A TALE OF TWO OFFICIAL STORIES: JFK’S AUTHENTICATED AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS AND THE AUTHENTICATED MAGIC BULLET

BY

GARY L. AGUILAR

8-13-02

INTRODUCTION

House Select Committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi tells the tale that one day while sitting around the HSCA’s offices during the reinvestigation of the JFK assassination in the late 70s, HSCA counsel, D. Andy Purdy, walked in after a high-level meeting and announced, "Well, we’re going with the Single Bullet Theory."

Though this Warren Commission theory had long been scorned by skeptics, the "SBT," as it is sometimes referred to, was the sine qua non of the Warren Commission’s case against Oswald. It offered a way of explaining how Kennedy and his limo mate, Governor John Connally, can both be seen in an 8-mm movie of the murder being struck during too short a time span for a single assassin to have fired twice. The SBT said Oswald did it with a single, lucky bullet, formally identified as Warren Commission Exhibit # 399. Skeptics preferred to call it the "magic bullet." It was the only nearly whole bullet that was ever tied to the crime. It was the famous missile that had apparently turned up at the hospital with negligible damage to itself, after having left seven flesh wounds in two men and two broken bones in its wake. [I will have more to say about its bona fides later.]

How on earth, Fonzi wondered, could people as sharp as the HSCA’s savvy criminal investigators have bought that theory? There was at least one possible good reason: The improbable SBT offered the only way to explain known events without invoking an exquisitely choreographed and executed plot that depended on Oswald, the last person a conspirator or conspirators would ever have picked because, among numerous other deficiencies, he was a notoriously lousy shot. So, it had to be that the loner got lucky.

JFK’S INJURIES AND OSWALD, A CONFLICT?

I thought of Purdy’s magic bullet/SBT dilemma when I lifted the phone to call him for the first time in 1994. At the time I placed the call, I was then pursuing another dilemma the HSCA had faced concerning another conflicted conundrum in the official HSCA record. It had to do with the location of JFK’s skull injuries. The Warren Commission reported that the treating doctors in Dallas had said that JFK sustained a rearward, gaping skull wound. The senior treating surgeon at the hospital where JFK was taken was Parkland Hospital’s Kemp Clark, MD, Professor and Director of Neurological Surgery. Clark’s Warren-published description of Kennedy’s skull injuries was typical: the skull wound was "...in the occipital region of the skull...Through the head wound, blood and brain were extruding...There was a large wound in the right occipitoparietal region, from which profuse bleeding was occurring ... Both cerebral and cerebellar tissue were extruding from the wound." On the day of the assassination, Clark also described the wound in a hand-written hospital note as, "a large 3 x3 cm remnant of cerebral tissue present....there was a smaller amount of cerebellar tissue present also....There was a large wound beginning in the right occiput extending into the parietal region....Much of the skull appeared gone at the brief examination.... ." "Occiput" refers to the area at the very back of the head, in the vicinity of the "occipital" skull bone, a low bone at the bottom rear of the skull. "Cerebellar tissue" comes from the "cerebellum," a lobe of the brain found in the very bottom rear portion of the brain.

The wounds described by the professor of brain surgery who had pronounced JFK dead, and similarly described by more than twenty witnesses at Parkland, seemed an unlikely outcome for a shot from Oswald’s position: behind JFK. Swearing by the doctors in Dallas, skeptics of the official version marked Oswald innocent. They reasoned that if he’d really been shot from behind, the gaping wound would have been at the bullet’s exit, in front, not in the rear. However, the official autopsy photographs, which the Warren Commission never saw, show no damage to the backside of JFK’s skull and scalp. Thus, they apparently proved Dallas wrong and Oswald still a likely suspect.

