Crenshaw's Book Conspiracy of Silence

The Long Suppressed Truth?

Or a Bunch of Fibs?

Dr. Charles Crenshaw's book Conspiracy of Silence caused a minor sensation when it was released in 1992, even attracting the attention of the New York Times. Coauthored by Jens Hansen and Gary Shaw, it told several conspiratorial stories about the assassination, and especially about the role of Dr. Crenshaw, then a resident physician at Parkland Hospital, in the care of John Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald.

It has since been reprinted as Trauma Room One.

Among the "interesting" things that Crenshaw claims are:

Conspiracy authors, wanting to push the idea of a shot from the Grassy Knoll, have lapped up Crenshaw's account. For example, Gary Aguilar quotes Crenshaw as follows:
He, with co-authors, Jens Hansen and Gary Shaw, recently published a book, "Conspiracy of Silence" (Crenshaw, CA, Hansen, J, Shaw, G. "Conspiracy of Silence". 1992, New York, Signet). Crenshaw has claimed both in his book and in public interviews that the President's head wound was posterior on the right side. In "Conspiracy of Silence" he wrote, "I walked to the President's head to get a closer look. His entire right cerebral hemisphere appeared to be gone. It looked like a crater—an empty cavity. "
Conspiracy writer Gary Aguilar accepts Crenshaw's account. His essay on supposed "back of the head" witnesses is useful and interesting — although many of his assessments of the testimony are to be treated skeptically.
How does Crenshaw know such things? According to the book, he had a central role in treating Kennedy. Yet when the New York Times called up Crenshaw in reponse to his book, he backed away from the book's claims as to how central he was, saying that Hansen and Shaw "took poetic license" on this issue. Crenshaw "admitted . . .that the role he played in Kennedy's case was minor." See the Times of May 26, 1992.

It hardly inspires confidence in the book when Crenshaw says things like this.

Aguilar then quotes the following passage, where Crenshaw further described the wound:

All I could see there was mangled, bloody tissue. From the damage I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that the bullet had entered his head through the front, and as it surgically passed through his cranium, the missile obliterated part of the temporal and all the parietal and occipital lobes before it lacerated the cerebellum. (Emphasis added, p. 86).
In the first place, as Hank Sienzant has pointed out, Crenshaw cites several descriptions of the head wound in his book, and they are far from being "back of the head" descriptions: In some passages (see p. 132), Crenshaw says that the damage extended around to the back. But his description is mostly "side."

Even more striking is Crenshaw's claim that there was "no doubt in his mind" about the trajectory being front-to-back. Compare this to other, more senior doctors, in the ER.

In another part of the essay, Aguilar quotes Ronald Jones:

Specter asked Jones to speculate from his observations the nature of JFK's wounding. He asked, "Dr. Jones, did you have any speculative thought as to accounting for the point of wounds (sic) which you observed on the President, as you thought about it when you were treating the President that day, or shortly thereafter?" Jones answered, "With no history as to the number of times that the President had been shot or knowing the direction from which he had been shot, and seeing the wound in the midline of the neck, and what appeared to be an exit wound in the posterior portion of the skull, the only speculation that I could have as far as to how this could occur with a single wound would be that it would enter the anterior neck and possibly strike a vertebral body and then change its course and exit in the region of the posterior portion of the head." (WC.V.6:56)
And then there was Paul Peters:
Peters told author Lifton on 11-12-66, "I was trying to think how he could have had a hole in his neck and a hole in the occiput, and the only answer we could think (of) was perhaps the bullet had gone in through the front, hit the bony spinal column, and exited through the back of the head, since a wound of exit is always bigger than a wound of entry." (Lifton D. Best Evidence. p317. Peters repeated this speculation in a speech on the subject on 4/2/92, in a talk entitled, "Who Killed JFK?", given at the 14th annual meeting of the Wilk- Amite Medical Society, at Centreville Academy, Centreville, Mississippi, according to a transcript furnished by Claude B. Slaton, of Zachary, Louisiana.)
So while doctors like Jones and Peters were engaging in rather wild speculation as to the trajectory Crenshaw, a very junior bit player, had "no doubt."

In fact, nobody at Parkland could offer more than a wild guess about the trajectory, since nobody did (or had any need to do) the sort of forensic examination that would have allowed determining trajectory.

Crenshaw's assurance here is necessarily bogus, and detracts from his credibility.

