A popular lament about the JFK assassination is, “Golly, I guess we’ll never know what really happened.” The reason people express that lament is that they are thinking of what the law calls “direct evidence,” like a videotaped confession or a written memorandum detailing plans to conduct the assassination.
What such lamenters fail to consider, however, is the important role that circumstantial evidence can tell us about what happened on that fateful day in November 1963. They either fail to understand the importance of circumstantial evidence or they are simply too frightened to consider the possibility that officials might be lying about the official account of the assassination.
What is circumstantial evidence? It is indirect evidence that is used to establish certain facts. Suppose people in Atlanta wake up tomorrow morning and see the streets of the city flooded with water. Even though they slept through the night, they can conclude that it rained the previous night. The flooded streets are circumstantial evidence that it did in fact rain, even if no one saw it rain.
Every court in the land holds that circumstantial evidence is just as valid as direct evidence. Thus, courts put equal weight on an eyewitness who saw it rain and on the fact that the streets are flooded to establish that it did in fact rain.
Let’s consider an important aspect of the Kennedy assassination, one that I am currently exploring in my new video/podcast series on the assassination: the autopsy that the U.S. military conducted on the body of President Kennedy just a few short hours after the assassination. It’s an aspect of the assassination about which many Americans are unfamiliar but one that can enable people to have a better understanding about the assassination itself.
After the Warren Commission issued its official conclusions in 1964, it ordered much of its investigative records to be kept secret for a period of 75 years. After the House Select Committee on Assassinations reopened the investigation into JFK’s death in the mid-1970s, it ordered that much of its investigative records be kept secret for 50 years. Meanwhile, from the very beginning, the U.S. national-security establishment shrouded its JFK-related records in an indefinite and perpetual cloak of “national-security” secrecy and “classified-information” secrecy.
The official secrecy was especially pronounced with respect to the autopsy that the U.S. military conducted on the body of President Kennedy. Participants in the autopsy were told that the entire operation was “classified.” They were ordered to never disclose to anyone what they had seen. They were threatened with court martial and criminal prosecution if they ever talked to anyone about what they had witnessed. They were required to sign official “letters of secrecy” by which they acknowledged their vow to keep the autopsy secret.
By and large, and with a few exceptions, that military secrecy held for some 30 years. Much of it came to a screeching halt, however, in the 1990s, when Congress enacted the JFK Records Act, which mandated that the military, the CIA, and other elements of the national-security establishment release their JFK-related records. The law was enacted in response to the outrage produced by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which posited that the assassination was a national-security regime-change operation, no different in principle from those conducted in places like Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1961, Cuba in the early 1960s, Vietnam in 1963, and, later, in Chile in 1973. Stone’s movie informed people of the 30-year old wall of secrecy that the U.S. national-security establishment had constructed around the JFK assassination. That caused Congress to enact the JFK Records Act. To enforce the Act, Congress called into existence the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).
Here are some of the things we have learned about the JFK autopsy, mostly because of the JFK Records Act and the enforcement measures taken by the ARRB, as detailed in the five-volume book Inside the Assassination Records Review Board by Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the ARRB:
1. While most everyone thought that the president’s body was being transported in a U.S Navy vehicle to the Bethesda Naval Facility after Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, along with the president’s wife Jacqueline and his brother Bobby, it was actually sneaked into the back entrance of the Bethesda morgue almost 1 ½ hours before it was officially introduced into the front of the facility at 8 pm.
How do we know this? Through a combination of both direct and indirect evidence, most of which wasn’t discovered until the 1990s as part of the JFK Records Act and the ARRB’s enforcement actions, as follows:
a. The testimony of several enlisted men, which established that they carried the president’s body into the morgue in a cheap “shipping casket,” similar to the types the military used for transporting the bodies of soldiers who were being killed in the Vietnam War, rather than the expensive, ornate, heavy casket into which the president’s body had been placed at Parkland Hospital in Dallas after he was declared dead.
b. A written report from Gawler’s Funeral Home, the most prestigious funeral home in Washington. It conducted the embalming of the president’s body and then the president’s funeral. The report, which was prepared contemporaneously with events in November 1963, established that the president’s body was brought into the morgue in a shipping casket.
