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Saturday, 02 May 2020 23:17

The 3 Faces of Dr. Humes

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Tim Smith surveys the sworn testimony of Dr. James Humes across three governmental investigations and exposes the contradictions, inconsistencies, and evasions with respect to the facts of the autopsy performed on JFK at the Bethesda morgue.


Warren Commission

The autopsy on President John F. Kennedy is certainly one of the most controversial aspects—if not THE most controversial aspect—of the assassination. It has spawned the most bizarre theories, some of which are beyond ridiculous, others are outright obscene, yet some researchers’ conclusions are probably closer to reality than the actual autopsy protocol. What I propose to do is to take a look at the record of Commander Dr. James Joseph Humes, the lead autopsy doctor on the evening of November 22, 1963. We will cover his testimony before the Warren Commission, House Select Committee on Assassinations, and the Assassination Records and Review Board.

Dr. Humes testified before the Warren Commission in 1964, the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, and the Assassination Records Review Board in 1996. These three different interrogations deserve examination. Many questions have loomed—and still remain—as to what really happened during the evening of November 22, 1963. Humes was the head autopsy doctor that night. To quote Al Smith, “Let’s take a look at the record.” Our decisions about believing him will rest largely on his testimony, correlated with other data we have assimilated over the years.

On March 16, 1964, Dr. Humes appeared before the Warren Commission with Arlen Specter, the Commission’s designated medical attorney, handling most of the inquiry. Commander Humes stated that “the body [of President Kennedy] was received at 25 minutes before 8 and the autopsy began at approximately 8:00 p.m. on that evening” (2H 349). Early in the questioning, Dr. Humes mentions that all of the autopsy photos were not taken at the same time, but “were made as the need became apparent to make such” (2H 349).[1] This point will come up again during his ARRB deposition. The photos made before the proceedings began were, as Humes stated, “the face of the President, the massive head wound and the large defect associated with it. He mentions 15-20 being made before these proceedings finished. This number seems low, especially when there was litigation in 1993 to have 257 photos and x-rays released.[2] The point is that Humes indicated the autopsy photos were not all taken at once, but throughout the procedure as the need arose. Specter asked Dr. Humes to dilate on the neck wound, which really means the back wound, which was five and three-eighths inches down from the top of the shirt and coat collars.[3] There never was or will be a neck wound in the back. This needs to be settled once and for all. Whether you agree with Admiral Burkley’s assertion on the death certificate, or just look at the autopsy pictures, President Kennedy was shot in the back, not the neck. This is important for the sake of accuracy: the Gerald Ford revelation about changing the language in the Warren Report from “back” to “back of neck,” which he confessed to doing “for the sake of clarity,” was, in fact, a key element in salvaging the Single Bullet Theory, which is the foundational point for the government’s case against Oswald, and also for there being only one shooter firing that fateful day. Specter then asked if it would have helped to have the photos and x-rays, to which Humes responded that it might be helpful. Specter follows this up with a rather memorable observation: “Is taking photos and x-rays routine or something out of the ordinary?” (2H 350). Having Harold Rydberg execute medical illustrations for the Commission volumes because the autopsy photographs weren’t available, this was both unnecessary and absurd. Humes both relied on deceitful drawings in testifying before the Commission and he and fellow pathologist Thornton Boswell described those drawings for Rydberg, instead of using the actual photographs, which he did not see until November 1, 1966. That is two and a half years after the fact. Recall: the third pathologist, Pierre Finck, did not appear until the brain had been removed, late in the game.

Simply compare the Rydberg drawings with the actual stills of the Zapruder film and you might conclude they are from two different crimes. JFK’s head is not in the slightest bit in the same position as Zapruder frame 312, when compared to the Rydberg drawings. Keep in mind, early in the history of this case, the only way you could compare frame 312 with the Rydberg drawings was to actually own a set of the 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits (and the frames only went up to 334 in the volumes).

This is the death of the President of the United States![4] Humes went on to describe the posterior wounds. The back wound was 7 x 4 mm; it had a long axis roughly parallel to the long axis of the vertical column. The back-of-the-head wound was 2.5 cm to the right of midline and slightly above the external occipital protuberance. There was also a wound of exit, which created a huge defect over the right side of the skull, leaving fractures and fragments. Its greatest diameter was 13 cm. Humes stated that, after they reflected the scalp, they found a corresponding defect on both tables of the skull. After Humes described the head wound, Specter asked him if he was referring to the wound on the lower part of the neck! Specter, throughout his interrogation of the doctors, is always trying to divert, deflect, or ask them hypotheticals that are irrelevant to the evidence at hand. Does he have an agenda? Yes. If you doubt that assertion, then I ask you to please go back and read his questioning of any of the medical personnel.

