CTKAformerly published Probe Magazine.
Most of the articles on this site first appeared in Probe.
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for publication on this site, please send mail to us at here.
Jim DiEugenio's Upcoming appearances and radio Interviews:
April 13th, Barnes and Noble, Metro Pointe,
901 B South Coast Drive Ste 150, Costa Mesa,
May 4th, Barnes
and Noble, Orange Town & Country
791 South Main Street Suite 100,
NEW DATE! May 18th, Barnes
and Noble Bookstore in Manhattan Gateway Shopping Center 1800 Rosecrans
Avenue Building B, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
310-725-7025, 12-4 PM
October 16-19th Passing the Torch
Conference, at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh
November 21-24, November
in Dallas, at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas
The French Connection, by
Peter Kross Review
by Seamus Coogan
on Lunch with Arlen Specter on January 4, 2012
By Vincent Salandria
1: Review of Peter Janney’s "Mary’s Mosaic"
By Lisa Pease
2: Entering Peter Janney’s World of Fantasy
By James DiEugenio
Awful Grace of God, Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy
and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Martin Hay
KENNEDY & ME: A Very Good Book With A Few Pages of Trouble
by Vince Palamara
Jim DiEugenio analyzes and summarizes Larry Hancock's
interesting and unique new book Nexus:
The CIA and Political Assassination
Jim DiEugenio reviews the work
of Chris Matthews on the life and death of President Kennedy,
including his latest biography, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive hero".
Reviews of John McAdams' book JFK
Assassination Logic by:
IN DALLAS: LBJ, the Pearl Street Mafia, and the Murder of President
Reviewed by William Davy
a DVD Robert Kennedy documentary produced,
written and directed by Massimo Mazzucco. Reviewed by Jim DiEugenio
Connally Bullet Powerful evidence that Connally was
hit by a bullet from a different assassin, by Robert Harris
those who were in and around Dealey Plaza that
day and those who made a career of the case afterwards.
Joseph Green on the late Manning
Marable's new full scale biography of Malcolm X.
and the Majestic Papers: The History of a Hoax by Seamus
- and -
and the Conspiracy to Kill Kennedy: A Coalescence of InterestsSeamus Coogan
on Joseph Farrell's new book
No Evil: Social Constructivism and the Forensic Evidence in the
by Donald Byron Thomas
Comprehensive Review by David Mantik of
Wikipedia? by JP Mroz and Jim DiEugenio (3 part series)
Sirhan and the RFK Assassination
Part I: The Grand Illusion Part
II: Rubik's Cube by Lisa Pease
is Anton Batey?
CTKA takes a close look at a most curious radio host who is a JFK
denier, Chomskyite, and yet happens to be in league with John McAdams
and David Von Pein. Yep, its all true.
Reviews of Douglas Horne's multi-volume study
of the declassified medical evidence in the JFK case. Reviewed
Jim DiEugenio, David Mantik and Gary Aguilar.
Exclusive excerpts from Mitchell Warriner's long
awaited new book on
the Jim Garrison investigation
Inside the ARRB, Vol. I, by Doug Horne
by James DiEugenio
Volumes Four and Five
(Jim DiEugenio's review of Volume I is the first installment of CTKA's
book-by-book review of Douglas Horne's five-volume set Inside the ARRB.
Later contributions by Dr. David Mantik, Gary Aguilar and Jim DiEugenio
will complete the critique of this mammoth series.)
Douglas Horne's five volume set is formally titled Inside the Assassination
Records Review Board: The U.S. Government's Final Attempt to Reconcile
the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK. In
almost record time it has become an object of heated and almost embattled
controversy. There was at first a barrage of advance, and pretty
much unqualified, praise from certain quarters of the research community.
The book was then attacked by both Krazy Kid Oswald advocates and
certain Warren Commission critics. In reading Horne's series two
things strike me about the book's reception. First, the reaction
seems to me to be predictable since Horne is postulating a rather
radical interpretation of the medical evidence and the Zapruder film.
Second, although Volume Four was released first, and has generated
the most controversy, it seems rather shortsighted to concentrate
on that particular book in explaining this work. To understand Horne,
and where his book is coming from, one has to read Volume I first.
I read it twice and consider it crucial in any evaluation of this
rather large outpouring of writing and research.
The first time I ever heard of Horne was through the estimable and
respected lawyer-researcher Carol Hewitt. It was around the summer
of 1996, and through her output in Probe, Carol had developed
a reputation as an important writer and careful researcher. Since I
edited her essays, I had developed a professional relationship with
her. So around this time, or a bit later, I had a phone conversation
with her at her home in Florida. She asked, "Jim, have you heard of
this ARRB guy named Doug Horne?" I said no I had not. She said words
to the effect that Horne had become friends with David Lifton when
the latter was speaking in Hawaii. He then secured a position on the
ARRB and he was now trying to bolster Lifton's theories and discredit
those Lifton disagreed with e.g. John Armstrong and his Oswald doppelganger
concept. It's clear that Carol was correct. All one has to do is read
the rather long Preface to the first volume to understand that. For
there Horne discusses Lifton's Hawaii speech and their following friendship.
(p. lxix) Further, in the photo section of the volume you will see
two pictures of Lifton. One is with Horne outside the National Archives.
The important point about the photo is that it was taken in 1999, after
the ARRB closed shop. Horne's friendship with Lifton began before he
took his position and continued after his ARRB function was completed.
This is important in any analysis and/or evaluation of Inside the
ARRB. And in fact, Horne clearly explains why in his Preface.
He says that he has read Best Evidence four times. (For comparison
purposes, I have not read any assassination book from cover to cover
more than twice.) And the praise he lavishes on that book is, to
say the least, lush. He is so intent on enshrining it in the pantheon
that he indulges in a technique that, heretofore, only Gus Russo
and David Heymann had used. He says Best Evidence was a nominee
for the Pulitzer Prize. (Horne, p. 4) This startled me since I had
never even heard Lifton say this. I also found it hard to believe
that a committee as mainstream as that body would so honor a book
that postulates a conspiracy in the JFK case – and a rather
extreme one at that. So I went to the Pulitzer site. As with Russo
and Heymann, I discovered that Best Evidence was not a finalist
that year. It may have been submitted for consideration. But as Lisa
Pease noted in her review of Heymann's trashy book Bobby and Jackie, scores
of people do that.
