Ep 13: Medical Evidence Part 1 (Single Bullet Theory Part 1)
The Warren Report says President Kennedy was hit by two bullets. He was QUOTE “first struck by a bullet which enteredat the back of his neck and exited through the lower front portion of his neck, causing a wound which would not necessarily have been lethal. The President was struck a second time by a bullet which entered the right-rear portion of his head, causing a massive and fatal wound.”
The Report goes on to conclude that Governor Connally, who was seated in a jump seat in front of the President in the limousine, QUOTE “was struck by a bullet which entered on the right side of his back and traveled downward through the right side of his chest, exiting below his right nipple. This bullet then passed through his right wrist and entered his left thigh where it caused a superficial wound.”
Since the day that the Warren Report was published, critics have focused on the number of shots fired and the nature of the injuries to President Kennedy and Governor Connally to show that their injuries could not have come from only two bullets.
Assuming that there were only three shots, as the Report says, we know that one shot missed and hit the pavement near James Tague. The final shot hit Kennedy’s head. The other shot supposedly hit Kennedy’s back, came out his throat, then passed through Governor Connally’s back, ribs, and right wrist, before entering his left thigh.
The Warren Report described the idea that this one bullet caused six injuries to two men as the Single Bullet Theory. It has since become known by critics as the Magic Bullet Theory.
Over the next several episodes, we’ll dive in to the medical evidence. First, we’ll hear from the trauma doctors at Parkland Hospital and the autopsy doctors at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. What do they have to say? Is the single bullet theory legit or would the bullet have really needed to be magic to do all the damage the Warren Commission says it did? What does the evidence suggest?
KENNEDY’S THROAT WOUND
The only way to figure out what really happened is to look at each injury sustained by President Kennedy and Governor Connally, along with the medical evidence and physician testimony. When you go down that road, you find that the initial statements in Dallas significantly differed from the final conclusions set forth in President Kennedy’s autopsy. To find out exactly where those differences lie, we have to look wound by wound.
We’ll start with President Kennedy’s throat wound. The existence of this wound is not disputed. The wound was used for a tracheotomy by Dallas trauma doctors. But, there is an argument as to whether the throat wound was an exit wound or an entrance wound. That dispute is crucial for solving the assassination. If the throat wound was an entrance wound, then there was a second shooter firing in front of Kennedy and, thus, a conspiracy.
The Warren Report says that the throat wound was an exit wound. They say, QUOTE “A bullet had entered the base of the back of [President Kennedy’s] neck slightly to the right of the spine. It traveled downward and exited from the front of the neck, causing a nick in the left lower portion of the knot in the President's necktie.”
That’s the Warren Report’s conclusion regarding the throat wound: Kennedy was hit in the back of the neck, that bullet went through Kennedy’s neck where it exited at his throat.
But contemporaneous news reports tell a different story. Two hours after the assassination during a press conference,Dr. Malcolm Perry, the surgeon who worked on Kennedy’s tracheotomy reported that the President was struck from the front. He said, QUOTE “A bullet struck him in front as he faced the assailant.”
A New York Times Article written two days after the assassination says, “According to the doctors at Parkland Hospital, the president suffered an entrance wound at the Adam’s apple...” This story also ran in the New York Post, New York World-Telegram and Sun the same day.
On December 6, 1963, the New York Times published an article discussing site tests conducted by the Secret Service in Dallas to determine QUOTE “how the president was shot in front from behind.” For a period of time there was an assumption by the public that Kennedy had turned around and looked back, which would explain an entrance wound in the front if he was shot from the back. But, that was proven to be incorrect when the Zapruder film came to light and showed that Kennedy did not turn his head backwards while in Dealey Plaza.
Sure, news reporters can get things wrong, especially things that are technical, like medical and ballistic evidence. Other than the early media accounts contradicting the Warren Report, is there any other evidence that the throat wound was an entry wound and not an exit wound?
[Evidence of Throat Wound as Entrance Wound]
The Warren Report says QUOTE “Doctors at Parkland did not form an opinion as to the nature of the front neck wound.” Let’s look at what those doctors had to say.
In medical reports written the day of the assassination, Dr. Charles J. Carrico called the throat wound a “smallpenetrating wound.” Dr. Kemp Clark said at a press conference around 3:15pm that QUOTE “There was an entrance wound in the neck.”
