JAHS Chapter 12



On the afternoon of 3-11, Warren Commission counsel Arlen Specter and Joe Ball travel to Bethesda Naval Hospital and interview two of the autopsy surgeons.

Let's stop right there. Howard Willens told us he assumed it was Ball who convinced Warren that witnesses should be prepped beforehand. Now here Ball is, but days later, prepping the witnesses Warren most wants to hear from--even though this isn't Ball's assigned area of investigation. So, yikes, we can't help but wonder--was Ball sent to make sure the doctors provided the "substantive" testimony Warren was hoping for?

In any event, Specter's 3-12 memo reflects that he met with Dr.s Humes and Boswell in the office of "Admiral Holloway," presumably Admiral Galloway, the commanding officer of the hospital. (It's unclear whether this meeting took place before or after Specter composed his memo to Rankin in which he kissed up to Warren by trashing the witnesses he'd dragged before the cCommission on 3-9 and 3-10, but it's of little importance, seeing as the two actions would appear to be connected.

Here is the entire memo:

March 12, 1964

TO: Mr. J. Lee Rankin

FROM: Arlen Specter

SUBJECT: Interview of Autopsy Surgeons

On the afternoon of March 11, 1964, Joseph A. Ball, Esq., and I went to Bethesda Naval Hospital and interviewed Admiral C. E Holloway, Commander James J. Humes and Commander "J" Thornton Boswell. The interview took place in the office of Admiral Holloway, who is the commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center, and lasted from approximately 3:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m.

Commander Humes and Commander Boswell, along with Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, who is currently in Panama, conducted the autopsy and Admiral Holloway was present at all times. They described their activities and findings in accordance with the autopsy report which had been previously submitted as Commission Report #77.

All three described the bullet wound on President Kennedy's back as being a point of entrance. Admiral Holloway then illustrated the angle of the shot by placing one finger on my back and the second finger on the front part of my chest which indicated that the bullet traveled in a consistent downward path, on the assumption that it emerged in the opening on the President's throat which had been enlarged by the performance of the tracheotomy in Dallas.

Commander Humes explained that they had spent considerable time at the autopsy trying to determine what happened to the bullet because they found no missile in the President's body.

According to Commander Humes, the autopsy surgeons hypothesized that the bullet might have been forced out the back of the President on the application of external heart massage after they were advised that a bullet had been found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital.

Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell were shown the Parkland report which describes the wound of the trachea as being "ragged", which they said was characteristic of an exit rather than an entrance

wound. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell further said that it was their current opinions that the bullet passed in between two major muscle strands in the President's back and continued on a downward flight and exited through his throat. They noted, at the time of the autopsy, some bruising of the internal parts of the President's body in the area but tended to attribute that to the tracheotomy at that time. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell stated that after the bullet passed between the two strands of muscle, those muscle strands would resist any probing effort and would not disclose the path of the bullet to probing fingers, as the effort was made to probe at the time of the autopsy.

We requested that Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell prepare or have prepared drawings of the consequences of the shots on the President's body and head, and they also elaborated upon the

facts set forth in their autopsy report.

Dictated from 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.

Well, first of all, we wonder why "Holloway" is the one giving this demonstration? And why, if"Holloway" was demonstrating the angle of the shot, did he place his second finger on Specter's chest, and not his throat, where the bullet was presumed to exit? We also note the last line: "We requested that Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell prepare or have prepared drawings of the consequences of the shots on the President's body and head, and they also elaborated on the facts set forth in their autopsy report."

The next day, Specter interviews FBI Agents Jim Sibert and Frank O'Neill, the FBI agents present at Kennedy's autopsy. Specter's 3-12-64 memo reveals that they repeated what they said in their initial report--"that the autopsy surgeons made substantial efforts" to locate a pathway from Kennedy's back wound, but could not, and concluded that the bullet fell out. Their report had also noted that "one of the bullets had entered just below his shoulder to the right of the spinal column." This location is consistent with the testimony of agents Kellerman and Greer from just two days prior. Suspiciously, however, Specter fails to call Sibert and O'Neill before the Warren Commission. Perhaps, then, Specter was thinking of Chief Justice Warren's recent suggestion he present a "clean" case free of inconsistencies to the commission, and decided it was best that Sibert and O'Neill's recollection of the depth and location of the back wound not become part of the record. (Neither the initial report by Sibert and O'Neill on the autopsy, the FBI's report repeating their conclusions on the autopsy, nor Specter's memo discussing their recollections, will be published by the Commission in its 26 volumes of evidence in November. It was not until 1966, after researchers discovered these items in the archives, that J. Edgar Hoover released a statement admitting the FBI neglected to read the autopsy report in a timely fashion, and that this led them to base their findings on the initial statements of the doctors to Agents Sibert and O'Neill at the autopsy. Sibert and O'Neill, however, never changed their minds about the back wound, and insisted till the end that the back wound was a shallow wound below the shoulder line and that there was no path connecting it to the throat wound. One can only wonder then what would have happened had Specter called them before the Commission.)

On 3-14-64 the Jack Ruby murder trial concludes in Dallas. Dallas Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander, disappointed that he never got to fry Lee Oswald for Kennedy's murder, has pushed for the death penalty. The jury returns a verdict after 2 hours and 19 minutes. The verdict is guilty. Ruby is sentenced to death...

Later that day, a Dallas Times-Herald article by Felix McKnight appears, in which an anonymous member of the Warren Commission asserts that Oswald was equally guilty. Well, sorta--that he was guilty but insane. The article starts off by claiming the commission is investigating Oswald's role in the murder of a fellow marine while he was stationed in Japan, and then claims this information came directly from a member of the commission. It then quotes this member of the commission. who it describes as a "prominent man in national life" (presumably Dulles, but also quite possibly McCloy, or even Warren himself), regarding his "surprise" when he discovered that the facts of the FBI's supposedly secret report had all been widely published. It then relates: "The commission member said he has formed the opinion, on the basis of the evidence and testimony received to date, that Oswald was a mentally unbalanced drifter consumed with hatred of everything around him and everyone he knew, including those close to him." The member then states: "I can't imagine a jury rendering any unanimous verdict that he was sane, everything considered. He couldn't have been sane."

Yikes. At this point, we can only assume, no amount of contrary testimony or evidence can alter the conclusion Hoover tried to write in stone in December: Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy.

To wit, in mid-March, a memo to Rankin from Commission historian Alfred Goldberg regarding a proposed outline for the final report reflects that “Part IV: Analysis of Theories and Rumors should be relatively brief because it will deal with the great variety of theories, hypotheses, and rumor surrounding the event. This part should communicate that the Commission was fully aware of these questions and took due notice of them. To explore these questions in detail would give them much more than their due.”

Above: the doctors: from L to R (Boswell, Humes, and Finck).

On 3-16, Specter takes the testimony of the three autopsy doctors, Dr. James J. Humes, Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, and Dr. Pierre Finck. As requested by Specter on 3-11, Dr. Humes brings along three drawings created by a young Navy artist, Skip Rydberg. These drawings portray the back wound at the base of the neck and significantly higher than the throat wound and suggestive of a shot from above and behind. The location of this back wound is also, most obviously, at odds with the previously received testimony of agents Kellerman and Greer, and the recently-reviewed report of agents Sibert and O'Neill. Humes testifies that "We had made certain physical measurements of the wounds, and of their position on the body of the late president, and we provided these and supervised directly Mr. Rydberg in making these drawings." We have reason to believe this is untrue. The autopsy protocol written by Humes and in our possession reports "Situated in the upper right posterior thorax just above the upper border of the scapula there is a 7 x 4 millimeter oval wound. This wound is measured to be 14 cm. from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process." We do a quick measurement and see that the wound at the base of the neck in the drawing is no more than 10 cm below the mastoid process. We also look up the word "thorax" in some medical dictionaries. Gray's Anatomy specifies that "The thorax or chest, is an osseo-cartilaginous cage containing and preserving the principle organs of respiration and circulation...The upper opening of the thorax is ...formed by the first dorsal vertebrae behind, the upper margin of the sternum in front, and the first rib on each side." Blankiston's Pocket Medical Dictionary describes it as "The chest; the portion of the trunk above the diaphragm and below the neck." The Human Organism defines "thorax" as "The Chest, the portion of the trunk that contains the heart and lungs." Ottenheimer's Medical Dictionary defines it simply as "The chest." As the wounds in Rydberg's drawings are in the muscles at the base of the neck, and could not reasonably be described as on the back of the chest, we conclude Humes misrepresented the location of the back wound in the drawings.

While questioning Humes, moreover, Specter inquires about a wound in the "upper part of the back" or "the President's back or lower neck" and asks Dr. Finck about a "back wound." Humes, however, repeatedly describes the back wound as a wound in the "low neck," "low neck,""low posterior neck," or as being "low in the neck." This seems to be a deliberate ploy, on Humes' part, to sell that this wound, formally described as a back wound, was really a wound low on the back of the neck.

