The Medical Evidence Pertaining to the JFK Assassination from the Doctors Who Tried to Save his Life (Part 2 of 3)
(Read Part 1 of this series at this link.)
Nixon was keenly aware that Kennedy’s battle with powerful internal elements had preceded JFK’s demise. After all, governments everywhere have historically faced the reality that the apparatus of state security might have the chief of state in its gun sights – and that it certainly possesses the ability to act – Russ Baker, from his book, “Family of Secrets – The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and What their Influence Means for America”.
The Warren Commission conclusion that the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was the work of a lone gunman was based in large part on autopsy evidence pertaining to the two bullet wounds that Kennedy received that day. The autopsy evidence was purported to show that the two bullets that caused those wounds were shot from behind the President – that is, from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository, where evidence placed Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of the shooting.
But that autopsy evidence was starkly contradicted by testimony of the doctors and nurses who attempted to save Kennedy’s life at Parkland Memorial Hospital shortly following the shooting.
The Parkland doctors and one nurse characterized the throat wound as an entrance wound – which would mean that the bullet that caused it came from the front, in the general area of the grassy knoll, rather than from the Texas School Book Depository behind the President. The autopsy doctors did not see the throat wound in its original state because it had been surgically obliterated in the effort to save the President’s life.
The fatal head wound was judged to be an exit wound by both the Parkland doctors and the Bethesda autopsy doctors. But the two groups of doctors saw (according to their descriptions) the head wound in a very different location in Kennedy’s head. Assuming it to be an exit wound, as both groups of doctors agreed, if it was located where the Parkland doctors said they saw it (in the back or back-right of the head), that means that the bullet that caused it came from the front. Conversely, an exit wound where the autopsy doctors described it would have been consistent with a bullet from behind.
So that leaves two basic possibilities: Either the Parkland doctors and nurses were way off base in their observations and testimony, or else the President’s wounds were surgically altered prior to the autopsy.
This post is my second of a three part series on the JFK assassination. In this post, based mostly on David Lifton’s book, “Best Evidence – Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”, I discuss the medical evidence as testified to by the Parkland doctors and nurses, while pointing out some of the major differences between what they said they saw and what the autopsy doctors said they saw. Then in my third and final post on this subject, I’ll discuss additional evidence that the President’s body was surgically altered between the time that it left Parkland Hospital and the time that it arrived in the autopsy room, along with a critique of Vincent Bugliosi’s critique of Lifton’s book.
THE THROAT WOUND
The throat wound was made by the first of the two (or possibly more) bullets that struck Kennedy. It was not the fatal wound.
The physicians who performed the autopsy did not see this wound in its original state, because it was obliterated by one of the Parkland doctors, Dr. Malcolm Perry, when he made a surgical incision over it in order to perform a tracheotomy. Therefore, only the doctors and nurses at Parkland hospital had a view of this wound in its original state.
All of the Parkland doctors and the nurse who offered an opinion on the throat wound characterized it as an entrance wound.
It is also important to note that the “single bullet theory” depends upon the throat wound being an exit wound. That is because the “single bullet theory” alleges that a single bullet hit Kennedy in the back, exited the front of his neck, and then continued on to hit Governor John Connally (sitting in the front seat of the car, in front of Kennedy) in the back, wrist and leg.
Characterization as an entrance wound by the Parkland doctors
Here are the descriptions of the throat wound by the doctors and one nurse at Parkland hospital:
Dr. Malcolm Perry
Lifton describes the initial news accounts of the opinions of the Parkland doctors, particularly Dr. Malcolm Perry:
On November 22, 1963, millions of Americans heard radio and TV networks report that Dr. Malcolm Perry, a Dallas Physician who was with the President in the emergency room when he died, said there was a bullet entrance wound situated on the front of Kennedy’s neck.
Because Perry later changed his mind about the direction of the bullet, after receiving a visit from the Secret Service, and denied what he had originally said, Lifton goes to much effort to document Perry’s initial accounts. Here is some of that documentation:
UPI report at 3:10 p.m. CST on 11-22 (1):
Dr. Malcolm Perry, thirty-four, said “there was an entrance wound below the Adam’s apple.”
Tom Wicker with the New York Times (2):
Dr. Malcolm Perry, an attending surgeon, and Dr. Kemp Clark, chief of neurosurgery at Parkland Hospital, gave more details. Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam’s apple, they said. This wound had the appearance of a bullet’s entry…
Dallas News reporter John Geddie (3):
Dr. Perry said, “in the lower portion of Kennedy’s neck, right in the front, there was a small puncture.”
