Medical Evidence

The Legacy of Prior Investigations Into
the Medical Aspects of JFK'S Death:
Overlooked Leads, Misunderstandings, Misrepresentations,
and Document Suppression

by Gary L. Aguilar, M.D. and Kathy Cunningham

Prior investigations into John F. Kennedy's death concluded that no medical evidence existed that was incompatible with Oswald's sole guilt. The narrow conclusion --- which was premature when originally issued --- now seems untenable in view of the many disquieting disclosures in formally suppressed medical documents. These revelations have stimulated renewed distrust of prior investigations, not only because no "national security" rationale can today be fathomed that would have ever justified the suppression of this kind of evidence, but also because it seems likely some medical evidence was withheld principally because it threatened the sole assassin thesis.

The unfamiliarity of prior investigators with must of the mountainous medical evidence (such as the House Select Committee on Assassins' forensic panelists), and the poor medical backgrounds of those charged with exploring the forensic evidence (Arlen Specter, J.D., D. Andrew Purdy, J.D., etc.) have contributed to an "officially accepted" reconstruction of the President's wounds which is as misleading as it is straightforward. The official medical thesis has it that only two bullets, forensically proven to have originated from above and behind (a claim one of JFK's pathologists would later abandon), killed President Kennedy. One bullet entered Kennedy's back, exiting his throat, and the other blew off the right anterolateral side of his skull. But this Oswald-implicating evidence --- the ambiguous and controversial Zapruder film, the autopsy photographs and X-rays, as well as selected testimony from some experts and witnesses --- is in conflict with other evidence: the autopsy report, contemporaneous autopsy diagrams, and over 40 good eyewitnesses from Parkland Hospital and the morgue. The simple "official." medical solution is anything but that, and it may not be entirely honest.

In the 32 years since the Warren Commission issued its report, there has been a growing awareness accelerated by recent disclosures, that the official single-assassin conclusions were reached only through the misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and suppression of contradictory evidence, the failure to follow-up important medical leads, and perhaps some simple sloppiness as well.

A look at the handling of physician witnesses by Arlen Specter is instructive. These witnesses were prejudiced by being forced to presume as true --- for the purpose of speculating whether Oswald could have done it --- a long list of improbable hypotheses that supported both a lone gunman and the single bullet theory. He also actively sought to encourage Drs. Kemp Clark and Ronald Jones to relocate anteriorly the rearward skull defect they described under oath. And on one occasion, Specter "corrected" a physician's testimony by telling him he was wrong.

Further, both the Commission and the HSCA failed to elicit sworn testimony from key medical witnesses. Among the most unfortunate omissions was Kennedy's White House Physician, Admiral George Burkley --- the only physician present both at Parkland Hospital and the morgue. (In an oral history interview, Burkley broadly hinted that he was unconvinced that only two shots struck the President. A long-sealed HSCA memorandum reveals that he sought to communicate to them that Oswald had not acted alone.

The autopsy report described JFK's skull defect as "parietotemporooccipital" (right-rear area of the head). Such a wound seems unlikely to have been caused by an assassin firing from above, nearly directly behind, and striking the base of the skull 2.5 cm. to the right of midline. No independent forensic expert explored the Oswald-exculpating implications for the Commission. Arlen Specter, the medical counsel, and the rest of the Commissioners, seemed oblivious to them. But JFK's pathologists were not. They submitted an artists' rendition of Kennedy at the presumed moment the fatal bullet struck. It shows the President's head bent very far downward (chin to chest) --- allowing for a bullet descending from above to enter low and still blow out the right rear skull. In the possession of the Warren Commission, ironically, was photographic evidence (Zapruder film, frame 312) demolishing the autopsists' reconstruction --- evidence which was viewed by the pathologists and Mr. Specter before having the drawing prepared. This was not the only instance in which the 1964 investigation was inattentive to material evidence.

The Commission's definitive medical conclusions were derived without having evaluated (either by itself, or by expert consultation) the "hard" evidence --- the autopsy photographs or X-rays. 15 years later the HSCA, concluded that though this "hard" evidence contradicted the autopsy findings, it nonetheless supported Oswald's guilt. For the HSCA to reach this conclusion, however, it relocated the entry wound 100-mm higher on the head than the location given that wound in the autopsy report (a relocation dependent on an interpretation of autopsy photos which the autopsies who took the photos decried). Furthermore, the HSCA did not honestly report its own findings. It suppressed interviews with the pathologists in which they vigorously contested the HSCA's relocation of JFK's skull wound as well as the HSCA's interpretation of the skull photos, and in which they also pointedly referred to missing autopsy photographs that were taken. The HSCA also flatly misrepresented Bethesda witnesses it interviewed. The HSCA claimed Bethesda witnesses disputed Parkland claims JFK had a rear skull defect, but that they agreed with photographs showing only a forward defect on the right side of JFK's skull. The suppressed interviews themselves, now released, reveal that Bethesda witnesses unanimously supported Parkland claims of a rear defect, and mad no comment whatsoever about the photographs.