Conspiracy of Silence?

Then there is Crenshaw's "Conspiracy of Silence" thesis. For Crenshaw:
Every doctor who was in Trauma Room 1 had his own reasons for not publicly refuting the 'official line' . . . . I believe there was a common denominator in our silence — a fearful perception that to come forward with what we believed to be the medical truth would be asking for trouble. . . . Whatever was happening was larger than any of us. I reasoned that anyone who would go so far as to eliminate the President of the United States would surely not hesitate to kill a doctor. (pp. 153-154.)

This is almost breathtaking in its absurdity. Crenshaw published a book in 1992 claiming he was breaking a "conspiracy of silence." Yet the other Parkland doctors had been talking their heads off for nearly 30 years by this time. Many have talked to conspiracy authors like Groden, Lifton and Livingstone. Their statements can be seen in books like Six Seconds in Dallas, High Treason, High Treason II, and Best Evidence. They can be seen in videos such as The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Bob Groden's The Case for Conspiracy, and NOVA's Who Shot JFK? Most have given statements that — if they have been quoted accurately — imply a conspiracy. The conspiracy writers (including Gary Aguilar) know this, because the have been quoting these doctors extensively!

If the thesis of the book is bogus, the details aren't any better.

In the first place, the book is littered with silly conspiracy book factoids. To give just a very few examples:

  1. The Julia Ann Mercer story (p. 55).
  2. The claim that seventy-five percent of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza who identified the source of the shots said they came from the Grassy Knoll (p. 66).
  3. Crenshaw accepts Seth Kantor's testimony that Ruby was at Parkland Hospital about 1:30 (p. 108). This is perfectly reasonable, but then Crenshaw reports that Jack Ruby was in the Texas Theater at the time of the Oswald arrest! (p. 117) Although this doesn't exactly put Ruby in two places at one time, it implies an absurd mad dash by Ruby from the Dallas Morning News to Parkland Hospital to the Texas Theater and back to the Carousel club (where he returned about 2:00 pm.) in well under an hour.
  4. Crenshaw recounts how Dallas cops and Federal agents descended on the Texas Theater "all to capture a man suspected of entering the theater without paying" (p. 115).
  5. Jack Ruby's correcting DA Wade about Oswald's role in the "Fair Play for Cuba" committee indicated he was "a person very familiar with Cuban politics" (p. 145).
  6. The bogus Bobby Kennedy "only the powers of the presidency" quote (p. 138).
All these silly conspiracy factoids could be blamed on Crenshaw's conspiracy-oriented coauthors Shaw and Hansen. But Crenshaw's own supposed account (it's set in a sans-serif typeface) is full of Crenshaw's claims to have seen things that he could not in fact have seen.

As Roger Bynum has pointed out, Crenshaw provides the following tidbit about his actions on the morning of the assassination:

Having visited all my patients, I went to the dining room on the first floor, and was eating two hardboiled eggs, toast, and coffee while reading the newspaper. The Dallas Morning News was full of information and stories about President Kennedy and the First Lady. . . .

With sickening clarity, I recall a full-page editorial purchased by an extremist group that viciously attacked the integrity of President Kennedy by claiming he was a Communist. The President was posed in a frontal and side mug shot atop the message, "This man is wanted for treasonous activities against the United States." The article further claimed President Kennedy was " . . . turning the sovereignty of the U.S. over to the communist controlled United Nations." p. 33

But Crenshaw could have seen no such editorial, since none existed! The ad attacking Kennedy in the Dallas Morning News was quite different from Crenshaw's description. It was headlined (sarcastically) "Welcome Mr. Kennedy." Crenshaw provides an accurate description of a handbill that was distributed in the Dallas area. Is this issue — handbill versus advertisement — one that could be easily confused? Yes, if you are getting your information from reading books on the assassination. But Crenshaw claims that he remembers "with sickening clarity" an ad in the Dallas Morning News which never appeared!

This raises the issue of other things he claims to remember "clearly."

For example, Crenshaw claims he literally ran to the Emergency Room with Dr. McClelland, and that he and McClelland approached Dr. Perry (who was already treating Kennedy) together. See pages 73-78. He describes the head wound, and then recounts:

I also identified a small opening about the diameter of a pencil at the midline of his throat to be an entry bullet hole. There was no doubt in my mind about that wound. I had seen dozens of them in the emergency room. At that point, I knew that he had been shot at least twice. (p. 79)
Unfortunately for Crenshaw, McClelland told the Warren Commission that the tracheostomy was already begun and the throat wound obliterated when he arrived. The following is from 6H32:
Mr. SPECTER. What did you observe, if anything, as to the status of the neck wound when you first arrived?

Dr. McCLELLAND. The neck wound, when I first arrived, was at this time converted into a tracheotomy incision. The skin incision had been made by Dr. Perry, and he told me—although I did not see that—that he had made the incision through a very small, perhaps less than one quarter inch in diameter wound in the neck.

Perry confirmed McClelland's account when he told the Warren Commission that, at the time he began the tracheostomy, McClelland was not present and he (Perry) instructed that he be called (3H369). He also said that McClelland arrived "shortly after" he had entered the neck (3H370). Further, Perry said that he and Carrico were the only people who saw the unaltered wound, and McClelland did not see the wound (3H377).

So either Crenshaw's claim to have entered the ER with McClelland is untrue, or his claim to have seen the unaltered neck wound is untrue. Since McClelland confirms that he entered the Emergency Room with Crenshaw (6H31), it seems that Cranshaw gave a vivid description of a throat wound he never saw.

Crenshaw the Liftonite

Crenshaw and his coauthor Gary Shaw was interviewed by Jim Bohannon in 1993 Click on the link below to hear the interview.

Instead of going on and on about silly conspiracy-book factoids that Crenshaw repeats, it might be good to focus on one particular class of factoids that Crenshaw repeats. Those of David Lifton.

1. Crenshaw recounts how J. Gary Shaw showed him photos from the JFK autopsy. He says: "I was amazed. . . . One picture showed President Kennedy's neck at the point where the bullet had entered, the spot where Dr. Malcolm Perry had performed a tracheostomy at Parkland to help the President breathe. The opening was larger and jagged — significantly different from the way it looked to me in Dallas. There was no doubt in my mind — someone had tampered with the body, or the photographs." (p. 10-11)

He continues: "After studying the pictures for several more moments, I said, "No, these aren't the wounds I saw at Parkland. From these pictures it appears that someone performed some surgery on the President between the time his body left Parkland Hospital and when these photographs were taken." (p. 11).

He returns to this theme on page 111, when he again discusses looking at the autopsy photos, at which point he " . . . realized there was something rotten in America in 1963. . . . Great effort had been made to reconstruct the back of the President's head, and the incision Perry had made in his throat at Parkland had been enlarged and mangled, as if someone had conducted another procedure. It looked to be the work of a butcher."

2. Crenshaw says the body left Parkland in "a bronze casket . . . wrapped in white cloth" but arrived at Bethesda in "a gray shipping casket, not swaddled in white cloth, but instead zipped in a body bag like the ones from Vietnam" (pp. 11-12). He repeats this story on page 111.

3. Crenshaw tells about a medical student who saw a bullet hole in the windshield (p. 105).

4. He says that " . . . there were two eyewitnesses present at the autopsy, James Jenkins and Paul O'Connor, who swear that President Kennedy arrived at the Naval medical facility zipped in a gray body bag . . . . And even more astounding, these men, who have gone through numerous tests and substantial harrassment to be proved credible, claim there was no brain when the body came out of the gray bag. As the last doctor to see President Kennedy before the body left Parkland, I can unequivocally report that there was no gray body bag, and that he still had the left side of his brain." pp. 111-112.

All these are part of author David Lifton's "body alteration" hypothesis. Lifton, in Best Evidence, claims that Kennedy's body was stolen between Parkland Hospital and the autopsy at Bethesda and his wounds surgically altered to conceal shots from the front. If this sounds absurd it's because it is absurd, and few if any among even conspiracy authors believe it — except for Crenshaw.

The Supposed Call from LBJ

The most explosive claim made by Crenshaw is that Lyndon Johnson called the ER during the attempt to save Oswald's life, and demanded that a confession be extracted from Oswald. Supposedly, the confession would be taken by an "Oliver Hardy" figure who was standing by in the ER.

Aside from being absurd on its face, Crenshaw has credibility problems on several fronts with this claim:

1. The White House phone logs do not show any call from LBJ to Parkland Hospital that day. See: Case Closed, paperback, p. 396.

