Bugliosi Vs. Lifton on the Question of Alteration of JFK’s Body Prior to Autopsy (Part 3 of 3)
Perhaps the most crucial issue regarding the question of whether John F. Kennedy was shot by a lone assassin or by more than one gunman acting as part of a conspiracy is the accuracy of the medical evidence as testified to by the doctors and nurses who tried to save Kennedy’s life at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, vs. the accuracy of the autopsy report. The testimony of the Parkland doctors and nurses, which I described in my Part 2 of this series, indicated that at least one bullet, and probably two came from the front. The autopsy report claimed that both bullets came from the back, in the direction of the Texas School Book Depository, where evidence placed Lee Harvey Oswald. Both sets of doctors testified to a very different appearance of the body as they saw it, especially the fatal head wound. There are two possible explanations for that. Either the Parkland doctors and nurses were grossly mistaken as to what they saw, or else the body was altered prior to autopsy. I think that the possibility of so many doctors and nurses being wrong about what they saw is very slim.
Most of the evidence for the body alteration comes from David Lifton’s 699 page book, “Best Evidence – Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. Vincent Bugliosi claims to debunk Lifton’s claims in his own 1600 page book, “Reclaiming History”. He devotes 14 pages to debunking Lifton’s claims, in a chapter called “David Lifton and the Alteration of the President’s Body”. This post examines the evidence for alteration of the body prior to autopsy, and Bugliosi’s attempted debunking of that evidence. Bugliosi’s “debunking” of Lifton’s evidence and other evidence pointing towards a conspiracy in the assassination of JFK is especially important because Bugliosi is highly respected in many circles. I have a lot of respect for him myself – though as you will see, his “debunking” of Lifton’s book is pathetic at best.
If the President’s body was altered prior to the autopsy by those conspiring in his assassination, the purpose of doing that would have been to make it appear at autopsy as if the President’s wounds had been caused by bullets coming from behind him, thus pointing the blame towards Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin. If that was done, the following steps would likely have been required:
1) Get control of the body prior to autopsy
The conspirators would have had to make sure that the body was not autopsied at Parkland Hospital, as required by Texas law. They would have had to gain control of the body before it was autopsied.
2) Transport the body to a site for body alteration, unseen by non-conspirators
They would have to transport the body to some place where they could make the necessary alterations, unseen by anyone outside of the conspiracy. One possibility would have been to make the alterations at Bethesda Naval Hospital itself, maybe even inside the autopsy room. But given all the public attention focused on that area, that plan might have been considered unfeasible to pull off in secrecy.
If making the alterations at Bethesda Naval Hospital was considered too risky, they probably would have had to switch the body into a different coffin prior to the autopsy, so that they could transport it, unseen by the public, to a place where they would have the opportunity to make the necessary alterations.
3) Alter the body
They would have had to make the necessary alterations in the body. That would have included the following:
Since the fatal head wound at the back of the head, as described by the Parkland doctors and explained in my previous post, clearly indicated a shot from the front, that wound would have to be altered. They couldn’t very well simply cover it up. So they would have had to expand it forward and laterally so that a shot from the back would at least be a plausible explanation for it.
The throat wound would present a major problem if a bullet from the front had entered the throat and then lodged somewhere in the area without exiting the body. The discovery of such a bullet at autopsy, along with the track of the bullet, would constitute clear evidence of where the bullet came from.
Lastly, if the throat wound and the fatal head wound were to be claimed as exit wounds, then the conspirators would have to create corresponding “entrance wounds” on the back of the body.
4) Maintain control of the original coffin from the plane to the autopsy room
If the body were switched to a different coffin on Air Force One, it would be necessary for the conspirators to maintain control of the original coffin (in addition to the coffin with the body in it) until it arrived at the autopsy room. One reason for that is because if anyone else was allowed to handle the original (empty) coffin it might have been obvious that there was no body in it, because it would have felt excessively light.
Then, after arrival at Bethesda with the empty coffin, they would have had to get the empty coffin into the hospital while evading those who normally would have obtained it, for a long enough time to obtain the altered body and load it back into the original coffin.
