When I first became interested in the JFK assassination, I thought that I would be able to fully understand at least one aspect of the case - the medical evidence. I now realise how naive that thought really was. There can't be many parts of the case that are more confusing, contentious or crucial.
Initially I wanted to illustrate how confusing the medical evidence can be and how easy it is to paint different versions of what really happened - this article presents the evidence for wounds to the left of JFK's head. However, while writing this article, I have to say that it might support some startling conclusions.
Most of the available evidence points to wounding in the right rear (occipito-parietal) of the head:
So where does the evidence for wounds in the left come from?
Remarkably, the evidence comes form several doctors, a priest, a Secret Service agent and JFK's press secretary.
Dr. Marion T Jenkins was Professor and Chairman of Anaesthetics. His natural
position in the trauma room would be at the head of the patient monitoring and
administering anaesthetics or, as with JFK, oxygen. He would have had a good
chance to study the head wound carefully. Bearing this in mind, part of Jenkins'
testimony to the Warren Commission is extraordinary:
"Dr. JENKINS. I do not know whether this is right or not, but I thought there was a wound on the left temporal area, right in the hairline and right above the zygomatic process.
Mr. SPECTER. The autopsy report disclose no such development, Dr Jenkins.
Dr. JENKINS. Well, I was feeling for - I was palpating here for a pulse to see whether the closed chest cardiac massage was effective or not and this probably was some blood that had come from the other point and so I thought there was a wound there also." (3)
Notice that Specter, very carefully, does not say that there was no wound in the left temporal area, rather he says that the autopsy report doesn't disclose such a wound. We know that the autopsy report failed to disclose many things which were apparent - the atrophied adrenal glands, for example (4) Was a wound in the left side of the head omitted too?
Two pages after this remarkable testimony, Jenkins asks to go o ff the record
for a discussion with Specter. One page later, the questioning
"Mr. SPECTER: Aside from that opinion [that one bullet must have traversed the President's pleura], have any of your other opinions about the nature of his wounds or the sources of the wounds been changed in any way?
Dr. JENKINS. No; one other. I asked you a little bit ago if there was a wound in the left temporal area, right above the zygomatic bone in the hairline, because there was blood there and I thought there might have been a wound there (indicating).
Mr. SPECTER. Indicating the left temporal area?
Dr. JENKINS. Yes; the left temporal, which could have been a point of entrance and exit here (indicating), but you have answered that for me. This was my only other question about it." (5)
Jenkins was obviously bothered by his recollection of a left wound and he is very specific about its location. It is particularly suspicious that Specter seems to have "answered that" after an off the record discussion.
Dr. Robert N McClelland attended JFK in Parkland Memorial Hospital. He testified to the Warren Commission and they reproduced his admission note for JFK written at 16:45 22/11/63 regarding the treatment the President received. McClelland wrote, "The cause of death was due to massive head and brain injury from a gunshot wound of the left temple" (6).
At this time he was Assistant Professor of Surgery, he would not be expected to mistake the site of a wound in any patient. But JFK was not just any patient, he was the President. I suggest that McClelland would have written a very carefully considered admission note for this patient.
In a short admission note, this divergence from the "official" line is easily spotted. Yet Specter did not ask McClelland to clarify this statement, he directed McClelland away from re-reading his report by asking him to check his signature. Specter then asked whether McClelland would stand by his report before bringing questioning to a speedy halt (7).
In an interview with Gerald Posner, Jenkins claims that McClellands's impression of a wound to the left temple is mistaken and stems from a short exchange between the pair when McClelland entered Trauma Room 1. Jenkins claims that McClelland asked where JFK was hit. Jenkins claims that he was searching for a temporal pulse at this time and that McClelland assumed that Jenkins was pointing out a wound. As we can see previously from Jenkins' own testimony, however, it is quite likely that Jenkins was indeed pointing to an area he thought was wounded (8).
Dr. Adolf H Giesecke, an anaesthetist, would also have been at JFK's head -
the best place to get a good look at the head wounds. Once again, he too
mentions damage to the left of JFK's head when giving testimony to the Warren
"Dr. GIESECKE. It seemed to me that from the vertex to the left ear, and from the browline to the occiput on the left-hand side of the head the cranium was entirely missing.
Mr. SPECTER. Was that the left-hand side of the head, or the right-hand side of the head?
Dr. GIESECKE. I would say the left, but this is just my memory of it." (9)
Why didn't Specter pursue this? With Jenkins he was keen to have the doctor change his recollections or to add a note of doubt ("The autopsy report disclose no such development . . ."), but with Giesecke he allows it to pass without comment. Perhaps Specter was worried that getting Giesecke to think carefully about the site of the exit wound he saw would lead to a discussion of a frontal entrance wound.
Dr. David Stewart was in attendance in Parkland Memorial Hospital when the President and Governor Connally were brought in for emergency treatment. He spent most of his time with Governor Connally. He was interviewed on KNEW television by John Dolan in 1967.
"Dolan said he was particularly concerned with the statement about the shot that killed the President coming from the front'. Stewart said, " Yes, sir. This was the finding of all the physicians who were in attendance. There was a small wound in the left front of the President's head and there was a quite massive wound of exit at the right backside of the head and it was felt by all of the physicians at the time to be a wound of entry which went in the front". (10)
Father Oscar L Huber was one of the priests that gave the last rites to the already dead JFK (11). Part of the ceremony included tracing a cross on the President's forehead using holy oil. Obviously, Father Huber would have been in an excellent position to look at JFK's head wounds. Father Huber was quoted in the press the weekend that the President died saying that he had seen a terrible wound over the President's left eye (12).
In 1963, Malcolm Kilduff was JFK's Press Secretary. In a 1991 interview with
Harrison Livingtsone, Kilduff gives this remarkable response:
"Livingstone: As you know, the face was not damaged at all. No witness saw any damage to the head past the midline of the skull, forward of the right ear.
Kilduff: Forward of the right ear? No! Forward of the left ear, they did. I did. The bullet came in on the right side and exited the left side." (13)
Secret Service Agent William Greer drove the Presidential limousine through Dallas on November 22nd 1963 and must have got a look at JFK's head when they arrived at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Greer described to author David Lifton how JFK's head "looked like a hard-boiled egg with the top chopped off" (14). This would mean damage to the left as well as the right.
Dr. J Thornton Boswell, one of the Bethesda Naval Hospital autopsists, described much damage to the left of JFK's skull and brain (15):
Dr. James J Humes, the lead autopsist at JFK's autopsy, described massive wounds in the left of JFK's head and brain (20):
The evidence for wounding in the left of JFK's head comes from the following sources:
I recently had the chance to walk around Dealey Plaza several times, slowly and thoughtfully. I have heard it said that an assassin could have hit JFK with a rock thrown from anywhere in the plaza, but had previously dismissed this as flippant. Having walked round there myself, it does not seem to me that a shot from just about anywhere would be difficult - including a shot from JFK's left, from the other grassy knoll.
On the other hand, Dr. Kemp Clark (the only Parkland doctor we can trust to have had a good look at JFK's head) did not describe the extent of damage noted at the autopsy. David Lifton has more than raised the mere possibility that JFK's body could have been tampered with prior to the autopsy in Washington DC.
Many thanks to Ian Griggs for generous access to his copy of the Warren Commission 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits.