By David S. Lifton
Forty years after the JFK assassination, Dr. Robert Grossman—in 1963 an instructor of neurosurgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, now a Houston neurosurgeon has come forth publicly, and in a major way, with the claim that he was with President Kennedy when he died—that he cradled his head; that he closely examined his wounds. Dr. Grossman has written a lengthy article for Neurosurgery magazine which will be published this week. As the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death draws near, life is good for Dr. Grossman. He is chairman of the Department of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston; and his face adorns Methodist Hospital billboards around Houston.
In the forthcoming three-day conference in Pittsburgh organized by Dr. Cyril Wecht—“Solving the Great American Murder Mystery”—Dr. Grossman is billed as someone “who observed the president's wounds but was never called to testify before the Warren Commission or any subsequent investigative body.”
Because of all this hubbub and the efforts of a public relations firm, Dr. Grossman has several national TV appearances pending, possibly will have a forthcoming book deal, and on Friday, November 21, the eve of the assassination anniversary, will appear on Larry King Live.
Who is Dr. Robert Grossman? And why has he come forth at this late date?
Is there more to this story?
You bet there is. And as someone who has been involved in JFK research for many years—and whose path has crossed with Grossman’s since 1981, when my book Best Evidence was published, I think the time has come to lay it all out, and set the record straight. Or at least let readers make their own decision as to who, and what, to believe. For the issue, in my opinion, is not whether Dr. Grossman’s view of JFK’s wounds—offered here 40 years after the fact—is worthy of being taken seriously at this late date, but rather, whether Dr. Robert Grossman was in the room at all.
That is the issue: not what Dr. Grossman alleges he saw; not his interpretations; but whether he was there. Whether he is a legitimate witness.
Because if he is legitimate, if he was really there, why is it that nobody else records his presence? How can a man pick up the President’s head, when he lay dying in Trauma Room One, and no one report that? Why doesn’t he appear in the reports or testimony of anyone else present? Trauma Room One (also known as ER-1) was a small room. How is it possible for Dr. Grossman to have rushed into the room with Dr. Kemp Clark (that is his story) and then been at the side of Dr Kemp Clark—during a period that lasted some at 20 minutes—with no one reporting him there? (As a friend of mine has remarked: was he Casper, the Friendly Neurosurgeon?) That is the question, and that is the issue which must be explored.
So let us begin at the beginning—November 22, 1963, and the moment when the Presidential limousine carrying the mortally wounded president, and the wounded Governor, screeched to a halt outside Parkland Hospital.
About 15 Dallas physicians and nurses went to the Emergency Room of Parkland Hospital and were eyewitnesses to history—to the death of a U.S. President: who sustained gunshot wounds of the neck and head. JFK was lying face up on a small hospital gurney, doctors and nurses crowded around. The emergency treatment didn’t last very long. A tracheotomy was performed, but it was apparent JFK’s head wound was fatal, so creating an airway to assist breathing was largely irrelevant. Although chest tubes were put in place, and some cutdowns done, after taking a good look at the head wound, and after cardiac massage seemed obviously hopeless, Dr. Kemp Clark, head of neurosurgery—pronounced JFK dead. Based on contemporaneous Secret Service records, it would appear that President Kennedy was pronounced dead at around 1:13 pm. When Dr. Clark first filled out the death certificate, he wrote that the time of death was “13:20” (1:20 p.m.). But the official time of death was set at 1 pm.; and the public announcement was made at about 1:35. These details are minor, but are provided here only as a rough guide as to how long the doctors and nurses were crowded around the President’s body—a time period lasting from about 12:38 p.m., to 1:13 p.m, plus or minus, and that fits with what Dr. Clark told the press when he and Dr. Perry faced reporters at about 2:15 p.m. When asked how long the president had received treatment, he answered 40 minutes. (See White House Transcript of Clark-Perry News Conference).
That number becomes important in considering whether someone can be present, in front of a group of witnesses, and not be seen. Because it is doctor Grossman’s position that he entered the room with Clark (“raced in” as he put it), was at Clark’s side constantly; and specifically, when Clark lifted the President’s head and looked at the wound. Indeed, he says he lifted the President’s head, with Clark.
The doctors and nurses present when JFK died formed a very special class of witnesses—those in a position to have direct knowledge of the president’s wounds. And the President’s wounds, of course, were of the utmost importance in determining the origin of the shots. All those present were asked to make medical reports of everything they had done and seen. Those reports were stamped TOP SECRET and forwarded to Washington. The person who gathered those reports was, appropriately, Dr. Kemp Clark, the doctor who pronounced JFK dead—and Elizabeth Wright, a senior nursing official at Parkland.
One can find those reports—with their TOP SECRET stamps—in the Price Exhibits in Volume 20 of the Warren Commission’s 26 volumes; they bear that name because they were entered into evidence when hospital administrator Jack Price testified.
Not only did Dr. Grossman file no report, he is not mentioned by anyone who did write a report found in that collection. On December 11, two Secret Service agents met with the doctors who had been with the President. The purpose of the meeting was to show them the Bethesda autopsy report. Dr. Grossman was not at that meeting.
When the Warren Commission convened, Arlen Specter—now Senator Specter, but then a young attorney who had been with the District Attorney’s office in Philadelphia—was assigned the medical area, and those Parkland reports—transmitted to him via the Secret Service—became his source material. Specter deposed everybody of any significance who filed a report. Those depositions were taken in Dallas, and appear in Volume 6 of the 26 Volumes. In addition, a small number of doctors were flown to Washington and their testimony taken before the entire Commission. That testimony appears in Volume 3.
Aside from all the medical detail elicited about the wounds, Specter asked each doctor to describe the scene when he came into the room: who was already present? where were they? and who came in afterwards? Asking those questions was a matter of common sense; it was also sound legal procedure—and of course, it provides historians with a record from which they can reconstruct the unfolding events in the room.
That testimony can be found in Volumes 3 and Volume 6 of the Warren Commission’s 26 volumes—Volume 6 covering depositions that were taken in Dallas, by Specter; and Vol 3 covering testimony when some of the doctors were flown to Washington to present their testimony to the Warren Commission.
Dr. Grossman was mentioned by no one as being present in the room. With the exception of one doctor, Kenneth Salyer, said he thought he saw Grossman “with Clark” and “briefly”, but then added “I’m not sure he came in the room.” (6 WCH 81), but no one placed him in the Trauma Room One. Not one single doctor or nurse, and—most significantly, that included Dr. Kemp Clark, Dr. Grossman’s superior, and the doctor who pronounced President Kennedy dead.
As far as the 1963/64 legal record is concerned, Dr. Grossman was not called as a witness because he was not there. It is that simple.
Now, to use screenplay language, let’s “flash forward” some 17 years, to Dr. Grossman’s debut in the public record. Because, in what follows, there are three clusters of activity—March, 1981; March 1997, and finally the present. And the Grossman Debut—for want of a better term—happened in the Spring of 1981; specifically, in March of that year.
In January, 1981, Best Evidence was published. It was given a full two-page spread in Time Magazine (in the news, not the book review, section); was a Book of the Month Club selection, and became a national best seller, rising to number 4 in the New York Times list. It was number one in several cities, and number one for awhile on the wire service lists. At that time, I appeared on all the major talk shows around the United States, practically talking myself hoarse, in city after city, as I went through the major thesis of my book, again and again and again.
Best Evidence made the charge that the President’s body, at the time the autopsy was performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital on November 22, was not in the same condition as it was immediately after the shooting. Specifically, I asserted that wounds had been altered, and bullets removed.
It is not my purpose here to re-argue Best Evidence. But it is important to understand the basic outline of what the book said about the head wounds, to put in context statements made by Dr. Grossman, a Dallas protégé of Dr. Kemp Clark, when he first came forward and was interviewed by a reporter in March, 1981.
Best Evidence brought to light an important anomaly in the medical evidence: the difference in the Dallas description of the President’s head wound, as recounted in written reports and testimony to the Warren commission, and the Bethesda autopsy report and related testimony.
Best Evidence asserted that this was not a matter of erroneous observation; rather Best Evidence alleged that President Kennedy’s body was tantamount to a medical forgery at the time of autopsy; and this was so because the wounds had been altered: specifically, that bullets had been removed and wounds altered in order to hide shots from the front and make it appear that Oswald was the sole assassin.
A comparison of the Dallas and Bethesda medical data was the basis for my analysis, and in particular, the President’s head wound came in for much attention. In Dallas, the President had an exit wound, about the size of an egg, at the right rear of the head; and that rear-exit, or blowout (“avulsive” wound was a technical term often applied to that wound), was the reason many of the Dallas doctors concluded the President had been shot in the head from the front. At Bethesda, the situation was quite different. That “large” wound had grown significantly larger, now encompassed much of the right hand side of the head. Most important, at the bottom of the back of the head was a small hole designated by the autopsists as a bullet entrance wound.
The Dallas doctors were repeatedly asked, by Arlen Specter, about that entry wound. Might the doctor have seen “a little hole beneath the big hole”? Except for Dr. Kemp Clark, who said it might have been missed because of the blood and hair, the answer was no. One Dallas doctor after another answered Specter’s query the same way: “No.” There was no support for the “little hole” in the Dallas legal record. As far as the Dallas doctors were concerned, the back of Kennedy’s head only contained one thing: an exit wound.