In measuring the importance of Best Evidence, Horne writes
that Lifton reminded us that gunshot wound evidence is a road map to
any shooting, and it is evidence that trumps all eyewitness testimony
and human recollection. (p. lxi) After this, he calls Best Evidence a "paradigm-buster".
(ibid) He continues his medical evidence primacy argument by saying
that such evidence was used to counteract the impact of the Zapruder
film when it was shown in 1975. He then adds, "...the medico-legal
evidence from an autopsy will always outweigh eyewitness testimony.
[Therefore] the debate had grown tiresome and inconclusive ..." before
Lifton published his volume. (p. lxiii) In discussing the House Select
Committee on Assassinations, he talks about the differing recollections
of medical observers of Kennedy's body, those in Dallas, and those
at Bethesda. Although the HSCA sided with the latter's observations,
Horne writes: "What if both groups of medical witnesses – all
medical professionals – had told the truth and provided an accurate
description of the President's wounds at the time they saw them." (p.
lxiv) And with this, the author now introduces the critical concept
of "old paradigm" research versus "new paradigm" research. For anyone
familiar with these rubrics and line of argument, it follows naturally
that, to Horne, Best Evidence represents the new paradigm and
Josiah Thompson's Six Seconds in Dallas represents the old paradigm.
The reason I use the phrase "follows naturally" is that this demarcation
of "old and new" is familiar to anyone who has read Best Evidence, which
was published back in 1980. In fact, Lifton begins the book with a
recital of the major points the critical community had achieved until
that time. He also discusses the methods of research such as reading
documents and considering redactions, and minutely examining photographs
from Dealey Plaza. After many rather condescending pages of this review
of the state of the evidence at the time, the author then launched
into the chronicle of his "search for new evidence" in the JFK case.
This is why he calls Part 2 of the book, "A New Hypothesis". As Roger
Feinman pointed out in his essay Between the Signal and the Noise, there is in Best Evidence a not
so subtle disdain for what the critical community had accomplished
up to that time. And as Feinman also noted, in an odd way, Lifton seemed
to actually defend the Warren Commission against the polemics of Sylvia
Meagher, Mark Lane and Thompson. For instance, Lifton wrote that some
critics did not understand the "best evidence" concept and how the
Commission had relied on the autopsy as a talisman for all that came
afterwards. Lifton continued in this vein by writing that the critics "actually
believed the Commission first decided Oswald was the lone assassin" and
then colluded with the pathologists, namely James Humes, to concoct
a lone assassin autopsy report. (Lifton p. 144. All references to Best
Evidence are to the trade paperback, 1988 edition.) Right after
his long prelude, Lifton began to concentrate on pathologist James
Humes as a "central figure" in his book. From there, Lifton proceeded
to put together his rather dramatic reconstruction of what really happened
in both Dealey Plaza and at Bethesda. To say that it was a radical
scenario is putting it mildly.
But to return to the point, it is really Lifton who started this whole "old
paradigm" versus "new paradigm" mode of thinking about assassination
literature. For Horne to adapt it shows the clear and deep influence
of Best Evidence on his thinking. In retrospect, it is hard
not to detect a bit of self-promotion at the expense of those who came
before him in Lifton's gambit. And I don't believe it's merited. Why?
Because as Pat Speer has pointed out on his web site, the first real
milestone in the medical evidence did not come from the HSCA or Best
Evidence. The first real giveaway movement was from the proponents
of the official story itself. In 1968, Attorney General Ramsey Clark
tasked Dr. Russell Fisher with reviewing the work of the autopsy surgeons:
Humes, Thornton Boswell, and Pierre Finck. Fisher and Clark did three
things that do not happen in normal medical practice. They moved the
head wound up 4 inches, they noted particles in the neck, and they
saw something that the pathologists had not seen: a 6.5 mm fragment
in the cowlick area at the rear of the skull. As Speer notes, the Fisher
panel was put together to specifically negate the work that Thompson
had done on the ballistics and the autopsy. So in other words, Thompson,
the "old paradigm" guy had actually been the first to rock the official
story of the medical evidence in the JFK case. In my view, these movements
of wound location, and the appearance and notation of fragments in
the neck and high in the head – largely endorsed by the HSCA – have
caused defenders of the official story many more problems than the
more dramatic parts of Best Evidence. Again, this was caused
by the author that both Horne and Lifton consider "old school" i.e.
Josiah Thompson. (For the exact way Thompson caused it, see my review
of Reclaiming History, Part 4, Section IV)
The next big crack in the medical evidence occurred in 1969. And it
was caused by the inquiry of another man who Lifton showed clear disdain
for: Jim Garrison. Lifton actually called the Garrison investigation "a
farce". (Lifton, p. 717) At the trial of Clay Shaw, under sharp cross-examination
by Garrison's assistant DA Alvin Oser, Pierre Finck finally raised
the curtain on the autopsy. He admitted that it was largely controlled
by the military officers in attendance. He also admitted that he did
not examine the president's clothes, and he did not see the autopsy
photos until 1967. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pgs.
290-309) The impact of Finck's testimony was greatly underplayed by
the media. But to serious students of the Kennedy case it went a long
way in explaining just why the autopsy was so deficient in every aspect.
