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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 17: Medical Evidence Part 5 (Allegations of Forgery)

Updated: Apr 23

In the last episode, we focused on President Kennedy’s head wound. We talked about how many of the Parkland doctors and the medical professionals at the Bethesda Naval Hospital saw a large exit wound on the back of the president’s head. We also talked about how the autopsy conducted by doctors Humes, Boswell, and Finck, found that the large exit wound was on the top right side of Kennedy’s head.

Today, we continue to try to find out what happened in Dallas - by turning our attention to the Zapruder film. What can we learn from it - and does the Zapruder film in the National Archives today - show the same thing as when it was first recorded?

Zapruder Film

The Zapruder film is one of the most important pieces of evidence in the entire JFK assassination. Although there were other people in Dealey Plaza who made home movies that day, Zapruder’s was the highest quality film with the best point of view of the presidential limo when the shots were fired.

Abraham Zapruder was a dressmaker who worked in the Dal Tex building - across the street from the Book Depository.

Zapruder began filming when the presidential motorcade turned on to Houston Street. In his deposition before the Warren Commission he breaks down the key parts of the film frame by frame with Commission Counsel Wesley Liebeler. There are a few key moments: Frame 225 shows the presidential limo emerging from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign that had been blocking the camera’s view. At this time Kennedy’s hands are up near his throat, which proves that the throat wound preceded the head wound, as the Warren Report says. But, Frame 313 – the one that shows Kennedy’s head at the time it’s hit - is the most well-known frame of all.

I’ve spent a disturbing amount of time looking at the Zapruder film. The more that I watch it, the less it makes sense. I draw two irreconcilable conclusions from it. First, Frame 313 shows a red cloud of brain and blood on what appears to be the top right of Kennedy’s head. This appears to be consistent with the Warren Report’s placement of the exit wound on the top right side of Kennedy’s head and would support Oswald being the lone assassin.

But, the second thing I notice is that Kennedy’s body is slammed back and to the left against the car seat. It’s not consistent with the laws of physics for Kennedy to be hit from the back with a massive front exit wound and also to have his body slammed backwards – in the same direction that the bullet causing the head damage came from. You would think he would fall forward if he was hit from the back. So, the film is a little confusing. I encourage you to watch it for yourself if you can stomach it.

HSCA expert Larry Sturdivan claims that the backwards movement of Kennedy’s body is not from the force of being pushed backwards by a shot from the front. Instead, it’s the natural neuromuscular reaction of a last dying spasm. This was supported by research conducted by Sturdivan where he shot a live goat in the head and the goat’s muscles then suddenly moved with its arms and legs going outwards.[1] But, when you watch the Zapruder film, Sturdivan’s argument doesn’t match what Kennedy actually does. Kennedy’s arms and legs don’t extend outward in a last dying spasm. He goes limp and he falls back and to the left in to the First Lady’s lap.

Conspiracy theorists argue that the Zapruder film also shows us that Governor Connally reacted too late to the shot that hit Kennedy for the Governor to have been hit by the same shot.

There was a study of the film that was done by the Itek Corporation, specialists in photographic analysis, in 1976 on the issue of Governor Connally’s reaction timing. There was some varied opinion among the experts. However, they generally agreed that Connally begins to change his appearance around frame 223-226, about the same time Kennedy reacts to his throat wound - after the limo re-emerges from behind the freeway sign. Governor Connally starts to rapidly move his right hand around frame 225. The ultimate conclusion from Itek tends to support the possibility of the Single Bullet Theory.[2]

When you watch the Zapruder film enough times, it all starts to feel like another rohrshach test. The film is not high quality enough to determine the exact moments that Connally is hit. Also, even if you could pinpoint the moment of a grimace, which is what the Itek Corporation does, that doesn’t prove that the reason for the grimace was Connally being hit with the bullet. He could have been grimacing at the sound of a gunshot.