5) Intimidation of the autopsy physicians
They might also have had to intimidate the autopsy doctors. Despite all their efforts there was no way to know that they would be able to fool experienced pathologists. In case they didn’t, they would need some way of obtaining their cooperation.
With all that in mind, let’s consider the evidence:
Maintaining control of the body prior to autopsy
The first step was to make sure that the autopsy was not performed in Texas, as required by state law. In trying to do this, a vicious argument ensued between Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman and Dr. Earl Rose, the Dallas County Medical Examiner. Rose tried to explain that state law required the body to be autopsied in Texas, and that removing the body to Washington would interrupt the chain of evidence. But to no avail.
Here is an account of the “argument”, from Lifton’s interview with Aubrey Rike, a Dallas official who was responsible for staying with the casket:
I was scared to death... I was scared all the time I was there... You know, we'd start pushing, and somebody would grab us, and push us back, and pull the casket back. You'd have to see it to believe it... it was the most unorganized, scary type situation I have ever been in my life. I'm a policeman now, and I've been up against all kinds of stuff.
Bugliosi’s rebuttal of Lifton’s account
Bugliosi mentions this incident, and in fact confirms Lifton’s account when he says “Almost physical force was used to prevent the autopsy from being done at Parkland”. But Bugliosi says that, not in support of Lifton’s theory, but against it. His point is that the autopsy could have been done at Parkland, and if that was the case, then the conspirators would have had to have had a team of plastic surgeons available to perform the necessary body alterations.
But Bugliosi’s belief that the autopsy could have been performed at Parkland Hospital seems unrealistic. The accounts by Rike and others make it clear that the Secret Service would not have allowed it. It appears that they would have used whatever force was necessary to ensure that no autopsy was performed at Parkland Hospital.
Transport the body to a site for body alteration, unseen by non-conspirators
As noted above, if the body was transported somewhere to be surgically altered, it probably would have had to first been secretly transferred to another coffin, since the original coffin was bound to be carefully (and publicly, on national TV) watched on its way to the autopsy site.
Lifton describes his extensive interviews with four persons who noted that Kennedy’s body arrived in a casket that was very different than the one that he was placed in after he died at Parkland Hospital. The Parkland Hospital casket was a fancy bronze casket. The one that these four witnesses observed was a cheap, tin, gray or pinkish-gray casket. The witnesses were: Dennis David, former Navy Lt. Commander, and E6 Petty Officer on November 22, 1963; Paul O’Connor and James Jenkins, laboratory technologists who had the duty of preparing the body for autopsy on November 22nd; and, Floyd Reibe, who had photography duties that day. O’Connor and Reibe also remembered Kennedy being in a body bag when he arrived in that coffin. In addition, Captain John Stover noted Kennedy arriving in a body bag, but didn’t recall the type of coffin. The body bag is important because when Kennedy was placed into the fancy bronze coffin in Dallas he was placed with sheets over him, but definitely not in a body bag.
Lifton also describes what he considers to be a plausible scenario for being switched into a different coffin on the plane, transferred to a site for body alteration, and then transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital for the autopsy. He devotes an 18 page chapter to how he developed this scenario. I’ll just summarize parts of the scenario here, along with some of the supporting evidence:
Lifton says that it appeared from the public record that the coffin was unattended on Air Force One from 2:18 to 2:32 p.m. He goes on to explain why he believes that, but I won’t discuss that here because I don’t feel that explanation was convincing.
Lifton estimates that the plane landed at Andrews AFB at about 5:58 p.m. He notes that Walter Reed Army Hospital was 13.3 miles away, so that a helicopter could have picked up the body and transported it there by 6:05. That would leave about 30 minutes for doing the body alterations, then putting it on a helicopter and arriving at Bethesda Naval Hospital by about 6:45, which was the time that Dennis David estimated that the unmarked black ambulance arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital with the body in the gray-pink, tin coffin.