Lifton's book was published a year after the HSCA released its Final
Report. The HSCA acknowledged that a serious difference existed with
the observations of the back of Kennedy's head between the Dallas doctors
and the personnel at Bethesda. Many of the former witnesses said they
saw a rather large hole in the rear of Kennedy's skull. Yet the famous
back of the head photographs, which are in Horne's book and labeled
Figures 64 and 65, depict no such wound. In fact, the head seems intact
and untouched. Therefore the HSCA said the Dallas doctors were wrong
about this. They added that the observations of the Bethesda doctors
differed from the Dallas doctors on this issue. And since the Bethesda
doctors had the body in front of them for hours instead of minutes,
they were correct. Since Lifton's book was published many years before
the ARRB declassified the HSCA files, Best Evidence made much
of this discrepancy. In fact it was one of the main underpinnings of
Lifton's theory of body hijacking and alteration. (Which we will discuss
But when the ARRB did declassify the HSCA medical files on this subject,
it turned out that this was all a subterfuge. The medical personnel
at Bethesda largely agreed with the Dallas observers about a gaping
hole in the back of Kennedy's skull. The witness statements were all
there in the newly declassified files which Robert Blakey and Michael
Baden had chosen to keep hidden from the public. Gary Aguilar did a
magnificent job in collecting and collating these newly declassified
witness affidavits. He put them on a chart and showed that, except
for a small minority, most of the witnesses from both locations agreed
that there was a gaping hole in the rear of the skull and where it
was located. (See Aguilar's essay in Murder in Dealey Plaza, especially
pages 188, 199. In my view, this is one of the three or four best long
pieces written on the medical evidence since the ARRB closed shop in
1998.) What had happened was that the HSCA realized that if these statements
were published then the Dallas vs. Bethesda dichotomy would be largely
minimized. And you would have a near unanimous verdict that this hole
in the rear skull existed. This would create serious problems for the
official story in two ways. First, the avulsive nature of the wound
strongly suggested a front to back trajectory through the skull. Second,
these observations would bring into doubt the autopsy photos mentioned
above which reveal no trace of such a violent wound in the rear skull
As noted above, Aguilar's work on this issue posed a problem for Lifton's
theory. Because now the split between the Dallas observations and the
Bethesda observations were at least slightly ameliorated. Milicent
Cranor's essay on Malcolm Perry, "Ricochet of a Lie," posited another
problem for Best Evidence. Her work poses a question about the
differing size of the tracheotomy. As Robert McClelland stated at the
Lancer Conference in 2009, a wide tracheotomy was not unusual practice
for Parkland. And for Malcolm Perry to have seen the organs in the
throat that he reported on, he almost had to have cut a wider tracheotomy
than he let on about.
This brings us to the main thesis of Best Evidence. Lifton
was making the following proposals:
All the shots in Dealey Plaza came from the front
The Parkland Hospital doctors saw this evidence
Therefore the body was then hijacked as it left Air Force One
The body was then altered to show shots from the rear
The conspirators dug out the bullets from the body
- The Commission was fooled by this alteration
There were always very serious problems with these proposals. For
instance, the nature of John Connally's wounds and the testimony of
Dr. Robert Shaw make number one nearly impossible to believe. Concerning
number two, since Kennedy's body was not flipped over, the Parkland
personnel could not see Kennedy's back wound. (Lifton postulated that
this was later "punched in". See p. 376)) There isn't any credible
evidence for the casket being secretly diverted to another hospital.
(The author suggests Walter Reed. See p. 681) Further, Lifton could
come up with no credible witnesses to his pre-autopsy extensive surgery.
Finally, as the declassified records of the Warren Commission show,
at the very first meeting of December 5th, the fix was in against Oswald.
This was before there was any discussion of the autopsy report. So
the idea that the Commission based their guilty verdict of Oswald on
Humes was not valid.
Consequently, Best Evidence has not worn well. Today, there
are very few medical experts inside the research community who back
the book. On the other hand, the book has plenty of critics e.g. Feinman,
Milicent Cranor, Cyril Wecht. As for myself, although I found Best
Evidence entertaining to read, and thought the book contained
some interesting information and anecdotes, two things troubled me.
First, Lifton's concentration on the medical evidence implicitly
discounted other physical evidence that I felt was more solid and
probative than what he was relying upon. Second, the author had a
troubling tendency to take a piece of evidence that was not really
well-grounded and then use it as a springboard to launch into all
kinds of hyper-dramatic criminal scenarios. As Gary Aguilar once
said to Lifton: Extravagant claims demand extravagant evidence. One
example of this would be the sentence in the FBI's Sibert-O'Neill
report on the autopsy, which states that Humes noticed surgery of
the head area when he looked at Kennedy's body for the first time.
What Lifton did with this piece of hearsay was rather remarkable.
Just consider how he begins Chapter 8 shortly after he surfaces it: "I arose on Sunday morning convinced I had discovered
the darkest secret of the crime of the century." (Lifton, p. 181) This
is before he even talked to Humes. For when he did, Humes denied any
such pre-autopsy surgery. (ibid p. 256) But that didn't matter to the
author. He deduced that Humes was just covering up.
Speaking of this specific accusation, Best Evidence severely
dissipated for me on April 3, 1993. That is when I heard Lifton speak
during a famous debate on the medical evidence in Chicago. This was
part of a conference sponsored by Doug Carlson and called the Midwest
Symposium. Lifton's presentation consisted of two main parts. The first
consisted of him rattling off about 20 almost violently accusatory
charges he would ask Humes about if he ever got him on the witness
stand. From this artillery barrage against the doctor, one would have
guessed that people like Arlen Specter, J. Edgar Hoover, James Angleton,
and Allen Dulles were all guiltless in the cover-up of the Kennedy
murder. Humes was the real linchpin of the plot. And it was his work
that gulled these four fine men. (I have little doubt that Lifton supplied
similar questions to Horne in preparation for Humes' ARRB deposition.
And it was these "When's the last time you beat your wife?" type queries
that Jeremy Gunn bawled Horne out about behind closed doors. See Horne,
Lifton concluded in Chicago by playing a tape recording of a phone
conversation he had with Humes concerning this subject i.e. pre-autopsy
surgery. In his book, due to Lifton's description of phrasing and pauses,
plus the author's seemingly telepathic attribution of hidden knowledge
to the pathologist, Humes' words carried a certain sinister weight
to them – almost like the pathologist was hiding something in
this regard. But when the tape was played, this all but evaporated.
