Michael T. Griffith, 1999

Revised and Expanded on 1/11/02

Missing Autopsy Photos, the Large Head Wound, and Other Issues

What follows is a brief summary of some of the historic new evidence contained in recently released autopsy witness interviews conducted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) from 1976-1979 and in interviews of key witnesses conducted over the last three years by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).

What do the abovementioned documents reveal? As we'll see in a moment, they contain, among other things, evidence that a bullet struck Kennedy in the right temple, that there was a large wound in the back of the skull (which of course indicates the bullet came from the front and exited the rear of the head), that several important autopsy photos are missing, that there was NOT a straight path from the Oswald window to the back wound to the throat wound (because the back wound was lower than the throat wound and because Kennedy was not leaning off the seat when the back missile struck), that even Secret Service agents believed there had been a conspiracy, and that autopsy photos were altered (obviously in order to give a false impression of the direction of the gunfire that struck the president).

Here are some of the important new disclosures:

* John Stringer reported that the THROAT WOUND was probed. This is key because it's further evidence the autopsy doctors were lying when they testified they were not aware of the throat wound until after the autopsy when Dr. Humes called Dallas and spoke with Dr. Perry.

* White House photographer Robert Knudsen told the HSCA that the probe went DOWNWARD from the throat wound, which means that if the throat wound was the exit point for the back wound, then the back wound was LOWER than the throat wound. Knudsen assisted with the handling of the autopsy photos, and may have been present at the autopsy. The fact that the back wound was lower than the throat wound destroys the single-bullet theory.

* Dr. Pierre Finck, the only forensic pathologist at the autopsy, confirmed to the ARRB that there was a fragment trail that went from a point near the external occipital protuberance (EOP) UPWARD to the area of the right orbit (behind the right eye). (The EOP is tbe bump on the back of your head.) This is further evidence that the rear head entrance wound was not in the cowlick but rather four inches lower, very close to the EOP and just a couple inches above the hairline. Why is this so important? Because no bullet fired from the Oswald sniper's nest could have made that wound, unless Kennedy's head was tilted nearly 60 degrees forward, which the Zapruder film and the Muchmore film clearly show it was not.

* Saundra Kay Spencer, as established by chain of evidence documentation, processed the autopsy photos that Secret Service Agent James Fox brought from the autopsy. However, she did not process any black and white photos, only negatives and color positives, and she told the ARRB she did not process any of the autopsy photos now in evidence. She said the extant autopsy photos were NOT the ones she processed. This suggests the black and white autopsy photos were processed elsewhere, and that there were TWO sets of autopsy photos.

* Joe O'Donnell, a White House photographer who worked with Robert Knudsen, told the ARRB that Knudsen showed him autopsy photos that showed a grapefruit-sized hole IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD. This is yet another witness who saw a sizable wound in the rear of the skull. The evidence of a large wound in the back of Kennedy's head is important because the current autopsy photos show no such wound. In the autopsy photos the back of the head is virtually undamaged. Critics contend those photos have either been altered or the skull was cosmetically repaired before the pictures were taken, so as to conceal the large wound in the back of the head. A large wound in the back of the head, of course, would be characteristic of a shot from the front, not from behind.

* O'Donnell further told the ARRB that one of the autopsy photos Knudsen showed him showed what appeared to be an ENTRY WOUND IN THE RIGHT TEMPLE. This is key because there were several reports out of Dallas of a small wound in one of the temples. O'Donnell's account strongly tends to confirm those reports. Also, a defect consistent with a wound of entry can be seen in the right temple area on the autopsy x-rays, according to three doctors who have examined them (one of whom is an expert in neuroanatomy and another of whom is a board-certified radiologist).

* Tom Robinson, the mortician, confirmed what he had already told the HSCA on the issue of a small wound in the temple, namely, that he saw a small hole in the area of the right temple, and that he filled it with wax. Although Robinson speculated the small hole was made by an exiting fragment, the hole is strong evidence of a shot from the front in light of the reports of a large wound of exit in the back of the head and in light of the other accounts of an entry-like wound in one of the temples. Indeed, White House press man Malcolm Kilduff told reporters at Parkland Hospital that afternoon that Dr. Burkley told him a bullet entered the right temple, and Kilduff pointed to his own right temple to illustrate the trajectory. This was all captured on film. One of the reporters who attended that press conference wrote in his notes "bullet entered right temple" (or "entered right temple").

