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September 9, 1998

Medical depositions and evidence on the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy released

 July 31, 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board made available information that it has collected relevant to the medical evidence on the assassination of President John F.Kennedy. The information to be made available includes deposition transcripts of 11 witnesses and one Master Set of Exhibits.

The witnesses whose testimony is being made available, without redaction, are: Dr. J Thornton Boswell, Jerrol F. Custer, Dr. Pierre A. Finck, Robert Groden, Dr. James J. Humes, Frances X. O'Neill, Edward F. Reed, Jr., Floyd A. Riebe, James W. Sibert, Saundra K. Spencer, and John T. Stringer. With the exception of Mr. Groden, all of the witnesses were involved in the creation of records related to the autopsy of President Kennedy. Mr. Groden's testimony pertains to his knowledge about photographic records related to the assassination.

The Review Board followed standard legal procedures in taking the depositions. All depositions were taken under oath and the witnesses were subject to the penalty of perjury. With the exception of Mr. Groden, witnesses were shown the autopsy photographs of President Kennedy that have been identified by the National Archives as the camera-original color transparencies as well as black-and-white prints. The depositions were tape recorded by a court reporter who also transcribed the words as they were spoken. The transcript was subsequently sent to each witness who was, in accordance with standard procedures, afforded the opportunity of making corrections before signing the corrected version of the transcript. The corrections also were made subject to the penalty of perjury. A corrected transcript was thereupon prepared by the court reporter.

Available to the public a copy of its "Master Set of Medical Exhibits." The exhibits were referred to, by exhibit number, throughout the depositions and they provide a useful reference point for persons reading the transcripts. The majority of the exhibits are records that have long been in the public domain, although some new records are included as well. Some exhibit numbers refer to entire deposition transcripts. In such instances, only the title page of the exhibit is included." July 31, 1998


Assassination Records Review Board writes:

"Among the several shortcomings regarding the disposition of the autopsy records, the following points illustrate the problem.

  • First, there has been confusion and uncertainty as to whether the principal autopsy prosector, Dr. James J. Humes, destroyed the original draft of the autopsy report or if he destroyed notes taken at the time of the autopsy.
  • Second, the autopsy measurements were frequently imprecise and sometimes inexplicably absent.
  • Third, the prosectors were not shown the original autopsy photographs by the Warren Commission, nor were they asked enough detailed questions about the autopsy or the photographs.
  • Forth, the persons handling the autopsy records did not create a complete and contemporaneous accounting of the number of photographs nor was a proper chain of custody established for all of the autopsy materials.
  • Fifth, when Dr. Humes was shown some copies of autopsy photographs during his testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he made statements that were interpreted as suggesting that he had revised his original opinion significantly on the location of the entrance wound. These shortcomings should have been remedied shortly after the assassination while memories were fresh and records were more readily recoverable.

The Review Boards' search for records there upon extended to conducting informal interviews of numerous witnesses, taking depositions under oath of the principal persons who created the autopsy records, and arranging for the digitizing of the autopsy photographs. Most of the reports are included in the Master Set of Exhibits that was released on July 31st, 1998 and are available for purchase through JFK Lancer Resource Mail Order /ddi/index.html/ or email jfklancr@flash.net. The remainder will be available to the public upon the transfer of the Review Board's files to the National Archives in September 1998.

Autopsy Photographs Digitized--Additional Photos Found

There were many notable successes resulting from the Board's work a few of which may briefly be mentioned here. With the generous and public-spirited cooperation of Kodak, the National Archives, the FBI, and a representative of the Kennedy family, the Review Board was able to provide secure transportation to ship the autopsy photographs to Rochester, New York, to be digitized on the best digital scanner in the world. The digitized images will be capable of further enhancement as technology and science advance. The digitizing should also provide assistance to those who wish to pursue the question whether the autopsy photographs were altered.The Review Board also was able to identify additional latent autopsy photographs on a roll of film that had (inaccurately) been described as 'exposed.' Again with the generous cooperation of Kodak, the latent photographs were digitized and enhanced for further evaluation. These digitized records have already been transferred to the JFK Collection at the National Archives.


New witnesses and new revelations:

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 statements.





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 by him.

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."



Drawing of the wound by FBI Agent Francis
X. O'Neill showing the wound in the back
of the head--not the top as shown in the
official autopsy photos and drawings.

bluebulmore from O'Neill and his partner

bluebulmore medical evidence



bluediamondNews Stories: (these links may not be current)

July 31, 1998 Second set of autopsy photographs confirmed, but whereabouts unknown http://www.msnbc.com/news/184676.asp

August 2, 1998 George Lardner Jr., Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/digest/nat1.htm





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