«The death of a democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and ...»
Inside the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) by Douglas Horne:
A Nearly-Entirely-Positive Review
This is a Review of Volume IV, which includes
Part II: Fraud in the Evidence—A Pattern of Deception (continued)
Chapter 13: What Really Happened at the Bethesda Morgue?
(and in Dealey Plaza)
Chapter 14: The Zapruder Film Mystery.
David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D.
February 26, 2010
The death of a democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
—Robert Maynard Hutchins, Great Books (1954)— My title here is a parody of my review1 of Reclaiming History (2007) by Vincent Bugliosi. Since that review was (in my opinion) rather devastating for Bugliosi, my title was intended to be sardonic. Despite this, Vince lifted a few quotes from it (out of context and without my permission) and included them with his abbreviated paperback version, Four Days in November (2008). The total page count (CD included) of his massive doorstopper was about 2786, almost exactly three times as long as the 888-page Warren Report. Horne’s book, by contrast, is shorter: 1880 pages, including the front matter (pages i-lxxiii). I had stated that Bugliosi’s book was likely to stand forever as the magnum opus of this case, though not without serious flaws. As a magnum opus, however, Horne’s five-volume set is a serious challenge to Bugliosi, but with virtually none of Bugliosi’s flaws. The current review, however, focuses (almost) solely on Volume IV, which I regard as Horne’s set piece (as that phrase is used in literature and film, but not in soccer).
Although some men believe that women age like fine wine, in this case it is Horne himself who has aged well—he waited the better part of a decade after his experiences with the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) before beginning the serious work on his book. He does hint, though, that Bugliosi drop-kicked him (he is an Ohio State Buckeye fan) onto the playing field. Volume IV focuses on the two chief themes of the entire five-volume set: (1) the illicit surgery, before the official autopsy began, by pathologists James J. Humes and J. Thornton Boswell2 at the Bethesda morgue and (2) the Zapruder film riddles. It is likely that the success or failure of Horne’s work will rise or fall with this single volume. In this review, I shall address these two topics in sequence, critique a few puzzles, then draw some conclusions and finish with several suggestions. By way of a caveat emptor, I should confess that I initially encountered Google: “A Not-Entirely-Positive Review.” Also see Jim DiEugenio’s continuing and very extensive review ofBugliosi’s book at http://www.ctka.net/.
Visit their photographs at Douglas Horne, Inside the ARRB (2009), Volume I at Figures 77-80.
Horne at his first COPA (Committee on Political Assassinations) conference (when he interviewed with the ARRB), have intermittently met him since, and consider him a very good friend. He is also a very bright and strong-willed investigator.
In order to paint Humes and Boswell (H&B hereafter) as the morbid coconspirators, Horne needs first to clarify the timeline—which he does brilliantly (see the Appendix at the end of this review). The ARRB learned, for the first time, that JFK’s body initially arrived at the Bethesda morgue at 6:35 PM local time (in a black hearse).
That information derives from an after-action report (written on November 26, 1963) by Marine Sergeant Roger Boyajian.3 Quite astonishingly, Boyajian had retained a copy of his report, which he presented to the ARRB. His report corroborates the recollections of Dennis David4 who saw the light gray navy ambulance (with the bronze casket from Dallas) arrive at the front of the hospital, where he saw Jackie exit; its arrival time was either 6:53 PM or 6:55 PM (the sources vary).5 But just about 20 minutes earlier, David had directed his on-duty sailors as they delivered the body in a cheap casket, i.e., the entry described by Boyajian. David estimated (from memory) the delivery time as 6:40 PM, or perhaps 6:45 PM. His estimate is strikingly close to Boyajian’s recorded time of 6:35 PM. Horne concludes that this arrival time of 6:35 PM must now be accepted as a foundation stone in this case. As further corroboration for this time, he emphasizes that even Humes agreed with it: before the ARRB, Humes cited the initial arrival as possibly as early as 6:45 PM.6 In my opinion, therefore, it is very difficult to disagree with this early arrival time. If this is accepted, though, the repercussions are colossal—it means that the bronze casket (the one that traveled with Jackie) was empty. Horne next compiles a long table7 of witnesses to the cheap casket and the body bag, both of which were seen at this initial entry. He is also very persuasive here, although he rightfully credits Lifton with much of this groundbreaking work.