During March of 1964, several Parkland doctors gave testimony to the Warren Commission. Dr. Charles Baxter told the Commission that “judging from the caliber of the rifle found later, the wound more resembled an entrance wound.”Dr. Gene Akin said, “The wound was a slightly ragged punctate hole… The thought flashed through my mind that this might have been an entrance wound, depending on the nature of the missile.” Dr. Paul Peters said, “All the doctors who were present speculated as to whether he had been shot once or twice, because we saw the wound of entry in the throat and noted the large occipital wound, and it is a known fact that high velocity missiles often have a small wound of entrance and a large wound of exit.” Nurse Margaret Henchliffe told the Commission, “It looked like an entrance bullet hole to me. It was small and not jagged like most exit wounds.”
Dr. Charles Crenshaw, another parkland doctor, made claims years later that he “noticed a small opening in the midline of [Kennedy’s] throat. It was small. About the size of the tip of my little finger. It was a bullet entry wound. There was no doubt in my mind about that wound because I had seen dozens of them.” But, Dr. Crenshaw did not give his testimony to the commission. They never asked to speak with him.
In 1992, after Oliver Stone’s film, JFK was released and interest in the case was an at all-time high, Dr. Crenshaw came forward and said “I was as afraid of the men in suits as I was of the men who had assassinated the president. I reasoned that anyone who would go as far as to assassinate the president of the united states would surely not hesitate to kill a doctor.” His book, Trauma Room One, rose to the top of the New York Times best seller list.
But the Journal of the American Medical Association published 2 articles suggesting that Dr. Crenshaw was not even inTrauma Room One when President Kennedy’s body was there. Dr. Crenshaw wrote a rebuttal and sent evidence to the AMA proving that he was there. Still, they refused to retract the article or publish his rebuttal. Finally, after Dr. Crenshaw sued them for defamation, the Journal of the American Medical Association paid him a settlement and published his rebuttal article. Whether the wound was an entrance wound or not, we now know that Dr. Crenshaw was there to witness it.
Dr. Robert McClelland said that the overall impression of the doctors was that “the anterior neck wound was an entrance wound”.
“Dr. Perry told me as I was helping him do the tracheostomy that he had made the incision through the little wound that had been in the front part of the neck. It nicked the tie coming through. I estimate from what he told me that the size of that tiny little injury on the front part of the neck was perhaps the size of the end of my little finger, very small. What I would usually think about that kind of wound and what I thought about that one from his description of it, is that it was most likely an entrance wound.”
Similarly, Dr. Ronald Jones described it as a “small hole in the anterior midline of the neck thought to be an entrancewound.” Dr. Jones explained in his written report that he thought it was an “entrance wound because it was very small and relatively clean cut as would be seen in entry rather than exit.”
“I was one of the few people that saw the wound right here in the middle of his neck. And, I think all of us that first day thought that was an entrance wound. And, our assumption was for the first 24 hours that that was an entrance wound and this was an exit wound. [At this point, JONES SIGNALS TO THE BACK RIGHT OF HIS HEAD].
Subsequently that was proven wrong.”
In 2013, Dr. Jones and Dr. McClelland met for an interview of living surgeons who worked on President Kennedy that day. Today, Dr. Jones, as you just heard, believes that the Warren Report conclusions were correct. Dr. McClelland disagrees and believes that there was a conspiracy with a shooter from the front.
Counterpoints On the Throat Wound as Entrance
Warren Report defenders have an answer to the Dallas doctors claims that the throat wound came from a front shooter. They point out that Parkland trauma doctors were trying to save lives and were not trained to conduct autopsies. They also note that some of the doctors recanted their earlier claims.
Dr. Perry, who spoke on live television about the throat wound being an entrance wound, eventually repudiated the press reports of his description, which was just hours after the event, as being inaccurate.
But, the plot thickens regarding Dr. Perry’s repudiation of his earlier claims. Conspiracy researchers believe that Dr. Perry was intimidated in to changing his testimony. Dallas Secret Service agent Elmer Moore told researcher James Gochenaurthat he had been ordered to convince Dr. Perry to change his testimony. Moore said that he had been acting under orders from Washington and Mr. Kelly of the Secret Service headquarters. Gochenaur shared his story about Secret Service agent Moore’s confession to the Church Committee and to the HSCA.
