Chapter 14: Demystifying the Mystery Photo

Chapter14: Demystifying the Mystery Photo

The See Change

So let us now go back and study the history of the open cranium photo. In chapter 13 we observed that it matched up with the back of the head photo, and proved Kennedy had been shot low on the back of his head. We then discovered, in chapter 13b, that the HSCA pathology panel claimed the photo showed the front of Kennedy's head, and that a bullet had exited from his skull by the coronal suture. We then took a closer look at the panel, and its leading lights, Dr.s Baden and Spitz, and realized they were not to be trusted on this matter.

So, then, we have to take a slow walk through history and see if we can spot the mistakes, if they were indeed mistakes, or the lies, that would allow a panel of top doctors, experts in their field, to claim a photo of the back of someone's head is a photo of the front of his head.

But, first, we should acknowledge that there is reason to doubt some of those viewing the photo and pushing that it showed the front of the head actually believed it showed the front of the head. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whose secret panel interpreted this photo as being taken from the front, for one, told researcher Jim Douglass in 1998 that Jacqueline Kennedy was reluctant to return the autopsy photos in 1966 due to her fear the photos would fall into the wrong hands, and that, as a result, her children “would have to live with the head of their father pictured on the cover of Life Magazine…with half the back of his head blown off.” Hmmm. Apparently, Clark forgot, if indeed he ever understood, that his experts decided there was no photo depicting "half the back "of Kennedy’s head missing.

When one looks at the report of Clark’s Panel there is even more reason to suspect some sort of cover-up. Amazingly, the Clark Panel refused to attach any significance to the open-cranium photographs, stating: “Due to lack of contrast of structures portrayed and lack of clarity of detail in these photographs, the only conclusion reached by The Panel from study of this series was that there was no existing bullet defect in the supra-orbital region of the skull.”

And it's not as if the Rockefeller Commission's panel was more forthcoming. Significantly, the report of Dr. Richard Lindendberg noted that the medical panel looked at a photo depicting the “cranial cavity with brain removed from above and from the front” but failed to note the supposed beveled exit, or any of the other signs now considered so important. And none of the other reports written for the commission even mentioned the photo.

So now let's look at the statements of the autopsy doctors, who appear to have changed their interpretations on this, the darkest, deepest, most disturbing autopsy photo, probably ever taken... and then supposedly forgot all about it. On November 1, 1966, on a list of the photos prepared for the National Archives, Dr.s Humes and Boswell described the black and white versions of the "mystery" photo as "depicting missile wound over entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of the scalp" and the color transparencies of this image as depicting a "missile wound in posterior skull, with scalp reflected." 

On November 10, 1966, moreover, Dr.s Humes and Boswell, along with autopsy radiologist John Ebersole and autopsy photographer John Stringer, signed a version of this report prepared by the Justice Department that changed these words a wee bit, quite possibly as a result of a typo. This report described the black and white photos as depicting a "missile wound of entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of scalp.” The "over" had been changed to "of" and "the scalp" had been changed to simply "scalp". The color transparencies of this image, not surprisingly, bore the same description as the November 1, inventory.

On January 26, 1967, less than 3 months later, however, the report on a second examination of the photos conducted by Humes and Boswell for the Justice Department claimed these photos “show the other half of the margin of the exit wound; and also show the beveling of the bone characteristic of a wound of exit.”  They went on to state that two of the photos “show that the point of exit of the missile was much larger than the point of entrance being 30 mm (1.18 inches) at its greatest diameter.”

Now, this is an astounding turn of events. As Dr. Humes in his testimony before the Warren Commission in 1964 and Dr. Finck in his letter to his commanding officer in 1965 expressed that there was no beveled exit visible at the large defect, outside the beveling on one of the recovered skull fragments, and as Dr. Boswell failed to mention any beveling on the intact skull when interviewed by Josiah Thompson on 1-11-67--only NINE days before the doctors' January inspection--the January report's description of a beveled exit visible on the intact skull is but one of a number of reasons to believe this report was written by someone other than the doctors.

Two years after the January '67 "review," in fact, during the trial of Clay Shaw, Dr. Finck seemed unaware he’d even signed a document claiming there was beveling on the intact bone. He testified “I could make a positive determination of a wound of exit, of a portion of a wound of exit, in a bone fragment submitted to us during the course of the autopsy…it was during the course of the autopsy this fragment was brought to us and allowed us to determine that this was the wound of exit.”

Dr. Humes at least seemed conscious of the change. In 1996 he told the ARRB that when inspecting the exit defect, he found that “the bone fragments that were placed—that remained in place, halfway in place—were shelved on the outer table of the skull. And when we got the fragments from Dallas…we almost could complete the circle of what appeared to be the actual exit wound.” Perhaps the knowledge of this fabrication has haunted even Humes, however, as neither he nor the other two original autopsists has ever pointed out this purportedly beveled exit on the "mystery" photos when given the chance.

When asked about this photo by the HSCA forensics panel, for example, Humes and Boswell escaped without committing themselves one way or the other. They were shown the color version of the "mystery" photograph by Dr. Petty and asked “Could you, Dr. Humes or Dr. Boswell, either one, from examination of the photograph purported to show the posterior cranial fossa locate the point of in-shoot into the skull? Now we’re looking at photograph No. 44.” Dr. Humes then responded “How about here, Jay?” and began discussing it with Dr. Boswell, who became confused, which then led Humes to conclude “I don’t think the photograph permits us to say with accuracy where it is.”  

Note that they were looking for an entrance on the back of the head in the photo, and that neither of them said anything about the photo's actually being taken from the front of the head, or that a beveled exit was apparent on the frontal bone in the photo.

The HSCA had even less success with Dr. Finck. When asked if he'd seen any evidence of an exit defect at the margin of the large defect, as proposed in the January 1967 report written for the Justice Department, Finck played it safe and replied "I don't recall." When then shown photo 44 and asked if it refreshed his memory, he held his non-committal ground, stating "No." When counsel Andy Purdy then pushed a little harder, and asked Finck if he saw "anything on that photograph which would represent the exit hole of a bullet?" Finck once again played dumb, stating "I don't know what this is." When a clearly exasperated Purdy then pointed out the beveled notch in the photo, and asked Finck if this semi-circle could be an exit wound, Finck stood by his story, stating "No. Hazy, blurred."

When asked about this photograph by the ARRB in the late 1990’s, moreover, the doctors continued to play it safe. Despite their unanimous recollection of a photograph being taken of the occipital region demonstrating the wound of entrance after the brain had been removed (tellingly, none of them remembered taking a photograph of the frontal bone demonstrating the wound of exit after the brain had been removed), when shown this photograph, all three claimed they were unable to figure out even which part of the skull it represented!!!  Humes:(When asked to orient the photographs) “Boy, it’s difficult.  I can’t. I just can’t put them together…Very disappointed.  No, I can’t…they’re disappointingly confusing to me…There’s what appears to be a notch in a major portion of bone here centrally located, but I’m not at all sure about it.  I don’t know what it is or—I can’t get oriented at all.  I just can’t;” (when shown an earlier description of the photo) “down here opposite the edge of the ruler, I presume that, is what we’re talking about right there…I have to presume is what we’re talking about right there…I don’t know.  I have trouble with this.  I can’t really recognize it there.”  Boswell:  “I’m sorry.  I can’t orient this at all…I’m afraid I can’t…what we were attempting to show here, I don’t know;” (when asked if the hole in the skull appears towards the front) “I can’t be sure;” (when confronted with his earlier descriptions of the photo) “I can’t identify anything else in here to tell where we are...This is what appears to be calvarium, a piece of bone plate, skull plate…And if you look at this beveling of the bone here, this would be a wound of exit…there’s no way this could be called a wound of entrance, now the only other thing is that if—on the reflected scalp here, there is a wound or something…It’s such a dilemma.” Finck: “I cannot say much about this…I have difficulties to orient this;" (when shown the semi-circular notch that Boswell latched onto as possibly showing outward beveling and asked if it helped him remember what the photo depicts) “No.”

When asked by the ARRB the million-dollar question of why they changed the official interpretation of the photograph between November 10, 1966, and January 26, 1967, for that matter, the memory of these lifelong medical men grew even foggier. Humes: (when asked if he even remembered the January report) “If you’ve got such a statement, I presume we did. I don’t remember the details of it…I don’t know who wrote this, it doesn’t seem like I wrote it, just because of the phraseology and some of the comments…I don’t recall anything about it. I really don’t. I don’t recall it. Other than—other than the earlier, longer report that takes the photographs number by number.” Boswell: “This is Jim’s (Dr. Humes’) language, I think;” (When confronted with the two different interpretations of photo #44) “I think they were both wrong, and I think the reason is that it’s just such a terrible photograph;” (When asked why they changed the description) “I don’t remember that Pierre (Dr. Finck) came over for that…Well, that may be the answer right there. See, Pierre was a forensic pathologist, and he was extremely able relative to ballistics. And he may have talked us into this. That’s the only thing I can think of.” Finck, however, remembered no such thing: (When asked if he’d ever seen the January report) “I don’t know when, but I think I did;” (When asked if it was his signature at the bottom) “I recognize my signature;” (When asked if the report was written by the doctors or by someone else) “Oh, I wouldn’t have signed this if it had been written by somebody else. I am pretty sure I participated in this.” (Let's recall here Dr. Finck’s 1967 report on this very review, in which he wrote: “the statement had been prepared by the Justice Department. We signed the statement.”)

These life-long pathologists changed the official interpretation of the most significant autopsy photograph anyone had ever seen, and then forgot all about it?  I must admit I’m skeptical.

Dr. Humes, I suspect, knew exactly what had happened. His February 13, 1996 testimony before the ARRB has some revealing exchanges. Few more so than this--

GUNN: When you were referring to that photograph in your previous answer, were you referring to the photographs from View 7 that are in front of you now? (NOTE: these are the mystery photos) You can hold off on the answer. Maybe if you can--if you could just--

HUMES. Well, these are quite obviously from the outside of the skull. They're not from the inside. That's perfectly obvious. So I don't see one from the inside of the posterior cranial fossa where the defect was. And I'm disappointed because I thought we had such a photograph. 

So there you have it. Humes told the ARRB he had no recollection of the January '67 report in which the "mystery" photo was purported to depict a beveled exit on the skull, and only recalled the "earlier, longer report" in which it was purported to depict a "missile wound of entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of scalp." He then proceeded to reject completely that the "mystery" photo depicted the "inside of the posterior cranial fossa where the defect was." By saying the interior of the skull depicted in the photo was not "where the defect was" (low on the back of the head), however, Humes was as much as admitting that the "outside of the skull" depicted in the photo was not the forehead. He was, in effect, telling Gunn, AND the world, that the photo, taken "quite obviously from the outside of the skull," showed what he'd claimed it had in the "earlier, longer report" he recalled, i.e., a "missile wound of entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of scalp."

Still, the possibility exists that the doctors couldn’t make sense of the photo because it had been cropped in some way. My concern for this was heightened after reading Dr. Boswell’s 1996 interview with the ARRB. When asked if he remembered seeing any of the photographs now purported to be missing, including the one Dr. Finck remembers taking of the entrance on the back of the skull, he told them “The one of the skull wound, I thought I remembered seeing it, but I--now, I’ve seen a lot of pictures like in Livingstone’s books, where those come from, I don’t know. And whether they’re fabricated, some of them, or not—and I may be confusing pictures I’ve seen that are alleged to be autopsy photographs.” He is referring, of course, to Harrison Livingstone, whose book High Treason 2 included the Fox set of autopsy photographs. That Boswell was unsure if these photos were real, and thought he saw a photo of the entrance on the skull among them, and then FAILED to orient the skull photos he was shown minutes later by the ARRB, made me suspect the photos in the archives did not match the Fox set.

Fortunately, there are others who swear they are the same.

