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The First Step in the JFK Cover-Up

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I saw the new movie Parkland yesterday. While reviews are panning the movie, which isn’t too surprising given that it’s based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book Reclaiming History, which is a long rehash of the lone-nut theory posited by the Warren Commission, I wanted to see how the movie depicted a certain scene at Parkland Hospital, a scene that I believe was likely the very first step in a cover-up in the assassination.

After President Kennedy was declared dead by physicians at Parkland, he was placed into a casket. A team of Secret Service agents then began removing the casket from Parkland with the intent of taking it to Love Field, where President Johnson was waiting for it to take it back to Washington.

There was one big problem, however. Texas law required an autopsy of the body to be conducted by an official medical examiner. Therefore, the Dallas medical examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, informed the Secret Service team of Texas law and advised them that the body wasn’t going anywhere until the autopsy was conducted.

The Secret Service team informed Rose that he was not going to conduct an autopsy and that they were going to take the body out of the hospital. Rose stood in the way and made it clear that he did not intend to permit the body to be removed from the hospital without the autopsy having been conducted.

At that point, the Secret Service agents opened their suit jackets and brandished their guns. Amidst a tremendous amount of screaming, yelling, and cussing, the Secret Service team began shoving people as they forced their way out of the hospital with casket.

The casket was then rushed to Love Field, where people on Air Force One, the plane that LBJ was now traveling on, had removed seats in the back of the plane to make room for the casket.

After Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Kennedy’s body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the U.S. military conducted an autopsy.

For 50 years, government officials have inculcated in the American people that what happened during that particular episode at Parkland Hospital was perfectly normal. The message has always been: Don’t think too much about it. Don’t question it. What happened there is as normal as anything else in people’s daily lives.

But the reality is that it’s not normal and never was. In fact, the episode is about as far from normal as an event can be. It is highly unusual. It is bizarre. It is also, in my opinion, very likely the very first step in a cover-up in the assassination of John Kennedy.

Ask yourself: How many times in your lifetime have you seen federal agents threaten to kill peaceful and law-abiding people, especially other law-enforcement personnel? And make no mistake about it: When federal agents brandish guns, there can be no mistaking the message they intend to convey: “Do as I say or I’m going to pull out this gun and use it against you.”

My hunch is that your answer to that question is “Never.” Sure, federal agents threaten to kill people all the time in the drug war but in those cases there is a violation of federal drug law that is involved.

At Parkland, no one in that hospital, including Dr. Rose, was breaking any law. On the contrary, they were enforcing the law. Yet Secret Service agents were threatening to kill them if they obstructed their removal of the body from Parkland. Imagine that: federal agents were threatening to kill people who worked at a hospital that had just tried to save the president’s life.

Do the actions of the Secret Service make any sense when it comes to the issue of normality? Don’t we ordinarily expect federal law-enforcement agents to cooperate with state law-enforcement agents in the investigation and prosecution of a crime?

What everyone would have expected to have happened was this: Dr. Rose announces that he has to conduct an autopsy under Texas law. Secret Service agents respond, “We understand, Dr. Rose. You do your job and we’ll even help secure the premises so that you can do your job undisturbed. We’ll take the body once you have finished.”

Why would we expect that sort of cooperation? Because law-enforcement officials know that an autopsy in a homicide case is critically important to the later criminal prosecution of whoever is charged with the crime. You normally expect federal and state law enforcement agents to work together to ensure that proper procedures are followed in order to more effectively prosecute the accused at trial.

That’s not what happened here. Instead, federal officials were threatening the use of deadly force to prevent Texas officials from doing their job, a job that state law required.

Why is an autopsy important? The medical examiner makes a close examination of the entire body, locates entry wounds, inserts probes or rods to determine the direction of the shots, searches for bullets and bullet fragments within the body, and has x-rays and photographs done, especially for those parts of the body that have received wounds. Ordinarily, a person can arrive at the precise cause of death as a result of an autopsy.

Now, ask yourself: Why would that team of Secret Service agents be so adamant about removing Kennedy’s body from the hospital and preventing Rose from conducting an autopsy, as Texas law required? These were fairly low-level agents. Would we ordinarily expect a team of low-level agents to decide among themselves to violate state law, brandish guns, threaten to kill innocent people, and do whatever is necessary to get the body out of the hospital and prevent an autopsy?”

Of course not. That’s the last thing we would expect. We would expect the exact opposite—full cooperation with the local authorities and doing what it necessary to keep the criminal investigation on track.

So, what would have motivated that team of Secret Service agents to engage in that sort of highly unusual and abnormal behavior?

