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A common refrain about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is, “I guess we will never know what really happened on November 22, 1963.” The reason people express that sentiment is that they have in mind what is called “direct evidence.” Given that there is no videotaped confession by someone who participated in the assassination or eyewitness testimony of plotters meeting and planning the assassination, for example, the mindset is that we just have to resign ourselves to never really knowing what happened that fateful day.
Actually though, that’s not true. If we analyze events in the context of circumstantial evidence, we can understand what happened in Dallas more than 50 years ago and why it happened.
What is circumstantial evidence? It is indirect evidence that is used to establish certain facts.
The best way to explain circumstantial evidence is by an example. Suppose that John, Bill, and Mary are in a room. John pulls out a gun and shoots Bill. Mary witnesses the shooting.
The prosecutor would call Mary to the stand to testify that she saw John shoot Bill. That eyewitness testimony would constitute direct evidence.
Now suppose that only John and Bill are inside the room, with the door closed, and that Mary is sitting outside the room. Mary overhears John and Bill having a heated argument. Suddenly Mary hears a gunshot and then sees John running out the door. The police find Bill’s dead body with bullet wounds. They also determine that John’s fingerprints are on the gun.
The prosecutor would call Mary to the stand to testify what she heard and saw. He would also call a fingerprint expert to testify that the fingerprints found on the gun belong to John. All this would constitute circumstantial evidence. The prosecutor would use it to establish that John killed Bill.
The law treats circumstantial evidence as being just as valid and credible as direct evidence. In fact, in cases involving circumstantial evidence, the judge will instruct the jury to treat circumstantial evidence in the same way that they treat direct evidence.
In this article, we are going to use circumstantial evidence to understand what happened on that fateful day in November. But we are going to do something different. We are not going to start with the assassination itself. We are going to start with what happened after the assassination, specifically what happened at the autopsy that was conducted on the body of President Kennedy.
Why are we going to do it that way? Because by understanding what happened in the autopsy, we will be able to look back at the assassination and understand what happened on November 22, 1963, and why it happened.
Look at the situation this way. Suppose you have a giant jigsaw puzzle consisting of 5,000 small pieces. Let’s say that you lost the cover of the puzzle and have no idea what it depicts. You put together a small section of the puzzle that extends from the middle bottom of the puzzle upward. But you still have no idea what the puzzle shows.
One day you succeed in building the frame of the puzzle. You overlay the frame on top of the first section you constructed and, lo and behold, the pieces fit together.
You end up building the puzzle, only to discover that you’re missing 1,000 pieces. At that point, however, even though you’re missing Idaho, Connecticut, and other states, you’re able to see that the puzzle depicts the United States.
That’s how we are going to view the Kennedy assassination in this article. We are going to see that only one theory of the assassination fits the facts that we establish with respect to what happened after the assassination. Once we do that, we will be able to see what happened and why it happened even if we are still missing many of the pieces to the overall puzzle.
As everyone knows, there are several theories as to who killed Kennedy. One theory is that a lone nut named Lee Harvey Oswald did it. Another is that Oswald, in a conspiracy with others, did it. Cuba’s president Fidel Castro is another suspect. So is the Soviet Union. The Israeli Mossad has also been mentioned. So have extreme right-wing elements in Dallas. Finally, there is the U.S. national-security establishment, specifically the Pentagon and the CIA.
Which one of those theories is correct? We won’t start with that question but we will end with answering it.
The autopsy that didn’t happen
We begin the analytical process by starting with an undisputed fact of an event that occurred several hours after the assassination. That undisputed fact is this: The U.S. military was the entity that conducted the autopsy on Kennedy’s body.
In other words, there are no competing theories as to who conducted the autopsy. No one asserts that the Mossad, the Mafia, Oswald, the communists, or anyone other than the U.S. military conducted the autopsy.
Beginning with that undisputed fact, we will examine the circumstantial evidence surrounding the autopsy with one aim in mind: to see whether the evidence inexorably leads to but one conclusion: that the U.S. military conducted a fraudulent autopsy on the president’s body. If the circumstantial evidence does establish that fact, we will then apply that insight to the assassination itself to determine what happened and why it happened.
Therefore, as we proceed with this analysis, keep the following question foremost in your mind: Is the circumstantial evidence establishing a fraudulent autopsy?
After Kennedy was declared dead at around 1 p.m. at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the Dallas County medical examiner, a pathologist named Dr. Earl Rose, began making preparations to conduct an autopsy on the president’s body, which was required under Texas law for any homicide.
