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ARRB Medical Interviews

The Assassination Records Review Board taped several lengthy interviews as part of its effort to "clarify the medical evidence" in the mid-1990s. Whether the many stunning revelations in the interviews constitutes "clarification" will be left to the listener to determine. Interviews were conducted with the autopsy pathologists, as well as others present at the morgue in Bethesda Naval Hospital. Additional interviewees included some Parkland Hospital medical personnel, persons involved in processing or handling the autopsy photographs, and those involved in a 1966 review of the medical evidence.

For some of these recordings, transcripts are available; others have call or meeting summaries. The transcripts for those which have them can be seen on the ARRB Medical Testimony page. Another page features medical documents and exhibitscollected by the ARRB.

Autopsy Doctors

James Humes, 2 Feb 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (44:13)
Reel 1, Side 2 (34:30)
Reel 2, Side 1 (46:13)
Reel 2, Side 2 (40:15)
Reel 3, Side 1 (43:53)
Reel 3, Side 2 (43:39)
Reel 4, Side 1 (45:50)
Reel 4, Side 2 (16:16)

Commander James Humes was the lead autopsy doctor at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. In this sometimes combative interview, Humes denied a variety of allegations that had surfaced over the years, including regarding who was running the autopsy. Regarding the controversy around Humes having burned the first draft of the autopsy report at his home, Humes admitted that he had burned both his notes taken during the autopsy and the first draft of the report, and when pressed on inconsistencies responded "that's the way the cookie crumbles."

A lengthy review of the autopsy photographs and x-rays noted a few which Humes remembered having been taken but which are not present in the Archives' collection. In a letter to the ARRB appended to the transcript, Dr. Humes restated his belief that the head entry wound was low in the skull as recorded in the autopsy report, not 4 inches higher as asserted by the HSCA medical panel (and which Humes had been pressured to assent to).
J. Thorton Boswell, 26 Feb 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:11)
Reel 1, Side 2 (43:14)
Reel 2, Side 1 (43:51)
Reel 2, Side 2 (39:04)
Reel 3, Side 1 (45:56)
Reel 3, Side 2 (43:19)
Reel 4, Side 1 (39:18)
Reel 4, Side 2 (42:50)

J. Thorton Boswell was one of the three autopsy doctors for President Kennedy, along with James Humes and Pierre Finck. Unlike Dr. Humes, Boswell said there was no pressure to hurry the autopsy. Boswell reiterated his contention that the rear entrance wound was low in the skull.Though in reviewing the autopsy photographs, Boswell struggled to locate the entrance wound, repeatedly commenting on a white spot further down near the hairline. Like Humes, he remembered photos not in the Archives' collection.

Dr. Boswell also recounted his being sent by Carl Eardley of the Justice Department to New Orleans during the trial of Clay Shaw, because according to Eardley, "Pierre is testifying, and he's really lousing everything up." ARRB Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn replied "What was the United States Department of Justice doing in relationship to a case between the district attorney of New Orleans and a resident of New Orleans?"
Pierre Finck, 24 May 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (46:45)
Reel 1, Side 2 (43:53)
Reel 2, Side 1 (44:19)
Reel 2, Side 2 (42:04)
Reel 3, Side 1 (28:40)

Pierre Finck was head of the tiny Wound Ballistics Pathology Branch of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 1963, and was brought in to aid in the autopsy at Bethesda. The interview's constant refrain of "I don't recall" began right away with a failure to establish how many autopsies involving missile wounds Finck had been involved in prior to the JFK autopsy. Finck did remember taking notes at the autopsy, which have since disappeared.

He reviewed the autopsy photographs and x-rays, and was questioned about his trip to New Orleans to testify at the trial of Clay Shaw. Given the opportunity to make a statement at the end, Dr. Finck stated that he was 72 years old and his memory failures were not indicative of "something to hide."

Autopsy Participants & Observers

John Stringer, 16 Jul 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (45:48)
Reel 1, Side 2 (42:43)
Reel 2, Side 1 (45:14)
Reel 2, Side 2 (37:20)
Reel 3, Side 1 (44:10)
Reel 3, Side 2 (42:33)
Reel 4 (2:41)

John Stringer is the photographer of record at the autopsy of President Kennedy, and took pictures at a supplementary brain exam days later. He was assisted by Floyd Riebe. Stringer was never interviewed by the Warren Commission, and his brief HSCA interview was among those materials apparently not made available to the HSCA's medical panel.