Dr. Robert Artwohl also claims that Dr. Perry told him that the throat wound was one of entrance. Another colleague of Dr. Perry’s, Dr. Donald Miller, Jr. who worked with Dr. Perry years later, at the University of Washington, claimed that Dr. Perry told him that the Kennedy throat wound was from the front.
Ultimately, when testifying under oath to the Warren Commission, the Parkland doctors all said that under the circumstances Commission counsel Arlen Specter laid out for them, it was possible that the throat wound could have been an exit wound.
But when we zoom in to the precise testimony of the Dallas doctors who were interviewed by the Warren Commission, we see that Arlen Specter asked them all the exact same question: QUOTE “Assuming that the bullet passed through the president’s body, going in between the strap muscles of the shoulder without violating the pleura space and exited at a point in the midline of the neck, would the hole which you saw on the President’s throat be consistent with an exit point, assuming the factors I have just given you?” He’s basically asking the doctors “If the bullet exited from the front of Kennedy’s throat could the wound in the front of Kennedy’s throat be an exit wound?
The affirmative answers of the Dallas doctors to this question is what is cited by the Warren Report for the proposition that the doctors agreed that the throat wound could have been an exit wound.
[Sibert and O’Neill Report]
Many Warren Report critics claim that there is evidence of what really happened in the official record, in the form of the Sibert and O’Neill Report – which contradicts key findings of the autopsy. James Sibert and Francis O’Neill were ordered by J. Edgar Hoover to stay with President Kennedy’s body from the time it landed until the autopsy was complete.The two agents followed the orders from their boss to provide a detailed report of what happened during the autopsy on behalf of the FBI.
Agents Sibert and O’Neill clarified in testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board and the House Select Committee on Assassinations that the source of their information was simply writing down what the autopsy doctors said. They made no independent judgments or conclusions about anything – aside from merely documenting what the doctors said they found.
On November 26, 1963, an FBI report was filed by agents Sibert and O’Neill who described what they witnessed when they were present during President Kennedy’s autopsy. The report says that the bullet hole in President Kennedy’s back was “of a short depth with no point of exit”.
The notation in this report that the back wound had no exit is a blow to the argument that the shot came all the way through Kennedy’s neck and then exited at his throat. If it didn’t exit his body at all, then it certainly didn’t exit from his neck. Now, Warren Report defenders have pointed out that a doctor would not have been able to get a probe through the wound when more than 8 hours have passed since death. They say that the muscles would clench up from rigor mortis. But, if that’s true wouldn’t the autopsy doctors have known about rigor mortis and noted that it prevented them from finding a point of exit? That’s not what the report says. It says “no point of exit?”
But this wasn’t the only report from the FBI stating that the back wound had no exit. In FBI Summary Reports dated December 9, 1963 and January 13, 1964, it is noted that “the bullet that struck the president’s back penetrated only a short distance and had not exited from the body. You would think that the Warren Commission, having reviewed these reports, would have wanted to hear what Agent Sibert and Agent O’Neill had to say, given that the information coming from them was in such conflict with the final Warren Report conclusions, and this information was included in three consecutive FBI reports.
This report has confounded researchers over the years. So, it is no surprise that Sibert and O’Neill both appeared before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 and the Assassination Records Review Board in 1994 to clarify information that was provided in their written report. Speaking to the ARRB regarding the location of the back wound, O’Neill explained that after the doctor heard that a bullet had been found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital – by the way, yes, we’re talking about CE 399, the magic bullet, which we’ll get to later – but anyway it was assumed by the doctors that the bullet came out of Kennedy’s back.
O’Neill told the ARRB quote “There was not the slightest doubt when we left [the autopsy] that the bullet found on the stretcher in Dallas was the bullet which worked its way out through external cardiac massage [done on Kennedy in Dallas].” He even goes on to say that there is no “scintilla of doubt” that the bullet came out of the back wound that night. He further explained that the probe the doctors used on the back went QUOTE “the length of half of a finger or something like that. And they could not push the probe any further.” O’Neill left no doubt that he and his partner meant what they said in their original report, reiterating to the ARRB, what they both told the HSCA, that quote “It was and is my opinion that the bullet which entered the back came out of the back.”