In April, 1993, Dr. Robert Artwohl told the audience at the Midwest Symposium on Assassination Politics that the Fox set of photos was genuine and matched the photos in the archives. He also stated that the area appearing to be neck was really a yellow block and that the scalp was reflected onto Kennedy’s left forehead. In 2004, Dr. Chad Zimmerman and Larry Sturdivan came away from their visit to the archives with slightly different impressions. On Zimmerman’s website, he recounted his visit to the archives. He mentioned that the Fox photo posted on his website is “significantly cropped as compared to the color prints” at the archives. This is a confusing statement. As the black and white prints are reportedly separate photos, taken moments apart, they are not “cropped” but are instead photos taken from closer to the skull, with a smaller field of view. By saying “cropped” Zimmerman implies there are images on the black and white negatives that were not printed, something he would have no way of knowing unless he studied the negatives. Since the doctors were not studying negatives, but prints, the thought occurs that Boswell’s confusion may have come from the progressive lightening of the “mystery photo” by researchers seeking to highlight what appears to be lines on the back of Kennedy's neck; perhaps the original is very dark. Still, Artwohl, Zimmerman and Sturdivan see so many things on the photos that are not apparent on the Fox set of photos, it serves to make one wonder--are the photos at the archives different than those on the internet? 

Almost certainly not. Dr. Cyril Wecht, Dr. Michael Baden, Dr. Robert McClelland, and Dr. Gary Aguilar have all viewed the autopsy photos in the archives, and published books or made TV appearances featuring these photos, and none has offered the slightest reason for us to believe the photos found online are different than those found in the archives. 

Dr. David Mantik is also of assistance on this issue. After nine visits to the archives, he concurs with Zimmerman that the black and white photos #17 and #18, which have a smaller field of view, are difficult to orient, but says that photos #44 and #45 were “taken from the rear” and that studying them was “essential” to his conclusion that there was a large defect in the right rear of the skull—a conclusion one could not make if one interprets the bone in the foreground as forehead. Since his conclusion is in opposition to the conclusions of Artwohl, Zimmerman, Sturdivan, the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, and the Clark Panel, and since Dr. Mantik is one of the few conspiracists ever allowed to see the photos, it certainly appears that one’s interpretation of the photos is based as much on what one expects to see as what is actually there. As the autopsy doctors were shown all 4 photos by the ARRB, then, their inability to make a decision appears to be unrelated to the subtle differences in field of view described by doctors Artwohl, Zimmerman, and Mantik, and everything to do with their refusal to commit to an interpretation of the photo. Since they are strangely the only three single-assassin theorists to see the open-cranium photos and not assert they were taken from in front and above, one can’t help but suspect then that this is because they know the photos were not taken from that perspective.

The "Missing" Missile Wound                  

Still, as clear as it is to me that the doctors originally believed the mystery photo was taken of the back of the head, there are those who insist this is nothing but a conspiracy myth. Dr. Chad Zimmerman, for example, is so convinced the photo shows forehead that he refuses to believe the doctors ever could have thought it was the back of the head. Accordingly, he has convinced himself that the doctors' 1966 description of a "missile wound over entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of the scalp" is not a description of the back of Kennedy's head at all, but a description of the front of his head, showing the interior aspect of the missile wound in the posterior skull, and the scalp reflected over the forehead. Never mind that it says "over entrance in posterior skull," implying that the photo is of tissue just above the skull. Never mind that "following reflection of scalp" modifies "posterior skull" and not "anterior skull" or "forehead." Never mind that the description of this photo fails to mention that, oh yeah, by the way, the entrance it depicts is inside the cranium.

Vincent Bugliosi, in his 2007 opus Reclaiming History, drifts even further out to see than Zimmerman. On page 261 of his endnotes, he asserts that the allegedly missing autopsy photo of the entrance on President Kennedy’s head is in fact in the collection. He asserts that this photo of the president’s skull with his brain removed was properly described in the November 1, 1966 inventory of the autopsy photos. As stated, this inventory claims the photo depicts a: “missile wound over entrance in posterior skull, following reflection of the scalp.” In January 1967, of course, the doctors changed their interpretation of this photo, and said it depicted the exit described at autopsy. Bugliosi, in keeping with Zimmerman, refuses to acknowledge that they changed their interpretation, however, and instead asserts on page 238 and 262 of his endnotes that both descriptions were correct, and that the photo depicts the interior of the entrance on the back of the head when viewed from the front, as well as the beveled exit on the frontal bone in the foreground of the photo. To explain why there was no mention of the beveled exit on the skull prior to the January 67 review, Bugliosi suggests that the doctors, who’d only spent 4 hours or more staring at the president’s body, looking for bullet wounds, only discovered this exit during the 1967 inspection of the photos.

Bugliosi goes on to make a statement that distances himself from Zimmerman, however. On page 261 of his endnotes, Bugliosi states “The HSCA forensic pathology panel subsequently concluded that the images depicted both the entrance wound bevel (in the background of the image) and the exit wound bevel (in the foreground of the image).” He implies this conclusion supports his analysis of the 1966 and 1967 reports, and his contention that they really aren't in conflict. 

Well, there's a number of problems with this. One problem comes from the exact wording of the passage cited by Bugliosi. On page 129, the HSCA panel's report claims "a possible portion of the beveled inner table corresponding to the semicircular margin of the entrance wound at the back of the head” can be seen in the depths of the mystery photo. Later, however, it claims an “anterior bone fragment" with a "semicircular defect” is visible in the photo. This is clearly the supposed exit. Bugliosi's circle is therefore complete--both an entrance and an exit are discussed in relation to the photo. The report is therefore claiming that both an entrance and an exit are visible in the photo.

But it is not to be believed. The key to understanding why is the phrase "semi-circular margin of the entrance wound at the back of the head." Well, there was NO semi-circular margin of an entrance wound at the back of the head. None was described at autopsy. None was discussed in the testimony of Dr. Humes before the Warren Commission. None was discussed in the testimony of Dr. Baden before the HSCA. While, on page 107 of the pathology panel's report, it is claimed that "Stereoscopic visualization of the inside of the cranial cavity at its depth, after removal of the brain, reveals a semicircular beveled defect of the inner table in the posterior parietal area to the right of the midline, from which fracture lines radiate corresponding to the entrance perforation indicated in the skull X-rays" it seems clear the writer of this passage was just blowing smoke. The ONLY "semi-circular margin" on the skull discussed previously, after all, was the supposed exit in this very photo.

Still, even if one were to grant Bugliosi that the HSCA report supports that the photo shows both an entrance and an exit, and that there is nothing problematic about the supposed entrance supposedly visible in the depths of the mystery photo, one can't claim all is well. For one, there is the Clark Panel. The Clark Panel said the x-rays showed a wound on the back of the head in the cowlick area, and that it was roughly 8 mm on the outside of the skull, and 20 mm on the inside of the skull. 20 mm is, of course, 4/5 of an inch. No one, including the members of the HSCA pathology panel, has ever proposed that the "semi-circular beveled defect" they think they see in the depths of the mystery photo is nearly an inch wide. Well, it follows then that those believing they see an entrance wound in the depths of the mystery photo also believe it disproves the Clark Panel's contention this entrance was 20 mm wide. So why not say so?

There's also this. The 1966 and 1967 reports Bugliosi has tried to reconcile are unanimous in that the entrance wound depicted is the entrance described at autopsy...on the occipital bone. Well, the so-called "cowlick" wound described in the HSCA report is on the parietal bone, four inches away.

This yields a surprising complication. You see, most every single-assassin theorist researcher concluding the mystery photo was taken from the front, and shows an entrance in its depths, has concluded that the entrance shown is the one described at autopsy, on the occipital bone. This includes Larry Sturdivan, Dr. Chad Zimmerman, and author John Canal, all of whom were in contact with Bugliosi during the writing of his book. And it's easy to see they are right. When one interprets the photo as being taken from the front, it becomes obvious that the hole in the back of the skull is in a ridge of some sort. As there was no such ridge anywhere near the cowlick entrance, moreover, it becomes obvious that this entrance is the one by the EOP noted at autopsy. When one views the photo in this light, moreover, it's debatable there's any bone by the cowlick in which there could be an entrance!  

And no, that's not a conspiracy factoid. Here's Sturdivan in The JFK Myths, published two years before Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: “The President’s parietal bone was extensively fractured all the way back to the occipital. The autopsy team said they removed loose pieces of broken bone instead of cutting out the usual “skullcap” to remove the brain. But if they removed enough of the parietal to remove the brain, the pieces containing the “higher” entry wound would have to have been among the pieces removed. If the entry wound had been lying on the autopsy table, how could it have been clearly shown in the photograph of the interior of the skull…?”

Well, heck, I couldn't have said it better myself. And, believe me, I've tried. 

Bugliosi's rejection of his advisers' opinions on this point is indeed strange. On page 238 of Reclaiming History's endnotes, Bugliosi declares “the keys to the correct orientation of the images are a lip of a glass specimen jar on, and a drainage hole in, the autopsy table, which are both visible in the photographs and are located at the top of the autopsy table. These details show that the photographer was standing at the head of the autopsy table, looking down into the cranial cavity, with the president lying on his back.” This could have been written by Canal, who has been making similar claims for years. So why didn't Bugliosi mention that Canal, Sturdivan, and Zimmerman, among others, insist that the photo demonstrates an entrance on the inside of the skull in the location described at autopsy? His book, after all, was supposedly designed to answer all the questions, settle all the disputes. So why didn't Bugliosi mention that some of his advisers on the autopsy photos and medical evidence--Canal, Sturdivan, and Zimmerman--adamantly disagreed with his interpretation of the photo? And why didn't he acknowledge that they'd used this photo to conduct all sorts of tests, and that their tests uniformly proved that his #1 expert, Dr. Michael Baden, who'd testified before congress with this photo upside down after conducting NO tests on the photo, was incorrect in his understanding of the photo, and of the entrance wound location?

I mean, why didn't Bugliosi settle this dispute, or even acknowledge its existence?

Perhaps he was far too subservient to "experts" like Michael Baden to tell his readers they were wrong, no matter how obvious it was to everyone else. 

Or perhaps Bugliosi really had no interest in settling disputes, but was concerned instead with giving the appearance of settling disputes. Perhaps he felt it would prove "counter-productive" to admit that the "experts" to whom he so readily defers can't even agree on something as basic as the location of the bullet entrance on the back of Kennedy's head.

But if Bugliosi made a major mistake regarding this photo, he was not the only one...

The Problem With Assumptions

Yes, even yours truly has made some serious mistakes when it comes to this photo... Since I came to study the medical evidence at a time when most of the early reports and testimony were already online, I read the reports and testimony in no particular order. Well, within a short time I came to realize that there had been a change in interpretation of the "mystery" photo between November 1966 and January 1967. It had been a photo of an entrance on the back of the head. It then became a photo of an exit on the front of the head...

OR DID IT? See, this was my mistake. Because the Clark Panel and HSCA Panels came to believe the photo showed the front of the head, I ASSUMED that when the autopsists changed their interpretation of the photo (from one of an entrance on the back of the head to one of an exit) that they were claiming, as the panels to follow, that this exit was on the front of the head and that the bone in the foreground was forehead. Now, I wasn't alone in this. I think everyone else studying these documents made this same assumption.

But we were WRONG. 

Now. Let's re-read the section of the 1-26-67 report signed by the doctors, to see what it actually says (pay particular attention to the last part):


The autopsy report further states that there was a large irregular defect of the scalp and skull on the right involving chiefly the parietal bone but extending somewhat into the temporal and occipital regions, with an actual absence of scalp and bone measuring approximately 13 cm. (5.12 inches) at the greatest diameter. In non-technical language, this means that a large section of the skull on the right side of the head was torn away by the force of the missile. Photographs Nos. 5-10 inclusive, 17, 18, 26-28, 32-37 inclusive, 44 and 45 portray this massive head wound, and verify that the largest diameter was approximately 13 cm. The report further states that one of the fragments of the skull bone, received from Dallas, shows a portion of a roughly circular wound presumably of exit which exhibits beveling of the outer aspect of the bone, and the wound was estimated to be approximately 2.5 to 3.0 cm. (1 to 1.18 inches) in diameter. X-ray Nos. 4, 5 and 6 show this bone fragment and the embedded metal fragments. Photographs Nos. 17, 18, 44 and 45 show the other half of the margin of the exit wound; and also show the beveling of the bone characteristic of a wound of exit. Photographs Nos. 44 and 45 also show that the point of exit of the missile was much larger than the point of entrance, being 30 mm. (1.18 inches) at its greatest diameter. Photographs 5-10 inclusive, 32-37 inclusive, 44 and 45 show the location of the head wound, and verify the accuracy of the Warren Commission drawings (Exhibits 386 and 388, Vol. XVI, pp. 977 and 984) which depict the location of the head wound. 

