectively. But there are no strap muscles in the shoulder or on the
posterior aspect of the body. The autopsy report makes no mention of these muscles. It notes, instead, that "there is considerable ecchymosis of the strap muscles of the right side of the neck and of the fascia about the trachea adjacent to the line of the tracheotomy wound." This would be at the front of the neck.
But you needn't take my word for it. In his testimony before the Warren Commission, Dr. Humes specified that the bruised strap muscles which helped
lead him to conclude the throat wound was an exit were on "the right anterior neck inferiorly"
(i.e. the lower right quadrant of the front side of the neck). Dr.
Humes explained that the bruising on these muscles next to what he initially
believed was a simple tracheotomy incision was far more extensive than
the bruising next to the incisions on Kennedy's chest, and that this led him to suspect these neck bruises preceded
the emergency procedures performed in Dallas, and were in fact caused by a
Humes said NOTHING about a bullet sliding between two muscles on
the back of Kennedy's neck or shoulder. And this wasn't a mistake on his part. The autopsy report signed by Humes, Boswell, and Finck also said nothing about a bullet sliding between two muscles on the back of the neck, and noted instead that
"beneath the skin" of a wound on the "upper right posterior thorax...there is ecchymosis of subcutaneous tissue and
musculature." There was a shallow hole atop bruised muscle tissue, with no channel through the muscle.
Humes' testimony was even more clear on this point. He testified "When the tissues beneath this wound were inspected, there was a defect corresponding with the skin defect in the fascia overlying the musculature of the low neck and upper back." He then added "We were unable, however, to take probes and have them satisfactorily fall through any definite path at this point."
(It should be noted, moreover, that the doctor doing this probing was Dr. Pierre Finck and that Finck later confirmed Humes' testimony. On January 24, 1969, when testifying during the trial of Clay Shaw, when asked about his failure to "satisfactorily" find a "definite path" from the back wound through Kennedy's neck, Finck testified: "I couldn't introduce this probe for any extended depth." He was then asked "how far in this probe went" and responded "The first fraction of an inch." Now, there was a witness to this probing, who thought it was a bit more than that, but not much. James Curtis Jenkins, Dr.s Humes and Boswell's assistant at the autopsy, was never interviewed by the Warren Commission. But the notes on his 8-29-77 interview with the HSCA reflect that he told them he recalled Dr. "Humes trying to probe the wound with his finger which enabled him to reach the end of the wound" as the back wound was "very shallow...it didn't enter the peritoneal (chest) cavity." He would subsequently explain how he knew this, and insist, to every researcher to speak with him, including yours truly on November 22, 2013 at the JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas, that he was present when the back wound was probed by Dr. Humes, using his finger, and then Dr. Finck, using an instrument called a sound. And he would insist that he was looking into Kennedy's chest cavity when Dr. Humes probed the wound, and that he could see the impression of Humes' finger on the back of the chest cavity at a point lower than the location of the wound on Kennedy's back...)
It should probably be mentioned here that "the musculature of the low neck and upper back" through which Humes and Finck could not find a path was the trapezius muscle, a flat sheet of muscular fibers covering the back of the neck and shoulder. A bullet could not slide between two muscles in this area because the area was covered by but one. (Should one not believe me on this, one should look here.) The trapezius muscle covers so much area, in fact, that anatomists break it up into four parts when describing it in anatomy books. Kennedy's back wound, moreover, was in part three, the thickest and strongest of the four parts of the trapezius muscle.
It follows then that Humes had
strong reasons to conclude, as he did on the night of the autopsy, that
the bullet creating the back wound had failed to enter the body.
Perhaps the cartridge for this bullet had been undercharged. Perhaps there had been a misfire.
When one digs further, moreover, and reads the Warren Commission testimony of Dr. Malcolm Perry, one finds that Dr. Humes continued to doubt that a bullet had entered Kennedy's body at the back wound location even after Dr. Perry had told him of the throat wound, which could serve as an exit for the bullet. According to Perry:
So where did Specter get that "further exploration during the autopsy" led Humes to conclude a bullet slipped between two back muscles? Simple. He either misunderstood Humes' reports and testimony (which would be problem enough), or he completely made it up.
I currently suspect the former. On March 12, 1964, a few days before Humes testified, Specter stopped by Bethesda Naval Hospital, and discussed the basic facts of the autopsy with Humes and Boswell. Intriguingly, Specter's memo on this meeting portends his inaccurate representation of the strap muscles in the Warren Report. He relates: "Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell were shown the Parkland report which describes the wound of the trachea as 'ragged,' which, they said was characteristic of an exit rather than an entrance wound. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell further said that it was their current opinion that the bullet passed in between two major muscle strands in the President's back and continued on a downward flight and exited through his throat. They noted, at the time of the autopsy, some bruising of the internal parts of the President's body in that area but tended to attribute that to the tracheotomy at the time. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell stated that after the bullet passed between the two strands of muscle, these muscle strands would resist any probing effort and would not disclose the path of the bullet to probing fingers, as the effort was made to probe at the time of the autopsy."
some might read Specter's memo and see this as evidence Dr.s Humes and
Boswell lied to him, but then retreated from their lies in their
testimony. But I suspect instead that Specter was confused by his notes on the meeting, and had mistakenly come to believe the bruised strap muscles were on Kennedy's back, not throat.
Let's re-read the key section: "Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell further said
that it was their current opinion that the bullet passed in between two
major muscle strands in the President's back and continued on a downward
flight and exited through his throat. They noted, at the time of the
autopsy, some bruising of the internal parts of the President's body in
that area but tended to attribute that to the tracheotomy at the time."
If one read the words "in that area" as a reference to the "President's back," instead of as a reference to "his throat," then Specter's memo is consistent with Specter's later claims the strap muscles were bruised and on Kennedy's back.
Now let's re-read the last line: "They noted, at the time of the
autopsy, some bruising of the internal parts of the President's body in
that area but tended to attribute that to the tracheotomy at the time."
Well, why would the doctors have attributed bruised back muscles to a tracheotomy?
It seems clear, then, from Specter's own memo, that the doctors said the bruised strap muscles were on Kennedy's throat, and that Specter came away from their meeting thinking the "two major muscle strands" they'd said were bruised were on Kennedy's back.
Perhaps he couldn't accept that a high-velocity bullet had passed through the President's back and throat without leaving a discernible path through his back muscles... Perhaps he'd found it easier to believe it had slipped between two back muscles... Perhaps he'd failed to grasp there was but one muscle in the area...
Or perhaps his confusion was just a smoke screen...
Specter Fails The Lie Detector
When one reads Specter's post-Warren Commission comments on its investigation, unfortunately, his slipperiness becomes readily apparent.
Let's start with an article on Specter by Gaeton Fonzi published in the August 1966 edition of Greater Philadelphia Magazine. Here, Specter aggressively defended his work for the Warren Commission. Fonzi maintained throughout the article, however, that many of the questions regarding Kennedy's autopsy could have been cleared up if Specter had viewed the autopsy photographs. When asked about this, and why he hadn't been more aggressive about viewing the photographs, for that matter, Specter is reported to have "appeared visibly disturbed" and to have stammered for awhile before responding "The commission decided not to press for the x-rays and photographs." According to Fonzi, Specter then became apologetic, and said "Have I dodged your question?...Yes' Ive dodged your question." He then gave a more detailed response: "The Commission considered whether the x-rays and photographs should be put into the record and should be examined by the Commission's staff and the Commission reached the conclusion that it was not necessary..."
Specter had thereby concealed that he had in fact been shown a photo of Kennedy's back wound by a member of the Secret Service, and that he'd opted not to report this to the commission.
His silence served another purpose as well. At another point in the article, after discussing Warren Commission Exhibit 385, a Rydberg drawing depicting the path of the bullet through Kennedy's neck, in which the bullet enters at the base of Kennedy's neck, Fonzi asked Specter to explain why so many witnesses, including the FBI agents present at the autopsy, claimed this wound was in the shoulder. He then wrote "Specter says it's possible that the whole thing is just a matter of semantics. 'It's a question of whether you call this point shoulder, base of neck, or back. I would say it sure isn't the shoulder, though I can see how somebody might call it the shoulder.'"
Now, admittedly, it's not crystal clear that when Specter said "this point" he was pointing to the entrance location depicted in CE 385, but the implication seems clear. If this is so, moreover, it seems equally clear that Specter was blowing smoke, trying to convince Fonzi that the confusion over the wound's location could be purely semantics, when he knew for certain--from sneaking a peek at an autopsy photo--that the wound depicted at the base of the neck on CE 385 was really inches below on the shoulder.
In late 2012, after the passing of both Fonzi and Specter, Fonzi's wife made the tapes of their interviews available to the public via the Mary Ferrell Foundation website. These tapes confirm Specter's dishonesty. In three separate interviews--in over two hours of discussion--Specter never once admits that he'd been shown a photo of Kennedy's back wound, or even that the wound was on Kennedy's back. When interviewed on 6-28-66, he told Fonzi "The bullet entered the back of the neck between two strap muscles." This, as we've seen, was baloney. But he goes further, embarking on the discussion of semantics Fonzi mentioned in his article, and then proceeding to describe it as a neck wound whenever possible, at least five times by my count.
Specter's deceptiveness, in fact, hits rock bottom in the second of these interviews. On 6-29-66, when discussing the single-bullet theory, the holes on the President's clothes, and the strange fact that Governor Connally's clothes were cleaned and pressed before being made available to the Commission, Specter asserted "The real question on the holes are the direction." He then injected "We didn't see the President; we didn't see the pictures." Fonzi hadn't asked the question, but Specter was volunteering that "we" didn't see the autopsy photos of the President, perhaps to conceal that "he" had, in fact, seen the one picture needed to determine the location of the President's back wound.
And that's not the most revealing of Specter's deceptions. Perhaps inadvertently, Fonzi's tapes offer real insight into Specter's mindset--not only that he was lying, but why he was lying. In his 6-29-66 interview with Fonzi, when discussing Edward Epstein's book Inquest, in which Epstein suggested the Warren Commission investigation had been a whitewash performed in the name of the national interest, the politician in Specter came out, and he played to the grandstands. He told Fonzi: "It was not my function to decide the national interest. It was not Lyndon Johnson's function to decide the national interest. The national interest is decided in a democratic society by the free flow of facts into the truth. And any time any individual sets himself up to decide what is justice or what is the national interest, he's kidding himself. I'm not about to follow anybody's orders on that. They want to run their Commission. tell a bunch of lies, let them go ahead and run their Commission. They can't ask me to work for them." Specter, to his mind, was independent, and beyond the corrupting influence of Washington.
Now compare that to what Specter told Fonzi in their final interview on 7-8-66. When discussing the Commission's decision not to inspect the autopsy photographs, Specter at first said "As assistant counsel for the Commission, I do not think that it is appropriate for me to make a public statement disagreeing with the conclusion of the Commission on this question." Then, when asked if he'd thought of resigning when the autopsy photos and x-rays were withheld, he responded: "The decision of the Commission that the photographs and x-rays were not necessary in order for the Commission to arrive at a conclusion was not an egregious abuse of their discretion in light of the fact that they had substantial evidence on this question from eyewitness reports, from the highly qualified autopsy surgeons who had personally observed the President's body, a detailed report of the characteristics of the wounds, and there were important countervailing considerations which led the Commission to its conclusion that the films were not necessary in the light of the question of taste and the stature of the young American president whose memory will be regarded in the light of a smiling, handsome, erect, president, as opposed to a mutilated corpse with half his head shot off." Specter was pretending, of course, that everything the Commission looked at would automatically become available to the public, which he knew to be untrue.
But he continued from there, and ultimately revealed more of himself than he possibly could have intended. He insisted "The President of the United States didn't want Arlen Specter to conduct the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy, the President of the United States appointed the Commission to do that job..." So there it was--what in retrospect reads like a confession that he'd chickened out--that he'd had the opportunity to make a difference but was overwhelmed by the feeling he'd be out of line in doing so. He then continued "...and if the Commission had done anything improper or made any effort to suppress material evidence or to mislead the American public in any way, that is the area where any honest public servant would be called upon to search his conscience for his resignation, not on discretionary questions as to whether the Commission ought to have additional evidence on the same point."
Well, my God. Feel free to read that again. Specter suggested that it would have been wrong for him to help the Commission if he felt it was making a deliberate effort to mislead the public, but that it wasn't his place to raise a ruckus if the Commission was simply ignoring important evidence, as long as it was ADDITIONAL evidence, that they were free to ignore at their discretion. In other words, he was thinking like a junior partner, unwilling to argue with a senior partner. He knew the autopsy photo showed a bullet wound on Kennedy's back, not neck, but thought this photo but one piece of evidence, which the Commission would feel free to ignore. Fate looked him in the face and he blinked. He'd lawyered his way out of doing the right thing.
That Specter was worried about Fonzi's article and had chosen to deceive him is further supported, moreover, by a far-friendlier article about the Warren Commission and the medical evidence published a few weeks later, by Joseph Daughen in the 8-28-66 Philadelphia Bulletin. Here, almost as an aside, Daughen asserted "in Dallas, a staff member who had expressed concern over the absence of the evidence was shown by a Secret Service agent a photograph purportedly representing the upper back of the President." Hmmm... Specter was interviewed for this article. Clearly, then, he had told Daughen of his viewing the photo in Dallas. Well, why hadn't he told this to Fonzi, when the commission's failure to view the photos was central to Fonzi's article?
Well, the thought occurs that that's it, right there. The viewing of the photos was central to Fonzi's article. If then-District Attorney Specter had told Fonzi he'd seen the photo then Fonzi would have insisted he describe what he saw. And Specter, presumably, was hoping to avoid that. (Notice how the compliant Daughen not only fails to name Specter as the staff member who'd viewed the photo of Kennedy's upper back, but fails to describe where the wound was in this photo.)
In any event, in the 10-10-66
edition of U.S. News & World Report, Specter finally admitted he'd been shown one of Kennedy's autopsy photos. He didn't exactly come clean, however. Nope, true to form, he side-stepped the fact the
photo shown him by Kelley didn’t match the Rydberg drawings by claiming “It showed a hole in the position identified in the autopsy
report” but that it had not been "technically authenticated." Well, of course it showed a hole in the position identified in the autopsy report. The autopsy report described a wound on Kennedy's back, and not at the base of his neck, where Specter had taken to pretending it had been. In the article, Specter then moaned that, should this
wound have been on Kennedy's back below the level of his throat wound, as proposed by conspiracy
theorist Edward J. Epstein, it would mean "the autopsy surgeons were
perjurers, because the autopsy surgeons placed their hands on the Bible
and swore to the truth of an official report where they had measured to a
minute extent the precise location of the hole on the back of the
President's neck, as measured from other specific points on the body of
Well, once again, the Specter shift was in place. He defended the integrity of the doctors by claiming they'd be perjurers if the autopsy report was in error, when he almost certainly knew the problem was not with the autopsy report, but with the schematic drawings of Kennedy he--Arlen Specter--had asked them to create. To reiterate, the
measurements taken by the "autopsy surgeons" suggested the
wound to have been on Kennedy's back, at or below the level of the
and not on the "back of the President's neck," where both Specter
and the "surgeons" had taken to saying it had been. The autopsy report, moreover, said nothing about the relative locations of the back wound and throat wound.
So why was Specter suggesting otherwise? Was he playing a sneaky lawyer trick, and leading his readers to assume something he knew to be untrue?
I'd bet the farm on it. He then insisted that "The photographs would, however, corroborate that which the autopsy surgeons testified to."
Well, notice the language... If he meant to say that the autopsy photo he'd been shown depicted a wound at the base of Kennedy's neck, in the location suggested by the Rydberg drawings, then why didn't he just say so? And why, instead, did he claim that the
autopsy surgeons testified to the accuracy of their measurements, and that the
photographs corroborated these measurements? Was he trying to avoid saying that the Rydberg drawings were accurate--because he knew full well they were not?
Specter also discussed the strap muscles in this interview. He claimed that at the beginning of the autopsy the doctors found
that "a finger could probe between two large strap muscles and penetrate to a very slight extent" a "hole at the base of the back of the neck."
He then pushed what clearly wasn't true--that he got this information
from somewhere other than his own fertile imagination. He related that
the Warren Commission testimony of the "autopsy surgeons" had established "the path of the bullet through the President's neck, showing that it entered between two large strap muscles..."
I'm being facetious, of course, which sounds a lot like the substance Specter was spreading. The autopsy photo he'd been shown--the one on the slide above--depicted a wound in Kennedy's upper back, at or below the level of his throat wound. The "trajectory from the Book Depository window," therefore, necessitated that either 1) Kennedy was leaning sharply forward when hit, or 2) the bullet creating this wound had curled upwards upon entry. The "autopsy" about which Specter had no doubts, however, had ruled out that the bullet had struck anything upon entry. The films of the assassination studied by Specter, furthermore, proved Kennedy wasn't leaning sharply forward when hit. So what was there to have doubts about? What, Specter, worry?
Let's recall here that in his 4-30-64 memo to J. Lee Rankin, Specter urged that the Rydberg drawings be compared to the autopsy photos, and specified:
"2. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY WHETHER THE SHOTS CAME FROM ABOVE. It is essential for the Commission to know precisely the location of the bullet wound on the President's back so that the angle may be calculated. The artist's drawing prepared at Bethesda (Commission Exhibit #385) shows a slight angle of declination. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain such a slight angle of decline unless the President was farther down Elm Street than we have heretofore believed. Before coming to any conclusion on this, the angles will have to be calculated at the scene; and for this, the exact point of entry should be known."
Now let's do a quick replay. On 4-30-64, Specter admitted that he'd thought the trajectory in Rydberg drawing CE 385 too shallow to support the shooting scenario he'd proposed. Well, this is the same as his saying he thought the neck wound too low to support Kennedy and Connally being hit by the same bullet at the time he'd assumed they'd been hit. On 5-24-64, however, he was shown a photo of Kennedy's back, in which the wound was revealed to have been approximately two inches lower on Kennedy's back than in Rydberg drawing CE 385. This meant it was far too low to support the shooting scenario he'd proposed. So how did Specter respond to this challenge? Did he change his scenario? Nope. On 6-4-64 he took testimony from FBI agent Lyndal Shaneyfelt in which Shaneyfelt purported that the trajectory from the sniper's nest approximated the trajectory through Kennedy's neck in CE 385--the drawing which Specter now knew to be inaccurate. Specter then pushed this nonsense in the Warren Report. He then defended his work by telling Life Magazine he had no doubts about the autopsy, and that the trajectory from the sniper's nest--the trajectory he'd thought incompatible with CE 385, and would have to have thought thoroughly incompatible with the photo he'd been shown--contributed to his faith in his scenario.
Well, hello! Do I have to spell it out? Specter was L-Y-I-N-G!
An 11-26-66 UPI article (found in the Milwaukee Journal) was also given the Specter touch. Taking note of Dr. Boswell's recent claim the photos could dispel the controversy over the President's wounds, the article reported that "Specter said he had not seen the autopsy pictures" but that he had nevertheless conceded "If it keeps up, you may get a look at them." Note that Specter said he had not seen the "pictures" (plural), and that this allowed him to avoid admitting that he'd seen one "picture" (singular).
Specter did discuss his viewing the photo of Kennedy's back soon thereafter, however. In the January 14, 1967 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, he is quoted as claiming “It showed the back of a body with a bullet hole, apparently of entry, where the autopsy report said it was.” Well, there it is again. Notice the language... Notice how Specter once again steers clear of saying that he'd looked at a photo of the President's back, and that this photo showed a wound on the back of the president's neck, and confirmed the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings.
