At 8 p.m. on November 22, 1963, U.S. Navy Commander James Humes telephoned Army Lt. Col. Pierre Finck to request his assistance with the autopsy that the U.S. military was preparing to conduct on President John Kennedy’s body. During that telephone conversation, Humes informed Finck that they already had X-rays of Kennedy’s head.
Humes and Navy Commander J. Thornton Boswell were the pathologists selected to conduct the autopsy. Neither of them was a forensics pathologist — that is, one who specializes in examining bodies of people who have died from gunshot wounds and other acts of violence. Finck, on the other hand, was a forensics pathologist, although it had been at least two years since he had personally performed an autopsy.
At the same time that Humes was talking to Finck, an honor guard consisting of members of the various branches of the U.S. Armed Services was carrying the heavy, ornate casket into which the president’s body had been placed at Parkland Hospital into the front of the building that housed the morgue where the autopsy was going to be conducted.
Do you see the problem?
Since Kennedy’s body was being brought into the morgue at 8 p.m., how was it possible for Humes to already have X-rays of the president’s head?
Is it possible that the X-rays were performed at Dallas Parkland hospital as part of the emergency treatment accorded Kennedy before he passed away? No. It is undisputed that there were no X-rays taken in Dallas.
After departing from Dallas, Air Force One, which contained the Dallas casket and Mrs. Kennedy, had landed at Andrews Air Force Base at around 6 p.m. By that time, it was dark. People who were awaiting the plane, including the press, were situated on the left (or port) side of the plane. Robert Kennedy boarded the plane from the left front and immediately proceeded to Mrs. Kennedy, refusing to even acknowledge Lyndon Johnson. The heavy, ornate casket from Dallas was taken off the back of the plane on the left side and placed in the back of a Navy vehicle. Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy got into that vehicle, which then slowly proceeded in a caravan to the facility at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center that housed the morgue.
That caravan arrived at the front of the Naval facility at around 6:55 p.m. Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy got out of the car and went into the building to wait for the autopsy to be completed. As they entered the building, the Navy vehicle that contained the heavy, ornate Dallas casket was still in front of the facility.
An X-ray technician named Jerrol Custer saw Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy entering the front of the building. Custer later stated that at the time he saw them, he was carrying X-rays that had been carried out on President Kennedy’s body in the morgue, which was located on the lower level of the building. Custer, therefore, corroborated what Humes had said to Finck about already having X-rays of Kennedy’s head.
After the U.S. military completed its autopsy on Kennedy’s body, everyone who participated in the autopsy was sworn to secrecy. The participants were told that everything they had witnessed was “classified.” Participants were presented with “letters of secrecy,” which they were required to sign. Military officials threatened them with court martial or criminal prosecution if they ever told anyone what they had seen. As one participant put it, they put “the fear of God” in them.
In the mid 1970s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations opened an investigation into the Kennedy assassination. By that time, many Americans had come to doubt the validity of the official conclusions that had been reached in 1964 by the Warren Commission, the commission that newly elevated President Johnson had created to investigate the assassination.
During the House investigation, the Select Committee released autopsy participants from their vow of secrecy. The result was an astounding revelation, one that would explain how it was that Humes was able to inform Finck that they already had X-rays of the deceased president’s head at the same time that the president’s body was being carried into the building at 8 p.m. in order to begin the autopsy.
A second casket
Several enlisted men came forward and stated that they had secretly carried the president’s body into the back entrance to the morgue. The body, they said, was brought there in a hearse that contained several men in suits. The body, they said, was in a cheap, gray shipping casket, similar to the caskets that were used to ship home the bodies of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. The body, they said, was in a “body bag” inside the shipping casket.
Was it possible that the president’s body had been placed in a body bag inside a shipping casket at Parkland Hospital in Dallas? No. The director of the Dallas funeral home that provided the casket into which Kennedy’s body was placed at Parkland Hospital confirmed that the president’s body was not placed in a body bag in Texas but instead wrapped in sheets and then placed in the expensive, heavy, ornate casket, not a cheap, gray shipping casket.
In 1991, Oliver Stone came out with his movie JFK, which posited that the Kennedy assassination was a highly sophisticated regime-change operation carried out by the U.S. national-security establishment. At the end of the movie, there was a blurb appearing on screen that informed people that records relating to the assassination were still being kept secret by federal agencies despite the passage of almost 30 years since the assassination.
That blurb produced outrage among the American people, many of whom still had serious doubts about the validity of the Warren Commission’s official findings of almost three decades before. The outrage forced Congress to enact what is known today as the JFK Records Act, which mandated the release by all federal agencies of records relating to the Kennedy assassination. After presidential candidate Bill Clinton came out in favor of the bill, his opponent, incumbent President George H.W. Bush, who had previously served as director of the CIA, signed it into law.
To enforce the Act, Congress created a commission known as the Assassination Records Review Board, or ARRB. It is worth noting that for some reason the JFK Records Act expressly prohibited the ARRB from reinvestigating any aspect of the Kennedy assassination. Its mission was limited to securing the release of records relating to the assassination, and that limitation was strictly enforced by the governing board of the ARRB.
The funeral home that conducted the embalming of President Kennedy’s body after the autopsy and then carried out the funeral was Gawler’s Funeral Home, the most prestigious funeral home in Washington, D.C.
During the ARRB’s term of operation in the 1990s, the ARRB uncovered an official report that had been prepared by Gawler’s at around the time of the assassination. The report had remained undisclosed to the public for 30 years. The report stated: “Body removed from metal shipping casket at NSNH at Bethesda.”
The ARRB also discovered the existence of a U.S. Marine sergeant named Roger Boyajian, who told the ARRB that it was his team that had carried the gray shipping casket that contained the president’s body into the morgue. Boyajian told the ARRB that he had submitted a contemporaneous written report detailing what his team had done. To the commission’s surprise, he had retained a copy of the report, which he delivered to the ARRB.
The Boyajian report stated that Boyajian’s team had brought Kennedy’s body into the morgue at 6:35 p.m. Keep in mind that the official time that Kennedy’s body was brought into the building by the military honor guard was 8 p.m., almost an hour and a half later.
Thus, (1) the Boyajian report, (2) the Gawler’s Funeral Home report, (3) Jerrol Custer’s testimony about carrying X-rays of the president’s body when he saw Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy enter the building, and (4) the statements of the enlisted men who carried the shipping casket into the morgue, explain why Humes was able to inform Finck that they already had X-rays of the president’s head at 8 p.m., the time that the military honor guard was supposedly bringing the body into the facility, inside the expensive, ornate, heavy casket into which it had been placed in Dallas, in order to conduct the autopsy on it.
The exit wound
What was the purpose of sneaking the president’s body into the morgue early? What was done during that hour and a half? Why was it done secretly? Why was everyone who participated in the autopsy sworn to secrecy, on pain of court martial or criminal prosecution?
To answer those questions, it is necessary to return to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
When President Kennedy was taken into Trauma Room One at Parkland, the team of physicians handling his case immediately began assessing his situation to determine how and where he needed the most urgent treatment. While they were doing that, one of the physicians told the others that they needed to stop what they were doing and come and see something. The president’s head was lifted slightly and the physicians saw a hole in the lower back of Kennedy’s head, in what is known as the occipital region of skull. The wound measured about 2 inches in diameter. Out of the hole was leaking cerebellum, which is the lower, back part of the brain.
Dr. Robert McClelland was one of the treating physicians. To get a good sense of what Kennedy’s head wound looked like and where it was located, Google his name and “JFK” and you’ll find a number of videos and articles in which he describes the wound. You will also get a good sense of McClelland’s integrity and competence. Another treating physician was Dr. Charles Crenshaw, who describes the president’s head wound in his book Trauma Room One.
Once they saw that big hole in the back of Kennedy’s head, the physicians knew that the president’s life was over. There was no way that anyone could survive that type of wound. There was nothing anyone could do to save his life. And sure enough, the president passed away about 40 minutes later.
There is something important to know about Parkland Hospital. It was one of the best hospitals in the country for treatment of trauma wounds. In fact, that was what Parkland specialized in — the treatment of gunshot wounds and other trauma cases. Moreover, the hospital was a training hospital, one where the best, most experienced physicians trained young physicians who were specializing in the treatment of trauma cases.