Something is rotten in Denmark and Specter has to smell it. Let's think about this. Warren personally hired but two of the commission's lawyers, an old friend of his from California, Joseph Ball, and noted African-American attorney William Coleman. On 1-23, Joseph Ball wrote a memo to Rankin in which he noted that the back wound appears to be lower than the throat wound. On 1-27, Rankin reported on this problem to the commissioners, and told them he'd be getting "help" from the doctors on this issue. Ball then began pushing that counsel be allowed to prep witnesses. Warren came down on his side, and began pushing that the autopsy doctors be interviewed as soon as possible. Specter was then asked to prep the doctors...while accompanied by Joseph Ball. The doctors--or more precisely, their boss, Admiral Galloway--then told Specter and Ball that the trajectory was indeed from above, and to disregard the drawings made during the autopsy. Specter and Ball then commissioned, for the commission, new drawings. These just so happened to depict the back wound at the base of the neck, inches above the throat wound, and the bullet descending within the body.

There's also this. On 3-12, Rankin wrote the Commissioners a memo in which he reported that the testimony of the autopsy doctors--originally scheduled for April--would be taken on 3-16...and 3-17. And here, what was presumed to be two days of testimony has not only been rushed into, but drastically condensed into one day of testimony, with Boswell and Finck asked but a few questions.

Let's get serious. This more than suggests that Specter--a prosecutor by nature charged with establishing the facts surrounding the shooting, but not who fired the shots--has been, at Warren's and possibly Rankin's direction, co-opted by Ball, a high-paid defense attorney charged with establishing who fired the shots. Warren has admitted he wants a clean investigation. This means he wants Specter's investigation to support Ball's, and vice-versa. It seems more than a coincidence then that for this all-important discussion with the autopsy doctors, Ball just so happened to tag along, and that the subsequent testimony of two of the doctors would be reduced to, essentially, "yeah, what he said."

(That Specter was not conducting an independent investigation is supported, moreover, by the one and only Joseph Ball. In 1999, in his 97th year, Ball wrote an article for the California Law Journal, entitled "A Century in the Life of a Lawyer." This included a brief section on the Warren Commission. Tellingly, Ball claimed: "At the outset, I was told that the Commission had divided the investigation into five parts, one of which was to determine the identity of the assassin. I had been assigned to that particular job along with staff lawyers David Belin and Arlen Specter. We worked on that issue together as a team over the next nine months." So, there it is. Ball saw Specter as part of the team out to determine the identity of the assassin. Someone engaged in such activity would quite naturally make some of the facts regarding what they think happened fit who they think did it. Someone engaged in such activity would also quite naturally reject contrary evidence once he had his man. But that's not the way it was supposed to work, right? Specter was supposed to figure out how many shots were fired, etc, independent of whether Oswald could fire that fast, etc.)

(Specter's partner in the investigation, Francis Adams, almost certainly smelled something. In Specter's 2000 autobiography Passion for Truth he claimed that, although Adams hadn't been to the commission's offices for weeks, he showed up to work for the commission on the day the doctors were to be questioned. He says Chief Justice Warren mistook Adams for one of the doctors, and that Adams then left for good. Specter then makes out that Adams' refusal to commit to the large workload needed to perform the tasks before him was at the root of the problem. In his book Specter approvingly quotes fellow counsel David Belin's assertion Warren's decision not to replace Adams as both "political" and "chilling." This raises a few questions. If it was just a matter of Adams' being too busy, why would Warren and Rankin dump Adams' work on Specter, forcing Specter to leave many of the tasks he'd outlined in his February memos undone? Why wouldn't they have just split these responsibilities up among others? Or hired someone to help Specter? The commission hired a number of new employees mid-investigation. Why was no one hired to help Specter? And why did Specter, if he was so overwhelmed by the workload due to Adams' absence, finish his chapters on the shooting well before anyone else finished their chapters? A September 1964 memo by Howard Willens on the days worked by the commission's staff reveals that, while supposedly carrying the load of two lawyers, Specter actually worked far less than fellow staff members Rankin, Griffin, Liebeler, Jenner, Redlich, and Eisenberg, and slightly less than Stern. This suggests, then, that Specter didn't carry the weight of two--as suggested by Belin and Specter himself--but that those overseeing the commission's investigation, namely Warren, Rankin, and Redlich, simply decided that the more thorough investigation initially outlined was unnecessary, and could readily be handled by one. There's also this. Adams did not just disappear after March 16. Adams, in fact, re-appeared on May 25, 1964, to conduct the lengthy and involved questioning of Kennedy assistant Lawrence O'Brien. He did so, moreover, after receiving a 5-20-64 memo from Specter telling him of the appointment. Willens' September 1964 memo on the staff, for that matter, reveals that Adams worked 6 1/2 days for the commission from April through July. This, then, suggests that Adams did not stop working for the commission on March 16, as claimed by Specter, but instead stopped working with one person in particular...Arlen Specter. Well, why? One can only guess. But Specter's having met with the autopsy doctors without Adams' being present, and convincing them to have schematics made depicting the shooting (in which the wound below the shoulder described in both the autopsy report and the FBI report on the autopsy suddenly and mysteriously transformed itself into a wound at the base of the back of the neck) may have been too much for Adams, a successful and wealthy attorney in his own right, without the driving political ambition of his much-younger colleague.)