HSCA SOLVES THE MYSTERY

The HSCA clearly understood the implications of the clash between credible witnesses and hard, photographic evidence. After investigating, the HSCA dealt a blow to the skeptics. It wrote, "Critics of the Warren Commission’s medical evidence findings have found [sic] on the observations recorded by the Parkland Hospital doctors. They believe it is unlikely that trained medical personnel could be so consistently in error regarding the nature of the wound, even though their recollections were not based on careful examinations of the wounds ... ." Drawing upon what it said were "Staff interviews with persons present at the autopsy," the HSCA countered that, "In disagreement with the observations of the Parkland doctors are the 26 people present at the autopsy. All of those interviewed who attended the autopsy corroborated the general location of the wounds as depicted in the photographs; none had differing accounts...it appears more probable that the observations of the Parkland doctors are incorrect."(emphasis added)

The HSCA’s finding was devastating to those who believed that Parkland Hospital witnesses proved a different wound, a different bullet trajectory, and, most importantly, perhaps even a different gunman than Oswald. The now-validated autopsy photos showed that, except for a small red spot in the upper back of JFK’s scalp, said by some to be the real entrance wound, the backside of JFK’s scalp was completely undamaged. The only visible damage was a gaping skull and scalp defect to the right of midline, in front of JFK’s right ear. A shot from behind would certainly fit with the gaping wound in these photos. They effectively removed a weight-bearing pillar supporting the conspiracists’s construction — the reports from Kennedy’s emergency room. The respected Journal of the American Medical Association offered a common sense explanation for the failure in Dallas: the surgeons were busy saving JFK's life in an emergency; they weren’t focused on accurately observing the precise nature of his wounds.

Moreover, the refuting autopsy witnesses included some physicians and they were in a much better position than the trauma team. They calmly watched as the pathologists explored JFK’s wounds over a period of several hours. But the HSCA’s proof — the autopsy witnesses’ interviews themselves — did not appear anywhere in the 12 volumes the HSCA published. They were sealed as state secrets. Had it not been for the Assassination Records Review Board’s [ARRB] interest in this area, these non-sensitive interviews were to have remained inaccessible until the required declassification date, sometime in 2028. No one would have guessed the surprise that lay in store with their early release.

SUPPRESSED EVIDENCE SUPPORTS DALLAS DOCTORS

It turned out that it was not true, as the HSCA had reported, that it had 26 autopsy witnesses who refuted the Dallas doctors. The HSCA had interviewed perhaps 15 autopsy witnesses. None of them had disagreed with the descriptions given by the Dallas doctors. On the contrary, whereas over 20 witnesses at Parkland said JFK’s skull defect was posterior [in the rear], just as many of the witnesses at the autopsy had said the same thing, over 40 in all. A review of public Warren Commission documents, other public interviews and the HSCA interviews disclosed the same thing: a remarkable agreement between witnesses both in Dallas and in the morgue that JFK’s greatest skull damage was in the back of his head. In fact, the suppressed interviews revealed that not a single one of the autopsy witnesses did what the HSCA said they had all done — corroborate the fatal wounds in the photographs. They refuted them instead.

PURDY ALLAYS SUSPICIONS

How did the HSCA get the story so wrong? I wondered, Was it a case, like the Single Bullet Theory, which was invoked because no easy alternative was available? Since Purdy had conducted most of the secret interviews, I was keen to ask him about it.

Purdy was eloquent and sharp on the phone, though not terribly concerned by the HSCA’s misstatement. He explained it was unimportant to the facts in the case, and was probably just an innocent error by an unknown HSCA writer. What was important, he said, was that the HSCA had tried without success to find any medical evidence supporting conspiracy. The new witness statements could be discarded in favor of more solid evidence, such as the autopsy report and the autopsy photographs. Moreover, he took comfort in the fact the autopsy doctors who took the pictures never disputed what was in them, which they surely would have if they didn’t represent JFK’s true injuries. Open and shut, he thought. Purd

But the divergence between the witnesses and the autopsy photographs was scarcely trivial. Not only did both Dallas and autopsy witnesses - over 40 in all - agree that JFK’s gaping skull wound was in the right rear, the pictures seemed to prove, against long odds, that they were all wrong, and yet all wrong in the same way. Needless to say, one does not expect perfect recall of these sorts of things. But neither does one expect 40 good witnesses in two different locations to make exactly the same mistake. The witnesses, after all, were highly trained professionals, working in their professional capacities and in accustomed circumstances, uninfluenced by drugs, alcohol or other factors that would degrade their recall. Moreover, the photos apparently proved something that had been overlooked even by the experts of the Clark Panel and the HSCA: the original autopsy report had described JFK’s head damage in much the same way the witnesses had — ‘parietotemporooccipital,’ which is a fancy was of saying right rearward. A conflicted conundrum.

