Inside the Assassination Record Review Board
Part I- The Medical Witnesses
John Delane Williams
The five volumes of Inside the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB)  are a remarkable contribution to literature on the JFK assassination. They are very much a story of Doug Horne’s journey from 1994-2009. His writings give us a much better view of how the ARRB functioned—and the manner in which they functioned differed significantly from my presumptions. The detailed Table of Contents is 52 pages long; the 90 illustrations, mainly about the autopsy, each occupy a page. The first four volumes are concerned about the medical evidence in the assassination. The text for the five volumes runs 1807 pages. My major criticism of the effort is that there is no index. Also, some words to the wise to those who like to skip around in their reading. The Volumes (I-V) do not individually correspond to the Parts (I, II and III), excepting that Volume V is also Part III (The Political Context of the Assassination). In Part I, Volume I ends in the middle of discussion of a witness (Robert L. Knudsen, the social photographer under JFK). Volume II continues the chapter and the discussion regarding Knudsen. Thus jumping in at the beginning of Volume II is not advised. Part I (The Medical Witnesses) continues into Volume III, and is approximately half of the set of five volumes. Part II is contained in the remainder of Volume III and all of Volume IV. One other point should be made; even the established researcher needs something akin to “Cliff Notes” when looking at a work of over 1800 pages. In a sense, an excellent source partially filling the “Cliff Notes” helper is Chapter 41 in a newer book, On the Trail of JFK Assassins, by Dick Russell. The chapter in Russell is formed on the basis of a three hour telephone interview of Doug Horne by Russell.  In 21 pages, a succinct description of Horne’s work is given.
In many ways, Horne’s work can almost be viewed as the raw research process, valuable to researchers, but difficult for many (including researchers). For example, Horne wrote at some length to show that not only did Dr. Humes destroy his notes on the autopsy early Sunday, November 24th, he also destroyed the first draft, which had been reviewed by Dr. Boswell and Captain Robert Canada, in addition to Humes. A second draft, which was used by the Warren Commission, was written later that day. However, an undated autopsy report, a third draft, survives in the archives today. While the chapter in Russell’s book gives the broad strokes of Horne’s research, the details are in the five volumes. Thus, I would recommend reading Chapter 41 in Russell before reading Horne’s volumes. Also, perhaps someone might choose to do an index for Horne’s volumes, much as Walt Brown did with the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission (WC) Hearings and Exhibits.  Some readers might be put off by Horne’s approach of taking the reader through the process of exploring testimony, and developing hypotheses from the testimony. This leaves the warts showing, rather than be completely polished. He points out mistakes made, and the politics of gaining acceptance from the Review Board to interview various witnesses. I find his approach refreshing.
How the ARRB Actually Operated
Horne, to his surprise, was one of the few persons with much background in reading about the JFK assassination working for the ARRB; he was surely the most knowledgeable regarding JFK in that group. In choosing staff members, a preference was made for those who did NOT know much about the assassination. The avoidance of zealots was preferred. The ARRB was to focus on finding records, not “solve” the assassination. As a former junior officer in the Navy, Horne was initially employed as a Senior Analyst on the Military Records Team. Jeremy Gunn, the Head of Research and Analysis for the ARRB staff, thought one person with Horne’s knowledge of various conspiracy theories would be useful in the search for relevant documents in the government.
It was Horne’s view that the medical records of the assassination should be both expanded and clarified. Others within the ARRB saw this as overstepping the ARRB’s charter. Only to a limited degree was Horne allowed to pursue his wider goal. For the last year and a half, Horne was a Supervisory Analyst (Team Leader of the Military Records Team), with a bit more latitude in expanding the medical record to include new interviews with still living witnesses, some of whom who had not been addressed earlier, either by the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Horne reported that the day to day environment of the ARRB was not particularly supportive of any reinvestigation of the evidence. The direction of Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio to the Board of ARRB to “look into and clarify” any and all medical evidence that was deemed suitable (p. 22) was Horne’s entry to pursue the medical evidence. However, of the 25-28 staff members in the ARRB, this reinvestigation was limited to Horne and Gunn. And Jeremy Gunn would leave the project before it was finished.