On 12-4-68, while debating author Josiah Thompson at the University of Pennsylvania, moreover, he repeated his tall-tale about the strap muscles. According to a transcript of this conference found in the Weisberg Archives, he told the students in attendance that the autopsy surgeons "testified that there was a path through the President's neck where the bullet passed between two large strap muscles, bruised the top of the pleural cavity, bruised the top of the right lung, sliced his trachea, and exited from the front of the throat." After describing the wounds, he then detailed that "We then sought to determine what would have been the velocity of a bullet entering the President's neck and exiting the President's neck." Well, my God. It entered the president's "neck," not back. This, clearly, was Specter's story, and he was sticking to it.
And stick to it he did. On 12-8-77, when testifying before the
HSCA in executive session, Specter made at least five separate references to a wound on the back of Kennedy's neck. He never once described this wound as being on Kennedy's back. This was remarkable, moreover, seeing as the HSCA had added two of Specter's old Warren Commission memos into his testimony...which made at least five separate references to this wound...as a wound on Kennedy's back.
Yes, it's true. Specter had routinely described this wound as a back wound prior to his being shown a photo confirming it to have been a back wound, and then and only then began describing it as a neck wound.
Well, that's about as red as a red flag can get.
That Specter wasn't exactly telling the truth, the whole truth, as he'd solemnly sworn to do, moreover, is confirmed by something left out of his testimony. When asked about one of the Warren Commission memos introduced during his testimony, in which he'd asserted "The Commission should determine with certainty" that "there are no major variations between the films and the artist's drawings", he explained that he'd believed "it was highly desirable for the X-rays and
photographs to be viewed" at that time, in order "to corroborate the testimony of the autopsy
surgeons." He then added "I was overruled on the request..."
Incredibly, he never admitted being shown the photo of Kennedy's back.
Nor was he ever asked about it... Apparently, Kenneth Klein, who'd conducted Specter's testimony, had failed to do his homework.
Or maybe there was more to it. Klein, born in Specter's home town of Philadelphia, had been hired to work for the HSCA by its original Chief Counsel, Richard Sprague, who'd worked for Specter in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Many years later, for that matter, Klein went to work for Jenner and Block, the Chicago law firm of Specter's colleague on the Warren Commission, Albert Jenner.
And that's not the only curious tie between Specter and the committee. Specter's son, Shanin, just so happened to be Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Edgar's assistant on the committee. Edgar, while a liberal Democrat, was the Congressman from Pennsylvania's Seventh District, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where the moderate Republican Specter had recently served as District Attorney, and was preparing a run for Governor. Edgar would proceed to author a dissent from the committee's report, in which he claimed its conclusion of a probable conspiracy was unjustified, and credited Specter's son Shanin and Warren Commission counsel David Belin for their assistance.
Specter and Edgar traveled in the same circles and almost certainly knew each other.
Or maybe all this means nothing. In 1986, Edgar left congress to run against Specter for U.S. Senator.
(On November 8, 2013, Shanin Specter published an article on The Daily Beast website. While discussing his own relationship to his father's infamous single-bullet theory he admitted that Congressman Edgar had asked his father for help with the house select committee, and that Specter had volunteered his son--Shanin, the writer of the article--instead.)
In any event, if Klein and Edgar had been on a mission to protect Specter's reputation, they were not entirely successful...because something seriously shocking happened the next year-- something that should have marked the end of Specter's political career... On 9-7-78, Dr. Michael Baden, the spokesman for the HSCA Forensic
Pathology Panel, testified that from studying the autopsy photos the panel had concluded Kennedy's torso wound to have been--cut to the
sound of Specter saying "oh crap"--not only not on Kennedy's neck, where Specter had long claimed it to have been, but on his back below the level of his
Congressman Edgar was present for this testimony. His assistant, Specter's son, Shanin, may also have been present. The questions asked Baden by--you guessed it, Kenneth Klein--had been prepared in advance. This suggests, then, that Klein knew well in advance that Baden was gonna undercut the foundation for Specter's single-bullet theory, and that Edgar--and almost certainly his assistant, Specter's son, Shanin--knew this as well.
Let's recall here that Specter had once suggested that if this wound were below Kennedy's throat wound, well, then the autopsy surgeons were guilty of perjury.
So...does Specter call a press conference after Baden's testimony, and demand Humes, Boswell, and Finck be indicted for perjury?
No, of course not.
And does Klein call Specter to the stand and ask him to explain why, for nearly 15 years, he'd been calling a wound he'd known to have been on Kennedy's back a wound on the back of his neck?
No, of course not.
And that's not even the worst of it. If Specter had at this time come forward and said "Wow, that wound really was on Kennedy's back; I apologize for any confusion caused by my earlier descriptions of the wound," he might have escaped with a smidgen of credibility.
But instead he doubled down.
Yep, in an unbelievably suspicious move, not
only did Specter fail to specify in his subsequent statements and articles that the doctors had been mistaken about the back wound
location depicted on the Rydberg drawings--or apologize for his own misleading statements about this wound's location--but he continued--up till his death--to make claims about its location that are
demonstrably false... He continued to claim even that the bullet creating this wound entered between two strap muscles on the back of Kennedy's neck.
It's sad but true... After becoming a U.S. Senator in 1980, Specter made very few public statements regarding the assassination. With the success of Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK, however, he was no longer afforded this luxury. This led him to publish a response to the film in the 1-5-92 Philadelphia Inquirer. As one might expect, his response was filled with errors and misleading claims. To rebut the film's accurate depiction of Dr. Finck's testimony in the trial of Clay Shaw, in which Finck claimed the autopsists were ordered not to inspect Kennedy's neck, for example, Specter claimed: "Finck testified under oath before
the Warren Commission that an initial bullet hit Kennedy in the back of
the neck, hit nothing solid, and exited from his throat - supporting the
single bullet theory." Well, there it was again--"back of the neck." Finck, of course, had said no such thing, and had responded without correction to Specter's questions regarding a "back" wound.
Perhaps the worst of Specter's deceptions, moreover, was this one: "The movie mangles the facts on the single-bullet theory. The House assassinations committee, very critical of the Warren Commission on other matters, confirmed the single-bullet theory."
Well, this, of course, was smoke, and toxic smoke at that. Specter had previously claimed the back wound was above the throat wound, and that, if it was not, the autopsy surgeons were perjurers. The HSCA pathology panel had then determined that the back wound was in fact below the throat wound. With one exception, they'd concluded as well that the single-bullet theory was viable, should Kennedy have been leaning sharply forward when struck. Specter then seized upon this second conclusion, which in fact dismantles his single-bullet theory, as "confirmation" of the theory he'd proposed, and pushed upon the commission--entailing that the back wound was well above the throat wound.
And that was just the beginning of Specter's '92 campaign. On 5-12-92, Specter appeared before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, urging that it pass a bill he'd co-authored, requiring federal agencies release as many JFK assassination-related documents as possible, and the creation of the ARRB. (His appearance can be found online in the C-Span Video Library.) He urged "Let the facts be disclosed" and said, of his famous single-bullet theory, that he believed it had been "upheld" by subsequent investigations, and would withstand further scrutiny. He then added "If it isn't, so be it; let someone come along and disprove it." He failed to acknowledge that the central beam around which his theory had been constructed had long since been disproved.
Should one think this was Specter turning over a new leaf, however, one would be wrong. It was, to the discerning eye, yet another of his smoke screens, designed to hide his own failure to properly investigate the case. During this testimony he repeatedly complained that the Warren Commission did not have access to the autopsy photos and x-rays. He said this was because "The wishes of the Kennedy family prevailed in not having those available even to the commissioners or to the staff" and that "They were not permitted to see them because there was a sense that they might come into the public domain."
This apparently came as a surprise to the Committee. As a result, a number of follow-up questions were asked on this issue. Under subsequent questioning by Sen. Carl Levin, Specter admitted that Warren himself "may have been shown the photographs. I have reason to believe he did see them privately." He then injected "but that was my area of responsibility." He never mentioned that he, too, had been shown a photograph.
Well, I'll be. Specter was once again blowing smoke. His 4-30-64 memo to J. Lee Rankin, published by the HSCA in 1978, had revealed "When Inspector Kelly talked to Attorney General Kennedy, he most probably did not fully understand all the reasons for viewing the films. According to Inspector Kelly, the Attorney General did not categorically decline to make them available, but only wanted to be satisfied that they were really necessary. I suggest that the Commission transmit to the Attorney General its reasons for wanting the films and the assurances that they will be viewed only by the absolute minimum number of people from the Commission for the sole purpose of corroborating (or correcting) the artist's drawings, with the film not to become a part of the Commission's records."
And not only that. Earl Warren's memoirs, in which he'd admitted viewing the photos, had been available to the public since 1977. So why was Specter, fifteen years later, telling congress Warren "may have been shown the photographs" and acting as though this was inside information?
And where in the world did Specter get off blaming the commission's failure to view the photos on the Kennedys and their "wishes," when he knew full well that both Earl Warren and himself had viewed the back wound photo, and had known that the commission's exhibits were inaccurate, and had done nothing about it? What a piece of...work...
And I'm not the only one to have been troubled by his testimony. Approximately an hour after Sen. Specter's initial statements, Sen. John Glenn, the former astronaut, reading from a note presumably handed him by a member of his staff, confronted Specter regarding his blaming of the Kennedy family, and clarified for the record that the Kennedy family did not have possession of the autopsy photos and x-rays during the Warren Commission's investigation. This led Specter to back-pedal, at first claiming "I did not say anything about the Kennedy family." Of course, he had said something about the Kennedy family. Glenn failed to correct him on this, however, and asked Specter again whose decision it was not to inspect the autopsy photos and x-rays. Specter then admitted the truth. He testified "I think the Kennedy family had a feeling on the subject. I can not testify to that from my own personal knowledge." He then conceded: "It was a Commission decision. The Kennedy family did not decide the issue. I believe the Commission did." This concession, in turn, caught the attention of Sen. Levin, who sought further clarification, whereby Specter referred to his 4-30-64 and 5-12-64 memos to Rankin as proof he personally had tried to view the photos and x-rays. He then claimed "I know I did not get to see them" and "I know that I did not have access to them." Upon further prodding by Levin, moreover, he once again conceded that the commission's failure to view the autopsy photos and x-rays "may well have" come as a result of a decision reached by the commissioners.
He never once mentioned that he had, in fact, been shown the main photo he'd been seeking to see, the one establishing the location of the President's back wound, and that he had been shown this by the member of the Secret Service leading its investigation.
I repeat. What a piece of...work...
I mean, here was Specter testifying on this issue for a second time. And here, for a second time, he was failing to reveal that "Oh yeah, by the way, I did view a photo of the back wound which was subsequently determined to have proved the exhibits I'd placed into evidence inaccurate." Here he was, for a second time, failing to explain both why he'd failed to discuss his viewing this photo with his superiors on the commission, and why he'd proceeded to describe the back wound in the photo as a neck wound after doing so...
Apparently, his dodging yet another karma bullet emboldened Specter. The
September 27, 1992 edition of Inquirer Magazine featured an extensive
profile of Specter which briefly discussed his time working for the
Warren Commission. While describing the single-bullet theory, he claimed
the bullet "entered between two large strap muscles." Yes, he
once again claimed the bullet "entered" the back of Kennedy's neck
between two muscles which Kennedy's "autopsy surgeon" made clear were at
the front of Kennedy's throat. On May
30, 1995, Specter was interviewed on CBS radio by Tom Snyder, even worse,
and once again revealed himself to be a serial spreader of nonsense. He
told Snyder "The bullet that hit the President in the back of the neck passed between two large strap muscles."
Yeah, sure it did. Shouldn't Snyder have told him that a tracing of the
autopsy photo Specter looked at in 1964 was published by the government
in 1979, and made 100% crystal clear that the wound was on the back,
and NOT on the back of the neck, where Specter had long claimed it to
have been? And shouldn't Snyder have thrown in that "And, oh yeah, the
strap muscles were adjacent to the President's throat wound, and you
should really stop pretending that the bruising of these muscles
indicates the bullet creating the back wound traversed the body?"
And so the trail of lies continued. When Specter discussed his being shown the autopsy photo before the 1964 re-enactment in his 2000 memoir Passion for Truth, for example, he described
“a small picture of the back of a man’s body, with a bullet hole in the base of
the neck, just where the autopsy surgeons said Kennedy had been shot.” Oh, my! Base of the neck? This once again steered clear of the fact that
a tracing of this photo had been released by the government in 1979. This
steered clear, moreover, of the incredibly inconvenient fact that this
tracing PROVED the
bullet hole to have been inches below the
base of the neck. And what did he mean when he said "just where the autopsy surgeons said Kennedy had been shot?" Was he once again referring to the autopsy report, to hide that the exhibits he'd presented to the Warren Commission had been misleading?
In any event, Specter not only admitted in his memoirs that he failed to tell anyone on the commission he'd taken a look at the back wound photo, he tried to excuse his cowardice by adding “an unauthenticated photo was no way to establish facts for the record.” Well, this was the worst kind of nonsense. He'd admitted he was shown the photo by Thomas Kelley, the Secret Service inspector responsible for conducting its investigation of the assassination. He knew, moreover, that the Secret Service had possession of the photos. It would have been a simple matter then of his stopping by Bethesda for ten minutes and talking to Dr. Humes, to verify the wounds, and John Stringer, the photographer, to verify it was one of the photos he took on the night of the autopsy. He would then have had an authenticated photo.
That Specter's claiming the wound was at the base of the neck was not a one-time slip, whereby he accidentally repeated inaccurate information he'd grown used to telling, was made clear, for that matter, by his book's other references to the wound.
He first mentioned the wound in relation to his work for the commission.
- "To nail down both the direction and the location of the bullet that struck the president's back, we wanted all possible indicators." p.68
Notice how he calls it a back wound. He then discussed his meeting with the autopsy doctors in preparation for their testimony.
- "At Bethesda, Ball and I tried to clear up some confusion over how far the bullet that struck Kennedy's neck had traveled through his body." p.79
- "they surmised that the bullet on the stretcher might have been pushed out the back of Kennedy's neck by the massage." p.79
- "As the autopsy progressed, the surgeons realized that the bullet had passed farther through the president's neck." p.79
Now this last bit was just strange. The official story, of which Specter was presumably aware, was that the doctors didn't realize a bullet passed through Kennedy's neck until the morning after the autopsy, after Dr. Humes spoke to Dr. Perry and discovered that the tracheotomy incision had been cut through a bullet wound. So what does Specter cite as evidence for them learning of this the night before?
Read on and be amazed:
- "They saw that the muscles in the front of the neck had been damaged at about the same time the wound was inflicted on the top of the chest cavity."
Yes, truth is truly stranger than fiction. Here, in Specter's own book, was an accurate representation of Dr. Humes' testimony--that is, that the bruises on the strap muscles at the front of the neck had led him to suspect the neck wound pre-dated the tracheostomy. This, then, was as much as an admission he'd misled the public in his chapter in the Warren Report, and numerous interviews and articles, when he'd claimed the bullet slipped between these muscles upon entrance on the back of Kennedy's neck.
Or was it? Specter had a co-writer on his memoirs, Charles Robbins. Perhaps Robbins had caught Specter's mistake, and had added this bit into the book for the sake of accuracy.
This mystery only gets more curious, however, as we progress through Specter's book.
- "When all the facts came in, it became clear that the neck shot had exited Kennedy's throat." p.80
Notice how what was formerly a back wound has now become a neck wound. Specter then discussed his being shown the back wound photo by Agent Kelley in 1964. As discussed, he presents this photo as:
- "a small picture of the back of a man’s body, with a bullet hole in the base of
the neck, just where the autopsy surgeons said Kennedy had been shot.” p.88
He then describes a second viewing of the photo by him in 1999 in the company of Dr. Boswell.
- "The entrance wound on the neck was about an inch below the shoulder line in the president's back
. The exit wound at the site of the tracheotomy in his throat, was lower." p.88
Well, how can a wound be "on the neck below...the shoulder line in the...back? Does that make any sense? Was he trying to have it both ways? And have the wound be on the back where everyone who's seen the back wound photo knows it to be? Whilst simultaneously being on the neck, where his single-bullet theory needs it to be?
surprisingly, Specter then insisted that he and Boswell had convinced themselves the President’s back and neck wounds
were “consistent with the Single Bullet Conclusion.” As if at this point we should take their word
Unfortunately, it seems the closest thing to an acknowledgment of error we’ll ever get from Specter is his related acknowledgement that the Rydberg drawings were “rough” and that he would never have had them created if he knew that people would credit them “with more precision than was intended.”
Specter then discusses the Parkland witnesses, and repeats much of his nonsense.
- "They never saw the bullet entrance wounds in the back of his head and the back of his neck." p.100
- "The Parkland doctors saw the clean, round, quarter-inch hole in the front of the president's neck but didn't know about the wound in the back of his neck." p.101
- "Once the Parkland doctors were informed of the wound on the back of the president's head and neck..." p.101
Specter then slips up again (at least presumably).
- "...before the doctors there knew about the entrance wounds on Kennedy's back and head..." p.103
The strangeness of Specter's book reaches a climax, however, when he discusses a conversation he had with Chief Justice Earl Warren, in which he convinced Warren of the soundness of the single-bullet theory. He claims he explained to Warren that:
- "The autopsy showed that a bullet had struck Kennedy near the base of his neck on the right side and passed between two large strap muscles in his neck, striking only soft tissue as it continued in a slightly right-to-left, downward, and forward path..." p.109
- "The president's garment had holes and tears showing that a missile entered the back in the vicinity of his lower neck..." p.110
- "The wounds on the president and governor supported the Single-Bullet Conclusion. The first bullet would retain most of its high velocity after passing through the two large strap muscles in the back of the president's neck, slicing the pleural cavity, striking nothing solid, and then exiting from the front of his neck, nicking the left side of his tie." p.111
Yes, you read that right. While on page 79 of his book Specter acknowledged that the bruised strap muscles described by Dr. Humes in his testimony were at the front of Kennedy's neck, 30 pages later he asserted that while selling the single-bullet theory to Warren he'd told him they'd been on the back of Kennedy's neck. He failed to explain that what he'd told Warren was inaccurate. Now, was this "gaffe" an accidental slip-up by Specter, and an indication that he'd long known or at least now knew that the strap muscles were on the throat, and not the back of the neck? Or was his presenting the same muscles in two different locations within one book the responsibility of his co-writer?
It's really hard to tell. Towards the end of his life, it became fairly clear that Specter's memory had faded.
When interviewed for a Fox News program in 2003, for example, Specter related that the early reports of the FBI and Secret Service said the first shot hit Kennedy on “the back of the neck,” when, in fact, they said the first shot hit Kennedy “below the shoulders.”
When discussing the assassination at the November, 2003 Wecht conference, for that matter, he claimed
the driver of Kennedy's limousine was "James Greer" (as opposed to William Greer), and that Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore showed him an autopsy photo of Kennedy's back before the May, 1964 re-enactment. (In his book, published just three years earlier, he'd said it was Thomas Kelley who'd shown him this photo.)
But we can't let Specter off the hook for his most egregious statements, just because his memory might have slipped a little. Most of his questionable statements in 2003, in fact, were nothing new, and repetitions of the same old malarkey.
