JULY 31, 18:18 EDT
Kennedy Autopsy Methods Questioned
By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) New testimony released Friday about the autopsy on John F. Kennedy says a second set of pictures was taken of Kennedy's wounds pictures never made public.
The existence of additional photographs believed taken by White House photographer Robert L. Knudsen during or after the autopsy at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. raised new questions about how the autopsy was conducted, a subject of intense debate for 35 years.
But the new evidence sheds no light on the whereabouts of the second set of pictures.
Kennedy was killed Nov. 22, 1963. The following year, a commission chaired by then-Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded the killer was Lee Harvey Oswald and that he acted alone and was not part of a conspiracy. That conclusion has been challenged ever since.
``One of the many tragedies of the assassination of President Kennedy has been the incompleteness of the autopsy record and the suspicion caused by the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded the records that do exist,'' said the Assassination Records Review Board, which made the new testimony public.
The board, created by Congress to collect all pertinent records concerning Kennedy's murder, said the doctors who conducted the autopsy may have had the best of intentions protecting the privacy of the Kennedy family. But ``the legacy of such secrecy ultimately has caused distrust and suspicion,'' the board said.
One set of autopsy photographs, now at the National Archives, has been known to exist for years, and some of the pictures have been widely published. But the new testimony documents the existence of another set.
In 1997, the review board located Saundra K. Spencer, who worked at the Naval Photographic Center in 1963. She was shown the archives' autopsy photos and concluded they were not the pictures she had helped process.
Those she had worked with, she said, had ``no blood or opening cavities.'' They were ``quite reverent in how they handled it,'' she said.
She theorized that a second photographer took pictures of a cleaned-up corpse and speculated that was done at the request of the Kennedy family in case autopsy pictures had to be made public. ``The only thing I can think of is that a second set of autopsy pictures was shot for public release, if necessary.''
The film was brought in, she said, by an agent she believed was with the FBI. ``When he gave us the material to process, he said that they had been shot at Bethesda and they were autopsy pictures.''
She was told, she said: ``Process them and try not to observe too much, don't peruse.''
Knudsen's widow, Gloria, told the review board that her husband told her that photographing the dead president was ``the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his life.''
He appeared before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which in the late 1970s reopened the official investigation into the killings of both Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and his widow said he later told her that four or five of the pictures the committee showed him did not represent what he saw or photographed that night and that one of them had been altered.
``His son Bob said that his father told him that 'hair had been drawn in' on one photo to conceal a missing portion of the top-back of President Kennedy's head,'' according to a review board memo about a meeting with Knudsen's family.
Gerald Posner, author of ``Case Closed,'' a 1993 book that argues that the Warren Commission's central conclusion that Oswald alone killed Kennedy is correct, though the new information was important and would ``give grist to the conspiracy theorists for the next two generations.''
``There's such controversy over the wounds on President Kennedy and the discussion over what the autopsy doctors have discussed and said and what the autopsy photos show that the existence of any additional photographs could be significant,'' he said.
Added David Lifton, author of ``Best Evidence,'' a 1981 book concerning medical evidence about the assassination, ``It's of tremendous significance that there's another camera and its existence and its product have been concealed all these years,' Lifton said. ``We've got a credible paper trail about another camera and film but no pictures.''
1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved.