caduceus The Medical Evidence

Because medical issues are often technical issues, the average reader of the average conspiracy book is likely to take the word of the author that such and such is true. Few people, after all, have the medical training to dispute what the book says.

Further, the doctors who performed the autopsy, and the Warren Commission which had to reach conclusions based on the medical evidence, blundered in substantial ways. These blunders can be presented as evidence of some sinister conspiracy, rather than then result of haste and an excessive concern for the feelings of the Kennedy family.

The information here, while not giving a comprehensive overview of the evidence, will at least highlight some of the common errors (and worse) that the conspiracy books make.


Shooting Yourself in the Foot

The Warren Commission published two rather inaccurate drawings of Kennedy's wounds. Does this indicate a conspiracy? See what Arlen Specter told the Commission in a confidential memo.

Parkland Doctors on Nov. 22, 1963

The Dallas Doctors

At a news conference on the afternoon of the assassination, the doctors who attended to Kennedy in the Parkland Emergency Room discussed the President's wounds (photo at right). Although the Parkland staff did a highly competent job of treating Kennedy and Connally, their statements about the nature of the wounds were confused, contradictory, and often mistaken. Of course, conspiracy authors have had a field day with them, claiming that the back of Kennedy's head was blasted out, and that the bullet wound in Kennedy's neck was one of entrance.

And example of how conspiracy books use evidence selectively can be found in an account written on the day of the assassination by Dr. Marion "Pepper" Jenkins. The account says the wound was "occipital" and that "cerebellum" protruded from the wound. Both of these statements imply that the back of the head was blown out. Yet the account says the wound was to the "right side of the head" and that it was "temporal" (which means the side of the head). Guess which statements conspiracy books tell their readers about, and which they withhold?

The Head Wound

Various versions of Kennedy's head wound
With the possible exception of the Single Bullet Theory, nothing about the assassination has been as controversial as the nature of Kennedy's head wound. Conspiracists have stressed witness testimony that the back of Kennedy's head was blown out, suggesting a shot from the Grassy Knoll. Lone assassin theorists have stressed the photographic evidence and the autopsy x-rays, which show the back of the head intact. The panel above shows four of the dozens of versions of Kennedy's head wound. Which of these is closest to the truth?

Randy Robertson claims to have found, in the x-rays of Kennedy's skull, evidence of two bullet hits to Kennedy's head. This is his statement to Rep. Conyer's subcommittee of the U.S. Congress in November 1993. Also included is one of the reviews of his article that caused the journal Radiology to reject it, as well as a brief critique from me.

Speaking of the head wound, the distribution of bullet fragments in Kennedy's brain, as shown in the autopsy x-rays, gives a lot of information about the bullet that hit Kennedy, and (more importantly) rules out a variety of theories about the head shot. WOUND1.GIF is a drawing, from conspiracy author Charles Wilber, of the distribution of fragments. Drawn from the work of Cyril Wecht, it is quite consistent with Lattimer's drawings in Kennedy and Lincoln.

Like Wecht, John Lattimer was one of the first people to see the autopsy photos and x-rays. LATERAL.GIF is his drawing of the damage to Kennedy's head. Compare it to the drawings in books by authors like Groden and Livingstone.

The nature of Kennedy's head wound has been a matter of continuing controversy. ANGEL1.GIF, ANGEL2.GIF, and ANGEL3.GIF are the report Dr. Lawrence Angel, a forensic anthropologist of the Smithsonian Institution, submitted to the HSCA. Particularly interesting is Angel's drawing of the damage shown in the photos and x-rays in ANGEL3.GIF.

HEAD.JPG is the famous photograph of the inside of Kennedy's skull, with the brain removed. Conspiracy books usually print it rotated 90 degrees. Here it is right side up. Compare this photo to ANGEL3.GIF (above).

Does the Harper Fragment Prove a Shot from the Grassy Knoll?

The Harper Fragment was a piece of bone discovered in Dealey Plaza the day after the assassination. A Dallas doctor (A. B. Cairns) identified it as occipital bone from a human skull. Further, conspiracy books claim the fragment was found behind the location of the limo at the moment Kennedy's head exploded. If these claims are correct, that means the back of Kennedy's head was blown out, which would imply both a shooter in front of Kennedy and fakery in the autopsy photos and x-rays. But what does the evidence show on these points?