In support of the idea that a helicopter picked up the body quickly, Lifton describes the CBS coverage of the landing, in which the announcement of the event was drowned out by “the turning rotor of a helicopter” (1), and an NBC log that indicated that “The Presidential jet is seen arriving, along with an Army helicopter” (2).
In support of the idea that the body was taken specifically to Walter Reed, among other evidence Lifton explains that one of the autopsy doctors, Commander Thornton Boswell, in response to Lifton asking him how he learned that the body was coming to Bethesda Naval Hospital, responded with a description of a telephone call he received that day:
The President’s physician was on the airplane, and he radioed to Washington, and the information either came directly to Walter Reed, or indirectly through some other communication means, to Walter Reed… And he notified me that they were coming…
Bugliosi’s rebuttal of Lifton’s account
Bugliosi saves most of his rebuttal for this particular part of Lifton’s book. He says, “Setting aside Lifton’s delirious ‘everybody had their eyes closed and never saw anything’ theory for a moment…” But then he fails to even mention the most important part of Lifton’s reason for believing that the body was switched into another casket prior to arrival at Bethesda – the four eye-witnesses that Lifton quotes to the effect that the body arrived in a gray or gray-pink, cheap metal casket.
Bugliosi begins his attack on the idea of a coffin switch on the plane by saying “a sine qua non to Lifton’s entire premise is that at various points along the way, no one, literally no one, was paying any attention to the president’s casket, it being left unattended”.
He then goes on to cite a few people offering the opinion that the coffin with the body in it was under constant watch throughout the trip. The biggest devastation to Lifton’s scenario of the switch on the plane comes from a quote by Dave Powers, who says:
The coffin was never unattended. Lifton’s story is the biggest pack of malarkey I ever heard in my life. I never had my hands or eyes off of it during that period he says it was unattended…
Though Bugliosi criticizes Lifton’s estimation of the time that the plane landed, he notes himself that flight records had the plane landing at 5:59, one minute off of Lifton’s estimate. He confirms Lifton’s account of a helicopter being present at the time of the plane’s landing.
Bugliosi then goes on to say, “Finally, as if this isn’t enough, Lifton’s fantasy couldn’t have happened because the conspirators would have needed at least three separate teams of plastic surgeons waiting in hiding, one at each of the three hospitals (Parkland, Walter Reed, and Bethesda Naval Hospital).
Bugliosis’ initial assertion is not true. Lifton’s premise does not require that at “various points along the way… literally no one was paying any attention to the president’s casket…” First of all, Lifton’s premise requires only ONE point along the way – perhaps for 2-5 minutes. And on a plane that may have had several co-conspirators flying on it, it wouldn’t require that “literally no one” was paying attention – only that those not involved in the conspiracy weren’t paying attention.
Bugliosi’s assertion that three teams of plastic surgeons would have been required is likewise not true. They wouldn’t have needed anyone at Parkland, since they made sure that the autopsy wasn’t performed there. Nor would they have required one at Bethesda Naval Hospital if they planned to do the alterations at Walter Reed. Bugliosi points out that Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t decide that the autopsy would be done at Bethesda until the last minute. So what? If she had decided to have it done at Walter Reed instead of Bethesda, that likely would have made it easier for the conspirators, since that’s where the alterations were probably done. And furthermore, plastic surgeons weren’t needed for the hatchet job that was done on the president’s body.
The biggest obstacle to Lifton’s scenario is Dave Powers’ statement, noted above. It doesn’t seem at all likely that Powers was in on the conspiracy. So his statement carries a lot of weight.
But weighing against that statement is a need to explain how the description of the wound given by the Parkland doctors differed so markedly from the description given by the autopsy doctors, and why four witnesses noticed the body arrive at Bethesda Naval Hospital in a different coffin. Those things demand an explanation.