c. A written report from U.S. Marine Sgt. Roger Boyajian, which was also prepared near the time of the autopsy, establishing that his team carried Kennedy’s body into the morgue at 6:35 p.m. in a shipping casket, which was almost 1 ½ hours before the official 8:00 p.m. time that the body was brought into the morgue in the Dallas casket.c
d. The testimony of Jerrol Custer, a U.S. Navy x-ray technician at the autopsy, who stated that he was carrying x-rays of the president’s head in the main foyer of the building when Jacqueline Kennedy entered the front of the facility at around 6:55 p.m. When she entered the building, the Dallas casket which she believed contained the body of the president was still sitting in the front of the facility.
e. At 8 p.m., Commander James Humes, one of the three military pathologists who would conduct the autopsy, telephoned Army Lt. Col. Pierre Finck to request his help with the autopsy. That was also the time — 8 p.m. — that the president’s body was being officially brought into the morgue for the autopsy.
During that telephone call, Humes told Finck that they already had x-rays of the president’s head. Humes’s statement is what the law calls an “admission against interest.” It is akin to a confession. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the only way they could already have x-rays of the president’s head is if the president’s body had in fact previously been brought into the morgue prior to 8:00 p.m. time that the body was officially being brought into the facility, which was the same time that Humes was making his telephone call to Finck.
2. U.S. Navy Petty Officer Saundra Spencer’s testimony before the ARRB in the 1990s helped establish that the military had conducted a fraudulent autopsy on the body of President Kennedy. Spencer worked in the U.S. Navy’s photography lab in Washington. She had a top-secret security clearance. Her job included developing photographs. She worked closely with the White House, especially on classified photographs. No one has ever questioned the competence, integrity, and veracity of Saundra Spencer.
Spencer told the ARRB an astounding story, one that she had kept secret for some 30 years, owing to the fact that what she had done was, she was led to believe, constituted “classified information.” After the ARRB released her from her obligation of secrecy, Spencer testified that on the weekend of the assassination she was asked to develop, on a top-secret basis, the autopsy photographs of President Kennedy.
When the general counsel for the ARRB, a lawyer named Jeremy Gunn, showed her the autopsy photographs of the back of JFK’s head in the official record, she carefully examined them and stated firmly, directly, and unequivocally that they were not the ones she developed on the weekend of the assassination. She stated that the autopsy photographs she developed showed a massive wound in the back of the president’s head, which matched what the Dallas treating physicians had stated, along with other many other witnesses, including Secret Service agent Clint Hill, FBI agents Francis O’Neill and James Sibert, nurses Diane Bowrun and Audrey Bell, and assassination eyewitnesses Charles Brehm, Marilyn Willis, and motorcycle policemen B.J. Martin and Bobby Hargis. The autopsy photographs in the official record show the back of the president’s head to be fully intact, i.e., no massive sized wound.
3. The ARRB discovered that the military pathologists had conducted two separate brain examinations, which they falsely represented to be only one brain examination. ARRB staff members were able to discover this through circumstantial evidence. The official photographer for the autopsy, John Stringer, testified that he was at the first brain exam, which took place within a couple of days of the autopsy. He stated that the brain was “sectioned” or cut into slices (like a loaf of bread), which was standard procedure for gunshot wounds to the head. Col. Finck testified that he attended a brain examination about a week after the autopsy. Finck was not at the first brain exam. Stringer was not at the second brain exam. That is how we know they are lying about there being only one brain exam. That’s the power of circumstantial evidence.
Moreover, at the second brain exam, a full-sized, albeit damaged, brain was examined. Necessarily, that could not have been the president’s brain because the president’s brain was “sectioned” at the first brain exam. Moreover, the brain at the second exam weighed more than an average person’s brain, which could not have been the president’s brain given that the president had lost around 25-30 percent of brain mass with the gunshot that hit his head.