* O'Donnell said that Knudsen showed him other autopsy photos that showed the back of the head intact. This corresponds with the other evidence that there were two sets of autopsy photos, one genuine and the other altered.

* Knudsen's wife, Gloria Knudsen, and both his children, told ARRB interviewers that four autopsy photos were missing and that another photo had been "badly altered" (and "severely altered"). They also reported that he told them that four or five of the autopsy photos he was shown by the HSCA did not represent what he saw during the autopsy.

* Mrs. Knudsen reported that Knudsen told her that the background in the autopsy photos he was shown was wrong. This agrees with the reports of other witnesses at the autopsy that the photos in evidence show things in the background that were not in the autopsy room at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

* Knudsen's son Bob recalled that his father mentioned seeing probes inserted into THREE wounds. The WC said there were only two wounds of entrance, one in the back and the other low on the back of the head. Three entrance wounds means there must have been more than one gunman.

* Knudsen himself told the HSCA that he firmly recalled AT LEAST two probes inserted into wounds and that he believed he recalled one picture in which THREE probes were inserted into wounds. Again, three wounds of entrance equals conspiracy, period. In fact, in this instance two probes might mean conspiracy since it's unlikely the pathologists would have probed the head wound.

* Knudsen volunteered in his HSCA interview that there was "something shady" about the third piece of film that he handled. Incredibly, the HSCA interviewer did not ask him to explain his comment.

* Knudsen confirmed that Saundra Spencer processed color autopsy photographic material at the naval lab, and that he was personally aware that the black and white photos were done elsewhere.

* The special agent in charge of the Miami Secret Service office told the HSCA he believed some elements of the Secret Service might have been involved in a conspiracy in the assassination.

* Secret Service Special Agent Elmer Moore "badgered" Dr. Malcolm Perry into changing his story that the throat wound was an entrance wound. This is revealing. Researchers have always suspected that Dr. Perry was pressured into changing his initial (and very firm) diagnosis that the throat wound was an entrance wound.

* Robert Bouck, who was the chief of the Protective Research Division of the Secret Service in 1963, told the HSCA he believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy.

* Special Agent Fox made black and white autopsy photo prints at the Secret Service lab.

* Dr. Robert Karnei, who viewed and assisted with the autopsy, told the ARRB he clearly remembered that a photo was taken showing a probe inserted into the body. No such photo is to be found in the autopsy photos in evidence.

* Another new witness discovered by the ARRB is John Van Hoesen. Van Hoesen was a mortician who was present when Robinson reconstructed the skull. He told the ARRB he saw an "orange-sized" hole in the back of the head. Incidentally, Robinson himself told the HSCA he very clearly recalled seeing a large wound in the back of the skull, and he even diagrammed the wound for the HSCA interviewer. Robinson, of course, not only saw this wound for a prolonged period of time, but he also HANDLED it. Is anyone going to seriously suggest that Robinson "confused" this wound for a wound that was "really" above the right ear?! (The current lone-gunman theory posits, and the extant autopsy photos show, a large wound above the right ear.

* Yet another new witness is Earl McDonald, who was a medical photographer at Bethesda Naval Hospital. McDonald trained under Stringer, in fact. McDonald told the ARRB that at Bethesda he never saw anyone use a metal brace like the one seen holding the head in the autopsy photos. Other medical technicians at the autopsy have made similar observations, i.e., that the background in the autopsy photos doesn't show the autopsy room at Bethesda.

* X-ray technician Jerrol Custer, who was present at the autopsy and assisted with the autopsy x-rays, testified to the ARRB that he was certain he took x-rays of the C3/C4 region of the neck and that those x-rays showed numerous fragments. Custer added that he suspected the reason those x-rays disappeared was that they showed a large number of bullet fragments. Custer has a point. Why else would those x-rays have been suppressed?

* Custer told the ARRB that he saw a large bullet fragment fall from the back when the body was lifted for the taking of x-rays.

* Custer further told the ARRB that he wanted to put his personal marker on the x-rays during the autopsy, so as to be able to identify them, but that he was unable to mark all of them because a senior military officer ordered him to stop marking them.

Interested readers can read this information in the released documents themselves, which are available from the National Archives. Or, they can read an excellent summary of those documents in the appendix to the new edition of Harrison Livingstone's best-selling book HIGH TREASON: THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK AND THE CASE FOR CONSPIRACY. Livingstone quotes heavily from the newly released documents, and provides reproductions of some of them in his appendices.

Some of the sources for the information above include the following::

- HSCA deposition of Robert Knudsen, August 11, 1978

- ARRB deposition of Gloria Knudsen. October 8, 1996

- ARRB deposition of Robert Karnei, May 21, 1996

- ARRB depositions of Joe O'Donnell, January 29 and February 28, 1992

- ARRB deposition of John Stringer, July 16, 1996

- ARRB deposition of John Van Hoesen, September 26, 1996

- ARRB deposition of Earl McDonald, May 14, 1996

- ARRB deposition of Jerrol Custer, October 28, 1997

Francis O'Neill

We read in the recently released ARRB medical evidence interviews that former FBI agent Francis O'Neill told the ARRB that the large head wound was "a massive wound" that was located in the back of the head (Deposition of Francis X. O'Neill to the ARRB, September 12, 1997, pp. 69-70). He told ARRB staffer Jeremy Gunn,

O'Neill: . . . you could not miss this wound here in the head.

Gunn: Again, you're pointing to the back of your head?

O'Neill: Yes. It was--it was a massive wound. (Deposition, pp. 69-70).

Agent O'Neill, it should be remembered, got a close-up, prolonged look at the president's wounds during the autopsy.

We now have further evidence that President Kennedy's back wound was well below the neck, much lower than where Dr. Humes placed it for the Warren Commission. The low location for the back wound refutes the single-bullet theory, among other things. The recently released ARRB autopsy witness interviews contain numerous important disclosures and confirmations. Let us turn our attention to Francis O'Neill's comments on the back wound and on Dr. Boswell's relocation of the back wound. O'Neill, of course, got a close-up, prolonged look at the body during the autopsy.

O'Neill was asked about his 1-10-78 HSCA wound diagram, in which he placed the wound well below the base of the neck (the diagram can be seen on page 349 of Livingstone's KILLING KENNEDY AND THE HOAX OF THE CENTURY). He replied that he stood by the diagram, that the location he marked was accurate to the best of his recollection (Deposition of Francis X. O'Neill to the ARRB, September 12, 1997, pp. 104-107). Indeed, O'Neill said the wound was absolutely no higher than where he marked it on his diagram! Here is a part of his exchange with ARRB counsel Jeremy Gunn--O'Neill's HSCA diagram is referred to as Exhibit 86:

Gunn: If you were to make marks today or attempt to indicate where your understanding is of the wounds to the body, would you make them substantially different from the ones that appear on Exhibit 86?

O'Neill: No, no. My recollection would be just as good then. In fact--well, just as good then as it is now. To the best of my recollection, these are [correct]--once again--approximate.

Gunn: Sure, understood.


Gunn: And you're referring to the shoulder wound [when you say nothing up higher]--?

O'Neill: Yes.

Gunn: -- when you say "nothing up higher"?

O'Neill: IF ANYTHING, [the wound was] LOWER. BUT CERTAINLY NOTHING HIGHER THAN THAT. (Deposition, pp. 107-108, emphasis added)

O'Neill was then asked why he had told the HSCA that he disagreed with Dr. Boswell's depiction of the back wound for the HSCA (in that depiction, Dr. Boswell located the wound markedly higher than he had on the original autopsy face sheet). Here's part of the Gunn-O'Neill exchange on this issue:

Gunn: Could you explain to me what your recollection is of that, or to what you were referring with that statement [his abovementioned statement to the HSCA]?

