Eyewitnesses and the JFK Medical Evidence
Almost from the time that it happened, up to the present day, a substantial majority of the American public has believed that a conspiracy was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As we can see from the table here, only in the fall of 1964 in the wake of the release of the Warren Commission Report, have more people believed Lee Harvey Oswald did it acting alone than have believed there was a conspiracy.
The opinion of the general public may be contrasted with that of the people who were actually on the scene at Bethesda Naval Hospital when the autopsy was performed on the body of President Kennedy. William Matson Law has interviewed every one of them he could find who is still alive and would talk to him, and among that group it is safe to say that 100% disbelieve the official story.
His book, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence, was published in 2015. It is an impressive example of detective work in tracking people down and is even more impressive in the doggedness and persuasive abilities that Law demonstrated in getting them to talk. Probably the biggest eye-opener to me was that the two FBI agents who were present at the autopsy and observed it carefully, James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill, and who were both initially reluctant to talk to Law, scoff at the single-bullet theory and hold its originator, the late Arlen Specter, in virtual contempt. Here is a key passage on page 317:
There were times while talking to Frank O’Neill when I felt like I had fallen through the looking glass and into Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.
O’Neill and Sibert are adamant that the single-bullet theory is wrong. “That’s Arlen Specter’s theory,” O’Neill told me. It’s quite evident from my conversations with them that they have no respect for the one-time assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, now Senator from Pennsylvania. When I questioned Jim Sibert about the single-bullet theory and Arlen Specter, he went as far as to say, “What a liar. I feel he got his orders from above—how far above I don’t know.”
…The single bullet theory is key to the “lone-nut” scenario. If, in fact, a bullet did not hit Kennedy in the back come out his throat, hit Governor Connally in the back, exit his right chest, slam into his right wrist, breaking the bone and cutting the radial nerve, and then pierce his left thigh and fall out in remarkably pristine condition onto a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, then there was more than one assassin and, hence, conspiracy. The single-bullet theory is the linchpin of the government’s case against Lee Harvey Oswald. If the theory is false, the lone-assassin concept crumbles to dust.
I address the importance of the single-bullet theory in great detail in “John Connally, JFK, and Truth Suppression,” but it boils down to the fact that the initial wounding of Kennedy and the wounding of Connally occurred too close together in time for one person firing a bolt-action rifle to have done it. Furthermore, counting the missed shot that struck the curb ahead of the presidential limousine, there had to have been at least four shots fired if the wounding were done with separate shots, but there was insufficient time for that to have been accomplished in the time covered by the Zapruder film that documented the event. Both Sibert and O’Neill are keenly aware that Connally’s experience—as much as their own observation of the bullet wound in Kennedy’s back—gives the lie to the single-bullet theory.
Concerning that matter of the location of the back wound, the following exchange on page 324 is of considerable interest:
Law: Were you surprised you weren’t called before the Warren Commission?
Sibert: I was at the time but now I can understand why (laughing).
Law: Why do you think you weren’t called?
Sibert: Why? In other words, with that single-bullet theory, if they went in there and asked us to pinpoint where the bullet entered the back and the measurements and all that stuff, how are you going to work it? See, the way they got the single-bullet theory, was by moving that back wound up to the base of the neck.
Sibert and O’Neill both say that the one and only wound below Kennedy’s head on his back side was an apparent bullet entrance wound about 5 ½ inches below the collar line, slightly to the right of the spine. None of the people that Law was able to interview describe a wound at the base of the neck. One of them, Paul K. O’Connor was particularly well qualified to document what he witnessed. He was a 22-year-old medical corpsman stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital at the time he was in the autopsy room, but he had been working in mortuaries since he was 13 years old. Already, in his time in the Navy he had “assisted in fifty or sixty autopsies before November 22, 1963.”
The sketch that O’Connor drew for Law showing the location of Kennedy’s back wound might well have been drawn by either FBI agent Sibert or O’Neill. That drawing might be contrasted with the one done by Navy medical artist Harold A. Rydberg, who was also stationed at Bethesda. He made the drawing a hundred days after the autopsy took place and he did it as dictated to him by the two Navy doctors, Commanders James Humes and J. Thornton Boswell who performed the autopsy. Lt. Col. Pierre Finck also worked on the autopsy, but he was not involved with the drawing. Rydberg, in a telephone interview by Law, stressed that Humes and Boswell told him how to do the drawing strictly from “memory,” with no photographs or notes of any kind in evidence:
Law: They just did this off the tops of their heads?