What is an autopsy? It’s a medical procedure by which a pathologist determines the cause of death. In a homicide, he carefully examines the body, studies the entry and exit wounds of bullets, retrieves bullet fragments from the body, and draws a conclusion as to what exactly caused the victim’s death.
The autopsy in a homicide case is critically important, especially because it is often used in the criminal prosecution of the person who is being accused of committing the crime. The prosecutor will call the pathologist to the stand to help prove his case against the accused. In fact, since the autopsy deals with scientific tests and techniques, it is often called the “best evidence” in a criminal case. That’s assuming, of course, that the autopsy is honest and genuine.
As Rose was getting ready to perform the autopsy, a team of Secret Service agents informed him that they were not going to permit him to conduct an autopsy on the president’s body. Rose stood his ground, reminding the agents that state law required him to conduct the autopsy. Rose absolutely refused to permit the deceased president’s body to be taken out of the hospital.
Informing Rose that they were acting under orders, the Secret Service team pulled back their coats to reveal that they were armed, implicitly letting Rose and everyone else in the vicinity know that they were prepared to shoot and kill anyone who got in their way. Having placed the president’s body in a large, heavy, ornate, bronze casket that had been ordered from a Dallas funeral home, they forced their way out of Parkland Hospital amidst screaming, yelling, and a stream of profanities.
That is not how we ordinarily think that law-enforcement agents operate. Normally, they work together to investigate a crime and bring people to justice. When Rose declared his intention to conduct the autopsy, the expected, normal course of action would have been for the Secret Service team to say, “We understand, Dr. Rose. We will stand by and as soon as you are finished with the autopsy, we will take the body.”
Don’t forget that the autopsy is often critical evidence in the criminal prosecution of the person or persons whom the state is accusing of a crime. By preventing Rose from conducting the autopsy, the Secret Service team was jeopardizing the prosecution of anyone who was later brought to trial for assassinating the president.
Lyndon Johnson’s behavior
Who issued the order to that team of Secret Service agents? It is a virtual certainty that it was Lyndon Johnson, who had left Parkland Hospital immediately after Kennedy was declared dead. Proceeding to Dallas Love Field, it is clear that Johnson was well aware of what the Secret Service team was doing because he immediately had people removing seats from the back of Air Force One to accommodate the large casket that contained the president’s body.
After the shooting, Kennedy’s car proceeded directly to Parkland Hospital. Johnson, who was riding in another car, also went to the hospital and stayed there until Kennedy was declared dead, at which point Johnson was transported in a car to Dallas’s Love Field, where both Air Force One and Air Force Two were parked.
While waiting to receive word of Kennedy’s fate at the hospital, Johnson expressed his concern that the assassination could be the first step in a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union on the United States. That concern would ordinarily have been a legitimate one. The Cold War was still going on. Only the year before, the Soviet Union and the United States had almost come to blows with nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Moreover, both sides knew that the side that initiated a surprise nuclear attack would have an advantage over the other side, which would be responding to the attack. In fact, the U.S. military itself had previously proposed such a plan to Kennedy, arguing that if the United States initiated a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, our side would “win” because “only” 37 million or so Americans would be killed, while most of the people in the Soviet Union would be killed.
The problem, however, is that Johnson’s actions belied his concern. For example, given the possibility that the assassination was the first step in a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviets, the worst thing that Johnson could have done was follow Kennedy to Parkland Hospital and wait there for almost half an hour until he was declared dead. The best thing would have been to head directly to Dallas Love Field and get into the air immediately to manage America’s defense to the possible nuclear war.
When Johnson finally did leave the hospital and head to Love Field, he again expressed concern about the possibility that the assassination might be the start of a Soviet nuclear attack. Scrunching down in the car, he said that it was entirely possible that the communists could be positioned to ambush him.
Yet when he arrived at Love Field, his actions again belied any such concern. Rather than immediately get into the air, he had his personnel start removing the seats out of Air Force One to make room for the casket that the team of Secret Service agents were bringing over from Parkland Hospital. He then called U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the deceased president’s brother, to ask him whether it was necessary to be sworn in. Kennedy said it was not necessary and that Johnson automatically became president upon Kennedy’s death. Nonetheless, Johnson took the time to find and summon a U.S. federal judge to come onto Air Force One and swear him in as president.