In this deposition taken by the Assassination Records Review Board in 1996, Stringer was played an audiotape of himself telling researcher David Lifton in 1972 with certainty that JFK had a large wound in the occipital (rear) region of the head. Stringer told the ARRB in 1992 that this was not the case. Later in the interview, Stringer disavowed the brain photographers which were supposedly taken by him. He gave several detailed reasons why the photos in the National Archives of the brain were not those he took.
Floyd Riebe, 7 May 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (46:58)
Reel 1, Side 2 (11:57)

Floyd Riebe assisted John Stringer in the taking of photographs at the autopsy of President Kennedy. Riebe told the ARRB that around 100 black-and-white photographs were taken with a press pack. No press pack photographs are present in the official collection of autopsy photos, which also contains far fewer photographs than that number. Riebe apparently was the one who took the "120" film which was pulled from the camera by a Secret Service agent, the images of which were partially restored by the ARRB's efforts.

Riebe remembered a large occipital wound, saying "the right side in the back was gone," but when shown autopsy photographs he said "I just didn't remember it properly."

There is a technical problem with the second tape, which starts to speed up partway through and continues to accelerate to the end of the tape. It is not known whether this problem exists with the original recording or only with the reference copy used. See the transcript for the final portion of the interview.
James Sibert, 11 Sep 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (41:59)
Reel 1, Side 2 (39:08)
Reel 2, Side 1 (42:45)
Reel 2, Side 2 (38:40)
Reel 3, Side 1 (41:13)
Reel 3, Side 2 (2:58)

FBI agent James Sibert and his partner Francis O'Neill Jr. were present at the autopsy on behalf of the FBI. They wrote a report of the autopsy on which the FBI report was based, and which is at odds with the autopsy report given the Warren Commission. Sibert and O'Neill were privately interviewed by staffers of the Warren Commission and HSCA, but testified before neither body.

Like several other autopsy witnesses, Sibert "kept an interest in books on the subject" and was well aware of David Lifton. The interview covered Sibert's recollections of the travel from Andrews to Bethesda and the unloading of the casket. Sibert was also asked about statements in the report he and O'Neill created, including regarding Dr. Humes' statement about "surgery to the head" and a receipt for a "missile." When shown an autopsy photo of the back of Kennedy's head, Sibert said "I don't have a recollection of it being that intact."

Sibert vigorously disputed Arlen Specter's memo in which Specter said Sibert "advised that he made no notes during the autopsy." Regarding the many discrepancies between his report and the official autopsy report, Sibert summarized "what it boils down to, you had two autopsy reports."
Francis X. O'Neill Jr., 12 Sep 1997

Reel 1 (43:15)
Reel 2 (42:47)
Reel 3 (42:26)

FBI agent Francis O'Neill Jr. and his partner James Sibert were present at the autopsy on behalf of the FBI. They wrote a report of the autopsy on which the FBI report was based, and which is at odds with the autopsy report given the Warren Commission. Sibert and O'Neill were privately interviewed by staffers of the Warren Commission and HSCA, but testified before neither body.

This ARRB deposition covers several areas, including Sibert and O'Neill's treatment by the Warren Commission's Arlen Specter, the FBI pair's arrival at and witnessing of the autopsy, their later reporting on it, and general observations, including reaction to the autopsy photographs and X-rays. O'Neill told the ARRB that the photographs of the back of the head looked to have been "doctored," and that the brain photographs didn't match his recollection. "It looks like a complete brain," O'Neill remarked upon seeing the photographs.
Jerrol Custer, 28 Oct 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (45:52)
Reel 1, Side 2 (43:09)
Reel 2, Side 1 (41:55)
Reel 2, Side 2 (40:25)
Reel 3, Side 1 (43:50)
Reel 3, Side 2 (5:02)

Bethesda X-ray technician Jerrol Custer and his assistant Edward Reed took the X-rays at the autopsy of President Kennedy, under the supervision of Chief of Radiology John Ebersole, who was also present. Custer discussed his recollections of the autopsy, which included several interesting stories and observations. He also verified the Archives' X-rays as those taken by him, though he remembered taking three in particular that were missing from the collection.

