Electronic Assassinations Newsletter

Issue #2 New Discoveries in the Recently Released Assassination Files


History Repeats Itself: The House Select Committee on Assassinations

by Martin Shackelford (mshack@juno.com)
Part Six of a Series
Special to Review Magazine

This is the sixth in a series of articles which offer a glimpse into the information revealed in documents released under the JFK Assassination Records Act, and its creation, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).

Attempts to reopen the JFK assassination case in the mid-1960s led only to the New Orleans investigation of District Attorney Jim Garrison, in which the CIA planted as many as nine people. The House Committee staff said one, Bernardo de Torres, had a safe deposit box with unpublished photos "taken during the assassination of JFK."

Ironically, the CIA and Israel's Mossad were both using JFK assassination films for training, predicated on a multiple-assassin scenario.

In 1966, the New York Times appealed to Kennedy family attorney Burke Marshall to allow non-government pathologists to examine the JFK autopsy photographs and X-rays, but he refused for another five years. Actually, the Kennedy family never owned the photos and X-rays; the November 1966 agreement simply allowed the government to recover possession without suing the family, as a Secret Service memorandum acknowledges.

Attorney General Ramsey Clark's 1968 panel of pathologists reviewed the autopsy materials, helping to avoid a fuller investigation. The National Archives, attempting to resolve questions about the materials, approached James Rowley, JFK's Secret Service chief, and was startled by Rowley's "flat refusal to discuss anything to do with it. "Archives representative Harry Van Cleve "got the impression there were shenanigans going on and no one wanted to talk about it."

When a medical expert on the case, Dr. John Nichols, testified for Garrison in 1969, it was CIA superspook James Angleton who profiled him for the FBI.

Finally, in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations was created. Chief counsel G. Robert Blakey was described by assistant Bill Triplett: "Unless you had an Italian last name and a record, he wasn't interested in you." Organized crime expert Blakey concluded the Mob killed Kennedy.

Much new information was released in the Committee volumes, as was the case with the Warren Commission. Researchers spent many years studying this information, and realized that much more had been buried in the classified files. Robert Tannenbaum, the Committee's first deputy counsel, recently testified that they had photographs of Oswald with David Ferrie and Clay Shaw.

Asked about the Dallas anti-Castro group DRE, the CIA's E. Howard Hunt blurted out: "Dave Phillips ran that." It was another piece linking Phillips to activities around Oswald before the assassination. A 1976 letter from the Senate Intelligence Committee to the CIA's Scott Breckinridge shows that he was allowed to delete from the Committee's report CIA support of the DRE, JURE and the 30th November Movement, all anti-Castro groups.


The Kennedy autopsy photographs were specifically exempted from the Records Act, and remain the source of numerous questions. What have been released are the previously classified transcripts of House Committee interviews with many medical witnesses, as well as related documents.

All three autopsy doctors were reinterviewed last Spring by the Review Board staff, and those transcripts will soon be released. Amazingly, the Navy gag order on all involved Bethesda medical personnel wasn't lifted until March 1978, after many of the House Committee medical interviews! Interviews conducted following the order's lifting are among the most revealing.

From these records, it is clear that some of the original autopsy photographs, and possibly one X-ray are not in the current collection in the Archives. James Fox, a Secret Service agent involved in their handling back in 1963, alleged that some photographs were burned by his boss, Robert Bouck.

The latest interview to be released is that of White House photographer Robert Knudsen, who developed some of the autopsy photos at the Navy's National Photographic Center. He insisted that he made, not the two sets currently accounted for, but seven sets of the photos after developing them on November 23, 1963. One set, he reported, was given to Ted Kennedy, others to the Attorney General, National Archives and Secret Service. He referred to Secret Service agent "Roy Kellerman [who was in the limousine], who had taken over handling everything at that point," meaning the autopsy photos.

Knudsen said one photo showed metal probes through the wound tracks: one from an entrance wound in the front of the throat to an exitwound in the base of the rear neck; another entering six or seven inches down in the back (military aide Richard Lipsey, who attended the autopsy, also reported two wounds in the area of the lower neck; interview notes indicate he firmly stated "that JFK was shot three times" from behind). Another photo showed a wound in the right rear head. Neither is in the current collection.

Shown the current photographs, their photographer, Thomas Stringer, questioned their authenticity. The back of the head photograph drew skepticism from autopsy radiologist Dr. John Ebersole. Drawings by witnesses place the large exit wound in the right rear of the head, not in the forward side area.

The counter-argument has been that two autopsy doctors examined the photos in November 1966, and a third in January 1967, and signed a statement of authenticity. We now know that the statement was prepared by the Justice Department before the doctors examined the photographs, and they simply signed what they were handed after the examination.

In 1977, Burke Marshall told the House Committee he would allow reproduction of the JFK photos and X-rays "only for the purpose of their being viewed by forensic pathologists and Committee staff members...and that he had permitted no other uses," and that "all copies of the photographs and X-rays were to be returned to the Archives."

He was thus telling the Committee it could only look at key evidence under his conditions, and not retain even copies in their investigative files! Few witnesses were allowed to examine original photographs, but only copies, involving loss of detail, and quality. Knudsen noted that the color was "off."

Chief autopsy doctor, James Humes, made an odd statement to the Committee: "We had gotten ourselves in dutch with the neck and throat wounds with regard to the Secret Service." He wasn't asked to explain.

Humes told the Warren Commission he wasn't aware of the wound in the front of JFK's neck until the following day, but the newly released testimony reveals there were phone calls that afternoon and evening between Bethesda Naval Hospital and Parkland in Dallas, according to Dr. Ebersole and others. The classified testimony of Humes' assistant, Dr. James Boswell, indicates he was aware of the throat wound during the autopsy.

Not everything made it to Washington, however. Bullet fragments from Gov. John Connally's wounds were given by nurse Audrey Bell to the Secret Service, after which they disappeared from the publicly acknowledged evidence. In her HSCA interview, she describes in detail how she placed the fragments in a one-ounce medicine glass, then sealed it in a carefully labeled "foreign body" envelope before handing it to Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels.

The original "stretcher bullet," also given to the Secret Service, was not rounded but possibly pointed, Darrell Tomlinson stated; O.P. Wright, the man he handed it to, said it was definitely pointed. They were ignored, but now we have the corroborating HSCA interview of Nathan Pool, who actually found it and gave it to Tomlinson: "long, pointed and smooth." A large skull fragment, seen in the limousine at Parkland by Secret Service agent Clint Hill, and recovered from the car on the flight back to Washington by his colleague Sam Kinney, disappeared from the record after Kinney turned it in.

Boswell told the Committee the autopsy was supervised by JFK's personal physician, Admiral George Burkley, not a pathologist, who opposed a full autopsy: "all we need is the bullet." New evidence suggests he received instructions from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, upstairs in the hospital with the Kennedy family. Some Bethesda witnesses had indicated a whole bullet was found during the autopsy, unmentioned in the report; more witnesses said this in now-released testimony.

Admiral Burkley's classified statement included a reference to "the shot to the head, or possibly two." This is reinforced by references to a still-classified report by the House Committee's trajectory expert, Thomas Canning, contradicting the version of the bullet trajectory published by the Committee.

The third autopsy doctor, Pierre Finck, testified that Bethesda's Commander, Admiral Calvin Galloway, "personally ordered changes in the autopsy report after it was drafted." Finck's own autopsy notes, mentioned in his testimony, have not yet been produced. In the medical evidence, we can expect even more surprises.

In the final article of the series, we will explore more recent developments.

Return to Table of Contents

Return to Home Page