Electronic Assassinations Newsletter
Gary L. Aguilar, MD
Representative John Conyers, Jr.
Dear Representative Conyers,
I was only recently made aware of some important testimony before your committee of Mr. Gerald Posner which occured during the testimony of Randolph Robertson, MD. As the document sent to me by Mr. James Lesar was incomplete I have included the relevant pages so that you may judge whether the statements atttributed to Mr. Posner were accurately reproduced in the copy I make reference to. The issue pertains to the skull wound descriptions of John F. Kennedy's autopsy pathologists, James Humes, MD, J. Thornton Boswell, MD and Pierre Finck, MD.
JFK's autopsists claimed in the autopsy report that JFK's fatal skull wound entrance was near the knob at the base of the rear of the skull, the external occipital protuberance (EOP). Mr Posner claims that JFK's pathologists have very recently admitted to him that they have changed their minds about the location of Kennedy's skull wound. This is surprising news for in 1992, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), JFK's autopsists reaffirmed their autopsy report's and Warren Commission's location for JFK's fatal wound "to the right and just above the external occipital protuberance."
Posner's claims take on added significance as great controversy exists regarding the correct entrance location of JFK's skull wound. The autopsists have repeatedly claimed the skull wound was low in occcipital bone. Subsequent examinations however by the Clark Panel in 1968, and the pathologists of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA - 1979) determined that the fatal entrance wound was in parietal bone, 100 mm (4 1/2 inches) higher than the occipital bone location given by the autopsists near the EOP. This later finding, which one presumes Posner is endorsing, was based photographic and X-ray evidence. This discrepancy is quite troubling to me as a physician. It is difficult for me to imagine that any physician could make such an enormous error in wound localization, let alone three experienced, senior pathologists.
A brief review of the various sites given JFK's skull wound entrance by his pathologists may help you to understand this important controversy more fully. In the Warren Report, the autopsy report claims the skull entrance wound was "to the right and slighty above the external occipital proturberance". (Autopsy report, Warren Commission) Humes repeated this claim of the wound's location in Warren Commission testimony claiming that the "...wound was situated approximately 2.5 cm to the right, and slightly above the external occipital protuberance which is a bony prominence that can be felt in the low rear posterior portion of everyone's skull. This wound was then 2 1/2 cm to the right and slightly above that point..." (Warren Commission Vol. 2: 351) These initial observations of the examining pathologist must be given great weight, for as Gerald Posner himself has observed, "Testimony closer to the event must be given greater weight than changes or additions made years later, when the witness's own memory is often muddled or influenced by television programs, films, books, and discussions with others." (Posner, G., Case Closed, New York, Random House, 1993, p. 235)
When Humes was questioned by fellow pathologist, Charles Petty, MD, before the HSCA in 1978 he was asked where the skull entrance wound was. He replied, "It's below the external protuberance." "It's below it?" Dr. Petty asked incredulously. "Right." answered Dr. Humes "Not above it?" pressed Dr. Petty. "No. It's to the right and inferior to external occipital protuberance. And when the scalp was reflected from there, there was virtually an identical wound in the occipital bone." was Dr. Humes' unequivocal reply.
A few moments later Humes again described the skull entrance wound, "...(the skull entrance wound is) just to the right and below by a centimeter and maybe a centimeter to the right and maybe 2 centimeters below the midpoint of the external occipital protuberance. And when the scalp was reflected from there, there was virtually an identical wound in the occipital bone." (Emphasis added) (HSCA. Vol. 7: 246)
Thus, Humes described the wound as to the right and just above the EOP in his autopsy report and repeated that location to the Warren Commission. Then he told the HSCA's forensic panel that the wound was to the right and just below the EOP. In both cases, however, the wound was clearly low in the skull in the vicinity of the EOP. To eliminate confusion with the HSCA's panel of forensic pathologists, Humes, Boswell and Finck labeled a human skull to identify the location of the skull wound. In the photograph reproduced by the HSCA (V7: 114-115), the three pathologists placed the wound to the right of the EOP and just slightly below, or just slightly above the horizontal position of the EOP on the skull they themselves labeled.
