Josiah Thompson’s Response to Popkin’s The Second Oswald
The New York Review of Books
, 6 October 1966, pages 29–30

To the Editors:
    Permit me to bolster R. H. Popkin’s brilliant reconstruction of the Kennedy assassination (July 28) by adding to his account certain facts which have just recently come to light.
(a) Commission Exhibit 399—Popkin states that “there is no evidence that the Commission could obtain anything like pristine No. 399 in any of its tests.” Actually, there is one test performed by the Commission which did produce two bullets virtually identical with 399. In order to get control rounds for use in ballistics comparison tests Special Agent Frazier test-fired two bullets from Oswald’s rifle (3:437). Although Frazier indicates only that he test-fired the rifle to get these rounds, it is standard ballistics practice to obtain such rounds by firing into a long tube of cotton waste. When we look at the two bullets so produced (Commission Exhibit 572; 17:258), we find they appear to be virtually identical with 399. Although the Commission appears not to have realized it, a test had been performed which indicated quite clearly that 399 was a plant, that its most likely source was the test-firing of Oswald’s gun into cotton.
(b) The Autopsy Report—The disparity between the final autopsy report and the FBI reports of Dec. 9th and January 13th is explained as due to a reconstruction of the wounds by the autopsy doctors on November 23rd and 24th. Since FBI agents were not present at these subsequent conferences, the FBI was naturally ignorant of the reconstruction. Such an explanation seems plausible only as long as there is no substantive discrepancy between what the FBI observers say they saw at the autopsy, and what the doctors later report. Such a discrepancy emerges from an examination of the report on the autopsy submitted by the two FBI agents who were present.
This report is entitled “Autopsy of Body of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”* Five pages single-spaced, it was dictated by Agents Francis X. O’Neill and James W. Sibert on 26 November 1963. The following citation gives the salient characteristics of Kennedy’s wounds as they were observed by agents O’Neill and Sibert:

    Upon completion of X-Rays and photographs, the first incision was made at 8:15 p.m. X-Rays of the brain area which were developed and returned to the autopsy room disclosed a path of a missile which appeared to enter the back of the skull and the path of disintegrated fragments could be observed along the right side of the skull. The largest section of this missile as portrayed by X-Ray appeared to be behind the right frontal sinus. The next largest fragment appeared to be at the rear of the skull at the juncture of the skull bone.
The Chief Pathologist advised approximately 40 particles of disintegrated bullet and smudges indicated that the projectile had fragmentized while passing through the skull region.
During the autopsy inspection of the area of the brain, two fragments of metal were removed by Dr. HUMES, namely, one fragment measuring 7 x 2 millimeters, which was removed from the right side of the brain. An additional fragment of metal measuring 1 x 3 millimeters was also removed from this area, both of which were placed in a glass jar containing a black metal top which were thereafter marked for identification and following the signing of a proper receipt were transported by Bureau agents to the FBI Laboratory.
During the latter stages of this autopsy, Dr. HUMES located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column.
This opening was probed by Dr. HUMES with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. Further probing determined that the distance traveled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger.
Inasmuch as no complete bullet of any size could be located in the brain area and likewise no bullet could be located in the back or any other area of the body as determined by total body X-Rays and inspection revealing there was no point of exit, the individuals performing the autopsy were at a loss to explain why they could find no bullets.
A call was made by Bureau agents to the Firearms Section of the FBI Laboratory, at which time SA CHARLES L. KILLION advised that the Laboratory had received through Secret Service Agent RICHARD JOHNSON a bullet which had reportedly been found on a stretcher in the emergency room of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas. This stretcher had also contained a stethoscope and pair of rubber gloves. Agent JOHNSON had advised the Laboratory that it had not been ascertained whether or not this was the stretcher which had been used to transport the body of President KENNEDY. Agent KILLION further described this bullet as pertaining to a 6.5 millimeter rifle which would be approximately a 25 caliber rifle and that this bullet consisted of a copper alloy full jacket.
Immediately following receipt of this information, this was made available to Dr. HUMES who advised that in his opinion this accounted for no bullet being located which had entered the back region and that since external cardiac massage had been performed at Parkland Hospital, it was entirely possible that through such movement the bullet had worked its way back out of the point of entry and had fallen on the stretcher.
Also during the latter stages of the autopsy, a piece of the skull measuring 10 x 6.5 centimeters was brought to Dr. HUMES who was instructed that this had been removed from the President’s skull. Immediately this section of skull was X-Rayed, at which time it was determined by Dr. HUMES that one corner of this section revealed minute metal particles and inspection of this same area disclosed a chipping of the top portion of this piece, both of which indicated that this had been the point of exit of the bullet entering the skull region.
On the basis of the latter two developments, Dr. HUMES stated that the pattern was clear that the one bullet had entered the President’s back and had worked its way out of the body during external cardiac massage and that a second high velocity bullet had entered the rear of the skull and had fragmentized prior to exit through the top of the skull. He further pointed out that X-Rays had disclosed numerous fractures in the cranial area which he attributed to the force generated by the impact of the bullet in its passage through the brain area. He attributed the death of the President to a gunshot wound in the head.

    On the basis of these observations by O’Neill and Sibert a host of questions must be directed to the doctors who signed the final, undated autopsy report:
(1) How does a wound “below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the spinal column” become the neck wound pictured in Commission Exhibits 385 and 386?
(2) How does a wound whose terminus “could be felt with the finger” become a transit wound with its exit in the President’s throat? Surely to “reconstruct” a wound in this fashion is to falsify it.
(3) What happened to what O’Neill and Sibert describe as “the next largest fragment” which they located “at the rear of the skull at the juncture of the skull bone”? Nowhere in the autopsy report or in the testimony of any of the autopsy doctors do we find mention of this bullet fragment in the President’s skull. This is a significant omission since the location of such a fragment might prove difficult to resolve with the official theory of a hit in the right occipital region exiting through the roof of the skull.
(4) Why does O’Neill and Sibert’s fully detailed report contain no mention of the small entry hole in the back of the President’s head? In testimony before the Commission (2:352), Dr. Humes indicated that this wound had been examined in detail. He described its measurements as 6 by 15 millimeters, located it as “2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance,” and told how the scalp had been reflected and the underlying bone examined. How is it possible that O’Neill and Sibert simply missed this important wound and its meticulous examination by Dr. Humes? When we pursue the matter of this head wound we find that O’Neill and Sibert were not alone in failing to notice it. For when we examine the testimony of the Dallas doctors and nurses together with that of the Secret Service and FBI agents who witnessed the autopsy (with the exception of an ambiguous answer from Roy Kellerman) no one except the three doctors who signed the autopsy report claim to have seen this entry hole in the President’s head. Does it exist? I don’t know. But there is a miraculously simple way to find out. The government need only produce the 11 X-Rays, 22 color photos, and 18 black and white prints which O’Neill and Sibert report were taken during the autopsy.

Josiah Thompson

Department of Philosophy
Haverford College
Haverford, Pennsylvania

* This report bears the Commission File Number CD-7 and FBI file numbers 89-30. It was discovered in the National Archives by Mr. Paul Hoch of Berkeley, California.

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