Testimony of David Lifton

Los Angeles, California -- September 17, 1996
Our next witness is Mr. David Lifton. Mr. Lifton is the author of Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's a book that focused on the medical evidence in the case and he's currently working on a book about Lee Harvey Oswald. Welcome, Mr. Lifton.


Author of Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the

Assassination of John F. Kennedy

MR. LIFTON: Chairman Tunheim, Members of the Review Board, I want to thank you for asking me to testify here today. From everything I've observed the Review Board is doing excellent in getting classified documents released to the extent allowed by law. In addition, although I know you are not chartered by Congress to reinvestigate, I suspect that when you close shop the record will show that you have taken the most significant steps possible to clarify the record 33 years after the event.

Although transcripts have not been released, the fact that you have deposed the three autopsy doctors and the autopsy photographer constitutes a significant milestone and indicates your seriousness of purpose in attempting to answer unanswered questions while there's still an opportunity to do so. Because in the final analysis what you believe about the assassination of President Kennedy is really a function of what you believe about the integrity of the autopsy and the body of the President at the time of that autopsy.

On a personal level let me provide an example in another area of what this law has meant to me, and would mean to any future researcher or historian who wants to discuss the planning of the Dallas trip and particularly how the motorcade route was selected. Jerry Bruno, who worked closely with JFK was the political advanceman for the Dallas trip. The Warren Commission never interviewed him. Not only didn't they interview him they didn't appear to know who he was. I have seen one memo in the Archives in which one Warren Commission attorney said, he heard there was a Bruno connected with the planning of the trip. Maybe they should look into that. Well, they never did.

Bruno's role was first discussed in the William Manchester book Death of a President. In 1971 Bruno published his own book Advance Man with Jeff Greenfield, who we regularly see on ABC evening news, a book in which he spelled out in detail the argument between himself and Governor Connally and other Texas political players over the Dallas luncheon site, which in turn determined the motorcade route. In 1976 the House Select Committee on Assassinations was created. I went to Washington, D.C. spoke with Belford Larson the staff attorney in charge of that area. He too had never heard of Bruno and was unaware of the fact that Bruno had written a book. I told him who Bruno was and why he must be called. The document Belford Larson wrote summarizing my meeting with him is now available. In 1978 Bruno was deposed by the HSCA, but when the HSCA report was released in 1979 the transcript of his testimony was not included in the published documents. In fact, it had been placed under seal for 50 years, which meant it would be available in 2028, 28 years past the millennium. Maybe by that time we'll know whether there's life on Mars. Now, in 1994, as a result of the JFK Act that transcript if available, and it is immensely important.

I would like you to know what this law has meant to me in terms of my own time scale. I was 31 years old when I read Bruno's book, 36 years old when I met with HSCA and said call Bruno, you must call Bruno, 38 years old when he was deposed in a closed-door session, 40 years old when the HSCA report was released, and I found to my chagrin that the Bruno testimony was locked up for 50 years. And then two years ago when I was 54, and because of this law, I was finally able to read Bruno's sworn testimony, for which I believe I was somewhat responsible.

Future generations will not have to go through that process pursuing an assassination record for the better part of a lifetime. And I commend the Congress for passing this law and a Review Board for doing their level best to implement it.

My main reason for appearing here today is to discuss my imminent transfer to the ARRB of my earliest and most significant interviews of Parkland and Bethesda medical witnesses, an important part of the database for my book Best Evidence. I'm not here to propound or defend any theories, but rather to lay the ground work for making available to future generations of researchers substantial portions of the data on which I rely.

When I interviewed these doctors, and other witnesses, starting in '66, I asked questions no one had thought to ask before. For example, what was the length of the tracheotomy incision made in Dallas? The value of these accounts are that these are the earliest answers on record to these new and significant questions.

Jumping ahead to 1982. When I had obtained the autopsy photographs made available via an intermediary by a retired Secret Service agent, James Fox, I brought these photographs to Dallas and was the first person to show several of the Dallas medical staff the pictures, basically asking is this what you saw? The Commission never did that, nor did the House Select Committee 13 years later in their investigation. None of the Dallas doctors were ever shown autopsy photographs by any official investigative body. My 1982 and '83 interviews in which I did exactly that are on the list of what I am donating in addition to the imminent transfer of my audio tape interviews, which I've already agreed to with Mr. Samoluk. I'm also willing to provide transcripts of my 1989 and '90 filmed interviews with several of these same doctors, if desired.

Turning now to the report of the two agents who attended the autopsy, James Sibert and Francis O'Neill. I interviewed Sibert in early November 1966 questioning him about the statement in his FBI report in which he quotes the head pathologist at Bethesda autopsy, Commander Humes, is saying it was "apparent" that when the President's body had been put on the table there had been "surgery of the head area namely in the top of the skull." Sibert said the statement was true. I tape recorded the conversation. I am donating a reference copy of that tape to the ARRB for transfer to the JFK Records Collection. And for those concerned with the taping of telephone conversations this was 30 years when the laws were quite different and in any event all statutes have run and I might add that I only tape recorded the FBI in cases of national security.