There can be only one reasonable answer: They were ordered to. Nothing else makes sense. Someone had to have told them: “Get that body out of the hospital at any cost. Under no circumstances are you to permit an autopsy. Use deadly force if necessary. Just do what is necessary to get it out of there.”

Who could have issued such an order? It could have come from only one person: the new president, Lyndon Johnson. The reason that that is likely is that Johnson had made it clear that he was not going to leave Dallas without Jacqueline Kennedy, and he knew that Jacqueline Kennedy wasn’t going to leave Dallas without the president’s body.

Therefore, it makes sense that he would have been the one to have issued the order, either directly or through an intermediary. After all, how likely is it that someone on Johnson’s staff would have issued such an order on his own initiative? Not very likely at all, given that most people are not going to order federal personnel to violate the law and threaten to kill innocent people.

What would have been Johnson’s motive in issuing such an order?

One possibility is that he was simply being chivalrous, as in he just didn’t think it would be right to abandon Mrs. Kennedy in Texas and return to Washington without her.

But one problem with that theory is the deep animosity that had long existed between the Kennedys and Johnson, one that didn’t lend tend toward chivalry. Another problem is that Johnson didn’t show much chivalry when he took over Air Force One instead of simply returning to Washington on Air Force Two, which was a duplicate of Air Force One. When Mrs. Kennedy returned to the plane and entered her bedroom, imagine her surprise to find Lyndon lying on her bed. How chivalrous is it to take over the bedroom of the woman who had just been First Lady and who had just lost her husband? Finally, when the plane arrived at Andrew Air Force Base, Johnson’s chivalry seems to have dissipated, as he immediately headed to the White House instead of remaining with Mrs. Kennedy and comforting her during the military autopsy at Bethesda.

Moreover, Johnson, as a native Texan, had to have been familiar with the requirement of an autopsy under Texas law. He could have said that he had no intention of violating Texas law or asking federal agents to break state law. He could have said that he had no intention of jeopardizing the criminal prosecution of whoever was later charged with the crime by interfering with the autopsy. He could have left a contingent of JFK friends and Secret Service agents to remain with Mrs. Kennedy and escort her back to Washington on Air Force Two, which was also parked at Love Field. No one, including Mrs. Kennedy, would have thought less of Johnson, especially since people were raising the possibility that the assassination might be the first step in a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States, thereby necessitating Johnson’s quick return to Washington.

After all, it’s not as if Texas was El Salvador, Nicaragua, or some other Third World country. Texas was one of the 50 states of the Union.

Another possibility, one that in my opinion is much more likely, is that Johnson ordered that team of Secret Service agents to do what was necessary to prevent an autopsy and to bring the body to his waiting plane was in order to deliver the body into the hands of the U.S. military, with the intent of having them performing a false autopsy.

Immediately after the president was declared dead, there was a press conference at Parkland in which two of the treating physicians, Dr. Malcolm Perry and Dr. Kemp Clark, gave a report and answered questions. At that press conference, they stated that the wound in the front of Kennedy’s neck was an entry wound, which would mean that the shot had come from the front.

Moreover, the Parkland doctors and nurses and others said that Kennedy had a large hole in the back of his head, indicating an exit wound. An exit wound in the back of the head would obviously mean the shot had come from the front.

Not surprisingly, neither of these two critically important matters was depicted in the movie Parkland. Perhaps the reason for that is that if they were depicted in the movie, the audience might be tempted to ask themselves two discomforting questions:

(1) If shots were fired from the front, wouldn’t that destroy the lone-nut theory of the Kennedy assassination? and

(2) Is it possible that the reason that Lyndon Johnson and that team of Secret Service agents were so insistent on getting Kennedy’s body out of there was to get the body into the hands of military autopsy physicians, who could be relied upon the follow orders to hide evidence of shots having been fired from the front and whose strong culture of secrecy could be relied upon the keep matters secret from the public?

So how was the altercation between the Secret Service and Dr. Rose depicted in the movie? They made Rose look like a bad guy and the Secret Service agents look like good guys in the altercation. In fact, they even suggested that the Secret Service was just doing its job by having one of the Secret Service agents declare, “This is a federal offense.” Not only was the assassination of the president not a federal offense at that time, I have never read any account in which a Secret Service agent actually said that during the altercation.

As detailed by Douglas Horne in his five-volume book Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, a book I analyzed in a multi-part article here, the Bethesda autopsy was filled with anomalies and highly unusual occurrences. For 50 years, the defenders of the Warren Report have ascribed all that to incompetence and negligence on the part of the military autopsy physicians. Another possibility is that any cover-up is going to inevitably have anomalies and unusual aspects to it, as unusual as what the Secret Service did to remove Kennedy’s body from Parkland Hospital fifty years ago.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.