Did Someone Alter the Medical Evidence?

By Fred T. Newcombe and Perry Adams
, Issue No. 9, September/October 1975, pages 24 ff.

The Warren Commission’s most serious error…and a hypothesis that can be tested


When Warren Commission members relied on the Bethesda autopsy report and testimony of the autopsy physicians instead of examining the evidence themselves, they made what may be their most serious mistake. In doing so, they failed to resolve dramatic conflicts between the doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and those at Bethesda Naval Hospital. These contradictions either discredit or implicate some of the doctors, or point to a conspiracy by others to alter President Kennedy’s wounds, thus eliminating evidence which could have led to the assassination conspirators themselves.

Perry Adams, editor of Probe, an investigative newspaper in Santa Barbara, and Fred T. Newcombe of Van Nuys, California, an advertising art director, have devoted nine years of independent study to their theory, which they explain and document in their manuscript, Murder from Within (1974). In this article, they discuss the core of their theory—the evidence that the President’s wounds were altered—and show how their conclusions can be put to a simple test.

    President John F. Kennedy once said, “Before my term has ended, we shall have tested anew whether a nation organized and governed such as ours can endure. The outcome is by no means certain. The answers are by no means clear.”
    He was far more prophetic than he imagined. The nation was tested severely in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and in the years that followed. The outcome is by no means certain, not as long as the threat remains that our government can be changed by bullets and the truth concealed from the public. And the myriad questions posed by the events of that day have never been satisfactorily answered.
    The Warren Commission was supposed to have settled the matter. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President and that there was no evidence of a conspiracy. But after years of intensive study and investigation, innumerable critics and independent researchers contend that there must have been at least one other gunman and therefore a conspiracy of some sort to assassinate the President. Such theories usually have resulted from closely reasoned challenges to the Commission’s findings that there were just three shots, all from Oswalds’ rifle.
    Our research indicates that the Commission’s findings are vulnerable in another important respect, and that by inference, the presumption of a conspiracy to assassinate is even more compelling. It is possible to follow a trail of evidence and testimony which leads inescapably to the conclusion that there must have been a conspiracy to alter the most important single piece of evidence—the President’s body—and thus disguise the nature and origin of his wounds.
    Support for this conclusion comes from the Warren Commission’s hearings and exhibits. Verification lies in the National Archives; it is necessary only for the right people to see certain evidence.

Conflicting Medical Reports

    One of the Warren Commission’s most serious errors is that it failed, as the Journal of Forensic Sciences put it, to “…attempt to establish a chain of evidence to discover whether or not the body arrived at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in largely the same condition as it left Dallas (as any court would be required to do)…”
    Had the Commission done so, it could scarcely have failed to note the numerous and dramatic conflicts between the observations and medical reports of doctors at Parkland Hospital and those of doctors who performed the autopsy at Bethesda.[1]

Throat Wound
    At Parkland, doctors found a small wound in the front of the President’s neck, centered below the Adam’s apple (Figure 1). Dr. Gene C. Akin talked about the throat wound as an entrance wound resulting from a pistol shot at close range. Dr. Malcolm O. Perry of Parkland said that the wound was only “a few millimeters in diameter” (a millimeter is equal to 4/100ths of an inch). Dr. Perry made a cut of a few millimeters across the throat and into the windpipe in order to insert a tracheotomy tube. But even after the tracheotomy, the wound to the neck was recognizable as a gunshot wound (Figure 2).

    Rear Admiral George C. Burkley, President Kennedy’s physician, verified the President’s death but failed to mention the throat wound in the Certificate of Death he signed.
    At Bethesda, autopsy physicians described the same wound as nearly three inches long, “…with widely gaping irregular edges” (Figure 3). They recognized that a tracheotomy had been done, but one of the three autopsy physicians, Dr. James J. Humes, had to telephone Dr. Perry at Parkland to find out if the neck wound was caused by a bullet.

Wound in Left Temple
    Dr. Robert N. McClelland of Parkland, in his medical report, stated that “the cause of death…” was from “…a gunshot wound of the left temple.” Dr. Marion T. Jenkins testified that he saw blood in the hairline of the left temple. The priest who administered the last rites to the President, Oscar L. Huber, also saw the wound over the left eye.
    Regarding the news conference at Parkland on the afternoon of November 22, the Associated Press reported, “Dr. Perry said the entrance wound—which is the medical description—the entrance wound was in the front of the head.” The Secret Service was supposed to furnish the Warren Commission with media recordings of the press conference, but apparently it never did. Furthermore, according to the National Archives, “No tape recordings or transcripts of the interviews with doctors at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, Texas, have been found in the Commission’s records.”
    The Bethesda autopsy report mentions no wound in the front of the head at all, let alone a wound of the left temple—even though a chart of the President’s skull sketched by autopsy physician J. Thornton Boswell (Figure 4) may indicate not only its presence, but also the fact that it was enlarged to three centimeters (about an inch).