How does Warren Report defender Vincent Bugliosi react to the Zapruder film? He says, “Since we know Kennedy and Connally were not hit by separate bullets, we know, before we even look at the film, that it cannot show otherwise.”[3] So, like I said, it’s a Rohrshach test. And Bugliosi is not the only one using circular logic. The more I study the assassination, I see people on both sides using the Zapruder film to push the idea that whatever they want to believe is actually there in the grainy footage.

Zapruder Film Altered?

The bigger question about the Zapruder film is whether or not it was altered. You get cognitive dissonance from watching the right side of Kennedy’s head explode while seeing his body be thrust back and to the left. If he was hit with a shot from the front, we would expect the back of his head to explode, not the right side. To support their argument of a shot (or shots) from the front, Warren Report critics point to the violent back-and-to-the-left movement of Kennedy’s body and argue that the reason we don’t see the back of Kennedy’s head explode is that the Zapruder film that we know today has been altered from the original version.

After the JFK Records Act was passed in 1992, the act created the Assassination Records Review Board (or ARRB) to ensure that federal agencies were complying with the JFK Records Act and actually turning over records related to the assassination.[4] Doug Horne, who worked on the staff of the ARRB, claims that the original Zapruder film was altered to cover up the head shot from the front.

While working on the ARRB staff, Horne interviewed two men who worked on the Zapruder film. The men were employees of NPIC (the National Photographic Interpretation Center), which was a high security clearance Defense agency.[5] These men, Homer McMahon and Ben Hunter, gave sworn depositions stating that they worked on blowing up frames of the Zapruder film and created CIA briefing boards for it. (The briefing boards are blown up images of important frames from a film. They are used to show the higher ups summaries of information.). McMahon and Hunter said they did their work late Sunday evening and finished on Monday morning.[6] That timeline ends up being important.

Years later, Horne learned that Dino Brugioni, who served as Chief Information Officer at NPIC for 25 years claims to have also led a team who blew up images of the Zapruder film and put together briefing boards for it. But, Brugioni and his team did their work on Saturday night into early Sunday morning – the day before McMahon and Hunter did their work.

So, from the ARRB testimony of McMahon and Hunter compared to what Brugioni told him, Horne has evidence that there were two separate sets of briefing boards made by NPIC for the Zapruder film. But, why would there be two different sets of briefing boards for the same film?

Horne believes that the first set of briefing board work that was done overnight on Saturday night was for the originalZapruder film. And the second set of briefing board work that was done on Sunday night was for the Zapruder film that is in the National Archives and available online today.[7]

Why go to all this trouble to have multiple edits of the Zapruder film? What was being edited? According to Brugioni, the version of the Zapruder film that he saw on Saturday night had Kennedy’s head shot across multiple frames.

“I remember the scatter was high. Say 3 or 4 feet from his head. {up in the air?}. How many frames do you think there would be? I don’t know. We were shocked when we saw it. If you go down to the archives and you ask for the Zapruder film, they claim that’s the true one? (That’s the true one, right. The one with the frames we just looked at.) That’s not the true one. The one that I saw it was way high up off of his head. I can’t imagine there would only be one frame. What I saw was more than what you have there.”[8]

So, according to Horne, the idea is that a second edited version of the Zapruder film had briefing boards created for it on Sunday night. If that is the case, where were the edits made and by whom?

Homer McMahon told the ARRB that Secret Service Agent Bill Smith delivered the film to NPIC on Sunday night. When he delivered it, he told McMahon that he had just come from the Hawkeyeworks facility in Rochester, New York.[9]

Brugioni explained to Doug Horne what the Hawkeyeworks facility was.

Eastman Kodak had a camera called Hawkeye. And then that building, when they finished producing the camera they changed it in to a photo lab. And they experiment with all things and we had a close relationship with them. If you wanted anything done with photography, contact Ed Green at Hawkeye and he would do it for you…Hawkeye has got the best lab for anything. If it was something special, if it was high priority, the U2 would fly the mission and the film would be brought to Eastman or to the Navy processing plant at Sutland.

