Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:October 13th, 2014 16:40 EST
An Exercise in Deception: The Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy

An Exercise in Deception: The Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy

By SOP newswire2

By John Canal
SMSgt, USAF, Ret.


In Dallas, on November 22, 1963, at 12:30 P.M. as the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy passed in front of the Texas School Book Depository, perhaps the most unforgettable gunfire of our time punctuated the sounds of cheering spectators, and critically wounded both the President and Texas Governor, John Connally. At approximately 1:38 P.M., while the governor was desperately struggling to survive his wounds, the world was stunned by the announcement from Dallas` Parkland Hospital that President Kennedy was dead.


Lyndon B. Johnson, who was sworn in as America`s 36th president on Air Force One while it was still on the tarmac at Dallas` Love Field would say, I didn`t know who`d be shot next, or when the missiles would be coming.[1] To no one`s surprise the U. S. military went on high alert.


President Johnson`s fears that the assassination was just the first part of an all out attack reflected the mindset of many Americans and certainly included those doctors and nurses who tried to save President Kennedy`s life at Parkland as well as those involved in his autopsy at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland. Tension was heightened further when it was announced during the autopsy that the only suspect in custody for the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Communist sympathizer and had been to the Soviet Union. To make matters even more concerning, while there was evidence Oswald had fired shots from a sniper`s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository (the TSBD was behind where the President was when he was shot), eyewitnesses had observed what they thought was an entrance wound in his throat and an exit wound in the back of his head.


If the eyewitnesses were correct that would have meant there had been multiple shooters and a conspiracy* to assassinate JFK, possibly one orchestrated by the Soviet Union.


Our leaders must have waited anxiously for the autopsy results especially to find out if the eyewitnesses` beliefs about the direction of the shots would be corroborated. Indeed, the last thing this nation needed to learn was that multiple shooters had been responsible for President Kennedy`s death. And this raises the question, even if the autopsists thought that his wounds were caused by multiple shooters, would they, in the nation`s best interest, make such an ominous announcement?


A clue regarding the answer to that question might be reflected in what Paul Peters, a urologist who helped try to save JFK`s life at Parkland, told Boston Globe reporter, Ben Bradlee. Peters said that only a few hours after the body had arrived at the morgue they received word from Bethesda that the bullets were fired from behind.[2] The point is, because much of the President`s skull was missing [3] and his brain could not have been properly forensically examined by that time**, neither the direction the head shot was (or shots were) fired from nor the number of shots that struck his head could have been determined with any degree of certainty.. hardly within a few hours of the body`s arrival at the morgue. It seems as if the autopsists had predetermined the direction of the shots.


*While our leaders knew even if Oswald had fired all the shots there still could have been a conspiracy

(that is if he had been helped or hired by others to execute his assassination plan), at least there would have been a fair chance he was a lone nut and the threat the Soviet Union had been involved eliminated. However, if there had been multiple shooters the chances the Soviets were involved would be increased.


**Before the brain could be properly forensically examined it would have had to have been soaked in formaldehyde for several days, otherwise it would be too jelly-like to work with [section]. [4]


As far as the President`s head wounds go, the evidence listed below clearly suggests that, perhaps in the nations` best interest, they did not report evidence they observed of a possible shot especially from the front, or from the rear near ground level (re. item 4 below).


  1. The autopsy report did not describe any exit-like " gaping wound in the right-rear of the President`s head similar to the wound that literally dozens of mostly medically trained eyewitnesses stated they saw. [5]

The drawing below/right shows the

wound typically described by many







  1. The autopsists failed to report that they replaced pieces of his skull, probably in the rear of his head, before autopsy photographs and X-rays were taken. [6]
  2. The autopsists failed to report a scalp laceration that extended from the rear of his head forward. [7]
  3. They grossly distorted a drawing in evidence showing the trajectory of the head-shot bullet so it was consistent with being fired from above and to the rear. The image below/left is of Zapruder frame #312 and shows JFK was leaning forward approximately 27 degrees when he was shot in the head. The autopsists` drawing CE-388 (below/right) shows JFK leaning forward approximately 50 degrees at the instant he was shot. Again, this distortion made it possible for the autopsists to demonstrate that the trajectory or the head-shot bullet was consistent with being fired from the sniper`s nest above and to the rear of JFK`s limousine.











