Casket being unloaded into hearse from Air Force One, at Andrews Air Force Base on the evening of 22 Nov 1963.
In 1980, David Lifton's Best Evidence was published, and it explained the discrepancy between medical reporting at Parkland and Bethesda with a stunning theory: the President's body had been altered in transit.
Lifton's "body alteration" theory was hardly invented out of whole cloth. Lifton noticed the FBI report of the autopsy, withheld from the Warren Commission 26 volumes, which stated that "surgery to the head area" was noted when JFK's body was taken from its wrapping. Lifton also talked to several autopsy participants and other Navy corpsmen - Paul O'Connor, James Jenkins, Dennis David, James Metzler, Richard Lipsey, and others - whose accounts gave rise to Lifton's conclusion that there were two entries of different caskets into the morgue. Some autopsy participants described the body arriving in a shipping casket, not the ceremonial casket brought from Dallas.
Lifton has been ridiculed by many in the mainstream, though his bestseller has not been ignored - Case Closed author Gerald Posner spent nearly a chapter of his book refuting the theory. But even many of those who believe in a conspiracy and federal coverup doubt the body alteration thesis, on the basis of the lack of time to perform any complex surgery, and the problem of whether the casket was ever left unattended on Air Force One.
Some of the explanatory power of the theory has diminished after the release of HSCA medical interviews showing that, despite pronouncements to the contrary, many Bethesda autopsy witnesses described the head wounds in a manner somewhat consistent with the accounts from Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Still, the evidence for two ambulances and two caskets will not go away. Military chatter aboard Air Force One made repeated reference to the need for a forklift to be brought to the right front of the plane, where the "first lady" would depart. But Mrs. Kennedy left the plane with everyone else from the left rear.
More stunning was the HSCA's suppressed interview with Richard Lipsey, the military aide put in charge of moving the body from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda. In 1978, Lipsey told HSCA interviewers that there had been two hearses and two caskets. According to Lipsey, Jackie Kennedy accompanied an empty casket into the front of the hospital, while "the one with the body in it went around to the back, where the morgue was." The HSCA appears not to have made any effort to follow up this explosive story.
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