Body Alteration?

Casket being unloaded into hearse from Air Force One, at Andrews Air Force Base on the evening of 22 Nov 1963.
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.



The State of the Medical Evidence in the JFK Assassination, by Joe Backes.

John F. Kennedy's Fatal Wounds: The Witnesses and the Interpretations from 1963 to the Present, by Gary Aguilar, MD.

Body Snatchers at Love Field?, by Joel Grant.

A Visit to SAM 26000, by James Sawa.

The Body Switch: A Parkland Scenario, by Jerry D. Rose.

Could Kennedy's Body Have Been Stolen From Parkland Hospital?, by Joel Wagoner.

Paul O'Connor and Dennis David: Two important witnesses never questioned by the Warren Commission, by Kim Reinholt.

New Interview with James Jenkins on JFK's Autopsy, by Charles Drago.

Other Links

David Lifton's blog.



ARRB Staff Memos (by Doug Horne):

ARRB Medical Testimony & Interviews:

ARRB Medical Interviews:

HSCA Medical Interviews:

ARRB Medical Documents (Exhibits):

  • MD 44. Sibert and O'Neill Report on the Autopsy (11/26/63)--"Gemberling Version".
  • MD 84. Transcript of Selected Excerpts from MD 83 (Lifton Interviews of John Stringer).
  • MD 163. Cover Sheet Titled: "Joint Casket Bearer Team" (unsigned and undated) containing time line of events, with report titled "After Action Report, Joint Casket Team--State Funeral, ...
  • MD 192. Letter of Silence from CAPT R.O. Canada (Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda) to Edward F. Reed dated 26 November, 1963.
  • MD 193. Letter from Surgeon General of the Navy W. P. Arentzen to Edward F. Reed dated 13 March, 1978 Which Rescinds 26 November, 1963 Letter of Silence.
  • MD 201. Drawing of 1963 Bethesda Morgue Apparently Prepared by Paul O'Connor in 1992, and Annotated by Jerrol Custer At His October 28, 1997 ARRB Deposition.

Related Starting Points


William Law, author of In the Eye of History
William Law, author of In the Eye of History, discusses FBI agent Jim Sibert's recollections about the entry of the JFK casket into Bethesda.
play video (running time: 5:01)

Photos of the boarding of Air Force One in Dallas.

Photos of LBJ's swearing in ceremony about Air Force One.

Photos of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Bases.

HSCA Medical Interviews. See particularly the interview of Richard Lipsey, the man in charge of moving JFK's body from Andrews to Bethesda. Listen to the excerpt in which he described the "decoy hearse" (running time: 4:16).

Air Force One Transmissions. The (edited) audio transmissions to and from Air Force One include discussion of preparation for a forklift to be brought to the right side of the airplane.

Books of Interest

    Best Evidence
David S. Lifton
Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc., 1988
    In the Eye of History: Bethesda Hospital Medical Evidence in the JFK Assassination
William Law
JFK Lancer Productions & Publications, 2004
    Reasonable Doubt
Henry Hurt
Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1985
    High Treason 2
Harrison Edward Livingstone
Carroll & Graf, 1992
    Truth vs. Political Truth (essays for a work in progress)
Raymond Marcus
Self-published, 2001
    Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination from a Historian's Perspective
Michael L. Kurtz
University of Tennessee Press, 1982

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