It was clear to me – and many, many others – that Lifton
had left out the tone and inflection of the doctor's voice and words.
And these betrayed that Humes was actually playing with Lifton: a playfulness
grounded in his being taken aback by the insinuation, so much so that
he didn't take it seriously. I found it hard to believe that Lifton
could not detect this when most of the spectators I talked to could.
This indicated to me that the author had lost critical distance from
In spite of all the above, Horne still genuflects to Best Evidence. To
the point that he essentially admits that the main reason he joined
the ARRB was to prove or disprove Lifton's thesis. (p. lxviii) Sealing
and qualifying this emotional bond is the following statement: "David
Lifton's work has been a great inspiration to me over the years, and
he and I eventually became very close personal friends, as well as
fellow travelers on the same intellectual journey." (p. lxix) In light
of the warm feelings betrayed in that statement, it is hard to believe
that Horne expended a lot of time on disproving Lifton's thesis.
In fact, I feel comfortable in writing that if Horne had never read Best
Evidence, he would never have written his series or joined the
All the above introductory material is necessary to understand my
decidedly mixed feelings about Inside the ARRB. There seem to
me a lot of good things in Horne's very long work. And I will discuss
them both here and later. But where the author gets into trouble is
when he tries to fit the interesting facts and testimony he discusses
into an overarching theory. Because as we will see, although Horne
has revised Best Evidence, he still sticks to the concept of
pre-autopsy surgery, and extensive criminal conduct by the pathologists.
And as Lifton clearly suggested in his book, Horne will also argue
that the Zapruder film was both edited and optically printed. (Lifton
For me, the most interesting chapter in Volume I is also a disappointing
one. And it has little, if anything, to do with Horne's attempt to
revive and revise Best Evidence. Horne entitles it "Prologue:
The Culture of the ARRB". Here he offers his insights into the personalities
and stances of the people he worked with and for at the Board. Specifically
the other staffers, the Executive Director, and the ARRB members. I
thought this chapter was both valuable and unique for the simple reason
it had not been done before from anyone who was actually there at the
time. One of the most startling revelations is that Executive Director
David Marwell regularly talked to and lunched with the likes of Max
Holland, Gus Russo, and the anti-Christ himself Gerald Posner. (p.
13) In fact, when Marwell was hired he told a newspaper interviewer
that he found much of value in Case Closed. Although this was
startling, it only set the stage for what the book reveals about that
body as a whole: information the research community did not know at
the time and which now sets off retroactive light.
For beginners, not one Board member – historians Anna Nelson
and Henry Graff, Dean Kermit Hall, archivist William Joyce, or Judge
Jack Tunheim – believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy.
(p. 10) Further, Horne estimates that well over half of the staff members
believed Oswald did it. To the point that many exhibited a prejudice
bordering on condescension toward those who did not believe the Warren
Commission fairy tale. (p. 11) Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn actually told
Horne not to talk to the Board members about conspiracy angles, no
matter how well founded they were. (p. 12) Why? Because the Board members
were so mainstream oriented they would probably doubt his suitability
for the ARRB.
Horne believes this was done by design. It originated with the Board
members in their choice of Marwell. It was then transmitted from Marwell
to his hiring of staffers. Horne observes that Marwell's orientation
resulted in the following: 1.) Few staffers were concerned with the
conflicts in the evidence 2.) Most were not well versed in the nuances
of the case, and 3.) Most did not even have a natural interest in the
Kennedy assassination. This fulfilled Marwell's mandate of having an
ARRB staff that was "neutral". But it also resulted in a staff that
was way behind the curve when it came to fulfilling their mandate of
looking for records, interviewing witnesses who knew where the records
were and/or could resolve conflicts in the evidence. I can certify
this as true. When the ARRB started up, Anne Buttimer, their first
chief investigator, called me and discussed the New Orleans aspect
of the case for about an hour. From her questions I could tell she
did not know a lot about that famous milieu. Anne eventually quit.
(Horne does not mention Buttimer or why she left.)
The Board members never got any briefing in any controversial evidentiary
aspect of the case. When Marwell gave Jeremy Gunn permission to interview
some medical witnesses, Gunn's first chosen assistant dragged his feet
in preparation for the depositions. He then secretly lobbied Marwell
to halt the medical deposition process completely. (p. 15) While this
interview process was ongoing, not one Board member read a single deposition
Gunn had done. (p. 17) It wasn't until the end of the ARRB, when the
medical investigation gained some publicity, that three of the Board
members asked to read these now "hot" items. (ibid)
How obsessed was Marwell and the Board with the image of "neutrality"?
There were no wall photos or portraits of President Kennedy in the
waiting room or foyer of the ARRB offices.
Did the ARRB do a good job? That is open to question today, especially
with the new discoveries about the documents they missed. The most
famous example being the George Johannides documents which were originally
kept from the HSCA. But consider this about the HSCA's Lopez Report
on Mexico City: the Board never found out what happened to the annex
of that report entitled "Was Oswald an Agent of the CIA". It is not
attached to the report today. Further, the Board never surfaced the
working notes Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway made while assembling that report.
Even though Lopez strongly recommend they do so since he filed the
notes every day in the safe the CIA had built at HSCA headquarters.
Finally, the Board never even seriously contemplated interviewing Ruth
and Michael Paine. Even though much interesting material had been declassified
about them, which authors like Carol Hewitt and Steve Jones utilized
to the couple's detriment.
Up to now, these failings were generally written off due to lack of
time and money. But with what Horne reveals here, there may have been
more to it than that. The ARRB's effort to appear "neutral" may have
meant sacrificing some important opportunities and not following up
on others. While in operation, this failing was generally kept from
the public because the Board had two good front people who managed
to shield the inner dynamic. They were Tunheim and public relations
director Tom Samoluk. But this new information sheds light on the Board
members' desire to proclaim that they declassified no "smoking guns".
But since the Board members were already convinced the Warren Commission
was correct, those proclamations are hollow since they were predictable.