Questions regarding the completeness of the autopsy photographic inventory are not new. A memorandum from LBJ suggested that JFK's pathologists were encouraged to sing an affidavit (prepared by the Justice Department that the photographic record was complete. Subsequent to their attestation, all of the pathologists, and both known photographers, claimed photos were taken that they never saw again, and some of these claims were suppressed by the HSCA. As had the pathologists' false attestations in 1967, the HSCA's selective document release had the effect in 1978 of muting suspicions regarding the photographic record, especially after HSCA-chosen experts declared the extant autopsy photographs authentic. Few references to an incomplete photographic record were released.

One of the most fascinating examples of this type of HSCA document suppression is the testimony of White House photographer Robert Knudsen, who processed the film after the autopsy. Knudsen advised D. Andrew Purdy, JD, that he clearly recalled seeing one, and perhaps tow, now non-existent images - images whose taking was independent confirmed in the testimonies of other morgue witnesses. In potential support of Knudsen is the ignored --- yet suppressed --- testimony that suggests that there may have been another, as yet unidentified photographer taking photos in the morgue. (This possibility has also been reported in a book by Michael Baden, M.D., the head of the forensic panel.)

Photographs may not be the only missing autopsy evidence. While the Warren Commission suggested that it had all of the notes taken at autopsy, Pierre Finck, M.D. told the HSCA that he too had taken notes. These notes are not in the record. Despite Finck's intimation he had recreated a copy of these notes for his own files, and the fact that the notes that are in evidence contain points that are at odds with the autopsy protocol, the HSCA failed to request Finck's notes.

Had unbiased medical authorities [been] enlisted in 1964 to thoroughly explore the labyrinthine medical evidence, there might have been little need in 1996 for the Assassinations Records Review Board to be seeking sworn testimony, and other evidence, to resolve contradictory evidence left unexplored and unexplained.

JAMA Distortions: Playing Fast and Loose
with the Medical Evidence

by Dr. Charles Crenshaw, Press Kit Handout

  1. The May 27, 1992, issue of the [Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA] contains two major articles dealing with medical evidence in the death of President John F. Kennedy.

  2. Both these articles offer "proof' that President Kennedy was shot twice from the rear-once in the back of the head and once in the shoulder/neck area, with this bullet emerging through the President's throat.

  3. The findings "prove," according to the articles, that there was no conspiracy in the JFK case. A single assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, fired these two shots.

  4. The articles include interviews with Drs. James I. Humes and I. Thornton Boswell, who (along with Army pathologist Pierre Finck) performed an autopsy on Kennedy at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. Both Humes and Boswell vigorously reaffirm their original autopsy findings and ridicule those who insist that Kennedy was shot from the front. The two men insist that Dr. Humes was in charge of the autopsy, no others interfered, and that this was "the least secret autopsy in history."

  5. Dr. George Lundberg, editor of JAMA and a military pathologist, announced these findings at a press conference on May 19. He derided conspiracy theorists as persons motivated by "paranoia" or "profits," and declared that all intelligent persons should consider the medical issues now closed.

  6. The articles (and Dr. Lundberg) also attack Dr. Charles Crenshaw, a Fort Worth surgeon. In his book JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, Dr. Crenshaw, who was present in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital soon after JFK was brought in just minutes after being shot, has asserted that Kennedy was hit twice from the front-that he saw an entrance wound in the front of Kennedy's throat and a large explosive exit wound in the occipital area at the back of the President's head.

  7. The second article is drawn from interviews with other Parkland doctors who were present in the emergency room They dispute Crenshaw's claims and question his motives. With but one position, the four Parkland doctors interviewed insist that what they saw in the emergency room is not in conflict with the autopsy report or the photographs and X-rays which were taken to document the autopsy findings.

  8. The AA article is filled with untruths, distortions and misrepresentations. Much of it is in conduct with official records, including sworn testimony. The JAMA article is the result of shoddy research and editing and is intellectually dishonest.

  9. This is a summary of the JAMA articles which are relevant to the personal observations and research of Charles A. Crenshaw, M.D. It is intended as a guide for those who are concerned about the content of the JAMA article.

  10. All statements made in this summary are taken from official documents--from the Warren Commission Hearings and Report, from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, from FBI andor Secret Service documents, from taped interviews with the principals, and from sworn court testimony. There is no material taken from the writings of so-called "conspiracy buffs." The official version of the shooting of JFK is refuted by the official documents available in the case.


  1. The Parkland doctors described a large wound in the back of the head, damage to the cerebellum and an entrance wound in the throat ALL OF THESE ARE CONTRADICTORY TO THE FINDINGS OF THE BETHESDA AUTOPSY.