A Hole in the Evidence

There's another huge problem with the drawings entered into evidence by Specter, of which he seems aware. The bullet hole on the President's clothing is out of alignment with the wound in the "low neck" described by Dr. Humes, and depicted in the drawings created by Rydberg in preparation for Humes' testimony. A close look at Humes' explanation for this fact proves most illuminating.

Mr. SPECTER - Have you had an opportunity to examine the clothing which has been identified for you as being that worn by the President on the day of the assassination?

Commander HUMES - Yes; yesterday, just shortly before the Commission hearing today was begun, Mr. Chief Justice, we had opportunity for the first time to examine the clothing worn by the late President.

This is already getting interesting. Specter went over to see Humes on the 12th, a Wednesday. Humes is now testifying on Monday, March 16th. And he's talking about a special visit he made to see the clothing...that took place the day before, a SUNDAY. One can only wonder why Specter would call Humes in on a Sunday. And one can only wonder about this because there is no record of this meeting. Nor of any other meetings between these men outside their first meeting on the 12th... (Humes would tell the ARRB in 1996 that he met with Specter 7-8 times while preparing for his testimony.)

Mr. SPECTER - Now, how, if at all, do the holes in the shirt and coat conform to the wound of entrance which you described as point "C" on Commission Exhibit 385?

Commander HUMES - We believe that they conform quite well...They give the appearance when viewed separately...as being perhaps, somewhat lower on the Exhibits 393 and 394 than we have depicted them in Exhibit No. 385. We believe there are two reasons for this. 385 is a schematic representation, and the photographs would be more accurate as to the precise location, but more particularly the way in which these defects would conform with such a defect on the torso would depend on the girth of the shoulders and configuration of the base of the neck of the individual, and the relative position of the shirt and coat to the tissues of the body at the time of the impact of the missile.

Mr. SPECTER - As to the muscular status of the President, what was it?

Commander HUMES - The President was extremely well-developed, an extremely well-developed, muscular young man with a very well-developed set of muscles in his thoraco and shoulder girdle...I believe this would have a tendency to push the portions of the coat which show the defects here somewhat higher on the back of the President than on a man of less muscular development.

Well, heck, what's with all this talk of Presidential muscles? Kennedy was 6 foot, 170 (hardly the size of his niece's future husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger).

We recall, moreover, a photo of Kennedy taken the year before, after Kennedy went for a public swim in Santa Monica, California. (This photo was taken by Bill Beebe for the L.A. Times.)

Well, that's a muscular man. But not "an extremely well-developed, muscular young man" as per Humes...

It seems clear, then, that Humes is trying to sell that Kennedy's muscles bunched up his jacket around his neck, and lifted the back wound on the clothing up higher on the body, and that he's lying about the President's physique in order to accomplish this task.

Mr. SPECTER - Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Commission, I would like to mark for identification Exhibit 396...Will you describe, Doctor Humes, the position of President Kennedy's right hand in that picture?

Commander HUMES - Yes. This exhibit, Commission Exhibit No. 396, allegedly taken just prior to the wounding of the late President, shows him with his hand raised, his elbow bent, apparently in saluting the crowd...This was his right hand, sir. I believe that this action would further accentuate the elevation of the coat and the shirt with respect to the back of the President.

Okay, so there it is. Specter and Humes have pushed that the powerfully built Kennedy's clothing bunched up around his neck while he was saluting the crowd, and they have used this to explain how a hole well below his collar on his clothing could overlay a wound low on the back of his neck. Well, this sounds absurd on its face...

Still, we take another look at CE 386--which shows the location of the supposed neck wound much better than its sister drawing, CE 385--and compare it to a photo of Kennedy's clothing. We are disappointed to see that this dog doesn't hunt, and has an incredible amount of fleas.

