THE LARGE WOUND IN THE BACK OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S HEAD:
MORE EVIDENCE OF A SHOT FROM THE FRONT
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
A key component of the lone-gunman theory of the Kennedy assassination is that there was no large wound in the back of President Kennedy's head. Why? Because this would indicate a shot from the front. Instead, relying on the disputed autopsy photos and x-rays, lone-gunman theorists argue that the large head wound was actually on the top and right side of the head above the right ear. They claim the occiput, i.e., the bone at the back of the skull, was not blasted and was not missing any bone.
Yet, witness after witness who saw President Kennedy's head, from doctors, to federal agents, to trained emergency room nurses, to medical technicians who assisted with the autopsy, said they saw a large wound in the rear portion of the skull. Some said it was mostly or solely in the occiput, while others said it was partly in the occiput and partly in the right rear section of the parietal bone. The difference between the two descriptions is slight, probably no more than half an inch to an inch at the most, and both place the wound in the rear part of the head, not above the right ear.
Several of the Dallas doctors said they saw cerebellar tissue extruding from the wound. This tissue is found only in the rear part of the brain, and it is easily distinguishable from other brain tissue. One of the doctors who saw cerebellar tissue in the large wound was a neurosurgeon who specified that he examined the wound.
Let us now examine some of the eyewitness statements that there was a large wound in the back of President Kennedy's head. These statements come from the Warren Commission's hearings and exhibits.
Dr. Charles Carrico
Mr. SPECTER. Will you describe as specifically as you can the head wound which you have already mentioned briefly?
Dr. CARRICO. Sure. This was a 5- by 7-cm defect in the posterior skull, the occipital region. There was an absence of the calvarium or skull in this area, with shredded tissue, brain tissue present and initially considerable slow oozing. Then after we established some circulation there was more profuse bleeding from this wound. (3 H 361)
Mr. SPECTER Would you describe as precisely for me as possible the nature of the head wound which you observed on the President?
Dr. CARRICO. The wound that I saw was a large gaping wound, located in the right occipitoparietal area. I would estimate to be about 5 to 7 cm. in size, more or less circular, with avulsions of the calvarium and scalp tissue. As I stated before, I believe there was shredded macerated cerebral and cerebellar tissues both in the wounds and on the fragments of the skull attached to the dura. (6 H 5-6)
Mr. SPECTER. What did you observe as to the President's condition upon his arrival?
Dr. CARRICO. He was lying on a carriage, his respirations were slow, spasmodic, described as agonal.
Mr. SPECTER. What do you mean by "agonal" if I may interrupt you for just a moment there, Doctor?
Dr. CARRICO. These are respirations seen in one who has lost the normal coordinated central control of respiration. These are spasmodic and usually reflect a terminal patient.
Mr. SPECTER. Would you continue to describe your observations of the President?
Dr. CARRICO. His-- the President's color--I don't believe I said--he was an ashen, bluish, grey, cyanotic, he was making no spontaneous movements, I mean, no voluntary movements at all. We opened his shirt and coat and tie and observed a small wound in the anterior lower third of the neck, listened very briefly, heard a few cardiac beats, felt the President's back, and detected no large or sucking chest wounds, and then proceeded to the examination of his head. The large skull and scalp wound had been previously observed and was inspected a little more closely. There seemed to be a 4-5 cm. area of avulsion of the scalp and the skull was fragmented and bleeding cerebral and cerebellar tissue. (6 H 2-3)
COMMENT: Note the detail in Dr. Carrico's description of the large head wound. Clearly, the Dallas doctors got a very good look at the wound, which strongly supports the contention that they described it accurately.
Dr. Malcolm Perry
Mr. SPECTER. Will you now describe as specifically as you can, the injury which you noted in the President's head?
Dr. PERRY. As I mentioned previously in the record, I made only a cursory examination of the President's head. I noted a large avulsive wound of the right parietal occipital area, in which both scalp and portions of skull were absent, and there was severe laceration of underlying brain tissue. My examination did not go any further than that. (3 H 372)
COMMENT: Note that the last sentence clearly implies Dr. Perry did examine the outside of the head but that he didn't examine the head further. In other words, he took a moment to look at the outside of the head, and he noted the wound in the "right parietal occipital area," i.e., in the right rear part of the skull.
Mr. SPECTER. What did you observe as to the President's head, specifically?