One could write a book, in fact, on the nonsense spewed by Specter at the 11-22-2003 Wecht Conference. He claimed, for example, that the wound on Kennedy's back was "at the base of the neck" and "on the back of the President's neck," and pointed to the back of his neck--inches above where Kennedy's wound was located--as he did so. He then repeated what he'd finally admitted in his book--that the Rydberg drawings were "rough" and "inexact" and that while he'd thought in 1964 that they were "better than nothing," he had since come to believe he'd been "wrong about that."
He then offered up more self-serving nonsense. He failed to admit that he'd used these "rough" and "inexact" drawings as evidence supporting his single-bullet theory, or even that the photo he'd been shown by "Moore" had proved to him they were "inexact," and, instead made out that he'd somehow stood by his principles when he failed to tell the Commission the autopsy photo he'd been shown had proved the Rydberg drawings--what he had to have known would come to be considered the Commission's interpretation of Kennedy's wounds--were "inexact." Yep, Specter, standing before a large crowd of serious researchers, most of whom knew full well he was blowing smoke, claimed that when he was shown the photo by "Moore" before the reenactment he reacted not by using the wound location in the photo as the basis for the chalk mark on the JFK stand-in's jacket (as seems obvious from the photos of the reenactment), but by standing on principle. According to Specter, "I told him I didn't want to see an unauthenticated photo. I wanted to see the Real McCoy."
Well, my God! What horse-pucky!
In any event, Specter's statements at the Wecht conference cleared up one thing: he was still of the belief the strap muscles were on the back of Kennedy's neck, or at least in the business of pretending as much. Here is how he described his initial meeting with Dr. Humes: "He said that the bullet had passed between the two large strap muscles, that it hit nothing solid as it went through the pleural cavity and sliced the President's trachea. When they conducted the autopsy, they did not know what had happened in the front until Dr. Humes called Dr. Perry--Malcolm Perry who had attended President Kennedy at Parkland. But, at any rate, the bullet according to Dr. Humes, passed between two large strap muscles (Here, he pointed to the back of his neck), as I say, but hit nothing solid..."
In an interview broadcast on CNN's Newsnight program later that night, moreover, he repeated this nonsense: "The bullet entered between two large strap muscles at the back of the president's neck, hit nothing solid, went through the pleural cavity, nicked his tie coming out."
So there it is. While someone may have caught Specter's error regarding the strap muscles while working on his 2000 memoir, it apparently wasn't Specter, as by 2003 he had returned to form. This, then, suggests that it was Specter's co-writer Charles Robbins who'd corrected his error for his memoirs, and that Specter has in fact never wavered from his grossly inaccurate claim the strap muscles mentioned by Humes in his Warren Commission testimony were on the back of Kennedy's neck, and probed at autopsy.
Even after his departure from the Senate in 2011, moreover, he maintained the inexcusable. On February 21, 2011, an oral history interview of Specter conducted for PCN television was broadcast on C-Span. When discussing his first meeting with Humes, and the creation of the Rydberg drawings, Specter related "He asked if it would be helpful to have some artist's drawings of where the bullet entered, in the head, the shots. And we said 'Yeah, that would be helpful.' Later they came to be a cause celebre. We never did see the x-rays and the photos while the committee was conducting its investigation. I saw them years later when I was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee."
Well, my, how convenient! His viewing the photo with Kelley had slipped his mind completely!
And that's not the worst of it. A few minutes later he once again discussed the make-believe strap muscles on the back of Kennedy's neck, and revealed that he'd not only learned little in the intervening
years, but had actually grown ever more confused. When discussing his meeting
with Dr. Humes on March 12, 1964, he claimed that Humes had told
him "he'd looked at the bullet hole on the back of the President's
neck, and put his finger in the hole, and (discovered) that the bullet
had hit nothing solid, (and) had passed between two strap muscles, and
he didn't know what happened."
It's shocking and sad, for that matter, how Specter, who'd once acknowledged that Humes had told him that the President's back muscles "would resist any probing effort and would not disclose the path of the bullet to probing fingers," and who took Humes' testimony, in which Humes claimed he was "unable...to take probes and have them satisfactorily fall through any definite path at this point," and who later admitted that the back wound could only be probed to "a very slight extent," ultimately came to claim that Humes' probing of the back wound revealed "that the bullet had hit nothing solid, (and) had passed between two strap muscles."
this gross misrepresentation of the facts was quite possibly
inadvertent was revealed, however, by some of the other whoppers told by Specter in the PCN interview. At one point, for example, Specter claimed that in their initial meeting Dr.
Humes told him that 1) after the autopsy he'd "speculated that the (bullet creating the)
hole in the President's throat...might have came in from the front and
struck a vertebra and glanced up and caused the tremendous damage to the
top of the President's head" and 2) that he'd abandoned this theory
only after talking to Dr. Perry the next morning, and being told that
the throat round observed by Perry (which Perry had cut through while
making a tracheotomy incision) was "ragged," and appeared to be "a wound of exit."
Humes, of course, insisted to his dying day that he didn't know about
the throat wound until he talked to Perry, and Perry, of course,
insisted to his dying day that the throat wound appeared to be an
entrance, whether or not it actually was an entrance.
Specter had clearly lost touch with what he had never fully grasped, and was all too willing to lie about.
Legacy of a Lie
The 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination added another chapter to this discussion.
In his 2013 book, A Cruel and Shocking Act, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon revealed that he talked to Specter shortly before his death in October 2012 and asked him about his viewing the back wound photo before the May 1964 re-enactment. Specter's answer to Shenon was most illuminating, but was strangely missed by Shenon. Specter reportedly told Shenon that he'd assumed Warren had asked Kelley to show him the photo in order to "placate" him. Well, heck, that rules out Specter's not saying anything about the photo to the rest of the commission because he didn't want Warren to know he saw the photo.
And that's just the beginning. Reportedly, Specter also told Shenon that the photo he wanted to see in order to confirm the relative accuracy of the face sheet (which showed a wound on the back) and the Rydberg drawings (which showed a wound at the base of the neck) "resolved nothing" as the photo failed to show Kennedy's face. Reportedly, Specter then proceeded to complain that "I know what evidence is" and that his being shown the photo (which shows a wound on the back) in that manner was a "bunch of horseshit."
Sounds like Specter knew what his seeing the photo and doing nothing about it would mean for his legacy....
It seems likely, furthermore, that he wasn't the only one determined to defend his reputation...
2013 also saw the release of History Will Prove Us Right, former Warren Commission attorney (and Specter college chum) Howard Willens' spirited defense of the commission. Throughout his chapters on April and May, 1964, Willens describes Specter's attempts at gaining access to the autopsy materials. When one reads these chapters, however, one can't help but get the feeling he's hiding something. Here are a few of the things Willens avoids:
- On page 170, Willens quotes liberally from Norman Redlich's April 27 memo describing the need for a re-enactment of the shooting. He skips over the following passage, however, in which Redlich's higher purpose is revealed: "We have not yet examined the assassination scene to determine whether the assassin in fact could have shot the President prior to frame 190. We could locate the position on the ground which corresponds to this frame and it would then be our intent to establish by photography that the assassin could have fired the first shot at the President prior to this point. Our intention is not to establish the point with complete accuracy, but merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin."
- On page 150, Willens briefly discusses the April 30 Executive Session of the commission, and relates "Warren also seemed receptive to Rankin's proposal that a doctor and a commission member examine the autopsy photographs and X-rays so as to ensure the accuracy of the testimony of the autopsy doctors who did not have those materials available when they testified, but that the materials would not be included in the public record of the commission's proceedings." Note that he writes "seemed." Well, this avoids that Warren did not "seem" to agree, but did agree that such an inspection could occur. That this inspection was forthcoming is also avoided by Willens' failure to cite that "Rankin's" proposal was brought about by a memo from Specter, in which Specter stressed the necessity of viewing the photo of Kennedy's back wound so that the precise location of the wound and the precise trajectories of the shots could be calculated during the re-enactment. Willens makes no mention, moreover, of the May 12 memo from Specter which starts off "When the autopsy photographs and x-rays are examined, we should be certain to determine the following..." and thereby suggests that Specter had been told such an inspection was about to take place.
- Despite referencing Specter's 2000 memoir Passion for Truth a whopping 19 times, including one reference to the page in which Specter discusses his viewing the photo of Kennedy's back wound on May 24, 1964, the day of the re-enactment, Willens never admits that Specter saw such a photo, and that the chalk mark used in the re-enactment to designate Kennedy's back wound location was quite clearly marked in accordance with the photo shown Specter. (Willens would later insist that he simply attached no importance to Specter's viewing of the photo.)
- On page 173, when discussing the re-enactment, moreover, Willens writes "it wasn't simply the alignment of the two victims that strongly suggested it. (The single-bullet theory.) The angle of the bullet trajectory was also consistent with the bullet exiting Kennedy's neck and striking Connally's back." Uhhh, wait a second. The purpose of the re-enactment was NOT to determine if the angle of trajectory from the sniper's nest was consistent with a bullet exiting Kennedy's neck and then striking Connally's back, it was to determine if the angle was consistent with a bullet hitting Kennedy in the back where he was actually hit, then exiting from his neck where a tracheotomy wound was noted at autopsy, and THEN hitting Connally in the back where he was wounded. By removing Kennedy's back wound location from this series of wounds, Willens had taken a short-cut, a short-cut that wouldn't have been necessary, of course, if the back wound had actually aligned with the other wounds...
Now let's look at what Willens does tell us...
- On page 199, Willens writes: "Securing testimony from Mrs. Kennedy had been difficult, but getting our hands on the autopsy photographs and X-rays proved even more so. Although the public might accept our delicate handling of Mrs. Kennedy, we doubted they would be sympathetic to our failure to get the hard evidence that the autopsy materials represented. The Kennedy family had deep, long-term, emotional interests at stake but, for us, it was much more difficult to take a pass on this issue. We all believed we could not back down. Most of the staff was convinced that the commission's failure to consider these materials carefully in its report would be used to attack our competence and integrity. Specter had taken the testimony of the three autopsy doctors three months earlier, at a time when neither he nor the doctors had access to the autopsy photos and X-rays. He and others were satisfied that the testimony of the doctors did accurately reflect the trajectory of the bullets and the nature of the wounds suffered by both Kennedy and Connally. However, the corpsman's sketch introduced during this testimony was inaccurate as to the location of the wounds and to that extent inconsistent with that testimony." WAIT. WHAT? While trying to defend the integrity of commission's staff, Willens lets on that they knew the "corpsman's" sketch--an obvious reference to CE 385--was inaccurate and inconsistent with the testimony of the doctors. Well, geez, this is interesting, seeing as NONE of these bastions of competence and integrity EVER said ANYTHING to indicate they'd thought the "corpsman's" drawings were inaccurate in the years after the assassination. And worse, far worse, this suggests that when Dr. Boswell in 1966 and Dr. Humes in 1967 went public, at the urging of the Johnson Administration Justice Department, to claim their review of the autopsy photos proved the drawings were accurate, "most" of the Warren Commission's staff knew they were blowing smoke.
- Willens then proceeds to describe the memos written by Specter when he was preparing for the re-enactment. Willens then admits "At the commission meeting of April 30, Rankin obtained Warren's approval to try and obtain access to the X-rays and photos."
- On page 200, he continues: "Unknown to Specter, the question of the commission's access to these
materials was still unresolved when I met with Katzenbach on June 17." Well, this avoids that Specter was shown the back wound photo on May 24. In a series of friendly emails, Willens told me Specter never told him he saw such a photo during the life of the commission, nor at any other time. And he also claimed that as of 1966 he didn't even know Specter had been shown the photo. But Willens had clearly read Specter's book. And he'd clearly taken notes. This leads me to suspect, then, that when writing his own book Willens knew full-well that Specter had viewed the back wound photo, and that he knew how this would appear to his readers, and that he thereby opted to leave this out of his narrative.
- Willens continues: "I understood at this time that the attorney general had agreed to let Warren and Rankin see the autopsy materials. I urged Katzenbach to get Kennedy's approval for Specter rather than Rankin to examine them. I told him it was very important to have the most knowledgeable lawyer on the staff assume this responsibility and that Specter was known to the attorney general as the prosecutor who had successfully won the Roy Cohn Teamster case in Philadelphia." Well, this is also kinda suspicious. Specter's memos and the transcript of the April 30 executive session of the Warren Commission reflect that Specter's--and Rankin's--interest was in getting Dr. Humes access to the autopsy materials in order to confirm the accuracy of his testimony and the exhibits he'd had created. Willens mentions this on page 150. So why is Willens on page 200 telling his readers that the issue was getting Specter access to these materials? Was Willens trying to avoid that Warren had prohibited Dr. Humes--the man who'd pulled Kennedy's brain from his skull--from taking a quick peek at a photo of Kennedy's back?
- "Katzenbach raised the question a few days later with Kennedy, who
decided that Warren could view these materials on behalf the commission,
but that no one else could be present and the X-rays and photographs
would remain in the possession of the custodian who brought them.
Kennedy was understandably wary of an opportunity to copy them." Now, this is strange. Katzenbach--who told the HSCA that Robert Kennedy had placed no restrictions on the viewing of his brother's autopsy materials--just so long as it was necessary--was supposedly told to make sure Earl Warren--who was not a doctor, and who was not remotely qualified to view the autopsy materials--viewed the materials all by himself? Yikes. This appears to be an attempted defense of Warren (and the Warren Commission), at the expense of Katzenbach and Robert Kennedy. Before coming to this disappointing conclusion, moreover, I asked Willens if he could publish the report he cited on Katzenbach's meeting with Robert Kennedy. He said there was no such report, and that he'd relied upon a private journal entry which he had no plans to publish.
- "Warren promptly arranged to have the materials brought to his
chambers at the Supreme Court. He looked at them reluctantly and only
briefly. He reported back to Rankin, and presumably the other commission
members, that the photographs were so gruesome that he did not believe
that they should be included among the commission's records." Well, wait a second. This is late June '64. On April 30, Warren and the commissioners had agreed that one of them should view the photos in the company of Dr. Humes. On May 24, Specter was shown the back wound photo. Specter told Shenon, moreover, that he suspected Warren had arranged for him to see the photo. Well, then, isn't if far more likely that Warren viewed the photos before allowing Specter to see the photo of the back wound, and at least a month before Willens presents him as viewing the photos? I mean, what's going on here? Why would Specter be pushing to see the autopsy materials in mid-June, weeks after he'd decided not to put his viewing of the back wound photo on the record, and weeks after he'd actually drawn testimony from Secret Service agent Thomas Kelley and FBI agent Lyndal Shaneyfelt suggesting both that the "inaccurate" "corpsman's" drawing was used during the re-enactment, and that the re-enactment supported its accuracy? Is Willens simply wrong, or is he blowing smoke?
- "Due to Warren's extreme distaste for these materials and his previous commitment to publishing everything relied on by the commission, Rankin concluded that there was no possibility of Specter being permitted to view these materials to confirm the accuracy of Humes' earlier testimony." Well, this is another head-scratcher. It totally avoids that 1) the transcript of the April 30 executive session of the commission reveals that Warren and Rankin AGREED that they could view the autopsy materials without publishing them, as long as they were using them to confirm previous testimony, and 2) the issue was not whether Specter would be allowed to view the materials, but whether Dr. Humes--the man for whom the materials had been created in the first place--could view the materials.
- On page 201, Willens further claims: "Specter did not learn that Warren had examined the autopsy materials until long after the commission report was filed." Now, this is interesting. If true, it suggests that Specter was afraid to say anything when shown the back wound photo in Dallas, and only later came to suspect Warren was behind his being shown the photo. If true, this suggests a surprising scenario, one so ironic it just might be true--that Specter was afraid to correct the record after seeing the back wound photo because he didn't know if Warren would approve, while Warren took Specter's silence as an indication no correction was necessary.
There's also this to consider. In his posthumously-published memoirs, Earl Warren writes: "In the last few years, although conspiratorial theories have borne no fruit, an attack has been made on the fact that pictures of the badly mutilated head of the President taken for the doctors do not appear in the records of the Commission now on file in the National Archives. It has been contended that the reason these pictures were not filed was because they would show that the shots which struck the President did not come from behind and above him. While I have never before entered into that discussion, I feel that it is appropriate to do so because I am solely responsible for the action taken, and still am certain that it was the appropriate thing to do. The President was hardly buried before people with ghoulish minds began putting together artifacts of the assassination for the purpose of establishing a museum on the subject. They offered as much as ten thousand dollars for the rifle alone...They also, of course, wanted the pictures of his head...I saw the pictures when they came from Bethesda Naval Hospital, and they were so horrible that I could not sleep well for nights. Accordingly, in order to prevent them from getting into the hands of these sensationmongers, I suggested that they not be used by the Commission..."
First, note the self-righteousness. Second, note that Warren focuses our attention on the photos of the head wound, and how horrible they are. Well, this totally avoids that he also prevented the public from seeing a photo of the back wound, or even a tracing of a photo of the back wound, or even a drawing made by someone who'd recently looked at a photo of the back wound. Third, note that he fails to admit that others had argued and that he'd agreed that the photos could be viewed by Dr. Humes and a commissioner without being published by the commission. Fourth, note how he says he "suggested" the photos not be used by the commission, when he in fact made the decision all by his lonesome, against the previously-stated wishes of his fellow commissioners. Well, when someone self-righteously tells us something that fails to acknowledge or align with the known facts I call that lying.
Chief Justice Earl Warren lied about his reasons for not letting Humes view the photos. Arlen Specter lied about his reasons for not telling people what was shown in the photo he saw. And now we have Howard Willens risking his own reputation to cover for them...
Which brings us back to Warren... Fifth, note that Warren says nothing of Robert Kennedy's requesting he view the photos alone.
Well, this suggests the possibility that Warren and Specter weren't the only liars working for the commission...
And yet... I suspect Howard is not lying. He insists that he attaches no importance to Specter's viewing of the autopsy photo, as he believes the location of the back wound in the photo to be fully compatible with the single-bullet theory.
This still doesn't excuse Specter's behavior, however.
Yes...to be clear, while it seems possible Specter (and perhaps others) were merely confused about the strap muscles, it seems certain that he (and perhaps others) LIED about the back wound location. The back wound photo Specter begged to see and was finally shown shows a wound on the back, inches below the "base of the back of the neck," where Specter long claimed it resided--even after viewing the photo. When taken in conjunction with Specter's previous behavior--his initial failure to tell the Warren Commission the back wound was not where it is shown in the Rydberg drawings, his taking testimony (which he knew to be untrue) suggesting that the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings had been confirmed by the May 1964 re-enactment, and his deferring to the accuracy of the autopsy measurements when speaking to U.S. News in 1966 (when the question related to the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings)--his being "mistaken" about something so obvious makes it abundantly clear that he lied, and lied repeatedly, in order to support the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings and convince the public the back wound was in a location consistent with his "Single-Bullet Conclusion."
And it's not as if I'm the first to conclude Specter lied. No, sadly for Specter, I'm merely the latest in a long line of researchers to do so.By June of '66, the critics of the Warren Commission had found their audience. The release of Edward Epstein's Inquest and the upcoming release of Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment received widespread attention in the mainstream press. Other critics, such as Harold Weisberg, received less attention. These early critics, moreover, invariably focused on the apparent migration of Kennedy's back wound, questioning how the hole in the middle of the back on the face sheet had become the hole at the base of the neck in the Rydberg drawings. Their suspicion the Rydberg drawings were in error was fueled, moreover, by their studying the photos of the President’s shirt and jacket, which revealed holes in line with the lower entrance on the face sheet, not exactly the base of the neck.