It is one thing to talk about this matter in terms of wounds; but much easier to visualize in terms of trajectory, and using that language permits one to see all this in “political” language: In Bethesda, the President’s body appeared to have been shot twice from behind, from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository. In Dallas, the President’s body appeared to have been shot from the front.
I use the phrase “appeared to have been” deliberately, because the issue often arose as to whether a wound was not seen because, for some reason, it was not observed, or because it was not there. Debates about these matters often have a talmudic quality. Where was the observer standing? Exactly what could he see? Was there a flap of scalp that might have confused matters? Etc.
In Best Evidence, I published diagrams to show this bifurcated legal record—with the Dallas doctors basically implying the President had been shot in the head from the front, and the Bethesda doctors saying the opposite. I argued that the reason for this divergence was that the body (i.e., the wounds) had been altered. Supporting my central thesis was the statement of two FBI agents that, when the body was unwrapped, it was “apparent” that there had been “surgery of the head area, namely, in the top of the skull.”
The diagrams illustrating this “before and after” situation were published widely; and the hypothesis advanced in my book even appeared one week in the New York Times weekly quiz.
Not everyone agreed with my analysis. The simplest argument against my work was that the Dallas doctors didn’t get a good view of the wounds, or were wrong, or had used language sloppily. I encountered all of this in my various public appearances. Still, none of that changed the legal record: no Dallas doctor saw an entry wound at the bottom of the back of the head.
Sometime in the Spring of 1981, when I was passing through Dallas, Dr. Kemp Clark, the attending neurosurgeon, made statements to the local press saying that I was wrong, and disputing my assertion that Dallas and Bethesda head wounds were different. When you are on a book tour, you don’t debate these things. You go from one city to another in a pell mell rush to appear, perhaps, in 20 cities in as many days, sometimes appearing in five media dates in each city.
But now let’s move forward with the story, and to when Dr. Robert Grossman enters the scene for the very first time.
In the weeks following the publication of Best Evidence, the Boston Globe assigned young Ben Bradlee (son of “the” Ben Bradlee of Watergate fame) to conduct a rather unusual journalistic investigation: show the Dallas doctors anatomically accurate drawings made from the Bethesda autopsy pictures (the actual photographs weren’t available, so these anatomically accurate drawings, known as the Dox Drawings were used instead), and in effect ask: Is this what the wounds looked like in Dallas?
The Dox drawings were used because the autopsy photographs were under seal at the National Archives, having been donated by the Kennedy family under a special Deed of Gift. As it turned out, I obtained a set of those photos from a Secret Service official in 1982, showed them to the Dallas doctors, and published the results of those interviews in 1988, in the third edition of my book, which also published the autopsy photographs for the first time. (Carrol and Graf edition of Best Evidence, first published in October 1988). Precise renderings of the autopsy photographs were made by artist Ida Dox, during the House Select Committee investigation (1976-79).
And so off to Texas (and other cities) went Ben Bradlee, Jr., armed with the Dox drawings, and a tape recorder; intending to interview each and every doctor and nurse, getting them to describe where they saw the wounds; and recording the results; and then writing a rather extensive article about it.
It was then, for the very first time, that Dr. Robert Grossman—an instructor of neurosurgery at Parkland and protégé of Dr. Kemp Clark—appeared on the scene. Its not known who told Bradlee about Grossman—all we know (because Bradlee said this much in his article) is that Clark refused to be interviewed; that Grossman, a Clark protégé, was referred to Bradlee as having been with President Kennedy when he died, and so of course Grossman went onto Bradlee’s list, and he was interviewed on March 5, 1981.
By the time the interview was over, it was clear that here was a Dallas doctor who saw something all his Dallas colleagues had missed: a bullet entrance wound at the bottom of the back of JFK’s head. “Grossman was the only doctor interviewed,” reported Bradlee, in the article subsequently wrote, “who made such a reference to two distinct wounds.” Indeed, Dr. Grossman said he saw a small entry wound at the rear of the head (an entry that no other Dallas doctor saw) plus a larger wound over the right ear—in effect, the Bethesda exit wound. For all practical purposes, Grossman was describing the back-to-front trajectory described in the Bethesda autopsy report.
If Grossman was right, then all the other Dallas doctors were wrong. Not only had they missed a bullet entrance wound; they had misconstrued the large wound on JFK’s head, placing it at the rear, rather than on the side, and mistakenly concluded that JFK was shot in the head from the front.
In March, 1981, I was on one book tour after another, flying from city to city, explaining my thesis on one show after another. What Dr. Grossman said was of little consequence. First of all, I didn’t know about it, until Bradlee’s article was published in June. More to the point: my book was based on sworn testimony from 1964. That was the legal record. And so, even in June, when the Boston Globe article was published, I paid no mind to a statement made to a journalist in 1981, although I remember thinking that it was peculiar that Arlen Specter could have made an error of that magnitude: to not have called a witness of Grossman’s importance; a doctor who right there, in the room. A neurosurgeon, for God’s sake. But I didn’t focus on the matter.
Most of the doctors didn’t agree with Grossman’s view of things; so why bother. I also felt that anyone who waited to 1981 to come forth did not qualify as a legitimate witness. That was the tack I took, and I just set the matter aside,
Then came 1990. Dr. Grossman came up on my radar again.
In 1990, I was contacted by a Houston businessman who had read Best Evidence and was keenly interested in the JFK assassination. He learned that his wife’s gynecologist was a friend of Dr. Grossman. He wanted to interview Dr. Grossman, and asked if I would assist in formulating questions. So, over the course of a month or so, he and I spoke some dozen times. We became telephone friends of sort, and I kept up with his progress as he called Dr. Grossman, to set a time for an interview. For a brief while, I even entertained flying to Houston to accompany him on the interview, but I knew that I was—to use colloquial language—“radioactive.” I had received far too much publicity and I thought my presence would only be upsetting to Dr. Grossman, so why not just educate this businessman as much as I could and he would do the interview. The questions weren’t all that difficult. “What did you see?” “Why didn’t you make a report?” Things like that.
After many contacts back and forth with Dr. Grossman, the date set for the interview—March 27, 1990—finally arrived.
The businessman went down to the hospital at the appointed time, and proceeded to the hospital waiting room specified by Grossman. He called Grossman to let him know he was there. Dr. Grossman came on the line. He wouldn’t be able to keep their appointment, he said. He was just too busy that particular day. The surgery he was involved in was taking longer than anticipated.
Understandably, the businessman was disappointed. Nonetheless, they had a brief conversation; and the minute the businessman got off the phone, he telephoned me with the bad news. I was sitting in my office at the time, in front of my computer, and as he spoke, I wrote down what he said. It just so happens that I type very fast, as fast as some people speak, and what follows is from my 1990 notes, made on March 27, 1990 of that year, typed as the Houston businessman (whose first name was Brandt) related what had just happened:
So I get on the telephone; “Hello, Dr. Grossman” I say: “I was just sitting here waiting for you.” And he says: “This is going to be a pretty long surgery. . . Why don't we reset up for a new appointment?”
I said: “That’s absolutely fine.”
He said: “Do you know exactly everything you want to go through?”
I said: “Yes. I have a pretty good idea.”
He said: “OK, lets re-schedule”. And he says: “[But] I have to let you know now,” he said, “I may not be able to tell you that much.”
And I said: “I really want to know what it was like. I mean, just to be there, at that time. Good Lord It’s the President lying there; what did you think of all that?”
And he said: “Well, you know, I really didn't get a very good look.”
And I said: “Oh.” So I said: “Well, we'll just go over what you did see. I’m just really anxious to know what you saw.”
And he said: “Well, I'll go through it with you and everything; but I just have to let you know: you know, I really didn't see very much.”
And that was it.
Indeed, that was the end. The Houston businessman and Dr. Grossman never managed to get together. Frankly, I wasn’t all that surprised and there is a small footnote to the story.
Sometime later in 1981, after Bradlee’s story was published, I telephoned Bradlee and asked if I could get copies of the actual interview transcripts. This became important to me later in 1981, when I personally obtained a set of the autopsy photographs, and was thinking ahead to the time I might want to interview the doctors myself. Bradlee made his entire computer file available. It was clear, just from the size of it, the amount of work he had done. He had, in effect, created a whole new record—a miniature version of what Specter had attempted to do in 1964, and I studied it carefully. The Grossman interview was quite substantial, going on for some eleven pages, single spaced. Although Grossman said he was in agreement with the official version, he had told Bradlee “I think it’s a mistake to make too much of minor differences.” And then he said that “I looked at it (the wounds) for more than 15 seconds.” That made sense. Fifteen seconds—a statement made in 1981—seemed entirely consistent with what he was telling this Houston businessman in 1990, that “I really didn’t get a very look” and “I really didn’t see very much.”
Later, when Ben Bradlee provided me the typed transcript prepared by the stenographer at the Globe, I learned of a number of other oddities from Bradlee’s March 1981 interview with Grossman: that he didn’t know whether JFK had been lying on a stretcher or a table; that he couldn’t remember the orientation of the room with respect to the corridor, that he wasn’t sure whether he had seen cerebellar or cerebral tissue (the former would help place the skull wound low on the back of the head), so Grossman suggested Bradlee just call it “brain tissue.”
