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The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 7


The Kennedy Assassination Series:

The Kennedy Casket Conspiracy, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Shot That Killed Kennedy, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 1, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 2, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 3, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 4, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 5, by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 6 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 7 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 8 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 9 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 10 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 11 by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Kennedy Autopsy, Part 12 by Jacob G. Hornberger


In parts 5 and 6 of this series, I described how the autopsy findings with respect to the number and types of wounds on President Kennedy’s body were evolving, even after the formal autopsy had been concluded and even after President Kennedy’s body had been embalmed and sent to the White House.

I wish to clarify an important point, however. In those two articles, I stated that these evolving autopsy findings were the result of the three military pathologists’ attempting to match the number of wounds with the three bullets that had allegedly been fired by Oswald.

Actually, however, I should have clarified that that’s what appeared to be happening. There is certainly no direct evidence, as far as I know, of the pathologists overtly saying, “We need to get down to three shots, because that’s how many shots were allegedly fired in Dallas.” Instead, I should have made it clear that that is what it appears they were doing.

This is something I’ll return to in a later segment in this series, but it obviously is an important point that needed to be clarified now.

Let’s now return to the evolution of the autopsy findings with respect to Kennedy’s back and neck wounds.

Upon discovering that bystander James Tague had been wounded by a separate bullet, the Bethesda military pathologists, James Humes, J. Thornton Boswell, and Pierre Finck, were now confronted with four bullet wounds — one in Kennedy’s head, one in the back of Kennedy’s neck (which supposedly transited through the front of Kennedy’s neck and hit Gov. John Connally as well), the one in Kennedy’s back near the right shoulder, and the Tague wound.

That’s four shots. So, what did the pathologists do? They simply disappeared the back wound, the one that had not transited through the body. Or, to put it another way, they simply merged the back wound and the neck wound into a single wound, one that purportedly hit Kennedy in the back of the neck and exited the front (and then allegedly hit Connally).

That meant three wounds — the head wound, the neck wound (which supposedly hit Connally too), and Tague’s wound. (This now matched the number of shots purportedly made by Oswald.)

Humes later testified that he burned copies of his autopsy notes and the initial draft of his autopsy report because, he said, they contained bloodstains on them. But he was unable to explain why he didn’t, at the same time, burn Boswell’s notes, which also contained bloodstains.

The obvious question arises: Is the more likely reason Humes destroyed such important documents that they reflected the struggles and ordeals the pathologists were undergoing to match the number of wounds with the number of shots purportedly made by Oswald (the subject that we’ll be returning to in a later segment of this series)?

Interestingly, the matter of the disappearing back wound came back into the mainstream news as a result of long-suppressed documents that were liberated by the Assassination Records Review Board, the board that had been established in the wake of the controversy raised by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. According to this 1997 Associated Press article on the controversy, the documents revealed that “thirty-three years ago, [Warren Commission member] Gerald R. Ford took pen in hand and changed — ever so slightly — the Warren Commission’s key sentence on the place where a bullet entered John F. Kennedy’s body when he was killed in Dallas.” (Brackets added.) The article states,

The staff of the commission had written: “A bullet had entered his back at a point slightly above the shoulder and to the right of the spine.”

Ford suggested changing that to read: “A bullet had entered the back of his neck at a point slightly to the right of the spine.”

The final report said: “A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck slightly to the right of the spine.”

It was not the only time that Ford behaved unusually as a member of the Warren Commission. As the Washington Post reported in 2008, a confidential FBI file released that year revealed the extent to which Ford had been acting as a secret liaison to the FBI during his tenure on the Warren Commission, secretly divulging communications within the Commission to the FBI — communications that were being kept secret from the American people. The Post article pointed out,

A December 1963 memo recounts that Ford, then a Republican congressman from Michigan, told FBI Assistant Director Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach that two members of the seven-person commission remained unconvinced that Kennedy had been shot from the sixth-floor window of the Texas Book Depository. In addition, three commission members “failed to understand” the trajectory of the slugs, Ford said. Ford told DeLoach that commission discussions would continue and reassured him that those minority points of view on the commission “of course would represent no problem,” one internal FBI memo shows.

An obvious question arises with respect to the neck wound.

On the surface of things, the failure of the military pathologists to discover the wound in the front of Kennedy’s neck during the autopsy seems plausible. Since the wound was obscured by the tracheotomy that the Dallas surgeons had performed on top of the bullet hole in the front of the neck, one can understand why the military pathologists might have missed the bullet hole.

However, how is it possible for them to have missed the purported wound on the back of the neck — the supposed neck wound that ended up serving as the entry point for the bullet that supposedly exited through the front of the neck? The three military pathologists obviously inspected the back of Kennedy’s body. Thus, if an entry wound were there on the back of the neck, it would seem that they would have seen it and stuck a probe all the way through to the front of the neck. Instead, throughout the autopsy all they supposedly found was the back shoulder wound, a wound that did not transit through the body.

In 1997, the ARRB conducted an interview of Audrey Bell, who was one of the Parkland Hospital nurses. According to Douglas P. Horne (who served as chief analyst for military records for the ARRB and later authored Inside the Assassination Records Review Board),

she told us that when she saw Dr. Perry Saturday morning, November 23, 1963 at Parkland Hospital, she told him that he “looked like hell,” or words to that effect. She said he told her that he had not gotten much sleep because people from Bethesda naval hospital had been harassing him all night on the telephone, trying to get him to change his mind about the opinion he had expressed at the Parkland hospital press conference the day before, namely that President Kennedy had an entry wound in the front of his neck. (Horne, volume II, page 645.)

Moreover, take a look at the following [Warning: grisly photograph] autopsy photograph of the front neck wound. Do you see why the pathologists might have failed to see a bullet hole there? The problem, however, is that, as with Kennedy’s head wound, (see my article “The Shot That Killed Kennedy”), the evidence indicates that the appearance of the tracheotomy wound in that photograph was dramatically different at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. According to Horne,

The article written by Dr. Charles Crenshaw for the anthology Assassination Science (1998) states on page 54, “The wound which I saw after Dr. Perry concluded his work looked nothing like what I saw [referring to the bootleg autopsy photos] in the photographs taken at Bethesda. Dr. Perry had made a very small and neat transverse incision. I took it to be about one to one and one half inches on length. It was certainly not of the length I saw in the autopsy photos. The gaping nature of the wound was also inconsistent with what I saw. When the body left Parkland, there was no gaping, bloody defect in the front of the throat, just the small bullet hole and the thin line of Perry’s incision.… On page 57, he summarized, “Photographs of President Kennedy’s throat show a defect more than twice as long as the tracheostomy incision I remember and more than twice the length these doctors [my colleagues in trauma room one] had earlier estimated [in interviews with author David Lifton]. (Horne, volume III, page 671; brackets in Horne.)

Why would someone have tampered with the neck wound? Why would someone have made the tracheotomy gash much larger than it was in Dallas?

Indeed, why wouldn’t Navy Admiral George Burkley, Kennedy’s personal White House physician, who was present at the autopsy, have advised the Bethesda pathologists of the bullet wound in the front of Kennedy’s neck, given that Burkley was present in the emergency room when the Parkland hospital physicians performed the tracheotomy? Don’t forget — Burkley was the one who signed the death certificate in Dallas, which stated that Kennedy “was struck in the head by an assassin’s bullet and a second wound occurred in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra.”

Horne points out that in a 1988 documentary about the Kennedy assassination, The Men Who Killed Kennedy, autopsy technician Paul O’Connor, who participated in the autopsy, stated,

I remember that Dr. Humes was just about ready to pull his hair out, because he was a very meticulous person, and he’d start to do something , and Admiral Burkley would say, “Don’t do that!”—and he’d just tense all up and we’d have to go to some other procedure. And I thought to myself, “This is a very strange night.” I thought I was in some kind of horror story that was real. But what really scared me was about several days later, after the autopsy, we were ordered into the Commanding Officer’s office — all of us that had anything to do with the autopsy, where we signed orders that stated “under penalty of general court martial, you will not divulge any information, or talk to anybody” — that’s what scared me. There were kind of mysterious civilian people in civilian clothes [that] were there — it seemed like they commanded lots of respect and attention — sinister looking people. They would come up and look over my shoulder or look over Dr. Boswell’s shoulder, and run back and they’d have a little conference in the corner, and then all at once, there’s word [that would] come down and says: “stop what you’re doing and go to the other procedure.” (Horne, volume IV, page 1017.)

If all this seems somewhat strange to you, welcome to the club. But you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you read the next segment, when we return to Kennedy’s head wound.

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    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.