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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 (not yet available here), as well as others present at the morgue in Bethesda Naval Hospital. Additional interviewees included some Parkland Hospital medical personnel and persons involved in processing or handling the autopsy photographs.

For some of these recordings, transcripts are available. The set of interviews on this page is only a portion of those available at the National Archives. For additional interviews available only in transcript form, see ARRB Medical Testimony.

Autopsy Participants

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.
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. Loy 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.

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.

Parkland Hospital Personnel

Audrey Bell, 20 Mar 1997

Side 1 (47:41)
Side 2 (35:40)
No transcript available.
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

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

Side 1 (47:54)
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)
No transcript available.
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.
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.

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