Meanwhile, because of Dr. Grossman’s appearance in the Boston Globe, his basic account — the idea that in Dallas, there was an entry wound at the bottom of the back of the head — began to seep into the files and notes maintained by any number of JFK researchers. In short, what Grossman said began to appear in the “data base” of those who study the JFK assassination. The statements he made to Bradlee were quoted in books and articles on the assassination. But nobody interviewed Doctor Grossman—it was just that word of Bradlee’s article spread, and it began to be cited in newsletter articles and books. It took a while for this to happen, but slowly but surely, various authors learned that Grossman’s comments could be found in the Bradlee article; and that the tape of his interview was even available at the JFK library.
Grossman was of particular interest to those who believed in the official version, and particular those who believed Best Evidence was wrong. Here was a doctor—a Dallas doctor—who said there was a bullet entry hole at the rear of the President’s head, so anyone wanted some Dallas corroboration for that wound, would quote Grossman for that reason. On the other hand, there were certain JFK researchers who saw matters differently, who strongly believed that a bullet had exited the rear of the head. They added Grossman to their lists of those who saw a wound “at the back of the head”—often neglecting to inform the reader that Dr. Grossman made clear that he was talking about an entry wound. (Aguilar did this, on his list of over 40 witnesses who saw an exit wound at the back of the head. Dr. Grossman is included, even though he makes it very plain that his “occipital” wound was an entrance wound.)
But even though Grossman’s observations were unique—as Bradlee reported, he was the “only [Dallas] doctor. .. who made such a reference to two distinct wounds”—nobody ever questioned whether Dr. Grossman was present. No one looked at the record that way. He was there because he said he was there; and anyone familiar with the Warren Commission investigation had no trouble classifying Dr. Grossman as the “doctor who was not called.” The Commission investigation was lax in any number of areas—so it was easy to believe that a witness of that importance had been ignored; the implicit charge of sloppiness simply spilled over into this area, too. I know of no one who looked at the record critically—who asked, for instance, how could this man see what he said he saw, and be in the room, and not be noticed by anyone else? How could he be assisting Dr. Clark in raising JFK’s head off the hospital cart, and not have that image emblazoned in everyone’s memory? I have a fairly skeptical mind—and I never thought of it that way. It represents a significant paradigm shift to start looking at a witness that way, and it just never occurred to me to go down that path. So sure, I wondered about the accuracy of Dr. Grossman’s account, because he hadn’t said anything until 1981, but it never occurred to me to question his presence in ER-1.
Then came 1997 and Grossman’s tape recorded interview by the ARRB.
The Assassination Records Review Board—the small federal agency tasked with obtaining records connected with the JFK assassination—was in existence from the fall of 1995, until the last day of September 1998. In 1997, General Counsel Jeremy Gunn scheduled a trip to Texas to interview three people connected with JFK’s treatment at Parkland. One was Nurse Audrey Bell, a nurse at Trauma Room One, but whose primary responsibilities were dealing with Governor Connally, who was also shot; another was Dr. Charles Crenshaw, who played a minor role in ER-1; and the third was Grossman.
Curiously, Grossman was interviewed on March 21, 1997, just a week short of nine years to the day after his contact with the Houston businessman.
Grossman was a loose end of sorts. He appeared nowhere in the Dallas medical records, but—since the Boston Globe interview—he became a “footnote star” of sorts; quotes from the article had appeared in various assassination books and newsletters. If you knew about Dr. Grossman, you could probably win at Trivial Pursuit, had the question been: who was the only Dallas doctor to see an entry wound at the rear of the head? Who was the only Dallas doctor who saw two separate head wounds? Which Dallas doctor said that President Kennedy was struck in the head from the rear? So it seemed reasonable that Grossman should be contacted and permitted to go on record with whatever he had to say.
Jeremy Gunn and Doug Horne flew to Texas on that trip. First they traveled several hours by car, to an outlying area, to see Bell; then they saw Crenshaw, and then, finally, came Grossman.
From the moment Dr. Grossman started talking about the wounds, Gunn and Horne felt uncomfortable, and Doug later recalled the problem.
Both men knew the record. Both were aware of the number of doctors who said a bullet exited the rear of the head, and, on that particular trip, it was no academic matter. They had just come from interviewing Nurse Bell, who told them of the wound at the back of the head; and Dr. Crenshaw, who said the same thing. Each witness had drawn diagrams, tracing out the wound on a photocopy from Grants Atlas of Anatomy. But Grossman was confidently telling them the opposite—the picture he drew was entirely different—and the contrast between Crenshaw and Bell, on one day, and Grossman the next, just drove home the disparity.
Grossman’s diagram was different than that any other Dallas witness had drawn. Handed a diagram of the back of the head from Grant’s Atlas, he drew what he called an entry wound smack in the middle of the back of the head, in the occiput, and then a larger wound, what he called a flap, or a plate of bone, above the right ear. The first was an entry wound, he said; the second, an exit. But even as he was being spoken to, he frequently said, “I defer to Dr. Kemp Clark” “He was senior.” He has a better memory. He got a closer look. The problem was: Dr. Clark, whose Warren Commission testimony was a matter of record, never provided an account like this. Dr. Clark talked of seeing only one wound—at the back of the head, “in the occiput” he wrote in his handwritten report on November 22, and Dr. Clark, being a neurosurgeon, would know where the occiput was.
Then something occurred that really seemed most peculiar. With the tape running, Dr. Grossman talked of certain other memories from that day, and Dr. Grossman said that Jackie was wearing a white dress.
A white dress? The whole world of course knew that Jackie was in a pink suit, but apparently not Dr. Grossman. He said she was in a white dress. Here’s the way it appeared, when one made a transcript (which I did 7 years later):
Gunn When you went in to the trauma room, approximately how many people were in the room at that time?
Dr. G (pauses somewhat; can hear Grossman distinctly exhaling, as if he was smoking, but he was not smoking; so it’s the exhale of someone making a distinct effort to consider his answer) Probably, seven or eight or people. Mrs. Kennedy was in a corner of the room — I remember her, she had a white dress on. She had blood and brain material on her dress.
Then came another anomaly. Grossman didn’t know that JFK’s body had left the room in a coffin! Replying to simple question from Gunn (“Did you see President Kennedy put into a coffin?”), Grossman replied:
“No. [but] I did see him wheeled down the hall, so all of that must have taken (sic) rather quickly; taken place rather quickly.”
Gunn again raised the issue of JFK being put in a coffin; and again Grossman demurred.
“I don’t know, because the body was covered. I suspect that the body was not in a coffin. I don't know how they could have gotten a coffin [up there] that quickly. I suspect . . . that his body was just covered with a wrapping.” (Author’s transcript made from Grossman tape at National Archives).
This was pretty amazing, because of course the whole world knew that a large bronze casket had been brought to ER-1, and that Kennedy had been placed in that casket; and then that casket brought out to the waiting ambulance (which then drove everyone to the airport).
And that brings us to the next point: as is well known, there was some very tense moments in bringing the coffin out of the hospital, because Texas law required an autopsy, and the Secret Service agents and Kennedy aides would hear of no such thing. So they just pushed the coffin past the coroner.
Here, once again, Grossman’s recollection was at variance with the known record. Sure, there was a tense moment. But Grossman’s account was radically different.
The Secret Service were absolutely furious, because they had failed in their mission, and they were so angry, they picked him up and they punched him. And they knocked him down, as I recall.
Different witnesses have rendered the scene differently, but no one ever said anything like that.
After the tape recorder was turned off, Gunn instructed Horne to take out the Ida Dox drawing (of the autopsy photo of the rear of JFK’s head) and show it to Grossman. Grossman looked at it and said: “That’s completely incorrect.” In March, 1981, when Bradlee had shown him the identical picture, and asked for his evaluation, he had responded: “It seems consistent.”
Jeremy Gunn was always concerned about the Review Board creating a false or spurious legal record, leading to unproductive debates that would go on for years. Now he started brooding about this witness, and what all this meant.
Years later (specifically, in May, 2003) I reviewed with Doug Horne specifically what happened that day, Doug recalled remembered it vividly.
As they drove away, Gunn was troubled. He kept repeating, over and over again, “Why did he say she was in a white dress?”
“It’s a small thing, but it isn’t,” said Doug, talking about the white dress. “It’s a big thing in the national psychology,” said Doug, of the fact that Jackie was wearing a pink suit, not a white dress.
And once they started focusing on that, they wondered just what could be trusted that Grossman said.
“We were immediately aware of the problem,” said Doug, “as soon as we drove away in the car.”
In November, 2003, Doug said: “Jeremy and I were seriously troubled following the Grossman interview as to what to make of his testimony, because so many aspects of it were anomalous: the white dress, the wound descriptions. They were completely anomalous with other observations from Trauma Room One.”
In fact, the incident made a deep impression on Jeremy who was loath to call witnesses. In a speech at Stanford, he mentioned the incident; and in the Final Report, Gunn personally drafted a passage expressing his own skepticism, now reinforced, about all eyewitness testimony:
One illustration of this was an interview statement made by one of the treating physicians at Parkland. He explained that he was in Trauma Room Number One with the President. He recounted how he observed the first lady wearing a white dress. Of course, she was wearing a pink suit, a fact known to most American. The inaccuracy of his recollection probably says little about the quality of the doctor’s memory, but it is revealing of how the memory works and how cautious one must be when attempting to evaluate eyewitness testimony. (ARRB Final report, p. 123)
Doug was puzzled by another matter.
