My Interview With Dr. Vincent J.M. Di Maio


By W. Tracy Parnell ă 2001

Dr. Vincent Di Maio
  Dr. Vincent Di Maio


This is a report on my recent interview with one of the members of the team led by Dr. Linda Norton that examined and identified the remains of Lee Harvey Oswald on October 4, 1981 at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. When I contacted Dr. Vincent Di Maio and explained some of the concerns that critics of the Norton Report have, he agreed to answer my questions. For those unfamiliar with issues regarding the exhumation, the primary concerns of critics center around the craniotomy performed at Oswald’s 1963 autopsy and a mastoid operation he underwent as a child.


When I asked about his qualifications, Dr. Di Maio sent me his 13-page Curriculum Vitae with information on his extensive work in the forensic field. I believe that a concise discussion of Dr. Di Maio’s credentials is in order. Dr. Di Maio attended St. John’s University as well as the State University of New York. His postgraduate training included stints at Duke University, SUNY, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland. Dr. Di Maio, who is a veteran of the Army Medical Corps, is board certified in Forensic, Clinical, and Anatomical Pathology. He is currently Chief Medical Examiner of Bexar County (San Antonio) Texas as well as a Professor of the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.


Other positions held by the doctor include Editor in Chief of the Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology and a membership on the Strategic Planning Committee of the National Association of Medical Examiners. Dr. Di Maio is the author or co-author of four books and 75 articles concerning forensics and related matters. He has won several awards for his work including the Outstanding Service Award from the National Association of Medical Examiners in October 1999.


Regarding Dr. Di Maio’s responses to my questions, I found him to be frank and forthcoming. Of course, twenty years had passed since the examination and in some instances Dr. Di Maio could not recall specifics. For example, he admitted that he did not remember how long Mortician Paul Groody (who worked with Oswald’s body in 1963 and again at the exhumation) was in the examination room. However, he agreed with Groody on one point. Groody said the skullcap often separates in the case of an exhumed corpse. Dr. Di Maio concurred but offered this comment, “The skull cap was just “glued” to the base of the skull by decomposing tissue ... tissue in this instance was acting like a glue.” So Groody was correct in his assertion that the cap often separates. Often-but not always as Dr. Di Maio’s statement shows.


Dr. Di Maio did not agree with Groody on certain key issues concerning the skull. According to at least one report of his observations, Groody allegedly said that the skull was not connected to the body when the casket was initially opened. Dr. Di Maio disputes this, saying, “... it was attached as it had to be cut free.” On the issue of whether or not the body was removed from the casket before or during the exam, his comment was, “ No, just the head.” Then I asked Doctor Di Maio about possibly the most contentious issue-that of the craniotomy. He was unequivocal in his reply; “The head had been autopsied.” was his simple answer.


In order to try and resolve the issue of where the craniotomy incision was located, I emailed Dr. Di Maio two photographs. One is a composite graphic (link shows closeup of left profile view) showing the right and left profile views of Oswald’s skull provided by researcher Jack White in a post at JFK Research Internet Forum. On the photo, White had marked two areas. The first, highlighted by a purple arrow, was a line that I believed to be the craniotomy incision. The second area was the mastoid defect and was highlighted by a red circle. Dr. Di Maio confirmed that the line indicated by the purple arrow was indeed the craniotomy cut. Additionally, I asked him if there was anything unusual about the mastoid defect and he stated there was not. The second photo I sent Dr. Di Maio is taken from the original Oswald autopsy in 1963 and shows the back of the head. In order to address a common claim made by critics, I asked Dr. Di Maio if the mastoid scar should be visible. “An old scar is often faint and hard to see”, he replied. “It would in all probability be covered with hair.”


Another issue of importance to critics is the contention that no one at the examination recorded the craniotomy incision. This issue has roots in a conversation between Dr. Norton and journalist Jim Marrs. When Marrs asked Dr. Norton about the craniotomy, she was reportedly startled and said, “We noted it for the record”. But according to the observations of John Cullins, who viewed a videotape of the examination, Norton never verbally noted the cut. Dr. Di Maio provided a possible answer when he stated, “Notes were taken but any I had are long gone.” Of course, it is extremely unlikely that the doctors made no written record to refer to when writing the report.


Finally, another issue that seems to have been resolved by Dr. Di Maio is the matter of the “mysterious delay” of 27 months between the examination and the publication of the report. Critics of the report seem to be especially concerned by this matter and it is often on their list of “hot button” items. I asked Dr. Di Maio about the so-called delay. “The critics are unfamiliar with medical publications,” he related. “It usually takes a year or two from submission to publication. It often takes months to write the article such that everyone is in agreement with the manuscript.”


In conclusion, it is my hope that the observations of Dr. Di Maio will do much to resolve at least some of the nagging questions surrounding the exhumation and identification of Lee Harvey Oswald. By virtue of his impressive contributions to forensic science and as one of only four doctors present for the examination, he is uniquely qualified to provide researchers with these answers.


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