JFK: THE DEATH OF A CONSPIRACY
There is a plethora of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. They range from the incumbent of the former Soviet Union to organized crime. Pro-conspiracy groups are in agreement with one theory; the United States government covered up the truth of the assassination. The premise of a government conspiracy to cover up of the assassination is laden with insufficient evidence and unproved theories. The truth of the matter is President Kennedy was assassinated by the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.
On November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m., President Kennedy was shot as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and arrived at 12:35 p.m.The awaiting medical team rushed the President into one of the trauma rooms. According to Artwohl, “the doctors were not aware of the massive head damage because the huge flap of frontal scalp that was loosened from the head was held in place by the clotting of the blood on the scalp. This concealed the degree of the wound. They were desperate to save the life of the President and examined him quickly without taking the time…to wash off the blood and debris”. The doctors removed the President’s clothing to check the body for other wounds. While Dr. Perry began the tracheotomy, Dr. Jenkins recalled, that Mrs. Kennedy was circling the room with something “cupped” in her hands. As Mrs. Kennedy passed by, she nudged Jenkins with her elbow and handed him “a large chunk of her husband’s brain.” Dr. Jenkins took the brain matter and handed it to a nurse. The Parkland Hospital staff worked for twenty-five minutes on the President to no avail. Dr. Clark, who arrived in the trauma room at 12:50 p.m., pronounced the President dead at 1:00 p.m.
The President’s body was then wrapped in sheets, placed in a casket, loaded onto a waiting hearse, and transported to the airport. The body was then placed on board Air Force One, the presidential plane, where Mrs. Kennedy and the newly sworn in President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, departed for Washington D.C. While the body of the President was on its way to Washington, Bethesda Naval Hospital made preparations to receive it. The three doctors chosen to do the autopsy were Commander James Humes, M.D., director of labs at the Naval Medical School in Bethesda; Commander “J” Thorton Boswell, M.D., chief of Pathology at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Finck, M.D., chief of the Wound Ballistic Pathology Branch at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (A.F.I.P.).
In addition to the three pathologists, there were two Navy enlisted men who served as autopsy technicians, three radiologists, and two photographers. One of the photographers was Bethesda’s medical school chief of photography, John Stringer (2797). Dr. Humes was told personally by Rear Admiral Kenney, Surgeon General of the Navy, to “find the cause of death” (2796). According to Breo, Drs. Humes and Boswell thought that the autopsy should be done by the A.F.I.P., but later learned that Bethesda was chosen because Mrs. Kennedy requested it for the simple reason that her husband was a Navy man.
The President’s body arrived in a bronze casket with the; body unclothed, wrapped in sheets, and the head wrapped “around and around” with gauze and bandages. Accompanying the body was the President’s wife, Jacqueline, his brother, Robert, and his personal physician, Rear Admiral Burkley. ‘Robert and Jacqueline went to the upper floor of the hospital to await the completion of the autopsy, while the body was taken to the autopsy room. Upon arrival of the body, Drs. Humes and Boswell opened the casket, removed the body, and began the autopsy.
Present during the autopsy were Admiral Burkley, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), Secret Service agents, and the President’s military aids from the Air Force, Army, and Navy.
The autopsy began with the doctors first noticing the massive head wound. According to Drs. Humes and Boswell, “…it was a huge hole in the right side of the head that could only be caused by an exciting, high velocity, and missile. This missile exploded away a six-inch section on the right side of the head, with the second bullet entering at the base of the neck. It was clear that the shot came from rear to front because the rear of the skull was completely intact”. It was hard for the doctors to figure out the neck wound because probing it would create a false passage. The Bethesda team had no idea that a tracheotomy had been performed until the next day when Dr. Humes called Dr. Perry in Dallas and was told this procedure had been done.