We try to talk to Rydberg about his drawings, but he tells us he's been sworn to silence by his and Humes' Commanding Officer, Captain John Stover. A few weeks later, however, he shows us a 3-27 commendation letter from Stover that tells us all we need to know. It says, in part "During the period 12 to 15 March 1964 you were called upon to prepare, on extremely short notice, highly technical medical illustrations, using only verbal directions given you by officers of this Command...The illustrations thus produced most accurately depicted the situation required and immeasurably assisted the medical presentation."

(While there is no reason to believe anyone working for the Commission actually saw this letter, published online by Barry Keane, an April 30 memo from Specter to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin reveals that he suspects or knows that the location of the back wound in Rydberg's drawings is inaccurate, and that he wishes to establish its actual location. Much, much more on this in the Examining the Examinations chapter.)

Making sense out of nonsense

For reasons beyond my grasp, the first image in each chapter sometimes fails to appear. If there's nothing up above, don't despair; you can still see the image here

Warren Commission Exhibit 388/Zapruder Frame 312 Comparison

While the early critics of the Warren Commission focused on discrediting the single-bullet theory, and using the location of the back wound on the clothing and face sheet to achieve this goal, by 1967 they'd begun questioning the official interpretations of the head wounds as well.

With perspective, it’s easy to see that there was something suspicious about the head wounds from the get-go. To prepare for their testimony before the Warren Commission, the doctors who'd performed Kennedy's autopsy were asked to prepare drawings depicting the trajectory of the bullet through the President’s skull. They did this by verbally describing the locations of the entrance and exit on the skull to medical illustrator Skip Rydberg, who then drew Kennedy bent over in the manner required so that his wounds could be connected by a straight line from above and behind. This drawing became Exhibit 388. What is wrong with this scenario is that the Warren Commission had blown up prints from the Zapruder film at their disposal, and Rydberg could have been given these in order to make his drawing as accurate as possible. Instead, the ever-wiley Arlen Specter, the Warren commission counsel leading this area of inquiry, flashed lead autopsist Dr. James J. Humes the prints of Zapruder 312 and 313 in the middle of his testimony, after 388 was already entered into evidence, and asked him if the prints depicted Kennedy’s head in “approximately the same position” as it had been in 388. To this, Dr. Humes replied “yes, sir.” As if to drive home the Commission’s lack of concern for accuracy, Commissioner Dulles continued in this vein moments later by asking Humes, who was never swore in as a photographic expert, by the way, if the posture of Kennedy’s head was “roughly the inclination that you think the President’s head had at the time.” To this, Humes repeated his response--“Yes, sir.”Amazingly, there is no evidence anyone on the Commission thought to compare the drawing to the photos themselves.

The testimony of Dr. Pierre Finck was equally odd. As the wound ballistics expert on the autopsy team, his testimony was needed to shore up that the bullets came from above and behind. As the drawings presented by the doctors depicted the back wound much higher than the exit in the throat, it was not hard for him to say as much regarding those wounds. As the skull entrance was, by the doctors’ own admission, lower than the exit at the top of the skull, however, there was no way he could reasonably assert that the fatal bullet would have to have come from above. When Finck testified that the exit wound was “so large that we can only give an approximate angle. In my opinion, the angle was within 45 degrees from the horizontal plane,” Specter most assuredly saw that this opened the door for a shot from someplace other than the sniper’s nest, even someplace on the ground. He immediately interjected “Is that to say that there was a 45 degree of declination from the point of origin…” to which Finck ultimately responded “I think I can only state, sir, that he was shot from above and behind.” This echoed the autopsy protocol’s over-zealous statement that “the projectiles were fired from a point behind and somewhat above the level of the deceased.” On what purely medical basis could these claims be made? If one ignores the eyewitnesses, the Zapruder film, and the rifle found in the school book depository, none of which belonged in the testimony of a doctor unfamiliar with such evidence, there was no reason for Finck to say the fatal bullet came from above. That Finck himself was uncomfortable with his testimony on this point can be inferred from the fact his report to his superior officer General Blumberg stated simply “I testified that Kennedy was shot from behind.”

"Behind"... No mention of "above." That the doctors knew they'd found nothing to suggest the shots came from above is confirmed, furthermore, by an unexpected source: Dr. Humes. When discussing the medical evidence with the HSCA Pathology Panel on September 16 or 17, 1977 (it's unclear), Dr. Humes was asked if he felt the essential findings were that two shots came from above and behind, or just behind. He responded, with all apparent candor, that "I think behind is the most one can say from the anatomic findings."

JAHS Chapter 13