When O’Neill found out that the autopsy doctors said there were further examinations that were done after the autopsy – and after Sibert and O’Neill had left - that determined that the back wound actually exited through the front where the tracheotomy was performed, O’Neill says that he and Sibert “looked at each other and said ‘No Way’.”
But, agents Sibert and O’Neill were never called as witnesses to the Warren Commission. The three FBI reports that include their notes about the back wound being shallow and not having an exit were also not included in the Warren Report Exhibits.
This was especially surprising given that Commission counsel, Arlen Specter, was aware of these two FBI agents and their report because he interviewed them on March 12, 1964. Specter documented the interview in a memo to J Lee Rankin. He focused his attention on the timing of when the doctors found out about the bullet on the stretcher in Dallas compared to the timing of when the doctors made the determination that the back bullet must have come out via the same wound where it entered.
So, Arlen Specter, when given the chance on behalf of the Warren Commission to talk to the two government agents representing the FBI at the autopsy, focused his energy on how the doctors began to theorize about the bullet after they found out about the one found on the stretcher at Parkland. Specter seems to be saying that the doctors were influenced by finding out about the stretcher bullet and they only said that bullet came back out of the entrance wound because of that bullet.
There was no love lost between Arlen Specter and agents Sibert and O’Neill. Sibert told author William Law about Specter, QUOTE “What a liar! I feel he got his orders from above.”
Whether Specter is right or wrong in his conclusion about the timing of the stretcher bullet information affecting the autopsy findings, the fact that the Sibert and O’Neill report was withheld from the American people until years later, raises the question of why it was withheld, and why their summary of the autopsy - especially regarding the location and nature of the back wound – was hidden from view until many years later.
We’ll talk more about Sibert and O’Neill when we get to the president’s head wound.
In the Warren Report’s conclusion, the throat wound was determined to be “presumably of exit.” But, the autopsyshould have been able to confirm whether the wound was an entrance or exit wound by dissecting the track of the wound. This also would have told them whether the wound actually penetrated all the way through Kennedy’s neck, like the single bullet theory says.
Unfortunately, the doctors conducting the autopsy did not dissect the track of the wound. Before we look closer at how the autopsy doctors handled the throat wound, let’s examine the claim of Warren Report critics that the doctors were not in control of the autopsy - and the military was.
Military Control of Autopsy Report?
President Kennedy’s body was taken to Bethesda, Maryland to the Naval Medical Hospital, now known as Walter Reed. There, the autopsy was conducted by Commander James Humes with assistance from two other doctors: Lt. Colonel Pierre Finck and Commander J. Thornton Boswell.
However, Warren Report critics have alleged that the autopsy was really controlled by military generals and not by the autopsy doctors who put their names on the report. This allegation comes from the testimony of Colonel Finck during the trial against Clay Shaw for conspiracy to kill the President. This was the famous case led by Jim Garrison in New Orleans - the one that was made famous by Kevin Costner as Garrison in the movie JFK.
Dr. Finck was questioned under oath by Garrison about the autopsy. When asked who was in charge of the autopsy, Dr. Finck said, “I heard Dr. Humes say “who is in charge here? And I heard an army general, I don’t remember his name, say “I am.” When asked how many other military personnel were in the room, Dr. Finck said “That autopsy room was quite crowded…with military, civilian personnel, and federal agents. Secret service agents, FBI agents. .. but I cannot give you a precise breakdown as regards the attendance of people in that autopsy room.”
Warren Report defenders, led by Vincent Bugliosi, rebut this idea of the military controlling the autopsy as a myth that was created by the movie JFK’s dramatization of Dr. Finck’s testimony. Bugliosi points out that Dr. Humes later claimed that he saw a man with a camera in the medical center before the autopsy started and wanted to get him out of the building. So, when Dr. Finck talks about Dr. Humes saying “Who’s in charge here,” he’s really asking who is in charge of the building “so that he could find out who to talk to to go and get that camera man out of the building.
But, as conspiracy author James DiEugenio points out, Bugliosi’s argument doesn’t fit the facts: Dr. Humes himself says the loading dock cameraman incident is before, not during, the autopsy. Dr. Finck did not arrive until after the autopsy began. And Dr. Finck testified that the incident happened DURING (not before) the autopsy.