JFK’s AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS OFFER A REASONABLE SOLUTION TO THE CONFLICTS

Reflecting on it afterward, it occurred to me that Purdy, and perhaps other HSCA’s forensic consultants, focused on the autopsy photographs to provide a reasonable shortcut through a forest of confusing and contradictory medical evidence. It was impossible for them to imagine there could be anything false or misleading about the pictures. After all, the HSCA had received a report from its own panel of photography experts endorsing the authenticity of the autopsy pictures. (More on this later.) Perhaps like the SBT, dismissing 40 witnesses was considered the least implausible, even the best possible, solution to a hopeless conflict. The HSCA in general, and Purdy in particular, may also have welcomed the photographic shortcut for another reason. Since the pictures could be used to keep Oswald in the dock, they wouldn’t elicit a hostile reaction from official quarters.

Moreover, by using the photographs and, to a lesser extent, the X-rays as the gold standard to prove JFK’s pathologists fallible, the HSCA wasn’t breaking any new ground. In 1968 a group of experts commissioned by Attorney General Ramsey Clark had already done so. Whereas the autopsy report said the fatal bullet had entered JFK’s skull low, through the occipital bone, the so-called Clark Panel decided that the photographs and X-rays proved the pathologists were wrong — that bullet had really entered 100-mm (10-cm), or 4 inches higher, and through a different bone, the parietal bone. Though the discovery got little attention in 1968, the rebuke was quite astounding.

For although JFK’s pathologists were then actively teaching resident physicians how to be pathologists, which includes a detailed understanding of anatomy, the photographs and X-rays seemed to prove that they didn’t know what first year medical students need to know to pass the first anatomy course: that the top of the head is not the same as the bottom, the parietal bone is not the occipital bone. The magnitude of the error can perhaps be best understood if one realizes that area of the rear of the skull in which this 4 inch error was supposedly made measures — from top to bottom — only about 5 inches (12-cm)!

But the photographs and X-rays seemed to be above all suspicion. The HSCA’s own panel of forensic experts backed up the Clark Panel’s conclusion on this point. The Clark Panel, however, had only examined the autopsy photos and X-rays, not witness accounts. So the HSCA’s only real new contribution was that, like JFK’s pathologists, the witnesses were fallible, too, and were to be ignored about the autopsy evidence. However, the HSCA panel didn’t reject the autopsy witness accounts Purdy had gathered; they never saw them. In a public conference hosted by the Coalition on Political Assassinations in 1994, I slide-projected copies of the interviews Purdy had conducted with autopsy witnesses during a speech. The chair of the HSCA’s forensic panel, Michael Baden, MD, and Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, his fellow panelist, were speaking on the same program and were sitting beside me on the stage. When I projected the HSCA documents and diagrams, both Baden and Wecht admitted they were seeing this evidence for the first time. It was part of the forensic evidence they were supposed to have evaluated in 1978.

Thus, by the end of 1978, it was official dogma that entrance site for the fatal skull shot was 4 inches higher than originally specified in the autopsy report. Moreover, there was no gaping wound in the backside of JFK’s skull, where the pathologists and witnesses said they saw one.

THE DOCTORS DISSENT

But JFK’s pathologists never accepted the verdict that they had made such a stupid mistake. Before Humes testified to the HSCA for the first time, Purdy privately confronted Humes with the Clark Panel’s findings. In Purdy’s memo about the recorded interview, kept secret until the mid 1990s, Purdy wrote, "Regarding the location of the entrance wound in the President's head, I asked him whether the wound was in the upper or lower part of the head. Dr. Humes said that it was in the ‘lower head’ area … I cited to him the Clark Panel's recitation of their determination that the autopsy doctors had miscalculated the location of the head wound by a vertical distance of approximately 100 millimeters (they said the autopsy doctors placed the wound that much lower than it really was.) (sic). Dr. Humes stated categorically that his physical measurements are correct and emphasized that he had access to the body itself and made the measurements of the actual head region. In addition, he said that photographs and X-rays have inherent limitations which are not present when one is examining the subject." (emphasis added) The HSCA reported that Finck saw things much the same way: "Dr. Finck believed strongly that the observations of the autopsy pathologist were more valid than those of individuals who might subsequently examine photographs."

