New witnesses and
On another front, through painstaking staff efforts, the Review
Board was able to locate a new witness, Ms.
Saundra Spencer, who worked at the Naval Photographic
Center in 1963. she was interviewed by phone and then brought
to Washington where her deposition was taken under oath in the
presence of the autopsy photographs. Ms.
Spencer testified that she developed post-mortem photographs
of President Kennedy in November 1963.
In another deposition under oath, Dr. Humes, one of the three
autopsy prosectors, finally acknowledged under persistent questioning--in
testimony that differs from what he told the Warren Commission--that
he had destroyed both his notes taken at
the autopsy and the first draft of the autopsy report.
Autopsy prosector Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, in an effort to
clarify the imprecision in the autopsy materials, marked on an
anatomically correct plastic skull his best recollection of the
nature of the wounds on the President's cranium.
The autopsy photographer, Mr. John Stringer, in painstaking
and detailed testimony, explained the photographic procedures
he followed at the autopsy and he raised
some questions about whether the supplemental brain photographs
he took are those that are now in the National Archives.
Photography assistant changes testimony on photos:
His former assistant, Mr. Floyd Riebe, who had earlier told
several researchers that the autopsy photographs had been altered
based on his examination of photographs that have been circulating
in the public domain, re-evaluated his earlier opinion when shown
the actual photographs at the National Archives.
For the first time, in the presence of the original color
transparencies and sometimes first-generation black and white
prints, the witnesses were asked questions about the authenticity
of the photographs, the completeness of the autopsy records,
the apparent gaps in the records, and any additional information
in their possession regarding the medical evidence.
The witnesses came from as far away as Switzerland (Dr. Pierre
Fink) and as close as Maryland (Dr. Boswell). The questions were
placed to the personnel in a straightforward but pointed manner.
There was no attempt made to trick the witnesses, although they
were asked questions, when appropriate, about prior inconsistent
A cold paper trail, faded memories, and the unreliability
of eyewitness testimony:
There were three closely related problems that seriously impeded
the Review Board's efforts to complete the documentary record
surrounding the autopsy: a cold paper trail, faded memories,
and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. An example of
the cold paper trail comes from Admiral George Burkley, who was
President Kennedy's military physician and the only medical doctor
who was present both during emergency treatment at Parkland Memorial
Hospital and at the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital. In the
late 1970's, at the time of the HSCA's investigation, Dr.
Burkley, through his attorney, suggested that he might have some
additional information about the autopsy. Because Dr.
Burkley is now deceased, the Review Board sought additional information
both from his former lawyer's firm and from Dr. Burkley's family.
None agreed to supply any additional information.
Memories, of course, fade over time. A very important figure
in the chain-of-custody on the autopsy materials, and the living
person who perhaps more than any other would have been able to
resolve some of the lingering questions related to the disposition
of the original autopsy materials, is Robert Bouck of the Secret
Service. At the time he was interviewed he was quite elderly
and little able to remember the important details. Similarly,
the records show that Mr. Carl Belcher, formerly of the Department
of Justice, played an important role in preparing the inventory
of autopsy records. He was, however, unable to identify or illuminate
the records that, on their face, appear to have been written
Finally, a significant problem that is well known to trial
lawyers, judges, and psychologists, is the unreliability of eyewitnesses
testimony. Witnesses frequently, and inaccurately, believe that
they have a vivid recollection of events. Psychologists and scholars
have long-since demonstrated the serious unreliability of peoples'
recollections of what they hear and see. One illustration of
this was an interview statement made by one of the treating physicians
at Parkland. He explained that he was in Trauma Room Number 1
with the President. He recounted how he observed the First Lady
wearing a white dress. Of course, she was wearing a pink suit,
a fact known to most Americans. The inaccuracy of this recollection
probably says little about the quality of the doctor's memory,
but it is revealing of how memory works and how cautious one
must be when attempting to evaluate eyewitness testimony.
The deposition transcripts and other medical evidence being
released by the Review Board should be evaluated cautiously and
prudently by the public. Often the witnesses contradict not only
each other, but sometimes themselves. For events that transpired
almost thirty-five years ago, all persons will have failures
of memory. It would be more prudent to weigh all of the evidence,
with due concern for human error, rather than take single statements
as 'proof' for one theory or another.
The Review Board is attempting to respond to public inquiries
regarding the Parkland Hospital medical staff. To the extent
that the Review Board obtains additional relevant information
on medical evidence or the autopsy, it will be released to the
public before September 30, 1998."