Now if the body arrived at 6:35 PM in a cheap shipping casket, when did it exit the bronze casket (the one that left Parkland)? Horne suggests that this transfer occurred right after the bronze casket boarded Air Force One. (Lifton again blazed this trail.) As corroboration for this, Horne8 describes JFK’s Air Force Aide, Godfrey McHugh, as perturbed about a delay caused by a “luggage transfer” between the two official planes.
After this transfer to a body bag, tampering became feasible. Horne suggests that an initial foray into the body took place in the forward baggage compartment prior to the flight to DC; the goal was to extract metal debris or a bullet from the throat wound. (It is not known whether anything was found.) Horne infers that a similar attempt was made on Ibid. at Figure 68 and at xxxiii. A more detailed account is in Horne’s Appendix 38; see http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/docset/getList.do?docSetId=1932.
David Lifton, Best Evidence (1988), at 569-588.
For example, see Clint Hill’s statement at http://www.jfk-online.com/clhill.html:
“The motorcade arrived Bethesda Naval Hospital at 6:55 p.m.” Hill also describes landing with Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base at 5:58 PM.
Horne, supra, Volume IV at 1002.
Ibid. at 989-992.
Horne cites William Manchester, Death of a President (1967).
the brain, but that attempt likely foundered because the requisite tool (e.g., a bone saw) was missing.
The second casket entry (via a light gray navy ambulance) occurred at about 7:17 PM. James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill, Jr. (the two-member FBI team) and Roy H.
Kellerman and William Greer (both Secret Service) together delivered the (empty) bronze casket to the morgue.9 This time is consistent with the arrival time of the bronze casket (shortly before 7 PM) at the front of the hospital. The third casket entry (with the body inside) has traditionally been accepted as the official one—at 8 PM (in a light gray navy ambulance). It was delivered by the Joint Service Casket Team.10 The transfer of the body must have occurred (in the morgue) after the second entry at 7:17 PM. But it must also have transpired after the initial X-rays (for reasons to be discussed below).11 Finally, this transfer must have occurred well in advance of 8 PM so that the bronze casket could leave the morgue (Tom Robinson recalled this temporary departure12), be “found” by the official casket team, and then delivered again at 8 PM. This sequence of three casket entries looks like a classic French farce, i.e., an affair concocted by a half-mad scriptwriter. Unfortunately, all of the evidence points strongly in the direction of three casket entries. Perhaps this would have been unnecessary, as Horne points out, if only Jackie had not insisted on staying with the bronze casket en route to the morgue. (She had declined a helicopter ride to the White House, which would have separated her from the Dallas casket.) Most likely the plan had been to surreptitiously transfer the body between caskets at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But Jackie’s unexpected decision to remain with the bronze Dallas casket waylaid those plans, which meant that Kellerman (who Horne nominates as the morgue manager) had to improvise on the spot. It was a highly risky business, during which this escapade was nearly uncovered, according to Horne.
Lifton had argued that body alteration had occurred somewhere before Bethesda.
He believed that altering the geometry of the shooting through "trajectory reversal"—i.e., turning entrance wounds into exit wounds, and planting false entrance wounds on the body—was the primary reason for the illicit post mortem surgery, and that removing bullet fragments was only a co-equal, or even secondary, goal of the clandestine surgery.13 Horne takes a different tack: he believes that the reason for assaulting the body (before Bethesda) was merely to extract bullet debris, not primarily to alter wounds.
My own views come into play at this point. Before Horne’s work, I had become convinced that someone had messed with the throat wound, most likely to extract bullet fragments. The evidence for this was that the two sets of witnesses—those at Parkland vs.
those at Bethesda—had disagreed so profoundly. Also, Malcolm Perry, the surgeon who performed the tracheotomy, claimed that he had left the throat wound “inviolate,” meaning that it was easily visible after the tube was pulled. In addition, Charles Crenshaw insisted that the tracheotomy at Parkland was nothing like the one in the Horne, supra, Volume IV at 1006.