Horne: Is it fair to say that the CIA had a contractual formal relationship with Kodak and the Hawkeyeplant to do certain tasks on demand?

Brugioni: Oh yeah, sure.[10]

Horne says that when the original Zapruder film was taken from NPIC to the top secret Hawkeyeworks Photo lab in Rochester, the film was altered so the backwards spray of brain matter went away.

The surviving set of briefing boards, these 4 panels that are in the archives today that anyone can go and study are the as the film we know today. Any alteration done to the film had to be done on Sunday, November 24thduring a 12 hour period at Hawkeyeworks in Rochester, NY and the reconstructed version that was given to Homer McMahon was the finished version. They were done. That means the alterations were conducted during a one day period, Sunday November 24th.

Now, was there time to do this, I think there was. Dino Brugioni required quite clearly during my interview in 2011 that the two secret service agents that brought him the original Zapruder film left Washington, DC with the film at 3 in the morning on Sunday November 24th. They left. They didn’t wait for their briefing boards to be completed. They saw what the prints were gonna look like. They left town with the film.

Late Sunday night, that film, the Zapruder film arrives again in Washington at the same building. It’s in a different format.[11]

I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. For example, among other things, there is evidence that Brugioni’s boss at NPIC hid him from the Rockefeller Commission so that he could not testify that he worked on the Zapruder film on Saturday night.[12] If you want to know more about the allegation that the Zapruder film was altered, see The Zapruder Mystery. It’s available on Youtube (at least it still is as of the recording of this podcast.)

But, on the other hand, the ARRB hired Roland Zavada, an expert on Kodachrome film who worked at Kodak and wrote a 150 page report to the ARRB stating that the Zapruder film in the national archives is the same one that came from Zapruder’s camera and that it has not been altered. Conspiracy leaning author Josiah Thompson believes that Zavada is telling the truth and that Doug Horne is wrong. Thompson believes that the Zapruder film as it is demonstrates that Kennedy was hit from the right front.[13]

So whether or not the Zapruder film was faked comes down to whether you believe the sworn testimony of Brugioni, Hunter, and McMahon or you believe the report from Roland Zavada.


For the most part, the final autopsy report was consistent with the conclusions drawn by the Warren Commission. But, the autopsy is not without its criticisms. And you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that the autopsy was botched. This is a view that is increasingly shared among all students of the Kennedy Assassination.

We know that the federal government had concerns about the medical evidence in the Warren Report because they reinvestigated it. In 1967, the Clark Panel changed the official point of the rear entry wound in the back of Kennedy’s head by bringing it up about 4 inches from where it was in the Warren Report.

But critics have other concerns with the medical evidence in the Warren Report. For starters, a lot of people claim that the Secret Service illegally confiscated the president’s body after he was pronounced dead. The Secret Service took custody of the body over the objections of Dallas Coroner Earl Rose who said he needed to do an autopsy per Texas law. Rose was technically correct. But the secret service pushed him out of the way and took the coffin anyway.[14] While this is true, I’ve always thought it was one of the weaker arguments for conspiracy. The federal government steps on the toes of states all the time, especially if there is an argument for national security.

Another concern was the autopsy process. Dr. Humes told the ARRB that some standard autopsy procedures were not followed, including removing and weighing organs.[15] There is no date written on the autopsy.[16] Also, the procedures of dissecting track wounds in the back, throat, and brain would have been standard in a homicide autopsy. But, Lt. Finck says he was told not to dissect the track of those wounds by an army general.[17]

After the autopsy, there were strange issues with access to the autopsy photos, even among the government officials working on the investigation. For example, Dr. Humes was not permitted to view the autopsy photos, even though he presided over the autopsy itself. The artist who drew the schematics that Dr. Humes was using for his testimony before the Warren Commission was also not allowed to see the autopsy photos.[18] Even the Warren Commission itself did not look at the autopsy photos. They said the reason why was “out of respect for the Kennedy family.”[19]

Instead of looking at the actual autopsy photos, the Warren Commission saw a medical illustration that was drawn by 22 year old medical art student Harold Rydberg. The famous diagrams are known as CE 385 (which shows a profile view of Kennedy with a drawing of a bullet entering at the base of his neck and exiting at his throat) and CE 386 (which shows Kennedy’s head leaning forward and the bullet entering at the base of his head and exiting on the right side).[20] This is exactly consistent with what the Warren Report concluded. But, critics argue that the details surrounding Rydberg’s drawing challenge the credibility of it.