And there is good evidence that Powers’ statement is wrong. First, a book written by Powers and O’Donnell themselves, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”, describes Lyndon Johnson taking the Presidential oath, as related by Ron Ecker:
Finally Judge Hughes appeared, and Johnson asked all of us who were in the back of the plane with President Kennedy’s casket to come up to the front to attend his oath-taking ceremony. I (O’Donnell) found everybody standing around and waiting again, although the judge was ready with President Kennedy’s Bible in her hand. I asked Johnson why he was still delaying. He said he was waiting for Mrs. Kennedy, which bothered me because I felt that attending the swearing-in might be upsetting for her. ‘She said she wants to be here when I take the oath,’ Johnson said. ‘Why don’t you see what’s keeping her?’”
O’Donnell went and got Jackie, after which the book clearly leaves it understood that no one was left in the rear of the aircraft until after LBJ was sworn in. This was time and opportunity enough for the body to be snatched.
Furthermore, there are accounts that place Dave Powers next to Jackie and Ken O'Donnell during the swearing in. A Time Magazine article in the Feb. 24, 1967 issue says he was there and that there are photos proving it:
All of the photographer's take — the full existing photographic record of what happened that day on Air Force One — are printed on the following two pages. Most of the pictures have never been published before. The full set shows that while Larry O'Brien may well have withdrawn, Ken O'Donnell, Dave Powers and Assistant Press Secretary Mac Kilduff were certainly present.
Alteration of the body
The fatal head wound
In my last post I discussed in detail the vast differences between the description of the fatal head wound by the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, compared to the autopsy doctors. This, plus other evidence of striking differences between what the Parkland doctors said they saw vs. what the autopsy doctors saw, constitutes the primary evidence for Lifton’s assertion that the body was altered prior to autopsy. Here is Lifton’s summary, from my last post, of the different descriptions of the fatal head wound. He begins with the autopsy doctors’ description:
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” (3)…. 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.” (4) 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 (5) – 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.”
Additional support for the Parkland doctors’ description of the fatal head wound comes from Lifton’s interview with laboratory technician James Jenkins, who viewed the initial entry of Kennedy’s body into Bethesda Naval Hospital:
When I told Jenkins that the autopsy photographs showed that the back of the head was essentially intact, except for a small bullet entry wound at the top, he was incredulous. “That’s not possible. That is totally – you know, there’s no possible way. Okay? It’s not possible…
Jenkins account suggests that President Kennedy’s body, even though altered, was not altered sufficiently to create the unambiguous appearance of a shot from the rear.
The throat wound
The bullet wound in the throat, which the Parkland doctors referred to as an entrance wound (meaning that the bullet came from the front), was obliterated during their attempt to save the President’s life, when Dr. Carrico made a tracheotomy incision. Dr. Perry had described the tracheotomy incision as measuring 2-3 cm, compared to Dr. James Humes, the autopsy physician, who testified before the Warren Commission that the incision was 7-8 cm (6), and whose notes described it as “a 6.5 cm long transverse wound with widely gaping irregular edges.” (7) That sentence depicted two important differences with the incision as seen at Parkland: The length of the incision and the “gaping irregular edges”, which were said to have been smooth at Parkland. When Lifton asked Perry whether the incision could have been as large as 4.5 cm, Perry said that he doubted it was that large.
The idea that the throat was altered was given additional credence by Dr. John Ebersole, who noted that the throat wound was sutured (8), which was clearly not the case when the body left Parkland Hospital.
The back wound
The alleged back wound was concluded by the autopsy physicians and the Warren report to be the point of entry for the bullet that caused the throat wound. This wound was not noted by the Parkland doctors, though it is possible that they could have missed it, since Kennedy was lying on his back when they tried to save his life.
However, a major problem with the back wound is the observations of laboratory technician James Jenkins, who observed the autopsy. From Lifton’s interview with Jenkins:
He remembered very clearly Humes’ probing the back wound with his little finger. “What sticks out in my mind,” Jenkins told me, “is the fact that Commander Humes put his little finger in it, and, you know, said that… he could probe the bottom of it with his finger, which would mean to me it was very shallow… it would have been no way that that (bullet) could have exited in the front.
Of all Bugliosi’s rebuttals, his rebuttal (or non-rebuttal would be a better term) to the heart of Lifton’s argument shows more than anything else that Bugliosi had very little understanding of Lifton’s book.