He understood that Grossman’s account—about a rear entry wound—was (for a Dallas doctor) unique; but also remembered how Grossman kept deferring to Clark. Yet Clark had a complete different version of the wounds. So what was going on? Doug was confused. He just didn’t know what to do with Grossman—how to explain him.
Of particular concern to Doug was the entry wound. Clark said he didn’t see an entry. How could Grossman see what Clark didn’t see? Doug was a strong supporter of my work—but was it wrong? It was elegant to be able to state that no Dallas doctor saw an entry at the back of the head—but was that in fact incorrect? Was Grossman the exception? Had Grossman seen just such a wound?
That was where matters stood. In the intervening years, Grossman appeared on various lists of doctors posted on the internet, and debates broke out about just what he had said, and what he meant. Yet what he said and meant was very clear: Grossman said there was a bullet entry wound at the rear of JFK’s head, smack in the center of the occiput. From the ARRB Meeting report: “He said he observed two wounds to President Kennedy’s head: one was a circular puncture in the occipital region (which he characterized as an entry wound), approximately 2 cm. in diameter, near the EOP—centerline, or perhaps just right of center.” None of this was new to me. This is what he had told Bradlee in 1981. He was Dr. Clark’s protégé, saying that Best Evidence was wrong, history’s witness to a bullet entry wound in the back of JFK’s head.
Researchers pick and chose from Grossman’s account depending on what theory they believed in. Those who believed that President Kennedy had been shot in the head from the rear used Grossman to argue there was an entry wound at the rear of the head. Then there were those who believed there was an exit at the rear: they used Grossman to argue that what he saw must have been an exit, conveniently ignoring that Grossman—by describing it as a “circular puncture”—was clearly implying it was an entrance.
I made a mental note that if I ever did a thorough revision of Best Evidence, I would have to put in a footnote to cover the fact that, although no doctor saw an entry wound who testified in 1963/64, here was this doctor, Grossman, who said he saw such a wound, even though he didn’t come forward until March, 1981.
But once again, the matter of Dr. Robert Grossman was set aside. Because the review board called as witnesses people I had interviewed for my book, I was sent many of the medical documents, and when the huge box arrived, I filed the Doug Horne and Jeremy Gunn “Call Report” on Grossman in an appropriate file. That was 1998, and I had other things to worry about than Robert Grossman.
Then came the Spring of 2003.
One day in April, 2003, Doug Horne was at his government job in Washington, D.C., when a fellow worker informed him she had a Dr. Robert Grossman on the line. “I was stunned,” said Doug, who said he had never expected to hear from Robert Grossman again. Because Horne was unavailable to take his call, Grossman left his home number. When he returned Grossman’s call that evening, Grossman told him he wanted to get a copy of any reports that were made about him as a result of the trip he and Gunn had made to Houston in 1997, and he also wanted to get a copy of the audio tape, if possible.
He noted that Dr. Cyril Wecht was sponsoring a conference in Pittsburgh in November, and that he had been invited to speak. He said that he knew Dr. Wecht because Wecht’s son, Daniel (a neurosurgeon who practices in the Pittsburgh area) had trained under him, so there was some sort of personal/collegial relationship in play.
He told Doug that he was also applying to the National Archives to see the Kennedy autopsy photographs and X-rays—that he wanted to “test his recollection,” and he had an open mind; and that depending on what he saw, he might “change” his “position.”
Doug mailed Grossman what he wanted—a copy of the ARRB’s Final Report, a copy of the tape recording of the 1997 interview, and the official interview report (called the “Call Report”).
Doug and I have stayed in contact since his days on the Review Board—and Friday, the last day, was always a good time to talk. On Friday, May 16, Doug left me a message . . . saying he had something to tell me. . “Call me tonight,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you about Dr. Grossman. He’s become my new pen pal.”
That night, I was stuck in traffic, and pulled over to my favorite donut shop, got out my cell phone, and called. I had received the promotional material from Wecht’s conference, in which Dr. Grossman was billed as a star. “The doctor who was with Kennedy when he died” The doctor who wasn’t called by the previous investigation.”
We compared notes. Doug told me how Grossman had spoken with him by phone, that Grossman wanted a copy of the 1997 interview report, plus a copy of the tape, and how Doug had complied. . “Oh, this makes sense now, said Doug. I see.”
Meanwhile, I was trying to jog my own memory. I couldn’t understand why Grossman was being featured at Wecht’s conference. After all, most JFK researcher’s I knew thought Kennedy had been struck in the head from the front: Grossman was unique in that he believed the opposite. I knew Bradlee had interviewed Grossman, but that was 1981, 23 years ago. But now, reviewing matters with Doug, I remembered there was something else that happened, a Houston business man who had contacted Grossman in the early 1990s. It was fuzzy in my mind. Its difficult, in 2003, to remember something that had happened in the early nineties.
Meanwhile, Doug was reasoning aloud and drawing his own conclusions. “I couldn’t understand what this was all about,” said Doug said but “now it all makes sense.” He also told me of another conversation he had had. The producer of the FOX-TV documentary, Peter Russo, had been in touch with both of us. Dr. Wecht had apparently suggested that Grossman appear on his show, and he had told the producer that after he went to the Archives, he was willing to “reconsider” his position, holding out the possibility that his “position” on the wounds” might change depending on what he saw. I was listening to all this and growing increasingly agitated. Why was Grossman doing all this? And just what had happened with the Houston businessman?
Unless one has a phenomenal memory—and I don’t—it would mean searching through boxes of records. But thank God for hard disks, computers, and search engines. While speaking with Doug, I put the name “Grossman” into the search engine on my Apple laptop, and within seconds, there was the1990 file and memos, and the complete story of the Houston businessman.
These events which had happened 13 years before were now spread out before me on my computer screen. I read aloud to Doug the memos from 13 years before, and especially the transcript of my March, 1990 conversation with the Houston businessman, who had just gotten off the phone with Grossman, and who was telling me how Grossman said he didn’t get a very good look, that he really hadn’t seen very much.
Now I was getting annoyed. Here was Grossman, based on verbatim notes I typed in March, 1990, telling the Houston businessman that he didn’t get a very good look, but now, in 2003, clearly agitating to get on a national TV broadcast. Also, from what he told Doug, he was clearly itching to see the photographs and X-rays at the National Archives. And somehow, this was all connected with Wecht, with whom he had a personal connection because he had been involved in training Wecht’s son, Daniel, as a neurosurgeon.
Also, as I would find out six months later when I would receive copies of the Grossman/Archives correspondence (as the result of a FOIA request filed in November) that Dr. Grossman—who told Bradlee in 1981 that he saw the wounds for perhaps 15 seconds, and told the Houston businessman that he didn’t get a very good look, had just written Steve Tilley (on May 5), in filing his request to see the materials as soon as possible, “I remember the wounds distinctly.”
Doug now told me of something else. That during the Grossman interview in March 1997, Grossman had claimed that Jackie was wearing a white dress. The whole world knew Jackie was in a pink suit, and this had been disturbing. Was Grossman credible?
It was at this point that the light bulb went on. “Doug,” I exclaimed aloud, “Was Grossman even in the room? Did anyone see him? Do we have any witnesses who say he was there?”
I asked because I didn’t remember a single person who remembered seeing Grossman; but I was just relying on memory, and memory can be tricky.
Now the issue was rapidly changing—from what Dr. Grossman allegedly saw, to whether he was in the room at all.
We agreed that we’d both read through the testimony in the next hour, and then reconvene on the telephone awhile later.
I had no recollection of any Dr. Grossman being present according to the Warren Commission records, and I was now starting to wonder just what the devil was going on—why he was applying at the National Archives to see the JFK autopsy materials, and why he was the crux of so much attention at the Dr. Wecht’s Pittsburgh conference in November.
History is filled with characters who, for whatever reason, inject themselves into an event. I was hoping this was not going to turn out to be such a case.
I made a beeline for my office.
The question was simple: Was Dr. Robert Grossman present in ER-1? Did anybody see him?
At my office, I immediately took from a filing cabinet a valuable research aid I had created when writing Best Evidence: a notebook in which I had created a “medical index” to the testimony of the Dallas doctors, indexed by subject into about 25 categories. I now opened that and turned to what, back in 1975, I had called Category 5: “What [other] doctors [each] saw in ER 1; what nurses he saw there; who else was there. . . In the beginning; then after [each] came.”
I simply had to open my Category 5 list, and there were all the page references to the Warren Commission testimony, at exactly that point where Commission Atty. Specter asked who else was present. I created this index back around 1975 as an aide writing about the Dallas testimony. Pick any medical topic, and I could go to the page in the Dallas record where each doctor was questioned. I had wanted to make sure no details eluded me. Now, in 2003, here I was using it as a tool to see if someone was in the room.
A sample from this testimony should make clear the kind of data that was available.
Eighteen depositions are involved: 16 doctors and 2 nurses. It is not useful to quote all of it because it is so repetitious: it has the quality of asking several mathematicians, one after another, to testify to the fact that two plus two equals four. Just about all those who testified mentioned the same doctors. The questioning was conducted by Arlen Specter.
From Dr. Carrico’s deposition:
Specter: Who was the first doctor to reach President Kennedy on his arrival at Parkland hospital?
Carrico: I was.
Specter: And who else was with President Kennedy on his arrival, as best you can recollect it?. . . What doctors were involved in the treatment of President Kennedy?
Carrico: Well, of course, Dr. Perry, Dr. Clark, Dr. Baxter, Dr. McCelland, Dr. Peters was in the room. Dr. Bashour, Dr. Ronald Jones, Dr. Curtis, I believe. Dr. White was there—initially, at least. I don’t recall right offhand anyone else. There were other doctors in there. I just can’t specifically remember—there were 10 or 15 people in the room before it was over. (6 WCH 4)
Dr. Carrico was one of those flown to Washington for testimony before the entire assembled Warren Commission. He was asked the same question and gave a similar answer . No mention of Dr. Grossman.
Similar questioning was conducted of Dr. Malcolm Perry:
Specter: Who else was present at the time you arrived on the scene with the president?. . . were any other doctors present besides Dr. Carrico?
Again, no Dr. Grossman.
Dr. Perry testified as to the examination of the head wound, central to Grossman’s account because he was claiming he (and Clark) jointly examined the head wound.
I continued with the cardiac massage while Dr. Clark examined the head wound. (6 H 9)
The same questions were repeated in Washington:
Specter: Who else was present at the time you arrived on the scene with the President?. . .were any other doctors present besides Dr. Carrico?
Again, no Dr. Grossman.
Specter: Dr. William Kemp Clark arrived at about that time?
Perry: Dr. Clark’s arrival was first noted to me after the completion of the tracheotomy. . . Dr. Clark and I began external cardiac massage. This was monitored by Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Giesecke who informed us we were obtaining a satisfactory carotid pulse in the neck, . . I continued it until Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Clark informed there was no activity at all, in the cardiotachyscope. . .
Again, no mention of Dr. Grossman.
Here is the testimony of Dr. Clark.
Specter: Who was present, if anyone, upon your arrival, attending to the President?
Clark: Dr Jenkins. . . Dr. Ronald Jones, Mr. Malcolm Perry, Dr. James Carrico. . arriving either with me or immediately thereafter were Dr. Robert McClelland, Dr. Paul Peters, and Dr. Charles Baxter.
No mention of Dr. Grossman. (6 WCH 20)
From McClelland’s deposition:
Specter: And who was present, if anyone, at the time of your arrival?
McClelland At the time I arrived, Dr. Perry—would you like the full names of all these?
Specter. That would be fine. I would appreciate that.
McClelland Dr. Malcolm Perry, Dr. Charles Baxter, Dr. Charles Crenshaw, Dr. James Carrico, Dr. Paul Peters.
Specter: Were they all present at the time you arrived?
McClelland They were not present when I arrived.
Specter. Will you start with the ones who were present?
McClelland: Starting with the ones who were present. . when I arrived were Drs. Carrico, Perry and Baxter. The others I mentioned arrived subsequently or about the same time that I did.
Specter: Then, what other doctors, if any, arrived after you did. In addition to those whom you have already mentioned?
McClelland. In addition, the ones that arrived afterwards, were Dr. Kenneth Salyer. . .Dr. Fouad Bashour, Dr. Donald Seldin. .. I believe that’s all.
The above testimony is not a complete list, but gives the flavor of the record and demonstrates the kind of questions that Specter asked. Specter asked those questions of just about every single person he deposed—sixteen doctors and two nurses.
The only person to mention Dr. Grossman’s name was Dr. Kenneth Salyer, who was 27 at the time and a resident. He described the Emergency Room as containing “a roomful of doctors” and said he thought he saw Dr. Clark arrive with Dr. Grossman, but then said: “I’m not sure he came in the room.” (6 WCH 81)
It was clear that this testimony (about Grossman not being present) did not square with the statements that Dr. Grossman had made to Ben Bradlee in 1981, and—although I did not know it at the time—certainly did not square with the statements he was making in his letter to Kennedy family attorney Burke Marshall, seeking access to the Kennedy autopsy materials at the National Archives (a letter I received some six months later, after a FOIA request):
Dr. Kemp Clark, my Chairman, and I were the two neurosurgeons in Trauma Room 1 at Parkland Hospital. Dr. Clark and I picked up the President’s head and we examined his head wounds. (Dr. Grossman to Burke Marshall, 4/24/3)
Finally, there was the official ARRB transcript from 1997 when five Dallas doctors—McClelland, Perry, Peters, Baxter, and Jones—were questioned about the head wound. The transcript records Dr. Perry as stating: “The only person that made the really detailed examination as far as I know is Dr. Clark.” (Review Board, 8/27/98, p. 23, line 3)
My entire review had taken less than an hour—speeded up by the fact that my Texas Medical Index provided the exact page references. Meanwhile, Doug Horne was conducting his own review, and we reconvened later by phone.
We both agreed. There was no documentary basis for placing Grossman in the room. No such fact was in the existing record. Doug was particularly impressed by the fact that Dr. Clark, Grossman’s direct superior, failed to mention Grossman at all—yet Grossman was claiming he had examined Kennedy’s head wound jointly with Clark.
Meanwhile, I had a small insight concerning Dr. Grossman remembering Jackie in a white dress, when obviously she was in a pink suit, and a possible explanation as to why that was so.
JFK and Jackie had been in Houston the day before; and wore a white suit that day. I remembered that vividly because some years back in connection with work on a documentary about JFK’s Dallas visit, someone had tried to substitute footage from Thursday for Friday, and I wouldn’t hear of it. “Oh, nobody will know,” said a foolish producer. No, you’re wrong, I replied. “Everyone will know,” I said. “Anyone who studies this case knows that it’s a white suit on Thursday, in San Antonio and Houston, and a pink suit on Friday!” And what seemed apparent to me was that Grossman, who lived in Houston, lived in a city where the Houston coverage of the JFK Texas visit was probably replayed every year. So every assassination anniversary, Grossman saw Jackie in a white dress.
Consequently, in his story about seeing her in the Emergency Room, which more and more looked like a fish story, Jackie was now in a white dress.
There was another dimension to this problem and that was the connection with Dr. Cyril Wecht.
Grossman had told Doug the impetus for his requests to Doug (and to the National Archives) was Wecht’s invitation to speak at the November conference, in Pittsburgh; and, as I found out later, (through my FOIA request) Grossman confirmed as much in his April 24 letter seeking a clearance from Burke Marshall:
Dr. Cyril Wecht told me that I should apply to you. . . . Dr. Cyril Wecht has asked me to speak at the symposium he is holding in Pittsburgh in November. (Dr. Grossman to Burke Marshall, 4/24/03)
Indeed, in four color brochures and at the Conference website, Dr. Grossman was being billed as something of a star, described as:
Houston physician Robert Grossman, M.D., a staff neurosurgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital at the time of the assassination who observed the president's wounds but was never called to testify before the Warren Commission or any subsequent investigative body.
But how did Wecht come to know Grossman? After all, Grossman was but a minor mention in some of the later assassination books, and certainly presented a problem as far as a conference devoted to the issue of conspiracy. One JFK researcher said to me: “I could never in my mind imagine that Dr. Wecht would invite somebody to his conference that would say that there was an entry wound in the back of the head, and no exit wound in the back of the head.” Why would he invite somebody whose views he would normally not countenance? Or, was it in fact the case that Dr. Wecht believed JFK had not been struck from the front? Or had he been so blinded by the promotional possibilities of present Dr. Grossman that he didn’t notice the details?
When he called Horne in April 2003, Grossman told Horne, “I trained Dr. Wecht’s son” and I confirmed independently that Daniel A. (Dan) Wecht, one of Wecht’s sons, graduated from University of Pennsylvania Medical School and then attended Baylor, where he trained in neurosurgery under Grossman (and now practices in the Pittsburgh area).
So clearly, there was the possibility of a personal relationship between Wecht and Grossman that had nothing to do with the JFK case, but as a result of which Wecht could well have heard—over the years—of Grossman’s claims that he was with Kennedy the day he died, had not appeared before any previous investigation, etc. and that would—at first glance—appear to present some significant promotional possibilities.
And there was more in the same vein going on at the network TV level.
At the time, both Doug and I were contacted by Fox News and interviewed at length for the forthcoming documentary. While our emphasis was almost entirely on the issue of authenticity, Dr. Wecht—when interviewed—was riding the same hobby horse he had been on since 1967: giving his animated speech about the impossibility of the single bullet theory. Now it became evident that Wecht was suggesting to Fox network that Dr. Grossman be interviewed, and his story broadcast to a nationwide TV audience.
From chit chat with the show’s producer, it was clear that Grossman had been contacted, and had told him of his pending request with the Kennedy family attorney to see the material. The producer quoted Grossman as saying that depending on what he saw at the National Archives, he might “reconsider” his position, thus holding out the possibility of something new and exciting.
This entire experience was getting more and more upsetting, because Grossman’s behavior could now be set side by side against a legal record that clearly suggested he had not been present. Over that weekend, I left a series of voice mails explaining that the record offered no support for the notion that Dr. Grossman was present—Grossman’s (and Wecht’s) claim’s notwithstanding. And that the whole thing was preposterous.
Then, I set down and wrote a
substantial email, documenting the case point by point, citing the record, and
offering to send a packet of testimony by Federal Express so that the producers
could read all this and see for themselves. My email was on
the producer’s in box on Monday morning, May 19.
The next week Doug received word that, with all the choices of material to explore, they had decided not to pursue the Grossman matter further.
At the time, I was not thinking of how this might snowball with the media coverage on the 40th anniversary, or that a full fledged public relations offensive would be mounted, backed with all the muscle of a New York public relations firm calling TV producers and pitching Grossman and his claims. I was just irritated that a doctor who seemed to be telling a fish story might possibly get major national attention and only confuse the record further.
With the turndown from Fox, the Grossman episode was over, or so I thought. I will candidly admit than in the beginning, I saw Dr. Grossman in a relatively limited context—as a historical nuisance of sorts; as a protégé of Dr. Kemp Clark who had come forth when my book was on the best seller list in 1981 and supplied the “evidence”—more precisely, the “Dallas medical evidence” that JFK was shot in the head from behind. That assessment may have been true in 1981. But now, 23 years later, this was snowballing and seemed to have other dimensions. It was now all bollixed up with the forthcoming 40th anniversary story and involved the wider question of someone inserting himself into history. And in a major way. Dr. Grossman was clearly setting the stage for garnering much attention for himself and Dr. Wecht’s conference and he forged ahead with his own agenda, which involved writing an article for the prestigious Neurosurgery magazine.
Dr. Grossman’s plan, apparently was to get the Kennedy family to grant permission to grant access to the autopsy materials at the Archives.
To follow what was happening in Dr. Grossman’s frame of reference, one must know the contents of the April 24, 2003, letter he wrote to the Kennedy family attorney Burke Marshall, seeking the required clearance (under the Kennedy Deed of Gift) to view the pictures at the National Archives. One must also know of the May 5 letter Grossman wrote to Steve Tilley, of Chief of the Special Access/FOIA Branch at the National Archives.
Such correspondence is called the “reference correspondence” and to follow the Grossman story, I must now state that—some months later (specifically, on November 17)—I obtained these letters under the Freedom of Information Act. So what I am relating here, for the reader’s edification, I did not know at the time—i.e., in May, 2003.
The correspondence reveals that on April 24, Dr. Grossman applied to Burke Marshall. Explaining that “Dr. Cyril Wecht told me that I should apply to you,” Grossman explained that “I have no biases or agendas or preconceived views to advance.”
He explained that he didn’t need all that much time with the materials, and was in somewhat of a hurry.
I must be in Washington on May 8th to attend a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. I hoped that I might be able to go to the Archives for part of a day to view the material from the autopsy, particularly the x-rays. (Dr. Grossman to Burke Marshall, April 24, 2003)
As a matter of fact, Dr. Grossman was apparently itching to see the X-rays, because he apparently was entertaining the idea that the X-rays would support a claim that he could see an entry wound even if the photographs clearly did not. It important to understand that this kind of thing is very subjective. Anybody can claim that see anything on an X-ray, and Dr. Grossman is not a radiologist. But clearly the X-rays were his focus:
Although he told Marshall he had no agenda, he wrote Tilley on May 5:
Specifically, the material I would like to view are the x-rays from the autopsy and any x-rays of Mr. Kennedy made previously during his lifetime.
I am particularly interested in determining if I can see an entry wound in the occipital bone where I remember seeing an entry wound when I examined the President at Parkland Hospital. (Grossman to Tilley, May 5, 2003)
Dr. Grossman said he was bringing no special equipment—unlike Dr. David Mantik, who had spent hours with the materials, he would be bringing no special densitometry equipment.
Wrote Grossman: “I do not wish to take any densitometry measurements or use any special equipment.”
So this was strictly an “eyeballing” examination, and Grossman told Tilley it would be very brief, and take no more than a half hour.
I must be in Washington this Thursday and Friday to attend a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. I know it is very short notice, but if it would be possible to look at the material for about ½ hour Friday afternoon, I would be most appreciative.
Unfortunately, despite Dr. Grossman’s 25 page curriculum vitae—a typical specialists CV loaded with articles, books, chapters in books and grants (a current grant for $5 million, in which he was Co-investigator, and two previous ones for $3 million and $5 million respectively, where he was “Principal Investigator”)—Grossman hadn’t heard back from Marshall about the required clearance letter.
The problem was Marshall’s health. He had a bone marrow problem; and without a clearance letter, Grossman couldn’t see the materials.
As he related in his May 5 letter to Steve Tilley, Grossman tried calling, but only got an answering machine of someone handling matters for Marshall. Grossman appears to have heard of Marshall’s health problems. In a passage oozing an odd kind of humanity, Grossman wrote Tilly: “I hope that Professor Marshall is in good health and is receiving and responding to requests.” Clearly, Grossman was anxious to get a clearance, so he could scoot over to the archives and do his 30 minute eyeball examination.
Unfortunately (for Grossman) that was not to be. On June 2, Burke Marshall died. The loyal and faithful Kennedy aide who had played such an historic role in desegregating Ole Miss was gone. So now there was no gatekeeper—nor would there be any until October 14, when another was appointed.
And that put a crimp in Grossman’s plans. As Tilley had written him on May 5:
Under the terms of the deed of gift for the autopsy materials, Mr. Marshall must approve all requests for access. We will wait to hear from Mr. Marshall. (Fax, Tilley to Grossman, 5/5/03)
Marshall was empowered by the Kennedy family to do many things, but communicating from the beyond was not among them. So clearance was not available, and without a clearance, Grossman could not go to the Archives. And without that, he could not announce in a public forum that he had examined these restricted materials, or give any opinion on what he claimed to see.
So much for that plan. But now, Dr. Grossman went ahead with his own plan, writing an article for a prominent professional journal—Neurosurgery—in which he would go on record, for the first time, in writing, and in time for the 40th anniversary and the Wecht conference, as claiming he was inside Trauma Room 1 when Kennedy died. It would be an article which would provide the documentary basis for his claim that he was in ER-1, at Dr. Clark’s side, when JFK was pronounced dead. As it turns out, the article would receive the benefit of promotion by a first rate New York PR firm and would greatly enhance Dr. Grossman’s credentials for his appearance at Dr. Wecht’s Pittsburgh conference.
In four color brochures and in announcements on a Website, Dr. Grossman was receiving star billing. The announcement stated:
Houston physician Robert Grossman, M.D., a staff neurosurgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital at the time of the assassination who observed the president’s wounds but was never called to testify before the Warren Commission or any subsequent investigative body.
What now remained for Dr. Grossman to do was to put down on paper what would become the official account of his participation in the events of November 22, 1963—written in 2003.
The only problem is: its not easy to write of such momentous events when you never made a contemporaneous record; and when the Warren Commission records contain no testimony of anyone who saw you inside the room. Some might call this chutzpah.
Whatever challenge it presented, Dr. Grossman was apparently up to it. He is no dummy. Having recently turned 70 (his DOB is 1/24/33) Dr. Grossman is a graduate of Swarthmore, with honors in math and natural science; and then of Columbia Medical School. (All these are facts that came with Dr. Grossman’s CV, which was provided under my FOIA request, to be described shortly).
No matter that there is a mass of circumstantial evidence contravening the proposition that he was present; no matter that there is a pre-existing legal record that no respectable historian could ignore.
The manuscript arrived at Neurosurgery magazine on July 9, and although this document is not available to the author, from the finished product it is clear that some thought went into its design.
Just from the standpoint of non-fiction writing, how do you insert yourself into a situation when at least 15 witnesses who were specifically asked who was present, failed to note your presence?
Here’s how. The article is structured into two parts. . The first part, sticks to the known record. Then comes the italicized pages, about 3.5 pages of the 9 page article, which is Dr. Grossman going on record, in his own words, for the first time, about the supposed joint experience he had with Dr. Clark. That part is titled, “A Neurosurgeon’s Previously Undocumented Eyewitness Account from Trauma Room 1.”
The first 3 pages—illustrated with illustrations of JFK and Jackie debarking from Air Force One in Dallas, and a picture of page one in the New York Times (“Kennedy Is Killed by Sniper as He Rides in Car in Dallas”—contains Table 1 “Timeline of the events on November 22 surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination.”
Ten times are listed, starting with JFK’s arrival at 11:50. The fifth entry on the chart, a harbinger of things to come, is:
12: 48 Drs. Grossman and Clark arrive in Trauma Room 1
Students of the case who read the chart closely might notice a number of things that are incorrect; for example, JFK’s time of arrival at Parkland is wrong. The hospital record has the President being brought inside at 12:38. The chart contains this gaff:
12:43 President limousine arrives at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
And the time of the swearing in Lyndon Johnson aboard Air Force One—with Jackie at his side—is also incorrect. Depending on which reporter you believe, that was either 2:38 or 2:39. The time line lists the swearing in at 2:09, when the President’s coffin, escorted by Jackie, was just leaving Parkland Hospital.