Wound in Right Rear of Head
    According to Dr. Charles J. Carrico at Parkland, the bullet exited on the right rear side of the head, taking away scalp and skull some two inches in diameter. At Bethesda, Dr. Humes observed that the diameter of this wound was five inches. No doctor reported performing any surgery on the head. But two FBI agents who were assigned to attend the autopsy reported that “…surgery of the head area, namely, in the top of the skull” had been performed. So much of the skull was missing that the brain could be lifted out without further surgery.

Back Wound
    The Warren Commission concluded that the back wound was the entrance wound and that it aligned with the throat wound. The Parkland doctors found no back wound. But a very shallow hole, penetrating the back at a depth of about a finger length, was reported in Bethesda. It lacked any metallic fragments. According to Admiral Burkley, Dr. Boswell and the FBI agents, the location of the hole was at the third thoracic vertebra—about a fourth of the way down the back—and matched the holes in the President’s shirt and coat.
    Dr. Humes was skeptical about this back wound. When he talked by telephone with Dr. Perry about the throat wound, he asked if Parkland doctors “…had made any wounds in the back.”
    Later, the position of the wound changed. Rear Admiral Calvin B. Galloway, commanding officer of the Bethesda autopsy physicians, located it four inches higher (which aligned it with the throat wound). Admiral Burkley and Dr. Humes concurred with Admiral Galloway. The autopsy pictures—ostensibly of the President, but not identified as such or technically authenticated—which were viewed by a panel of doctors in 1968 reflect Admiral Galloway’s positioning of the back wound.

How Truthful Were the Doctors?

    There are other conflicts, too numerous to explore here, between what the doctors at Parkland and those at Bethesda saw. What seems clear is that the reports of the Parkland doctors would not have sustained the conclusion that the President was shot from the back—the conclusion which lies, of course, at the very heart of the Warren Commission’s contention that the assassination was the work of Lee Harvey Oswald alone.
    On the other hand, after the alleged alterations were made, the nature of the wounds (i.e., whether they were entrance or exit wounds) became sufficiently ambiguous to allow for a case to be made that the President was shot from behind.
    The autopsy report supported the latter conclusion (though visual evidence of the assassination—the Zapruder film—failed to confirm it). The autopsy doctors submitted their individual reports and charts to Admiral Burkley, who was by then President Johnson’s physician. Burkley authorized changes and approved revisions of these documents. How many rewrites were necessary before an acceptable report was produced is unknown. We do know that Admiral Burkley “accepted and approved” Dr. Humes’ destructions “…of certain preliminary draft notes…” Unaccountably, Burkley’s handwritten authorization was removed from the published documents although it remains on the original which is on file at the National Archives. The Warren Commission failed to take testimony from Admiral Burkley and never asked Dr. Humes why he burned his notes or what they contained.
    To some, the foregoing may suggest that one of the groups of doctors either lied, tampered with the evidence or was grossly incompetent. But isn’t it equally possible—and somewhat more plausible—to assume that the doctors in each group were telling the truth about what they observed?
    And that the President’s body was altered after it left the view of the Parkland doctors and before it reached the autopsy doctors at Bethesda?

How This Theory Can Be Tested

    The Secret Service had custody of the body during this period. But who had access to it? If, as it appears, the wounds were altered to disguise the origin of the shots, whose interests would have been protected or served? Find those beneficiaries and you find the conspirators.
    Had the Warren Commission been struck by the contradictions among the medical observations and alert to the implications, it might logically have asked the same questions. But the Commission, apparently, either failed to note the discrepancies or discounted them. In any case, although the Commission could have examined the autopsy materials and pictures first hand, there is no record that any member ever did so. The Commission elected to rely instead on the autopsy report and the testimony of the autopsy physicians.
    That could be the most serious error committed by this august group. Commission member John J. McCloy may have acknowledged as much in 1967 when he told Walter Cronkite, “I think that if there’s one thing I would do over again, I would insist on these photographs and the X-rays having been produced for us.”

* * *

    The error is not irreversible. The questions can still be answered. And the conclusion that the President’s body was altered will itself submit to a simple test: Allow the Parkland doctors to examine the autopsy materials and pictures in the National Archives and to comment publicly on their findings. Incredible as it seems, no Parkland doctor has ever seen this evidence.

[1] If the new President and the Secret Service had followed Texas law (the only law which then applied), the autopsy would have been performed at the morgue in Parkland Hospital. The Secret Service was reminded of this by the Dallas coroner, but nevertheless seized the President’s body and removed it to Bethesda Naval Hospital.

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