Was the Back of Kennedy's head Really Blown Out?

See for yourself what the Zapruder film shows. Of course, conspiracy buffs are increasingly insisting that the Zapruder film has been tampered with (this is after 30 years of insisting that it is ironclad evidence of conspiracy). Then, you might ask, how do the Dealey Plaza witnesses describe the head wound. Take a look at how Zapruder described the wound to Jay Watson of WFAA-TV shortly after the assassination, and read how the wound was described by Marilyn Sitzman, who was standing next to Zapruder.

Likewise, James Altgens was standing in front of and to the right of the limo at the time of the head shot. Here is the portion of his Warren Commission testimony describing the explosion of Kennedy's head. Read this carefully, because Altgens is mistaken on a point or two.

AP X-ray of Kennedy's skull

Interpreting the Head X-rays

The image at right is one of the X-rays of John Kennedy taken at the Bethesda autopsy. It's the "AP" (anterior-posterior) image of the head. Click on the image to see a larger version. This X-ray is extremely controversial, as is the corresponding lateral view of the skull. It's supposed to show fakery of the autopsy photographs, and thus a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. It is puzzling if you don't know how to read X-rays. But when people who do know how to read X-rays examine the films, they yield a clear picture of the wound, as explained in this essay by Joe Durnavich.

Key Concept: Beveling. When a bullet penetrates the skull bone, it will leave a small hole on the side from which it enters, and a larger dished-out crater on the side that it exits. The existence of beveling of the bone of Kennedy's skull allowed the autopsists — and later panels of forensic pathologists — to establish that the bullet that hit Kennedy in the head entered from behind, with at least one large fragment exiting toward the front. See JFK Exhibit F-61, from the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Medical Evidence on the Single Bullet Theory

John Lattimer has done several experiments to determine whether the Single Bullet Theory is scientifically supportable. In the first he deals with the question: were there so many fragments in John Connally that they could not all have come from CE 399? In the second, he deals with the question: could an exit wound in the front of Kennedy's neck look like an entrance wound?

Years before Lattimer's Kennedy and Lincoln was published, Josiah Thompson carefully scrutinized the evidence on the issue of whether the bullet fragments found in John Connally had (in total) too much mass to have come from CE 399. Here is the section of Six Seconds in Dallas dealing with this issue.

Conspiracy books describe the Dallas doctors as being absolutely sure that the wound in Kennedy's throat was an entrance wound. What they usually omit is the fact that the doctors who actually saw the wound speculated that it was an exit wound from a fragment from the head shot. They also imply that ER personnel can easily tell whether a wound is an entrance wound or an exit would. This essay consists of two parts. The first documents the speculations of the Dallas doctors about the wound, and the second is a passage from the JAMA describing a careful study of the ability of ER personnel to make judgments about the forensic aspects of wounds.

Is Kennedy "Clutching At His Throat" in the Zapruder Film?

Not according to Dr. John Lattimer, whose view is that Kennedy's arms are assuming a "Thorburn position" after the Single Bullet passed near his spine. Dr. Robert Artwohl agrees that the position of Kennedy's arms represents an involuntary neurological reaction, but doesn't agree that it is a "Thorburn position." Click here for Artwohl's view of the issue, originally posted as messages on the Compuserve JFK Forum.

Dr. Kenneth Strully, a neurosurgeon from New Hampshire, also has addressed the issue of Kennedy's arm movements, and also sees them as the result of a neuromuscular reaction.

Dr. Charles Crenshaw Telling the Truth at Long Last?
The man at right is Dr. Charles Crenshaw, who was in the Emergency Room when Kennedy was treated at Parkland Hospital. He claimed in his 1992 book Conspiracy of Silence to be finally telling the truth about the assassination — a truth he feared to tell earlier. His testimony, quite conveniently, "corroborates" what conspiracy books have been saying for years. Is he a crackpot, a profiteer, or a brave truth-teller? Click here for the "scoop."

Are the Autopsy Photos Faked?

In 1981, The Boston Globe had a panel of photographic experts closely examine the photos and x-rays from Kennedy's autopsy to determine their authenticity. Bob Groden — yes, the fellow who showed up at the O.J. Simpson trial — was there making his case that they were faked. See how much success he had in convincing bona fide experts of fakery.