The Medical Witnesses
Two Dallas witnesses (Dr. Crenshaw and Nurse Bell) independently drew nearly identical representations of the wounds to President Kennedy, in 1997, of wounds they observed in 1963. They described a rear “blowout”, a wound of exit, in the rear of the head. Both denied any damage to the right side of the head (a flap of skin in some autopsy pictures). Dr. Boswell, an autopsist in Bethesda, indicated the exit wound was at the top and to the right of the skull. If both sets of observations were accurate, the inescapable conclusion was that the body had to have been tampered with between the two examinations. To Horne, this meant that the basis of David Lifton’s Best Evidence  was correct; the body had been tampered with prior to the Bethesda autopsy. Horne, however, differs from Lifton as to where and when the tampering took place. In sifting thru the evidentiary base prior to the ARRB, (The Warren Commission report and the 26 Volumes of evidence, the House Select Committee Report and its 12 volumes of evidence, FBI reports and Lifton’s interviews) together with the interviews conducted by the ARRB staff (typically, Jeremy Gunn and Horne), Horne gradually developed his own hypothesis on the tampering of President Kennedy’s body. In developing his hypothesis, he painstakingly takes the reader through the maze of statements made by the many witnesses. Horne reconstructed his thought processes and gradually developed time lines and reevaluated the evidence from witnesses. This process was used throughout Horne’s writing in the other aspects of his research as well.
James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill, FBI agents who were present at JFK’s autopsy, both indicated a willingness to come to Washington and testify under oath with the ARRB. In 1964, both were interviewed by Arlen Specter (WC staff member) about their roles at Bethesda. In their view, their interviews with Specter had friction present, and they were not asked to testify before the Warren Commission. They felt they had important information about the assassination that had been ignored, and wished to be on the record. Both former FBI agents described wounds similar to the wounds described in Dallas. The autopsy photograph showing only a small hole in the back of President Kennedy’s head was inconsistent with the memories of both former agents.
The Second Brain
There were two post mortem examinations of the brain. Dr. Finck was present only at the second examination, with a brain that showed different wounds, and weighed 1500 grams, about normal for an adult human male, albeit with no part of the brain absent. The first examination, attended by Drs. Boswell and Humes, was probably with a smaller brain, because of the missing matter from the extensive wounds. Apparently Dr. Finck was never aware of the first examination of the brain. His not being there is noted in a conversation with the official autopsy photographer, civilian John Stringer. When asked if Dr. Finck was present at the examination of the brain (the first brain examined was probably JFK’s badly damaged brain), Stringer stated,” No, I don’t remember him (Dr. Finck) being there. I don’t think they wanted him there. He caused too much trouble at the autopsy.” (p. 39). Dr. Finck seemed to take charge after arriving at the autopsy. Dr. Humes requested Dr. Finck’s participation after the autopsy began. Horne inferred from the testimony of Saundra K. Spencer, (pp. 298-332) that a third brain may have been involved for photographic purposes. A brain was lying beside the body in a photograph developed by Spencer, who worked in the Naval Photographic Laboratory. That photograph is among several that have not surfaced. It was a fully intact brain. That would imply that three brains were involved in the photography, unless the second brain was shown first intact, and then later, after appropriate alterations had been made.
The Hearses and the Coffins and the Timelines for the Coffins at the Bethesda Morgue
Horne deduced that three separate deliveries were made to the morgue. The first delivery took place at 6:35 PM led by Dennis David and a group of navy personnel (one of which was Donald Rebentisch). The time of 6:35 was documented by Marine Corps Sergeant Roger Boyajian, in charge of security detail at the Bethesda Hospital on November 22, 1963. A shipping casket holding the body of President John F. Kennedy in a body bag arrived in a black hearse. Dennis David and his crew took the casket into the morgue. A second delivery was made around 7:17 PM of the ceremonial casket provided for President Kennedy in Dallas. Both Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy were in the light grey navy ambulance that had come from Andrews Air Force Base. Mrs. Kennedy was originally scheduled to take a helicopter back to the White House, but chose instead to remain with her husband’s body and observe the autopsy at the Bethesda morgue. This change in Mrs. Kennedy’s plans apparently was unanticipated by those involved in the autopsy cover-up. The empty ceremonial casket was taken inside the morgue. Around 7:30 PM, President Kennedy was placed in the ceremonial casket and taken back out to the grey naval ambulance; the Joint Service Casket team would “need to find” the hearse so that they could accompany it to the Bethesda morgue. It is curious that no report was made about the failure of the Joint Casket Team when they lost sight of the ambulance; their chain of custody was broken.