I interviewed Commander Humes, the lead autopsy pathologist, on November 2nd, 1966 and November 3rd, 1966, just days after he had been shown the Kennedy autopsy photographs for the first time. I also questioned him about the surgery statement and the Sibert/O'Neill report. Substantial portions of those conversations are printed in my book. I am donated high quality reference copies, computer enhanced I might add, to the ARRB for transfer to the JFK Records Collection.

In 1967 I interviewed Godfrey McHugh, Kennedy's Air Force aid who attended the autopsy in attempting to develop a chain-of-possession on the President's body, something the Warren Commission never did. I interviewed the members of the military casket team who transported the Dallas coffin from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda Naval Hospital. These include General Phillip Wehle, the Commandant, or the Commander, of the Military District of Washington as well as all the members of the team which met Air Force One upon its arrival from Dallas. The same squad, as it turned out, who escorted the body to grave site on Monday, November 25th. The members of the casket team include Hubert Clark, the young sailor from New York; James LeRoy Felder, the Army Sergeant from South Carolina; Timothy Cheek for the Marines from Florida; Coast Guardsman George Barnum from Lake City, Minnesota and Army Special Fourth Class Douglas Mayfield from San Diego. I even interviewed Lieutenant Burr the Army Captain whose memory was largely lost by 1967 when he took a bullet in the head in Vietnam, and who I was able to speak with when a nurse brought a telephone to his bedside at the hospital where he was recuperating from his near fatal wounds. What hospital, John F. Kennedy Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

None of these men were interviewed by the Commission. Moreover, I am also contributing my copy of Coast Guardsman George Barnum's written report made in December, '63, an account of which has many valuable details and one that was written because a relative of his, who had a connection -- a distant connection with the Lincoln assassination from a previous generation -- told young George write everything down it may be important. Well, it is.

Finally, I have brought with me today a very special copy of the Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination. And this relates somewhat to what attorney Belin was referring to earlier. As everyone knows the original was an eight millimeter positive. Copies of that film were immediately made for the FBI and the Secret Service, and within days Zapruder sold the original to Time Life. Although it was reported at the time that he obtained $25,000 for his film. In fact, the contract, which I provided ARRB shows he was paid $150,000. And that would be about a half million dollars today. I disagree with Belin who said it would be a million. I had a banker compute this and that's one of the many things we would probably disagree on is the rate of inflation since 1963. The payments were made in a series of six $25,000 payments that occurred shortly after the first of each year through 1968. Despite the substantial price paid for the film, for all rights, it was not exploited by Time Life as a motion picture film,

i. e., it was never shown on TV or sold in any documentary form as a moving pictures. No newsreels, no TV specials, nothing. Yet one of the most controversial aspects of the film were never addressed by the Warren Commission was the violent backward motion of the head depicted on the frames following the fatal shot. What this means has been debated back and forth over the years. Passions run high on both sides. For reasons I never understand, the Warren Commission failed to address the issue. In other words, if we're to believe the record, the Warren Commission apparently didn't notice the very thing which has fueled the assassination debate for three decades. And of course the public didn't even know it was an issue because Time Life chose not to show it as a motion picture film after paying $150,000 for those exclusive rights. I might add, Professor Liebeler appeared here this morning and put the B.K. Jones report, a fellow from UCLA, on the table here and his contributing it. Thank you very much Professor Liebeler we already have that in the Archives. That was contributed 15 or 20 years ago with the Rockefeller Commission when that was already submitted to try to explain the backward snap of the head. But in anyway it's being resubmitted and I suppose there's no real danger in recycling that sort of thing.