Between the FBI reports at odds with the autopsy report and the face sheet and clothes at odds with the Rydberg drawings, to be clear, the critics had more than enough kindling to fuel their fire. And much of their fire was justifiably directed at Arlen Specter.
Specter was slow to come this realization, however, and would for a time grant interviews to those with a sincere interest in his work on the commission. To explain how the holes in the clothes could be so
much lower than the neck wound, for example, Specter told Gaeton Fonzi in their 1966
interviews that the shirt and jacket of the President had “hunched” up while the President
was waving to the crowd. This
plausible-sounding theory was first suggested by Dr. Humes in his testimony
before the Warren Commission, after having viewed the President’s clothes for
the first time and asserting that the hole in the clothing “corresponds
essentially” with the location of the back wound in the Rydberg drawing.
(According to Finck’s report to his Army superiors, Humes had refused Finck’s
request to inspect the clothes during the autopsy.)
Still, Specter never tested Humes’ theory. He could have arranged for an exact copy of the President’s jacket, with the precise location of the bullet entrance marked, to be worn by a man of Kennedy’s exact stature during the FBI re-enactment of May 24, 1964, but apparently was not interested in establishing that this theory actually made sense. It was only appropriate then that, according to Fonzi, when Specter tried to demonstrate to him just how this hunching could occur, he made a fool of himself. Besides simply not working, this “hunching theory” failed to adequately explain how a well-tailored shirt and jacket could hunch up precisely in unison. It also failed to explain why the wound in the Rydberg drawing was not only several inches above the hole in the jacket, but to its right.
But that didn't stop other Warren Commission counsel from trying this same line of defense. In an 11-7-66 radio interview with KCBS radio's Harv Morgan, Warren Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler proclaimed "When you take a shirt and pull it down on your body...and measure 5 1/2 inches below that bony tip behind your right ear--when I do it on myself the mark on the shirt comes 3 inches below the collar line. And then when you raise your shoulders up ever so slightly and hump the shirt up and raise your arms into the position the President was at the time, and measure it again, the mark on the shirt comes 5 1/2 inches below the collar line."
And should one think Liebeler's pushing this argument was a one-time thing, he presented an even more confusing argument in an 11-27-66 L.A. Times article in which his opinions and those of fellow Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball were pitted against those of Warren Commission critics Edward Epstein and Mark Lane. In this article, he claimed: "I had my wife measure 14 centimeters from my right mastoid process down into my shirt and that spot came three inches below the collar...And then if you raise your arm to the position that the President was in at the time he was shot, the shirt very easily rides up and so does the coat and I did it myself and measured again and the second mark comes on my body 5 1/2 inches below the collar line which is exactly one quarter of an inch from the place where the hole was in the President's shirt."
Well, beyond being confusing (he presumably meant to say "the second mark comes on my shirt"), this is most revealing. Liebeler acknowledged that a wound 14 cm below the mastoid process (the measurement of the back wound at autopsy) would be 3 inches below the collar line. Take a look at CE 386, the drawing of this wound's supposed location, on the slide above. There is no way Liebeler could possibly believe the wound in this drawing is 3 inches below the collar line. There is no way, for that matter, he could possibly believe 2 1/2 inches of fabric bunched up above this point on Kennedy's neck/back.
And he didn't. Yes, when questioned by Morgan on the 11-7-66 radio show about the inconsistent back wound locations presented on the face sheet and Rydberg drawings, and the fact that the holes on the President's clothing suggest that the face sheet location was accurate, Liebeler (and not only Liebeler, but fellow WC counsel Joseph Ball) insisted that the face sheet measurements were "the most precise way" to determine the location of the back wound, and that, when one did so, one found it was "somewhat higher" on the back than the mark on the face sheet. No defense of the Rydberg drawings was even attempted.
Of course, Liebeler didn't exactly denounce them, either. In fact, before admitting that the measurements indicated that the back wound was only "somewhat higher" than the mark on the face sheet, he blew a puff of smoke in the direction of Morgan's listeners, telling them the wound was "right at the base of the neck." This, then, supported the myth he'd proclaimed earlier in the interview, that, when one used the wound and clothing measurements to determine the back wound location, one found that the president's back wound was "higher on the back than it was on the front" and that the bullet traveled at a "downward angle." Call me irresponsible, but it seems mighty suspicious that Liebeler would proclaim such nonsense and make a point of claiming the face sheet was inaccurate, but then fail to acknowledge the 800 pound gorilla in the room--that the Rydberg drawings were even less accurate.
As a result, it seems clear that Liebeler and Ball, as Warren, Goldberg, and Specter before them, knew full well that the Rydberg drawings were inaccurate and deceptive, but opted to not only not tell the public of this deception, but to play along and promote this deception.
Now I know what you're thinking, because I've had these thoughts myself. You're thinking that the list of people lying to support the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings has grown a bit unwieldy. And you're right. It's important to note, however, that Warren, Goldberg, Specter, and Kelley were the only ones to have seen the autopsy photo of Kennedy's back, and to have known for an absolute fact that the wound was on Kennedy's back, not neck.
It seems possible, then, that the others didn't know for certain they were lying,
and were just repeating the nonsense Specter had fed them, and supporting the commission as a whole.
When one fully immerses oneself in the Kennedy
assassination medical evidence, one finds that it is indeed quite possible that many saw the photo of
Kennedy's back, and knew, for a fact, the Rydberg drawings were
deceptive, but opted to conceal this from the public.
The ARRB interview
of Dr. Paul Peters, one of the doctors who'd worked on Kennedy in Dallas, yielded the surprising
anecdote that he was friends with FBI Director J.
Edgar Hoover’s urologist, Dr. John Lattimer, and that Lattimer had told him
a surprising story--that Hoover had given him access to a set of the president's autopsy photos--Hoover's own private set, mind you--just to spite Robert Kennedy.
If Peters' story is accurate, and Lattimer's story was true--well, geez--that's truly awful. The man who'd led the
FBI’s investigation into the physical aspects of the assassination, Al Rosen,
we should remember, refused to look at the autopsy photos or even read the autopsy report. The man who'd
conducted Kennedy’s autopsy and who'd supervised the creation of the official drawings of Kennedy’s
wounds, Dr. James J. Humes, even worse, was denied the opportunity to review the autopsy photos or
compare them to the drawings. And yet J. Edgar Hoover’s urologist, Dr. Lattimer,
could study them to his heart’s content!
(It should be pointed out, however, that in 1972 Dr. Lattimer became the first independent doctor to inspect the autopsy materials. It seems possible, then, that Dr. Peters took this actual event--of the urologist Lattimer's being the first to view the materials--and scrambled it up into the story he told the ARRB.)
Making Peters’ story more believable, however, is Earl Warren’s posthumously-published recollection that he saw the photos when they came over from Bethesda Naval Hospital. As the official reports and memos of Robert Bouck, head of the Protective Research Division of the Secret Service, indicate that from the night of the autopsy until mid-1965 the autopsy photos remained in the sole custody of the Secret Service--and were never returned to Bethesda Naval Hospital--this can be taken as an indication that the Navy had its own set of photos.
Bouck's comments to the HSCA's investigators are also intriguing. On 8-30-77, Bouck was interviewed by HSCA staff Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy. The notes on this interview, which were to become ARRB Medical Exhibit 123, reflect that the medical evidence in Bouck's possession were seen by "some representative of the Warren Commission who asked to see the inventory or the materials." He then went on to say that the "stuff basically remained in the drawer" and that he wasn't sure if the materials themselves were viewed, but he nevertheless recalled that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley may have been present during the inspection by the Warren Commission representative-- "possibly the general counsel or a staff attorney."
Well, who was this? Not Specter. Specter said Kelley showed him one picture...in Dallas. And not Warren--Bouck would almost certainly have remembered the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court coming to his office. And besides, Warren said the photos were brought to him at the Supreme Court, a proposition supported, moreover, by former Warren Commission counsel Howard Willens in his 2013 book History Will Prove Us Right.
Well, that leaves Warren Commission historian Alfred Goldberg--the only remaining member of its staff to admit seeing the photos--as the man visiting Bouck.
And that puts us back at square one--who showed Warren the autopsy photos? And where did they get these photos?
(The thought occurs that Warren
was in his eighties when he wrote his memoirs. Perhaps, then, he had simply forgotten a quick visit with Bouck and Kelley. If this was so, however, it still fails to explain why Bouck failed to remember Warren's viewing the autopsy materials. Bouck was, after all, but 63 years of age when interviewed by the HSCA.)
The effects of old age might also explain the June, 15, 1975, statements of Warren
Commission counsel Joseph Ball. Ball
told the Long Beach, California, Press-Telegram that “he was the first one to
contact the autopsy surgeon at Bethesda Naval Hospital,” and that “We went out
and spent the afternoon with him…he gave us a complete description of the
wounds on Kennedy’s body—he even drew pictures of it…He showed us a complete
set of x-rays and color pictures which were turned over to Bobby Kennedy at his
request and the request of the Kennedy family.The color pictures definitely show there was an entrance wound on the
rear, right side of his head that blew the top of Kennedy’s head off.” As Ball also insisted that the release of
these pictures would end all speculation on the direction of the shots, and
since he only mentioned the “color pictures” and stated elsewhere that “These
pictures show, as every doctor has testified, that the wounds of entry were in
the back of the head…he was shot in the back of the neck and the rear of the
head” it seems likely the "pictures" he was thinking of were the
Rydberg drawings, which were in
color and depicted the wounds as described.
But the Rydberg drawings
were never turned over to Robert Kennedy. And one can only wonder how Ball could think the release of a drawing
long available would end all speculation on the direction of the shots.
So perhaps Ball was also just confused. Ball was 73 at the time of this
Supporting that Ball’s memory was slipping in 1975
(and that he'd confused the Rydberg drawings for the autopsy photos) is
a 1-5-67 Van Nuys Valley News article on a press conference by Ball in
which he "admitted he has never seen" the autopsy photos and x-rays, but nevertheless called for the public release of the photos and x-rays to "competent pathologists" in order "to show the world Cmdr. James J. Humes and the other doctors testified properly and accurately."
There is, however, some, but not much, support for Ball's latter-day
claim he'd seen the photos. A June 1967
series of articles on the Warren Commission by Associated Press writers
Gavzer and Sid Moody reported: “Albert Jenner, an
assistant counsel now in Chicago, says he saw some of the autopsy
photographs...” Hmmm... 1967 was of course only three years after the Warren Commission
and Jenner was then but 60 years old. It’s doubtful, then, that his memory could have faded so rapidly about such an issue of such importance. The possibility exists,
therefore, that the autopsy photos supposedly denied the autopsy doctors prior
to their Warren Commission testimony and still officially hidden from the
public were never denied to anyone, and were secretly circulated among the
autopsy doctors, the Warren Commission, and the Warren Commission staff, as
well as various Washington
insiders, throughout 1964.
A September 18, 2010 post by
single-assassin theorist John Fiorentino on the alt.assassination.jfk
newsgroup further supports this possibility. While disputing something
I'd written, Fiorentino boasted that he'd received a clear
copy of the back wound photo from Warren Commission counsel David Belin.
As Belin had also worked with the Rockefeller Commission pathology
panel, which had indisputably viewed the photos, however, it seems
probable Belin had kept one of the Rockefeller Commission's copies as
The likelihood remains, then,
that Jenner lied to the Associated Press for their 1967 article.
Researcher Sylvia Meagher claimed to have sat behind Jenner's daughter
at a February 1967 televised discussion of the assassination, and to
have overheard Jenner's conversations with his daughter. After Mark Lane
quoted Jenner from a 12-23-66 radio broadcast, where Jenner claimed "Some members
of the Commission saw both the film and the colored pictures, and the
X-rays. We of the staff saw them ourselves," and Jenner refused to
comment, Meagher heard Jenner's daughter ask her father if he'd in fact
seen the photos, and witnessed Jenner shake his head "no." In December,
1966, of course, the Commission and its former counsel were dedicated to
cutting off the then-widespread
demands for a new investigation, and Jenner's lies may have been
designed to help their cause.
There is reason to believe, moreover, that their efforts were part of a much larger plan.
We've already asserted that the placement of the back wound on the face sheet was reasonably accurate. We'll now prove it beyond all doubt. The measurements recorded at autopsy placed the back wound equidistant between two landmarks, 14 cm below the right mastoid process of Kennedy's skull, and 14 cm from acromion, the tip of his right shoulder. As demonstrated above, the mark on the
face sheet is--well, I'll be darned--equidistant between these two landmarks.
That's it. That's all there is to it. This isn't rocket science.
In November, 1966, however, after critics of the Warren Commission had pointed out that he'd
marked the back wound on the face sheet below the level of the throat wound, Dr. Boswell reportedly re-marked a copy of the face sheet for the
Baltimore Sun, and placed the back wound at a location well above the throat wound. He explained this at the time, moreover, by stating “If I had known at the time that
this sketch would become public record, I would have been more careful.”
yet, as careful as he claimed to be in 1966, in 1977, after having been
contacted by the HSCA and asked to mark a third face sheet, he depicted the back wound
even higher on the body, squarely on the President’s neck.
From these actions one might wonder if Boswell was remembering things backwards, that is, if he was taking what he believed to be important or was told was important, e.g. that the bullet entrance was high enough on the President's body for a bullet heading on a downward trajectory to enter the President’s back and exit his throat, and then marking this position on the sheet. Perhaps the suggestion he'd been part of a conspiracy had taken its toll on Dr. Boswell and had led his memories of the wound to blur into accordance with the official government impression of the wounds. Perhaps this "blurring" was in full effect even before Boswell re-inspected the autopsy photos on November 1, and was to such an extent that neither he nor Dr. Humes realized the back wound in the photos they were studying was at or below the level of the throat wound, and most certainly not above. The research and writings of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus tell us, after all, that when one is led to imagine a plausible event, e.g. the single bullet theory, one’s memories can become entangled with that imagined event. Perhaps then Boswell’s face sheets are simply textbook cases of memory distortion arising from imagining a plausible event.
Dr. Boswell’s 1996 ARRB testimony in fact supports that he
worked backwards. Even though he’d been
shown the official back wound photos three times, most recently in 1977,
Boswell corrected his questioner Jeremy Gunn by telling him that the wound was
not a thoracic wound (as stated in the autopsy report signed by Boswell in 1963) but on the neck. He stated further that the wound would not be nearest a thoracic vertebrae, but a
cervical vertebra. While looking at the
back wound marked on the face sheet, moreover, he tried to explain his reasoning: “where
I had drawn this was—if you looked at the back of the coat it was in the exact
same place…but the coat had been…he was waving, and this was all scrunched up
like this. And the bullet went through
the coat way below where this would be on the body, because it was really at
the base of his neck. And the way I know this best is my memory of the fact
that…when we opened up the chest…the bullet had not pierced through into the
lung cavity... And so…The wound came through and downward and out about the
thyroid cartilage. So if you put a probe
in this and got it back through like this, that would come out right at the
base of the neck.” Minutes later, when
shown the autopsy photo of Kennedy's back, however, Boswell recognized his error and
acknowledged that the wound in the photo was in fact not on the neck but on the back,
and was nearest, by his estimate, the second thoracic vertebrae.
Were Dr. Boswell a simple liar he would most probably have argued that the wound was actually nearest a cervical vertebrae, but that the angle of the photograph had distorted the wound’s actual position, etc...
That Dr. Boswell was remembering things backwards in ’96, however, does not preclude that he was pressured into changing his statements in ’66. He was, after all, under a military order of silence in 1966. Before speaking to the Baltimore Sun and other papers, he would almost certainly have to have received approval from the Justice Department.
Now, ask yourself, was this approval likely to be granted should Boswell not
agree to, well...agree?
The Boswell Incident
A little back-story (pun intended) is in order at this time...
This was powerful stuff. The impact of this
information was such that Jacob Cohen, in a counter-point to Cook's
article in The Nation, nevertheless agreed that "the x-rays and photos
must now be made available for competent study and interpretation."
net effect of these articles, even defenses of the Commission like
Cohen's, then, was to raise doubts about the Commission's conclusions.
This, in turn, raised doubts about the legitimacy of Lyndon Johnson's presidency. As a consequence, it became
politically desirable for the Johnson Administration to have the
autopsy doctors do what they should have done in 1964--verify the
accuracy of the drawings they'd presented the Warren Commission.
was a problem: the autopsy materials had been given to the
Kennedy family the year before. Negotiations thereby commenced for their
Before this was done, however, Robert Kennedy had a talk with family friend, historian Arthur Schlesinger. According to Schlesinger's posthumously published journal, Journals 1952-2000, he spent the evening of October 30, 1966 discussing William Manchester's upcoming book on the assassination with Kennedy, and "this led on to a discussion of the autopsy photographs
and then of the Warren Report. RFK wondered how long he could continue
to avoid comment on the report. It is evident that he believes it was a
poor job and will not endorse it, but that he is unwilling to criticize
it and thereby reopen the whole tragic business."
The next day, October 31, 1966, the Kennedy
family transferred control of the photographs and x-rays back to the National Archives and announced
that, in but five years, in what those loyal to President Johnson undoubtedly
hoped would be his second elected term as President, these photographs
x-rays would be subject to review...by independent experts, beyond Johnson's control.
Wasting no time, on November 1, 1966, the Johnson Administration arranged for autopsy pathologists Dr.s Boswell and Humes, autopsy radiologist John Ebersole, and autopsy photographer John Stringer to finally review the autopsy photographs and x-rays they'd taken on 11-22-63. They created an inventory list for these items. Under the guidance of Johnson's Justice Department, they signed this list on November 10. Suspiciously, the final version of this list included a statement that these photographs and x-rays represented all the photographs and x-rays taken at the autopsy, a statement all four men would later swear was untrue. More important for our immediate discussion, however, is that the inventory list signed by the doctors describes photo 11 as showing "a wound of entrance of missile high in shoulder" and color transparency 38 as showing a "missile wound high in right superior, posterior shoulder."On 11-4-66, at a press conference, President Johnson was asked why the autopsy photos and x-rays had not been made available to the public. He responded:
"I think it has been available to the Warren Commission any time it wanted to see it. Second, I think it is available to any official body now. Third, I think that every American can understand the reasons why we wouldn't want to have the garments, and the records, and everything paraded out in every sewing circle in the country to be exploited and used without serving any good or official purpose. It is my understanding--all of this took place while I was away--that most of this has been over in the Archives stored all the -time. It has always been available to the Warren Commission and the Government, the Justice Department, the FBI. The late, beloved President's brother was Attorney General during the period the Warren Commission was studying this thing and I certainly would think he would have a very thorough interest in seeing that the truth was made evident. I believe he did have. I think that he, the FBI, and the entire Government made available everything that the Commission wanted. I think they made a very thorough study. I know of no evidence that would in any way cause any reasonable person to have a doubt about the Warren Commission. But if there is any evidence and it is brought forth, I am sure that the Commission and the appropriate authorities will take action that may be justified."
President Johnson had of course misrepresented RFK's role in the assassination investigation, which had been next to non-existent. He had also failed to appreciate that the Commission no longer existed. He was apparently unaware, moreover, that his long-time friend and former campaign manager, Texas Governor John Connally, had just been interviewed by Life Magazine, and would magnify the cries for a new investigation by asserting that he had serious doubts about the single-bullet theory, the cornerstone upon which the commission's case for a single-assassin had been built. (Johnson shared these doubts, but had never admitted as much to the public.)