And Dr. Finck was not the only one who said that the doctors were not in control of the autopsy.
James Jenkins was a hospital corpsman at the Bethesda Naval Hospital who assisted with the autopsy. He says that Admiral Calvin Galloway was the one in charge. Jenkins says, “In retrospect, I think it was a controlling factor. They could control Humes, Boswell, and Finck because they were military. They were controlled and so were we. And if we weren’t controlled, we could be punished and that kept us away from the public.”
Paul O’Connor, who was a medical technician for the autopsy, agreed with James Jenkins.
“When somebody is shot and killed, they usually do a legal post mortem. That involves plotting the trajectory of a missile, where it comes in and goes out, what angle it was. We didn’t do any of that at all. They weren’t really interested it seems about where it happened from. Nobody had mentioned whether he had gotten shot from the front, the back, the side or what.
I remember that Dr. Humes was just about ready to pull his hair out because he was a very meticulous person. And he would start to do something and Admiral Burkley would say don’t do that. And he would tense all up and we would have to go some other procedure.
Several days later after the autopsy, we signed orders that we would not divulge any information or talk to anybody. That’s what scared me.”
NEXT TIME on Solving JFK: We’ll continue looking at the medical evidence and start to dig in to the Single Bullet Theory?
 Warren Report at 19.  Warren Report at 19.  Warren Report at 3.  NBC News, Seventy Hours and Thirty Minutes, Random House, 1966  New York Times, Nov. 24, 1963, p2, col 6.  New York Times, Dec. 6, 1963, p 6.  Meagher at 135, Life Magazine, Dec. 6, 1963)  Warren Report at 90-91.  Dr. Charles J. Carrico (CE 392) 11/22/63  Kennedy Is Killed by Sniper as He Rides in Car in Dallas, New York Times, November 23, 1963, p2  6H 42  6H 65, 67  6H 71  6H 143  Charles Crenshaw, Trauma Room One, p 62.  Charles Crenshaw, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, pp 153-54  Charles Crenshaw, J. Gary Shaw, “Commentary on JFK Autopsy Articles”, JAMA, vol 273, no 20 (May 24/31, 1995), p 1632.  6H 33, 35  Men Who Killed Kennedy Part 5, at 33:27  Dr Ronald C. Jones (Jones, Doctor Ronald, Exhibit 1) on 11/22/63  Warren Report, 6H 55, 56  https://youtu.be/xuZCxT88cMo, at 15:30  WCH, vol 3, p 376.  House Select Committee on Assassinations witness Jim Gochenaur to interviewer Bob Kelley on Gochenauer’s conversations with Secret Service agent Elmer Moore. JFK Record Number 157-100005-10280.  https://crosscut.com/2017/11/john-f-kennedy-assassination-files-seattle-trump-release-shooters  https://crosscut.com/2017/11/john-f-kennedy-assassination-files-seattle-trump-release-shooters  https://crosscut.com/2017/11/john-f-kennedy-assassination-files-seattle-trump-release-shooters  Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact at 156-57.  WCH, vol 6, p 42. See also WCH vol 3, pp 362, 373; vol 6, pp. 25-26.  AARB Testimony of Francis O’Neill, at pages 24, 45 - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Oneill_9-12-97/html/ONeill_0015b.htm  ARRB Testimony of James Sibert - https://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/pdf/Sibert_9-11-97.pdf, at 22  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=625#relPageId=5&tab=page  https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=680  Meagher at 147.  ARRB Testimony of O’Neill at 190.  Id. at 30.  Id. at 132.  Affidavit of Francis O’Neill before the HSCA, page 5 - https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=628#relPageId=6  Id. at 31-33.  Memo from Arlen Specter to J. Lee Rankin, March 12, 1964 - https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=685#relPageId=1  William Matson Law, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence, p 283  Warren Report at 4.  https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/warren-commission-report/appendix-09.pdf  Testimony of Dr. Pierre Finck, February 24, 1969, in the trial of Clay Shaw (Appendix A in James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, p 291)  Id. at 291-292  James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland at 115.  Id. at 115.  Law, p 106.  Men Who Killed Kennedy, Part 5 at 34:41