Bugliosi says that “The centerpiece of his (Lifton’s) fantasy was found in a … FBI document… written by FBI special agents Francis O’Neill Jr. and James W. Sibert… (which noted) surgery of the head area, namely in the top of the skull”.
That was not at all the “centerpiece” of Lifton’s “fantasy”. The centerpiece of his book was the vast differences in the body, as viewed by the Parkland doctors vs. the autopsy doctors.
Secondly, Bugliosi says that Lifton claimed the head wound noted by the Parkland doctors to be an entry wound, when in fact Lifton devoted vast portions of his book to documenting that it was an exit wound.
Bugliosi barely mentions the vastly different descriptions, by the two sets of doctors, of the head wound, to which Lifton devotes large sections of his book. He does quote from the autopsy report that “There is a large irregular defect of the scalp and skull on the right involving chiefly the parietal bone but extending somewhat into the temporal and occipital regions. In this region there is an actual absence of scalp and bone producing a defect which measures 13 cm in greatest diameter”. In doing that, Bugliosi (perhaps inadvertently) confirms Lifton’s description of the autopsy report. But Bugliosi adds a footnote to that statement, stating that “Dr. Michael Baden told me… the photographs and X-rays taken at the time of the autopsy clearly show that no additional incisions were made anywhere on his body after it left Parkland and prior to the autopsy at Bethesda.”
That is just absurd. Either Bugliosi quoted Baden incorrectly, or else Dr. Baden’s statement is absurd. The wound description to which the footnote concerning Dr. Baden’s statement is attached is nothing like what the Parkland doctors described. It is far larger and extends much farther forward and to the top of the skull (See Lifton’s account, above, or for a much more detailed account, Part 2 of this series, on the medical evidence as reported by the Parkland doctors.)
Bugliosi dismisses the enlargement of the throat wound by saying “Lifton says the plotters enlarged the wound in the throat (ignoring the fact that the tracheotomy at Parkland had already done that)”. How much of Lifton’s book did Bugliosi read?! Lifton doesn’t ignore the tracheotomy at all. To the contrary, he describes interviews he had with several of the Parkland doctors regarding the size of the tracheotomy incision, which as noted above was much smaller than what Humes noted in his autopsy report.
And finally, Bugliosi doesn’t even mention James Jenkins’ characterization of the shallowness of the back wound, which casts serious doubt on that wound (or body alteration as the case may be) representing an entry for a bullet that exited the throat.
Maintaining control of the original coffin from the plane to the autopsy room
In order to provide cover for their alterations of the body, the conspirators would need to make a public show of transporting the original coffin from the plane to Bethesda Naval Hospital, then load the altered body into the original casket while attracting as little attention as possible, and then have the body in the original casket brought into the autopsy room. Lifton presents dozens of pages of several interviews with eye-witnesses that led him to the conclusion that that is exactly what happened. In addition to describing the eye-witness accounts of the arrival of the gray metal casket with the body in a body bag, described above, here is some evidence of how the conspirators maintained control of the original coffin long enough to carry out their plan:
The Army provided a “casket team” of six soldiers who were supposed to obtain the casket for transportation to Bethesda Naval Hospital as it was unloaded off of Air Force One After landing at Andrews AFB. When the casket team tried to obtain the casket (which unbeknownst to them did not contain the body), however, they were pushed out of the way by Secret Service agents (9), who loaded the casket into an ambulance, which then proceeded by motorcade to Bethesda Naval Hospital. The Army casket team then proceeded by helicopter to Bethesda to await the body.
The motorcade with the original but now empty coffin (supposedly containing the body) arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital at 6:55 p.m. (AFTER the arrival of the plain grey casket which contained the body). But the Army casket team was still not allowed to obtain the casket. There are a number of similar accounts by members of the casket team as to how this happened, but here is a portion of the one that I find the most revealing – a taped interview of Army casket team member Hubert Clark, by Lifton:
“I think there was a decoy, supposedly to get the people away from the hospital... And we went around to the back I remember driving some distance ... before we actually came in contact with the real casket ..."