Then there are smaller errors—like misspelling Father Oscar Huber, who administered the last rights, as “Oscar L. Hubner.”
But clearly, what sets the tone is the appearance of Clark and Grossman as a duo; e.g., in the 5th entry, labeled “12:48 P.M.” (as if someone had a watch on these events): “Drs. Grossman and Clark arrive in Trauma room 1”. It is that which sets the tone for the personal account, laid out in a series of italicized pages and written in the first person. Everything is “Kemp and I”, “we”, “Dr. Clark and I” etc. Everything is written from the perspective that he is always with Dr. Clark. They are a duo.
He is with Clark when news arrives that JFK was shot; they run to the Emergency room together. Gone is the 1997 flaw (on the ARRB tape) of Grossman saying she was in a white dress (the article states: “She was wearing a light colored dress”, suggesting that Grossman did not realize that Jackie did not wear any dresses on the two-day trip, and that her attire in Texas consisted of two piece suits—a white one on Thursday; a pink one on Friday.
Then comes the sentences that record the role he played. “Kemp and I went to examine him.”
Unlike previous accounts, in which he was off to the side, this article has him standing at the head of the table (where, according to the existing legal record, in fact Dr. Jenkins was standing, with the top of Kennedy’s head against Dr. Jenkin’s hospital gown.)
“We stood behind the President’s head, Kemp on the left side and I on the right side,” says the article.
(In the version given Ben Bradlee in 1981, Grossman had said he and Clark were on one side.)
The article attempts to build up a certain dramatic tension by delaying the moment when Grossman actually reaches out and touches JFK’s body, by invoking an image which implies a certain distance:
“However, without touching his head we could see that, in the right posterior parietal area, the scalp was lacerated and was avulsed outward.”
Then come the scene of JFK’s head being lifted up. To Bradlee, in 1981, he had said Dr. Clark had lifted the head. He (Grossman) only looked. Now it was he and Clark together.
“Kemp and I lifted his head to inspect the occiput.”
Had this actually occurred, it’s a scene not likely to be missed by all present. But turning back now to what Grossman claims to have seen.
In the article, he calls the entry wound a “laceration”—nothing more That language—apparently carefully chosen—avoided a potential conflict of description between himself (in 2003) and Clark (during his 1964 Warren Commission testimony). Since his public debut in 1981, with Bradlee, Grossman had maintained it was an entrance wound, where as Clark has never said he saw an entry wound. Based on his Review Board interview on March 21, 1997, he had described it as “a circular puncture in the occipital region.” So now it was just a “laceration.” The 2003 language was non-specific. It permitted accommodation. Dr. Grossman could have his rear entry wound; Dr. Clark could maintain he hadn’t seen it.
The article concludes with an italicized (i.e. personal) rendering of events following the pronouncement of death, subtitled “Aftermath.” Contrary to what he told the Review Board in 1997, he now had JFK being put into a coffin. Gone is any doubt about that. He also changed his 1997 taped account in which a Secret Service agent punched the coroner. In this version, the agent “forcibly pushed him against the wall.”
The article contained a number of things indicating an awareness of the embarrassing lapses or questions posed by the existing record. To begin with, Grossman tried to explain why he never made a contemporaneous record of so historic an event. “Caught up in the events following one upon another, I did not have the inclination to make drawings or to write down my observations.” Grossman noted that only Clark was called to testify and that “I was content for Dr. Clark to describe the events of that day,” ignoring the fact that no one saw him there, or that it was Specter’s policy to call everyone present. In recalling his past interviews, he referred to what took place in March 1981 as “ a telephone interview with a reporter for the Boston Globe,” ignoring the fact that Bradlee spent at least an hour with him, in person, in Houston. (Similarly, in his April 24, 2003 letter to Marshall, he referred to Bradlee as being a “telephone interview” that occurred “about 10 years ago.” In fact, it was a detailed in person interview, and it occurred in 1981, 22 years ago. But Dr. Grossman apparently has no patience with such details of chronology).
In his letter to Marshall, he had referred to Doug Horne, of the Assassination Records Review Board, as being from “The Commission on Assassinations”. Now he got that right, but indulged in another error when he said “They brought copies of the autopsy photographs” which was entirely untrue.
Grossman and Oswald
Oh yes, there is one other noteworthy point about Grossman’s article: Grossman’s apparent appetite to play a role in these events now found expression in the events of November 24, when Ruby shot Oswald. Dr. Grossman has inserted himself into the medical protocol of that case, too. After Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby, he was rushed to Parkland hospital, and abdominal surgery (a laparotomy) was performed. An operative report listing everyone taking part in that operation—the doctors, anesthesiologist, scrub nurses, etc.—is Warren Commission Exhibit 392 and is published in the Warren Report (p. 392). Although the surgeon was Tom Shires, and he was assisted by Dr. Perry, McClelland and Jones, and although there is not a witness or document that places Grossman in the room, he nevertheless writes:
I examined Oswald immediately before he underwent laparotomy. . . I was asked by the general surgeons to determine whether the bullet had struck his spinal cord. My impression was that that it had not produced a cord injury.
There is no support for these statements in the Warren Commission record, and the Oswald operative report went so far as to include mention of a cardiologist whose assistance was requested during the course of the operation.
The above comments pertain to the Grossman article, as actually published. Returning now to July 9, 2003, when the manuscript was first submitted, at the Los Angeles office of Neurosurgery magazine, Dr. Grossman’s article was peer reviewed, and the editing process began.
The men in charge of editing supervision were the magazine’s editor, Dr. Michael Apuzzo, and managing editor Dr. Daniel Sullivan. In fact, Sullivan, the Managing editor and Assistant Managing Editor Rodrick Faccio, now became co-authors, along with Dr. Michael Levy of UCLA’s Department of Neurosurgery. So the resulting product, as it was edited and re-fashioned, had four co-authors.
There is no reason to believe that any of these gentlemen ever made any attempt to check the record to see if it contained evidence supporting Dr. Grossman’s claim to have been in the room. Apparently, they just took Grossman’s word for it.
The article—which caused quite a stir around the office, I’m told—was scheduled to run as a cover story for the November issue. The cover photograph would be a beautiful color shot of President Kennedy and Jackie descending the steps from Air Force One. Moreover, the Edelman public relations firm—the one retained by Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins (which owns Neurosurgery)—was assigned the job of getting publicity for Dr. Grossman; i.e., for delivering to the media this story about how a “doctor who had never previously been interviewed” had now “come forward.”
While all this was going on, a certain amount of “reporting” was done by Neurosurgery. A series of “comments” of a personal nature were solicited from members of the neurosurgery profession, and they were appended to the article. Each doctor related where he was at the time of the assassination, and commented briefly on the meaning of the article for him. The whole thing has the quality of George Lucas’ American Graffiti, only applied to the neurosurgery profession. “I was sitting at a microscope looking at slides in the laboratory of my second year medical school pathology course when the chairman of the pathology department made the announcement. . .Most of us were simply stunned. I am sure, therefore, that Dr. Grossman’s memory of the events that day is accurate and poignant.”
No explanation was provided as to how this doctor’s sitting before a microscope lent credence to Dr. Grossman’s claims.
Wrote another: “I was in high school and it was my first experience with the death of a major political figure. . . . Reading this article made me aware of the devastating nature of the injuries. . .this article is a historical piece that is long overdue in the neurosurgical literature. Eyewitness accounts are always the best, and the authors have put together a historical vignette of great interest. Articles like this—real and revealing—are far too rare in our literature.”
Another lauded the eyewitness account “by the neurosurgical observers in this article [that] give a sense of uncomfortable reality. The images are sobering: the elegant Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy with her husband’s blood and brains on her dress . . . the absolute finality of the injury.”
So the article, as packaged, is more than just about technical maters; it has a human face. Meanwhile, the public relations firm hired by Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins did its job well, doing what is called “pitching” –telephoning contacts, and setting up media opportunities.
Although the first official announcement would come on November 12, I must now relate the events of November 6, which led to my FOIA request,. Which was processed quite expeditiously, making this essay possible.
Ever since the events of April and May, 2003 (described above) I was wondering what became of Dr. Grossman’s attempts to obtain access to the restricted Kennedy materials at the National Archives. I was aware that Burke Marshall had died in June, and knew that the Kennedy family would have to appointment a replacement. (The replacement, as it turns out, is Paul Kirk, Former Chairman of the DNC. He was appointed by Senator Edward Kennedy on October 14).
On November 6, I contacted the National Archives and spoke with Steve Tilley, the Chief of the Special Access/FOIA Branch at the National Archives. Once a clearance letter was at hand, Tilley would be setting up the arrangements. So I asked him: Had Dr. Grossman been in to see the pictures of JFK’s autopsy? Had there been an attempt to do so? Was one now scheduled? Was I entitled to that information? Tilley, told me that I should apply under the Freedom of Information Act, and my request would be processed as expeditiously as possible—and it was.
I faxed my request on November 7. I explained the problem of Dr. Grossman in general terms: that I had reason to believe he was applying to see the restricted autopsy materials, and was attempting to do so before his appearance at Wecht’s Pittsburgh conference.
As you know, the Kennedy family Deed of Gift contract contains provisions that these materials are to be made available to persons with certain medical credentials, and also those showing a serious historical interest.