Humes wouldn’t back down later when he appeared before the HSCA’s forensics experts. Gazing at the autopsy photographs with Humes under oath, the forensic panelists repeatedly asked him whether the high red spot visible in the back of JFK’s head was an entrance wound. Humes said no in several ways, finally answering, "I can assure you that as we reflected the scalp to get to this point," the high, red spot, "there was no defect corresponding to this in the skull at any point. I don't know what that is. It could be to me clotted blood. I don't, I just don't know what it is, but it certainly was not any wound of entrance." Boswell, who was sitting alongside Humes and testifying with him, likewise insisted the entrance wound was low, and that the high spot on the pictures was not an entrance wound.

A POSSIBLE RECOCILIATION OF THE CONFLICTS?

During their HSCA testimony, Humes and Boswell also offered an explanation that might solve the mystery of both the low location of the entrance wound and the rearward skull damage. Boswell said that when he first examined JFK’s skull wound he found that, measuring fore to aft, 17-cm of bone was missing. This is a gigantic bony defect. Boswell documented that dimension on the night of the autopsy in the only original document from the night of the autopsy that was not later destroyed: Boswell’s so called "face sheet." Thus, the skull damage was massive, and, as he elaborated to the HSCA, and as he diagrammed it on the night of the autopsy and again for the ARRB in the late 1990s, it went from the very rear of JFK’s skull to nearly the edge of his forehead.

About the low rear bullet wound, Boswell explained to the HSCA that it wasn’t a matter of a small bullet hole in an otherwise intact plate of bone. Rather, the bullet hole was detectable at the bottom of the continuous, 17-cm skull defect. A fragment of bone that arrived late during the autopsy fit like a puzzle piece to complete a bullet hole in the low, occipital bone. But above the bullet hole, when they first examined JFK, was nothing but pure air — 17-cm of bone had been blasted away from it, including a portion of the entrance wound.

As Andy Purdy reported it in a once-secret memo of an interview, "Dr. Boswell said the wound was fairly low in the back of he head and that the bone was completely gone above the entry wound. He said that during the autopsy, a piece of skull fragment was brought in which included a portion which corresponded to the missing half of the entry wound in the head." Boswell put it similarly under oath to the HSCA, "There was a shelf and then a little hole, came up on the side and then one of the smaller of the two fragments in the X-ray, when that arrived, we were able to fit that down there (in the occipital bone site of the entrance wound) and complete the circumference of that (entrance) bone wound." In a recorded call I deposited with the National Archives, Boswell told me the same thing in 1993.

Thus, the bullet wound was quite low in the back of JFK’s skull. And above it wasn’t bone, but a gaping absence of bone. Hence, it is easier to see how so many witnesses were struck by that gaping rearward damage. But if the bony defect measured 17-cm, why didn’t the witnesses also note the more forward damage? While no certain answer seems possible, it may be that the abundance of longer, bloody hair on the top of JFK’s skull made the rearward defect easier to appreciate than the damage on the top and front.

But all this speculation that there really was a large, rearward skull defect and a low entrance wound in JFK’s skull rests on "thin" witness evidence. The "hard" photo and X-ray evidence seems to prove otherwise. Clark Panel and HSCA experts haven’t granted either the autopsists or the witnesses any believability. The authenticated autopsy photographs trump both first-hand sources. Or do they? That they mightn’t was suggested by a recent ARRB discovery that had languished in secret documents: the HSCA didn’t really authenticate JFK’s autopsy X-rays.

It may also help explain two recent discoveries that are the subject of the present discussion: the possibility the HSCA did not in fact authenticate JFK’s autopsy photographs, and the FBI’s misleading, and probably false, statements about the authenticity of another key piece of evidence - Commission Exhibit #399, the so-called "magic bullet."

DID THE HSCA REALLY AUTHENTICATE JFK’S AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS?

 

AUTHENTICATED AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS?

In support of its reconstruction of the murder evidence, the HSCA declared it had authenticated the autopsy photographs. However, the HSCA admitted that its authentication was not quite complete: "Because the Department of Defense was unable to locate the camera and lens that were used to take these [autopsy] photographs, the [photographic] panel was unable to engage in an analysis similar to the one undertaken with the Oswald backyard pictures that was designed to determine whether a particular camera in issue had been used to take the photographs that were the subject of inquiry."

In effect, the HSCA was saying that it was unhappy the original camera was unavailable to totally close the loop. Nevertheless, it expressed satisfaction the loop had been closed enough for confidence in the images because it had found features in the extant images that showed a kind of internal consistency one would find only in authentic images. Those consistencies essentially comprise virtually the entire HSCA case for "authentication." But there was an important part of the story the HSCA didn’t tell.