David P. Osborne, MD, chief of surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital, observed and apparently helped JFK's pathologists. He claimed an occipital entrance for the fatal wound. In a letter on 4-5-90 to JFK researcher, Joanne Braun, Osborne claimed, "...a second (bullet) hit in the occipital region of the posterior skull which blew off the posterior top of the skull and impacted and disintegrated against the interior surface of the frontal bone just above the level of the eyes. I know this for a fact because I was the one who worked on his head, removing his brain and closed the skull so that he could have had an open casket funeral if so desired." (Copy of letter enclosed. Emphasis added.) Thus there is, in addition to the observations of the three operating pathologists, the recollections of another senior, experienced physician who closely observed JFK's skull and who agreed to an "occipital", not parietal, location of the skull wound.
In a recently released memo, HSCA's counsel Andy Purdy reported that he conducted an interview with Humes on August 10, 1977. Mr. Purdy reported, "Regarding the location of the entrance wound in the President's head, I asked him whether the wound was in the upper or lower part of the head. Dr. Humes said that it was in the 'lower head' area. I asked Dr. Humes about his knowledge of the Clark Panel Report. He said he knows some of the people that served on it and said his understanding is that they confirmed the essential findings of the autopsy doctors. I cited to him the Clark Panel's recitation of their determination that the autopsy doctors had miscalculated the location of the head wound by a vertical distance of approximately 100 millimeters (they said the autopsy doctors placed the wound that much lower than it really was.)(sic). Dr. Humes stated categorically that his physical measurements are correct and emphasized that he had access to the body itself and made the measurements of the actual head region. In addition, he said that photographs and X rays have inherent limitations which are not present when one is examining the subject." (Copy enclosed). (Emphasis added). Dr. Boswell echoed Humes in another recently-released, HSCA-Purdy interview. "Regarding the head wound, DR. BOSWELL (sic) said the wound was fairly low in the back of the head and that the bone was completely gone above the entry wound." (HSCA rec #180-10093-10430, file # 002071, p. 6).
Pierre Finck, MD, the only pathologist in attendance at JFK's autopsy who had credentials as a forensic pathologist has consistently maintained that JFK's skull wound was in occipital bone. In a published scientific paper he reported the bullet "perforated the occipital bone". (Finck P. A., "Ballistic and forensic pathologic aspects of missile wounds. Conversion between Anglo-American and metric-system units," Military Medicine, 1965, 130.545-569.) In a 1/25/65 letter to his superior, General Joe Blumberg, Finck stated that the "6.5 mm scalp lesion corresponded to the occipital bone lesion".
More importantly, in a recently released document from the HSCA, Finck disputed to the HSCA the higher location insisted upon by the HSCA's forensic panel. Regarding the photograph the forensic panel insisted proved a higher wound, Finck said, "...having examined the scalp myself, I don't think there is much any point (sic) in arguing about the so-called wound seen high in the scalp, above the level of the right ear...there was only one perforating of the wou...(sic) perforating wound of entry of the scalp in the back of the President's head, and that was the wound low in the photograph..."
Emphasizing his recollection of the true location of the wound as seen in the photograph, Finck went on, "What I'm referring to now is the wound in the lower lower portion of the photograph, near the hairline, and this is what corresponds to the perforating wound of the scalp, a wound of entry in the back of the head...Again, here we have to remember the differences between what you palpate with you fingers at the time of autopsy and what you see on a flat photograph, The external occipital proturberance is not clearly seen on a photograph like this, so I have to trust my measurements, my locations at the time of autopsy..." (See enclosed copy of this interview. Emphasis added throughout.)
(The HSCA has claimed that the autopsy photographs have been "authenticated and thus 'prove' JFK's skull wound was high", in defiance of the pathologists. One must allow, however, that while a photograph that shows identifiable facial features may be capable of authentication, the image showing only the rear of JFK's head cannot truly be authenticated.)