Dr. PERRY. I saw no injuries other than the one which I noted to you, which was a large avulsive injury of the right occipitoparietal area, but I did not do a minute examination of his head. (6 H 11)
COMMENT: No Warren Commission defender should look for refuge in Dr. Perry's comment that he did not do a "minute examination" of the head. All this means is that he didn't take the time to go over the head inch by inch checking for damage that was not already readily apparent. He plainly said he "saw" the "large avulsive injury of the right occipitalparietal area."
Mr. SPECTER. So that those efforts were being made at that juncture at least without mechanical aid?
Dr. PERRY. Those were spontaneous efforts on the part of the President.
Mr. SPECTER. Will you continue, then, Dr. Perry, as to what you observed of his condition?
Dr. PERRY. Yes, there was blood noted on the carriage and a large avulsive wound on the right posterior cranium. I cannot state the size, I did not examine it at all. I just noted the presence of lacerated brain tissue. (3 H 368)
COMMENT: So Dr. Perry did not take the time to examine the large avulsive wound in the rear of the skull, but he did see it and he noted the presence of lacerated brain tissue. Dr. Perry never expressed any doubt about the wound's location. He merely indicated he could not describe it in detail because he did not examine it. By the way, "avulsive" means exploded or punched-out.
Dr. Kemp Clark
Mr. SPECTER. Assuming that the President had a bullet wound of entry on the upper right-posterior thorax, just above the upper border of the scapula, 14 cms. from the right acromion process, 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process, would there have been a bloody type wound?
Dr. CLARK. I'm sorry--your question?
Mr. SPECTER. Would such a wound of entry by a missile traveling approximately 2,000 feet per second, approximately
Dr. CLARK. No, sir. Such a wound could have easily been overlooked in the presence of the much larger wound in the right occipital region of the President's skull, from which considerable blood loss had occurred which stained the back of his head, neck and upper shoulders. (6 H 29)
COMMENT: I think the last sentence is revealing. Dr. Clark said, in effect, that the large wound in the "right occipital region" of the skull was so obvious and noteworthy that it could have caused someone to overlook a small wound 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process, i.e, in the upper back.
Mr. SPECTER. What did you observe the President's condition to be on your arrival there?
Dr. CLARK. The President was lying on his back on the emergency cart. Dr. Perry was performing a tracheotomy. There were chest tubes being inserted. Dr. Jenkins was assisting the President's respirations through a tube in his trachea. Dr. Jones and Dr. Carrico were administering fluids and blood intravenously. The President was making a few spasmodic respiratory efforts. I assisted in withdrawing the endotracheal tube from the throat as Dr. Perry was then ready to insert the tracheotomy tube. I then examined the President briefly.
My findings showed his pupils were widely dilated, did not react to light, and his eyes were deviated outward with a slight skew deviation.
I then examined the wound in the back of the President's head. This was a large, gaping wound in the right posterior part, with cerebral and cerebellar tissue being damaged and exposed. There was considerable blood loss evident on the carriage, the floor, and the clothing of some of the people present. I would estimate 1,500 cc. of blood being present. (6 H 20)
COMMENT: So Dr. Clark, who was a neurosurgeon, "EXAMINED THE WOUND IN THE BACK OF THE PRESIDENT'S HEAD." Let us hear no more of the claim that the Dallas doctors were so rushed that they didn't have time to examine the large head wound. Not only was it examined, but it was examined by a neurosurgeon.
Dr. Robert McClelland
Mr. SPECTER. Before proceeding to describe what you did in connection with the tracheostomy, will you more fully describe your observation with respect to the head wound?
Dr. MCCLELLAND. As I took the position at the head of the table that I have already described, to help out with the tracheotomy, I was in such a position that I could very closely examine the head wound, and I noted that the right posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted. It had been shattered, apparently, by the force of the shot so that the parietal bone was protruded up through the scalp and seemed to be fractured almost along its right posterior half, as well as some of the occipital bone being fractured in its lateral haft, and this sprung open the bones that I mentioned in such a way that you could actually look down into the skull cavity itself and see that probably a third or so, at least, of the brain tissue, posterior cerebral tissue and some of the cerebellar tissue had been blasted out. There was a large amount of bleeding which was occurring mainly from the large venous channels in the skull which had been blasted open. (6 H 33)
COMMENT: This is very important. Dr. McClelland had ample time to closely examine the large head wound, and he testified it was in the "right posterior portion of the skull," which is where the other doctors likewise said it was.
Mr. SPECTER. What effect did this medical treatment have on President Kennedy?