Johnson later claimed that the reason he waited for the casket was that he didn’t want to leave Mrs. Kennedy alone in Dallas and wanted to escort her back to Washington. Yet, it’s difficult to see that such chivalry would have been considered more important and urgent than immediately getting into the air and directing America’s defense against a possible nuclear attack.
As previously noted, both Air Force One and Air Force Two were parked at Love Field. The two planes were duplicates of each other. There was absolutely no reason why Johnson couldn’t have used Air Force Two, the plane that he had been using as vice president.
He didn’t do that. He shifted to Air Force One. Even more interesting, he had his personnel take the time to shift his luggage from Air Force Two to Air Force One, even though both planes were returning to Washington.
When Mrs. Kennedy arrived at Love Field with the team of Secret Service agents, no one told her that Johnson had taken over the plane that she and her deceased husband had been using for the past three years. Her husband had just been shot and killed in her presence a short time before, and she still even had his blood on her clothes. Undoubtedly traumatized, shocked, and depressed, she proceeded to board the plane and head toward her bedroom.
Guess what she found. She found the chivalrous Lyndon Johnson sprawled out on her bed. After all, as far as he was concerned, Air Force One now belonged to him. He, not her deceased husband, was now the president. In any event, Johnson decided it would be prudent to vacate the bedroom and let Mrs. Kennedy have it. A few minutes later, however, he insisted that she attend his swearing in on the plane, even though the law did not require her presence.
Before the plane took off, Johnson once again fearfully expressed concern of a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
Why is that important?
If Johnson had stated from the beginning that he seriously doubted that the assassination might be the first step in a surprise nuclear attack, then the rest of his actions would have made sense. The fact that he lollygagged at the hospital and at the airport instead of immediately getting up into the air would indicate that he felt that there was no reasonable possibility that the assassination was the first step in a surprise nuclear attack. The problem is that Johnson did express such a concern but his actions belied that concern.
Thus, a question arises: How could Johnson, notwithstanding his words of concern, be so certain that the assassination was not the first step in a surprise nuclear attack on the United States? Why did he feel sufficiently secure to take the time to go to the hospital and wait for Kennedy to be declared dead and then wait at the airport for the casket to be delivered to him? Why didn’t he immediately get into the air to direct America’s defenses in the event that the assassination really was the first step in a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviets?
Keep in mind that this concern about nuclear war expressed by Johnson, which begins at Parkland Hospital, occurs again when Johnson is on the way to Love Field, and then again just before Air Force One takes off. Johnson’s “concern” about nuclear war with the Soviet Union will become a central and critically important element in our analysis of the post-assassination sequence of events.
The military takes over
Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which is located just outside Washington, D.C. Upon arrival, Johnson did not summon the local medical examiner in Maryland to conduct an autopsy on Kennedy’s body. Instead, he delivered the body into the hands of the U.S. military.
Yet the United States is supposed to be a civilian country, not a military one. While Kennedy was commander in chief of the military, he was president of the United States. The country was not a war and the president had not been killed on the field of battle. This was a straight-forward murder case.
Johnson, however, was determined to deliver the body into the hands of the U.S. military. Why? After all, in 1963, killing a president was not a federal offense and, therefore, the federal government had no jurisdiction whatsoever over the crime. The assassination was strictly a state murder case, one in which the Dallas County District Attorney would be prosecuting whoever was accused of having committed the crime. In understanding why Johnson took Kennedy’s autopsy out of the hands of the Dallas County medical examiner and put it into the hands of the U.S. military in Maryland, it is important to understand two characteristics that distinguish military culture from civilian culture: secrecy and deference to authority.
In the military, secrecy is of the utmost importance. The military and, in fact, the entire national-security establishment, has a concept called “classified information.” If a soldier or even a civilian contractor for the military acquires classified information, he is required to keep such information secret for the rest of his life, on pain of severe punishment if he unlawfully reveals the information to anyone.
We will see later how secrecy played a critically important role in the autopsy that the U.S. military conducted on Kennedy’s body.
Deference to authority is another distinguishing characteristic in the military. There is a hierarchical structure in the army — generals, colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, privates. Everyone is expected to follow orders issued by people of higher rank. It is a mindset that is inculcated in soldiers from the first day of boot camp and Officer Candidate School.
We will see later how deference to authority also played a critically important role in the autopsy that the U.S. military conducted on John Kennedy’s body.
This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of Future of Freedom.