Lifton asked if he remembered losing the ambulance. Clark responded:
“I ... we lost it ... We were saying, 'Now where the hell is he?... Why is he speeding?' And we were trying to figure out, 'Well, why is he going so fast? We're going to lose him.' ... and we were saying to each other ... 'What, is he trying to lose us?'..."
Clark said that he thought the ride lasted 10-15 minutes and that the truck got up to speeds of 45 or 50:
”We followed the ambulance until we lost it .. And then it was ... another fifteen minutes trying to find ... to get back to where we started from.”
Bugliosi’s rebuttal of Lifton’s account
Bugliosi gives the following account of this part of Lifton’s book:
In Lifton’s psychotic (and psychedelic) scenario… “the body was transported into the Dallas casket” (the expensive bronze one) and taken outside and put into the “correct” ambulance. The casket was then removed from the ambulance by the District of Washington casket team and brought back into the morgue for the commencement of the autopsy at 8 p.m.
Thus he rebuts the whole thing by referring to Lifton’s account as “psychotic”. He does not mention how the Secret Service denied the casket to the Army casket team at Andrews Air Force Base, for the trip to Bethesda. Nor does he mention the description of the ambulance chase around Bethesda Hospital required to further deny the Army casket team access to the casket prior to loading the body into it, which Lifton recorded in a taped interview. Nor does he mention that Lifton developed the above scenario through dozens of pages of interviews with numerous on-the-scene witnesses, some who observed the body in the gray-pink metal casket, and others who observed it (later) in the bronze casket.
It is also important to note, as Lifton describes, and Bugliosi confirms, that a verbal order went out from the Surgeon General Edward Kenney to all witnesses to events surrounding the autopsy, on November 22, confirmed four days later (page 72) in writing that “You are reminded that you are under verbal orders of the Surgeon General, United States Navy, to discuss with no one events connected with your official duties on the evening of 22 November – 23 November 1963. This letter constitutes official notification… You are warned that infraction of these orders makes you liable to Court Martial proceedings under…” That order was lifted in 1978, so that the House Select Committee on Assassinations would be able to interview witnesses.
It should be evident that such an order would tend to prevent the embarrassing release of information to the effect that different witnesses saw Kennedy’s body arrive in different coffins.
Intimidation of the autopsy physicians
Lifton and others have described a great deal of evidence that the autopsy physicians were intimidated. I’ll relate a small bit of that here:
First, Lifton notes that from the beginning, Humes was forbidden to discuss the autopsy with anyone (10).
Then there is the trial of Clay Shaw, at which Dr. Pierre Finck, one of the autopsy physicians, was cross-examined by Alvin Oser. This was described by Jim Garrison, a Louisiana District Attorney, in his book, “On the Trail of the Assassins”. Oser asked Finck seven times why he didn’t “dissect the track of that particular bullet (the one that caused the throat wound) in the victim”, and each time Oser dodged the question (A finding that the track didn’t extend to the other side of the body would have proven that the throat wound was an entrance wound). Finally, Oser says:
Oser: Your Honor, I would ask Your Honor to direct the witness to answer my question. I will ask you the question one more time: WHY did you not dissect the track of the bullet wound that you have described today and you saw at the time of the autopsy at the time you examined the body? WHY?
Finck: As I recall I was told not to, but I don’t remember by whom.
Then there was Lifton’s interview with J.S. Layton Ledbetter, who was Chief of the Day of the Medical Center command on November 22, 1963. Ledbetter told Lifton:
These three gentlemen walked up to me and they said: “Are you Chief Ledbetter?... We’re Secret Service men receiving the body of President Kennedy back here, and … there’s already 26 of us here on the compound. They identified themselves.” They made clear that from that point forward, it was a Secret Service operation. The Secret Service men seen by Ledbetter at 4:20 p.m. are as unknown to the official records of the investigation as…
And, from the interview that Lifton had with James Jenkins, who observed the autopsy and some of its aftermath, Jenkins told Lifton:
“There were no conclusions that night… There were some… discussions between the three physicians, with a couple of other people – I don’t know who they were. They seemed to be in charge, or seemed to be some type of authority… It had made a vivid impression. There was temperament, anger, and rumblings… The people running around in civilian clothes… had a preconcluded idea, and … because it was not panning out, you know, they were very – there were a lot of animosities, to be quite frank with you… there were very short tempers…This would be found, and somebody would say, ‘No, that’s not right; can’t be, that type of thing. That’s not possible.’ I even felt like – and this was my opinion, I don’t know how they felt about it – that… someone was chastising them…. The civilians who seemed to be in charge seemed to be trying to get Humes to conclude that a bullet passed from back to front through the body.” Jenkins had a clear recollection that that wasn’t possible.