2. Lyndon Johnson would not have been able to make a phone call at the time Crenshaw describes. The operation on Oswald began at 11:44 Central Time. At 11:55 Central Time, Manchester (The Death of a President) notes that the Kennedys and the Johnsons met in the East Room of the White House and then proceeded to the ceremonies moving Kennedy's body from the White House to the Capitol. But Crenshaw explicitly said the phone call came a little under an hour into the operation (p. 188). As Gary Mack explains:

It has always been known that there was a call from Washington, but apparently not from LBJ as Crenshaw's book claims. My own research, conducted at the request of KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas, found that LBJ was in his limo at the very moment Crenshaw's book indicates the call came in. There is no record of any such radiotelephone call which, according to the procedures in place, would have to have been routed to Dallas through the White House switchboard where all calls were logged. Nor is there an account from any of the people in the car that LBJ said "Excuse me, I have to call the hospital." And there would certainly be no need to keep such an event, if it happened, secret. (Post on newsgroup alt.assassination.jfk on 10/9/98.)

3. Crenshaw claims (p. 188) that he told Shires about the call in the ER immediately after it was made. But neither Shires nor any of the other doctors there have ever mentioned such a statement.

Crenshaw supporters claim corroboration of Crenshaw's tale from a Doctor Phillip Williams. According to the New York Times of May 26, 1992, Williams said that he remembered reports of two White House telephone calls to the operating room.

Quoting Williams: "I vividly remember someone said, and I can't say who it was, the White House is calling and President Johnson wants to know what the status of Oswald is."

It's interesting that Crenshaw supporters claim "corroboration" when this account flatly contradicts Crenshaw's! It does not confirm LBJ personally calling, and is not about getting a confession. According to the Times: " . . . Dr. Williams said he had never heard that Johnson wanted to get a confession. He also said he did not know whether it was Johnson or an aide who spoke on the phone." It seems unlikely that anything as memorable as a demand for a confession would be forgotten — if it actually happened.

Crenshaw supporters have cited one Phyllis Bartlett, telephone operator at Parkland, who claims that a man who identified himself as Lyndon Johnson called Parkland during the time Oswald was in surgery, and she patched him through to the operating room. Given Johnson's whereabouts, this is vastly implausible. And there is another problem with her story. As Gary Mack explains:

Parkland asked its personnel to write reports of their activities that weekend, and they are here in our collection [at the Sixth Floor Museum] and in the documents we duplicated for the ARRB. Neither Crenshaw, Bartlett or anyone else mentioned that there was either a call from LBJ or a call from Washington. They did mention getting more than a few crank calls, though. (Newsgroup post on alt.assassination.jfk, 10/15/98)
As wild as Crenshaw's most recent story is, it appears to have been toned down compared to the original. Harrison Livingstone, for example, has claimed that the first version of Crenshaw's manuscript had Johnson calling and demanding, not that Oswald be gotten to confess, but that Oswald be killed. The Kennedy Assassination Home Page has been unable to confirm the existence of that manuscript, but the early version of the story was as Livingstone describes.

One of the researchers who was privy to this early version was Gus Russo, author of Live By The Sword. As Russo describes it:

When Oliver Stone was in Dallas prepping for JFK, a number of us were around as "technical advisors," which was a bit of a joke, since Stone only listened to people with crazy conspiracy info.

One night at the Stoneleigh [Hotel], Stone was having a slew of top secret meetings in his suite with people like Ricky White, whom Stone paid $80,000 for his fraudulent story, and the positively goofy Beverly Oliver. That night, Stone ushered Gary Shaw, [Robert] Groden and Crenshaw into his room; I was not invited, but I pressed Shaw (Crenshaw's and Oliver's advisor) for info in the lobby. He was the first to tell me that LBJ ordered Oswald killed. Later, Crenshaw came down, and we happened to be in the Stoneleigh men's room at the same time, standing at adjacent urinals. It was there that he told me that Johnson had ordered the Parkland staff to "kill the son-of-a-bitch." It was decided to "drown Oswald in his own blood," i.e. transfuse him until his lungs collapsed. (E-mail to the author dated August 25, 2003)

Thus is appears that Crenshaw's absurdly incredible early version was tempered in an attempt to make it more credible. With many devout conspiracy believers, the tactic succeeded. For others, Crenshaw merely added to the long list of witnesses whose tall tales litter the assassination landscape.
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