With what Horne writes about here, it appears the Board members saw
their mission as declassifying as much as possible, looking as neutral
as possible in the process, and then proclaiming that the two million
new pages didn't make any difference anyway. The Warren Commission
got it right back in 1964.
I wish Horne had spent more time and length on this chapter. It only
fills 14 pages. If I had been advising him, it would have easily been
two or three times as long. And his contribution would have been comparable
to Edward Epstein's Inquest or Gaeton Fonzi's The Last Investigation. In
other words an explanation of not just what happened, but why and how
it went down that way.
After this, and throughout the rest of this volume, Horne concentrates
on the investigation of the medical evidence by the ARRB, as headed
by Jeremy Gunn. Before approaching that inquiry and evaluating it,
let me add some qualifications to this ARRB endeavor. As others, like
medical investigator Pat Speer, have written, one has to qualify some
of this testimony simply because it came so late in the game. From
the chart Horne produces on pages 59-64, the ARRB medical interviews
started in early 1996 and extended to October of 1997. So the witnesses
were addressing the issue anywhere from 33-34 years after the fact.
Further, many of the witnesses were quite old at the time. And although
I am not that old, I can attest to the fact that memories do not get
better as one gets older, they usually get worse. Third, because of
all the controversy on this issue, plus the fact that it is politically
charged, testimony tends to get altered or fudged. And Horne describes
two witnesses who changed their stories on an important issue: John
Stringer and Floyd Riebe. In 1972, autopsy photographer Stringer – who,
incredibly, was not contacted by the Warren Commission – said
that the damage to Kennedy's skull was in the rear. He then changed
his story for the HSCA and ARRB. He now said it was on the right side
above the right ear – which coincides with the autopsy report.
(p. 183) Riebe, Stringer's assistant, earlier told researchers about
this gaping hole in the back of Kennedy's head. When Gunn showed him
the alleged autopsy photos which show an intact rear skull, he now
agreed that this is what he saw that night. (p. 229) Further, Stringer
says that Riebe took no photographs. (p. 166) Riebe has always said
he did. Although the number and type have slightly varied through the
years. (See chart on page 226) Further, Robert Knudsen, a White House
photographer who insisted that he, at the very least, developed photographs
from the autopsy is not even known by Stringer! (p. 177) I found this
remarkable. Gunn asks Stringer about Knudsen in more than one way.
Yet Knudsen's name is so foreign to Stringer that he actually asks
Gunn if Knudsen was a doctor. (The Knudsen mystery is an interesting
episode which I will return to later.)
Having established these serious qualifications, let me state why
I think they exist. It is not the fault of Doug Horne, or Jeremy Gunn,
or the ARRB. In my view, and disagreeing with David Lifton, this much
varied and at times, unfathomable and irreconcilable medical record
is owed to one man above all: Arlen Specter. It is not possible today
to read Specter's 3/16/64 examination of the three pathologists and
not be disgusted. Specter understood that something was seriously remiss
with the medical evidence in the JFK case. So he decided to cover up
the many discrepancies in the record. He did things like deep-sixing
the testimony of Jim Sibert and Frank O'Neill since it would wreck
the single bullet theory and raise questions about the trajectory of
the fatal head shot. The Commission did not print the death certificate
signed by Kennedy's personal physician George Burkley because Specter
understood that it would show that the wound in the back entered too
low to exit the throat. Specter then cooperated in a scheme to misrepresent
the Kennedy wounds before the Commission. After rehearsing both men
over a period of weeks, he had Humes and Boswell testify to false drawings
prepared by student illustrator Harold Rydberg. In these drawings the
back wound was raised into the neck area, and Kennedy's head position
was magically anteflexed to allow for the shot in the lower skull to
exit above the right ear. (See my review of Reclaiming History, Part
4, Section III.) Specter understood that if he did otherwise, this
would open up a Pandora's Box of questions that would unravel the official
story forever. So he did what his masters on the Commission wanted:
He deliberately concealed the truth. And this robbed us all of a true
cross-examination of the medical witnesses at the time when they were
not old and infirm and when their memories were fresh.
The fact that Specter did what he did guaranteed that pieces of the
story would dribble out piecemeal over the years. And this made the
purveyors of the official deception alter the official story, e.g.
as did the Fisher Panel. So today, the JFK medical record is scattered
all over the place. So much so that one can marshall evidence for both
versions of the official story: the Warren Commission's with low skull
wound entry and a neck-throat wound; or the HSCA's with high skull
wound entry and upper back wound. Third, one can argue that the evidence
is authentic and still argue conspiracy e.g. Pat Speer, Dr. Randy Robertson
and Roger Feinman. Fourth, one can make a case for what can be termed
moderate alterations, that is the x-rays and photos have been tampered
with e.g. Robert Groden, Harrison Livingstone, Gary Aguilar, Cyril
Wecht, Doug DeSalles and many others. Fifth, one can argue for a radical
alterationist view. That is the body was hijacked, wounds were physically
altered, and the x-rays were also e.g. Lifton and Horne. But the very
fact that one can make all five arguments should tell almost everyone
that something is wrong someplace. Because this does not happen in
As I pointed out, Horne is in the last school. He therefore – and
somewhat understandably – picks and chooses things to bolster
his view. This mars the book, and I will explain why later. But I want
to make the point that when Horne does not adhere to this practice
he reveals a lot of valuable and interesting information. And although
one can say that much of it is in other books, I know of no other volume
that has as much of it between two covers. (Or in this case, ten covers.)
Some of the remarkable testimony includes autopsy photographer John
Stringer saying that he shot no basilar views of Kennedy's brain. (p.
41) Yet there are basilar – that is, shot from below – views
in the autopsy collection. If Stringer says only he shot all the autopsy
photos, then who took these shots? Stringer also says that he recalled
the cerebellum being damaged. (p. 43) This is the part of the brain
almost at the stem, low in the rear of the skull. This damage is not
depicted in the extant photography. As Horne appropriately notes, both
of these observations by Stringer lead one to question the condition
of the brain as depicted in the present pictures. Stringer was the
official photographer and he's raising questions about the authenticity
of his photos. These two particular questions lead one to doubt the
rendering of what the HSCA artist Ida Dox depicted as an almost intact
brain. Especially when one factors in how many witnesses said that
Kennedy's brain was not just blasted, but that much of it was gone.