Bugliosi’s rebuttal of Lifton’s account
Bugliosi doesn’t even mention any of this. All he has to say on the subject is “He (Lifton) doesn’t even say how the three autopsy surgeons and every other pathologist, including the nine forensic pathologists on the HSCA medical panel, all concluded that the two wounds to the back side of the president were caused by bullets.”
So it is that Vincent Bugliosi demonstrated only the shallowest of an understanding of Lifton’s book and consequently ignored his most important arguments or grossly mischaracterized them. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising, given Bugliosi’s attitude towards Lifton’s book. Bugliosi says near the beginning of his chapter on Lifton:
One theory that perhaps “takes the cake” is set forth by conspiracy author David Lifton in his book Best Evidence. The theory is so unhinged that it really doesn’t deserve one word in any serious treatment of the assassination. The only problem is that it comes wrapped in a hefty 747-page book, which was published in 1980 by a prominent publisher, was treated seriously by many people who should know better, got excellent reviews in several major newspapers, was a Book of the Month Club selection, and was on the New York Times best-seller list for three months, rising as high as number four. Therefore, I am forced to devote some time to talking about nonsense of the most exquisite nature.
To Bugliosi’s credit, he does give Lifton some much deserved credit:
In addition to praise for his thorough research, Lifton does deserve one other compliment. Unlike the overwhelming majority of conspiracy theorists, he does not deliberately twist, warp, and lie about the official record. Such honesty, together with his being an indefatigable and resourceful investigator, would make him a worthy adversary if he had common sense on his side.
But David Lifton, a graduate of Cornell University School of Engineering Physics and a computer engineer in the Apollo space program, makes plenty of sense. Bugliosi’s words to the contrary notwithstanding (I believe that Bugliosi would admit this if asked to think about it), Lifton did not conduct his investigation with the intent of proving any preconceived idea, but rather it was a several year struggle to find the truth. Lifton describes almost every clue he came across in chronological sequence and in great detail, revising his theory numerous times along the way, as scientists do in their attempts to find scientific truths. The final two paragraphs of Lifton’s book explain why he devoted so many years to his effort – and to a lesser extent, why I have posted as many times as I have on this subject:
This position… represents a cynical view of our society. It presumes the gullibility and timidity of the electorate, and the absolute sanctity of vested authority. It is a view that I do not want to accept. Yet I must concede that even if there is a new investigation, it is unlikely that the architects of this plot can be identified or brought to justice. But that is not the point. The disguise they erected must be torn down, and it must be done officially. That would be the most important outcome of a new investigation. If we cannot have justice, perhaps we can at least have the truth. At present, the disguise erected by the plotters not only conceals their identity, but some fundamental truths about our country. It hides the fact that some time during Kennedy’s thousand days, a secret veto was cast on his presidency and his life.
1) Author’s transcript of CBS network broadcast, 11-22-63
2) NBC-TV broadcast at 6:00 p.m., as recorded in “There was a President”, pp. 21-22
3) Bethesda Autopsy Report, page 3
4) Warren Commission Exhibit 397
5) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 6, page 6
6) Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 2, page 361
7) Bethesda Autopsy Report, page 3
8) Philadelphia Enquirer, “Celebrity in their Midst”, 3-10-78
9) Military District of Washington, D.C. – Bird Report, 12-10-63
10) New York Times – 12-6-63