Perhaps, then, Johnson thought he had things under control. The 11-14-66 issue of U.S. News and World Report, in anticipation of William Manchester's book, recounted in detail the day of the assassination. It took Johnson's side on a number of issues. It included as well a brief article on Humes' and Boswell's 11-1-66 review of the autopsy photos and x-rays. This article showed Dr. Humes to be quite careful: "Afterward, Commander Humes said 'the pictures showed just what we testified to' before the Warren Commission—that the assassin's bullets were fired from 'above and behind,' and that the fatal shot caused a 'massive' head wound." But the article showed Dr. Boswell in a different light. It claimed: "Commander Boswell said the pictures prove that 'the drawing we submitted' to the Commission 'was identical with the photographs.'"
Yes, he said "identical." If the Administration was looking for someone to issue a license to lie, they had their man.
They most certainly had cause for concern. Johnson's Daily Diary, available on the Johnson Library website, reflects that on 11-19-63 Johnson spent the bulk of a 2 hour flight "reading a proof" of William Manchester's book on the assassination, The Death of a President. Manchester's book was authorized by the Kennedy family. The early drafts of the book were purported to have been extremely hard on Johnson--not painting him as a conspirator to kill Kennedy, but as one unable to conceal his delight in his own rise to prominence. Reading this book, particularly at this point in its development, would no doubt contribute to Johnson's already stated belief that Robert Kennedy was out to get him, and willing to use the assassination to do it.
November 21, 1966, and over the next few days, an AP article is published nationwide, in which long-time Kennedy family friend, historian Arthur Schlesinger, is quoted as having told an audience that "substantial facts and doubts do exist which would warrant a very intensive inquiry." In the eyes of Johnson, this could only be a message from Robert Kennedy. In this same article, moreover, one-time Johnson mentor and member of the Warren Commission, Senator Richard Russell, let it be known that he'd objected to the Commission's conclusion there had been no conspiracy, and only agreed to go along with the suggestion there hadn't been one because Chief Justice Warren wouldn't allow him to publish a dissent.
Between the Life article, the upcoming Manchester book, and this AP article, then, the Johnson Administration must have felt under siege.
They decided to fight back. Some time in this period (my efforts to establish the exact date continue) Johnson's former aide Jack Valenti writes a memo to Johnson describing disbelief of the Warren Commission's findings in Europe. According to James Reston Jr.s book on Governor Connally, The Lone Star, Valenti notes, furthermore, that "This is not a lightly or rarely held view. It is widening among the peoples of Western Europe. It could become so malignant as to threaten seriously the very integrity of the American Government." Valenti then proposed the formation of a panel of prominent lawyers, led by Louis Nizer, an outspoken supporter of the Warren Commission's findings. Valenti then concluded "Nizer and others ought to be unleashed immediately to publish a counter defense that would nail the detractors and the irresponsible nuts against the wall. The key to the whole assault on the Commission is the so-called single-bullet theory. If this panel of distinguished lawyers could demolish the attack on the single-bullet theory, the slanderers would be laid to rest."
And Valenti wasn't the only one proposing the Administration do something to silence the critics of the single-bullet theory.
On November 21, former Warren Commission counsel W. David Slawson (now working for President Johnson in the Office of Legal Counsel) writes a memo to Acting Attorney General Ramsey Clark regarding a telephone conversation he'd just had with former Warren Commission counsel J. Wesley Liebeler. According to Slawson's memo on this phone call (which can be found in the Harold Weisberg Archives) Liebeler claimed that he'd spoken to Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times the week before, and that Salisbury "was planning a series of articles on the criticisms of the Warren Report," and "believed the criticisms were serious enough to warrant a re-opening of the investigation." Even so, Liebeler felt:
"There is still a reasonable chance of spiking
this thing by a re-investigation limited to aspects of the autopsy, but
if public opinion continues to develop like it has over the past few
months we may soon be faced with a politically unstoppable demand for a
free-wheeling investigation of all aspects."
The political importance of this "limited" re-investigation was paramount, moreover, because, according to Liebeler: "The lunatic fringe already allege or broadly hint (involvement of) the highest echelons of Government in the assassination, and the Government's participation in the 'hiding' of the photographs and X-rays dangerously lends creditability (sic) to their hints and allegations."
According to Slawson, Liebeler then went on to relate that he (Liebeler) had tried to convince Richard Billings of Life Magazine to hold off on its current article on Connally, as it had "a responsibility not to publish" an article on Connally without asking "questions designed to elicit the other side of the issues on which he disagreed with the commission." According to Slawson, Liebeler then proceeded to discuss how at least one of the critics could be turned against the others, noting that Edward Epstein, the author of Inquest, "now feels satisfied on all issues raised in his book except those connected with the autopsy X-rays and photographs. He still believes that they should be examined by an independent group of pathologists. If they are so examined, and if the group contains a man acceptable to him, and if the result is to confirm the Commission's findings, Epstein will publicly state his satisfaction with the report--in effect, he will publicly repudiate the doubts and suspicions he himself cast in his book. And he will join with Liebeler and others in defending the report against Lane, who Epstein is now convinced is unscrupulous and dangerous."
This memo, then,
suggests that the Acting Attorney General, President Johnson's legal
advisers, and former Warren Commission counsel were all conspiring to
prevent a new investigation.
What happened next is uncertain, but it appears that Johnson himself took the next step, and asked Governor Connally for his help. President Johnson's Daily Diary for 11-22-66 reflects that he talked to Governor Connally in the morning, and spent the entire evening with him at his presidential ranch in Texas. On 11-23, the very next day, Governor Connally, whose recent interview with Life Magazine helped fuel the crisis, called a press conference in which he read a prepared statement, reiterating his doubts about the single-bullet theory but nevertheless joining hands with the Johnson Administration by attacking the critics of the Warren Commission. A transcript of the statement published in the next day's New York Times reflects that he began by re-asserting his recollection of the shooting, in which the President and he were hit by separate bullets, but then added "I want to make It very clear, however, that simply because I disagree with the Warren Commission on this one detail does not mean that I disagree with the substance of their over-all findings." He then listed the members of the commission one by one, and described them as "men of unquestioned integrity of long and devoted service to their nation; men whose dedication to the tasks of seeking truth in these circumstances I would never question, and men whose patriotism has been manifested so many times in so many ways over such a long period that it now is somewhat shocking to me that in the backlash of tragedy, journalistic scavengers such as Mark Lane attempt to impugn the motives of these members individually, cast doubts upon the commission as a whole, and question the credibility of the government itself." He then pushed that rather than start a new investigation of "unfounded conspiracy theories" that is "neither warranted, justified, or desirable," "we (and by "we" he clearly meant members of the media, such as those working for Life Magazine and the New York Times, who'd proposed such an investigation) should turn our attention to doing a little research on and evaluation of the credentials of these self-appointed experts, who, with no new evidence, no new facts, nevertheless use distortion, inference, innuendo, in order to cast doubts and create confusion." He then offered "I suspect that a searching investigation into their own credentials will divulge that their motives have political overtones and that their views have been given prominence out of proportion to their value."
One can only speculate as to the actual author of Connally's statement. The President's diary for 11-23-66, however, reflects that at 3:34 PM he once again talked to Connally. One might venture this was a discussion of the press conference, and perhaps an expression of gratitude.
But that wasn't enough for some close to Johnson. As discussed in a November 16, 1988 article by Seth Kantor (found in the Henderson N.C. Times-News) an 11-23-66 memo to Johnson from John Roche, one of his "special consultants", took note of both Governor Connally's recent statements and those of former Warren Commissioner Richard Russell (who'd admitted, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal, reported nationwide by UPI on this very day, that he agreed with Connally in rejecting the single-bullet theory), and asserted: "The comments of Richard Russell and the Life Magazine article by Governor Connally are the two most serious blows which have yet occurred to the public credibility of the Warren Commission. Russell, in particular, by undermining the unanimity of the commission, has turned the cat loose among the canaries. Now the newspapermen are beginning the process of interviewing everyone listed in Who's Who on his view of the Warren Commission... Paranoia, regrettably, is more infectious than measles. We have enough problems already with the war in Vietnam, and to have the nation suddenly indulging in an orgy of sick speculation on events in Dallas could really poison the atmosphere." Roche then suggested that Johnson give "top priority to the problem, perhaps convening a group of your wisest counselors to work out a strategy." He then urged Johnson to instruct his aides to make no comment on the issue, a suggestion with which Johnson complied by dictating a memo to Robert Kintner, telling him to "instruct everybody accordingly."
Johnson, or "one of his wisest counselors" then, arranged for others to do their dirty work, and publicly support the single-bullet theory deemed necessary for the single-assassin conclusion. While it's just speculation that someone from the White House made some calls to bring about the news stories of the next few days, this speculation is more than reasonable given the circumstances. Consider...
An October 6, 1966 phone call between President
Johnson and his most trusted adviser Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas
has Johnson instruct Fortas to have a talk with FBI Assistant Director
Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, whom Fortas claims is a "very close friend" to
Johnson, and enlist him in their campaign to prop up the Warren
An internal FBI memo dated 11-22-66 (Rosen to DeLoach, 11/22/1966, FBI HQ JFK Assassination File, 62-109060-4267), however, shows that this help was not readily available, for on this memo FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover notes “We don’t agree with the Commission as it says one shot missed entirely & we contend all three shots hit.”
But then something
happened. On 11-25-66, Hoover issues a statement claiming "There is no
conflict" between the FBI's position and that of the commission. He
then explains the confusion, attributing it to the fact that the FBI
agents at the autopsy had been told no exit wound could be associated
with the entrance wound on the back, but that, unknown to these agents,
"the physicians eventually were able to trace the path of the bullet
through the body." (This, of course, never happened.) He then relates "Meanwhile, the clothing worn by the President when he was shot was examined in the FBI Laboratory. This examination
revealed a small hole in the back of his coat and shirt and a slit characteristic of an exit hole for a projectile in the front of the shirt one inch
below the collar button. A nick on the left side of the tie knot, possibly
caused by the same projectile which passed through the shirt, also was
noted. These findings clearly indicated the examining physician's
early observation that the bullet penetrated only a short distance into the president's back probably was in error." (This, of course, fails to explain why the FBI continued to tell newsmen that the back bullet fell out for months after the shooting.)
So...someone--perhaps Johnson, perhaps DeLoach--got to Hoover, and got him to publicly support the single-bullet theory.
himself suggests his involvement. An 11-25-66
memo from DeLoach to Tolson recounts that DeLoach had called Chief
Justice Earl Warren on 11-23-66 on an apparently unrelated matter, but
that Warren had brought up some of the recent problems surrounding the
commission during the phone call. According to DeLoach, Warren
complained about former commission counsel Wesley Liebeler, and noted
that Liebeler was a '"beatnik' type of individual who had proved to be
very unethical." According to DeLoach, Warren was displeased that
Liebeler had kept detailed notes on his disagreements with the
commission, and that Liebeler's notes had formed the "basis" of
Epstein's book. In closing, however, DeLoach revealed more about himself
than about Warren and his obvious dislike of Liebeler. He wrote: "I
informed the Chief Justice... that the Director, in the near future,
planned to issue a statement defending the FBI's phase of the
assassination investigation. The Chief Justice said he was glad to hear
this and that the Director's name and prestige would be a great help in
clearing the air."
Well, let's think about this. DeLoach has told Warren on the 23rd--the day after Hoover claimed the FBI did not agree with the commission--that Hoover was about to issue a statement defending the FBI's phase of the assassination investigation. And Warren was pleased with this and felt this statement would help "clear the air." Well, seeing as a statement from Hoover defending the FBI in which he voiced his disagreement with the single-bullet theory would not be good news to Warren, it seems fairly obvious DeLoach knew Hoover was about to offer his support for the single-bullet theory...
And that he knew this because he was the one writing Hoover's statement... Now, this gets a bit slippery. In his book Post Mortem, Harold Weisberg recounts how he asked the FBI for a copy of the 11-25-66 statement Hoover provided the press, and how it took them nine years, and a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, to comply. He also presents the full statement sent the press. The statement purports that Hoover had been sent a letter by a (conveniently unidentified) newsman on 11-21-66, asking him to explain why the FBI's report on the autopsy differed from the official autopsy report, and that Hoover had responded to this newsman on 11-23-66. The rest of the statement then proceeds to recount what Hoover purportedly told this newsman.
Well, this is mighty suspicious, wouldn't you say? On 11-22-66, Hoover notes that the FBI and Warren Commission are in disagreement on the single-bullet theory. Three days later a press release is issued in which it is claimed Hoover received a letter from an unnamed newsman asking about this disagreement on the 21st, and that he responded to this letter on the 23rd, and that his letter explained that there was NO disagreement between the FBI and Warren Commission on the single-bullet theory. Well, heck, why couldn't Hoover have told this to the press in a press conference? Why issue a written statement? And why hide the identity of the newsman?
And, oh yeah, while we're asking, does it make any sense whatsoever that Hoover would change his mind about this extremely important issue...overnight?
I think not. It's just speculation, but it seems likely DeLoach prepared "Hoover's" statement at Johnson's urging, and pretended the statement was in response to a letter from a newsman in order to hide its political nature.
No, scratch that. It's not just speculation. When testifying before the Church Committee on 11-25-75, DeLoach was asked if he could recall any conversations he may have had with President Johnson regarding the Kennedy assassination, beyond one in which President Johnson asked him to investigate the critics of the Warren Commission. Here is his response: "To the best of my recollection, Mr. Seidel, and I previously testified to this just a minute ago, the only other conversations I recall was when President Johnson called either Mr. Hoover or me, or it was Mr. Watson (Johnson's assistant) who called Mr. Hoover or me, and indicated that he wanted the FBI to issue a statement reflecting the findings of the FBI and the Warren Commission that it was Oswald and Oswald alone that committed the assassination. I think the Bureau files would reflect not only the call from the White House to either Mr. Hoover or me and will also reflect that a press release was written under Mr. Hoover's instruction and issued shortly thereafter in this connection."
While DeLoach insisted he couldn't recall the date of his or Hoover's conversation with Johnson or Watson, the 11-25-66 press release is the only press release in which FBI Director Hoover defended the findings of the Warren Commission. DeLoach had thereby testified that press release was written at President Johnson's request...er, command.
And that Hoover was displeased by this... As questioning continued, DeLoach stated further that "I distinctly recall that Mr. Hoover, as he often did, was unhappy about the fact that the President of the United States was calling on the FBI to issue such a release. And while he had disagreements with the request, he buckled under and issued such a release." When then asked how he knew this, DeLoach replied "either Mr. Hoover told me this or Mr. Clyde Tolson, the Associate Director, who was my superior, told me this." He then continued "as I seem to recall, Mr. Hoover or Mr. Tolson or someone felt that we were being used and we had already submitted our findings and the FBI should not be used as a public sounding board in issuing such a release." He then clarified "The FBI had no dissatisfaction, Mr. Epstein, with the findings that Oswald and Oswald alone committed the assassination. But at the same time, our findings had been submitted some years previously and we felt that it was wrong for us to be used as a public relations sounding board at that time."
This article, as found in The Tuscaloosa News, where it was accompanied by a photo of CE 386 with the caption "Neck Wound Correct Here," claimed:
"A doctor who helped perform the autopsy on
President John F. Kennedy said today he made a diagram error in a hasty
'worksheet' sketch which was not drawn for the final autopsy report.
Some critics have used the sketch in challenging the Warren Commission
Dr. J. Thornton Boswell said the diagram showed that the lower bullet wound was in the President's back. Actually, he said, the wound was at the back of the base of the neck.
The position of the wound was crucial in determining the trajectory of the bullet.
Boswell said the diagram was drawn quickly during the autopsy as 'rough notes' and was not meant to be exact. He pointed out that longhand notes he made on the sketch gave the correct, precise location of the wound...
In an interview, Boswell said that when he examined the autopsy photographs for the first time Nov. 1, the pictures showed clearly that the wound was in the neck. The photographs are in the National Archives and are not available to the public...
One of the critics of the Warren
Report, Edward Epstein, used the diagram and the FBI
reports to suggest the possibility that there may have been a second
But Epstein, author of the book “Inquest,” conceded in the current issue of Esquire magazine that if the autopsy photos showed the wound in the neck, there would be no further doubt about the autopsy report and that second assassin would be ruled out.”
And should one think the timing of this article a
coincidence, one should also consider that an 11-25-66 article by Peter
the New York Times quoted Boswell as asserting that, after he and Dr.
inspected the photos on November 1, 1966, there was “absolutely no doubt in our
minds now” about the single-bullet theory, and then repeated the lie
that measurements were used to create the Rydberg drawings. To be precise, the article related that:
Warren Commission published "schematic drawings" done by a Navy medical
illustrator and based on measurements and verbal descriptions given
him by the autopsy surgeons just before they were called to testify. The
drawings include Commission Exhibit 385, which shows the downward path
the bullet is thought to have taken through the President's neck, and
they remain 'sufficient to illustrate the finding' Dr. Boswell said
And, should one still have doubts that Dr. Boswell's interviews were being orchestrated by hands unseen, one should finally consider that in the extensive 11-25-66 article in the Baltimore Sun, in which a new and improved version of the face sheet was unveiled, Dr. Boswell was purported to have also claimed that:
- the photographs and X-rays prove conclusively that the facts about the wounds as printed in the Warren Commission Report were consistent with the findings of the autopsy...
- there was absolutely no doubt that the controversial neck and throat wound was caused by a bullet that entered the base of President Kennedy's neck, passed completely through the neck, and exited from the throat...
- The wound in the back of the neck, was without any doubt, one of entrance and not of exit...
- A report made by FBI observers present at the autopsy inaccurately referred to a 'back' wound rather than a neck wound and should be discounted...
- the autopsy was routine in every respect and...included every activity which would accompany a medical-legal autopsy...
- (At the commencement of the autopsy) The pathologists had already been told of the probable extent of the injuries and what had been done by physicians in Dallas...
- the tracheotomy incision was examined and extensive trauma was noted on one side...
- (The pathologists) "concluded that night that the bullet had, in fact, entered in the back of the neck, traversed the neck, and exited anteriorly'..."
- a telephone call made to the hospital in Dallas by Dr. Humes the next morning merely confirmed what was already a certainty to the pathologists--that there was a bullet wound in the President's neck at the point of the tracheotomy incision...
- (CE 385) was a scale drawing based on a photograph taken of the president when he was alive...
- the bullet path (on CE 385) was drawn using data about the entry hole and the lung bruises obtained during the autopsy and the precise exit wound as defined by the Dallas physicians...
- (The FBI report's reference to a back wound may have represented) "a laymen's observation of an area just below the shoulder line that, to a physician, is still the neck region..."
and then the standard line, pushed by Specter and Liebeler, that:
- the President, according to movie films, had his arm raised, waving to the crowds, when he was shot. This movement would have raised his coat and shirt resulting in bullet holes lower in the clothing than were indicated by the wound.
Now, all of these claims were
misleading or untrue. So...was it merely a coincidence that, just days
after one of President Johnson's most trusted aides informed him that the single-bullet theory must be defended, and just days after a legal adviser to President Johnson called the acting
Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark and proposed that a
"re-investigation" of the medical evidence could hold
off the calls for a thorough re- investigation of the murder of
President Kennedy, the supposedly sworn-to-silence Dr. Boswell, who'd
signed a document stating that the non-fatal wound was in the "right
superior, posterior shoulder" barely two weeks before, suddenly granted
interviews in which he claimed the non-fatal wound was “in the neck” and
that the location of this wound left
“absolutely no doubt” about the single-bullet theory? And was it merely a
coincidence that Dr. Boswell's account of the autopsy contradicted Dr.