(For example FBI agent Frank O'Neill said half of it was gone. See
p. 45) One does not have to agree with Horne – that there were
actually two viewings of the brain and that Pierre Finck was snookered
by the dastardly duo of Humes and Boswell – to understand that
something is wrong here. Especially when there is no official weight
given to the brain at the autopsy, but later it weighed in at 1500
grams – which is actually at the top end for an intact brain.
This is very hard to believe. Especially considering the fact that
so many witnesses saw a brain that was nowhere near intact.
Jeremy Gunn's questioning of the pathologists was interesting in multiple
aspects. The highlight for me is when he got Jim Humes to admit that
not only did he burn the notes from his autopsy, but that he also burned
the first draft of that report. (p. 95) In his discussion of this issue
in the End Notes to Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi tries
to say that Humes became confused on this point. (Bugliosi EN pgs.
276-280) The problem with Bugliosi trying to say that is that Humes
testified to it three times. And Horne prints them all. (p. 95) When
Gunn asked him why he burned the draft, Humes replied, "I don't recall.
I don't know ... You're splitting hairs here and I'll tell you its
getting to me a little bit, as you may be able to detect." (ibid) Clearly,
Humes did something he should not have done. He does not want to reveal
why he did it. And he is angered that he is finally being exposed on
Another fascinating point Gunn uncovered is that Humes never saw the
Burkley death certificate that I mentioned earlier. (p. 97) Which depicts
the back wound much lower than where the Warren Commission said it
was. One has to wonder if Specter deliberately kept it from him, since
it would have blown to smithereens the phony Rydberg drawings. Humes
is kind of pathetic when asked his reason for not dissecting the neck
wound the night of the autopsy: "But it wouldn't make a great deal
of sense to go slashing open the neck. What would we learn? Nothing
you know. So I didn't – I don't know if anybody said don't do
this or don't do that. I wouldn't have done it no matter what anybody
said. That was not important." (p. 99) I love the use of the word "slashing".
I mean what else do you do when you dissect a wound track? And the
rhetorical question of "What would we learn?" is almost priceless.
Well Jim, how about if the back wound exited the throat? And then him
not knowing if anyone said not to do so, this is obviously in reference
to Pierre Finck's testimony at the Clay Shaw trial where he said Humes
was told not to dissect the track of the back wound. Humes was clearly
in denial on this whole dissection issue. Again, he knows he did something
seriously wrong and can't admit it.
Thornton Boswell stated that he suspected that Malcolm Perry's tracheotomy
was cut over a bullet wound. (pgs. 109-110) Which is quite interesting
since the official story has always been that Humes did not realize
this until the next morning when he called Dallas. But Gunn never asked
the obvious follow up question: If you did, did you tell Humes that
at the time? (If Gunn did pose this query, Horne did not include it
here.) Boswell differed with Humes as to when the composing of the
autopsy report began. Boswell said it started on Saturday during the
day. (pgs. 116-17) Humes said he did not start it until Saturday night
and completed in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday. Finally, Boswell
saw a probe go in the back. (p. 120) But it only went in three inches.
Pierre Finck also agreed that the probe did not go through the body.
(p. 122) But as Horne notes, the significant thing about Finck was
how many times he said, "I can't remember" or "I can't answer that."(ibid)
For instance, when asked who told him that he could not see the president's
clothing after he asked for it, Finck said he couldn't recall who.
(p. 124) And further, many times he would ask for a document and then
read his answer from that record.(p. 123) Finck was intent on being
evasive and giving away as little as possible. This was probably a
reaction to his all too revealing testimony at the Shaw trial.
Robert Karnei was the fourth pathologist on hand that night, although
he did not participate in the autopsy. Karnei saw the actual probe
that Finck inserted in Kennedy's back. He also says it did not go through
the body. But beyond that, he insisted that there were photographs
taken of this. He was clearly agitated when he was told those photographs
do not exist today. (p. 127) According to Karnei, no exit for the wound
in the back was ever found. He recalled the pathologists searching
for one until almost midnight. (p. 128) So clearly, in opposition to
Humes, the failure to dissect the back wound created a real problem.
Finally, Karnei said that he did hear from someone that Humes had called
Dallas that night to learn about Perry's tracheotomy. (p. 128) I should
add here, John Stringer also stated that Humes called Dallas that night.
(p. 165) By the end of the night, did Humes know about the throat wound?
If he did, could he not admit that because the many probe attempts
could not connect the back wound with the throat wound?
From here, Horne goes into a thorough chronicling of the photographs
taken the night of the autopsy. Near the beginning of this section,
Horne adduces more evidence that Arlen Specter and the Warren Commission
lied about their access to the autopsy photographs. One of the excuses
the Commission always gave for doing such a poor job was that they
did not have access to the autopsy photographs and x-rays. People like
Specter and John McCloy usually blamed this on the Kennedy family.
But as time has gone on, more and more evidence has accrued that reveals
this to be a deception. For the Commission did view the autopsy photographic
record. And Horne adds to that growing accumulation here. Secret Service
officer Robert Bouck told the HSCA that he recalled that a representative
of the Warren Commission looked at the autopsy photographs. Horne feels
this had to be either J. Lee Rankin or Specter. Further, there is a
Treasury Department memorandum noting that the Warren Commission was
briefed on the autopsy procedures by using the actual x-rays to do
so. (p. 135)
Another curious point that Horne develops is that at least some of
the photos were not developed at either Bethesda or the Secret Service
lab. Some of them were developed at the Navy Processing Center at Anacostia
where color prints were made from positive transparencies. (p. 135)
Why some of the films were taken there is not clearly known. When Gunn
asked Stringer about this, the photographer said that the Anacostia
lab was larger and more secret. (p. 208)
But as early as 1966, for a Justice Department review, Humes, Boswell
and Stringer all stated that some pictures were missing. Stringer specified
three of them to be gone, including a full body shot taken from overhead.