  1. They did not include with the photographic documentation of the autopsy one single photograph of the rear of the President`s head that would have shown the aforementioned exit-like " wound. [8]
  2. And what was undoubtedly the most contemptible and bold act of apparent deception, they did include with the photographic documentation of the autopsy 12 photographs* of the rear of his head that were taken AFTER the autopsy and AFTER the morticians reconstructed the rear of his head to the extent it was virtually undamaged. The drawing below is from one of the photos taken after the back of his head was reconstructed. Notice that the large right-rear wound seen by so many of the eyewitnesses (see item no. 1 above) has been repaired. [9]

















Again, for emphasis, within only a few hours after the body`s arrival they reported details about the path of the head shot bullet that could not have been known by then because, not only was much of the President`s skull missing, but a proper forensic examination of his brain had not been performed. In fact, the President`s personal physician, Admiral Burkley (who the record shows actually supervised the autopsy) [10], confirmed that a forensic examination of the brain would have been necessary to disclose how many bullets hit him in the head. He said on the record that it wasn`t forensically examined [11] (whether or not it actually was several days later is subject to debate) which is undoubtedly why he added that he was uncertain whether JFK was hit in the head by one bullet or two. [12]


As far as the President`s back and throat wounds go the autopsists were no less deceptive than they were about reporting his head wounds.


Indeed, their schematic drawings [13] (see below) are evidence that they were deeply concerned because the back entrance wound was lower than the throat exit wound [14].

This of course suggested that the shot that caused those wounds was not fired from the sniper`s nest on the sixth floor of the TSBD, but from near ground level. Once again, they couldn`t announce that problematic trajectory if they were to keep the nation from finding out the evidence suggested there had been multiple shooters. Their solution to that ...



*Extensive and compelling evidence that many of the key autopsy photographs were actually NOT taken during the autopsy but after it had been concluded is listed in the article, The JFK Medical Evidence: New Light on a Lingering Forensic Controversy, which was posted in September, 2013 in the highly regarded online newsletter, Washington Decoded. Credit is extended to Max Holland the editor of Washington Decoded and to Paul Hoch for editing that breakthrough article.






















dilemma was simple, albeit difficult to believe "they claimed* they didn`t know about the bullet wound in JFK`s throat** until the next morning when they talked on the phone with the Parkland doctor who made a tracheostomy incision over the bullet wound. [15] Thus, at least for the night of the autopsy, they avoided the need to further alarm the nation by describing a back wound to throat wound trajectory that appeared to be inconsistent with Lee Harvey Oswald being the only shooter.


To make their claim of ignorance regarding the bullet wound in President`s throat convincing they suggested to the two FBI agents who observed most of the autopsy that the bullet that hit him in the back popped out  [16], perhaps during closed heart massage administered at Parkland. Consistent with that falsehood the autopsists announced, based on their probing of the wound with their finger,*** that the bullet only penetrated an inch or so.  [17]


To further sell their deception (purportedly not knowing about the throat wound) they needed to claim they hadn`t seen JFK`s clothes [18], even though the record**** strongly suggests they did. That was because the cloth fibers around the bullet holes in the President`s jacket and the front part of his shirt collar were bent towards the front and JFK`s tie had been nicked in a manner compatible with the tangential passage of a spinning slender bullet. [19] "clear evidence the bullet exited his throat.



*Of course they knew about the bullet wound in JFK`s throat. 1) it was announced by the Parkland doctors during a news conference held not long after the assassination that JFK had been shot in the throat. [20] 2) An announcement by CBS` Dan Rather was broadcast early that afternoon on national television that, The fatal shot entered the throat  [21] 3) Admiral Burkley (the President`s personal physician who reportedly supervised the autopsy) had been in Parkland`s Trauma Room no.1 when a tracheostomy was performed over a bullet wound [22], ergo the question is begged, How did the autopsists NOT know about the throat wound?