4. The ARRB discovered that the military was using both an official photographer and a secret photographer for the autopsy. The official photographer was John Stringer, who taught medical photography at the Bethesda Naval Medical School (which necessarily would have brain specimens for the students to practice on). The secret photographer was Robert Knudsen, who worked as the White House photographer for five presidents. Knudsen was summoned to Andrews Air Force Base on the day of the assassination and was gone from his family for 3 days. When he returned, he told his family that he photographed the autopsy but that he was forbidden to disclose what he had done. He later told a national photography magazine that he had been the photographer for the Kennedy autopsy. Everyone agrees that Knudsen was not at the official autopsy. The photographs he took were clearly part of a top-secret, classified operation. Many years later, Knudsen privately disclosed to his family that there were shenanigans taking place regarding the autopsy photographs.
5. In November 1966, six years after the assassination, a top-secret meeting was held at the National Archives. It included two of the three autopsy pathologists who had conducted the autopsy, Humes and Commander J. Thornton Boswell, the autopsy radiologist Navy Capt. John Ebersole, and the official autopsy photographer John Stringer. At that meeting, a lawyer from the Justice Department presented them with a detailed written inventory of the JFK autopsy photographs and x-rays in the official record.
Their job was to compare the photographs and x-rays in the official record with the detailed written inventory. At the end of the inventory, the Justice Department had inserted an affirmation that stated that this was a complete and accurate inventory and that the signers had no reason to believe that any photographs or x-rays were missing.
During this process, Stringer stated that some of the photographs he took were not in the official record or in the inventory. Humes agreed with him. Nonetheless, all four of them signed the affirmation, knowing that it was false and that they were committing perjury or false official statement.
Thirty years later, when Stringer appeared before the ARRB, he acknowledged that he had knowingly signed that false affirmation. When Gunn, the ARRB’s general counsel, observed that there were people who objected to this sort of thing, Stringer agreed with him but also stating that such people don’t get very far either.
All of this is just part of the fraud and deception in the U.S. military’s autopsy of President John F. Kennedy.
Why would the military conduct a fraudulent autopsy? As I am detailing in my video-podcast series, the answer to that question enables us to better understand the assassination itself.
Coming up with the answer to that question requires us to examine the actions of the man who launched the fraudulent autopsy in the first place — the man who became president when Kennedy was declared dead, Lyndon Baines Johnson. That requires us to turn to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Immediately upon being Kennedy’s being declared dead, a team of Secret Service agents, stating that they were operating under orders, informed the Dallas County Medical Examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, that they were not going to permit him to conduct an autopsy, even though Texas law required it. Brandishing guns and screaming, yelling, and emitting a stream of profanities, they forced their way out of hospital with the president’s body.
Keep in mind an important fact: the federal government had no jurisdiction in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That’s because assassinating the president was not a federal crime at that time. The only officials who had jurisdiction over the murder of John F. Kennedy Dallas County officials, including the County Medical Examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, the man who was prohibited by that team of Secret Service agents from conducting the autopsy that state law required him to conduct.
The only one who could reasonably have issued the order to that team of Secret Service agents to get the body out of Parkland without permitting an autopsy to be conducted was Lyndon Johnson, who had immediately proceeded to Dallas’s Love Field, where he began having seats removed from Air Force One to make room for the casket that he was awaiting from that team of Secret Service agents. Johnson then flew the body to Andrews Air Force Base and delivered it into the hands of the military, which then proceeded to conduct the fraudulent autopsy.
Here is the question to ponder in the context of all this circumstantial evidence: When did Johnson conceive of the plan to have the military conduct a fraudulent autopsy on the body of President Kennedy: (1) during the 30-minute or so time period between the time the president was shot and the time he was declared dead or (2) prior to the assassination itself? That’s one of the questions we are exploring in my video-podcast series on the JFK assassination. (Episode 12 has been posted today.)
For more information, see:
The Kennedy Autopsy by Jacob Hornberger
JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne
Regime Change: The JFK Assassination by Jacob Hornberger
The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State by Jacob Hornberger
CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files by Jefferson Morley
“The National Security State and JFK,” a FFF conference featuring Oliver Stone and ten other speakers
“Altered History: Exposing Deceit and Deception in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence,” a five-part video by Douglas P. Horne