The film is important for another reason. Because Zapruder was filming through a telephoto lens, some of the frames show the wounds and so the film constitutes an unusual photographic record of the President's wounds in Dallas. In order to do any work with the Zapruder film, whether about the wounds or about the motions shown, the velocity, the car, et cetera, the clearest possible copy is required. In commercial production applications a device known as an optical printer is normally used to copy motion picture film frame by frame particularly if blowups are to be made. But optical printers are not designed to accept home movies which are an eight millimeter format. In 1967 Life sent the film to Manhattan Effects, later EFX, a New York City film lab. Where film technician Moses Weitzman designed a device permitting a high quality full commercial optical printer to accept an 8 millimeter home movie film. Then in one fell swoop he enlarged the Zapruder film from 8 millimeter to 35 millimeter format. The kind used in standard motion picture work. The result is stunning as anyone knows who has seen the movie JFK, or who has purchased a laser disk copy of that film. One reason for the clarity is that Weitzman used a liquid gate, or a wet gate as it's called, which permits a liquid of the same index of refraction as the emulsion of the film to come in contact with the frame when it is imaged. The result is that scratches are eliminated or greatly reduced in the copy. The very best of these 35 millimeter negatives and interpositives were given to the customer Time Life and I would hope that Review Board would attempt to locate these with all resources you have available to you. They are a priceless record of our history. But with regard to the 35 millimeter negatives, known as technician copies, which Weitzman kept in his lab, these he gave to another researcher and they remain as they always have, completely unavailable to the research community. But in 1990 before that transfer took place, I had the opportunity to work with one of these 35 millimeter negatives. The best of the lot I'm told. One which had been loaned to the producer of the TV show Nova by Weitzman. First I supervised making high quality timed liquid gate contact interpositives. Then, using funds provided by several researchers -- and this project cost between 10 and $15,000 -- I rented the services of an optical lab in New York and for about a week I worked at the optical printer taking the next step that would be necessary by an archivist in order to preserve the record and create a progenitor for all future 35 millimeter prints. Operating the printer myself I also made high quality liquid gate interpositives from the 35 millimeter negative. Then I made interpositive blowup sequences directly from that same 35 millimeter interneg. Some focusing on Kennedy, some on Connally, some on the two Secret Service agents in the front of the car.

I'm holding here one of those 35 millimeter interpositives. It's a timed liquid gate contact interpositive, which I am today donating to the ARRB for placement in the JFK Records Collection. From this archival item, this 35 millimeter interpositive, it should be possible to make many negative positive pairs. That is, this 35 millimeter interpositive can be the progenitor of many 35 millimeter internegatives and they in turn can be used to create 35 millimeter positives, whether they be slides or motion picture film. Although I defer to Moses Weitzman, you can call this item the Lifton interpositive made from the Weitzman internegative. I cannot over emphasize the high quality of the original Weitzman internegative. One researcher who has worked in this area tells me that although he has bought rights for the film from the Zapruder family, when it comes to actually using pictures for his book, the negative from this interpositive, producers' positive images that are clearer than he can obtain from the corresponding source item at the National Archives. It does not surprise me that this is the case because Weitzman is a fine technical person and the internegative he made, which was done in 1967, is certainly equal and probably better than anything made by Life for the FBI or Secret Service back in '63 and '64, and may be better than anything made today in 1996 depending upon what has happened to the original film over the intervening decades.

With regard to this item, I am donating this negative to the ARRB without any copyright claim whatsoever. This copy has one limitation, the left hand 20 percent. The images between the sprocket hole is not visible precisely because it was copied on a standard commercial optical printer. Which brings me to my final point. I would like the Zapruder family, i.e., the LMH Company, to donate the original Zapruder film to the JFK Collection in the National Archives. As mentioned before, they were paid $150,000 from 1963 through 1968. Plus the contract indicates additional monies from foreign and other sales. Then about 1975 Life sold the film back to Zapruder for $1.00. Then the process started again. The film remains in the control of the Zapruder family. Tens of thousands of dollars have been flowing to the Zapruder family every time a significant Kennedy assassination anniversary rolls around. Every time any producer or network or broadcast entity wants to do a film on this subject. To the Zapruder family I ask, when is enough enough. I have been in too many situations where people, serious researchers or producers, could not use this film because they could not afford it. I myself could not use the Zapruder film in the best evidence research video. A serious video dealing with issues pertaining to the autopsy and distributed nationally by Rhino Video via MCA, because of the extraordinary $1.00 per cassette charge that Henry Zapruder, Abe's son, told me, "Sounded about right for a royalty." And so we use a diagram instead. And so I say to the Zapruder family, donate this film to the National Archives, not a copy but the original. It is the Rosetta Stone for this case and the issue now is authenticity. If the film has not been tampered with then it is an accurate record of the wounds and it is a time clock of the assassination. However, and more importantly, if the film has been tampered with in some way, as may has alleged and I might add a I believe, then that matter must be investigated in the future. In short, it represents an assassination record that has to be clarified and that cannot be done properly by examining a copy. This is the week to do it, Mr. Zapruder. Inscribe yourself in the book of life forever. Donate your father's film to the JFK Collection at the National Archives. Remove all copyright constraints, it is the right thing to do. I am now handing over a list of audio interviews I intend to be donating to the Archives, plus this film.

Again, I want to thank the Review Board for the work they are doing. I think few people in the public realize the enormous number of documents involved or the complications involved in organizing such a huge database and clearing it for release. Thank you all.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you very much, Mr. Lifton. Thank you so much for the donations. They are very significant and I think will be very helpful to the interest of the American public. Any questions for Mr. Lifton?

(No response.)

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