Well, heck, as shown on the slide above, Exhibit 386 shows the back of the head and ONLY the back of the head. It shows a bullet entrance at the level of the EOP and a line of broken skull down the middle of the back of the head. There is NO way the mystery photo, if taken from the front as currently proclaimed, and depicting forehead in the foreground as currently proclaimed, can be interpreted as "verifying the accuracy" of Exhibit 386. 

Or even Exhibit 388. Exhibit 388, after all, shows a bullet exiting from the middle of the right half of the skull, and the left half of the skull intact. The "mystery" photo, if taken from the front, shows the entire top of the head missing and a beveled exit on a solid ridge of bone that extends no further than the coronal suture. This is at least two inches away from where the bullet exits in 388. 

So, yes, it's clear. The autopsy doctors believed the "mystery" photo showed the posterior skull in 1966, and they still believed it in 1967. 

Well, this means the orientation for the photo did not change in 1967, as I once strongly believed, but in 1968, with the Clark Panel.

And this makes more sense anyhow. Let's refresh.

What a fluster cluck!

This raises the question, then, of just how much of this mess comes from doctors being confused, and how much of this mess comes from confusion created by doctors. 

Reflections on Reflection

So now we're back where we were at the beginning of the last chapter. We have a photo that appears to show the back of Kennedy's skull, that confirms that a bullet entered low on the back of his head. But this photo has been "officially" declared (by first the Clark Panel and then the HSCA pathology panel) a photo taken from the front, with Kennedy's forehead in the foreground.

So how does one get around this? Well, in the previous chapters, I hope, I showed that the Clark Panel and HSCA panel just couldn't be trusted on these matters. And in this chapter, I hope, I've shown that there is a tremendous amount of confusion among those present at the autopsy regarding this photo, and that there is ample reason to believe the photo does indeed show the back of Kennedy's head.

And now I hope to prove it. I mean, the photo's not a total blur, right? It depicts things. Things that look like other things. Shouldn't someone be able to figure out what these things are, and what is actually shown in the photo, once and for all?

Well, I'd like to believe I'm that someone.

Let me explain. In 2004, when I realized that the bone in the open cranium photograph--a photo I'd seen in Robert Groden's book The Killing of a President--was supposedly forehead, I became a JFK buff, right then and there. This was so stupid, I thought, how long could it possibly take for me to convince people it is what it is, and shows what it shows?

Well, fifteen years later, I still feel that way. I'm still arguing, and most of those arguing with me are still choosing to either believe what they want to believe, or believe what they've been told to believe.

So let's take this slow. Let me show you some of the physical reasons I suspect the photo shows the back of the head...starting with the scalp shown in the both the foreground and the background.  

Now, to be clear, many of those defending the HSCA's interpretation of the mystery photo complain that conspiracy theorists print it the wrong way, and that the scalp from the top of the head is usually reflected over the face during an autopsy.

And, guess what, they're right. The scalp is almost always reflected over the face. But what these defenders, including conspiracy theorists Don Thomas and Anthony Marsh, forget to say or pretend not to notice is that just as typically 1) the skull cap is cut in an even line across the forehead, and 2) the posterior part of the scalp is reflected down towards the neck.

In their interpretation of this photo, of course, there was 1) no cut across the forehead, just a jagged edge, and 2) no reflection of scalp at the back of the head, just tangles of torn scalp. 

S.O.P. was not employed... Thus, those sharing this argument are sadly S.O.L.

In an article found online, Dr. Ed Uthman describes a typical reflection of the scalp as follows: “The diener (an assistant) uses a scalpel to cut from behind one ear, over the crown of the head, to behind the other ear…The skin and soft tissues are now divided into a front flap and a rear flap. The front flap is pulled (this takes some strength) forward (like being scalped) over the patient’s face, thus exposing the top and front of the skull. The back flap is pulled backwards over the nape of the neck.” This approach, moreover, is confirmed by Handbook of Autopsy Practice (2009), which claims "The anterior and posterior halves of the scalp are reflected forward and backward, respectively...The anterior flap is reflected to a level 1 or 2 cm above the supraorbital ridge. The posterior flap is reflected down to a level just above the occipital protuberance." Autopsy Pathology (2004), a medical textbook found at the New York Public Library, further confirms: "Incise the scalp down to the bone, and then peel the skin and subcutaneous tissues back to below the occipital protuberance posteriorly and to the level of the forehead anteriorly by a combination of sharp and blunt dissection." In The Hospital Autopsy (2003) the reflection of scalp over the neck is confirmed yet again: "incise the scalp, starting behind one ear and finishing behind the other. Reflect the scalp forwards and backwards using blunt dissection, examining the underside of the flaps for haemorrhage or damage." And, finally, Understanding the Autopsy (1992) confirms this as well, stating, simply: "The scalp is peeled off the bone, forward and back." The pattern then seems clear: when scalp is reflected forward it is also reflected backward. 

That this is the typical pattern is confirmed, moreover, by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology autopsy manual, which David Lifton obtained and discussed in his best seller, Best Evidence. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was, tellingly, not only Dr. Finck's employer, but the provider of the only course on Forensic Pathology ever taken by Dr. Humes.

And, should that not be enough, and should one wish to go back even farther, there's also the Army's Manual of Neurosurgery, published 1919. It holds that after making "an incision from a point behind one ear over the top of the head and down to a similar point behind the other ear...The scalp is then loosened and reflected forward and backward, dissecting it free from the cranium..."

Forward and backward. The scalp in the mystery photo in its official orientation is pulled forward but not backward. This demonstrates beyond any doubt, then, that the reflection of scalp depicted in the mystery photo was not the "typical" reflection of scalp described in the medical literature.

As the entrance at the back of the head was one of the areas the doctors were trying to inspect, and as the scalp at the back of the head was reportedly intact, and as none of the four scalp lacerations noted in the autopsy report came anywhere near the exit near the EOP, and as it MAKES NO SENSE for them to have just ripped apart the scalp at the back of Kennedy’s skull with their bare hands, to be clear, it seems likely that the reflected scalp in the mystery photograph is the scalp at the back of the head, atypically, due to the extensive damage to the right side of the skull, reflected to the left.

This interpretation is confirmed, furthermore, by the statements of Paul O'Connor and James Jenkins, Dr. Humes' and Dr. Boswell's assistants during the autopsy. As the assistants normally tasked with removing the brain, the recollections of Jenkins and O'Connor regarding the removal of the brain should not readily be dismissed. As reported in Harrison Livingstone's 1992 book High Treason 2. Livingstone interviewed O'Connor on 4-20-90 and 5-9-90. O'Connor's comments on the mystery photo are included in the photo section, and reveal that he thought the photo showed the back of Kennedy's head, with the scalp reflected to the left. His description of the wound also supports this proposition. He is reported to have claimed 1) that the right side of Kennedy's skull was "badly fractured all over. Comminuted fractures. Comminuted means like you dropped an egg on the floor" and 2) that at first he could not see the hole low on the back of Kennedy's skull because "the scalp covered it up so you couldn't tell how bad the wound was until he (Humes) pulled the scalp off." Those holding that Humes reflected the scalp forward, of course, simultaneously suggest he never "pulled the scalp off" low on the back of the head, as claimed by O'Connor. And, no, O'Connor wasn't done. In 1991, O'Connor was questioned by Harrison Livingstone at a conference. This was captured on videotape. O'Connor told Livingstone: "Usually, in order to remove the brain, you're gonna have to saw the skullcap off, and that wasn't done that night." Well, that should make it clear. The only reason one would reflect the scalp forward on the left side of the face would be to remove the skull cap. Since this wasn't done, well, there's no reason to believe the scalp was reflected forward.

Jenkins' recollections on this issue, moreover, confirmed O'Connor's. In a 10-8-90 interview, Jenkins reportedly told Livingstone "Everything from just above the right ear back was fragmented. It was broken up, but it was being held together by the scalp." Well, think about it. How could Jenkins know it was being held together by scalp unless someone removed this scalp and it fell apart? Still, Jenkins wasn't done. The next year, at the same video-taped conference attended by O'Connor, Livingstone asked Jenkins about the removal of Kennedy's brain, and Jenkins responded "They extended--if I remember my anatomy--the sagittal suture a little bit, instead of doing a skull cap, to pull the brain out." And this wasn't a one-time claim. When interviewed by William Law in 1993, Jenkins asserted: "We normally did a skullcap. We didn't really have to do a skullcap on this because, as they expanded the wound, it was large enough for the brain to come out."

And Jenkins was just getting started. On November 22, 2013, Jenkins appeared at the JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas. Before a small focus group, comprising Law, Dr. Gary Aguilar, Dr. David Mantik, myself, and maybe 10 others, he repeated this claim. He spoke again that night, after the banquet, in a side room. This time there were perhaps 40 people in the audience. There, he specified that when first examined at the autopsy, "The only thing keeping the skull structure intact was the scalp," and that when this scalp was pulled "back"--note he said "back," not forward, which puts his recollections at odds with the official interpretation of the photo--the right posterior section of the skull collapsed.

And no, he wasn't done. On 9-21-18 Jenkins was interviewed by Chuck Ochelli. This interview was then put up on Youtube. When Ochelli started describing the forward reflection of the scalp performed at most autopsies, Jenkins interrupted: "It wasn't necessary with this because the (area of) fracture on the right side of the head from just in front of the ear all the way back was extremely malleable. You could take your hand and move the bones around. The bones weren't missing except in the area of the wound and were adhered to the scalp." He then proceeded to describe how Dr. Humes extended some of the scalp lacerations along the top and right side of the head, folded these newly-created flaps of scalp and bone outward, and then removed the brain from the right side. 

And he repeated this a year later. In a filmed interview with Dr. Michael Chesser and David Mantik, subsequently put up on on Youtube as "the Meeting of the Minds" Jenkins asserted, once again, that the doctors did not remove the skull cap, and that instead "They actually kind of opened it up and they took the brain out kind of to the side."

The recollections of Jenkins and O'Connor are supported, furthermore, by those of the autopsy's photographer, John Stringer, and its radiology tech, Jerrol Custer. As documented in ARRB medical document 19, Stringer was interviewed by HSCA counsel Andy Purdy on August 15, 1977. His report reveals: "Stringer said the doctors had to crack the skull somewhat to get the brain out, though they didn't have to saw it off." Well, think about it. If they didn't have to saw "it" (and by "it" I presume he means the skull cap) off, then there would be no point in reflecting the scalp forward on the largely undamaged left side of the skull. They would remove the brain from the seriously shattered right side of the skull...exactly as suggested by the mystery photo, when one assumes it was taken from behind. 

Well, then what about Custer? According to Livingstone, Custer at first claimed that during the autopsy Kennedy's face had appeared to be "deformed...squished...It seemed like someone had taken a clay image of his face and pushed it together...the scalp and the front part of the face seemed like everything had drooped forward," and that Custer later made it clear this was only "after the scalp had been reflected in the back and the brain removed," as "The face no longer had anything to hold it tight over the skull." If one looks at the mystery photo under the belief it was taken from behind, one can easily visualize that the scalp on the far side of the skull cavity is the forehead, and that the face beneath this forehead would droop forward. Custer's recollection is thereby consistent with the photo. If the scalp had been reflected as in a typical reflection, furthermore, it would have been reflected right over the face, and Custer would not have been able to make these observations.