Dr. McCLELLAND. As near as we could tell, unfortunately, none. We felt that from the time we saw him, most of us agreed, all of us agreed rather, that this was a mortal wound, but that in spite of this feeling that all attempts possible should be made to revive him, as far as establishing the airway breathing for him, and replacing blood and what not, but unfortunately the loss of blood and the loss of cerebral and cerebellar tissues were so great that the efforts were of no avail.
Mr. SPECTER. Was he conscious at that time that you saw him?
Dr. McCLELLAND. No.
Mr. SPECTER. And, at what time did he expire?
Dr. McCLELLAND. He was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. on November 22.
Mr. SPECTER. What was the cause of death in your opinion?
Dr. McCLELLAND. The cause of death, I would say, would be massive head injuries with loss of large amounts of cerebral and cerebellar tissues and massive blood loss. (6 H 34)
Dr. Paul Peters
Mr. SPECTER What did you notice in the occiput?
Dr. PETERS. It seemed to me that in the right occipitalparietal area that there was a large defect. There appeared to be bone loss and brain loss in the area.
Mr. SPECTER. Did you notice any holes below the occiput, say, in this area below here?
Dr. PETERS. No, I did not and at the time and the moments immediately following the injury, we speculated as to whether he had been shot once or twice because we saw the wound of entry in the throat and noted the large occipital wound, and it is a known fact that high velocity missiles often have a small wound of entrance and a large wound of exit, and I'm just giving you my honest impressions at the time. (6 H 71)
COMMENT: So Dr. Peters and other doctors "noted" the "large occipital wound" and also saw the throat wound. Note that all the doctors agreed on the location of the throat wound, just as they were remarkably consistent on the location of the large head wound. Since they accurately described the throat wound's location, on what basis can someone suggest they "erred" on the location of the large head wound?
Dr. Gene Akin
Mr. SPECTER. Did you observe any wounds on him at the time you first saw him?
Dr. AKIN. There was a midline neck wound below the level of the cricoid cartilage, about 1 to 1.5 cm. in diameter, the lower part of this had been cut across when I saw the wound, it had been cut across with a knife in the performance of the tracheotomy. The back of the right occipitalparietal portion of his head was shattered, with brain substance extruding. (6 H 65)
COMMENT: The "right occipitalparietal portion" of the head is the right rear part of the head.
Dr. Charles Baxter
Mr. SPECTER. What else, if anything, did you do for President Kennedy at that point?
Dr. BAXTER. During the tracheotomy, I helped with the insertion of a right anterior chest tube, and then helped Dr. Perry complete the tracheotomy. At that point none of us could hear a heartbeat present. Apparently this had ceased during the tracheotomy and the chest tube placement.
We then gave him or Dr. Perry and Dr. Clark alternated giving him closed chest cardiac massage only until we could get a cardioscope hooked up to tell us if there were any detectable heartbeat electrically present, at least, and there was none, and we discussed at that moment whether we should open the chest to attempt to revive him, while the closed chest massage was going on, and we had an opportunity to look at his head wound then and saw that the damage was beyond hope, that is, in a word--literally the right side of his head had been blown off. With this and the observation that the cerebellum was present--a large quantity of brain was present on the cart, well--we felt that such an additional heroic attempt was not warranted, and we did not pronounce him dead but ceased our efforts, and awaited the priest and last rites before we pronounced him dead. (6 H 41)
COMMENT: First, I should note that Dr. Baxter also told the Warren Commission the wound he saw was "in temporal parietal plate of bone laid outward to the side and there was a large area, oh, I would say 6 by 8 or 10 cm. of lacerated brain oozing from this wound" (6 H 41). It's possible Dr. Baxter simply misspoke here, since the cerebellum could not have been present in a temporal-parietal wound. Dr. Baxter's other description of the wound as "the right side of his head had been blown off" could have included a small part of the right edge of the occipital bone. In any case, let it be noted that Dr. Baxter did not say the wound was in the back of the head. In so doing he was alone among the Dallas doctors and nurses who described the defect. Let it also be noted that Dr. Baxter said cerebellum was present, and cerebellar tissue is located only in the very back of the brain, which would have been nowhere near a temporal-parietal wound.
Furthermore, on the day of the shooting, Dr. Baxter wrote in a medical report that "...the rt temporal and occipital bones were missing and the brain was lying on the table" (CE 392, Warren Report, p. 523). This is more consistent with what all the other Dallas doctors reported, and it explains why he also reported seeing cerebellar tissue. So either Dr. Baxter misspoke when he said the wound was a "temporal-parietal wound" or he experienced a change in recollection between the day of the shooting and the day he testified months later.
In addition, note the fact that Dr. Baxter said "we had an opportunity to look at his head wound." This is further proof that the Dallas doctors did examine the wound.
Dr. Marion Jenkins
Mr. SPECTER. Now, will you now describe the wound which you observed in the head?
Dr. JENKINS. Almost by the time I was--had the time to pay more attention to the wound in the head, all of these other activities were under way. I was busy connecting up an apparatus to respire for the patient, exerting manual pressure on the breathing bag or anesthesia apparatus, trying to feel for a pulse in the neck, and then reaching up and feeling for one in the temporal area, seeing about connecting the cardioscope or directing its being connected, and then turned attention to the wound in the head.
Now, Dr. Clark had begun closed chest cardiac massage at this time and I was aware of the magnitude of the wound, because with each compression of the chest, there was a great rush of blood from the skull wound. Part of the brain was herniated; I really think part of the cerebellum, as I recognized it, was herniated from the wound; there was part of the brain tissue, broken fragments of the brain tissue on the drapes of the cart on which the President lay. (6 H 48)
Nurse Diana Bowron
Mr. SPECTER. And what, in a general way, did you observe with respect to President Kennedy's condition?
Miss BOWRON. He was very pale, he was lying across Mrs. Kennedy's knee and there seemed to be blood everywhere. When I went around to the other side of the car I saw the condition of his head.
Mr. SPECTER. You saw the condition of his what?
Miss BOWRON. The back of his head.
Mr. SPECTER. And what was that condition?
Miss BOWRON. Well, it was very bad---you know.
Mr. SPECTER. How many holes did you see?
Miss BOWRON. I just saw one large hole. (6 H 136)
COMMENT: This is crucial testimony, because a short while later Nurse Bowron helped clean the large head wound and packed it with gauze squares.
Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill
Mr. SPECTER. What did you observe as to President Kennedy's condition on arrival at the hospital?
Mr. HILL. The right rear portion of his head was missing. It was lying in the rear seat of the car. His brain was exposed. There was blood and bits of brain all over the entire rear portion of the car. Mrs. Kennedy was completely covered with blood. There was so much blood you could not tell if there had been any other wound or not, except for the one large gaping wound in the right rear portion of the head. (2 H 141)
COMMENT: When Special Agent Hill was later taken to the morgue for the express of viewing the president's wounds, he again reported seeing a large wound in the right rear portion of the skull.
Secret Service Special Agent Roy Kellerman
Mr. SPECTER. All right. The topic we are on now, Mr. Kellerman, is your own way of relating the description of the wounds, starting with four wounds on President Kennedy.
Mr. KELLERMAN. Right; OK.
Mr. SPECTER. Proceed, then.
Mr. KELLERMAN. I can eclipse an awful lot here and get into the morgue here in Bethesda, because that is where I looked him over.
Mr. SPECTER. I will come back and pick up some of the other detail.
Mr. KELLERMAN. Fine.
Mr. SPECTER. But for the sequence at the moment, as it relates to your conclusions on the shots which you have already testified about--
Mr. KELLERMAN. OK.
Mr. SPECTER. I would like to develop your understanding and your observations of the four wounds on President Kennedy.
Mr. KELLERMAN. OK. This all transpired in the morgue of the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, sir. He had a large wound this size.
Mr. SPECTER. Indicating a circle with your finger of the diameter of 5 inches; would that be approximately correct?
Mr. KELLERMAN. Yes, circular; yes, on this part of the head.
Mr. SPECTER. Indicating the rear portion of the head.
Mr. KELLERMAN. Yes.
Mr. SPECTER. More to the right side of the head?
Mr. KELLERMAN. Right. This was removed.
Mr. SPECTER. When you say, "This was removed," what do you mean by this?
Mr. KELLERMAN. The skull part was removed. (2 H 80-81)
COMMENT: This is powerful corroboration of the Dallas descriptions of the large head wound. Kellerman went to the morgue to "look over" the president's wounds, as did Special Agent Hill. Note that Kellerman said the "rear portion of the head" on the right side was "removed." Kellerman saw the same large right-rear wound that the Dallas doctors saw, that Nurse Bowron saw and cleaned and packed with gauze squares, and that Special Agent Hill saw when he saw the body in Dallas and then again at the morgue at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew. He is also a two-time graduate of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas, and holds an Occupational Instructor Certificate from the Community College of the Air Force. He is the author of the book Compelling Evidence: A New Look at the Assassination of President Kennedy (Grand Prairie, TX: JFK-Lancer Productions and Publications, 1996). His articles on the assassination have appeared in several journals that deal with the case. In addition, he is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts.
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