About an hour after the president was declared dead, two of the treating physicians, Dr. Kemp Clark, the hospital’s chief of neurosurgery, and surgeon Dr. Malcom Perry, held a press conference. They stated that the president had received a bullet-sized entry wound in his throat, which implied that a shot had been fired from the president’s front. They also described the much larger wound in the back of Kennedy’s head.
The reason that the sizes of the wounds matter is that they help to determine entry points and exit points for bullets. When a bullet enters a person’s body, the wound is going to be very small, essentially the size of the bullet. As it proceeds through the body, however, it is pushing mass in front of it. In the case of a head shot, it is pushing brain mass in front of it. Thus, when the bullet exits on the other side of the skull, it does so with a “blow-out,” or a much larger wound.
Thus, the large 2-inch hole in the back of Kennedy’s head also implied that a shot had been fired from the front.
On the day of the assassination, Dallas businessman Abraham Zapruder was in Dealey Plaza, where the assassination took place, to see the presidential motorcade. He took with him his new movie camera, which he used to record the assassination. In the film, President Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline, is seen crawling out on the trunk of the car immediately after the president is shot in the head. Obviously in shock, she was apparently going to the back of the car to retrieve parts of her husband’s skull and brain that had been blown out of the back of his head.
The Zapruder film shows that at that same time, a Secret Service agent named Clint Hill was coming from a follow-up car and grabbing onto the back of the presidential limousine. Hill pushed Mrs. Kennedy back into her seat and placed his body over President Kennedy’s body to protect him from any more shots. Hill later stated that during the 7 or 8 minutes that it took to get to Parkland Hospital, he saw the large-sized hole in the back of Kennedy’s head.
At the time the gunshot hit Kennedy in the head, there was a bystander named Charles Brehm standing to the left rear of the presidential limousine. He stated that he saw exit debris (for lack of a better term) being blown out of the back of Kennedy’s head and landing in the grass near him.
Another bystander named Marilyn Willis, who was also situated behind the vehicle, stated that she too saw exit debris being propelled out of the back of the president’s head. Her daughter said that she saw the back of Kennedy’s head being blown out.
Two motorcycle policemen, Jimmy Hargis and B.J. Martin, were riding side by side to the left rear of the limousine. Both of them were splattered by exit debris.
When the vehicle reached Parkland Hospital, hospital personnel immediately began removing the president from the vehicle into the hospital. One of them was a nurse named Diane Bowron. She stated that she saw the small, bullet-sized entry wound in Kennedy’s throat. When she put her hand on the back side of Kennedy’s head to help him out of the vehicle, she felt the large-sized wound in the back of his head.
Another nurse, Audrey Bell, assisted the treating physicians in Trauma Room One. She later stated that she too had seen the large wound in the back of Kennedy’s head.
On the day after the assassination, a medical student named Billy Harper was walking in Dealey Plaza, where he found a bone fragment. He took the bone to his uncle, who happened to be a pathologist at Methodist Hospital in Dallas. His uncle had the hospital medical photographer take a picture of the fragment. He also pulled together a small team of pathologists to analyze it. They concluded that it was occipital bone, which made sense, given that the wound was located in the occipital region of the skull. That bone fragment, which ultimately disappeared after it was sent to federal officials in Washington, D.C., became known as the Harper Fragment.
In the 1990s, a woman named Saundra Spencer was summoned to testify before the ARRB. In November 1963, she was a U.S. Navy petty officer at the Navy’s Photography Lab in Washington. She had a top-secret security clearance and worked closely with the White House on classified photographs that she had developed. It would be virtually impossible to find a more credible and competent witness than Saundra Spencer. In fact, no one has ever questioned her competence, integrity, or veracity.
Spencer told the ARRB that on the weekend of the assassination, she had been asked to develop, on a top-secret basis, the photographs that had been taken of the military’s autopsy of Kennedy. Pursuant to the long-established military custom of keeping classified information secret, Spencer had never before disclosed this information.
The general counsel for the ARRB showed Spencer the official autopsy photographs of President Kennedy, which she carefully examined. She unequivocally and firmly told the ARRB’s general counsel that those official autopsy photographs were not the ones she developed on the weekend of the assassination. The ones she developed, she stated, showed a large wound in the back of Kennedy’s head. The official photographs that were being shown to her showed the back of Kennedy’s head to be intact, that is, without a large wound in the back of his head.
This article was originally posted in the November 2018 edition of Future of Freedom.