Humes' sworn testimony about the throat wound? And that he instead
claimed they'd assumed it was an exit while the body was still in front
of them? And was it just a coincidence that this not-so-subtle tweak to the official story might
help Johnson and his men fend off calls for an exhumation of the
No. I think not. The articles reek of an orchestrated lie.
If they were a lie, moreover, it's hard not to believe the upward migration of
Kennedy's back wound between the
night of the autopsy and the testimony of the autopsy doctors before
the Warren Commission was similarly orchestrated, and was a migration spurred on by the climate in Washington, and not the incompetence of a couple of doctors.
Boswell's interviews contained deliberate disinformation, and came about as a result of a united effort to mislead the public about the location of
Kennedy's back wound, finds support, moreover, in an unexpected place. By November
1966, when Boswell gave his interviews, Washington D.C. was humming with chatter on the upcoming release of William
Manchester's The Death of a President, a book written at the request of
the Kennedy family, for which Manchester had been granted unparalleled
access to Kennedy's Secret Service
detail. Much of this chatter, moreover, revolved around President
Johnson's concern the book would make him look bad. (After finally giving in and reading the
book, Jacqueline Kennedy came to agree that the book was indeed unfair
to Johnson, and fought successfully for a number of edits.)
In any event, the book, when serialized in the 1-24-67 issue of Look Magazine, included the following description of the first shot's trajectory: "The President was wounded, but not fatally. A 6.5 millimeter bullet had entered the back of his neck, bruised his right lung, ripped his windpipe, and exited at his throat, nicking the knot of his tie." Now, from this, one might assume Manchester was simply regurgitating Dr. Humes' Warren Commission testimony. But there's more to this than at first meets the eye.
It then explains:
"In the summer of 1966, a former Cornell graduate student published a dissertation that suggested that this first bullet followed a different trajectory. The implication was that a second assassin had aided Oswald. The issue is resolved by the X-rays and photographs which were taken from every conceivable angle during the autopsy on the President's body. Robert Kennedy has decided that this material is too unsightly to be shown to anyone, including qualified scholars, until 1971. He has turned it over to the National Archives with that restriction. Although this writer has not seen the material, he interviewed three people with special qualifications who examined it before it was put under seal. None of them knew the other two, but all three gave identical accounts of what they had seen in the photographs and X-rays. The X-rays show no entry wound 'below the shoulder,' as argued by the graduate student. Admittedly, X-rays of active projectiles passing through soft tissue are difficult to read. However, the photographs support them in this case--and clearly reveal that the wound was in the neck. Finally, the recollections of all doctors present during the autopsy, including the President's personal physician, agree unanimously with this overwhelming evidence."
When published in book form, three months later, moreover, the words in bold above had been re-written. This paragraph was now just a footnote, and read:
"In the summer of 1966, a former Cornell graduate student published a book which suggested that this first bullet followed a different trajectory. The implication was that a second assassin had aided Oswald. The issue is resolved by the X-rays and photographs which were taken from every conceivable angle during the autopsy on the President's body. Because the material is unsightly it will be unavailable until 1971. However, the author has discussed it with three men who examined it before it was placed under seal. All three carried special professional qualifications. Each was a stranger to the other two. Nevertheless their accounts were identical. The X-rays show no entry wound 'below the shoulder,' as argued by the graduate student. Admittedly, X-rays of active projectiles passing through soft tissue are difficult to read. Yet, the photographs support them in this case--and reveal that the wound was in the neck. Finally, the recollections of all doctors present during the autopsy, including the President's personal physician, agree unanimously with this overwhelming evidence. Thus the account in the above text is correct."
Well, I'll be. Who were these three
"professionals?" While one might at first assume they were three of the
four members of Kennedy's autopsy team (the four being Humes, Boswell,
Stringer, and Ebersole), who'd just inventoried the evidence for the
archives, Manchester specifies both that the men conducting this
examination were strangers to each other, and that they'd examined the
evidence before it was returned to the government and placed under seal
by the Kennedy family on October 31, 1966. He also lists no interviews
with these men in the Sources sections of his book.
He does list a 7-11-66 interview with Dr. George Burkley, Kennedy's physician, however. This lends support that he spoke to Burkley on this issue, and that Burkley had, yes indeed, confirmed that the wound was on the neck, as reported. There's a HUGE problem with this, however. The death certificate for Kennedy made out by Burkley on 11-23-63 described the wound Manchester describes as a wound on the "back of his neck" as a wound "in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra." Back, not neck. And the third thoracic vertebra--not remotely on the neck.
So who could get to Burkley, and get him to mislead
Manchester about the location of the back wound? Well, it seems a bit
of a coincidence that Burkley was retained by President Johnson, and was
Johnson's personal physician when Manchester asked him about the back
wound. It's also quite intriguing that the only known inspection of the
autopsy materials prior to their being placed "under seal" was on April
26, 1965, when they were inventoried upon transfer to the Kennedy
family, and that this inventory was performed by Dr. Burkley, along with
Robert Bouck, Special Agent in Charge of the Protective Research
Division of the Secret Service, Edith Duncan, administrative assistant
Secret Service agent Chester Miller, and, according to some sources,
Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley.
And yet...not only
were these people not strangers to each other, they, (with the possible
exception of Dr. Burkley), failed to have the "special professional
qualifications" described by Manchester.
This, then, leads to the uncomfortable possibility the "examination" cited by Manchester took place while the autopsy materials were in possession of the Kennedy family, and that three trusted "professionals," purported strangers to each other, lied to Manchester. If so, no word of this "examination" has ever surfaced.
If it even happened... Yes, it seems probable no
examination of this type actually took place, and that Manchester was
exaggerating both the precision of the examination he described, and the
qualifications of those performing this examination.
probability is supported by a letter published in The Manchester Affair,
a book on the difficulties Manchester faced getting his book published.
This letter was written by Manchester on 7-17-66, shortly after the
publication of Edward Epstein's Inquest, the book by the "former Cornell
graduate student" causing Manchester so much concern. This letter was
written to Robert Kennedy, and brags: "Epstein's Inquest, a really
poisonous job, needn't trouble us any longer. With the help of Dr.
Burkley and Howard Willens I think I've knocked out what, at first
reading, appears to be one strong point in Epstein's version." (The importance of this letter was first noted by Howard Roffman.)
As we've seen, in the Sources section of his book, Manchester lists an interview with Burkley on 7-11-66. Well, he also lists an interview with Willens on 7-8-66. These are the last of the hundreds of interviews listed in the Sources section. There is no record of him interviewing three men with "special professional qualifications" at any time this month. In fact, it had been months since Manchester had interviewed anyone prior to his interviews of Willens, and then Burkley. The probability exists then, that Burkley and Willens supplied Manchester with the identities of the three strangers with "special professional qualifications," mentioned by Manchester. Burkley, was, of course, a doctor. He saw the photos and X-rays. He was almost certainly one of the three "strangers."
But who were the other two?
close look at Willens provides us an answer. Well, at least a possible
answer. Willens had, of course, served as counsel for the Warren
Commission, working as an assistant to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin.
But what is little appreciated about Willens is that, unlike the rest
of the lawyers working for the commission, Willens did not come to the
Commission from outside Washington, but inside. He was a lawyer for the
Justice Department, strategically placed within the Commission by acting
Attorney General Katzenbach, supposedly to work as a liaison between
the Commission and the Justice Department.
But his actual role went further, much further.
According to Epstein's Inquest, for which Willens was interviewed, Willens was responsible for selecting most of the junior counsel working for the Commission. While some of these men, the work-horses of the Commission, were recommended by others, at least two were Willens' personal picks--David Belin, an old school chum from the University of Michigan, and Arlen Specter, an old school chum from Yale, with whom he'd edited the Yale Law Journal. As Willens was also tasked with assigning these men their duties, it follows from Epstein's book that Willens was far and away the man most responsible for the strange circumstance that Arlen Specter, of all the lawyers in America, would end up being the chief investigator for the Commission on the specifics of the shooting, i.e. the man tasked with determining how many shots were fired, and from where they were fired.
Specter's 2000 autobiography, Passion for
Truth, in fact, supports this analysis. There, Specter admits both that
Willens offered him a job on the Commission and was involved in the
discussions leading Specter to become the junior counsel investigating
the actual shooting. Specter does clarify, however, that Willens and
Rankin offered him his choice of areas to investigate, with the
exception of Area 2, which looked into the identity of the assassin
(because Specter was a well-known prosecutor), and Area 4, which looked
into Oswald's possible connections to Russia and Cuba (because the
senior counsel for this area was also from Philadelphia), and that
Specter himself made the decision to investigate Area 1 after a
discussion with his law partner, Marvin Katz.
There is a
strange element in Specter's account, however. He describes the area
of his investigation, Area 1, as President Kennedy's activities from the
moment he left the White House en route to Texas until his return to
the White House after the autopsy. Well, this hides from his readers
that he was also ultimately responsible for establishing the facts
surrounding the shooting--how many shots were fired, how fast they were
fired, and where they hit--and that this led him to orchestrate the
May 24, 1964 re-enactment of the shooting, take the testimony of
the FBI and Secret Service agents involved in this re-enactment, and take the
testimony of two representatives of the U.S. Military on July 24, 1964,
in which they played word games in order to assure the Commission
Oswald was capable of performing the shooting.
And that's not all that's discomforting about the Willens/Specter nexxus. Willens was also responsible for disseminating the thousands of FBI, CIA, and Secret Service Reports provided the Warren Commission to the lawyers responsible for the related areas of investigation. This put Willens, an employee of President Johnson's Justice Department, in the driver's seat of the Commission's investigation.
And this didn't go unnoticed. When interviewed for Inquest, Commissioner John McCloy let his distrust of Willens known. He told Epstein that Willens "was one of Katzenbach's boys. Katzenbach put him in there to keep us on the right track. There was already an independent investigator (Redlich) and there were some clashes. Willens was a bureaucrat and had a different perspective. Willens had to be reprimanded several times by the chief justice. Once he kept material from us--evidence-- he locked it in his top drawer, afraid we weren't ready for it. He wanted to be the star-- thought this case would make him. He is ambitious, and will probably write a book. We finally forced him to give us the evidence. He also reported to Katzenbach, gave him a different story."
And McCloy was not alone in his criticism of Willens. In his final interview, a March 26, 1974 interview with Warren Commission historian Alfred Goldberg, Chief Justice Warren acknowledged he'd had difficulties with Willens. In a section slated to be edited from the typed-up interview, but viewable on jfkassassinationfiles.com, Warren noted the difficulties Chief Counsel Rankin had in dealing with the FBI, CIA, and State Department. He then added: "There was another factor--the Department of Justice sent a young man over to the Commission to act as liaison with them. He was very critical of me from the time he came over to us. Lee Rankin as Chief Counsel was in a very delicate position."
And this wasn't the last time Willens'
loyalty to the commission was called into doubt...by a supposed
colleague. In 1975, a June 3, 1960 memo in which FBI Director J. Edgar
Hoover warned the State Department that someone might be impersonating
Oswald bubbled to the surface. A 2-23-75 article in the Sacramento Bee
on this discovery notes that "Neither J. Lee Rankin, the former
general counsel of the commission, nor any of his former staff aides who
were most involved in investigating Oswald's background, said they
could remember seeing it. However, Howard P. Willens, now a private
lawyer here, identified himself in an interview Saturday as the
commission lawyer who had reviewed the F.B.I. file. Willens, who was
then the special liaison officer to the Justice Department, said that
'while I do not think that anyone can state now with the necessary
precision whether or not he saw the Hoover memo, it is my best
recollection that I did, in fact, see that memo. I do not want to be in a
public debate with my old colleagues,' Willens said, 'but I know that
there was discussion of this among others on the staff concerned with
the activities of Oswald abroad. I am concerned with continued public
references to the notion that the commission overlooked obvious facts."
yeah, of course he was concerned. If he'd seen the memo, but no one else had, it meant that he, as the reviewer of the files tasked with making
sure they reached the appropriate counsel, screwed up, OR made it
The article then quotes W. David Slawson, one of the 'old
colleagues' Willens didn't want to debate: "'We were the rumor
runner-downers, and we certainly should have seen this material, as we
did a great deal of other stuff that we showed to be unfounded,' he
said. 'It may be more significant that we did not see it, in terms of a
possible cover-up and the reasons for it, than if we had seen it. I
mean, I don't know where the imposter notion would have led us--perhaps
nowhere, like a lot of other leads. But the point is, we didn't know
about it. And why not?' Slawson said in an interview that the
investigation should be reopened also 'because the interposition of an
impostor, if it happened, is a political act. And, after all, this (the
assassination) was not just another murder,' he said. 'It was, by
definition, a political murder.'" (Slawson later clarified that his
call for a new investigation of the assassination was a call for a new
investigation limited to the actions of the FBI and CIA.)
So, yeah, Willens was
clearly ambitious and close to Specter, and was quite possibly told by
Specter that Specter and Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley had
viewed the back wound photo on May 24, 1964, the day of the re-enactment
Perhaps, then, Willens told Manchester that they'd viewed the photo and that it confirmed for them that the wound was in the neck. Perhaps, then, Manchester either briefly talked to them himself, or made out like he had personally spoken to them, in order to sell what he wanted his readers to believe: that there was but one shooter, Oswald. (Note: while Willens has claimed, in an October 2013 email to yours truly, that he did not know of Specter's viewing the autopsy photo at the time of his discussion with Manchester, he also claimed to have no recollection of a 1966 discussion with Manchester, or ever discussing Kennedy's back wound with Manchester. So he's clearly forgotten something.)
In any event, I have come to suspect that Willens did discuss the back wound with Manchester and that this discussion did in fact lead Manchester to conclude the location of Kennedy's back wound was no longer an issue of concern. In March 2012, I contacted Wesleyan University, where Manchester's papers are stored. It had occurred to me that the restrictions placed on Manchester's many interviews applied only to interviews conducted between March 26, 1964 and April 15, 1966, and that his July 1966 interviews with Willens and Burkley were not covered. I asked an archivist if she could help me find the notes for these interviews. Alas, she told me that a thorough search through the archives' data base turned up no record for these interviews. Hmmm... This raises the possibility no notes were created, and that they weren't created because these "interviews" were little more than short phone calls in which Manchester asked, point blank, if the wound was on the back or the neck, and was told it was on the neck.
In August 2012, moreover, I found further reason to doubt Manchester's scholarship on this issue. While browsing through the Weisberg Archives, I came across a July 1967 article by Edward Epstein--the writer whom Manchester sought to discredit with his claim the back wound was on the neck--in Commentary Magazine. Incredibly, someone (almost certainly Richard Goodwin, who'd published a positive review of Epstein's book on 7-23-66, but who was nevertheless drafted by Robert Kennedy into serving as the Kennedy family's editor of Manchester's book over the tendentious months that followed) had provided Epstein an August 1966 version of Manchester's original draft, then entitled "The Death of Lancer." Included in this draft were many references to President Johnson's weakness and lack of character. It also included the earliest version of the footnote designed to discredit Epstein's book, written before the Kennedy family had released the photos and x-rays back into the hands of the Johnson Administration. It read:
Epstein then reveals that "When asked about this footnote by Richard N. Goodwin, who was then acting as a consultant on the book, Manchester let it be understood that he had personally studied both the X-rays and the photographs of the autopsy. Yet, as Goodwin later learned to his dismay, permission had never been granted Manchester to examine the photographs. When presented with this fact, Manchester admitted that he had actually never seen either the X-rays or photographs, but was reluctant to change the text which was then being rushed to publication by Look. Finally, under editorial pressure, he inserted a statement in the final version to the effect that he had not personally seen the autopsy pictures, but had discussed them with three men, each a stranger to the others, who carried "special professional qualification" and who had examined the evidence. Each gave, according to Manchester, accounts "identical" to the one he had reported in his August footnote."
While Epstein went on to suggest that these three unnamed strangers were not real, and were invented by Manchester to cover his tracks, it seems probable, based upon Manchester's interviews of Willens and Burkley, and subsequent letter to Robert Kennedy, that Manchester was merely trying to hide the identities of the men he'd spoken to, and had decided to let Goodwin think he'd personally viewed the autopsy materials. If this is so (that Willens and Burkley had only spoken to Manchester under the condition their identities not be made public, and Manchester had sought to hide their identities from Goodwin and others), well, then, this might explain why Manchester left behind no notes on his interviews with Willens and Burkley: he'd destroyed them.
It seems clear, for that matter, that the pronouncements of Boswell and Manchester in an effort to shoot down Epstein were but mild skirmishes in a much wider and wilder war: one held not between the Johnson Administration and conspiracy theorists but between Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy.
October 3, 1966, October 6, 1966, and
January 11, 1967 taped telephone conversations between Johnson and his
Supreme Court appointee and confidante Abe Fortas reveal
what Johnson's friend Connally meant when he said he suspected there
were "political overtones" behind the books and articles
Warren Commission. These calls make clear, moreover, that Johnson
himself was a conspiracy
theorist of the highest order, and that he suspected Robert Kennedy
(big surprise)--along with pollster Lou Harris, The
Washington Post, Newsweek, Look Magazine, and forty one employees of The
Kennedy Foundation--of conspiring against him at every turn. He
proposed that Kennedy was somehow behind: 1) an attempt to tie Johnson
crimes of convicted felon Billie Sol Estes in 1962; 2) the public
exposure of corruption and the subsequent loss of power of
Johnson crony Bobby
Baker in 1963; 3) the public disgrace and resignation of Johnson aide
Walter Jenkins in 1964; 4) the current attacks on the Warren Commission;
5) the concurrent creation of "great doubt" about whether he, Johnson,
"really killed the President;" 6) the forthcoming resignation of Johnson
aide Bill Moyers; 7) the forthcoming release of William Manchester's
The Death of a President in 1967, while Johnson was still in office, and
8) the recent exposure of corruption and the subsequent loss of power
of both Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of New York and
Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut. Apparently, Johnson felt
"Bobby" was out to get him from even before the assassination, and was
trying to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency, so that he
("Bobby") could retake the presidency in his brother's name.
Now, with that understanding, we can view a few other incidents as aspects of this hidden war.
First, in the eyes of Johnson, what was "Bobby's" response to Boswell's claim the autopsy photos proved the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings, and supported the Warren Commission's conclusions?
So what was the Johnson response to Boggs' (and presumably Bobby's) reasonable proposal? A thinly-veiled threat. A 12-5-66 column by Drew
Pearson, Washington D.C.'s most influential muckraker, was devoted to
the proposition that much of the secrecy surrounding President Kennedy's
autopsy was the fault not of the Johnson Administration, but the
Kennedy family, which sought to hide President Kennedy's Addison's
disease from the public. This column, built around an article in a
German publication, repeated and proposed a number of cruel lies,
including "that the Kennedys hid the X rays, even from the Warren
Commission," because the "X rays could have revealed the Addison's
disease." The truth, of course, was that the x-rays were controlled
by the Secret Service at Johnson's beck and call, and that Robert
Kennedy had had nothing to do with keeping the x-rays from the Warren
Commission. It seems likely, then, that this article was a warning shot
to Robert Kennedy--"don't mess with Johnson's legacy--the Warren
Commission--unless you want your brother's reputation to take a
(Pearson, it should be noted, often worked as a hatchet-man for
Johnson. In an oral history for the Johnson Library he admitted that he
was scheduled to meet with Johnson at Johnson's ranch on the night of
the assassination. About what it is not clear. But it seems more than a
coincidence that, within weeks of the assassination, Pearson published a
blistering attack on Don Reynolds, the insurance salesman who'd testified
before congress on 11-22 regarding Johnson's corrupt business practices.)