Lifton explains why he felt confidant that Perry had not been misquoted, as he later claimed:
Another factor reinforcing my conviction that Dr. Perry had not been misquoted was his reaction to the news that the shots were all fired from a building located behind the motorcade. Faced with that fact, Dr. Perry did not change his opinion about the wound; on the contrary, he simply assumed that President Kennedy was turned toward the rear when the bullet struck… He told the Boston Globe’s medical editor, Herbert Black (4):
“It may have been that the President was looking up or sideways with his head thrown back when the bullet or bullets struck him”.
However, we know from the Zapruder film that the President’s head was in fact facing forward when the fatal bullet struck his head.
Dr. Ronald Jones
In his Warren Commission deposition, Dr. Jones explained why the doctors considered the throat wound to be an entrance wound:
The hole was very small and relatively clean-cut as you would see in a bullet that is entering rather than exiting from a patient. (5)
Many of the doctors initially thought that the throat and head wound were caused by the same bullet, entering through the throat and exiting through the back of the head. Dr. Jones explained to the Warren Commission his initial thoughts:
With no history as to the number of times that the President had been shot or knowing the direction from which he had been shot, and seeing the wound in the midline of the neck (which Jones characterized as an entrance wound in his medical report) and what appeared to be an exit wound in the posterior portion of the skull, the only speculation that I could have as … to how this could occur with a single wound (bullet) would be that it would enter the anterior neck and possibly strike a vertebral body and then change its course and exit in the region of the posterior portion of the head… if I accounted for it (both wounds) on the basis of one shot, that would have been the way I (would have) accounted for it. (6)
Dr. Paul Peters
Dr. Peters testified at the Warren Commission Hearings (7):
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…
Dr. Charles Baxter
Lifton notes that despite Arlen Specter’s aggressive efforts to get the Parkland physicians to equivocate on their characterization of the throat wound, some of them argued back against him. Dr. Baxter, for example, noted that such a wound (to have been an exit wound) would be “unusual… ordinarily there would have been a rather large wound of exit.” (8)
Dr. Charles Carrico
On the afternoon of November 22, Dr. Charles Carrico described the throat wound in his medical report as “a small penetrating wound of the ant. (front) neck in the lower 1/3”. (9)
Nurse Margaret Henchliffe
Margarette Hencliffe testified to the Warren Commission (10):
It was just a little hole in the middle of his neck… about as big around as the end of my little finger… that looked like an entrance bullet hole…
Lifton describes Ms. Henchliffe’s exchange with Arlen Specter:
When asked by Specter if it could “have been an exit bullet hole,” Nurse Henchliffe insisted that she had “never seen an exit bullet hole… that looked like that… It was just a small wound and wasn’t jagged like most of the exit bullet wounds that I have seen…”
Immediately following this exchange, attorney Specter began a series of questions designed to establish that Nurse Henchliffe did not have qualifications to render such an opinion. Nurse Henchliffe answered that her experience was limited to five years in the ER at Parkland Memorial Hospital and, more generally, her twelve years as a registered nurse. “We take care of a lot of bullet wounds down there – I don’t know how many a year,” she testified (11).
Dr. Robert McClelland
Lifton describes Dr. McClelland’s interview with Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (12):
Dr. McClelland told the Post-Dispatch: “It certainly did look like an entrance wound.” He explained that a bullet from a low velocity rifle, like the one thought to have been used, characteristically makes a small entrance wound, sets up shock waves inside the body, and tears a big opening when it passes out the other side.
Dr. McClelland conceded that it was possible that the throat wound marked the exit of a bullet fired into the back of the President’s neck… “but we are familiar with bullet wounds,” he said. “We see them every day – sometimes several a day. This did appear to be an entrance wound.”
McClelland noted in the same interview, having been informed that Lee Harvey Oswald had shot the President from behind:
We postulated that if it was a wound of entry, as we thought it was… he would have to have been looking almost completely to the rear.
And McClelland testified to similar effect to the Warren Commission (13):
At the moment… it was our impression before we had any other information… that this was one bullet, that perhaps had entered through the front of the neck and then in some peculiar fashion which we really had… to strain to explain to ourselves, had coursed up the front of the vertebra and into the base of the skull and out the rear of the skull.
Dr. Robert Shaw
Dr. Shaw said that the doctors were “a little baffled” by the throat wound (14):
The assassin was behind him, yet the bullet entered at the front of his neck. Mr. Kennedy must have turned to his left to talk to Mrs. Kennedy or to wave to someone.