Horne, supra, Volume I at Figure 70.
The entire X-ray collection is listed in Ibid. at Figure 58.
Horne, supra, Volume IV at 1007.
In retrospect, Lifton had been grievously misled by the HSCA’s false statements, namely that the autopsy photographs were authentic and that all the witnesses agreed with them. This falsehood was only discovered after the movie, JFK, triggered the release of multiple, sequestered witness statements that disagreed with the photographs.
autopsy photographs. I also had my own (telephone) encounter with the autopsy radiologist, John Ebersole.14 I still sense the horror in his voice as he recalled the tracheotomy and declared that he would never do one like that. Horne’s witnesses (there are more) only validate my prior conclusion about throat tampering.
Before Horne’s work, I was uncertain about head tampering before Bethesda (although Lifton had made a strong case for it). Nonetheless, I had to agree that if the throat had been explored, then of course the head might also have been invaded.
Although Horne is still open-minded about illegal tampering of the skull before Bethesda, he believes that such an event can be inferred from (1) Finck’s statement (to the defense team at the Clay Shaw trial in 1969) that the autopsy report (presumably an earlier one, as the extant one does not say this) described the spinal cord as severed when the body arrived at Bethesda and (2) Tom Robinson’s comment to the ARRB that the top of the skull was “badly broken” when the body was received at Bethesda, but that the large defect (in the superior skull) in the autopsy photographs was “what the [autopsy] doctors did”—i.e., that the missing skull was due to the pathologists, not due an assassin’s bullet(s).15 These reports therefore provide more evidence that the head was explored somewhere before Bethesda; the goal was to retrieve bullet debris, but it failed—because the brain could not be extracted from the skull. In summary then, the body arrived at Bethesda as follows: (1) with a radically enlarged tracheotomy16 and no bullet debris in the neck (perhaps there never was any, as I have suggested elsewhere17) and (2) with the same (right occipital) exit wound that was seen at Parkland and with a brain that had not been removed from the skull and that therefore closely, or possibly even exactly, resembled the Parkland brain. Most likely the brain still contained most, or even all, of the bullet fragments from Dealey Plaza. (These metal fragments are, of course, absent from the official record today.) Those are Horne’s conclusions about H&B, but let’s look at the evidence.
So why does Horne conclude that H&B illicitly removed (and altered) the brain shortly after 6:35 PM, before any X-rays were taken, and before the official autopsy began? He here introduces two intriguing witnesses—the two R’s, namely Reed and Robinson. Edward Reed was assistant to Jerrol Custer (the radiology tech), while Tom Robinson was a mortician. Rather consistently with one another, but quite independently, both describe critical steps taken by H&B that no one else reports. (Horne documents why no one else reported these events—almost everyone else had been evicted from the morgue before this clandestine interlude.) After the body was placed on the morgue table (and before X-rays were taken), Reed briefly sat in the gallery.18 Reed states19 that Humes first used a scalpel across the top of the forehead to pull the scalp back. Then he used a saw to cut the forehead bone, after which he (and Custer, too) were asked to leave the morgue. (Reed was not aware that this intervention by Humes was unofficial.) This activity by Humes is highly significant because multiple witnesses saw the intact entry hole high in the right forehead at the hairline. On the other hand, the autopsy photographs James Fetzer, editor, Murder in Dealey Plaza (2000), at 433 and 436.
Horne, supra, Volume IV at 1164.
Horne, supra, Volume I at Figure 60.
Fetzer (2000), supra, at 258-259.
Horne, supra, Volume I at Figure 40, shows a sketch of the morgue floor plan, including the gallery.
Horne, supra, Volume IV at 1035, 1163-1171 and Volume II at 426 and 437.
show only a thin incision at this site, an incision that no Parkland witness ever saw. The implication is obvious: this specific autopsy photograph was taken after Humes altered the forehead—thereby likely obliterating the entry hole.