Luckily, the JFK Review Board’s Doug Horne did tell it, after he excavated that part of the story from suppressed HSCA files. It is a rather different story than the one implied by the HSCA’s comment, "Because the Department of Defense was unable to locate the camera and lens that were used to take these [autopsy] photographs." Regarding that sentence, Horne wrote, "By late 1997, enough related documents had been located and assembled by the authors to bring into serious doubt the accuracy of the HSCA’s [statement]." It was not precisely true the Department of Defense had been unable to locate the camera used to take JFK’s autopsy photographs.

Apparently, the DoD had found the camera. The DoD wrote the HSCA that "the only [camera] in use at the National Naval Medical Center in 1963" had been sent to the HSCA for study. The HSCA, however, wasn’t pleased with the DoD’s camera. In a letter asking the Secretary of Defense to look for another one, HSCA chief counsel Robert Blakey explained the problem: "[O]ur photographic experts have determined that this camera, or at least the particular lens and shutter attached to it, could not have been used to take [JFK’s] autopsy pictures." Whereas the HSCA had publicly claimed the original autopsy camera could not be found, the suppressed record suggests that camera was found, and that it was tested. And it also found that it couldn’t be matched to Kennedy’s images. The HSCA staff elected not to share any of this information with the public nor its panel of forensic consultants.

Horne reported that Kodak, which did work for the Review Board, found no evidence the current autopsy images had been falsified. And as Horne emphasized in his memo, the HSCA’s misstatement, as misleading as it is, may not be as sinister as it seems at first blush. The type of camera used was a "view" camera. It had a flat, square back that houses the double-sided film packs, and an attached bellows. Attached to the front of the bellows are an interchangeable lens and a shutter mechanism, which may be switched out for different tasks. The lens and shutter used in 1963 may have been replaced by the time the DoD fetched the camera for the HSCA in 1977. And so a different lens or shutter might explain why the camera didn’t match JFK’s photographs. But unfortunately, there is no certainty that a different lens and shutter do explain the mismatch. Horne searched through the files for the tests the HSCA conducted that proved a mismatch, but could find none. He also searched for the camera, and reported it has vanished.

So while Horne was unable to confirm an innocent explanation for the mismatch, he was unable to exclude the obvious, sinister explanation: photo tampering. The Kodak finding that the extant images reveal no tampering proves that the extant images themselves have no internal inconsistencies that would prove tampering. It cannot, however, prove that no images are missing, which, evidence suggests, may well be the case. Nor can it disprove that a different camera than had been supposed took the images. Nor, even, can it disprove another possibility: that the current inventory is an entirely separate set of internally consistent images, but a different one than the one that may have originally existed.

FBI: JFK’s AUTOPSY PHOTOS DOCTORED

The theory of some kind of photographic "doctoring," therefore, is not mere lunacy; it has significant support in the record. In fact, the word "doctored" was precisely the word the FBI agent who was present at the autopsy used when he was shown JFK’s autopsy photographs by the JFK Review Board.

ARRB Counsel Gunn asked agent O’Neill: "I’d like to ask you whether that photograph resembles what you saw from the back of the head at the time of the autopsy?"

O’Neill: "This looks like it’s been doctored in some way … I specifically do not recall those — I mean, being that clean or that fixed up. To me, it looks like these pictures have been … It would appear to me that there was a — more of a massive wound … ."

Similarly, Gunn asked agent Sibert, "Mr. Sibert, does that photograph [of the back of JFK’s head] correspond to your recollection of the back of President Kennedy’s head?"

Sibert: "Well, I don’t have a recollection of it being that intact, as compared with these other pictures. I don’t remember seeing anything that was like this photo (126) … I don’t recall anything like this at all during the autopsy. There was much — well, the wound was more pronounced. And it looks like it could have been reconstructed or something, as compared with what my recollection was … ."

Whether the current images of JFK’s autopsy really were "doctored" will probably forever remain unconfirmed. But discrepancies between what witnesses saw and what the images show is not the only problem with Kennedy’s autopsy films. There is also reason to suppose some of the images that were taken on the night of the autopsy have disappeared.