1) UPI “A” wire, 11-22-63, 3:10 p.m. CST
2) New York Times, 11-23-63
3) Dallas Morning News, 11-24-63, page 11
4) Boston Globe, 11-24-63, page 9
5) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 56
6) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 55
7) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 71
8) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 42
9) Warren Commission Report, page 519
10) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 141
11) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 141
12) St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12-1-63, page 16
13) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 37
14) Houston Post, 11-29-63
Apparent efforts to obscure the testimony of the Parkland doctors on the throat wound
Many people have pointed out that differentiating between an exit and an entrance wound is not an exact science, and that therefore the doctors at Parkland Hospital could have been wrong about Kennedy’s throat wound. That is a possibility. But weighing against that possibility is the fact that this particular wound was very highly characteristic of an entrance wound and that all of the doctors and the nurse who initially ventured an opinion on it had a similar opinion.
It is also important to note how various entities endeavored to … shall we say, sweep this evidence under the rug:
“Secret Service Gets Revision of Kennedy Wound”
On December 18th, a story by Richard Dudman appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, titled “Secret Service gets revision on Kennedy wound – After visit by agents, doctors say shot was from rear”. The doctors referred to in the article were Malcolm Perry and Robert McClelland. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Two Secret Service agents called last week on Dallas surgeons who attended President John F. Kennedy and obtained a reversal of their original view that the bullet in his neck entered from the front. The investigators did so by showing the surgeons a document described as an autopsy report from the US Naval Hospital at Bethesda. The surgeons changed their original view to conform with the report they were shown.
This article begs two questions in my mind. First, why would Secret Service agents feel the need to visit doctors in an attempt to get them to change their views? And second, how would the autopsy report change the views of the two doctors on the characterization of the throat wound, given that the throat wound was not seen by the autopsy doctors, having been obliterated by the tracheotomy that Dr. Perry performed?
Lifton summarized the change in Dr. Perry’s story by the time he testified before the Warren Commission:
By the time Dr. Perry testified before the Warren Commission his attitude had changed markedly. Although he was still describing the throat wound, anatomically, as a small pencil-size hole, just a quarter inch in diameter, Perry no longer maintained it was a wound of entry. “It could have been either” he said. And he apparently subscribed to the theory that he had been misquoted at the news conference.
The Warren Commission ignoring the initial characterization of the throat wound
One would think, given the fact that Dr. Perry’s opinions in his initial, widely broadcast news conference contradicted his later statements to the press, as well as his Warren Commission testimony, that the Warren Commission might have said something about this or at least preserved the records of Dr. Perry’s press conference in their hearings. But they did no such thing. Lifton comments on this oversight:
The twenty-six volumes (of Warren Commission Hearings) presented a strange appearance. Numerous transcripts of news conferences held at Police Headquarters were published, made from audio and videotapes obtained from the three major networks and their Dallas affiliates, but Dr. Perry’s news conference was not among them.
Arlen Specter’s aggressive attempts to negate the evidence for an entry wound into the throat
Lifton explains how Arlen Specter tried to get each medical witness to the throat wound to acknowledge that that wound was or could have been an exit wound – with the use of ridiculous hypothetical questions:
Specter asked each doctor a long hypothetical question, beginning with the phrase, “Permit me to add some facts which I shall ask you to assume as being true”… Typical was the question he asked of Dr. Carrico, which began (15):
Permit me to add some facts which I shall ask you to assume as being true for purposes of having you express an opinion. First of all, assume that the President was struck… when (he) was approximately 160 to 250 feet from the weapon (Oswald’s range)… being struck from the rear at a downward angle… on the upper right posterior thorax (the Bethesda entry wound)… Assume further that the missile passed through the body of the President striking no bones, traversing the neck and sliding between the large muscles (the Bethesda autopsy trajectory)… then exiting precisely at the point where you observed the puncture wound to exist (the Bethesda exit wound, at the location the Dallas doctors thought there was a wound of entry). Now based on those facts was the appearance of the wound in your opinion consistent with being an exit wound?
Dr. Carrico replied: “With those facts and the fact as I understand it no other bullet was found, this would be… I believe… an exit wound”.
