Now let us try to reconcile a classic dilemma for people interested in JFK’s assassination: how to make sense of conflicting scientific evidence.
On the one hand, we have the credible, plain-spoken, first hand observations of Dr. Robert McClelland, who says President Kennedy was fatally wounded by gunfire from at least two gunmen.
On the other hand, we have two panels of medical experts both of which concluded Kennedy was killed by a bullet from behind.
Not only do those two claims contradict each other, but there is further problem within the “bullet from behind” theory: the two expert panels disagreed sharply about where the fatal bullet struck.
What’s a reasonable person to think?
In a new article for Max Holland’s Washington Decoded, John Canal, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, seeks to bolster the “bullet from behind” theory by reconciling the contradictions between the two groups of experts.
For defenders of the official theory that one man alone killed Kennedy, the problem of the location of JFK’s head wound is not a small one.
The autopsy doctors who examined JFK’s body on the night of November 23, 1963 concluded the fatal shot had struck Kennedy from behind in the middle rear of his head. But a panel of doctors convened by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968 concluded that X-rays revealed the entry to be as high as the area of the president’s cowlick, or almost four inches (or ten centimeters) higher than the location established back in November 1963.
The conflicting conclusions have long undermined the “bullet from behind theory” — and thus the theory of a lone gunman — by indicating that seemingly objective and scientific conclusions about the location and direction of the wound are actually subjective matters of interpretation.
Canal, author of “Silencing the Lone Assassin: The Murders of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald,” argues that one of the key autopsy photographs relied on by the Clark Panel was taken after morticians had reconstructed JFK’s scalp for purposes of appearances. This led the panel to mislocate the wound.
On first reading, Canal’s analysis raised as many questions for me as it resolved. So I won’t try to pass judgment now. I will limit myself to a couple of observations.
Canal acknowledges Dr.McClelland as a qualified eyewitness. “McClelland’s description [of JFK's head wound] was one of the more precise eyewitness accounts,” he writes.
Canal dismisses claims that the autopsy photos are fakes as “unsubstantiated,” which I think is accurate.
Canal does not address the possibility that the results of the autopsy have been manipulated, as documented by Doug Horne, formerly of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). He does not mention the sworn testimony of medical technicians, given to the ARRB and available here, that photographs they took at JFK’s autopsy are not included in the National Archives JFK autopsy photo collection.
Canal dismisses as “unsubstantiated” the notion that Kennedy’s wounds were altered before the autopsy. Here, I think, Canal is mistaken. There is credible evidence of alteration. For example, FBI agents Francis O’Neill and James Sibert wrote in their report on the autopsy that as soon as JFK’s body was laid on the autopsy table, ”It was apparent that a tracheotomy had been performed, as well as surgery of the head area, namely in the top of the skull.” In a sworn deposition for the ARRB, Sibert said that pathologist James Hume was the source for the statement about surgery. Canal’s piece is weaker for not dealing with this issue.
I’m interested in what readers with medical training think of McClelland’s account and Canal’s analysis.
Meanwhile, Canal concludes with a constructive suggestion.
“Another re-examination of the original autopsy photographs and X-rays housed in the National Archives, by a team of qualified and impartial forensic experts, might be in order. After all, the historical record about one of this country’s greatest tragedies in the 20th century should be as accurate as possible, and it currently is not.”
MaryFerrell.org has a good introduction to the JFK Medical Evidence.
Doug Horne of the ARRB makes the case that Kennedy’s body was altered prior to the autopsy in this chapter excerpted from his book, “Inside the Assassination Records Review Board”
Dr. Gary Aguilar and Kathy Cunningham addressed the contradictions in the medical evidence in their 2003 essay, “How Five Investigations Into JFK Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got It Wrong.”