Released files have revealed that all three of JFK’s pathologists, both autopsy photographers, a White House photographer [Robert Knudsen] and a National Photographic Center [NPC] employee [Saundra Spencer] have testified that some JFK autopsy are missing. Both Knudsen and Spencer claimed that they developed color negative film, but no such film currently exists in the "authentic" inventory. Spencer claimed, from NPC film she has kept in her personal possession since the time she worked on photographs from JFK’s morgue, that the current film on which JFK’s images appear was not in use at the NPC when she developed JFK’s autopsy photographs at the NPC.

And, as we’ve seen, two FBI agents who saw the autopsy images of JFK’s skull wound testified under oath to the Board that JFK’s fatal skull wound looked nothing at all like the photographs that showed the backside of JFK’s skull and scalp intact. Instead, they claimed a sizable rearward skull defect was present, a defect that was corroborated by numerous witnesses from both Dallas and the autopsy, including neurosurgeons and pathologists.

This apparently compromised set of autopsy images formed a significant basis for the HSCA’s determination that Oswald was responsible for JFK’s wounds. But whether the images accurately reflect JFK’s skull damage is another question altogether. Though sometimes dismissed as unreliable, the reigning authority on eyewitness testimony, Elizabeth Loftus, claims witnesses often give very reliable information. Loftus has also identified the factors that degrade witness accuracy. Principal among them are: poor lighting, short duration of event or long duration between the event and questions about it, unimportance of fact to the witness, violence, witness stress or drug/alcohol influence, and the absence of specialized training on the witness’s part. Absent these factors, Loftus’s studies show witnesses are very reliable. With respect to JFK’s skull damage, none of Loftus’s adverse circumstances were present that would explain how the witnesses at Parkland Hospital and at the morgue might have been wrong. They were working as highly trained experts in their usual capacity, circumstances and setting. Overwhelmingly, the odds favor the witnesses.

So it seems that only two reasonable possibilities: either 40+ witnesses from two different locations were wrong about JFK’s rearward skull injury, or JFK’s autopsy photographic inventory, described as culled by eight autopsy witnesses, has been falsified in some manner that masks the rearward skull damage so many credible witnesses described. The HSCA’s inauthentic authentication of JFK’s autopsy photographs is likely to encourage skeptics.

WAS COMMISSION EXHIBIT #399 REALLY FOUND AT PARKLAND HOSPITAL?

The only nearly intact bullet found that supposedly linked Oswald to the crime was a bullet that was picked up off a Parkland Hospital stretcher by hospital employee, Darrell Tomlinson. As the Warren Commission would later reconstruct it via the "Single Bullet Theory," that bullet was said to have passed through JFK, from his back to his throat. After exiting JFK’s throat, the same bullet then passed forward causing all of Governor Connally’s five wounds before falling out onto a stretcher at Parkland.

After finding the bullet, Tomlinson gave it to his boss, O. P. Wright who, in turn, handed it over to Secret Service Agent, Richard Johnsen. Johnsen then passed the bullet to James Rowley, the chief of the Secret Service, and Rowley gave the bullet to FBI agent Elmer Lee Todd, who carried it to the FBI’s crime lab. Without exploring the fact that the HSCA discovered that there was another witness who was apparently with Tomlinson when the bullet was found (Nathan Pool), what concerns us here is whether the bullet currently in evidence, Commission Exhibit #399, is the same bullet Tomlinson/Wright handled on the day of the murder.

Warren Commission Exhibit #2011 describes some of the research done on #399 for the Commission. #2011 consists of the last two pages, of three, of an FBI memorandum dated July 7, 1964 which is entitled, simply, "RE: LEE HARVEY OSWALD." #2011 says that on June 12, 1964 FBI agent Bardwell Odum showed the Manlicher-Carcano bullet [CE #399] to Parkland Hospital employees, Darrell Tomlinson and O.P.Wright. It also says that both men said the bullet "appears to be the same one" they found on the day of the assassination, but that neither could "positively identify" it.

"Positive identification" means that identification can be made positively by a witness, as, say, when a witness has initialed an item of evidence, a common FBI practice used to insure an unbroken chain of possession. Understandably, neither Tomlinson nor Wright, inscribed their initials on the bullet they found. But that they claimed, so soon after the murder, that the bullet Odum showed them looked like the one they had found was valuable evidence it was indeed the same one that was found the day of the murder.