It`s important to note that the autopsists would later testify that they knew that night about the throat wound. [23]


**At Parkland Hospital, as part of the doctors life-saving efforts, a tracheostomy incision was made over a bullet wound in the President`s throat. The autopsists cleverly claimed the incision obsecured the bullet wound which is why they didn`t know about that bullet wound. [24]


***The record shows that they actually probed the back wound properly later on with a metal probe. [25]


**** First of all, the official story about why the autopsists weren`t afforded the opportunity to see the clothes makes little sense. Supposedly, Secret Service Agent Greer (who drove the limousine in which JFK was shot), was given the clothes by a nurse at Parkland Hospital but, instead of turning them over to the prosectors at Bethesda, for some unknown or even reasonably understandable reason, had SSA Rybka place them in his [Greer`s] locker at the White House.


It should be noted that during Greer`s lengthy Warren Commission testimony he was never asked why he didn`t give the clothes to the autopsists. [26]


SSA Rybka was never questioned at all. [27]


Referring to the above graphic, the location of the back wound marked on the autopsy schematic diagram [face sheet], as well as its location ( about the third thoracic vertebra) noted on JFK`s death certificate (signed by Admiral Burkley) almost exactly, if not precisely, matched the holes in the back of JFK`s jacket and his shirt. The actual back wound, however (shown on the body in the autopsy photograph) was well above the third thoracic vertebra. It`s important to note that with the body gone and the photographs confiscated by the Secret Service all the surviving evidence (schematic diagram, clothes, and death certificate), regarding the location of the back wound, matched it`s unlikely this could have happened had the autopsists not seen the clothes.


The real reason, of course, the story about the autopsists not seeing the clothes was conjured up was if they admitted they saw the President`s clothes their lie about not knowing about the throat wound until the next morning would have been exposed--thus they were compelled to say they didn`t see them [the clothes].



The autopsists` deception regarding the problematic back wound to throat wound trajectory included another blatant act the location of JFK`s back wound on their drawings* in evidence was moved several inches higher from where it actually was (see the graphic below) in order to make it appear as if the back wound to throat wound trajectory pointed back to the sniper`s nest on the sixth floor of the TSBD.













* The drawings (see above left) were made a few months after the assassination. By that time the autopsists and Burkley probably concluded that the holes in the back of JFK`s jacket and shirt were lower (they assumed his jacket and shirt had bunched up somewhat before he was shot) than where the actual bullet wound was in his back. That being the case, there was no longer a need to match the back wound in the drawings (see above) with the holes in the clothes.




This article is not about whether or not there was an assassination conspiracy or whether or not (regardless of their methods or motivations) the autopsists` basic findings regarding the cause of JFK`s death (two shots, fired from above and behind) were correct.


It is, however, about how they deceptively did not accurately report his wounds which they thought appeared " to be evidence President Kennedy was assassinated by multiple gunmen---news they decided would not have been in the nation`s best interest to announce.


In any event, the consequences of them--for any reason--intentionally misreporting JFK`s wounds has been far reaching. Indeed, the evidentiary value of one of the most important autopsies in history was seriously undermined to the extent its findings ", can be characterized as largely unreliable " which unfortunately helps further fuel the debate over who assassinated President John F. Kennedy.




  1. Previously secret White House recordings; In the Eye of the Storm, Documentary, Military History Channel

  2. 1 May, 1981 tape recorded interview of Dr. Paul Peters by author, Harrison Livingstone; transcript supplied by Livingstone. Noted by Dr. Gary Aguilar in his and Kathy Cunningham`s May, 2003 article, How Five Investigations into JFK`s Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got it Wrong.

  3. Postmortem schematic diagram of JFK`s skull by Forensic Anthropologist, Dr. Lawrence Angel; Vol. VII, page 230, Medical and Firearms Evidence, report House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), March 1979

  4. 16 March, 1964 Warren Commission Testimony of Navy Commander James Humes (JFK chief autopsy surgeon), page 355

  5. John F. Kennedy`s Fatal Wounds: The Witnesses and the Interpretations from 1963 to the Present; August 1994, Dr. Gary Aguilar

  6. Testimony of Navy Commander Thornton Boswell (JFK autopsist); 26 February, 1996; Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB), pp. 98-99

  7. Testimony and diagrams of Navy Commander Thornton Boswell (JFK autopsist); 26 February, 1996; Assassinations Records Review Board; page 59 (testimony) and Medical Document # 209 (diagrams), respectively.