And this was no isolated incident. On March 3, 1967, the day after Robert Kennedy publicly declared his opposition to Johnson's continuing escalation of the war in Vietnam, Pearson and his colleague Jack Anderson published a column regarding a story he'd known about for months, and had personally discussed with Johnson. Its opening line read: "President Johnson is sitting on a political H-bomb, an unconfirmed report that Senator Robert Kennedy may have approved an assassination plot which then possibly backfired against his late brother." Yep, you got it. In December 1966, just after Life Magazine, the New York Times, and Kennedy family friend Arthur Schlesinger called for a new investigation of the Kennedy assassination, Pearson published a column blaming the Kennedy family for the secrecy regarding President Kennedy's autopsy, and then, in March 1967, just after Robert Kennedy started criticizing Johnson's policy regarding Vietnam, Pearson published a column blaming Robert Kennedy for his brother's murder.
It's a lot to chew on, I admit.
Military Review Review
The November '66 Boswell interviews were, for that matter, not the last time the autopsy doctors talked to the news media and deliberately misrepresented the back wound location.
On January 20, 1967, the Justice Department asked
the doctors to re-examine the autopsy photos. For this inspection, Dr. Finck was rushed back from Viet
The urgency of this review, moreover, appears to have been linked to an
upcoming CBS News program re-investigating the assassination.
That CBS’ over-all conclusions were pre-determined and were designed to
re-sell the Warren Report to the American people (CBS had run a special
supporting the Warren Report when it was first released) is suggested, moreover, by a
January 11, 1967 memorandum from Les Midgley, Executive Producer of the
upcoming program, to former Warren Commissioner John McCloy. There, Midgley cites
a need for “a statement—if possible—from Humes, Boswell and Finck that
examination of the x-rays and color pictures does not change their findings,
and we certainly would appreciate your assistance in obtaining same.” This memo, for that matter,
may have been written in response to a 1-14-67
Saturday Evening Post article already on the street claiming “no single element of the commission’s
version of the assassination is more suspect than the official account of the
In any event, the memo appears to have reaped some rapid rewards. According to McCloy’s biographer, Kai Bird, McCloy traveled to Washington
VERY SAME DAY and met privately with a number of top government officials including
Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, and
Henry Fowler. That Archivist Robert Bahmer wrote researcher Harold Weisberg on 1-16-67 and told him that no examinations of the autopsy photos and x-rays were pending, and that Dr. Finck received a phone call on 1-17-67--the VERY NEXT DAY--telling
him to come to Washington and conduct the examination proposed by Midgley but 6 days before, then, suggests that McCloy, who had been advising CBS News President Richard Salant
on the creation of their upcoming program since early December, and whose daughter was Salant’s assistant, may have talked to someone
in the Justice Department as well.
That Midgley’s memo also mentions his hopes of obtaining Dr. Humes’ help in resolving “forever the discussion about back versus neck wound,” and that Humes not only made an appearance on the program, but flat-out lied about the “back versus neck wound” to Dan Rather, is suggestive as well that McCloy’s visit may have been not only the impetus for the doctors' January review of the autopsy materials, but the determinant of their written conclusions.
Something is just wrong. When one looks at the report of the
so-called “military review,” dated January
26, 1967, one can see that the photographs were not merely cataloged by the doctors, but re-interpreted to show that they did indeed confirm the
findings of the Warren Commission. One of the
autopsy photos determined to have been taken from behind Kennedy on the November
inventory list was now determined to have been taken from in front of Kennedy. And that's not the worst of it. Amazingly, the photos determined on November 1, 1966 to represent a wound
in the “right superior posterior shoulder” were now described as representing a
wound “low in the back of the neck.” Even worse, the report asserts that the
original autopsy reports’ description of this same wound as residing in “the
upper right posterior thorax,” meant that, in layman terms, it was low in the
back of the neck. Since the thorax ends
when it reaches neck, this would be the same as saying that Governor Connally’s
wrist wound was in layman’s terms a hand wound, or that the City of Las
Vegas is, in layman’s terms, in California. No doctor would make this mistake. The report
goes on to say “No one photograph shows both the wound at the back of the neck
and the wound in the throat, but by comparing Photographs 11, 12, 38, and 39
with the side views shown in photographs 1-4, inclusive, it is clear that
Warren Commission Exhibits 385 and 386, which also depict the location of the
neck wound, are accurate.”
Dr. Humes told this same tale on CBS six months later.
Well, this goes too far. There is no way one can say that CE
385 and CE 386 are accurate, as they portray a bullet hole at the base of the
neck, inches above and to the right of the wound on the autopsy photo. In fact, since
the Dox drawing of the back wound taken directly from the autopsy photos was
published by the HSCA, one can state unequivocally that this is a damned lie.
Not one defender of the Warren Report will defend this statement.
Is it simply a coincidence then that the doctors claimed to have no memory of this report when asked about it by the ARRB?
Owing to their suspicious memory loss, and the suspicious
change of the description of the autopsy photos, and the outright lie that the
photos confirmed the accuracy of CE 385 and 386, I believe it’s logical to
conclude this report was created for political purposes...and that the doctors were
forced to sign their names to it.
Dr. Finck’s notes on his urgent trip to Washington
support this contention. There, he refers to the wound described in the report
as a “neck wound” as simply “Entry, back.” There, rather than describe in detail the process by which the doctors composed their report, he declares that a “statement had been prepared by the Justice Department.
We signed the statement.”
Call me overly sensitive if you like, but the rank odor rising from this review only adds to the rankness of Earl Warren’s earlier decision not to allow an inspection of the autopsy photos, after telling Chief Counsel Rankin it would be fine. Something was rotten in Washington.
A 1-21-67 phone call from Attorney General Ramsey Clark to President Johnson supports that something was rotten, and that the
autopsists were pressured into changing their interpretation of the wounds for this report. The tapes of this phone call, as transcribed by
Warren Commission defender Max Holland, reveal that Clark told Johnson that the doctors
“feel their professional reputations are at stake" and that "they’re so reticent about
signin’ anything, that it’s fairly difficult to work with ‘em.”
Well, reticence implies resistance, does it not? What were they resisting? On January 26, 1967, Clark adds more fuel to this fire by telling Johnson “we have the three pathologists and the photographer signed up now on the autopsy review.” When used in this context, the words “signed up now” would indicate the doctors were under pressure to go along with something, would it not? And why, after the doctors had inspected the photos on the night of January 20th and had stayed in the archives till midnight preparing a “statement comparing the illustrations with our autopsy report,” according to Dr. Finck’s notes, did it take Clark almost another week to get them to sign a 5 page report “prepared by the Justice Department?” Was the doctors' original statement re-written by the Justice Department? What was in this re-written report that made the doctors so reticent? And what if anything, changed their minds? Could the doctors have been given direct orders to cooperate? And if the doctors had came to their conclusions purely on their own, why couldn’t they remember their decisions years later or stand by them?
Intriguingly, Johnson is reported to have contemplated
re-opening the investigation at this time. This was but a few months after Johnson had asked the FBI to figure out the Soviet Union's position on the assassination--and if it was responsible for the widespread criticism of the Warren Report--only to be told that the Soviets had long believed Kennedy was killed by the "ultraright," but had recently concluded Johnson himself was "responsible." This was within days, moreover, of Johnson's finding out about the CIA's assassination plots against Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the possibility these plots had backfired, and had led to the bloodshed in Dallas.
While Johnson is purported to have decided that such an investigation was not in the best interests of the
nation--or for the Kennedy family--there is reason to doubt this was true. As we've seen, Johnson thought Robert Kennedy was out to destroy him, and was out to destroy him in turn. This, then, undercuts any notion that Johnson was protecting the Kennedys. One can
only wonder then if the problems with the doctors and autopsy photos was a bigger factor in his decision not to re-open the case.
As for Clark, I have been unable to
find a single reference by him to the January 1967 review of the autopsy photos and x-rays, subsequent to his conversations with Johnson. In his 1978 interview with the HSCA’s Andy
Purdy, he said the 1968 Clark Panel was formed after the autopsy photos and
x-rays became available and after Finck, Boswell, Humes and Ebersole’s review
proved inadequate. (Inadequate at what, one wonders—shutting down the critics?)
Anyhow, this statement is confusing on the face of it because it makes it sound
like there was but one review and that those four men were involved, when, in
fact, Ebersole was only involved in the 1966 inspection and Finck was only
involved in the 1967 inspection.
A 1998 interview with researcher James Douglass proved equally unsatisfying. Here, Clark told Douglass of obtaining the materials and calling in the doctors to make their initial inspection and then jumped to the creation of the Clark Panel in 1968. Either Clark had forgotten there were two separate reviews in 66 and 67 or he found discussion of the second review uncomfortable.
As for McCloy, his motivation for helping CBS debunk the conspiracy theorists and defend his work with the Warren Commission seems obvious. In a mid-70's letter to Warren Commission counsel David Belin, quoted in an 11-20-88 New York Times piece by Belin, McCloy complained: “I never cease to be amazed at the willingness of so much of the public to accept the statements of the charlatans and sensationalists rather than the facts and the record.” He then recalled the political climate in the mid-sixties: “It was actually thought 'liberal' to be convinced that President Kennedy had been shot as a result of a conspiracy by a group of Texas millionaires or chauvinists and that it was quite 'illiberal' to think that he has been assassinated solely by a little 'punk' who perhaps had some communistic leanings.”
How far McCloy was willing to go while assisting CBS in their quest to re-assert “the facts and the record” is made clear, moreover, by contrasting his video-taped response on the CBS program against his private correspondence with Belin years later. On the CBS special he said “It was our own choice that we didn’t subpoena the photographs, which were then in the hands of the Kennedy family.” (This was not true; throughout the entire duration of the Warren Commission the autopsy photos were in the sole possession of the Secret Service. The Kennedy family and the Justice Department not only didn’t control them, they never even saw them.) He then proclaimed “Mr. Justice Warren was talking to the Kennedy family about that at that time. I thought he was really going to see them, but it turned out that he hadn’t.”
Now compare this to McCloy’s mid-70's letter to Belin: “I agree wholeheartedly with your criticism of the Commission itself for failure to demand the original x-rays and photographs. I agreed to having the Chief Justice’s viewing them alone if he would do so and I understand he was to do this. The argument against their being viewed by the commission as part of the record was that the X-rays and photographs of the President's body did not in themselves carry as much weight as the interpretation of them by the experts. This together with what I thought to be the oversensitivity of the Chief Justice to the attitude of the family, resulted in a good bit of just criticism of the commission which in my judgment could have been avoided...” Notice that he doesn’t say “I mistakenly believed he would do this” or “he led me to believe he would do this.” No, McCloy says that he agreed to let Warren inspect them alone and that it was his understanding that Warren did indeed inspect them alone. This, then, suggests that he knew Warren had seen the photos, and this, in turn, suggests he'd lied to CBS and the world when he said that Warren had not.
Note also that, according to Belin, this letter was written in the mid-70's. On 9-21-78 (the late '70's), McCloy testified before the HSCA, and admitted: "I think we were a little lax in the Commission in connection with the
use of those X-rays. I was rather critical of Justice Warren at that
time. I thought he was a little too sensitive of the sensibilities of
the family. He didn't want to have put into the record some of the
photographs and some of the X-rays taken at the time. We took the
testimony of course, of the doctors and probably with the X-rays--we
wouldn't have been able to read the X-rays if we hadn't had the doctors'
testimony." Note that he failed to mention Warren's looking at the photos and x-rays all by his lonesome, and the ridiculousness of Warren's not allowing the doctors who'd created these materials to inspect the photos and x-rays to verify the accuracy of their testimony. I mean, if Warren could look at the autopsy materials without putting them into the record--why the hell couldn't the men who'd actually created the materials, who'd seen Kennedy's body with their own eyes?
There's yet another intriguing aspect to McCloy's letter to Belin... The sentence in bold appears in the version of McCloy's letter published in Belin's November, 1988 book Full Disclosure, but was edited out of Belin's 11-20-88 article in the New York Times. Now, this could have been done for a number of reasons--perhaps Belin was trying to conceal that Warren had seen the photos... 11 years after the publication of Warren's autobiography in which he admitted seeing the photos. Or perhaps Belin simply felt this sentence a distraction from his overall point...
Or perhaps he'd become aware of McCloy's previous claim Warren had not seen the photos, and decided to do a little house-keeping... McCloy was 93 at the time, and would die early the next year... Perhaps he or someone close to him had given Belin a call...
Or perhaps not. On 11-16-13, however, I received another indication McCloy was lying. When discussing Warren's viewing of the autopsy materials, former Warren Commission Counsel Howard Willens told me that "I do have the specific recollection, which might be reflected in my journal, that the Chief Justice had the materials brought to his chambers at the Court and looked at them in the presence of the custodian." Well, if Willens was in the loop and knew Warren had viewed the materials, wouldn't McCloy have been privy as well?
In any event, it seems likely McCloy lied when he told CBS Warren had not seen the photos. Well, why would he have done this? To protect Warren? Well, if he was willing to lie to protect Warren on such a minor matter then what reason do we have to believe anything he had to say?
And what about CBS?
Since when do news divisions tell members of government commissions what types of reports will help shut down political rumors? And since when do they ask that such reports then be created? I mean, isn’t that
crossing a line between reporting the news and orchestrating the news? And why did CBS consider it their job to shut
down rumors anyhow?
Perhaps as an
acknowledgement that his behavior was not quite kosher, Les Midgley never
mentions McCloy’s “help” on the special in a book he co-wrote about the
creation of the CBS special entitled Should We Now Believe The Warren Report? He never mentions it in his memoirs, entitled How Many Words Do You Want, either. While in this latter work Midgley does mention McCloy's appearance on the program, he downplays McCloy’s crucial role, and even says “McCloy was doubtful
about participation, although he did, in the end, agree.” Throughout both books, for that matter, Midgley
staunchly defends his program: “the avid
critics and attackers thrive in a mental climate such that most of them
undoubtedly believe CBS, its News Division, and its staff to be part of a vast
conspiracy to conceal the “facts” about the assassination…They are wrong but
nothing can be done about it…The people who wrote, filmed, produced, and
appeared on these broadcasts would have been the happiest journalists of this
or almost any other century if they could have come up with a sensational
“solution” to the Kennedy murder…But it didn’t happen.”
Well, never mind believing the Warren Report. Based upon what we now know of Midgley’s behind the scenes dealings with McCloy, should we remotely believe him? I’m undecided. Since Midgley’s memoirs were written when he was in his seventies, it’s possible he left out his indiscreet contact with McCloy for the same reasons he said that Connally was riding beside Kennedy at the time of the assassination and the magic bullet was found on the floor of the limousine…perhaps he was simply an old man who could no longer remember the facts.
On the other hand, it seems a bit of a coincidence that
Associated Press writers Sid Moody and Bernard Gavzer conducted a seven-month
long investigation into the issues raised by critics such as Epstein, Lane, and
Weisberg, and published their series the same week as the CBS telecasts, with
nearly identical conclusions!
This coincidence becomes even more intriguing, moreover, when one realizes that Moody and Gavzer were granted interviews with 11 of the 15 Warren
Commission counsel and 4 of the 10 staff for their investigation. Many of these men had spoken to Edward Epstein for his book Inquest, and had been embarrassed when Epstein used their words to expose the limitations of the commission's investigation. As one should have real doubts these men would turn around and allow such access to an investigation whose outcome was uncertain, one might
reasonably conclude then that the AP's investigation was designed as a Warren Commission
defense from the beginning.
Perhaps it was
even coordinated with CBS through the “Justice Department.”
Incredible? Read on.
Defending the Line
On May 27, 1967, Acting Assistant Attorney General Carl Eardley wrote a letter to Dr. James J. Humes telling him that CBS News had requested permission to interview him for a television special and that the attorney general had no objection to his appearance. As Dr. Humes was under an order of silence from the military since the day of the autopsy, and as the White House renewed this directive right before the Warren Report was published, Dr. Humes could only speak to CBS News by permission. Two days later, Cliff Sessions, the Director of Public Information, wrote a memo to Eardley which included talking points for Humes to follow when questioned by Dan Rather on this special. Humes, to his credit, gave this memo, complete with talking points, to the ARRB.
Among the talking points provided Humes was that one bullet “entered the back of the neck and exited through the throat,” that the autopsy face sheet depicted this wound lower than it really was, and that “the location of the wound was accurately described in a notation on the margin of the drawing.” It ended by stating that Humes had “thoroughly examined” the photographs and x-rays at the National Archives and that they supported in “every detail” the “autopsy findings which were reported to the Warren Commission.” Whether or not the Justice Department’s providing Humes with this script was intended to communicate that he should not waver from this script is open to conjecture, but when asked about the locations of Kennedy’s wounds by Rather in a taped interview first broadcast on June 26, 1967, Humes described the back wound as “in the base of the neck on the right.” When Rather followed up by asking about the conflicting locations of the back wound on the autopsy face sheet and Rydberg drawing CE 385, Dr. Humes inspected CE 385 and contended that the face sheet was never meant to be precise but that “the second drawing which you have mentioned (CE 385) was prepared as we were preparing to testify before the Warren Commission, to rather schematically and as accurately as we possibly could, depict the story for the members of the Warren Commission... We were trying to be precise and referred back to our measurements made in the margins of the other drawing….since this time we have had opportunity to review the photographs which we made at that time. And these photographs show very clearly that the wound was exactly where we stated it to be in our testimony before the Warren Commission, and as it is shown in this drawing.” Rather then re-asked:“Your re-examination of the photographs verify that the wounds are as shown here?” To which Humes replied “Yes sir, they do.”
This was simply not true. Humes was not only being deceptive about the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings, but about the inaccuracy of the face sheet. He told Rather "we feel that the measurements which are noted here at the margins of the drawing are the precise measurements we took...we drew two lines, points of reference-from bony points of reference...the wound was fourteen centimeters from the tip of the right acromion, and fourteen centimeters below the tip of the right mastoid. Now the acromion is the extreme outermost portion of the shoulder. The tip of the mastoid is the bony prominence just behind the ear. And where these two lines intersect was, in actuality, where this wound was situated. And if we would try and draw that to scale, which we weren’t trying to do as this mark was made, this, I think, would appear a little bit higher."
As demonstrated earlier in this chapter, Humes was mostly telling the truth in this instance. The back wound location on the face sheet had been marked in accordance with the measurements. Even so, the talking points provided Humes by the Justice Department had dismissed the accuracy of the face sheet by stating, simply, that "this free hand drawing shows the wound to be lower than it was." Note that Humes, in his response to Rather, had, in keeping with his instructions, said "I think" that the proper location of the wound on the sheet would be but a "little bit higher." But note the way he hedges his statement..."a little bit." This, then suggests that Humes knew full well that the mark on the face sheet was a relatively accurate depiction of the measurements. This, then, suggests that Humes was lying when he subsequently supported the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings, which showed the wound he knew to have been on the back--at the level of the acromion--about two inches higher, at the base of the neck.