After a very emotional four hour autopsy, Admiral Burkley told Dr. Humes that he wanted the autopsy report early Sunday morning (November 24). Dr. Humes met with Drs, Boswell and Finck on Saturday to go over their report. After receiving the report, Admiral Burkley told Dr. Humes that he wanted everything dealing with the autopsy. Days later, Admiral Burkley went to Bethesda and took responsibility for the autopsy material, giving Dr. Humes a receipt for it. The contents included: bullet fragments, microscope slides, undeveloped film, x-rays, and the “preserved unsectioned brain of the President.” All the materials, except the brain, went to the National Archives in Washington D.C. The family wanted to inter the brain with the President’s body (2799-800). Several days later, the President was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Pro-conspiracy groups have trouble believing certain aspects of the above sequence of events.
These groups believe that there was more than one assassin because one assassin could not shoot accurately from that distance with the kind of weapon used. This is not so. The Warren Commission proved that it was one man using an Italian made, Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, which was found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building (Petty 1552). Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President from this building, expending three bullets from that rifle. The first bullet was shot from a range of one hundred seventy-five feet and missed the target, hit a tree branch, ricocheted, and struck the pavement. The second bullet struck the upper back of the President, exiting his neck, and then hitting Texas’ Governor Connally. The third and fatal bullet, hit President Kennedy in the posterior, right side of the head. It has also been proved that Oswald’s rifle could accurately shoot long distances. This theory was proved by the Wound Ballistics Branch of the U.S.
Army Chemical Research and Development Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, for the Warren Commission. These experiments used Oswald’s rifle and similar ammunition, along with blocks filled with gelatin, to represent the President’s head and neck. To simulate the head wounds, they fired at the blocks from a distance of two hundred seventy feet, roughly the same distance of the shot causing the President’s head wound. The bullets fragmented inside the gelatin, causing an explosive exit wound, thus proving that Oswald’s rifle was capable of making Kennedy’s wounds.
Another conspiracy theory comes from Dallas physician, Charles Crenshaw, M.D., who claims to have been in the trauma room and to have seen the President. He claims that the bullets “struck Kennedy in the front” and that the autopsy photos must have been altered. In 1992, Crenshaw, along with two other conspiracy theorists, co-authored a book claiming this and other “supposed inaccuracies.” The truth is, none of the doctors working on the President remember seeing Crenshaw in the trauma room. Moreover, all four doctors, who worked on Kennedy, agree they saw nothing to contradict the autopsy findings.
Those who believe of a conspiracy are somewhat unanimous in their conviction that the autopsy records were, in some way, altered to show the facts the way the government wanted them to be shown.
According to Dr. Humes, the records were correct and complete in the evaluation, and there was no interference from anyone. The autopsy records have been confirmed on four different occasions.
On November 1, 1966, the first confirmation came when Drs. Humes and Boswell were summoned to the National Archives to categorize the autopsy materials. The second came in 1968, at the request of both doctors. The third came from an Attorney General appointed board of four doctors, three pathologists, and a radiologist. None of the four had any prior connections to the assassination investigation. The final confirmation came in 1977 from the House Select Committee. The committee instructed a panel of nine forensic pathologists to confirm the records and report their findings. The panel agreed with previous confirmations, that all materials were accounted for, and that the original autopsy was correct.
Pro-conspiracy groups continue to use the “Pristine Bullet” theory. This is the second bullet which hit the President and Governor Connally. This theory infers that after striking the President and Connally, the bullet would have to have been deformed, and it was not. This simply is not the case. The bullet was deformed. According to Petty, the bullet which was found on the stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital was not in pristine condition, “…it was flattened towards its base”. It is not unusual for this type of bullet to incur little or no damage when entering a body. One reason is, this high velocity, heavy-metal-jacket bullet loses very little velocity and does not, usually, tumble or deform when passing through a body.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the burning of Dr.Hume’s autopsy notes constitutes a cover-up by the government. This is not true. The reason he burned the notes was two-fold. One reason was he had stained the notes with the blood of the President, and two, the notes were to be submitted as part of the autopsy report. To have had blood on the notes would have not been acceptable. Dr. Humes makes the point that he burned his notes only after he transcribed them “verbatim” to another autopsy form.
Many conspiracy theorists are unanimous in believing that the assassination was a cover-up concocted by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), the F.B.I., the Secret Service, and other government agencies to disguise medical evidence that the President was “publicly executed” in Dealey Plaza by more than one gunman.