Confusingly, Humes may have reversed himself on the low skull wound location. In a second, HSCA interview Humes inexplicably appeared to back away from his previous, repeated, and unequivocal testimony that the skull wound was low near the EOP. When asked if he had changed his mind he said, "Yes, I think that I do have a different opinion... it is obvious to me as I sit here now with this his markedly enlarged drawing of the photograph that the upper defect to which you pointed or the upper object is clearly in the location of where we said approximately where it was (sic), above the external occipital protuberance, therefore, I believe that is the wound of entry. It (sic) relative position to bony structure underneath it (sic) is somewhat altered by the fact that there were fractures of the skull under this and the President's head had to be held in this position, thus making some distortion of anatomic structures to produce this picture." (HSCA - VI: 327 - emphasis added). Thus, Humes seemed to reverse his prior claims that the higher wound seen on the photographs was not a wound of entrance. His comment of "distortions of anatomic structures" in the photograph allows one, however, to believe that he may have still believed that the wound was near the EOP, but that it falsely appeared higher in the drawing-photograph. The HSCA's forensic panel, however, believed that Humes had, in fact, agreed to the higher location and concluded, "...in his (second) testimony before the select committee, Dr. Humes agreed that the defect was in fact (10 centimeters higher) in the 'cowlick' area and not in the area of the brain tissue (the low location)." (HSCA - V7: 115).
On May 27, 1992 it was reported in JAMA that Drs. Humes and Boswell gave an "exclusive" interview with a fellow former military pathologist, and personal friend, George D. Lundberg, MD (esteemed editor of JAMA), and his staff writer, Dennis Breo. (Finck was "exclusively" interviewed by Mr. Breo as noted in the 3-24/31-93 issue of JAMA.) Humes claimed that JFK's fatal entrance wound was "located 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance..."(Breo D. L., JAMA 267: 2798) Thus, Humes repudiated the higher location for JFK's fatal wound that he may have, equivocally, agreed to in his second HSCA interview. In 1992 he unequivocally stated the fatal wound was where he placed it in his 1963 autopsy report and where he described it in his Warren Commission testimony.
I asked the autopsy pathologists to resolve their contradictory testimonies regarding the skull wound location in a letter to the editor of JAMA that was published in the October 7, 1992 issue. The autopsists, in a contraversion of the cannons of scientific discourse, not only failed to answer my question on this important matter, they failed to answer a single question on many other matters put to them in six physician letters to the editor published by JAMA in both the 10-7-92 and the 3-24/31-93 issues. Such a refusal is unusual in the scientific literature to say the least. Moreover, they refused to appear with Lundberg at a May 19, 1992 press conference to answer questions before the press regarding their own historic revelations which JAMA was publishing. (See New York Times, 5-20-92 and 5-26-92).
In testimony before your committee, if my copy of the testimony is accurate, Posner reported, "I have interviewed the autopsy doctors...what is left here on the record today (the claim of Dr. Robertson that the autopsists concurred with him on a low skull wound) should not be allowed because it is not correct, which is the implication that the autopsy doctors agree with their original drawings in 1963, which were made without the benefit of the X-rays and the photographs, that they had had done at the autopsy...It was the work of that committee (HSCA) that had the two autopsy physicians changed their mind, that they had been mistaken about the placement of the wound here, and that it is in fact correctly placed four inches higher. I have spoken to them about this and they have confirmed their change of testimony that they gave before the HSCA."
Of relevance, it was reported that the pathologists would grant no further interviews in the 5-27-92, the 10-7-92, and the 3-24/31-93 issues of JAMA. Thus, unexpectedly, at least Humes has apparently changed his mind. Gerald Posner reported one interview with Humes on 11-2-92 (see Posner, G. "Case Closed", p. 300, ref. #50.) Posner made no mention in his book of an interview with any of JFK's pathologists other than Humes, so it would appear that Posner has spoken with other of JFK's pathologist(s) only since his book's manuscript was completed. Posner made no mention in his book that Humes had different opinions than JAMA reported about the location of JFK's skull wound and the autopsy diagrams. Thus Posner's claims before your committee about the autopsy pathologists' new opinions must be quite recent. They will be of great interest to the editors and readers of JAMA as well as students of the assassination.