If Humes had been following--or trying to follow--a script presented to him by the Justice Department, moreover, he may not have been the only one. In its 6-27-67 article on Humes' interview with CBS, the New York Times made a curious mistake that suggests the possibility they'd been provided a script of what Humes was supposed to say, and had incorrectly quoted it as what he'd actually said on the program. When dispensing with the problems raised by the face sheet, the Times reported: "Captain Humes said the diagram was a prepared outline 'routinely used to mark in general where certain marks or scars or wounds may be in conducting a post-mortem examination.' He said 'it was never meant to be accurate or precisely to scale.'" Well, so far, so good. True or not, the Times was reporting what Humes actually said on the program. But then something strange occurred. The Times continued: "If the wound had been as low as the diagram mark, Captain Humes said. 'this missile would have to have had penetrated the shoulder blade of the President, which it did not.' Instead, he said, 'the missile was above the shoulder blade, and struck no bony structures whatsoever.' 'The X-rays show that it did not,' he said."
Well, geez...this is weird. As far as I can tell, Humes NEVER actually said such a thing. Not in videos of the interview available on youtube... Not in the transcript of the interview sent Harold Weisberg in 1967... Not even in the transcript published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992... Humes said the autopsy photos confirmed the accuracy of the Rydberg drawings--which was totally untrue and subsequently refuted by the HSCA's exhibits--but never said the x-rays showed that the bullet struck no bony structures--which was equally untrue and subsequently refuted by the HSCA's exhibits. Now, it was something he MIGHT have said--he had, after all, said something quite similar to the Warren Commission--but it's something he did not say, at least not in the interview as broadcast and transcribed.
So how did the Times come to make such a mistake? It's hard to believe they'd just make up some quotes, particularly when the interview from which these quotes had supposedly been taken had been broadcast just the night before. Well, this leads me to suspect that the anonymous writer of the article had made an embarrassing mistake, and had either: 1) been shown a more extensive interview than that shown the public, and incorrectly assumed the segment on the x-rays was going to be broadcast; or 2) been given a transcript of what Humes was supposed to say, and failed to realize he'd failed to say these things in the interview as broadcast. That this wasn't just a typo is supported, moreover, by the curious coincidence that this misquote of Humes about the x-rays was not only reported in the body of the article...but was the LEAD. That's right. The article began "The chief surgeon at the autopsy of President Kennedy says that X-rays prove an assassin's bullet that hit the President 'in the base of the neck did not strike any bony structures.' He says this refutes challenges to the Warren Report suggesting a lower location for the wound." Well, my God... Humes never even discussed the X-rays in the broadcast. OOPS!
There is yet another reason to suspect Humes lied to Rather and CBS, and that this lie was orchestrated by the Justice Department. And that's that Humes wasn't the only one misrepresenting the back wound location on the program. Yep. While Humes was the only member of the autopsy team to comment on the autopsy photos in the program, he was not the only person to have seen an autopsy photo to misrepresent the location of the back wound in CBS' 4-part special. The other person was--you guessed it--Arlen Specter, the man most responsible for the development of the single-bullet theory. Specter, whose viewing of the back wound photo in 1964 had been discussed at least three times (anonymously in the 8-28-66 Philadelphia Bulletin, but by name in the 10-10-66 U.S. News & World Report and 1-14-67 Saturday Evening Post) within a year of his appearance on the program, had, we should remember, been hired for his job with the commission by Howard Willens, the Justice Department's point man on the commission.
So what did Specter say? Well, while discussing the President's wounds with--you guessed it--Dan Rather, Specter twice referred to the back wound as a "wound on the President's neck." Now, some might say "Ugggh, it was a wound on his neck, stupid--did you forget that the bullet supposedly exited from the throat?" and want to give Specter a break on this, I firmly believe such a break is unjustified, as people--at least the people I know--just don't speak in that manner. I mean, no one I know would describe a bullet entering the back and exiting the throat as a bullet "inflicting" a "wound on the President's neck." And I assume your friends are no different.
And it's not as if Dr. Humes' interview with Rather was the last time the autopsy doctors misrepresented the back wound location...under pressure from the "Justice" Department.
During the January, 1969 trial of Clay Shaw, the subject
matter of the film JFK, it became Dr. Finck’s turn to fudge the facts. Although Dr. Finck's testimony on behalf of Shaw had been orchestrated by the Justice Department, and was intended to
convince the jury that the medical evidence pointed towards Oswald acting
alone, Finck’s strange demeanor and surprising answers confused almost
everyone. At one point, in fact, he was
doing so badly that Carl Eardley rushed Dr. Boswell down as a possible replacement. In any event, in his testimony, Dr. Finck described Kennedy's back wound as a wound on the “back of the
neck” not once but 33 times. This was suspicious, particularly in that in his testimony
before the Warren Commission, his military reports to his superiors, and an article he'd written for Military Surgeon magazine, he had never once
described the wound in such a manner, and had instead described it as being in
the “upper back” or in the “right upper region of the posterior thorax.” In
fact, as far as can be determined, he has never claimed it was on the “back of
the neck” before or since his testimony in the Shaw trial. During his testimony before the HSCA, for
example, he said the wound was on the “upper back/lower neck” 5 times, even
though he had not seen the photos in the intervening years, and had no reason
to add in the “upper back” outside a desire to be accurate.
So...yeah, it seems clear someone briefed Finck before his testimony, and instructed him to say the wound he'd previously claimed was on Kennedy's back was instead on the back of his neck. As a military report Finck filed
on his participation in the Shaw trial discloses that he had a meeting with
Acting Assistant Attorney General Carl Eardley shortly before his testimony, we may even know the name of this person.
It seems obvious then that the doctors were under intense pressure from the Justice Department when they publicly misrepresented the location of the back wound. While this may seem an argument for a vast government conspiracy, it is undoubtedly possible that those putting the pressure on the doctors felt they were merely defending the government’s line against its critics, and not protecting any possible conspirators. As for Carl Eardley, who supervised the doctors’ re-inspection of the photos in January, 1967, and presumably saw the photos himself, it would have only been fair for him to have been asked on national television, with the eyes of the nation upon him, where the neck ends and the back begins, and whether the wound in question on the autopsy photos was on the neck or on the back.
The Incredible Shrinking President
Scarcely a year after the military review, however, it was
determined that yet another examination was needed, this time without the input
of those present at the autopsy. While
the inspiration for this new panel purportedly came from Dr.s Boswell and
Humes, who, according to a letter written by Boswell to the Justice Department,
wished for a second opinion, Dr. Boswell’s testimony before the ARRB reflects
that he wrote this letter only after Carl Eardley “called me out of the
blue…and said they thought it was a good idea to have an independent panel…now
I had been talking about this with perhaps him and other people…And whether
Carl suggested it or whether I convinced him, I’m not sure. But, anyway, he was
willing to accept the letter, which he essentially described to me what they wanted, and I wrote it.”
This suggests then that Boswell’s letter was but
window dressing to disguise the fact that someone in the government, possibly even the President himself, wanted a new panel formed. It's helpful, then, that Johnson's Attorney General Ramsey Clark later accepted credit for the panel’s creation, telling an HSCA investigator that he felt the
earlier examination by the doctors was “inadequate,” and that this had led him to
create a new panel.
Clark was actually quite forthcoming. He also told his interviewer he was present when the doctors viewed the photos, and that he'd viewed
the photos himself. He also said he drew
a line with the doctors: that they were not there to re-open the Warren Commission's investigation, but to see what was shown in the photographic evidence. He also said he was “relieved” when the
experts corroborated the findings of the Warren Commission.
Heck, he even acknowledged that he'd used Jim Garrison's trial of Clay Shaw as a vehicle for releasing the panel's report.
This last acknowledgement appears to be a bit disingenuous, however, as it seems clear Clark's reason for getting a second opinion in the first place was that Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New
Orleans, had both pressed for access to the Kennedy assassination medical evidence and added President Johnson onto his list of suspects in President Kennedy's murder.
Clark nearly admitted as much. In his book Crime in America, published 1970, Clark questioned Garrison's mental health. He claimed Garrison's conduct during his investigation of Shaw was "abusive," and that his "charges of conspiracy reaching even into the Federal Government" were "bizarre." Such a man, in Clark's mind, would no doubt be capable of stretching the slightest inconsistency into the appearance of a vast conspiracy.
Well, it only makes sense then that Clark--with or without the support of President Johnson, whether he was involved in the assassination or not--would endeavor to find out just what the photos showed before Garrison did, and would want to make sure there was nothing in them that Garrison could use to question the legitimacy of Johnson's presidency.
It's also worth noting that, by February, 1968, Johnson
had decided not to seek another term in office. It seems possible then that he wanted to be sure the photos showed
no evidence for a conspiracy, lest the next President, who in his worst
nightmares would be Robert Kennedy, the deceased President’s younger brother,
use the photos to re-open the investigation into President Kennedy's murder and damage his--Johnson's--prized legacy.
But no matter the precise reasons for the panel's creation, it's clear it served a political purpose. Although the panel was conducted in secret on February 26, 1968, its report was not released until January 16, 1969, the day Jim Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw finally went to trial. This was but four days before Johnson left office.
Should one assume the panel was set up to rubber stamp the findings of the autopsists, however, one would be wrong. In what remains one of the most shocking findings in medical history, the Clark panel disagreed with the findings of those actually viewing Kennedy's body on a central point. Instead of supporting the autopsists' claim of an entrance wound low on the back of Kennedy’s head, the secret panel concluded that this entrance hole was actually 4 inches
higher than described in the autopsy report, at a point often described as the
cowlick. While the skull photographs and
x-rays were certainly influential in their decision, another factor apparently was
that the photos of the President’s brain revealed no path of destruction linking
the cerebellum (the point nearest the entrance in the President’s hairline
displayed in the Rydberg drawing) with the clearly devastated upper right lobe
of the President’s brain (where the bullet was presumed to have made its exit).
While much has been made of this movement of
the head wound--mostly by conspiracy theorists delighted
that Dr.s Humes and Boswell were made to look foolish--these same theorists miss that
the Clark Panel itself made as many or more substantive mistakes as Dr.s Humes and Boswell.
Some of these mistakes, in fact, cast
doubt upon the integrity of the panel. To begin with, even though the Clark Panel determined the
head wound in the photos to have been four inches higher on Kennedy's skull than the one described in the
autopsy report, they stuck by the measurements of the wound, only transposing
the numbers. This 6 by 15 measurement,
however, was not anywhere near the proportions of the mark in the cowlick in the autopsy photo they claimed as the entrance.
Even stranger, the Clark Panel claimed the back wound was 7
by 10, longer than wide, when the close-up photo subsequently released by the HSCA proves it to have been wider than long.
This suggests then that these doctors were following in the footsteps of Humes and Specter, and describing the wounds as longer than wide to help create the illusion the shots came from above.
And that's not the only reason to dis-believe...
- Let's start with something simple. The Clark Panel, in concurrence with the autopsy report, concluded that the back wound was 14 cm below the mastoid process of Kennedy's skull. It also claimed, however, that the back wound was "5.5 cm below a transverse fold in the skin of the neck," also visible in the back wound photo. It follows, then, that this fold was 8.5 cm (over 3 1/2 inches) below the mastoid (which is at the approximate level of the bottom tip of the ear)...and much closer to the back wound than to the mastoid. Now look at the lateral autopsy photo on the slide above. Is it remotely possible that this fold was much closer to the back wound location shown in Fig. 24 than to the base of the skill? I think not. This suggests then, that the Clark Panel has somehow inserted extra space between the mastoid and the skin fold (perhaps in order to pretend their findings were consistent with the autopsy measurements) whilst simultaneously moving the back wound up the neck.
- Beyond concluding that the back wound "lies approximately 5.5 cm below a transverse fold in the skin of the neck," the Clark Panel also asserted that the bullet wound in the throat was "above the trachea incision" and "situated approximately 9 cm below the transverse fold in the skin of the neck described in the last paragraph." They were thereby presenting the throat wound as 3 1/2 cm below the back wound.
- The HSCA medical panel, conversely, proposed that the throat wound was 1 cm above the back wound. This means the two panels were 4 1/2 cm apart on their interpretation of the relative placement of these wounds.
- Actually, more. The HSCA medical panel also proposed that the throat wound was on the bottom margin of the trachea incision, which was 1 1/2 cm wide. This means that, from the perspective of the HSCA, the Clark Panel's throat wound location was not 1 cm above the HSCA's back wound location, but 2 1/2 cm.
- So let's do the math: the Clark Panel suggested that the back wound was 3 1/2 cm above the throat wound. The location they'd chosen for the throat wound, however, was 2 1/2 cm above where the HSCA thought the back wound was located. If all's on the up and up, then, the Clark Panel's back wound location should be 6 cm higher than the HSCA's back wound location. Only no such luck.
- As stated, the Clark Panel concurred with the measurements taken at autopsy and concluded that the back wound was 14 cm below the mastoid process. When one takes into account that the HSCA's back wound location was, in the eyes of the Clark Panel, another 6 cm below this location, then, in order for both panels' measurements to make any sense whatsoever, the HSCA would have to have claimed the back wound was 20 cm below the mastoid process. This they did not do. The HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel claimed instead that this wound was about 13 1/2 cm below the mastoid process.
- The Clark Panel's measurements are nonsense. The Clark Panel held that the back wound was 14 cm below the mastoid, and that the throat wound was 3 1/2 cm below this point. The throat wound was, furthermore, 1 1/2 cm above the bottom of the tracheotomy incision. This means that, in order for the Clark Panel's measurements to be accurate, the bottom margin of the tracheotomy incision would be about 19 cm below the mastoid process. The measurements of the HSCA medical panel, on the other hand, place the bottom margin of the tracheotomy incision about 12 1/2 cm below the mastoid process. I have measured this location on myself and others and the HSCA's measurement is far more accurate. A wound 12 1/2 cm below the mastoid would be between the Adam's Apple and sternal notch. This is, not coincidentally, where Kennedy's wound was located. A wound 19 cm below the mastoid would, in contrast, be a wound overlying the sternum, about the level of the top of the heart.
This suggests then that, for the Clark Panel's measurements, they'd
somehow added an extra 6 1/2 cm (over 2 1/2 inches) onto the front of
Kennedy's throat, basically doubling its length. Now why would they have
done this, other than to lower the throat wound location, and help sell
the single-bullet theory they'd been asked to review? Were they
deliberate liars? Or simply incompetent?
Only adding to the likelihood the Clark Panel lied is that they re-measured the hole in the back of Kennedy's jacket, and claimed it was 12 cm below the upper edge of the coat collar. The FBI had previously measured this distance and found it to be 5 3/8 inches, or 13.6 cm. The HSCA would subsequently measure this distance and find it to be 13.5 cm. It seems more than a coincidence then that the FBI and HSCA measurements were off by but 1 mm, and the Clark Panel's measurement was off by 15 times as much, particularly when this "mistake" by the Clark Panel helped them sell the single-bullet theory already supported by their clearly inaccurate wound location measurements.
And then there's this... As the nose of CE 399, the so-called "magic bullet", was undamaged, the single-bullet theory embraced by the Johnson Administration rested on the unlikely presumption no bones had been damaged via direct impact with this bullet as it traversed the neck. It's not exactly a surprise, then, that in its section on the x-rays, the Clark Panel reported "There is no evidence of fracture of either scapula or of the clavicles, or of the ribs or of any of the cervical or thoracic vertebrae." No, what's surprising is how quickly this smoke screen dissipated. Dr. Fred C. Hodges, the lone radiologist consulted by the Rockefeller Commission, concluded both that the transverse process of the seventh cervical vertebra was fractured, and that the transverse process of the first thoracic vertebra was probably fractured. The HSCA consulted four radiologists, all of whom mentioned possible fractures of these very same transverse processes (the small fingers of bone that jut out from the spine). Dr. G.M. McDonnel, the HSCA's number one go-to guy on the x-rays, moreover, declared that there was "an undisplaced fracture of the proximal portion of the right transverse process of T1..." Well, how about that? Where the Clark Panel had seen "no evidence" those who studied the x-rays after them saw conclusive evidence.
One is tempted to conclude, therefore, that the Clark Panel was the fully-orchestrated cover-up many believed the Warren Commission to have been. This suspicion is only heightened, moreover, by the peculiar fact that the Clark Panel is the only review of the autopsy evidence to have a representative of the American Bar Association along to serve as “legal counsel to the panel," and to “collaborate” with the panel in the “preparation” of its report. Such an overt conspiracy is made doubtful, however, by the Clark Panel report’s acknowledgment that the Warren Commission’s wound in the “back of the neck” in fact entered in the “back” and its description of several strange things that were never even noticed by the doctors on the night of the autopsy, including metal fragments in the President’s neck, a large round fragment at the back of the President’s skull, and a strange shape in the President’s brain. If they were deliberately covering up, after all, it seems doubtful they would have opened fresh doors to such previously unexamined mysteries. The probability remains, then, that on some of its findings the Clark Panel was well-intentioned, but just horribly, horribly wrong.
But you really gotta wonder. When one compares Warren Commission CE 386 with HSCA Figure 24, and adjusts their size based upon the measurements contained within their respective reports, one can see that the skull in the Warren Commission drawing is roughly 27 ½ cm from ear to ear, the skull of a giant, while the skull in the HSCA drawing is 19 cm, much more in line with a normal human skull. When one sizes a photo of Kennedy using the Clark Panel's measurements, moreover, one finds it to be in line with the clearly inaccurate CE 386. This is a bit shocking. That the Clark Panel's measurements reflect a body as large as the one in the Rydberg drawings, approximately 50% larger than life--and that these mistakes help support the single-bullet theory--should make one suspect that the members of the Clark Panel, as with the military doctors before them, were pressured by the Justice Department into supporting the single-bullet theory.
Researcher Harold Weisberg sure smelled a rat. He attempted to gain access to the working
papers of the Clark Panel, and, after being told that the working papers had
been destroyed, personally contacted the various members of the panel. In his
book Post Mortem Weisberg includes a small section on his correspondence with these
men. He relates that Dr. Russell Fisher
was the leader and spokesman for the panel. In a letter to Weisberg, Fisher claimed that “quite some time after the panel
report had been submitted” he conducted tests on cadavers to see if a bullet could go through a human neck as proposed by the single-bullet theory. Fisher explained, moreover, that this was “purely to satisfy my own interest,” and that he'd made no effort to file a report on these tests, or share his results with his fellow forensic pathologists.
It may seem strange, then, that Fisher was all too happy to share his results with Weisberg. He told him “we were convinced it was possible for a bullet tract to connect the entrance and exit wounds without being deflected by, or hitting the bony vertebrae.”
There's a problem with Fisher's story, however. Fisher also told Weisberg that “The measurements…can be
assumed to be accurate. They were
measured by scale. We had photographs
which showed a scale. We were able,
therefore, to confirm the measurements…”
As we’ve seen, however, this last assertion is incorrect. The Clark Panels’ measurements for the relative positions of the back wound and throat wound were embarrassingly inaccurate. The inaccuracy of these measurements, moreover, should make us question the accuracy of whatever tests Fisher performed on the entrance and exit wounds.
I mean, seriously, did he shoot the cadavers on a downward trajectory, as theorized in his report? If he did then he should have realized that either the entrance wound was much higher than the entrance wound on Kennedy’s back depicted in the autopsy photos, or the exit wound much lower than the location of the tracheotomy incision.
Perhaps, then, Fisher simply lied to Weisberg to get him off his back...
A final point learned from Weisberg’s contact with Fisher
should come as no surprise. Fisher told
Weisberg that, when completed, the Clark Panel’s report ”was transmitted by Mr.
Bruce Bromley to Mr. Carl Eardley of
the Justice Department.” Eardley, of course, had previously worked with the autopsy doctors, and was the Justice Department's point man on the medical evidence.