So what about Humes and Boswell? Well, Boswell was also interviewed by Livingstone, and his statements also suggest Kennedy's scalp was reflected to the left, and that the mystery photo was taken from behind. In a 9-1-91 interview, quoted in High Treason 2, Boswell described the large head wound as follows: "the scalp was lacerated, and a pretty good size piece of the frontal and right occipital portion of the skull had separated and were stuck to the undersurface of the scalp. So when that was reflected, then it was true; there was a big bony defect in the right side of the skull. And with the fragments--I think the brain was largely removed through that defect." If they could remove the brain through that defect, it bears repeating, there would be no need for them to remove the entire top of Kennedy's skull--the procedure purportedly depicted in the mystery photo, when interpreted to have been taken from in front of Kennedy.

Then, what about Humes? Well, Dr. Humes himself made a number of statements regarding the reflection of the scalp that only make sense when one views the photo as taken from behind. He told the Warren Commission.: “I extended the lacerations of the scalp…down in the directions of both of the President’s ears…We had to do virtually no work with a saw to remove these portions of the skull, they came apart in our hands very easily…as we moved the scalp about, fragments of various size would fall to the table…when we reflected the scalp away from the badly damaged skull, and removed some of these loosened portions of skull bone, we were able to see this large defect in the right cerebral hemisphere.” One can only assume that when he says he reflected the scalp away from the badly damaged skull, he doesn’t mean he reflected the scalp over the badly damaged skull near the President’s right temple, as would be the case should he have reflected the scalp in a manner consistent with the official interpretation of the autopsy photo.

Dr. Humes’ discussion with the HSCA forensics panel thirteen years later is even more helpful. When asked about the supposed in-shoot in the cowlick, he replied: “I don’t know what that is. Number one, I can assure you that as we reflected the scalp to get to this point, there was no defect corresponding to this in the skull at any point. I don’t know what that is.  It could be to me clotted blood…it certainly was not any wound of entrance.” Notice that he says they had “reflected the scalp to get to this point,” implying that “this point,” the red spot in the cowlick adjacent to the midline, was some distance from where they had begun reflecting the scalp. Note also that when one views this photo under the assumption the bone in the foreground shows forehead the scalp near the supposed entrance in the cowlick has not been reflected at all!

Humes’ comments to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992 are also relevant. He said “The head was so devastated by the exploding bullet…that we did not even have to use a saw to remove the skullcap…We peeled the scalp back and the calvarium crumpled in my hands from the fracture lines…” Since there was little damage to Kennedy’s left skull, andsince Humes said there was little or no cutting, Humes’ comment that they did not need to remove the skullcap confirms that they did not cut the skull on the left side of Kennedy's head, and that they therefore, by necessity, must have pulled the brain out from the devastated right side of Kennedy’s skull. Since there was talk of an open-casket funeral, it only makes sense that the doctors would try to preserve as much of Kennedy’s face as possible. If this was so, then they would have logically reflected the scalp back and to the left, pulled the brain out from the right side of his skull, and preserved the left side of his face. 

Humes' words to the ARRB in 1996 further support this analysis. He told Jeremy Gunn: "Once we got the scalp laid back, some of those pieces could just be removed, you know, by picking them up, picking them up because they were just not held together very well, other than by the dura, I suppose. So other than that, we probably made it like we normally do, in a circumferential fashion from books, like right above the ear around. But it was a real problem because it was all falling apart, the skull. And I can't recall the details of exactly how we managed to maneuver that, because it was a problem."

Notice that Humes always discussed reflecting the scalp away from the badly damaged skull, toward the back of the head, or flat-out backwards, and that he never once discussed reflecting the scalp over Kennedy's forehead. This proves Don Thomas' claim in his book Hear No Evil that "when I performed craniotomies at the Pathology Department of the Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach, California, I always reflected the anterior scalp forward to the eyebrow before removing the skull cap...the chief prosector, Dr. Humes, stated that he followed this procedure..." not only untrue, but doubly untrue. Not only did Humes not claim he'd followed this procedure, he specified that he didn't have to perform a procedure of any kind in order to remove the brain. (Sorry, Don.)

The scalp was reflected to the left.

Now, there are those who insist doctors wouldn't do such a thing, and that they always reflect the scalp over the forehead, blah, blah, blah. 

But this just isn't true. One of the most famous murders of the late 19th century was that of Lt. Cecil Hambrough, who was believed to have been murdered by Alfred Monson, while the two were out hunting with a third person, Edward Scott. This murder caught the public's attention, and led to some of the first forensic studies of gunshot wounds in which scientists fired a murder weapon in order to establish the range from which the fatal weapon had been fired. Dr. Joseph Bell,  the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, assisted in these studies and testified at the trial, immediately after a colleague, Dr. Patrick Watson. In any event, this murder was discussed far and wide, and made its way into Principles of Forensic Medicine, by Dr. William Guy, where the following images were provided.

The damage was restricted to the right, so the scalp was reflected to the left. It's rather elementary when you think of it. 

The Zimmerman Telegram (er, Not Quite a Telegram, But an Online Article and a Subsequent Post on Facebook)

When I read an online article by Dr. Chad Zimmerman, in which he correctly pointed out that to reflect the scalp to the left the doctors would have needed to cut along the base of the skull at the back of the head, and that Dr. Humes told the ARRB that he didn't make any incisions beyond the one between Kennedy's ears, however, I realized that things were not as clear as I'd like them to be. 

But they're still fairly clear. When one re-reads Humes’ and Boswell’s discussion with the HSCA pathology panel, from 19 years previous to his testimony for the ARRB, one discovers that, yessiree, there was some minor cutting along the back of the head. Boswell: “we just folded that back and this back and an anterior flap forward and that exposed almost the entire—I guess we did have to dissect a little bit to get to…” Humes: “To get to this entrance, right?” Boswell: “But not much…” 

Since the scalp by the entrance near the EOP (the only entrance the doctors could have been discussing) is indisputably intact in the official interpretation of the open cranium photographs, moreover, Humes and Boswell's statements to the HSCA support that the scalp was reflected to the left, and that the mystery photos were taken from behind. Everything fits.

In Dr. Zimmerman’s interpretation of the “mystery’ photo, on the other hand, the President’s right ear is at the end of a line of reflected scalp. But if this is so then the gaping hole directly in front of the ear (where the wing of bone is flipped outwards in the other photos) is hidden by this line of reflected scalp. This raises the question of just how one reflects badly lacerated scalp over an area where there is no bone. 

And that's but one of the reasons we should doubt Zimmerman's interpretation of the photo. Although apparently overlooked in his one viewing of the original photo, and subsequently unmarked in his initial assessments of the photo (such as that shown on the slide above) he would eventually come to insist the apparent bullet hole (by the EOP in my assessment, and on the left side of the skull in his assessment) was nothing but "congealed blood." Oy.

And, that's not the worst of it. In his hubris, he would also come to insist (in a 2015 discussion on Facebook) that the accuracy of his interpretation of the photo is readily apparent and obvious to anyone who looks at the original photos. He bragged: "once you see the cheek, the adipose tissue, the hole and the other features, it is readily apparent and obvious. It took about 10 seconds."

Well, that's quite the insult to the autopsy doctors (who originally claimed the photos showed the back of the head and later, when provided as much time as they needed by the ARRB, said they just couldn't orient the photos), don't you think?

Well, Zimmerman's got a half-baked theory on that as well. In an attempt to explain how he was able to understand the open cranium photographs to a greater degree than the autopsy doctors, Zimmerman has offered I “tend to believe that the color prints were not shown to the autopsy physicians during their interview with the HSCA investigators.” Wow, this is not only self-serving but totally inaccurate, seeing as the doctors were shown all the photos in 1966, and 1967, and again by the ARRB in 1996, and failed to come to the conclusions espoused by Zimmerman. Heck, it’s also misleading in that the record shows the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, not the HSCA “investigators” cited by Zimmerman, showed Dr.s Humes and Boswell open cranium photograph number 44 in 1977. Number 44, of course, is a color print. 

The Color of Deception???

Dr. Zimmerman is not alone, however, in his obsession with the colors in the photo. In The JFK Myths, Larry Sturdivan similarly suggests that the key to understanding the mystery photo rests not only in its features, but in its colors. (The color versions of the photo are, of course, inaccessible to most researchers.) Sturdivan, for example, claims that the area I used to think was neck is really blue cloth. He also claims that “The entry crater was filled with what seemed to be clotted blood with a dark hole through it. On the poorer view, #45, there was a blue highlight on the side of this hole. All other highlights were white. The shade of blue on this one highlight, however, was the same shade as the blue cloth lying behind the head. We took this as an indication that the hole through the clot extended all the way through the skull and the highlight was reflected light from the underlying cloth.” (The “we” refers to Sturdivan and the Dr. who accompanied him to the archives...Dr. Chad Zimmerman.)

This momentarily threw me for a loop. I couldn’t remember anyone else noting that a blue cloth was visible through an entrance. While there were no color versions of this photograph available on the internet, the late researcher Tim Carroll was able to locate one in a brochure put out by Robert Groden, but that turned out to have been a colorized version of the photo.

I then re-read Dr. Zimmerman’s account of his trip to the archives. In an essay on his trip (formerly found on Zimmerman's website), Zimmerman explained: “At first we did not notice the entrance in the posterior scalp.However, upon close examination between the two available color prints, I noticed a blue-grey spot on one of the prints…It wasn’t until I noticed this “spot” that I could see that the film of blood had broken and we could actually see through the hole. The blue-grey area was the reflection from the underlying stainless steel examination table behind the President’s head.”

Yes, you read that right. In Sturdivan’s version the back of Kennedy’s head lay atop a blue cloth, but in Zimmerman’s it lay atop a stainless steel table. Confusing matters even more, the other single-assassin theorist to visit the archives in recent years, Dr. Robert Artwohl, assured an assassination conference audience in 1993 that what is here interpreted as Kennedy's neck was not the blue cloth noted by Sturdivan, but a yellow block, and that the transverse lines on this block were not neck lines, but artifacts. 

Needless to say, I’ll swear by Sturdivan's blue towel, or Zimmerman's stainless steel table, or Artwohl's yellow block, when I see these photos myself.

Scalp Triangle Comparison

So now let us continue our examination of the scalp in the photo...

Only this time let us focus on the scalp in the background of the photo. From its appearance we ought to be able to determine the photo's proper orientation. If one were to interpret the photo as being taken from the front, a la the HSCA, after all, it would mean the doctors left the scalp intact at the back of the skull near their supposed entrance in the cowlick, the area they were supposedly inspecting and photographing. And that makes no sense.

When one looks even closer at this un-reflected scalp, moreover, one can see a triangle-shaped section of torn scalp. As there were no scalp lacerations at the back of the head recorded in the autopsy protocol and the testimony of the doctors asserts there were no incisions made on the scalp beyond one by the left ear, and perhaps some low on the back of the head, these obvious lacerations shouldn’t exist (unless one is to allow that the doctors ripped Kennedy’s scalp apart with their bare hands!!), should one insist this photo was taken from the front. Since a similar scalp triangle is apparent near the President’s right forehead in the lateral autopsy photo, for that matter, it is simply far more logical and less gruesome to assume this photo was taken from behind.

When one notices Kennedy’s haircut in the autopsy photos, and realizes that the hair was much longer on top, and remembers that the doctors did not shave or cut Kennedy’s hair, the question arises then of where this hair went to, should one still believe the open cranium photo was taken from the front. I mean, why is the hair in the scalp triangle so short, if it is in fact from the crown of Kennedy’s head, as would appear to be the case, should one continue to interpret the photo in the manner proposed by the Clark Panel and HSCA? Since the hair by the temple was much shorter than the hair at the top of Kennedy’s head (as made clear by the left profile photo) doesn’t it simply make more sense to conclude the hair in the scalp triangle came from Kennedy’s temple?

So, yes, the scalp triangle only makes sense if the mystery photograph was taken from the rear.

The Short Hairs

And the hair on the scalp triangle aren't the only hairs that are just too damned short...for the skull in the photo to be forehead. In the forehead interpretation--the currently "official" interpretation--the fingers in the photo by the ruler are at the top of the head. And yet the hairs by the fingers are wispy little short hairs--which just so happen to look exactly like the short little hairs people have low on the back of their head, at the top of their neck.