According to Horne, either between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM, or when the Joint Service casket Team began bringing the casket into the morgue, the casket was dropped, breaking off the handle, and leaving scratches and dents on two corners of the casket. One of the Team members momentarily was replaced by USAF Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh; McHugh had difficulty going up an incline, and slipped. One of the team members was Navy sailor Hubert Clark (p. 678). There is evidence that some damage to the casket took place in Dallas prior to the casket being loaded onto Air Force One. 
One might wonder why three separate entries were made to the morgue. The first entry was necessary to allow Dr. Humes time to make changes to JFK’s body so that it would be “correct” with all the shots emanating from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, from above and behind. Horne also concluded that an ineffective attempt to achieve that goal, done either in Dallas or on the plane on the way to Andrews Air Force Base, which had to be rectified. Horne thought that Dr’s Humes and Boswell had been told that the extraordinary request for their cooperation was needed due to national security needs. Perhaps they were told that a nuclear war might otherwise be precipitated. The second hearse carrying Jacqueline Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, and the empty ornamental coffin that was thought to contain the body of President Kennedy, was needed both to convince Jacqueline and Bobby that the charade taking place was actually the truth. After Dr. Humes had made the alterations that he was directed to do (apparently not directed by Dr. Burkley, JFK’s personal physician, who arrived at 7:17 with Robert Kennedy and Jaqueline Kennedy), the President’s body was then placed into the ornamental coffin, and placed back in the grey naval ambulance; the ambulance had to be found by the joint service team, so it could be properly escorted to the morgue, supposedly preserving the chain of custody for the body. Thus, the grey ambulance had to be “found” by the joint service team, before it could be taken back to the morgue. One might wonder what the thoughts of the joint service team members might have been. They had “lost” the body for over an hour, and when they finally found it, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy were no longer in the ambulance. A question that begs to be answered is, ‘Did anyone observe the caskets being removed from the morgue?’
There was also the issue that each of the different sets of observers had to be kept in the dark about the other two trips to the morgue. Inside the autopsy area, people had to be sequestered so that, except for those inside the cover-up, the audiences had to be convinced that the goings on were legitimate. For example, the second delivery was handled by FBI agents Jim Sibert and Frank O’Neill, and Secret Service (SS) agents Roy Kellerman and William Greer. According to Horne, Kellerman and Greer were part of the autopsy cover-up team, and were staging the process of keeping the audiences unaware of part of the proceedings. Agents Sibert and O’Neill were sequestered from the time they accompanied the ceremonial casket in until the autopsy proper began. Thus, they were admitted to the autopsy room at around 8:15 PM. Had they entered earlier, they would have known about the body already being on the table. If they would have been there when the ceremonial team brought JFK’s casket in, they would surely have been suspicious about another delivery of the same casket, which was now badly damaged (according to Horne). The cover-up of the medical autopsy shenanigans would likely have been blown at that time. But additional mistakes were made; the conspirators let Ed Reed, an X-ray technology student, and Tom Robinson, an employee of Gawler’s Funeral Home, watch far too much of the proceedings. (p. 628). Somehow, they were overlooked, and were allowed to watch incriminating portions of the autopsy.
The Autopsy According to Horne
Horne pieced together the picture of the autopsy after having interviewed numerous medical witnesses. Presumably, Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell were told that national security matters necessitated removing any evidence of shots from the front. Also presumably, they knew that a court-martial might accompany their non-compliance. In any event, Dr. Humes did surgery about the forehead, removing an intact bullet that did not exit the head, lodged near the right ear (p. 708).
