The Medical Fiasco
Perhaps the most contentious body of evidence and testimony in the Kennedy assassination is the medical evidence. This is due to wildly conflicting testimony from the doctors and medical staff who attempted to resuscitate President after the shooting at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and the Doctors and medical staff who conducted the autopsy of the President’s body at the Naval base in Bethesda Maryland later that evening. In short, the Dallas doctors thought the exit wound from the fatal head shot was in the back of the head, indicating a shot from the front (indicating a grassy knoll shooter, and thus a conspiracy) while the doctors who later examined the injury during the autopsy state that the exit wound was further to the right side of the skull (indicating a shooter from the depository).
Doctor James Carico, the first doctor to see the President’s wounds at Parkland said the head wound was a “defect in the posterior skull, the occipital region.” In other words, the blowout from the headshot was in the back of Kennedy’s head. Below is artist Ed Chiarini sculpture of what he thinks the Dallas doctors described.
After this cursory examination, lead Parkland Doctor Malcom Perry took over from Carico. “I made only a cursory examination of the President’s head,” Perry told the Warren Commission, “I noted a large avulsive wound of the right parietal occiptal area, in which both scalp and portions of skull were absent, and there was severe laceration of underlying brain tissue. My examination did not go any further than that.” Perry’s examination places the wound closer to the right, but still towards the back of the head.
Of the wound sustained in the president’s neck, Carico says “Not having completely evaluated all the wounds, traced out the course of the bullets, this wound would have been compatible wither either entrance or exit wound depending upon the size, the velocity, the tissue structure and so forth.”
“You must remember,” Doctor Perry said of the head wound, “that actually the only people who saw this wound for sure were Dr. Carrico and myself.”
Whose testimony is the most reliable? The Dallas doctors did get the first look at the President’s wounds, but they probably didn’t get a good look at it. The Dallas staff was desperately trying to pump some life back into the President, not thoroughly inspect the wounds, as their Bethesda counterparts indeed did later. The Parkland staff also only had an opportunity to conduct an anterior examination of the President’s wounds. In other words, they did not examine the back side of the President’s body. Only with a thorough posterior and anterior examination of the body could entrance or exit wounds be accurately accounted for. The Parkland staff was also working under the most stressful and shocking conditions of their respective careers, hardly an ideal situation in which to ascertain the specific location of the wounds. However, the Bethesda autopsy was conducted under less than ideal conditions as well.
After the President was declared deceased and Catholic last rights were administered, the body was illegally moved. According to the strict letter of the law, since the murder was committed in Dallas, so too should have been the autopsy. However, given the extraordinary circumstances of the crime, these legal considerations were cavalierly cast aside. The body was placed in a sealed coffin, and loaded onto Air Force One. Since the President had been a Navy man, Mrs. Kennedy somberly requested that the autopsy be conducted at the Bethesda Naval Base in Maryland. During the autopsy, Mrs. Kennedy was accompanied by the equally grief-stricken brother of the President, Robert Kennedy.
The autopsy was a poorly executed affair. The doctors conducting it were rushed and directed through the proceedings by their superiors, who were in turn under pressure from Bobby, annoyed that the procedure was taking too long. After the botched autopsy was concluded, the findings were shrouded in mystery and doubt. Notes were destroyed, the coffin was dumped into the ocean, the brain disappeared, several key photos have reportedly gone missing, and the question concerning the discrepancies between the Parkland and Bethesda testimonies of the head wound have never been satisfactorily resolved.
Photographs and Renderings
Some contend that the discrepancy in testimony can be explained by surgical alterations of the body some time between the Parkland resuscitation attempt and the Bethesda autopsy. Others claim that the photographs of the autopsy and even the famed Zapruder film have been altered to conceal a massive exit wound in the back of the head.
For years, photographs of the autopsy were suppressed from the people by the Secret Service. During the Warren Commission investigation, only Earl Warren himself looked at the photos, which incidentally contradict what it is seen in the official drawings produced by the Commission. The drawings were made by Harold Rydberg under the supervision of Doctor J. Thorton Boswell, the lead doctor in the autopsy.
When the House Select Committee on Assassination reopened the Kennedy case in 1976, acclaimed anatomical artist Ida Dox was brought in to do produce renderings of the wounds and etchings of the actual photographs. Dox’s HCSA drawings have their shortcomings, but are definitely more accurate then the drawings the Warren Commission was working with.
Some say the secrecy concerning the autopsy has more to do with the Kennedy family’s wishes than the federal government’s. Bobby and Jackie wanted to maintain discretion in the matter. They didn’t want people to know about JFK’s inflamed social diseases for one thing, and they also didn’t want his brain to be put on display in the National Archives like some carnival freak show. Despite the wishes of the Kennedy family, the photographs of the autopsy made their way to the general public. These images are haunting, gruesome, and disturbing. A quick google search makes them accessible for all too see, but be warned, they may haunt you for the rest of your life.