Now, seeing as the autopsy doctors initially described this photo as depicting a wound low on the back of the head, and as the photo shows hair that appears to be the hair found low on the back of the head, what are the odds for this photo actually being taken from in front of Kennedy, and not showing the back of his head?

I mean, is this just an incredible coincidence?

Or did the doctors go, "Aha!, this hair here looks like the hair found at the back of the head. So this photo must show the back of the head" and overlook the possibility a previously unappreciated crop of short hair at the top of Kennedy's head resembled the short hair at the back of his head?

Is that it? Were they thrown off by a previously unappreciated crop of short hairs?

Of course not. I'm being silly, and tasteless, and, to some, no doubt, offensive. But no more offensive, in my opinion, than those continuing to push that this photo shows forehead.

While one might rightly wonder, moreover, why there’s so little hair visible near the hairline in the mystery photo, this, too, has an explanation. Dr. Finck told the HSCA: “I don’t remember the difficulty involved in separating the scalp from the skull but this was done in order to have a clear view of the outside…the scalp is adherent to the skull and it had to be separated from it in order to show in the back of the head the wound in the bone.” Finck, we should remember, never budged from his contention that this entry was on the occipital bone of the skull, inches away from the HSCA’s entry in the cowlick. Is it just a coincidence, then, that this is precisely what's depicted in the open cranium photo once one accepts it was taken from behind?

The hair resembles the hair found low on the back of the head because the photo shows a wound low on the back of the head.

Entry Wound Close up and Neck Line Comparison

A close inspection of the wound in the mystery photo is also revealing. While it is usually inferred from the Warren Report’s description of the “slicing” associated with the occipital entrance wound that the wound was vertical--and the Rydberg drawings portray it as such--Dr. Finck, the bullet wounds expert at the autopsy, informed his Army superiors in a report filed in January, 1965, that the wound was “transversal,” heading right to left. (While Humes’ misrepresentation of the wound may have been an honest mistake, it’s intriguing that, within a week of interviewing Humes, Arlen Specter asked Parkland witness Dr. Clark if his observations were consistent with the presence of a “lateral wound measuring 15 by 6 cm. on the posterior scalp.” Hmmm... Did Specter know Humes’ testimony was incorrect? If so, how?) Anyhow, Finck’s description of the wound as transversal makes perfect sense when one remembers Boswell’s inclusion on the autopsy face sheet of an arrow heading both to the left and upwards from the bullet entrance. The entrance into the skull was heading to the left. The explosion of the skull was up above. The bullet, in Boswell's mind, thereby moved upwards and to the left. 

One can deduce from this then that the bullet came from the President’s right, or that it hit the President while his head was turned to its right, just enough so that the bullet grazed along the flesh on the outside of his skull before entering. The so-called military review of January 26, 1967, suggests as much. When describing the back of the head photos, it states “The scalp wound shown in the photographs appears to be a laceration and tunnel, with the actual penetration of the skin obscured by the top of the tunnel. From the photographs this is not recognizable as a penetrating wound because of the slanting direction of entry.” Dr. Finck’s description of the wound as "transversal" and all three doctors' subsequent description of a "tunnel" is, not coincidentally, completely at odds with the Clark Panel and HSCA purported in-shoot in the cowlick. We should recall, moreover, that the skull at the Clark Panel's location for the bullet hole had been removed before Dr. Finck had even arrived at the autopsy.

Should one accept that the entrance described at the autopsy could be the transversal entrance proposed in the images above, but have a problem believing that this bullet entrance could 1) have gone unnoticed by the Parkland doctors, or 2) be so hard to spot in the scalp on the back of the head photos, one should read books on wound ballistics, as they are filled with stories where the entrance wound proved equally elusive. In Crime Lab: Science Turns Detective, for example, a story first told by Dr. Le Moyne Snyder is re-told by author David Loth. Loth tells of a young man who'd been treated for a .22 caliber rifle wound in the shoulder but whose condition continued to decline. Finally, the doctor decided to inspect the rest of the man's body. The story concludes: "Behind the right ear, hidden by hair, was a tiny round hole, with the faintest trace of blood. The damage of the second bullet had been internal, and extensive. The victim died a few minutes after this wound was located"  (That a wound caused by a .22 rifle would be less severe than a wound caused by Oswald's rifle has not been overlooked, and should make one wonder if maybe, just maybe, the small initially-overlooked entrance wound on the back of Kennedy's head was caused by a rifle other than Oswald's. Much, much, more on this to come.)

When one inspects the back of the head photo and matches its neck lines with those on what is presumed to be the neck in the open cranium photo, one finds yet another argument that the open cranium photo depicts the back of Kennedy's head. Certainly the lines on the open cranium photo are not just random lines on a towel. Since the HSCA Authenticity Report stated “Such lines develop in most individuals by middle age, but their exact arrangement forms a pattern that is virtually unique to the individual” one would like to think they tested the lines to see if they matched. Unfortunately, there is no mention of this in their report.

Perhaps they'd failed to do this because they'd concluded the lines weren't in fact lines of the neck... While I'd once thought the lines conclusive, and mentioned them in my videos, I now believe I was wrong. In 2010, I received an email from a reader named Martin, and he pointed out to me that when one looks at lightened and sharpened versions of the mystery photo, well, what I'd purported to be Kennedy's neck appears to be a flat block or tray of some sort, on which the skull is resting on its side. (This will be shown later.) In any event, when one views these images, what I've previously presumed to be neck lines appear to be artifacts--scratches on the photos or some such thing. Now I really can't say for sure. But neither can I honestly claim the mysterious lines on the mystery photo are neck lines, and that this proves the photo was taken from behind. 

So let's keep looking...

Foramen Comparison

Sometimes the most convincing information is the hardest to look at. When one looks at the open cranium (or mystery) photo and focuses one’s attention not on the white skull, but on what lies beyond the white skull, one can easily discern that it is not brain matter or the roof of a skull, as one would expect if this photo was taken from the front, but is absolutely positively the floor of a skull. 

Some of the holes in the base of the skull, or foramen, can even be identified in the mystery photo.  While the collapsed scalp from the forehead obscures much of the anterior and middle fossa, (the base of the skull above the eye sockets and by the ears), a small section of the posterior cranial fossa, (the base of the skull at the back where the spinal cord enters the skull) is fairly in focus. There are what appear to be two stubs of veiny material, around the rims of two holes in this area. These correspond precisely with the two foramina one should expect to find in this area. This seems way too much a coincidence. When one compares the relative positions of the Internal Auditory Meatus (#9), which gives passage to facial and cranial nerves, the Jugular Foramen (#10), which provides a passage for the internal jugular vein, and the rounded bowl-shape to the posterior cranial fossa apparent on any anatomy website, one should have no problem identifying the location of these same structures on the open cranium photo, and determine that this photo is indeed taken from behind.

And no, I don't believe this is me seeing what I want to see. In 1993, in a letter published in The Third Decade, Dr. Joseph Riley, a neuro-anatomist, asserted that the mystery photo was taken from behind and that the HSCA pathology panel "ignored anatomical features" in order to make their interpretation of the mystery photo possible. He then announced that he would be making this argument in a subsequent paper.

Unfortunately that paper never surfaced, and we can only speculate as to the features Riley found so compelling.

Deeper Focus

When one looks even deeper in the photo, however, one finds still more features suggesting the photo was taken from behind. In the base of the skull furthest from the camera, one can see what appears to be a pillar of bone, with a horn sticking out to the right. This is almost certainly the dorsum sellae with its horn--the right clinoid process. At its base, moreover, there's a fissure, running down to the jugular foramen. This fissure is almost certainly the petro-occipital fissure. There are no similar features on the back of the skull, not in the parietal region, the location of these features according to the HSCA, nor in the occipital region, where some theorists place these features.

And no, I'm not the only one who's noticed these features. In late May, 2015, Dr. Robert G. Hamilton joined the JFK Assassination Forum, and briefly fielded some questions regarding the autopsy photos, before leaving, presumably in disgust at the adversarial nature of so many of the comments. On May 28 he fielded a question from assassination researcher Robin Unger on the mystery photo. This was his response:

Why is the orientation "still being debated?" It need not be so. It is really easy to interpret this autopsy photo, as I will hopefully demonstrate:

We are looking at the posterior skull of the late President, with the scalp retracted.

1) One can observe, in the lower part of the photograph, the small hole near the External Occipital Protuberance (in the occipital bone, in the posterior skull.) This is the wound of entrance, according to the pathologist.

2) Clearly visible is (on the right side of the photograph) the huge hole in the parietal bone, extending into (as per the autopsy report) the temporal and occipital regions of the skull.

It is quite simple really. I do not understand all the confusion.


Dr. Robert G. Hamilton, MD (ret)

Now, to this, Unger responded not with a thank you, but by posting a colorized version of the photo, in which he offered up his own interpretation of the photo. On May 29 Dr. Hamilton repeated:

Yes, the so called 'mystery photo' isn't a mystery at all. It depicts the President's posterior skull, Your colorization works just fine, but in the process you turned the original photograph too much to the left.

The wound of entrance is located in the lower right of the picture, and the large exit wound in the parietal bone is on the right.

I should learn how to post pictures myself, it will make it easier to explain myself.


Dr. Robert G. Hamilton, MD (ret)

Well, when I saw this I was overjoyed. I wrote Dr. Hamilton later that day and told him I'd discussed the photo at conferences, and had arrived at the same conclusion as he. I asked him if he could further describe the photo. He responded on June 1:

Let us discuss the 'Mystery Photo'... I do not understand all the confusion about this particular photograph. Closest to the camera is the posterior cranium, with a wound of entry located exactly where the pathologists claimed it was: slightly to the right and a little above the EOP. The large avulsive wound, on the right lateral side, involving both the superior posterior and superior anterior sides of the cranium, is clearly visible on the right side of the F8 photo. Anyone who claims otherwise is, with due respect, mistaken.

The F8 photo is slightly out of focus, but if memory serves me (I had my lessons in anatomy in the late 70s) the posterior clinoid process is visible through the large defect in the superior cranium. It is therefore quite obvious to me that the F8 photo depicts the posterior superior skull, with the inferior occipital bone at the bottom and the superior anterior cranium at the top of the image.

He then provided his background:

In the past 35 years, I have treated (approximately) about 1000 patients with trauma to the head, either in the ER (blunt force trauma, car accidents and the like) or in the Royal Medical Corps, where I had my share of bullet and shrapnel wounds. 

Awesome! Totally awesome! All right, Hamilton!

Ridge to Nowhere

And yet, Hamilton's straight-forward analysis of the photo, which mirrors my own, is at odds with so many of those viewing the photo, who just so happen to have a different agenda. The HSCA’s ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan, in his determined but frequently inaccurate defense of the lone-nut conclusion, The JFK Myths, not only prints the mystery photo sideways, but claims that what appears to be the Jugular Foramen is instead the bullet hole near the EOP described by the doctors. Now, as we've seen, he is on solid ground when he insists this hole can not be the HSCA panel's purported hole in the Kennedy's cowlick. But Sturdivan's reasoning falls apart, in my opinion, when he subsequently asserts that the vein-like material around this “entrance” is a stretched “hood” of dura.”

While searching for a good definition of dura, I discovered that the material around the holes could only be dura if the holes are foramen, as I believe. According to Gray’s Anatomy, “The Dura Mater is a thick and dense inelastic fibrous membrane which lines the interior of the skull…In the posterior fossa it sends a process into the internal auditory meatus, ensheathing the facial and auditory nerves; another through the jugular foramen, forming a sheath for the structures which pass through this opening…” Since I have never read of dura being stretched into a tube by a bullet’s entrance, and since the Gray’s description makes it clear that dura is inelastic, I am skeptical that the tube-like material in Sturdivan’s interpretation of the photo could be dura on the back of Kennedy's head. Comments by anatomists, doctors, and morticians welcome.