Commission attorney Arlen Specter met with Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell 8 to 10 times before their Warren Commission testimony.[21] In the course of those meetings, Specter asked the doctors to work with Harold Rydberg to create a wound illustration for the Commission. The problem with relying on these drawings is that Rydberg had to draw the illustrations based solely on the descriptions of Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell who had to describe the autopsy from memory without the assistance of any photos, x-rays, or official measurements.[22]

Rydberg’s drawing shows Kennedy’s head leaning forward significantly, as if he was bowing to pray at the time of the impact of the head shot. But, when you look at Zapruder frame 312[23], the one immediately before the head shot hits, Kennedy was looking down, but not nearly as dramatically as the drawing depicts.


What we have seen so far is that - when it comes to the medical evidence in the JFK assassination - there are a lot of statements by the Parkland Hospital doctors that don’t match up with the findings of the autopsy doctors in Bethesda.

When you look at the autopsy report, there’s no evidence whatsoever of an entrance wound to the front of President Kennedy’s head or exit wound in the back of his head. In the autopsy x-rays the bone in the back of Kennedy’s head is largely intact and the right side of Kennedy’s head appears to be blown out.

Thus, if you’re arguing that there was a conspiracy with a head shot from the front, you’re also arguing, by necessity that the autopsy x-rays were forged and the government agencies responsible for investigating the assassination were actively involved in a cover-up. Actually, you could also be arguing that the body was altered, which is, perhaps an even more sensational claim. But, let’s focus on the photo and x ray evidence first. This is the biggest weakness of the conspiracy theorist position. For there to have been a conspiracy, so many shocking things would have had to happen that it just seems implausible.

But is there any evidence that exists to support the contention that the autopsy itself and the photographs from the autopsy were part of a cover-up? According to conspiracy theorists, there are 6 independent reasons to not trust the autopsy.

First, there’s the ARRB testimony of Dr. Humes. In 1996, we learned for the first time that the supposedly original handwritten version of the autopsy – the one that’s in the National Archives - is not in fact the original version. Dr. Humes said he burned the original notes in the fireplace because they had blood stains on them, although he initially told the Warren Commission he burned the notes because they were only preliminary. He said that the National Archives version of the handwritten autopsy was a copy he made and not the original.[24] Dr. Humes also told the ARRB that there were 15-20 photos of the president’s body taken, but the negatives were never developed and he turned them over to Robert Bouck of the Secret Service. The Warren Commission never requested the negatives.[25]

Second, we have the ARRB testimony of Saundra Spencer, the Navy Warrant Officer who processed the original autopsy film. When Spencer was shown the autopsy photos that are in the national archives today, she said they were not the pictures that she remembered processing.[26] For comparison, Spencer brought some photos with her to her ARRB deposition that had been printed just a few days before Kennedy was killed. She said that she expected the markings on the back of the photos that she brought with her would match the markings on the back of the official autopsy photos she processed. This is because the lab where she worked to process the photos bought large quantities of the same type of paper.[27] Anything that she made at that time, she would have expected to have been printed on that same paper. But, the markings on the back of the photos she brought didn’t match the back of the autopsy photos. Spencer said the images in the National Archives were different from the ones that she remembered processing.[28]

The Third piece of evidence in support of an unreliable autopsy is the testimony of autopsy photographer John Stringer who told the ARRB that he had not taken photos of the brain from underneath. But the photos that appear in the National Archives of the brain were taken from underneath. Stringer also said that there were identification tags used in his photos of the brain - which are not in the photos in the National Archives.