However, CE # 2011 included other information that raised questions about the bullet. As first noted by Ray Marcus, it reports that on June 24, 1964 FBI agent Todd, who received the bullet from Rowley, returned with presumably the same bullet to get Secret Service agents Johnsen and Rowley to identify it. #2011 reports that both Johnsen and Rowley advised Todd that they "could not identify this bullet as the one" they saw on the day of the assassination. No comment appears about the failure being merely a failure to "positively identify" the shell, or that CE #399 "appeared to be the same" bullet they handled the day JFK died.

The other peculiarity about this episode is that #2011 reports it was Todd who received the bullet from Rowley on 11/22/63. Then on June 24th it was Todd who returned with what should have been the same bullet to show Rowley. Didn’t they by then sort of know one another? Had it truly been the same bullet, wouldn’t there have been some acknowledgement, as there had been for Tomlinson and Wright in the same document, that Rowley and Johnsen saw at least a resemblance? There was no such acknowledgement. And there the conflicted story lay. Until Josiah Thompson’s book Six Seconds in Dallas was published in 1967.

PARKLAND WITNESSES DENY #399 IS BULLET HE FOUND ON DAY JFK DIED

Thompson reported that he interviewed Wright in November 1966. As Thompson recalled the episode, "(B)efore any photos were shown or he was asked for any description of #399 (Wright) said: ‘That bullet had a pointed tip.’ I (Thompson) said, ‘Pointed tip?’ He said, "Yeah, I’ll show you. It was like this one here,’ he said, reaching into his desk and pulling out the .30 caliber bullet pictured in Six Seconds." (See p. 175.) After Thompson showed Wright the various bullet photos and finally #399, Wright asked, "Is that the bullet I was supposed to have had?"

Thus in 1964 the Warren Commission, or rather the FBI, claimed Wright believed the original bullet resembled #399. In 1967 Tomlinson claimed Wright believed the bullet he saw on November 22nd looked like a different bullet than #399. Recent FBI releases prompted by the JFK Review Board support Thompson.

A 6/20/64 FBI AIRTEL memorandum from SAC, Dallas to J. Edgar Hoover contains the statement, "For information WFO (FBI Washington Field Office), neither DARRELL C. TOMLINSON [sic], who found bullet at Parkland Hospital, Dallas, nor O. P. WRIGHT, Personnel Officer, Parkland Hospital, who obtained bullet from TOMLINSON and gave to Special Service, at Dallas 11/22/63, can identify bullet … ." Whereas #2011 claimed Tomlinson and Wright had said the bullet the FBI showed them in June 1964 "appears to be the same" bullet they found on the day of the assassination, nowhere in this previously classified memo, which was written before CE#2011, is there any mention that either of the Parkland employees saw a resemblance.

I wondered whether perhaps there might be more information on this somewhere in the files. There should have been, for example, some original "302s " - the raw FBI field reports from the interviews with Tomlinson and Wright. Perhaps there, I thought, I’d find a comment about there being a resemblance between the bullets.

In early 1998, an associate, Kathy Cunningham, told me she was going to the National Archives, and so I asked her to search for any additional files that might shed light on this story. She looked and found none. I contacted the JFK Review Board’s T. Jeremy Gunn for any information he might be able to locate. On May 18, 1998, the Review Board’s Eileen Sullivan, writing on Gunn’s behalf, wrote "[W]e have attempted, unsuccessfully, to find any additional records that would account for the problem you suggest." Undaunted, I wrote the FBI directly, and was referred to the National Archives. I then wrote Mr. Steve Tilley at the National Archives.

On Mr. Tilley’s behalf, Mr. Stuart Culy, an archivist at the National Archives, made a search. On July 16, 1999 Culy wrote that he searched for the FBI records within the HSCA files as well as in the FBI records, all without success. He was able to determine, however, that the serial numbers on the FBI documents I had ran "concurrently, with no gaps, which indicated that no material is missing from these files." In other words, the earliest FBI report did not mention that either Tomlinson or Wright had said there was a similarity between the bullet found at Parkland Hospital and the bullet later in evidence, CE #399. The internal record suggested exactly the opposite.

