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The Missing Physician

George Burkley, Assistant White House Physician at the time of this photo. He became JFK's personal physician in July 1963.
George Burkley, Assistant White House Physician at the time of this photo. He became JFK's personal physician in July 1963.

The Warren Commission was faced with contradictions in the medical evidence. The Parkland Hospital doctors who treated the mortally wounded President described an entrance wound in the throat and a large occipital (rearward) wound in Kennedy's head. The autopsy doctors declared the throat wound to be one of exit, and drawings they produced of Kennedy's head wound showed it to be largely on the right side. At issue in these varying descriptions is whether shots came from the front or the rear.

One man was best suited to address these conflicting accounts - the President's personal physician Dr. George Burkley. Burkley rode in the Dallas motorcade, was present at Parkland Hospital, rode Air Force One to Washington with the body, and was present at the autopsy, by some accounts running it. He signed the White House Death Certificate, wrote "verified" on a "face sheet" created during the autopsy, and took physical possession of JFK's brain and tissue slides.

The Warren Commission never interviewed him.

Though Burkley was continually mentioned by other Commission witnesses, the only statements from the doctor himself to appear in the Warren Commission's 26 volumes is CE 1126, a report Burkley wrote 2 days before the Commission was announced.

In 1976, Burkley's lawyer William Illig contacted Richard Sprague of the HSCA, saying that his client had information that "others besides Oswald must have participated." Sprague was ousted days later, and the reconstituted HSCA and its medical panel never took Burkley's testimony. Instead, a short phone contact the following year was followed up yet months later, when the HSCA was done with all its public medical presentations, with an strange affidavit signed by Burkley. The affidavit, in which Burkley attested to his constant presence with Kennedy's body from Parkland Hospital on, seemed almost solely devoted to refuting David Lifton's as yet-unpublished Best Evidence.

The ARRB in the mid 1990s contacted the family of the now-deceased Burkley, and initially received verbal permission to obtain the lawyer Illig's files. But Burkley's daughter subsequently changed her mind and in the end declined to sign the necessary waiver.

Questions abound about Burkley's handling of the now-missing brain of JFK, his role at the autopsy, and his involvement in the 1965 transfer of autopsy materials into the Kennedy family's hands. Did the Warren Commission and HSCA avoid Burkley because they were afraid of what he would say? In a 1967 oral history, Burkley was asked whether he agreed with the Warren Commission's view on the number of shots. Burkley's reply: "I would not care to be quoted on that."



The Third Wound, by Milicent Cranor.

Paul O'Connor and Dennis David: Two Important Witnesses Never Questioned by the Warren Commission, by Kim Reinholt.

Kennedy Transport Coffin Sunk at Sea, by JFK Lancer.

Other Links

Memo to File of HSCA Chief Counsel Richard Sprague of 18 Mar 1977, recording contact from William F. Illig, attorney representing George G. Burkley. Illig noted that Burkley "had never been interviewed and that he has information in the Kennedy assassination indicating that others besides Oswald must have participated."

George Gregory Burkley on Arlington National Cemetery website.

Mary Ferrell Database


ARRB Staff Memos (by Doug Horne):


Documents (cont.)

Documents Relating to the Disposition of the Kennedy Cermonial Casket. Released by the National Archives in 1999.

HSCA Medical Panel Report (Volume VII), p.23. Section III. Chain of Custody of the Materials Acquired During the Autopsy.

ARRB Medical Documents:

  • MD 1. Autopsy Descriptive Sheet (commonly called "Face Sheet") (dated 11/22/63).
  • MD 6. White House Death Certificate (Burkley - 11/23/63).
  • MD 53. Receipt for Original and Six Copies of Protocol Signed by Burkley (11/24/63). See also MD 52 and MD 54.
  • MD 48. Burkley Report on Events of Assassination (11/27/63) (this is also in Commission Exhibit 1126).
  • MD 70. Inventory and Receipt for JFK Autopsy Materials Transferred from Vice Admiral George Burkley to Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln at the National Archives on April 26, 1965.
  • MD 111. 2 Page Document Titled: "Inspection of Materials Relating to the Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy, The National Archives," signed on Various Dates in November, 1966... See also MD 109.
  • MD 112. Deed-of-Gift Letter from Burke Marshall (Kennedy Family Attorney) to Lawson B. Knott, Jr. (Administrator of General Services) dated October 29, 1966.
  • MD 67. JFK Library Oral History Interview with Admiral George Burkley, USN (dated October 17, 1967).
  • MD 19. HSCA Interview Report of Burkley of 8/10/77 (3-pg portion of larger document).
  • MD 128. HSCA Interview Report of Interview of Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln dated July 5, 1978.
  • MD 250. ARRB Call Report of 10/02/96 Interview of Isabel Starling (daughter of George G. Burkley). See other family members call reports: MD 251, MD 252, and MD 253.

Related Starting Points


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.

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