I am applying under the FOIA so that I may have a solid and reliable documentary basis to write about this matter. Under the FOIA, I would like to obtain all information concerning Dr. Grossman’s attempts to obtain clearance to see this material.
I also added:
Let me assure you that my goal in making this request is quite elementary. I want to be able to write accurately and forthrightly about the attempts of this individual to see these very special materials, before he appears in a major public form, and presents himself as someone who was present on that historic occasion; i.e. presents himself as “the doctor who the investigation failed to call as a witness”; and who, after seeing these materials, will then be in a position to speak publicly on the issue of whether what they show is what he “remembers.”
And I did not hide my own personal concerns about this unfolding sequence of events. I also wrote:
Whether he was there or not back in 1963, Dr. Grossman undoubtedly has impressive medical credentials, and may well qualify to see these materials. But I want to put this whole matter in the context of the events going on at this time, and particularly any attempts made to obtain access to these materials on an accelerated basis; and whether this sudden burst of scholarship and interest in focusing on these primary source materials is related to the forthcoming publicity opportunities presented by the 40th anniversary of John Kennedy’s death.
Five days after my communication to the Archives, it became clear that my concerns were well founded. The PR firm retained assigned the job of publicizing the Grossman article in Neurosurgery sent out a PR release on November 12, 2003. It read:
Neurosurgeon Present in 'Trauma Room One' Offers His First
Public Account in Series of Articles to be Published in Neurosurgery
NEW YORK, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), a leading international publisher of professional health information, today announced that a previously publicly undocumented eyewitness account from Trauma Room One of Parkland Memorial Hospital, following the shooting of President John. F. Kennedy, will appear in the November issue of Neurosurgery. Robert Grossman, M.D., one of two attending neurosurgeons who examined President Kennedy, is the co-author of three articles that provide previously unreleased information regarding the circumstances surrounding the president's assassination
The press release also informs us that “Dr. Grossman was one of two neurosurgeons present in Trauma Room One when President Kennedy was wheeled in on a stretcher on November 22nd, 1963,” and that “he closely examined the President’s wounds.”
While many analyses of the Kennedy assassination have been conducted, this is the first analysis of the events from a neurosurgeon's perspective. When putting together its report, the Warren Commission did not solicit this account.
The article informs us that there will be two subsequent articles, and the third “will follow the President's limousine as it traversed Dealey Plaza and provide a digitally formatted copy of Abraham Zapruder's movie of the shooting, and a ballistics analysis of the bullet trajectories.
Meanwhile, as the 40th anniversary approached, another publicity shoe dropped in Houston. On Friday, November 14, Houstonians retrieving their morning Chronicle were treated to the final piece of news—a major article in their morning paper under the headline:
The lead states:
He cradled John F. Kennedy's head and turned it, parting the president's hair so that he could examine the wound caused by an assassin’s bullet on that unforgettable day in Dallas, almost four decades ago.
Even in that breathtaking moment in Trauma Room I at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dr. Robert Grossman thought “how handsome a man the president was.”
The article describes Dr. Grossman as “a private man” but someone who, next week, will “fly to Washington, D.C. to appear on CNN’s Larry King Live with other physicians who were present in the emergency room when Kennedy died.”
The article goes through the whole day, and now, in this telling, Dr. Grossman is always by Dr. Clark’s side:
• Kennedy was already in Trauma Room I when Grossman and Clark raced in, he said.
• Grossman said he and Clark moved forward, one on each side of the gurney. They lifted Kennedy's head and parted his hair to examine the massive gunshot injury.
• They were the first to discover the head wound.
• Grossman said he and Clark worked on the president for about 10 minutes more. They pumped his chest, trying to start his heart. They hooked him to an EKG machine. They tried every medical procedure available at the time. [emphasis added]
As Tonto might have said, “what is this ‘they,’ white man?”
As to why he never testified, the article now has doctor Grossman providing this explanation: “He wasn't interviewed by the Warren Commission investigating the assassination because Clark was the senior neurosurgeon.”
This, of course, is sheer nonsense, but neatly sidestepped the more important issue: Dr. Grossman wasn’t called because there is not a scintilla of evidence in the contemporaneous record published in the Warren Report that he was present inside Trauma Room One. But the story seems to be acquiring “legs” (as they say) and a life of its own. On November 14, the Houston Chronicle reports:
Next week, he will fly to Washington, D.C., to appear on CNN's Larry King Live with other physicians who were present in the emergency room when Kennedy died.
Doing some checking on my own, I find that Grossman is also scheduled to be interviewed by Sanjay Gupta, Time Magazine’s medical reporter who also has a TV program on CNN “Paging Dr. Gupta.” And there very likely will be other media appearances.
On the one hand, I was incredulous. On another, I could understand the mechanics of what was happening. We all like to believe in storybook endings; and what could be nicer than, on the 40th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, than for a doctor who had been present when Kennedy died to “come forward” and give us brand new account that hadn’t been beard before. It appeals to our sense that all is right with the world. Well, that was my attempt to understand why something like this could be so easily accepted.
Upon receiving this press release, I sent it to Doug Horne. Doug was appalled. We had now both been down the twin highway regarding Grossman—the evidence he wasn’t there, but also how his account of the wounds muddied up the record.
Doug, having had first hand contact with Grossman—and personally present when Grossman talked of Jackie being in a white dress, and not knowing that JFK was put in a coffin, and believing the coroner was knocked to the floor by the Secret Service—said: “Oh, this is bad.”
Even years after his work on the Review Board, Doug can cite you chapter and verse on the wounds, and each doctor’s recollection.
He said: “I don’t see how Grossman is going to be able to square what he told us with Dr. Clark. . . Twice during his interview with Jeremy Gunn and I: you should really refer to Dr. Clark. He was the head of the Department and his memory would be much better than mine.” The trouble is that Dr. Clark described something quite different from Grossman.
Barb Junkkarinen, a researcher whose emphasis has been on the medical evidence, told me: “If someone doesn't come forward for 17 years, you have to take a really close look when considering the credibility of what they have to say. When what they say changes — and especially when it grows — with each subsequent appearance over the next 22 years, it is more than troubling, it leaves you unable to give any weight, any credibility, to any of the statements.”
Barb noted that she has used Grossman's account to buttress that the head had been turned to make the large avulsive wound on the rear of the head more visible while JFK lay on the gurney in TR1, but said she would no longer feel comfortable using even that tidbit of information given the fact that there is no documentation Dr. Grossman was even in the room, and the collateral matters demonstrating not only a changing story, but one of growing participation in the treatment of JFK which just does not jibe with the historical record.
Professor Larry Haapanen, a former Air Force Officer and a long-time JFK researcher, teaches communications at Lewis-Clark State College at Lewiston, Idaho. He said: “If Grossman was in the trauma room with JFK, he should have known what color outfit she was wearing; he would have known he was put in a coffin, and everybody should have seen Dr. Grossman.”
I told Larry that this was like someone coming forward around 1905 and claiming, with regard to Lincoln assassination, “I was in Ford’s theater. Further, I was sitting in the balcony.”
We discussed the responsibility of journalists. If this were the Lincoln assassination, “doesn’t somebody have the responsibility to check who was in the balcony, and see if anybody saw him there?”
Well, the same is true of Trauma Room One.
There was also the matter of media bias. Dr. Haapanen said: “The journalistic community would never treat somebody that way if that person stepped forward 40 years later, with a conspiratorial point of view. They would be looked at extremely harshly; and rightfully so; whereas this guy . . . it’s only proper to apply that same standard to Dr. Grossman. And if we do that . . . and when a neurosurgeon steps forward claiming he was there, and then writes three articles that could easily lead to a book deal, and everything else, we have the right to ask: Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is he saying these things? And so forth.”
Let me close with my own comment, and confess my own vested interest.
When I wrote Best Evidence, I was able to state—and am still able to state—that the Warren Commission records contain not a single doctor who said there was an entry wound at the back of the head. In fact, at least some half dozen doctors talk of the damage they saw as being an exit.
After the June 1981 Boston Globe article, it seemed that the “no Dallas doctor saw an entry” required a footnote, to take into account Dr. Grossman’s 1981 statement.
But not anymore. Not after all the collateral evidence militating against Grossman being present and the many contradictory statements he has made.
The UPI wire that afternoon reports the hallway of Parkland Hospital within minutes of the arrival of JFK and Governor Connally reverberating with the page: “Calling all neurosurgeons. . calling all neurosurgeons. . .”
Now the question is not where the wound was located, but where Dr. Grossman was located, at the time of Kennedy was in Trauma Room One, and pronounced dead.
David Lifton is a graduate of Cornell University, having received a Bachelors (and a Masters) in Engineering Physics. He is the author of Best Evidence, the best selling book on the JFK assassination. Currently he is completing a major biography on Lee Oswald, the first to be written from the standpoint that Oswald was innocent, and not the assassin.
Note from David Lifton: I want to thank Douglas Horne, former Chief Analyst for Military Records" on the staff of the ARRB; and JFK researchers Barb Junkkarinen and Larry Haapanen for their help in creating and editing this article. Also, thanks to Steve Tilley, Chief, Special Access, FOIA Branch, National Archives, and Ramona Oliver at the National Archives for the expeditious processing of my FOIA requests regarding Dr. Grossman.
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