Thus, no contemporaneous FBI record supports the claim in Commission Exhibit #2011 that either Tomlinson or Wright said #399 resembled the bullet that they saw on the day JFK died. Instead, the earliest account suggests that both they and Secret Service Agents Johnsen and Rowley, saw no resemblance. Joshiah Thompson’s assertion about Wright, which might have been dismissed by Warren loyalists citing the earlier FBI evidence in #2011, is now supported by an even earlier FBI memo, one that was suppressed. The FBI’s contention in #2011 that Tomlinson and Wright saw a resemblance appears to have been pure invention.

A VISIT WITH BARDWELL ODUM

At a dead end, I called Josiah Thompson and laid out the whole story. "What does Bardwell Odum have to say?" he asked.

"Odum? You mean the FBI agent who, according to the FBI’s memo, said Tomlinson and Wright saw a resemblance? How the hell do I know!"

"Why don’t we find out," he answered.

In about 15 minutes, Thompson had located and faxed me Odum’s home address and phone number. So I wrote Odum, sending him the documents, and I followed up with a trip to Odum’s home in a suburb of Dallas. Thompson joined me.

On November 24, 2001, a gregarious, witty man greeted us warmly at his front door. Long retired from the FBI, he had lots of stories to tell, but none more interesting than the one he told about CE # 2011. As he had already told me on the phone, he had never taken any bullet around to show it to Parkland Hospital employees. Moreover, he had been personally acquainted with O.P. Wright, and would certainly not have forgotten such an episode if it had ever happened. Had he ever done so, he would have filed a report, and some evidence of it would remain in the files. But as the National Archives reported, I already had all the files, and in sequence. None were missing. And none reported Odum had carried CE around to show witnesses.

One question remains, however: If the FBI did in fact adjust Tomlinson and Wright’s testimonies with an inauthentic claim of bullet similarity, why didn’t it also adjust Johnsen and Rowley’s? While it is unlikely a certain answer to this will ever be found, the FBI authors of #2011 might well have thought that Secret Service agents would have been more likely to read the FBI reports involving them than would a couple of Parkland Hospital employees.

CONCLUSIONS

Warren loyalists have a point that should not be lost on skeptics: When they argue, as some skeptics have, that all the Oswald-implicating, false JFK assassination evidence is the result of conspirators’ machinations, the cast of necessary co-conspirators expands to preposterous dimensions. One needn’t posit that myriad coconspirators charged off in the wrong direction, but only that, early on, a few who were influential did. J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles, men of enormous power and influence, no doubt inspired the men who conducted the investigation by expressing an early preference for the Lone Nut solution. They then sat back as men under their sway — the FBI and CIA men to whom the Warren Commission had given exclusive investigative authority — foraged for evidence.

The result was predictable. Regarding the FBI’s investigation, the HSCA said, "It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin, a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination." Allen Dulles biographer Peter Grose observed that, "Allen [Dulles] systematically used his influence to keep the commission safely within bounds … and from the start, before any evidence was reviewed, he pressed for the final verdict that Oswald had been a crazed lone gunman, not the agent of a national or international conspiracy."

The Warren Commission was captive of the FBI/CIA evidence because it lacked its own investigators, and therefore, the ability to independently check what it was given. We remain dependent to a large extent on that evidence even today. Hoover’s preferences were honored in CE #2011 when the FBI airbrushed-out disfiguring blemishes in CE # 399 so as to leave the nearly perfect semblance of authentic physical evidence linking Oswald to the crime. The HSCA swore allegiance to JFK’s autopsy photographs, and so followed the lead set by the influential Clark Panel. Unfortunately, the very autopsy photographs that formed so large a basis of the Clark Panel’s findings cannot be authenticated, and they have been impugned by myriad credible witnesses, some of whom have even called the images "doctored."

Ironically, despite the fact the HSCA concluded there had been a conspiracy, the JFK Act has proved that the HSCA, like the FBI it derided for mischief-making, was not above making a little mischief of its own. The HSCA, too, took a shortcut to the hasty conclusions preferred by its brass. But because of its sensitive dependence on prior, uncertain evidence - the FBI’s "magic bullet" and "authentic" autopsy photographs and the like - the HSCA brass, like the Warren Commissioners before them, were constrained to go along with the Single Bullet Theory and the indisputability of the autopsy photographs. Thus some of the failings that plagued both probes occurred for the same reason: hurried investigators were trying to explain complex and conflicted evidence that was infinitely less clear to them than were the crystal clear preferences of their superiors, or of prior, "respected" authorities.