  8. 1 November, 1966 Report of Inspection by Naval Medical Staff of X-rays and Photographs of Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy; ARRB Medical Document #13

  9. Humes testified the autopsy surgeons observed upon the body`s arrival an extensively lacerated flocculus cerebri. " Humes` 11 March, 1964 WC testimony, 2WCH, page 355. Because this part of the brain is located under the occipital lobe it would have been impossible to observe it unless there had been an opening low in the rear of his head ".not unlike the type of opening the many eyewitnesses observed. It`s important to note that there is no such opening observable in the drawing made from the photo of the back of JFK`s head, a fact which is consistent with the conclusion that the photographs of the back of JFK`s head were taken after the autopsy and after that part of his head was reconstructed.

  10.  Burkley: And during the course of the autopsy I supervised everything that was done. " Burkley`s 17 October, 1967 taped interview by Retired General McHugh for the JFK library. Commander Boswell told HSCA interviewers that Burkley was basically supervising everything that went on and that the commanding officer was responding to Burkley`s wishes. HSCA file # 002071, dated 17 August, 1977. Paul O`Connor: Burkley said, "Be prepared to do what I tell you, when I tell you to do it. " O`Connor`s taped interview with author Bill Law , In the Eye of History, page 35.

  11.  17 August, 1977 HSCA interview with Admiral Burkley. ARRB Medical Document #19, page 5.

  12. IBID

  13. Autopsy Descriptive Sheet, dated 22 November, 1963, ARRB Medical Document #1

  14.  Based on the autopsy photographs several members of the HSCA`s Forensic Pathology Panel (FPP), including the panel`s chairman, the forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden (at that time the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City), believed that, when JFK was in the anatomic position (as he would have been lying on the autopsy table), his back wound would have indeed been lower than his throat wound. HSCA Vol I, page 231 and HSCA Vol VII, para. 247.

  15.  JFK Autopsy Report; page 2; The Warren Commission Report, page 539

  16.   FBI Report (on JFK`s autopsy) dated 26 November, 1963, page 4, ARRB Medical   Document # 44

  17.  IBID

  18.   Testimony of Navy Commander James Humes; 26 February, 1996; Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB), page 37

  19.   Dr. John K. Lattimer, Kennedy & Lincoln: Medical and Ballistic Comparisons of Their Assassinations, page 202

  20.   Transcript, Press Conference, Parkland Memorial Hospital, 22 November, 1963, 2:16 PM, CST. Posted at

  21.   Video of News broadcast on television 22 November, 1963, History Channel documentary.

  22.   Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1126 (Dr. George Burkley`s activities on 22 November, 1963) Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits (WCH), Vol 22, page 94

  23.   17 August, 1977 HSCA testimony of Commander Boswell, page 8; also Humes testified the bruising around the throat wound that they observed must have occurred at the same instant the apex of the pleura and lung were bruised (when JFK was shot in the back). Humes` 11 March, 1964 WC testimony, 2WCH, page 368.

  24.   JFK Autopsy Report; page 2; The Warren Commission Report, page 539

  25.   ARRB testimony of Commander Thornton Boswell, page 75, and many

  26.   Warren Commission testimony of SSA William Greer, WCH, Vol II, page 122

  27.   Warren Commission Report, pp. 483-500


    John Canal
    SMSgt, USAF, Ret.
    Author of:
    Silencing the Lone Assassin: The Murders of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald (Paragon House, 2000) and The JFK Medical Evidence: New Light on a Lingering Forensic Controversy (Washington Decoded, September, 2013)


Judyth Piazza interviews Lee Harvey Oswald`s Lover Judyth Vary Baker

JFK Assassination News: John Canal Exposes Fabrications in ... 

John Canal and Judyth Piazza with A Fresh Perspective on the JFK ...