Custer told ARRB Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn that he had already taken X-rays by the time he saw Jackie Kennedy enter Bethesda Naval Hospital. He also told of a conversation he overheard the following day, in which Ebersole told a Dr. Lloyd Brown that "certain pertinent things were taken care of" with regard to the X-rays. Custer expressed sharp disdain for Ebersole, and disputed several aspects of Ebersole's testimony before the HSCA.
Edward Reed, 21 Oct 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (45:07)
Reel 1, Side 2 (40:48)

Edward Reed was an X-ray technician at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and along with Jerroll Custer took X-rays at the autopsy of President Kennedy. He described removing Kennedy's body from a stainless steel casket; not the ceremonial casket from Dallas. He described a large would in the "temporal parietal" region of JFK's head; not the rear, in contradiction to what he had told the HSCA. Reed reviewed the autopsy X-rays and photos, and exhibited some difficulties with them, disputing in some cases that they represented what he remembered seeing. Reed strangely ended the interview by reiterating that the head would was not occipital.

Those Involved in Processing/Handling Autopsy Photographs

Saundra Kay Spencer, 5 Jun 1997

Reel 1 (Phone Interview, 27:25)
Reel 2 (30:09)
Reel 3, Side 1 (30:55)
Reel 3, Side 2 (29:21)

Saundra Kay Spencer developed photographs from the autopsy of President Kennedy on the weekend following the assassination. She worked at the Naval Photographic Center in Anacostia, in the "White House lab." Her liaison to the White House was Robert Knudsen, and she worked with Vince Madonia. Ms. Spencer, never before interviewed in association with this case, was shown the autopsy photographs held in the National Archives. She told ARRB Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn that those photographs were not the ones she developed, based both on the content of the pictures (hers were "clean" and unbloody) and the type of film used (color positives as opposed to color transparencies). She appears to have processed photos which were taken after cleanup of the body, but these photos are not to be found in the official record nor the public domain.

The first segment is a phone interview prior to the deposition. The remaining three are successive segments of the deposition, listed in sequential order (despite the confusing tape reel/side names). The last tape begins with 7 minutes of silence, recorded while Ms. Spencer examined autopsy photographs.
Vincent Madonia, 22 Nov 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:46)
Reel 1, Side 2 (48:00)
Reel 2, Side 1 (30:42)

call and meeting reports
Vince Madonia worked as a supervisor at the Naval Photographic Center at Anacostia, and supplied the name of Saundra Spencer as someone who was involved in processing autopsy photographs during the weekend after the assassination. Madonia supervised that effort, though he purposefully did not study the photos being developed. His memory of what type of film his group processed differs from what is in the record. Madonia noted that there was a separate "White House Lab" at NPC; the Secret Service also had its own lab.

Madonia also remembered White House photographers including Robert Knudsen, whom he remembered seeing that weekend. Madonia reviewed documents regarding Knudsen's possible involvement in taking and developing autopsy photographs, including Knuden's HSCA deposition, and did not dispute Knudsen's account though neither could he recall any specifics.

Parkland Hospital Personnel

Parkland Physicians, 27 Aug 1998

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:17)
Reel 1, Side 2 (47:17)
Reel 2, Side 1 (23:44)

This group interview of Parkland Hospital physicians included Charles Baxter, Ronald Jones, Robert McClelland, Malcolm Perry, and Paul Peters. The group format was somewhat limiting, and the interview was further hampered by the fact that autopsy photographs were not shown to the group. This is especially unfortunate given the well-known discrepancies between the doctors' reporting of the nature of the wounds vs. that described in the autopsy report. There were other missed opportunities in interview, for example the alleged treatment of Dr. Perry by a secret service agent, and the year-earlier interview of Nurse Audrey Bell regarding the timing of communication with Bethesda during the autopsy.