Only a small audience witnessed this part of the (pre)-autopsy. The pre-autopsy started shortly after 6:35 PM, and concluded some time after 7:17 PM. When the (empty) ceremonial casket arrived, President Kennedy’s body was entered into the ceremonial casket. Either at the time of re-entry to the grey naval ambulance, or on the arrival back at the morgue, the ceremonial casket was dropped, causing damage to the casket.  The grey ambulance then had to be “found” by the Joint Service Casket Team. That rendezvous was accomplished, and the grey ambulance returned to the morgue, this time with the Joint Service Team, who was responsible for maintaining the chain-of-custody for JFK’s body. The third entrance to the morgue occurred at 8:00 PM. A new audience, and as far as most were concerned, the only audience to the autopsy, was present. When the coffin was opened (again), Dr. Humes exclaimed, “It is apparent that in addition to a tracheotomy, there has been surgery to the head area, namely, in the top of the skull.” This drama was apparently some sort of effort to feign surprise about the surgery Humes had just performed himself, to make those in the audience think that this was unexpected. Except for the conspirators and Tom Robinson, the ruse seemed to have worked. One can only imagine that the conspirators must have been aghast by Dr. Humes’ outburst. Shortly after the autopsy started, Dr. Humes called Dr. Finck to assist with the autopsy. After Dr. Finck arrived, he seemed to take charge, at least among the three autopsists; apparently in charge from the audience were two military brass, Rear Admiral George Burkley, President Kennedy’s personal physician, and (probably) General Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff. These two military men would bellow out orders, mainly to avoid doing certain procedures, such as tracking bullets in the president’s body.  The autopsy went on until about midnight, when the personnel from Gawker’s Funeral Home began the process of preparing the body for a possible open casket viewing.
The Higher Brass in Charge of the Autopsy
Every indication is given that the military person barking out orders, in addition to Rear Admiral Burkley, was General Curtis LeMay. First, a review of General LeMay’s background is instructive. During World War II, he directed a firebombing campaign against Japanese cities with B-29 Super-fortresses, killing 50-90% of the population in 67 cities (p. 484). In July 1961, LeMay was the first new appointment under President Kennedy as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (JCS) The JCS had briefed President Kennedy on the Single Integrated Operational Plan for 1962 (SIOP-62) on July 20, 1961. This plan called for the total nuclear annihilation of the entire Communist bloc. President Kennedy walked out of the meeting in disgust. 
Even though the Secret Service was meticulous in recording the names of all persons in attendance at the autopsy, (for military persons, a gag order regarding the autopsy was given, with a threat of a court-martial if they ever revealed what transpired), no record is available today, even with the records act, of who was in attendance at the autopsy (pp. 606-607). But the circumstantial evidence for Le May being there and bellowing out directions is substantial. On the day of the assassination, at 2:20 PM EST, arrangements were made to have General LeMay fly to Andrews Air Base, the same destination as Air Force One. At 2:46 PM, LeMay’s plane took off for Toronto. At 2:50 PM, the destination was changed to Wairton, Canada. At 4:25 PM, LeMay departed Wairton for Washington National Airport, adjacent to downtown Washington (much closer to the Bethesda morgue than Andrews Air Base). Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert ordered a change to Andrews Air Force Base. At 5:00 PM, General LeMay changed his destination back to Washington National Airport, shortly before landing. At 5:12 PM, his plane landed at Washington National Airport in a military aircraft, despite having been told by his civilian superior to land at Andrews Air Base. With a driver and an aide awaiting his arrival at Washington National Airport, he would have plenty of time to get to the Bethesda autopsy. Air Force One arrived at Andrews Air Base at 6:00 PM; the black hearse with President Kennedy’s body in a body bag within a shipping casket would arrive at the Bethesda morgue at 6:35 PM (pp. 678-683).