When shown the official photos of Kennedy’s brain, Stringer responded, “No, I couldn’t say that they were President Kennedy’s. All I know is, I gave everything to Dr. Humes and he gave them to Admiral Burkley.”[29] Stringer also said that he never used Ansco film, which is the type of film used in the official autopsy photos. When asked if he recalled the president’s brain looking like the photos in front of him, he said no because the photos in front of him show the cerebellum as intact. In the brain he saw and the photos he took of it, it was damaged and cut.[30]

Now, as Warren Report defender Fred Litwin points out, John Stringer did not have the best memory at the time of his testimony to the ARRB – 33 years after the incidents he was describing had happened. There are repeated occasions in his ARRB transcript where he says that he can’t remember. And this bombshell about different film being used and basilar views not being taken is really all based on Stringer’s memory.[31] Also, there is a document signed by John Stringer on November 10, 1966 where he says that he did take all of the relevant autopsy photos.[32] But Warren Report critics say that Stringer said he was pressured into signing that document.[33]

If Stringer is correct about using different film, and always having ID tags, and not taking basilar views of the brain, then it is a huge red flag for the autopsy photos being legit. But, on the other hand, after 33 years, and admitted uncertainty on the part of Stringer in the ARRB transcripts, it is very possible that Stringer just didn’t remember. It’s just that Stringer’s testimony, if true, seems to be supported by Sandra Spencer as well.

If Stringer didn’t take the photographs of the brain that was in evidence, then who did? Robert Knudsen in 1978, told the HSCA that President Kennedy’s personal physician, Admiral George Berkley, had him develop negatives on Saturday, November 23rd. In those negatives, he insisted to the HSCA that he saw multiple probes in Kennedy’s body. But, there are no pictures of probes in the body in the official collection.[34]

Knudsen was not alive at the time of the ARRB. But, his wife, Gloria Knudsen, and his two children were still alive. And all 3 of them spoke to the ARRB and told its investigators what their father and husband, Robert Knudsen told them before he died: First, he claimed to have photographed the autopsy of President Kennedy and was the only one to do so. Of course, that would not be possible given that John Stringer took photos at the autopsy, unless there were multiple sets of autopsies and autopsy photos.[35]

Knudsen’s also told his family that 4 or 5 of the photos the HSCA showed him did not represent what he saw the night he took the autopsy photos. One of the photos he was shown was altered – specifically that hair had been drawn in to conceal a missing portion of the top back of the president’s head. [36]

The fourth piece of evidence that is offered in support of autopsy shenanigans are the allegations and research of Dr. David Mantik. Dr. Mantik is a radiaton oncologist with a PHD in physics. He became interested in the JFK assassination and went to the National Archives numerous times between 1993-1995 to study the autopsy x-rays. He wanted to confirm their authenticity. To do that, Dr. Mantik used a device called an optical densitometer to measure the levels of light on different areas of the official x-rays.

The denser parts of the skull would ordinarily produce whiter images on the x rays and the more vacant parts would produce darker images. According to Dr. Mantik, the results of the optical density tests prove that a patch had been fraudulently placed over the original x-ray to cover the gap in the rear part of the skull and alter the original x-ray. Dr. Mantik says this is obvious because the posterior white area - where Kennedy’s skull would have been blown out if he was hit from the front - transmits too much light to be natural. The light transmitted is consistent with a forgery, according to Dr. Mantik.[37]

Dr. Mantik also used a stereoviewer to look at the two autopsy photos of the back of Kennedy’s head that are in the National Archives with a goal of determining their authenticity.