Sturdivan’s interpretation of the photo does not exactly support the autopsists, moreover, in that it entails a beveled exit on the forehead that apparently escaped their attention. (He notes that they reported no such exit, states that “It seems unlikely that they would overlook such an obvious feature”, but fails to say what he believes the beveling represents.) His interpretation also fails to explain the second hole beside his purported entrance. While he does acknowledge the fissure presumed to represent the petro-occipital fissure in the photo, he strangely claims that it, along with the far edge of what appears to be a pool of blood, represents the "lateral sinus," an apparent reference to the transverse sinus, a raised ridge of bone along the base of the posterior cranial fossa. He fails to explain why this "ridge" comes to a sudden stop as it approaches the supposed entrance hole. He certainly can't believe the internal beveling on the skull caused by the bullet was far more extensive along the sinus than on the skull in actual contact with the bullet...

Or maybe he can... It's hard to say what anyone can or can not believe when there's so much wanna-see mixed-in with what we claim to see on these matters.

It sure seems, for that matter, that most every panel and expert has come up with something different regarding the photo, because every panel and expert has viewed the photo with a slightly different pre-conception about the President's wounds, and a slightly different agenda.

Let us try, then, to study the photo while ignoring the President's wounds. The photo depicts a variety of shapes in relation to one another. It seems possible that through studying these shapes, we can ascertain from what angle, if any, the photo would have to have been taken for these shapes to appear as they do. And it seems possible that from knowing this it will lead us to a final conclusion regarding the mystery photo.

Forehead Analysis

Let's start with the supposed forehead in the photo. From what angle and from what distance would the camera have to have been to create an image in which the forehead seems so large? Is this even possible? And, if not, is it more likely the photo shows the back of the head? Or is that impossible as well?

Since autopsy photographer John Stringer told the ARRB he would “very seldom” change lenses during an autopsy shoot and would ordinarily use a standard or normal lens, it seemed logical to try to find out what lens was standard for the 4 by 5 Graphic view camera purportedly used to take the autopsy pictures, and if this lens was compatible with the open cranium photo as interpreted by the HSCA. Since a Department of Defense memo to the HSCA mentioned a 135 mm Zeiss Jena Tessar lens that was purchased along with the camera, I decided to see what the field of view was for this lens.Sometimes one finds the information one needs in unexpected places. While rummaging through a Goodwill Store I found a 1961 book on press photography by the authors Rhode and McCall. This book, appropriately entitled Press Photography, reported that a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic camera, a hand-held variation of the Graphic view camera used by Stringer, would have a 51 degree field of view when equipped with its “normal” lens of 135 mm.  Assuming this 51 degree field of view, then, and using the ruler in the back wound photo (which is apparently a 32 cm ruler) to measure an approximately 54 cm field of view at the distance of the ruler, I was able to estimate that the camera was about 56 cm from the ruler in the back wound photo. Since the open cranium photo, once the rulers were matched in size, was barely half as large as the back wound photo, this indicated that it was, in turn, taken from a distance of 28 cm, with a field of view at the depth of the ruler of about 27 cm. This was confirmed by subsequent measurements.

Now it gets tricky. Since the ruler was about 28 cm or 11 inches from the camera in the open cranium photo, and since the ruler would appear to be 5 ½ inches or less behind the bone in the skull closest to the camera, one is forced to conclude the camera was at least 5 1/2 inches from this bone.  Assuming this bone is the forehead, this seems too far. (While messing around with a 35 mm camera I had to get within 3-4 inches of a skull before its forehead could fill the frame so completely.) 

If one is to assume the ruler in the photo is 11 inches away, and that the closest part of the skull to the camera is 5 1/2 inches away, moreover, then one can calculate that the closest part of the skull is 100% larger in the photo in comparison to the ruler (based upon the roughly one to one ratio between the distance and the width of a 51 degree field of view). From this we can approximate the apparent size of the forehead. Since what is purported to be forehead is 5 times as tall as the ruler is wide in the photo, this means the forehead, once one takes into account that the forehead has been distorted in size by 100%, was roughly 3.64 inches tall.  (5 x the approximately 37 mm width of the ruler, divided by 2, and then divided by 2.54, the number of cm per inch). This is bigger than the size of my forehead. While one might assume Kennedy's forehead was larger than normal and that this would seem to confirm the official interpretation of the photo, this confirmation, remember, is reliant upon the ruler being 5 ½ inches behind the forehead within the skull, which at this angle means it’s at the left ear. As there were no incisions reported on the largely undamaged left posterior quadrant of the skull, moreover, these measurements necessitate that the doctors tore this section of the skull apart with their hands for no apparent reason. This seems unlikely.  

When Kennedy’s forehead in the left lateral photo is sized to match the purported forehead in the open cranium photo, the problems with the official interpretation of the open cranium photo come clearly into focus. As the lateral photo depicts an over 12 inch field of view at the depth of Kennedy’s face, we can assume the photo was taken from over a foot away.  If one is to allow that the closest part of the skull to the camera in the open cranium photo is 5 1/2 inches away, this means the lateral photo was taken from about two and a half times further away, and should be approximately 2.5 times the size of the open cranium photo once the forehead is made to match. This means the lateral photo should be about 25% larger than the back wound photo (which is twice the size of the open cranium photograph) once all three photos are made to match. Instead, it’s more than 50% larger! 

Since an actual measurement of the lateral photograph reveals it to be about 2.8 times as large as the photograph of the open cranium once the foreheads are made to match, and since the lateral photograph appears to have been taken approximately 12 inches from the forehead, this indicates the camera must have been about 4.3 inches away from the skull when the open cranium photo was taken. This is in line with my earlier guesstimates. If this is true, however, since we’ve already ascertained that the ruler in the photo was approximately 11 inches from the camera, this would mean the ruler in the photo was 6.7 inches behind the part of the skull closest to the camera, which would place it at around 3/4 inch outside a normal-sized skull by the left ear, or at the far back of the skull. 

It seems more than a coincidence then that there are no problems with the photo when one interprets it as being taken from behind. Since the ruler is in what would appear to be the posterior cranial fossa, it would be at most 3 ½ inches beyond the bone closest to the camera. This would make the skull 7 1/2 inches away. If we calculate that the skull at the back of the head, from the neck up to the fracture near the crown is about 5.8 (the height of the skull at the back of the head as measured by the apparent width of the ruler) divided by 1.47 (the relative distance of the ruler to the closest part of the skull) times 1.46 (the presumed width of the ruler), we can deduce that this section of skull appears to be about 5.75 inches tall.When one looks at the back of a normal sized head at the downward angle suggested by the appearance of the posterior cranial fossa in the photo, moreover, one will find that the crown of the head, where the fracture appears to be on Kennedy’s skull in the open cranium photograph, is roughly at this level. We can suspect this is not a coincidence.  

NOW, I am the first to admit the measurements in the preceding paragraphs are speculative and imprecise, but the basic point I'm aiming for is not. There's just no getting around it. When one compares the mystery photo to the other autopsy photos available to the public and considers that the photos are purported to have been taken with the same camera and the same lens, and to have not been cropped in any significant way, then it becomes fairly obvious, even to a layman, that the mystery photo depicts the back and top of Kennedy's head, and not his forehead.

Focus On The Lens

That the camera and its lens were a problem for the HSCA pathology panel's interpretation of the mystery photo is further suggested by a 1998 ARRB memo created by Doug Horne. As an employee of the ARRB, Horne was trying to locate the camera used at the autopsy, so that its negatives could be compared to the negatives of the autopsy photos, and help confirm their authenticity. But what he found was proof of deception. While the HSCA report on the photographic evidence insisted that “the Department of Defense was unable to locate the camera or lens used to take these photographs”, Horne found memos from the Department of Defense asserting that they’d in fact found the camera, and a series of memos from the HSCA staff acknowledging the receipt of this camera. Even more unsettling, Horne uncovered a March 27, 1978 letter from HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey to Secretary of Defense Harold Brown admitting “After examining the camera and comparing its features with characteristics on the autopsy photographs, our photographic experts have determined that this camera, or at least the particular lens and shutter attached to it, could not have been used to take the autopsy pictures. We have requested additional information in an attempt to locate another camera that might have been used and to determine if the lens could have been changed subsequent to November, 1963.”

On April 20, 1978, John G. Kester, an assistant to Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, responded to Blakey’s letter as follows: “It is presumed that the camera previously provided to the Committee was the camera used at the autopsy; the camera was described in a previous Committee request as a 4 X 5 Graphic View type, and the camera provided the Committee was the only one of that description in use in 1963. Although other lenses were also in use at the Medical Center during that time they have been replaced.” While many, including Horne, suspect this indicates that one or more of the photos in the archives were not taken by photographer John Stringer on November 22, 1963, and are fakes, I suspect the real significance of Blakey’s statement is that the 135 mm lens purchased at the same time as the camera and handed over by the Defense Department along with the camera could not have been used to take one or more of the photos. As the HSCA photographic experts left no notes detailing their failed comparison of the camera to the photos, one can only speculate which photo or photos failed to match. As the other photos are fairly uniform and consistent with what one would expect from a standard autopsy camera shooting standard autopsy photos, it seems likely that the photo whose “characteristics” were in disagreement with the 135 mm lens was the mystery photo when interpreted as depicting a forehead.

No matter which photo or photos presented the problem, however, Horne’s discovery demonstrates that the HSCA staff rejected and concealed the Department of Defense’s identification of the camera rather than seriously question the authenticity and/or official interpretation of the photographs. In May, 1978, the HSCA was preparing to parrot the Warren Commission’s conclusions. In light of this one shouldn’t be surprised to find that Dr. Michael Baden, the head of the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel, told Horne he was never even notified of the conflict between the camera and the photos...

Or even that that no one could tell Horne the current whereabouts of the camera...

Focus on the Focal Length

In July 2006 my conjecture about the camera and the mystery photo received a response. Single-assassin theorist Jerry Logan expressed online that the erratic difference in ruler size between the various photos reflects only that the photographs were taken with different effective focal lengths.  He stated further that in his opinion the mystery photo when interpreted as depicting a forehead is compatible with a Graphic View camera and a 135 mm lens, and that the mystery photograph as forehead appeared to have a 1:1 ratio (whereby the 4 x 5 negative captures the image of a 4 x 5 area). He explained that a 135 mm lens is 135 mm only when focused on infinity (with the lens as close to the film as possible), but that it would be 270 mm when focused on a close-up object with a 1:1 ratio. He suggested that the mystery photo was taken with the 270 mm focal length, as opposed to the other photos which were taken with the camera focused on infinity. He said “I’ve personally taken photos with a view camera and single lens that covered a greater range of magnifications than that shown in the autopsy photos.” He went on to theorize that the HSCA photo experts rejected the camera and lens turned over by the Department of Defense not for the reasons I suspected but “because of what they saw in the lens and didn’t see in the pictures.” He suggested that perhaps they discovered a flaw on the lens provided by the Navy, and that this flaw convinced them the lens was not used during the autopsy. In my opinion, he overlooked that the photo experts also considered the possibility the problem was with the camera. To me this suggests the problem had something to do with the proportions in one or more of the photographs and not with any feature specific to the lens.

While my understanding of photography and optics is admittedly rudimentary, I believe Logan missed other key points as well. As he admitted, when focusing on a close-up object such as the bone in the mystery photo, one would increase the focal length. In so doing, however, one would make the ruler in the background of the photo grow larger in proportion to the forehead, and appear too BIG when compared to the other photos, not too small. By way of example…if the bone is 8 inches away from the camera, and the ruler 14, an inch of bone would appear to be roughly 1.75 inches on the ruler. If the focal length was increased, however, so that skull 8 inches away filled the frame as if it were 4 inches away (when the camera was focused on infinity), the ruler would still be proportionate to the skull, and appear to be 7 inches away. In other words, the ruler would appear to be only 3 inches behind the bone and appear too BIG in the mystery photo in comparison to the other photos, not too small. This brings up the issue of whether the View Camera delivered by the Navy was capable of shortening the focal length of its lens. As acknowledged by Logan “The view camera has a bellows that allows the lens to focus much more closely than the 35mm. That’s why it’s possible to take macro photos (1:1) with an ordinary large format lens, while 35 mm cameras require special macro lenses or bellows.”  There is nothing in the view camera to reverse this process, and allow it to take (short focal length) wide-angle shots with an ordinary large format lens, such as the 135mm Zeiss Jena Tessar handed over by the Navy. Autopsy photographer John Stringer’s statements to the ARRB, moreover, indicate that he didn’t use the bellows for magnification, but only to focus. In discussing the camera used at the autopsy, he explained: “It was a Graphic view camera…It was on a monorail that you focused back and forth. You had the different lenses for magnification…” In the 2006 book Terminal Ballistics, Karen Byrne confirms that this is as expected, stating “Occasionally, the photographer is required to know the focal length used to take a particular image…Because of the general superior quality, fixed focal length lenses are the preferred choice for forensic photography.” The 135mm Zeiss Jena Tessar handed over by the Navy was of fixed focal length. All this leads me to believe that the mystery photo as forehead is incompatible with the Graphic View camera supplied by the Navy, unless the mystery photo was mistakenly taken with a wide angle lens, and the photo then enlarged and cropped. While this seems ridiculous on the face of it, so is this entire discussion. 

If a photo expert wishes to explain how increasing the focal length would decrease the size of the ruler in the background, I’ll include their explanation in my next update.

The Drainage Problem

Perhaps the biggest challenge to my understanding of the mystery photo came not from a single-assassin theorist, but from a fellow conspiracy theorist named Richard Tobias.  After looking through my online presentation, Tobias e-mailed me his appraisal of the photo, which closely parallels Larry Sturdivan’s appraisal of the photo. (Evidently, Tobias was an influence on John Canal, and John Canal was an influence on Sturdivan.) A circled feature in Tobias’ image, however, and a key factor in Tobias’s orientation of the photo, was a drainage hole visible on the autopsy table.This, admittedly, took me by surprise, as the images I’d been working with, available on such websites as JFK Lancer, had cropped off this drainage hole.

Annoyed that I’d never noticed this feature before, I immediately compared the drainage hole in the Tobias orientation to the drainage hole visible in the top of the head autopsy photo. I suddenly felt at ease. The drainage hole hadn’t proved my orientation to be incorrect at all, but had given us yet another reason to believe the mystery photo depicts the back of the head. You see, the drainage hole in the Tobias orientation, purportedly by Kennedy’s neck, was much smaller in comparison to his skull than the drainage hole in the top of the head autopsy photo, even though the hole in this photo was further from the camera, and beneath Kennedy’s right shoulder. From this, I knew Tobias’ orientation was incorrect.

When I compared the Tobias orientation image to the actual mystery photo, I noticed even more inconsistencies. While the skull in the mystery photo appeared even, with the bone and scalp equidistant from the camera, Tobias, in his orientation,  had the skull angled sharply away from the camera. This was undoubtedly misleading. The skull in the mystery photo is not curved in such a manner. There were also the ongoing problems with the forehead interpretation, including the whereabouts in the photo of the scalp from the left rear of Kennedy's skull.

Looking Out or Looking Down?

The most convincing piece of evidence that the mystery photo was taken of the back of Kennedy's head when he was lying on his side, however, came when I measured the proportions of the drainage hole in the Tobias orientation, and compared them to the proportions of the drainage hole in the top of the head photo.  Despite the fact that the Tobias orientation has the camera looking almost straight down on a prone Kennedy, and the top of the head photo has the camera looking at the autopsy table from only slightly above the horizon, the shapes were quite similar. While the hole in the top of the head photo measured roughly 40 x 87, the hole in the mystery photo measured roughly 47 x 87.  Since a photo with the camera looking straight down would be 87 x 87, reflecting the round shape of the hole, this meant that the mystery photo was taken more from the side of the table than from above. (If anyone has any evidence suggesting the holes were not round, please speak up.) 

It was at this time that I came across a photo of numerous stacks of coins. As the coins on the taller stacks—closer to the level of the camera-- appeared more elliptical and less round, this photo allowed me to see that the approximate angle of the camera to the drainage hole could be determined.

The 58 Degree Solution

While I knew that the angle of the camera to the drainage hole could be determined by the hole’s proportions, I couldn’t remember how to do so, or even if I'd ever known how to do so. One’s mind forgets a lot of math after 30 years of non-use. To solve the problem, then, I just began measuring the distance between two parallel lines rising from the edge of a two inch round shape at different angles. At 58 degrees from vertical, I found the proper angle to account for the 47 x 87 proportions of the drainage hole. When I took a photo of the Tobias orientation from 58 degrees, however, I found that the camera was looking at the top of the head, not the forehead. When I took a similar photo of the skull at 45 degrees, the camera was still not as high in the sky as the camera would need to be for the Tobias orientation to be correct. Tellingly, the round shape representing the drainage hole in the 45 degree photo was already far too round and not remotely similar to the proportions of the drainage hole in the mystery photo. 

Anatomy of a Mistake

When I attempted to recreate the mystery photo with the skull on its side, however, I found that a camera looking down on the drainage hole from 58 degrees from vertical could indeed take a picture of the back of a skull as proposed.

But I can't gloat about this discovery. While studying the mystery photo, I noticed two other reasons to believe the mystery photo depicts the back of the head, and was quite mistaken on each. First, when comparing the mystery photo to the left lateral autopsy photo, I noticed that the steel edge of the head rest seen in the left lateral photo was at a similar height as what could possibly be a steel edge in the mystery photo. This seemed more than just a coincidence.  Secondly, I noticed that an unidentified object under the neck in the mystery photo appeared to be a glass jar sitting on the table. It seemed a bit of a coincidence that this glass shape appears to be right below the low entry wound on the skull, where tissue was removed during the autopsy for further inspection.  

I was so convinced of the importance of these observations, in fact, that I created a slide for this chapter called "New Perspectives On Old Mysteries." The slide above is the same slide, only re-titled "Anatomy of a Mistake" to reflect my loss of faith in my impressions regarding the head rest and the glass.  The recreation of the mystery photo on this slide, while proving its point, was also inaccurate. 

At the root of all these mistakes was one mistake: I had the photo upside down. The photo depicts Kennedy's head on its right side, not its left. 

The Light From Above

In November 2008, while working on part 4 of our video series, series director Braddon Mendelson gave me a call, and told me we had the photo upside down in our re-enactment. I went into my bedroom, whipped out the copy of the photo in High Treason 2 and took a good look. A few minutes later I called him back to confirm his impression.

I'd stupidly made the assumption that because the photo of the back of Kennedy's head before his scalp had been reflected showed him to be on his left side, the mystery photo was most likely taken with him on his left side. I'd taken my belief that I'd spotted a head rest and a glass in the photo as further confirmation he was on his left side. 

But Brad, as a video director, wasn't looking at the photo with these pre-conceptions; he was looking at the lighting of the photo. And it seemed obvious to him the photo was lit from above. And he's right. The glare on the reflected scalp--apparently held in place by one of the doctors, indicates that the reflected scalp is above the skull cavity. Brad was also correct to note that the drainage hole would be lit on the inside of the far rim, and not the outside of the near rim.  

After having seen this light, I noticed also that the "pool of blood" I'd previously noticed in the base of the skull was now consistent with gravity. I also noticed that, in this orientation, the triangle of scalp hung down from the head, and was similarly more consistent with gravity. In short, everything made much better sense in this orientation, except that darn metallic object I'd confused with a head rest and that darn glass object I'd confused with a beaker.

If At First You Don't Succeed

Having realized my earlier mistake, Brad and I set out to re-create the photo in its proper orientation. As demonstrated in photo 3 above, a still from Part 4 of our video series, we got pretty darn close. The camera seems to be at the proper vertical angle to the skull, but the slightly rounder "drainage hole" in our photo indicates the skull is tilted a little too much towards the table. The top of the skull should also be pulled back slightly toward the camera, so that the base of the skull more closely aligns with the base of the skull visible in the photo. But that's beside the point. We were simply trying to demonstrate that the shape of the drainage hole indicates the photo was taken from an angle incompatible with the bone in the foreground of the photo being forehead (as demonstrated in photo 4 above), and that the photo was therefore most logically taken from behind.

Even so, the thought occurs that an exact reproduction can be accomplished. If an experienced photographer with the right equipment wishes to try to more accurately recreate this photo, I will be glad to assist them in the positioning of the skull. 

If at first you don't succeed...

Let There Be Light

And yet it doesn't matter, ultimately, if I ever accurately re-create the photo. I've proved that the photo shows the back of the head and the entrance by the EOP, many times over, in my opinion.

And other proofs are out there... In 2010, after studying a snippet of the photo sharpened and lightened by Jack White, it suddenly became clear to me that the area I thought depicted neck lines actually depicted a tray of some sort, with a specimen jar in the background. While I was initially dismayed that I'd been wrong about the neck lines, and that the photo was taken from a slightly different angle than I'd previously believed, I later had an "Aha!" moment.

Sure, I'd been wrong. The beveled bone in the photo was not on the back of the head, as claimed in my videos, but at the top of the head, where the autopsy doctors described a wound. Now, this was ironic, when you think of it. It might very well be that the Clark Panel decided this photo showed forehead in order to avoid the implications of this photo showing a beveled exit on the back of the head--and that the HSCA then followed in their footsteps, only to outdo them by claiming it showed an exit on the forehead--when the photo actually showed an exit at the top of the head.

But I'd also been mostly correct. While the photo as I now understand it shows the top and back of Kennedy's skull while resting on its right side, and suggests the beveled bone in the photo is on the top of the head, not back, it also makes it much much clearer that the bone in the photo is not forehead. As shown on the slide above, the appearance of the tray, glass jar, and drainage hole only makes sense, visually, when one accepts that the photo was taken from an angle to the table, and not from directly above.

Well, this was more than ironic. Let's recall that when discussing the mystery photos, Vincent Bugliosi claimed: “the keys to the correct orientation of the images are a lip of a glass specimen jar on, and a drainage hole in, the autopsy table, which are both visible in the photographs and are located at the top of the autopsy table. These details show that the photographer was standing at the head of the autopsy table, looking down into the cranial cavity, with the president lying on his back.”

Now, take another look at the slide above, and ask yourself, "Is the photographer looking at Kennedy's forehead, as claimed by Vincent Bugliosi, or the top of his head, as claimed by...the man who took the photo, John Stringer?"

That's right, when asked about the photo by the ARRB's Jeremy Gunn, Stringer said both that he thought it depicted "the top of the head," and that he thought it showed where the brain "comes up through the neck," a garbled but nevertheless decipherable reference to the foramen magnum. Well, this would be impossible if the bone in the foreground was forehead, as claimed by the HSCA pathology panel and Bugliosi. In their interpretation, after all, the skull in the background of the photo is the far back of the skull by the cowlick entrance, and not anywhere near the foramen magnum.

Now, it should also be reported that in his ARRB testimony, Stringer indicated that he thought the photo showed the skull while Kennedy was lying on his back, with Kennedy's cheek in the upper right corner. (Strangely, Gunn never showed Stringer or any of the other autopsy witnesses for that matter the bullet hole which in Stringer's interpretation would be by Kennedy's LEFT EAR, and asked him if that helped refresh his memory, and if the skull was not in fact on its right side). In any event, in Stringer's testimony, he never once mentioned that he thought the photo could have been taken from directly above Kennedy, with his forehead in the foreground.

And this wasn't the first time Stringer had been asked about this, and had refused to say the photo depicted the forehead. An 8-17-77 HSCA report by Andy Purdy reflects that on 8-15-77 Stringer accompanied a few of the HSCA's staff to the National Archives, and viewed the color autopsy photos. The report reflects: "Regarding photograph #44 he said he was focusing on the bottom part of the picture. There was considerable discussion regarding the direction of the face in this picture of the top of the head with the brain removed. Mr. Stringer felt the face was going in a different direction than Dr. Baden's impression. The piece of skin area was likely a shoulder, while Dr. Baden thought it was the cheek." It then adds that Stringer said "the photographs of the open head were taken while the head was held up." Hmmm... While it's unclear if Stringer believed the head was being held all the way up for the photo, or just a little way up (as in my interpretation), it is nevertheless clear by this that in 1977 Stringer felt quite sure that the photo was not taken from directly above a head lying flat on a table, with the forehead in the foreground, as later pushed by John Canal.