Of course, the House Select Committee had already thoroughly examined the "forgery" issue. It commissioned the nation's top experts to examine the autopsy materials for fakery, and here is their report. If you actually believe that Harrison Livingstone is an expert on the photos and x-rays, you need to read this. Accompanying this file is a graphic showing the face measurements forensic anthropologists used to establish that the person in the autopsy photos was John F. Kennedy.

Of course, if the autopsy photos and x-rays are faked, just how many people would have to be implicated in doing — and lying about — the fakery? This essay by Joel Grant discusses the history of this issue.

The autopsy doctors, have always accepted the photos and x-rays as genuine. In early 1967 all three autopsists (Humes, Boswell, and Finck) examined these materials at the National Archives. Their report authenticates the photos and x-rays as genuine.

What Do the Experts Say About the Evidence?

For several years, no independent experts had access to the photos and x-rays from Kennedy's autopsy. In the late 60s, Attorney General Ramsey Clark appointed a panel of forensic pathologists to examine these materials. Here is their report.

What Happened to Kennedy's Brain?

The most famous piece of missing evidence in the world is John Kennedy's brain. What happened to it? Did The Conspiracy grab it because it contained incontrovertible evidence that Kennedy was shot from the front? The HSCA made a strong effort to find out what happened. Their report makes it pretty clear what did.

Why Was Kennedy's Coffin Disposed Of?

Like the missing brain, it sounds outrageous. The casket that carried Kennedy's body from Dallas to Washington was in fact disposed of by the federal government — dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Was this part of some sinister coverup? Released documents tell the story.

Another supposed piece of missing evidence is a bullet that Admiral Osborne said he saw fall out of the wrapping of Kennedy's body when it arrived at Bethesda. OSBORNE.TXT is the HSCA's investigation of this claim.

"Military Control" of the Autopsy?

Conspiracy books describe, based on a very selective use of Dr. Finck's testimony in the Clay Shaw trial, an autopsy in which shadowy sinister military figures prevented a proper autopsy. The House Selected Committee did a thorough investigation of the conduct of the autopsy, based on interviews with virtually all the participants. See just why such a poor job was done. An added bonus: that receipt for a "missile" is explained.

A full account of autopsist Pierre Fink's experiences at the autopsy can be found in the "Blumberg Memo" written on 1 February 1965. Click here to see the memo, which is available on John Masland's Nook of Eclectic Inquiry.

Key Concept: Probing a wound. Conspiracy books place great emphasis on the fact that the autopsists were unable to probe the wound in Kennedy's back more than a inch or so into the body. They believe that this proves that the bullet didn't penetrate more then an inch or so. Forensic pathologists don't accept this idea. The following is a quote from the Forensic Pathology Panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations:
(430) The panel believes that the difficulty which Drs. Humes, Finck, and Boswell experienced in trying to place a soft probe through the bullet pathway in President Kennedy's neck probably resulted from their failure or inability to manipulate this portion of the body into the same position it was in when the missile penetrated. Rigor mortis may have hindered this manipulation. Such placement would have enabled reconstruction of the relationships of the neck and shoulder when the missile struck. It is customary, however, to dissect missile tracks to determine damage and pathway. Probing a track blindly may produce false tracks and misinformation.

Were the Body Snatchers at Work?

David Lifton believes that Kennedy's body was taken and surgically altered between Parkland Hospital and the autopsy in Bethesda. Supposedly, this was done to conceal the fact that all the shots that hit Kennedy came from the front. Is this as crazy as it sounds? Yes, it is.

Alien Autopsy

A Genuine Conspiracy "Expert?"

The author the conspiracy books are always quoting is Cyril Wecht, forensic pathologist and long-time advocate of a conspiracy. Wecht is a competent forensic pathologist where the Kennedy assassination is not involved. Unfortunately the part of his book Cause of Death dealing with the assassination is awash in mistakes and inaccuracies. When Wecht appeared online on the Prodigy service in 1994, Dr. Robert Artwohl challenged him on several errors and misrepresentations in the book. Wecht failed to respond to any of Artwohl's messages.

Dr. Wecht participated in a TV special where film was shown of a supposed "alien autopsy" (above, right). Was it really an alien? Click here for a web site where people expert in movie special effects critique the "autopsy."

Finally, it's the "magic bullet" picture you never see in the conspiracy books: CE 399 viewed end-on. See for yourself whether this bullet is really "pristine."


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