  2. The other Parkland doctors' descriptions of the head wound, cerebellum, and throat wound are consistent with those of Dr. Crenshaw, whom they now attack for insisting that Kennedy was shot from the front.

  3. What about the allegation that President Lyndon Johnson called the Parkland operating room while Oswald was being treated there at mid-day on Sunday?

    1. Dr. Charles Baxter has said, "Did that happen? Heavens no. Imagine that, the President of the United States personally calls for Charles Crenshaw." Crenshaw was then told to try to get the accused to confess before he expired.

    2. Crenshaw never claimed that LBJ called for him. He asserted in his book that Johnson called the operating room and a nurse tapped him on the shoulder as one of the doctors in the room.

    3. Support for Crenshaw's claim has come from other sources:

      1. ABC-TV examined Johnson's log and found that he conferred with Attorney General Robert Kennedy just after Oswald was shot. Historian William Manchester writes that Johnson said, "We've got to get involved; we've got to do something."

      2. Dallas neurosurgeon Phillip Earle Williams, who was also present in the operating room while Oswald was there, says there was a White House phone call, whether from the President or an aide. Williams says he has told people of the call for years.

      3. More surprising is that Dr. Charles Baxter made this statement and was not even at Parkland Hospital that day.

      4. FBI Statement: 11/24/63 - 12:18 C.S.T. - Rose to Belmont, 11-24-63, 1:18 E.S.T., number 62-10960 Rosen ordered by Hoover to get a man to Parkland to get a statement from the accused assassin. Rosen states he contacted Sorrels who said an agent was already there for that purpose. Document available from Paul Hoch.

      5. Dr. Shires refuses to confirm or deny. (Dallas Morning News, 4/9/92)

Shortly following the appearance of this newest attack on Dr. Crenshaw's credibility, his office was contacted by former longtime chief operator of the Dallas County Hospital District, Phyllis Bartlett. Ms. Bartlett tells the Doctor's secretary that she is "tired" of the "bashing" being given the doctor by the press and some of the other Parkland doctors, and confirms that the phone call from a man speaking in a loud voice and identifying himself as President Lyndon B. Johnson did in fact occur. Her recollection of the incident is as follows:

Bartlett, after being on duty constantly following the President's shooting the previous day, had finally gone to her home on Saturday night for some much-needed rest. Upon arising on Sunday morning, she had just washed and rolled her hair when the call came in to her from Parkland Hospital that Oswald had been shot and was being brought in to Parkland's emergency room She was living in Irving at the time, and alter hurriedly dressing, she jumped into her car and headed toward the hospital. A short distance from her home she spotted a police car, flagged it down, and requested the officer to escort her to the hospital. Her request was granted -and she arrived very quickly at the hospital.

Bartlett vividly recalls the phone call as described by Dr. Crenshaw. The-caller, she says, was a male speaking in a loud voice, and identifying himself as President Johnson. He demanded to speak with someone now present in the operating room with Oswald. Thinking that this was indeed the new President, therefore a call important enough to connect, she immediately rang the operating room and requested one of the surgeons take the call. Until Dr. Crenshaw's story surfaced she had never known which doctor had taken the call. Her reason for never having spoken of the incident was twofold. One, she had not considered the call unusual under the circumstances, and, secondly, because she felt that there was a possibility that the call might be a prank, she had remained on the line for a short period after connecting the call-an act which was against hospital policy.

Ms. Bartlett also explains why the line went dead as Dr. Crenshaw describes. She had disconnected the call in an attempt to transfer the call to a newly set-up public relations [office], feeling upon reflection that that office might be in a better position to handle such a call.

Footnote: Bartlett had been with Parkland Hospital for 14 years (1954-1968) when she was suddenly and inexplicably relieved of her duties and her position as chief operator given to the wife of a Dallas FBI Agent. The timing of this, during the height of the Garrison investigation, may only be coincidental. However, it would not be unusual for the FBI to place an informant in, or near, such a key position, in order to gather information during such a time.

Ms. Bartlett wrote a letter to the Dallas Morning News on July 15, 1992 voicing her dismay at the treatment given Dr. Crenshaw in the article. She wrote:

July 15,1992
Letters from Readers
Dallas Morning News
Dallas, Texas

People who have never been to Texas have been writing articles and books for years, (making lots of money) on what happened in Dallas and Parkland Hospital November 2, 1963. Now we have a man who writes the facts as he witnessed them, and some writers, who do not have enough initiative to do their research thoroughly, want to call it a pack of lies.

I refer to the review by Larry Sutherland, Dallas Morning News, June 28th, of Dr. Crenshaw's book, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence.

There are still people who have not come forward yet, that could have helped Mr. Sutherland get his facts straight had he bothered to check.

There very definitely was a phone call from a man with a loud voice, who identified himself as Lyndon Johnson, and he was connected to the operating. room phone during Oswald's surgery.

Phyllis Bartlett(s) Chief Telephone Operator at
Parkland Hospital, 1954- 1968

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