Note also that by 1996 Stringer had changed his impression of the shoulder/cheek (which is in the upper right corner of the image above, in a section that looks a bit like bone on the black and white version of the photo) to match Dr. Baden's impression, but that he still resisted Baden's claim the bone in the foreground was forehead.

In any event, the photographer who took the mystery photo claimed the photo showed an entrance wound on the back of Kennedy's head in 1966, and then refused to go along with Dr. Baden's appraisal of the photo, in which the photo showed Kennedy's forehead, in 1977. He was asked about it yet again in 1996, moreover, and still stuck to his guns--the bone in the foreground was the top of the head, and not the forehead.

It seems clear, then. that he never believed, even for one second, that the photo was taken from the front and depicted a wound on the inner aspect of the back of the skull...

Well, that is, until years later, when single-assassin theorist John Canal contacted the then 85 year-old Stringer and pestered him into going along with his obviously incorrect analysis...

Speaking of Canal...

Game, Set, No Match

In 2010, I became aware that author John Canal, who had devoted much of the past ten years trying to prove the mystery photo depicted Kennedy's forehead, had claimed to have re-created the photo at the proper angle to the drainage hole. Well, this came as a surprise, as I had seen an earlier re-creation by Canal, and it wasn't even close. When his supposed re-creation was posted online, however, (ironically, by single-assassin theorist extraordinaire, John McAdams), I realized Canal was just blowing smoke. The proportions of the "drainage hole" in his re-creation were, as they are in all simulations of the photo in which the bone in the photo is forehead, not even close to the proportions of the drainage hole in the mystery photo.

His re-creation had other problems as well. As the camera was slightly closer to the table in his re-creation than it was in the Tobias orientation, more of the table below the skull should have been visible. So where was Kennedy's shoulder? The right shoulder of the mannequin in Canal's photo is clearly visible.

In sum, then, Canal's failure to re-create the image only confirmed what I'd been saying all along: the photo was taken from above and behind Kennedy, and depicts the top and back of his head.

Note: on 10-1-10, on the alt.assassination newsgroup, John Canal, whose strident belief the mystery photo was taken from the front actually exceeds my strong belief it was taken from behind, wrote:

Pat, for us to continue discussing this F8 orientation issue makes no

sense...we are obviously at a stalemate....and have been for a few years.

Besides the replications that show the face on orientation is correct, I

have the signed statement of the autopsy photographer that says the same


In fact, I can't think of one forensic expert who has examined the

originals and concluded the back of JFK's head is in the foreground in F8.

If I missed anyone, I'm remiss, but would add there's certainly not too


Also, you have the bone flap, most easily seen hanging off the front right

of his head, hinged by the scalp, in the BOH photos, but also seen in--of

course--the same place in F8.

Lastly, I'm baffled at how you have the gall to try to convince us to

accept your misorientation of F8 over its face-on orientation as diagrammed

by the HSCA's highly credentialed forensic anthropologist, Dr. Lawrence

Angel....who examined the "originals" and probably did it with a

stereoscopic viewer. No one was more qualified to determine the correct

orientation than he was.

Pat, I'd appreciate it if you'd respect my wishes for us to not to discuss

this F8 orientation issue, or any issues related to its orientation,


Thank you.


John Canal

While acting as though he was waving a towel in victory, he had actually thrown it in.

1. He had never dealt with any of my visual arguments relating to the physical appearance of the scalp in the photo--which in his orientation was at the back of the head.

2. He had never offered an explanation for the apparent bullet hole in the photo--which in his orientation was on the left side of the head.

3. He had never dealt with any of my historical arguments demonstrating that the orientation of the photo was changed by the Clark Panel, which he agreed behaved suspiciously when re-assessing the location of the entrance wound.

4. He had never dealt with any of my arguments regarding the size of the forehead in the photo.

5. He had failed in his efforts to replicate the shape of the drainage hole in the photo.

6. He had crafted an argument, in fact, that rested entirely on his opinion the photo looked like it was taken from above, while looking down on the forehead, and that others had agreed with him.

Well, how is one to argue against that? I mean, some people might think a photo of a speeding car shows a Ferrari, but if someone else comes along and does a thorough comparison of that photo with other photos of speeding Ferraris, and shows that the car is entirely the wrong shape to be a Ferrari, who are we to trust? The guy who has a strong belief, or the guy who's done the homework?

I admit I have a bias. I'm the guy who's done the homework... 

who, unfortunately, still has lots to learn...

In 2020, a full decade after my final dispute with Canal, I realized that a prominent researcher had argued for my orientation of the autopsy photograph long before I.

Yep, while watching a video on YouTube of the 1994 ASK Conference, I received quite a surprise. Dr. Joseph Riley, a professional neuroanatomist, had told the surprisingly small audience in attendance at that conference that in his interpretation the beveled notch the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel claimed was on the forehead in the mystery photograph, was actually at the top of the head. 

He even presented a drawing of the top of the head to show how the features of the "mystery photo" or F8, or whatever, matched up. 

I have taken that image and added a blue arrow to show where he placed the beveled notch apparent on the "mystery photo".

So perhaps there's more support for my position than I realized...

I mean, if Joe says it's so...

The Ongoing Mystery

And yet, even so... I must admit some aspects of the mystery photo remain a mystery to me. It was only in 2015, for example, that I suddenly realized there was an alternate version of the mystery photo available for our study. While I'd seen this photo in the past, and whereby someone (I'm fairly certain it was Richard Tobias) had sent me a good scan of this photo some years before, I had stupidly ignored the value of this photo because it had a blurry streak of light obscuring much of the image.

This blurry streak annoyed me, so I put the image aside. When I finally took a close look at it, in 2015, however, I realized that it was not an alternate print of the mystery photo I'd been studying for a decade, as I'd stupidly assumed, but a different photo entirely. This is proven by the gif file below, in which the two versions of the photo are morphed together, with the second photo overlying the first, to maximize the field of view.

Note that the fingers in the photo (presumably Boswell's) hold the ruler in a slightly different location in the second photo, and that the ruler now leaves a shadow. Note also that the specimen jar in the upper left hand corner is not as visible in the second photo as in the first photo, even though the presumed bullet hole is more visible. This would not occur if this area of the photo had been lightened up in the dark room, and is best explained by the fact the lighting for the second photo had changed, as well as the angle at which the photo was taken.

Still, this gif is too dark and too busy. It's tough to see what's going on at the back of the head, and the flash of light on the other side of the photo doesn't make it any easier. Let's try, then, to lighten up the dark area on the left hand side of the photos and reduce the exposure on the second photo, to see if this is any easier to look at. (Note: I have thereby altered the photos. Anyone wishing to conduct their own study of this image should not rely upon these altered images, but refer back to the original, if possible.)

Well, what's going on here? What's that oval shape near the top of the exposed skull, just below the brightly lit strip of metal (a retractor)?? Is that a hole in a metal plate? I must admit I'm totally lost here.

And what's this? It appears that something is attached to the skull just above the presumed bullet hole. Is it something that's been added by the doctors? To hold the skull togther for the photos? 

And what's going on with the brightly-lit section of bone in the middle of the photo? It appears tp be moving in comparison to a section of bone on the other side of a crack,  at its left. Is this a bone fragment that's been added back onto the skull? Is that's what's gpomg on here? Have the doctors added one of the large skull fragments that broke off from the skull when they peeled back the scalp...back onto the they could demonstrate the location of the beveled exit near the center of the photo? 

And, if so, well, maybe that eplains all the wires and handles in these photos...

Yep, when one focuses on these gifs,, one comes to see not only wires of some sort holding back the scalp, but the nandles of some tools sticlking out of the cranium.  

I have isoiated these handles in the image below. 

Well, I sure hope you can see them. The dark vertical shape, above, moves in relation to the bone behind it as it jostles back and forth between the two photos. It also gets wider. It is therefore not a crack on the skull as widely presumed, and as presented in the drawings of Dr. Angel, (not to mention the exhibits of Larry Sturdivan and Dr. Peter Cummings), but the handle of an instrument of some sort, sticking out from the floor of the cranium, viewed from two slightly different angles. While I at first thought this vertical shape connected to the horizontal shape to its left leading back under the bone, moreover, it now seems to me that the bottom part of the vertical shape moves in relation to the horizontal shape, and actually slips behind it, and that the vertical shape is therefore a second tool of some sort, sticking out of the cranium. God knows what they are or why they're there, but they are there nonetheless.

It was quite a spell, moreover, before I realized there was some support for this in the historical record. Jerrol Custer, the lead radiology tech at the autopsy, said something in his 1997 ARRB testimony that might very well be a reference to the shapes I've discovered. When asked if he saw "any reconstruction of the body" by the morticians, he replied "I remember when I looked into the skull--I remember seeing an apparatus in there. I wasn't sure what it was..." He then clarified that he noticed this apparatus not during the reconstruction by the morticians, but when taking the "first series of films" (a point on which he was obviously mistaken as the first series of films were taken before any incisions were made to the body...and the second series was the series taken after the brain had been removed.). He then further described this "apparatus." He said: "It was non-human. It had--I'm not sure if it was metallic or plastic. There was so much going on at the time. I just happened to see it. It registered."

And that's not remotely the strangest thing I've uncovered. Just to the left of the horizontal shape, and below it, is a small metallic object. Now, I have no idea what this is. Is it part of an instrument? Possibly. Is it a piece of a bullet? I'm skeptical. But it is there, clear as day. Right?

I ask because I sat on this discovery for months and months, in fear people would tell me I was seeing things.  But I'm not, am I?

Here it is again, below the blue arrow. Note that it has a small round hole on the left end, and a larger round shape on top. 

Now, should that not be clear enough, here is one final image of this section of the mystery photo, with added contrast and sharpness. The vertical shape (red arrow) is not a crack on the surface of the skull, and appears to be the handle of a scalpel or some other tool sticking out of the skull cavity. The horizontal shape (orange arrow) similarly appears to be something other than a feature of the interior of the skull, and is apparently the handle of some other tool, sticking out of the skull cavity. And the metallic shape (yellow arrow) similarly appears to be part of some tool.

Now, when reviewing this chapter in 2024, (yes, 2024--this photo has tormented me for decades, and probably always will), I noticed yet another curiosity. While looking at the combined mystery photo at varying levels of contrast, I noticed what may very well be a third tool of some kind sticking out of the skull. I have placed an oval around the two handles noted above along with the most recent one I noticed. It may be nothing. But it may be a very important something. 

Now, here's a closer look at the oval on the left side of the photo, with a slightly different contrast. 

Well, I sure hope you see it. I assumed for decades that what I was looking at here was the tunneling at the entrance wound noted at the autopsy. But there is a highlight in the middle of this "tunnel" that resmbles the highlights on what I have long-believed were tool handles sticking out from the skull on the other side of the photo. And this suggests to me that this is the handle of a tool used as a probe...a probe inserted into the entrance wound on the back of the head.   

The Crack in the Facade

But even if this should be our final voyage into the mysterious waters of the mystery photo, I believe it's been worthwhile. My struggles with the photo/photos have proven that the currently popular orientation for the photos--in which the bone in the foreground is forehead--is highly unlikely, if not impossible, due to the photos' being taken at an angle to the table. And not only that, they've proven that the experts who've viewed these photos at the archives, and who have claimed they show forehead, are so confused that they've testified with copies of the photo upside down, and have failed to notice that the dark shape they've presumed to be a crack is really the handle of a tool.

One hopes that these discoveries will have legs, and make their way back to some of these "experts", and that one or more of them will have the integrity to admit their obvious mistake.

Perhaps then we can have the re-investigation of the medical evidence this country needs, and that President Kennedy deserves.

An Update

It is now 2024, more than a decade since I went down the mystery photo rabbit hole. 

And, to my surprise, no one has followed up on my examination of the mystery photo, if only to say I was wrong...

My thoughts as to why this is--why a research comunity obsessed with studying the autopsy photos refuses to address the issues raised by a (mostly) respected member of that comunity about what may very well be the most important autopsy photo, and instead relies upon the gut feelings of a select few--are presented in Chapter 19d. 

But I warn you: it isn't pretty...