(p. 146) But this fact could not be admitted to the public at the time.
Especially since the first books critical of the Commission were now
entering the market. So Justice Department official Carl Belcher arranged
for another lie to be formalized. Belcher requested that some of the
Bethesda witnesses sign a false inventory saying that at this 1966
review all the autopsy photos taken in 1963 were accounted for. Yet
to get himself off the hook, Belcher had his name removed from the
final draft of the false document. Horne discovered this by uncovering
the fact that the preliminary draft did contain his name. (pgs.
146-47) Stringer admitted to Gunn that he knew the inventory list was
false before he signed it. He said he was told to sign it anyway. (p.
206) As to why Stringer knowingly signed a false document, I wish to
relate one of the most memorable exchanges in all the ARRB depositions.
After Gunn noted to Stringer that certain protocol was not followed
in the taking of photographs, he asked him why he did not object. Stringer
replied, "You don't object to things." Gunn replied with, "Some people
do." Stringer shot back with the following rather pithy remark, " Yeah,
they do. But they don't last long." (p. 213) Those eight words tell
us all we need to know about how the lid was kept on the autopsy cover
up for so long.
After his ARRB testimony, Gunn and Horne came to believe that by the
time of the HSCA, a total of five views taken by Stringer had disappeared.
(pgs 182-83) Reinforcing this was one of the real finds of the ARRB:
an interview done with photographer Karl McDonald. After taking the
formal picture of the Board members, Marwell found out that McDonald
had been the medical photographer at Bethesda for eight years. Further,
that he had been tutored by, and worked with, Stringer. (p. 152) And
he had ended up by being that institute's senior instructor in medical
photography. In his ARRB interview he shed a lot of light on just how
bad the extant pictorial record of Kennedy's autopsy is.
He first said that he always developed his own pictures. He never
sent anything to Anacostia. He also said that he was always sure to
take a battery of full body shots – of which none exist in the
Kennedy case. He testified that there was always an autopsy card included
with each and every photo. The card included an autopsy number and
the year. Again, none exist in the Kennedy case. He said for trauma
shots – places on the body where bullets impacted – he
always took three views: wide-angle, medium shot, close-up. In light
of the above strictures, Gunn asked him to give an overall grade to
what purports to be Stringer's work today. McDonald replied that he
would grade the collection with very low marks. This was the guy who
was taught photography procedure by Stringer. Did Stringer forget the
very lessons he once gave? Not likely.
I will conclude this review of Volume I by discussing what can only
be called the enigma of Robert Knudsen. Knudsen has been discussed
before by other writers, like David Mantik. But in light of the fact
that Horne spends seven pages on him (pgs 247-254), and he implies
that he may have actually taken at least some of the autopsy photographs
in existence today, I think its necessary to write a bit about the
unplumbed mystery of the man. Because, to me, he has been ignored for
One way to begin to point out the strangeness of Robert Knudsen is
with this fact: Although Stringer denied knowing who Knudsen was, Knudsen
had Stringer's name and phone number in his appointments book. (p.
252) Which strongly implies that Knudsen did know Stringer. The question
obviously becomes: How could Knudsen know Stringer if Stringer didn't
know Knudsen? And in fact, if Stringer did know him, is he feigning
that he did not? If so, why? Because as we will see, under the circumstances
we will describe, it is hard to believe that Stringer completely forgot
about the man.
Knudsen was one of two White House photographers in 1963. The other
was Cecil Stoughton. (p. 249) As he revealed in his HSCA interview,
Knudsen began his career as a Navy photographer who was then detailed
to the White House in 1958. (8/11/78 HSCA transcript, p. 4) Generally
speaking, Knudsen covered President Kennedy on state trips, and Stoughton
covered the First Lady. (p. 250) In fact, Knudsen was scheduled to
cover the Dallas trip. But he injured himself the week before. Therefore
he did not accompany President Kennedy to Texas, Stoughton did. (ibid)
At around 3:00 PM on the afternoon of the murder, Knudsen received
a phone call. He was ordered to go to Andrews Air Force Base to meet
Air Force One and to accompany the body of President Kennedy to Bethesda.
And thus begins a fascinating puzzle. For, as Horne writes, there is
no documented evidence that Knudsen was ever interviewed by the Warren
Commission. (If this is true, the fact that the Commission never talked
to either Knudsen or Stringer tells us plenty about Specter's investigation
of the autopsy.) The first, and only, on the record interview with
Knudsen about this subject came with Andy Purdy of the HSCA. And that
transcript was classified by Robert Blakey and Michael Baden. The ARRB
declassified it in 1993. And on the version of the audiotape at the History
Matters site, Knudsen's voice is not audible on the actual recording.
It sounds like a woman who is phrasing the transcript for copying purposes
is repeating his words. (See
How did the HSCA find out about Knudsen and the autopsy? In 1977,
Knudsen gave an interview to a trade magazine in which he said that
he was the only photographer to record Kennedy's autopsy. (Horne, p.
250) What makes this odd is not just that Knudsen was not on the Bethesda
staff, but that Stringer and his assistant Floyd Riebe have always
maintained that they were the only photographers in the morgue that
night. There were no civilian photographers taking pictures. Obviously,
Knudsen did not have to say what he did to a magazine. But since the
HSCA had been convened in 1976, after the electrifying viewing of the
Zapruder film on ABC in 1975, Knudsen may have felt compelled to reveal
what he knew.
Unfortunately for Gunn and Horne, Knudsen had passed away before the
ARRB was formed. But the Board got in contact with the survivors of
his family, his widow and two children. What they told the ARRB about
the aftermath of Knudsen at Bethesda makes the story even more tantalizing.