O'Neill: Because I had heard--I had seen, supposedly, drawings from some publication where Boswell made drawings or alluded to the bullet wound in the back not actually in the back, but in the back of the neck. And I disagreed with that thoroughly. (Deposition, p. 111).

So when Boswell claimed the back wound was not in the back but rather in the back of the neck, O'Neill "disagreed with that thoroughly."

O'Neill was then asked to examine Exhibit No. 159, on which Boswell had relocated the back wound to a spot on the back of the neck. O'Neill said in reply, ". . . naturally, I would disagree with that," adding the following:

O'Neill: But I can't understand why he [Boswell] would do something like that, really, BECAUSE THAT'S NOT WHERE IT WAS IN ANY SIZE, SHAPE, OR FORM-FASHION. (Deposition, p. 114, emphasis added)

So, we now have another very solid, emphatic witness that the back wound was where Boswell ORIGINALLY marked it on the autopsy face sheet. And, as most of us know, this low location, which rules out the single-bullet theory, is supported by the holes in the back of Kennedy's shirt and coat, by the death certificate, by the 1/27/64 WC transcript, by Special Agent (SA) Clint Hill's description of the wound, by SA Glen Bennett's description of the wound, by SA Roy Kellerman's 8-24-77 HSCA wound diagram, by SA James Sibert's 8-25-77 HSCA wound diagram, and by the accounts of medical assistants at the autopsy.

James Sibert

The following is a brief summary of key points from James Sibert's deposition to the ARRB. Sibert is a former FBI agent who witnessed the unloading of the body from the casket and who witnessed the autopsy from a distance of a few feet.

* Sibert said he doubted the single-bullet theory (SBT) because the back wound was just too low on the back for it to be possible (Deposition of James W. Sibert to ARRB, September 11, 1997, pp. 161-162). He added that another reason he doubted the SBT was what he saw when the pathologists probed the back wound (Deposition, p. 162).

* Sibert unequivocally placed the back wound BELOW the scapula, i.e., below the top of the shoulder blade (Deposition, pp. 74-75, 114, 161-162).

* Sibert said the autopsy pathologists determined that the back wound had no point of exit (Deposition, pp. 110-112, 118-119).

* Sibert said that the placement of the back wound below the scapula was both what he saw and that it was "the first location that Humes gave us," i.e., that that was the location Humes gave for the wound during the autopsy (Deposition, pp. 161-162). (It should be noted that that location agrees with the location given for the wound on the autopsy face sheet.)

* Sibert noted that the back wound location's matched the holes in the back of the president's shirt and coat, and he rejected the theory that the shirt and coat bunched-up high enough to account for the location of the clothing holes, observing that the shirt would not have moved markedly even if Kennedy had raised his arm and that the president's back brace would have helped to hold the shirt in place (Deposition, p. 162).

* Sibert said there were a lot of high-ranking military officers at the autopsy, that the autopsy room was crowded, and that it was fairly noisy (Deposition, pp. 76-77, 152).

* Sibert said there was no visible damage on the head forward of the right ear (Deposition, pp. 67-68). This is in sharp contrast to the autopsy photos.

* Sibert said the large head wound was in the right-rear part of the head (Deposition, pp. 65-72). He said his 8-25-77 wound diagram for the HSCA made the wound somewhat too small and that the wound was "a little" to the right of where he placed it in that diagram (Deposition, pp. 70-71). In the diagram he placed the wound squarely in the middle of the back of the head (see Livingstone, KILLING KENNEDY AND THE HOAX OF THE CENTURY, p. 344). Sibert said it was a little larger than that and a little more to the right of the midline (Deposition, p. 71).

* Sibert said the alleged autopsy photo of the back of the head (which shows the back of the head intact) did not "at all" match his recollection of the wound, and he speculated that for this photo scalp had been pulled over the large defect (Deposition, pp. 126-128).

* Sibert said he did not remember seeing the metal stirrup that is seen to support Kennedy's head in some of the autopsy photos (Deposition, p. 122).