Photographs, X-Rays, and the Autopsy Film
Photographers at the autopsy included John T. Stringer, a navy civilian medical photographer (the photographer of record at the autopsy), his assistant, Floyd A. Riebe, navy corpsman second class (E-5), and navy chief petty officer Robert Knudsen (E-7), a social photographer who had been a favorite photographer for President Kennedy. Stringer and Riebe were present and taking photographs during most of the autopsy. They were kept out of the autopsy room whenever the X-Rays were being done. They were unaware that Knudsen came in later and took photographs of the latter part of the autopsy and also took additional photographs during and after the morticians worked with President Kennedy. At least 18 autopsy pictures that were taken are no longer available (pp. 385-387); these include an entry wound in the occipital bone, views of the lung, which was bruised; photographs of probes in the body, pictures of the brain, after removal; A puncture wound above the right eye; pictures of the blow out in the back of the head, and several body views and “scene” photographs in the morgue.
The X-Rays were taken by navy enlisted X-Ray technicians Jerrol F. Custer (E-4) and Edward F. Reed (E-4, a student of Jerrol Custer), under the direction of Commander John H. Ebersole, M.D. There is a discrepancy among the three as to who took (and developed) the X-rays. Two of the five skull X-Rays are now missing. Additionally, a case for a forged X-Ray was made by David Mantik, Ph.D., M.D. (pp. 549-563). When Dr. Ebersole was asked at the House Subcommittee on Assassinations (HSCA) on March 11, 1978 by Dr. Michael Baden: ”Do you on examination of these films have an opinion as to where the gunshot wound of entrance was in the head radiologically?” Dr. Ebersole’s reply was, “In my opinion it would have come from the side [on] the basis of these films.” (p. 407). Michael Baden and Robert Blakely had Dr. Ebersole’s testimony sequestered for 50 years. The JFK Records Act forced the release of these documents (p. 408).
Dennis David, the leader of naval personnel who brought in JFK’s body to the morgue at 6:35 PM on 11/22/1963, was also a friend of Lieutenant Commander William Pitzer. Pitzer was stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was in charge of all Bethesda audio-visual services. David stated that 3 or 4 days after the assassination, Pitzer showed David photographic images of the assassination. The 6 or 7 color slides and 4 or 5 black & white prints were all pre-incision images of President Kennedy. Additionally, Pitzer showed David a portion of a 16 mm movie film of the autopsy. The portion David saw was also pre-incision. The film was taken from further back, either in the gallery, or well back in the room. (pp. 380-384) The movie that David saw back in 1963 has not resurfaced. Pitzer was said by the Navy to have committed suicide on October 29, 1966. 
The Destruction of the Zapruder Film by Joe O’Donnell
One of the stranger aspects of the many interviews done by Gunn and Horne was Joe O’Donnell’s interview. O’Donnell was a civilian photographer employed by the United States Information Agency and who had been detailed at the White House from time to time. O’Donnell was asked to give Jacqueline Kennedy a private viewing of the Zapruder film. After showing Jacqueline Kennedy the Zapruder film, Jacqueline indicated that she didn’t want to see it again. O’Donnell took this to mean that the part of the film showing the shooting should be removed, so O’Donnell simply cut it off, in his mind, removing 10 feet of film. In that the actual length of the Zapruder film was only 7 feet, this admission of destruction is interesting. It was also O’Donnell’s understanding that the film he had mutilated was the original Zapruder film, not a copy (p. 287). O’Donnell’s interview should be viewed with several grains of salt.
Both Tom Robinson and Ed Reed were somehow allowed to view portions of the autopsy that might have been “too much”. Ed Reed testified at his ARRB deposition that he witnessed Dr. Humes make an incision across the forehead near the hairline, and employ a circular surgical saw to the cranium. Reed and Custer were then abruptly ordered to leave the morgue; they came back later to do X-Rays (p. 628). Tom Robinson also reported seeing Dr. Humes use a saw to enlarge the area blown out in the back of the head; Robinson presumed this was to allow the brain to be removed out of the larger hole. Inexplicably, Robinson, a mortician, would remain in the morgue for the remainder of the autopsy and would then help prepare President Kennedy’s body for a possible open casket viewing (pp. 629-630). When shown a picture of the damage to the top of JFK’s head, Robinson explained, the damage was “what the doctors did.” (p. 616). Horne posits that Robinson may have been a witness to the shell game involving moving Kennedy into the memorial casket from Dallas, having it removed from the morgue, and then returned sometime later. A question was posed to Robinson by Andy Purdy, counsel for the HSCA. The transcript reads:
Purdy: You said that later, when you read some things about the assassination or the autopsy, you heard or read some things that struck you as incorrect. What would those things be?