They told the Board that Knudsen disappeared for three days after he
was called to report the day of the murder. (ibid) He didn't return
home until after Kennedy's funeral on the 25th. Knudsen told his son
Robert that he had been present at the beginning of the autopsy. (ibid)
Further, he told his family that he had photographed probes going into
he back of President Kennedy. Which, as noted before, do not exist
today. In a statement that is hard to reconcile with the record, Knudsen
told them that he was the only one with a camera in the morgue. (Horne,
p. 251) He also told his son that he did not recognize 4 or 5 of the
photos shown to him by the HSCA. And at least one had been altered.
Hair had been drawn in on it to conceal the missing portion of the
top-back of Kennedy's head. (ibid) In keeping with many other witnesses,
Knudsen told his wife that much of Kennedy's brain was blown away.
(ibid) When Knudsen tried to get a copy of his HSCA transcript, he
was told that "there was no record of him or his testimony." (ibid)
I have saved for last what is probably the most fascinating piece
of information that the ARRB garnered from Knudsen's survivors. All
three of them said "Knudsen appeared before an official government
body again some time in 1988, about six months before he died in January
of 1989." They all agreed "Knudsen came away from this experience
very disturbed, saying that four photographs were missing, and that
one was badly altered." Gloria Knudsen continued by saying that Knudsen
felt "that the wounds he saw in the photos shown to him in 1988 did
not represent what he saw or took." (p. 252) One reason he was disturbed
by the experience was that "as soon as he would answer a question consistent
with what he remembered, he would immediately be challenged and contradicted
by people whom he felt already had their minds made up." (ibid) Knudsen
told his wife that he knew who had possession of the autopsy photographs
he took. That based on that, he could then find out who had made some
of them disappear and who had altered the back of the head picture.
But he was not going to stick his neck out on something this huge because
he had a family to protect. (p. 253)
Andy Purdy's HSCA interview with Knudsen is a disappointment. As Horne
notes, Purdy concentrates almost completely on the photo negatives
that were sent to the Navy Photographic Center at Anacostia. Knudsen
notes that this was done because of the color facilities there. And
Navy officer Sandra Spencer handled the color operation there. (HSCA
transcript, p. 47) Secret Service photographer Jim Fox accompanied
Knudsen there. According to Knudsen they were ordered to do this by
George Burkley on the morning after the autopsy. (ibid, p. 5) Knudsen
told Purdy that afterwards, Burkley ordered seven prints made. (ibid,
p. 8) Which, as Purdy later noted, was an unusually high number that
no one else recalled. Knudsen noted that after he turned in the work
product to the White House, he never saw the photos again until Purdy
showed them to him that day. (ibid, p. 16) When asked, he distinctly
recalled photos of a large cavity in the back of Kennedy's head and
a side view with probes going through the body. (ibid, p.22) Unlike
others, the views he saw showed the probes extending all the way through
the body. Again, Purdy reminded him that no one else recalled such
a photo. There was another photo of the chest cavity which Knudsen
recalled that today is not in existence. (ibid, p. 39)
Now, Knudsen said that it took about two hours for him to develop
the color photos at Anacostia. But yet he told Purdy that the four-day
period of the assassination and its aftermath were like a fog to him.
He recalled working continuously through it. (ibid, pgs. 9-12) This
period roughly coincides with how long his family said he was gone
from home. Incredibly, Purdy never asked the obvious question: "Mr.
Knudsen, if the processing took two hours, but you worked for 3-4 days,
what did you do the rest of the time?" And as Horne notes, even though
Knudsen told the trade magazine the previous year that he actually
took photos of the autopsy, Purdy never asked him any direct questions
on this point. Like, how many pictures did he take, what kind of camera
did he use, when did he take the shots, and did he give his photos
to Stringer or Riebe?
Now, as is his usual tendency, Horne makes an extreme assumption:
There were actually two sets of photographs made and Knudsen shot pictures
of the intact back of the head. And he did it at the request of Humes,
Boswell and Finck. (Horne, p. 247) Or as he puts it, it was an "intentional
creation by higher authority of a fraudulent photographic record designed
to replace the real photos taken by Stringer and Riebe of a huge occipital
defect in the head ..."(ibid) Which ignores the fact that, as I noted,
Knudsen saw just such a photo. Horne even uses the testimony of a friend
of Knudsen's, USIA photographer Joe O'Donnell to make his case. Yet
this is a man who, as his own family has noted, was likely suffering
from dementia brought on by his failing health at the time the ARRB
interviewed him. After all, he had two rods in his back, suffered three
strokes, had two heart attacks, incurred skin cancer and had part of
his colon taken out. Not the best witness. (NY Times, 9/15/2007)
Further, O'Donnell had been known to testify falsely about photographic
records before. (Ibid)
To me, the incomplete evidentiary record does not conclusively lead
to Horne's bold conspiratorial denouement. The case of Robert Knudsen,
as I said before, is and remains a mystery. What it actually reveals
about the JFK case is that there has never been anywhere near a first-class
criminal inquiry into what really happened. In any professional inquiry,
with say someone like Patrick Fitzgerald in charge, Knudsen would have
been called in under oath with an attorney. He would have been warned
in advance that he was expected to answer all questions under penalty
of perjury. If he refused to answer he would be charged with contempt.
He would have been asked to bring in any corroborative witnesses and
exhibits. He would have been asked specifically, "Did you take any
autopsy pictures at any time in 1963?" If he said yes, he would have
been asked specific questions about when and where he took them and
with whom. He would have been specifically asked if he worked with
anyone else in making them. Stringer would have been asked the question, "Do
you recall anyone else taking pictures at the autopsy?", and also, "If
you did not know Knudsen then how did he get your name and phone number?" And
this inquiry would have been followed to its ultimate destination:
to find out if Knudsen took or did not take any photos. To me that
is where the status is of the evidence concerning Knudsen. I believe
Horne goes too far in making his assumptions about the man.
But to give Horne his due, at least he brings these matters to the
attention of the reader. That is to his credit, since very few others
have done it. And no one else has done so in such a complete way.
Volumes Four and Five
The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK,
and Malcolm X
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Enemy of the Truth: Myths, Forensics
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by Sherry G. Fiester
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