* With regard to Humes's statement at the start of the autopsy that it was apparent there had been surgery to the head, Sibert said that was exactly what Humes said, and that at no point during the autopsy did Humes retract or qualify that statement (Deposition, pp. 95-96).

Edward Reed

Former Bethesda Naval Hospital x-ray technician Edward Reed told the ARRB that Kennedy's body arrived in a "typical military, aluminum casket" (Deposition of Edward F. Reed to the ARRB, October 21, 1997, pp. 25-26). When counsel asked Reed if he would describe the casket as a ceremonial casket, Reed replied, "No." Asked what kinds of handles the casket had, Reed said, "Just the normal stainless steel handles." (Some have suggested that two caskets were employed in a sort of shell game at Bethesda. Noel Twyman's examines this possibility in his 1997 book BLOODY TREASON.)

John Stringer

We can add John Stringer, who was a photographer at the autopsy, to the list of witnesses who saw an entrance wound right next to the external occipital protuberance (EOP), near the hairline. We read in the recently released ARRB medical interviews that Stringer told the ARRB (1) that the rear head entrance wound was where the autopsy doctors said it was, i.e., near the hairline, next to the EOP, and (2) that the supposed image of a higher entry wound on the skull was NOT the entrance wound he saw on the night of the autopsy (indeed, Stringer denied this image is that of a bullet wound) (Deposition of John T. Stringer to the ARRB, July 16, 1996, pp. 193-196). This is important because this is further evidence that the rear head entrance wound could not have been caused by a bullet from the so-called "Oswald sniper's window." In other words, Oswald could not have fired the missile that struck the back of President Kennedy's head.

Another point of interest is that Stringer acknowledged to the ARRB that the extant set of autopsy photos is INCOMPLETE (Deposition, pp. 215-216). Surely WC apologists will finally drop their argument that nothing is missing from the autopsy evidence.

What It All Means

Some thirty years after Kennedy's death, we are finally getting a glimpse into a key phase of the assassination conspiracy, namely, the cover-up. We are also finally getting a pretty clear picture of the true nature of the president's wounds. The new disclosures confirm previous evidence of shots from the front.

One wonders what Warren Commission defenders will say to these disclosures. "Human error"? Was O'Donnell dreaming or mistaken when he said Knudsen showed him photos that showed a large wound in the back of the head? Is it, therefore, just a coincidence that dozens of other witnesses said they saw a large wound in the back of the head? Was O'Donnell dreaming or mistaken when he said he saw a photo that showed an apparent entrance wound in JFK's right temple? Is it just a coincidence, therefore, that initial reports from Parkland Hospital said there was an entrance wound in the right temple? Was Custer dreaming or mistaken when he said he clearly recalled taking photos showing missile fragments in the C3/C4 region of the neck? Was Custer dreaming or mistaken when he recalled seeing a large fragment from the back? Is it, therefore, just a coincidence that there are several other reports of a large fragment or bullet falling from the back or from the body wrappings at some point after the body arrived to the hospital? Was Von Hoesen dreaming or mistaken when he said he saw a large wound in the back of the head? Was he part of the alleged mass hallucination in which trained medical personnel looked at a wound that was "really" above the right ear but "mistakenly" thought they saw it in the back of the skull? Was Knudsen dreaming or mistaken when he told his wife there were autopsy photos missing and that another photo had been altered? And on and on we could go.

At some point, reason and candor must prevail. The "human error" explanation, if it can even be called such, has long since ceased to be credible. There is now powerful, compelling evidence that there was a large wound at the back of the skull, which means the autopsy photos that show the back of the head undamaged are fakes--either the wound was covered with scalp for the purpose of these photos or the photos were simply doctored after the fact. Furthermore, we now have additional evidence that a bullet struck the president in the right temple, just as the initial reports from Parkland Hospital said was the case. It's now clearer than ever that a bare minimum of one shot was fired from the front, and hence that there was a conspiracy.

For more information on what we now know from recleased files, see the following links:





ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and two Associate of Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He is also a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. He has earned instructor certification from both the U.S. Army and the U.S. 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 subject. In addition, he is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts.

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