Some of the doctors repeated their memories of a large occipital wound, and Dr. Peters discussed the damage to the cerebellum at some length, including an interesting anecdote involving Dr. Lattimer and FBI Director Hoover. But the group setting was not conducive to detailed review of the evidence.
Charles Crenshaw, 19 Mar 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:22)
Reel 1, Side 2 (35:46)

meeting report
Dr. Charles Crenshaw was present during lifesaving treatment of President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, but was never interviewed by the Warren Commission or the HSCA. In 1992, he went public with his recollections on ABC and co-authored a book.

Crenshaw related his memories to the ARRB of seeing the throat wound just prior to Dr. Perry performing a tracheostomy. He also described a large right-rear head wound, and saw cerebellar tissue extruding from the wound. He marked skull and brain drawings which are appended to the meeting report.
Robert Grossman, 21 Mar 1997

Audio (32:40)

meeting report
Dr. Robert Grossman, like Dr. Crenshaw, was present during lifesaving treatment of President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, but was never interviewed by the Warren Commission or the HSCA.

Grossman saw the head wound alongside Dr. Kemp Clark. and he described what he saw for the ARRB. His recollection of two wounds in the rear, one smaller one near the EOP and a large area of broken parietal bone, differs somewhat from other Dallas physicians' descriptions of the rear head wound. Grossman marked skull and brain drawings for the ARRB, appended to the meeting report.
Audrey Bell, 20 Mar 1997

Side 1 (47:41)
Side 2 (35:40)

report of interview
Nurse Audrey Bell was the Parkland Hospital Supervisor of Operating and Recovery Rooms in 1963. In the course of her work on November 22, 1963, she had an opportunity to view President Kennedy's wounds. She also participated in the surgery on Governor Connally.

Nurse Bell described Kennedy's head wound as occipital, in the right posterior portion of the head. She did not see his throat wound. She recalled receiving "three to five fragments, perhaps four" from the body of Governor Connally, more than are currently in evidence. She viewed the Warren Commission photograph of these fragments and said that they were too small. According to ARRB staff member Doug Horne, Nurse Bell drew pictures of the fragments as she remembered them, but ARRB Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn refused to take her drawing into evidence.

Audrey Bell also recalled phone calls from Bethesda to Dr. Perry on Friday night, not Saturday morning as reported by the autopsy doctors to the Warren Commission. This recollection, corroborated by Dr. John Ebersole's formerly-secret HSCA testimony among others, would if true cast grave doubt on the honesty of the reporting about the autopsy findings, and make all the more suspicious the fact that the neck was not dissected to track the bullet path.

Other Interviews Conducted by the ARRB

Donald A. ("Andy") Purdy, 18 Jan 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:54)
Reel 1, Side 2 (30:24)

No transcript available.
Donald A. "Andy" Purdy was a staff member for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Purdy, along with fellow staffer Mark Flanagan, conducted most of the medical interviews for the HSCA. Only the three autopsy doctors and radiologist John Ebersole appear to have been interviewed directly by the HSCA's nine-member medical panel. Further, as Purdy lamented in this interview, the interviews with witnesses who did not corroborate the HSCA's medical findings were not included in the published reports. Purdy also discussed with the ARRB staffers the details of the HSCA search for JFK's missing brain, and gave his overall opinions on the case.
Knudsen Family, 10 May 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:57)
Reel 1, Side 2 (48:12)
Reel 2 (12:45)

call and meeting reports
Gloria Knudsen is the wife of former White House photographer Robert Knudsen, who passed away in 1989. Robert Knudsen had been interviewed by the HSCA in 1978; in that interview he told of his role in developing the autopsy photographs and his adamant recollection that he had seen at least one photo with metal probes through the body.

Mrs. Knudsen, along with her children Terri and Bob, told what Robert Knudsen had related to them about his role in the events surrounding the assassination. This included their recollection that Knudsen had not only been involved in developing autopsy pictures, he had also photographed the autopsy. Mr. Knudsen had also told his family about the probes through the body, and said that photographs now in evidence included some which were altered.

The family also described Knudsen's consternation over never having received a copy of the transcript of his HSCA testimony, though the ARRB showed them a signature page and the family agreed that it was Robert's signature. The audiotape of the HSCA interview would be a natural place to go to verify the accuracy of the transcript. Unfortunately, the tape of that interview does not include Knudsen's voice. Instead, it sounds like the voice of a stenographer transcribing the interview as it occurred, though that is difficult to discern with certainty. Furthermore, parts of the tape are overwritten with unrelated audio material.
Richard Davis, 5 Mar 1997

Audio (19:17)

phone interview report
Dr. Richard Davis was not present at the Bethesda autopsy; he said he also was not present at the supplemental brain exam (even though Dr. Boswell remembered him being there, but Davis said "I never saw President Kennedy's brain"). But he was Director of Neuropathology at the Air Force Institute of Pathology in 1963. In this recorded telephone interview, he said had seen the autopsy logbook including JFK's entry, and described for the ARRB the standard procedures for supplemental brain exams. He discussed procedures for "fixing" the brain and said it was was adamant about the need to section the brain during such an exam.
Joe O'Donnell, 28 Feb 1997

Audio (47:24)

phone interview report
Joe O'Donnell was a USIA photographer working at the White House who knew Robert Knudsen. In this phone interview, O'Donnell made a variety of statements, some of which are difficult to credit, though his demeanor was calm and his recollections clear.

In World War II, O'Donnell took combat photography, and said he photographed Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the ground following their destruction by atomic bombs. In the aftermath of the assassination, O'Donnell said he talked to Jackie Kennedy at Andrews Air Force Base, giving her the idea of Arlington as a burial site. He also said he gave her a private showing of the Zapruder film, and then at her instruction removed some 10 feet of footage from the (original) film.

O'Donnell also said that in the weeks following the assassination, Robert Knudsen showed him autopsy photos of JFK. These included black-and-white prints showing a large rear head wound and an apparent entrance wound above the right eye, and a later set where those wounds were no longer visible.
Carl Belcher, 22 Oct 1996

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:52)
Reel 2, Side 2 (34:42)

call and meeting reports
Carl Belcher was a Justice Department official in 1966 when he participated in a review of autopsy photographs and other materials conducted with the Drs. Humes and Boswell, as well as John Ebersole, John Stringer, and the Archivist and Deputy Archivist. The ARRB contacted Mr. Belcher to discuss this event; a memo of that phone call describes his hostility and belligerence during that initial contact.

In a subsequent in-person meeting, the ARRB reviewed his participation in some detail, including showing him a draft inventory and a later signed inventory which differs in curious ways. He did not remember any discussion of missing autopsy photos. Belcher's memory of these events was poor, though he specifically disputed ever visiting Dr. Humes at Bethesda, as recorded in an 11/22/66 memo to file under his name (but unsigned).
James Rhoads, 10 Mar 1997

Reel 1, Side 1 (47:05)
Reel 2, Side 2 (14:55)

call report
James Rhoads was Deputy Archivist of the U.S., and as he told the ARRB, "I was the point man in the National Archives for the Warren Commission records and the autopsy materials." He was present when RFK's secretary Angie Novello delivered a footlocker of autopsy materials to the Archives on Oct 31, 1966, and he was also present for the military inventory of autopsy photos and x-rays conducted with Dr. Humes and others the following day.

Mr. Rhoads remembered that items were noted to be missing from the footlocker when opened. He also remembered participating in the inventory of the following day. But he did not know why signatories were dropped between a draft and the later signed inventory (including his own name), and did not remember even ever seeing the signed inventory.

Donated Interviews Conducted by Private Researchers

John Ebersole, 2 Dec 1992
Interview conducted by Dr. David Mantik

Audio (13:04)

No transcript available.
This phone interview with Acting Chief of Radiology John Ebersole, present during the autopsy, was recorded in 1992. Ebersole died prior to the ARRB's tenure. Dr. David Mantik, who conducted the interview, donated the recording to the National Archives. Mantik's work has included an analysis of the Kennedy X-rays, in particular a 6.5mm circular object appearing on the anterior-posterior X-ray, which Mantik believes to be a forgery. When he raised the issue of this object on the X-ray in this interview, Ebersole hung up the phone.

Thanks to Steve Kossor for providing some of these interviews.

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