However, not all the Parkland doctors were that docile. The one that did the most damage to Specter’s plan was Ronald Jones. Recall that the “single bullet theory”, which posited a single bullet for Kennedy’s throat wound and Governor Connally’s wounds, depended upon the bullet not only exiting Kennedy’s throat, but doing so with enough velocity to cause a good deal of damage to Connally. Lifton explains the damage that Jones did to Specter’s theories:
Dr. Jones explained that at that speed, much faster than sound, the missile has a shock wave and, passing through Kennedy’s neck, it might wobble, and therefore it would cause a larger wound of exit than the small pencil-size hole the Dallas doctors had seen. Dr. Jones explained that Specter could have his tiny exit wound, or his high-velocity missile, but not both (16). Specter seemed to resist:
Specter: Would it (the wound) be consistent, then, with an exit wound but of low velocity, as you put it?
Jones: Yes; of very low velocity to the point that you might think that this bullet barely made it through the soft tissues that and had just enough velocity to drop out of the skin on the opposite side (17).
Of course, such a missile posed no threat to the welfare of Governor Connally, and Dr. Jones’ testimony was not discussed in the Warren Report.
15) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 3, page 362
16) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 55
17) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 55
THE FATAL HEAD WOUND
Both the Parkland doctors and the autopsy doctors considered the fatal head wound to be an exit wound. However, there were huge disparities in how the wound was characterized by the Parkland doctors compared to the autopsy doctors in Bethesda, and these disparities were of critical importance in determining whether the bullet came from in front of (as clearly indicated by the Parkland doctors’ description) or behind (as was consistent with the autopsy doctors’ description) the President. So vast were these disparities that it is virtually impossible to imagine that the two groups of doctors were looking at the same body.
Recognizing the vast discrepancies between the opinions and findings of the Parkland Hospital physicians vs. the autopsy findings, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) final report in 1979 concluded that either the Parkland doctors were mistaken or else the Secret Service was mistaken in their contention that the body arrived at the autopsy room unaltered. It then sided with the Secret Service, saying that they could not have been mistaken in their assertion that the body was not altered prior to autopsy, because the coffin with the body in it was under their constant observation from the time it left Parkland hospital until it arrived at the autopsy room. In other words, the HSCA did not seriously consider the possibility that the Secret Service participated in the cover-up. I’ll deal with that in my next post on this subject, which discusses evidence that the body was indeed altered substantially prior to the autopsy. For now I’ll just point out some of the major differences between the Parkland doctors’ accounts and the autopsy report:
Characterization of the head wound as an “exit” wound at the back of the head by the Parkland doctors
Dr. Robert McClelland
Dr. McClelland provided the most extensive description of the head wound. He testified before the Warren Commission:
I was in such a position that I could very closely examine the head wound… and I noted that the right posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted. It had been shattered, apparently by the force of the shot, so that the parietal bone was protruded up through the scalp and seemed to be fractured along its right posterior half, as well as some of the occipital bone being fractured in its lateral half, and this sprung open the bones… in such a way that you could actually look down into the skull cavity (18).
Because Dr. McClelland recorded in his medical notes on the day of the assassination that “The cause of death was due to massive head and brain injury from a gunshot wound of the left temple” (19), that would clearly make the wound at the “right posterior portion of the skull” an exit wound
Dr. Paul Peters
Dr. Peters said in an interview with Lifton:
I was trying to think how he could have had a hole in his neck and a hole in the occiput, and the only answer we could think of was perhaps the bullet had gone in through the front, hit the bony spinal column, and exited through the back of the head, since a wound of exit is always bigger than a wound of entry.
Dr. Malcolm Perry
Dr. Perry was quoted in the Dallas Morning News (20): “The head wound, Perry added, appeared to be an exit wound caused when the bullet passed out.” And in an interview with the Boston Globe (21), Perry described the wound in the back of the head as an exit wound, even though he had had heard by that time that the president was shot from behind:
Perry acknowledged it was peculiar that “rather than entering” from behind, the bullet exited “despite the fact the assassin shot from above down on to the President.” But he assured Black that the wound he saw on the head was an exit: “We know that the big damage is at the point of exit.” He offered this explanation” “It may have been that the President was looking up or sideways with his head thrown back when the bullet or bullets struck him.
Other Parkland doctors’ testimony on the nature of the back of the head wound
Dr. Ronald Jones: “… appeared to be an exit wound in the posterior portion of the skull”. (22)
Dr. Gene Akin: “I assume that the right occipitoparietal region was the exit”. (23)
Dr. Marion Jenkins: “I would interpret it being a wound of exit” (24)
Dr. Kemp Clark: Of the 7 Parkland physicians who characterized the nature of the fatal head wound (exit vs. entrance), only one equivocated (the other 6 characterizing it as an exit wound.) Dr. Kemp Clark said it could be an exit wound, but it was also possible the wound was “tangential” (25) – meaning that it did not enter the skull, but caused damage through contact. In that case, it could have come from either direction.
18) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 33
19) Warren Commission Report, page 527
20) Dallas Morning News, 11-24-63
21) Boston Globe, 11-24-63
22) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 56
23) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 67
24) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 51
25) St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12-18-63, page 1
Differences in the size and location of the wound between Parkland Hospital and Bethesda
Lifton notes that both the Parkland doctors and the Bethesda doctors agreed on one thing. The “large” hole in the head was the exit wound for the fatal bullet. But the word “large” is just about the only thing they agreed on concerning this wound. The Parkland doctors placed the wound in the back or right back of the head. The Bethesda doctors described the wound as being about four times larger in area than the Parkland doctors. Therefore, though their report indicated the wound as extending to the back of the head, they also had it covering a much wider area. Because of the much wider area of the wound that the Bethesda doctors described, that exit wound might have been consistent with a bullet coming from the back and above. But the exit wound in the back of the head described by the Parkland doctors would not have been at all consistent with a shot from behind. Here is how Lifton described the autopsy report:
There was a huge hole about six inches across in the top of the head. The hole extended all the way from the rear of the skull, in the occipital area, nearly six inches toward the front, and was completely uncovered. Dr. Humes said its largest dimension was “approximately 13 cm” (26)…. At the autopsy, Commander Boswell made a drawing of the skull which depicted the wound as a roughly rectangular area with measurement of 10 by 17 cm. Inside that area, Boswell had written “missing.” (27) At the rear of the head, just beneath the large hole, one inch to the right of the centerline, Commander Humes reported the existence of a small rectangular entry wound – 15 by 6 mm in size…
That is not the way the President’s head appeared earlier that afternoon, at Parkland Memorial Hospital. None of the Dallas doctors saw the small “entry” wound subsequently reported by Commander Humes. More important, the only major wound noted by the Parkland doctors (28) – approximately 5 to 7 cm. in diameter – was located in the right rear portion of the head. The bones were sprung outward, and a flap of scalp was associated with the wound. The top of the President’s head was in place – it was not “missing.”
More specifically, Lifton notes nurses Hutton (29) and Bowron (30) as describing a wound at the back of the head, and doctors Carrico (28), Jones (31), Akin (32), Perry (33), Peters (34), Clark (35), and Jenkins (36) as describing wounds at the back or back-right of the head. None of them described anything similar to the wound stipulated in the autopsy.
Lifton summarizes why he believes that the body that the Bethesda autopsy doctors saw had to have been altered from its appearance at Parkland hospital:
If the condition of the President’s head was the same at Parkland as at Bethesda, not only did the Parkland doctors miss a 13 cm hole in the top of the skull, they missed one which would have been obvious even upon cursory examination, since the scalp was gone too.
26) Bethesda Autopsy Report, page 3
27) Warren Commission Exhibit 397
28) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 6
29) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 21, page 216
30) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 136
31) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 54
32) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 65
33) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 11
34) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 71
35) Transcript of 1327-C of Perry and Clark news conference
36) Warren Commission Exhibit 392
SUMMARY / CONCLUSION
If the President’s throat wound was an entrance wound, as the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital unanimously (before two of them were later visited by Secret Service agents) claimed, then at least one bullet came from the front, in the general direction of the grassy knoll. Of course, it is possible that they were all wrong about that wound – which would have made it a very unusual exit wound. But if so, then as Dr. Jones explained to Arlen Specter, that would have meant that the velocity of the bullet as it exited the throat would have been so slow that it couldn’t possibly have continued on to do damage to Governor Connally, as concluded by the Warren Commission. Also of importance is the fact that the Bethesda autopsy doctors did not see the throat wound in its original state because it had been obliterated by a tracheotomy performed at Parkland Hospital.
The Parkland doctors and nurses and the Bethesda doctors all agreed that the fatal head wound was an exit wound. But the wound that these two groups of doctors described was vastly different in size and location. If this fatal wound was an exit wound, as all agreed, the location of the wound at the back of the head described by the Parkland doctors would have meant that the bullet must have come from the front. But if the huge exit wound described by the autopsy doctors was correct, then it might have been consistent with a shot from the Texas School Book Depository, where the evidence placed Lee Harvey Oswald.
Therefore, either the Parkland doctors were all hugely mistaken about the location of the fatal wound, or else the body was altered prior to the time that the autopsy doctors saw it in Bethesda. In my next post I’ll describe additional evidence that the body was in fact grossly altered prior to its arrival in the autopsy room.