Posner suggests that the pathologists rejected "their original drawings" from 1963. But in JAMA in 1992, Dr. Humes claimed, "...'J' (Dr. Boswell) and I worked with an artist to reconstruct drawings of the President's wounds, based upon our original measurements. These drawings are very accurate and met the purposes of the Warren Commission..." (Breo D. L. JAMA 2667:2800) (emphasis added) In addition, Posner implies that at least two of JFK's pathologists repudiated to the HSCA the sworn testimony they gave to the Warren Commission and the HSCA on the low location of the skull wound. Only Humes, however, appears to have ever possibly agreed to the higher wound location before the HSCA. I can find no record of Boswell or Finck's ever endorsing the higher location before, during or after their HSCA interviews. Finck, as I have shown, firmly disputed the higher location before the HSCA and has not to my knowledge publicly spoken on the subject until his JAMA interview in which he reaffirmed his original claims (JAMA - 10-7-92). If JFK's pathologists have given Mr. Posner new information, it is of enormous importance both historically and forensically. Posner has not made his data public before and it should not appear without corroboration by JFK's pathologists in your report. It therefore seems reasonable to request of Mr. Posner, as did Mr. James Lesar before your committee, that he make his interview with the pathologists available to your committee and the public.
Dr. Lundberg claimed his JAMA information, including direct quotes from the pathologists regarding the head wounds and autopsy diagram, met the rigorous standards of "peer review" scientific journalism. Thus JAMA's account may be considered to be more reliable than the unconfirmed hearsay of Mr. Posner regarding the autopsists' statements. Moreover, if the pathologists have felt it important to further clarify, or to radically alter, their prior scientific and sworn statements, as Posner implies, they should not deny your committee, which has duly recorded Posner's claims, or physician colleagues, the opportunity to ask them about their extraordinary and unexpected reversals. This is especially true after the pathologists have apparently made these revelations only to an author and attorney who, with all due respect, may have neither the background nor the training to truly understand the anatomical and forensic nuances and their implications. If the pathologists are truly of a different mind than they were when they wrote the autopsy report, when they gave HSCA interviews, and when they gave their views recently to JAMA's Dr. Lundberg, they should be encouraged to come forward publicly and speak to your committee. One cannot dismiss the possibility that as a non-pathologist and non-physician, Mr. Posner may have misinterpreted JFK's pathologists, and that Dr. Lundberg did not. While they are before your committee they might also, in the spirit of science and truth, address some of the other important mysteries they previously left unanswered in JAMA's letters to the editor. (Enclosed).
In sum, JFK's pathologists have for twenty nine years unanimously and repeatedly, given professional, eyewitness wound descriptions that controvert the reconstruction of the fatal wounding that is accepted by the HSCA and, apparently, by Mr. Posner. The autopsists' account of a low entrance wound for JFK's fatal skull wound is consistent however with the observations of Dr. Robertson, as well as the eyewitness account of another physician present at the autopsy, David P. Osborne, MD. This matter is far from trivial. Your willingness to help explore these questions in the position of authority you maintain is of enormous value to history and the truth. It may lead to the clarification of some of the mysteries that still surround John Kennedy's autopsy and which trouble many physicians and non-physicians alike. I wish you well and hope you are successful. If possible I would like my comments appended to the record.
Please feel free to call upon me if I can be of any assistance. I am
thoroughly acquainted with the autopsy data, the medical testimony and
related medical information in the Warren Commission and House Select
Committee on Assassinations, as well as the recent data from
AMA. I would
be happy to promptly fax you any testimony or evidence you need or help you
decipher any information you receive.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, Stanford University Medical Center
Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco
Head of Ophthalmology, Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, San Francisco
Vice Chairman, Department of Surgery, Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, San Francisco
Member, Board of Directors, San Francisco County Medical Society
Member, American Medical Association