Rydberg: Yes. They wanted no paper trail.
Law: So you just continued to draw –
Rydberg: I continued to draw, nothing to go by. Couldn’t even bring a picture of Kennedy in, so I could draw it to look like him. This was done over two days—a Saturday and a Sunday. On Monday morning they were taken out of the safe and brought up to Admiral [Calvin] Galloway’s office, who is the commanding officer of the whole ball of wax, and we looked at all the drawings, then all three concurred that they were what they needed to go before the Commission. These were all good representations of what they had seen.
Law: But you had no access to any kind of pictures?
Rydberg: None. None at all.
Law: Had you ever heard of this being done before, having to draw from someone’s description?
Rydberg: No. Not on something this important.
A drawing quite similar to Rydberg’s also underpins the findings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as seen here on Wikipedia.
In contrast to the two FBI agents, who already had many years on the job, the others Law interviewed were generally young Navy men and what they experienced was disillusioning to all of them. The flavor of that disillusionment is well captured by the conclusion of Law’s interview of Rydberg. The subject is autopsy photographer Floyd Riebe, a friend of Rydberg’s who died in 2008:
Law: Did [Riebe] talk to you at all? Did you ever have an opportunity to…
Rydberg: I got to ask him—we were at a bar one night—and I said: “You’re under secret orders and so am I, so since we’re both under the same secret orders about the same secret thing, did those drawings come close to what those wounds were?” And all he said was, “Yes.”
Law: The drawings that you did?
Rydberg: Yes. I didn’t ask him about the directions [of the shots]. I only asked him about the wounds.
Law: But you never did get an opportunity to discuss anything having to do with the autopsy?
Rydberg: No. He still wouldn’t talk. I think the navy had one testicle and somebody else had the other one. And they were going in different directions.
Law: Well, he did come forward later. And talked about the [autopsy] pictures and that he didn’t think they were the pictures that he’d taken.
Rydberg: I would not be surprised. None of us want to go down in history as the fools who unwittingly helped pull this thing off.
Law: Is there anything for the historical record that you would like people to know?
Rydberg: For the historical record—it was one of the biggest cover-ups to enhance two people’s futures: Johnson and Hoover.
Perhaps the most telling part of the interview of Jerrol F. Custer is Law’s introductory paragraph:
Jerrol Francis Custer was a radiology technician stationed at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, and happened to be on call on the evening of November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy’s body was brought in for autopsy. I first contacted him early in 1998, hoping he would consent to an interview. He was friendly over the phone and took time to answer some questions. I asked flat out what his feelings were regarding John Kennedy’s assassination. “I think he was set up by a CIA hit squad…” I was taken aback by his candor. It is one thing to read pro-conspiracy books about the assassination, but to have someone who participated in the autopsy, who had seen the wounds for himself at close quarters and who had placed his own hands on the cadaver, say without equivocation that there had been a plot was quite a different story.
The pressure that kept these young men quiet for so many years is captured well by this exchange:
Law: Let me ask you this: you’ve all known each other—you all knew each other because you worked with each other—did any of you—all of you young men at this point in time—did any of you get together after the autopsy was over and say, “Jesus! What’s going on here?” Did any of you get together and talk about your experience?
Custer: Well, you’ve got to remember the night was kind of draining. I know I went back up to the call room and I literally crashed. And I didn’t wake up until, I think it was 6 o’clock the next morning when Captain Brown and Dr. Ebersole came into the call room, sat there on the bed and were talking to me and congratulating me on a job well done. But truthfully, the next day, we were summoned, each one of us to the Commander-in-Chief of the National Naval Medical Center—and told that we had to sign a gag order.
Law: Now, this was done separately? Each one of you separately went in and were told this?
Law: And what were your feelings when they said, “You’re going to sign this gag order”?
Custer: Well, I knew that it was an important event that had happened. And they didn’t want this to get out. But when I walked in the room I didn’t realize the atmosphere—until actually I was there—the intimidation. We were meant to be intimidated.
Law: You got a feeling that you were—not so much in words but through their actions and the feeling you had—that basically you were being threatened.
Custer: Absolutely. You open your mouth, you’re gone. We will forget you.
Custer: Court-martialed. And Fort Smith, the navy’s jail.