“I went to the archives to look at these photograph of the back of the head. There is a pair of photographs so I used the stereoviewer. And what I saw was really quite shocking. This whole area of hair on the back of the head with the hair standing up looked as if it had been glued in one particular plane in space. It was two dimensional. Whereas the rest of the photograph is three dimensional and the 3D effect occurs for virtually all of the other pairs of photographs. So this was unique….It was most bizarre. What does that mean? Photographic forgery. We get a 3D effect for all the image except for the place where it is exactly the same because it has been dubbed in. So they took out the part where the hole was and instead they used a soft matte insert to put in the same image on each of these photos in the back of the head so that it would look like there was no damage back here.”[38]

The fifth piece of evidence which calls the authenticity of the autopsy in to question is the large bone fragment found in the grass in Dealey Plaza on Saturday, November 23rd by William Harper. This fragment was found 25 feet behind and to the left of the point on Elm Street where the president was hit in the head.[39] Harper gave the piece of bone, which is today known as Harper’s Fragment, to his uncle Dr. Jack Harper who took a close look at the 5X7 centimeter bone fragment. Dr. Harper and two of his colleagues determined that it came from the occiput, the lower back part of the human skull. They also noted that there was a lead deposit on the fragment, suggesting it had been in contact with a bullet.[40] Harper’s credibility is supported by Dealey Plaza witness Charles Brehm who saw a piece of skull go to the back and left of the limo, but didn’t retrieve it himself.[41]

“I saw a piece fly over in the area of the curve where I was standing. It seemed to have come left and back….In other words, the skull particle went to the left and the rear of the presidential limousine. Whatever it was I saw fell in that direction over near the curve.”[42]

The significance of Harper’s fragment is that, if you believe it’s credible, it shows the x-rays are not legit. As conspiracy researcher David Lifton points out, “the [autopsy] x-rays could not possibly be authentic, for nature provides us with only one occipital bone, and President Kennedy’s occipital bone could not be lying on the grass of Dealey Plaza and simultaneously appear in the x rays of his skull taken that night at Bethesda [Naval Hospital].[43] Professor John McAdams argues that Harper’s fragment is not an occipital bone, but is instead a parietal bone, and thus does not prove anything that conspiracists say it proves.[44]

The sixth piece of evidence against the authenticity of the autopsy are the allegations of Paul O’Connor that the photos in the National Archives are not representative of Kennedy’s body that he recalled working on that night during the autopsy:

“When I first saw the pictures of the president’s body, the so-called wounds, what really struck me is, especially the head wound, they showed a nice little neat round bullet hole in the back of his head. Actually, what I saw was the whole side of his head blown off. It was gone! I don’t know where those things came from, but they are totally wrong, every one of them.”[45]

Next time on Solving JFK: We’ll go back to the single bullet theory and look at the trajectory of bullets and the alignment of Kennedy and Connaly in the limo. We’ll also cover the ballistics evidence and look at claims that the president’s body was altered between Parkland Hospital and the autopsy.

[1] Testimony of Larry Sturdivan before HSCA at p 414-415, [2] [3] Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi at p 458. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] at 36:49 [9] [10], at 1:10 [11], at 1:13 [12], at 1:05 [13] [14] Death of a President, William Manchester, p 338-346 [15] [16] Accessories After the Fact, Sylvia Meagher, p 138. [17] Testimony of Dr. Pierre Finck, February 24, 1969, Trial of Clay Shaw, Appendix A, Destiny Betrayed by James DiEugenio, p 291 [18] [19] [20] [21] Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed The Nation and Why, Gerald McKnight, p 158. [22] Reclaiming Parkland, James DiEugenio at p 120. [23] [24] [25] CE 1024 [26] [27] [28] [29] Testimony of John Stringer before ARRB at p 218, [30] Id. at p 224-225 [31] [32] [33] See ARRB Testimony of John Stringer at 137; 216-217 (Stringer recalled that he was pressured to sign a document mentioned earlier. But could not recall whether or not he was pressured to sign ARRB MD 13. However, he does recall saying that it was not the full inventory of images.) [34] [35] [36] Id. [37] [38] Men Who Killed Kennedy, Part 7 at 19:45 [39] Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, David Lifton, p 503 [40] Id., HSCA Memorandum on Interview Notes by Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, p 1 [41] Rush to Judgment at 49:00. [42] Id. [43] Lifton, p 504. [44] [45] The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Part 1, at 30:00

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