Robinson: The time the people moved (autopsy). The body was taken… and the body never came…lots of little things like that. (p. 603).
The use of ellipses is from the HSCA transcript. The original audiotape was either misfiled or missing. Horne suggested that the missing words could refer to the removal of President Kennedy’s body from the morgue, and subsequent return of it there.
Robinson also described a scene in which Dr. Humes removes several pieces of bullet fragments from the president’s brain. This would imply the use of a frangible (exploding) bullet rather a full metal jacketed bullet such as would likely have been fired from a Mannlicher-Carcano.
The Shot to the Left Temple
At least four attending physicians at Parkland Hospital in Dallas noticed a small bullet entrance wound in President Kennedy’s left temple. Dr. Lito Puerto (Porto?) pointed it out to others and put his finger in the small wound. Dr. Ronald Coy Jones related having seen it. Dr. Robert N. McClelland, who wrote in a handwritten report, prepared on November 22, 1963, that there was a gunshot wound in President Kennedy’s left temple. A fourth physician, Dr. Jenkins, was quite sure about such a wound and asked Alan Specter about it in his testimony in the Warren Commission investigation in March 1964 (p. 766). As with other evidence that indicated a shot from the front occurred, the evidence of the shot to the left temple was ignored.
1. Horne, D.P. (2009). Inside the Assassination Records Review Board: The U.S. Government’s Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK, Volumes I-V. Lexington, KY: Author.
2. Russell. D. (2008). On the Trail of JFK Assassins. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. Chapter 41: Two Caskets, Two Autopsies, Two Brain Exams: The Disappearing Evidence. (pp. 278-298.)
3. Brown, W. (1995). Referenced Index Guide to the Warren Commission. Wilmington, DE: Delmax.
4. Lifton, D.S. 1980). Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. New York: Macmillan.
5. In a documentary television presentation, The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After (The History channel, 4/22/2010), it is stated that the handle on the ceremonial coffin was damaged prior to the coffin being loaded onto Air Force One, on the way back to the Washington area from Dallas. Also, a more complete explanation of the coffin damage taking place prior to the coffin being loaded on Air Force One is provided in an e-mail from Walt Brown: “As far as the coffin damage, I interviewed a couple of people, Aubrey Rike among them. When a coffin is put in a hearse, there is a locking mechanism that keeps it absolutely in place, so a sharp turn or a side-swipe cannot cause the kind of “out the back and down the hill” coffin runs characteristic of a WC Fields movie. But the SS hijacked Vernon O’Neal’s ambulance, and they didn’t know of the locking mechanism. So to remove the casket at Love Field, they tugged at length until it “broke” free. e-mail from Walt Brown, 7/13/2010.
6. See note 5.
7. One could conjecture that LeMay may have skipped the autopsy for an even more important mission. As Air Force Chief of Staff, on a day when the assassination was being blamed on a Russian-Cuban Marxist, he might have been deployed to be in a position to put his finger on the button to potentially retaliate against Russia and Cuba, somewhere in a deeply protected underground bunker. It could also be pointed out that Le May was not on the list of attendees at the autopsy in the Sibert-O’Neill Report; the report, in fairness, is not flawless. The report indicates that Tom Robinson, along with other Gawler’s Funeral Home personnel entered the autopsy room after the autopsy was finished. In fact Robinson was continuously present even prior to the arrival of Sibert and O’Neill. See www.kenrahn.com/jfk/history/the_deed/Sibert-ONeill.htm.
8. Reeves, R. (1993). President Kennedy: Profile in Power. New York: Simon & Schuster. (pp. 229-230).
9. Livingstone, H.E. (1992). High Treason 2. New York: Carroll & Graf. (pp. 556-559).
Published in JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly (2011). 16, 2, 12-18.