A similar question elicited a similar response from Paul O’Connor, the man who drew the sketch showing the bullet wound in Kennedy’s back:
Law: Now in talking to some of the other fellows who were with you, some of your colleagues, I’m struck with the fact that all of you know bits and pieces. It’s like you’re all on different frequencies. You all noticed different things. Did you all get together at one point and share any kind of information? I mean early on, not years later. I’m talking about within that week, within a few days?
O’Connor: No. What happened was—that took place on a Friday, of course, he was buried on the Monday and on Tuesday of that next week we were called into Captain Stover’s office—who was one of the commanders of the Naval Medical School—where we were instructed and told that we were going to sign orders of silence under the penalty of general court martial, and other dreadful things like going to prison, if we talked to anybody about anything that happened that night. Period.
Law: So you were threatened basically with being thrown in jail?
O’Connor: In prison.
Law: In prison if you talked about this to anybody?
O’Connor: To anybody. Now that was the worst experience of my life. The Kennedy assassination autopsy was bad. But that scared me to death because I was a good loyal navy hospital corpsman, had done nothing wrong and was thrown into a situation that I couldn’t control. And all of a sudden I was told that if I was to say something to anybody, anybody—and they left that wide open—anybody—that, if found out, we’d go to prison and be dishonorably discharged from the navy.
There was a great deal more that they witnessed, of course, than the location of the back wound that conflicts with the official story. Much of what they observed is consistent, to one degree or another, with the revelations in the 1981 book by David Lifton, Best Evidence, that the body had been tampered with to obscure the nature of the head wounds and the wound in the throat between the time the doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas examined it and the arrival of the body at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Several of them are definite in their recollection that the body arrived in a simple shipping casket, and was not in the ceremonial casket in which the body had been placed in Dallas. There is general agreement, furthermore, that a substantial portion of Kennedy’s brain had been blown away by the shot or shots to the head. One of the biggest revelations of the book is that there were two separate examinations of the brain and in the second one a substitute brain must have been used because its weight was slightly greater than that of the average adult male’s brain. Neither the actual nor the “substitute” brain can now be located.
Through the great resource of the Internet, interested readers can easily verify the observations of the key medical witnesses in Law’s book. All one needs to do is to do an Internet search of the names that I have given followed by “JFK.” Other names from the book that one can add to the list are Dennis D. David, James C. Jenkins, and Saundra K. Spencer.
Parties to the Crime
The sober assessment of the single-bullet theory provided by Law and by the FBI witnesses to the autopsy might be contrasted with how journalist Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post’s “expert” on the subject, treated it in a 1992 article entitled, “JFK Conspiracy: Myth vs. The Facts”:
Then there’s the “single-bullet theory,” another doubt-sower. The Warren Commission said there was “persuasive evidence” that a single bullet caused the nonfatal neck wound to Kennedy and the wounds to Gov. John Connally. But the Zapruder film seems to contradict the idea, and Connally says he was hit by a separate shot. What does this mean? Maybe it means that the single-bullet theory is wrong. But the flimsiness of the official theory is not itself evidence of a second gunman. Pony up an actual name, an actual gun, an actual bullet, an actual eyewitness, then we’ll talk.
Surely he must know that there is no “maybe” to it and it is not just a case of evidential “flimsiness.” As Law states very clearly, if that same bullet did not hit Kennedy and Connally then there had to be at least one more gunman. It’s open and shut. Achenbach says, in effect, that even if the single bullet theory is wrong, that that “is not itself evidence of a second gunman” when it is, in fact, evidence of a second gunman. His suggestion that we must actually identify any additional gunmen to be taken seriously is right out of the “Seventeen Techniques for Truth Suppression.” To be precise, it is no. 12, “Require the skeptics to solve the crime completely.” His suggestion that disproving the single-bullet theory does not, in itself, establish that there was more than one gunman falls under no. 15, “Baldly and brazenly lie.” Achenbach demonstrates by his own words that he is the one who should not be taken seriously.
The Post, we should note, trotted out this same Joel Achenbach for their lead article on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in 2013. I have described his appalling work in “Painting Horns and Moustaches: America’s Press Addresses JFK Dissent.”
I might not be able to identify the actual gunmen, but I can say with some assurance that America’s mainstream media have been:
From “JFK” to 9/11
They do it every time.
Our journalists behave as though
They’re parties to the crime.
May 4, 2017