Humes went on to say that portions of JFK’s skull came apart when they reflected the scalp. This has led some to believe that the President’s head cracked like an eggshell, when it exploded due to the force of the missile entry. Humes said they received three portions of skull late in the evening or early morning hours of the 23rd.[5] They were roughly put together to account for the portion of the defect that Humes thought was the exit wound. It still left one-fourth of the defect unaccounted for. Again, fragments of scalp fell to the table as it was reflected.

Humes then mentioned their attempt to locate non-movable points of reference. He mentions the mastoid process and the acromion process. Basically, the measurements are movable if the torso can swivel. When Humes measured the “back” wound at 14 cm below the mastoid process, he is measuring the back in terms of the ear. Was the body straight? Arched back? Arched forward? These factors would make a significant difference in determining the actual distance. The head wound, however, is 2.5 cm to the right of midline and slightly above the external occipital protuberance, which is fixed and not movable. An attempt to “take probes and have them satisfactorily fall through and definite path” proved unsuccessful. (2H 361) Robert Knudsen, White House photographer (HSCA Agency File Number 014028), when interviewed by Andrew Purdy, stated he saw at least two probes going through the body of President Kennedy; there may have been as many as three. This will come up again during Humes’ ARRB encounter. Another possibility, if they didn’t use probes, is that the back wound was not penetrable, because the doctors never bothered to rotate the musculature of JFK which could have loosened things up enough for them to correctly probe the wound.[6]

Dr. Humes said he didn’t talk with Dr. Perry at Parkland until the next day, November 23rd. I find it hard to believe that anyone, including Dr. George Burkley—who was the only medical person to have been at both Parkland and Bethesda—wouldn’t have said something to the pathologists, especially if he saw the throat wound before the tracheotomy was performed, an assumption many have claimed, but have not proven. There has been a lot of controversy whether Dr. Humes made the customary Y-incision or some alternative, perhaps a U-incision. Humes stated to the Warren Commission, as well as putting it in the autopsy report, that he made the customary Y-incision, perhaps because someone did not want JFK’s adrenal glands examined. This will also come up during his ARRB discussion, where he repeats his claim that he made the Y-incision. Humes said he saw JFK’s clothing for the first time the day before his WC testimony. This implies many things; the most obvious being negligence on Humes’ part, assisted by the Secret Service. He addressed this issue again during his ARRB questioning.

Humes stated that the missile traversed JFK’s neck from interior to exterior, due to an analysis of the fibers on the front side of the shirt. This also correlates with the left anterior tie defect. This depends on what is the cause of the cut shirt and tie nick. Some argue this is due to a scalpel cut when his clothing was removed. (Harold Weisberg argued this in a letter to the Washington Post of January 11, 1992) Humes went on to say that the wound in the anterior portion of the neck was physically lower than the posterior wound in the back. This has to be the party line for the Single Bullet Theory to survive. A mere look at the autopsy photo showing the back wound (Fox-3) warrants this as dubious. At the COPA conference of 1995, investigator Andy Purdy and both Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. Michael Baden agreed to this, the back wound entered at a slightly upward angle, 11 degrees, based on the abrasion collar around the entry wound. What the Forensic Pathology Panel did—in conjunction with the work of astrophysicist Thomas Canning—was have JFK leaning sufficiently forward so that a level of upward track through the body itself became a downward path. (HSCA Vol. VII, pp. 87, 100) Therefore JFK was leaning sharply forward, while behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. And he does this for precisely .9 seconds. But since JFK was sitting nearly upright while in the car, the photographic panel for the HSCA concluded that the back wound was even with or lower than the throat wound. But in a very odd reference the photographic panel said it would leave the final figures up to Tom Canning. (See footnote in Vol. VI, p. 33)

Humes stated that he didn’t feel the X-rays would assist the Commission materially in specifying the nature of the wounds. This may make more sense when we get to his testimony before the ARRB. It seems an odd sort of reasoning for a medical doctor to say the x-rays wouldn’t help or assist the Commission in determining the nature of JFK’s wounds. A point of controversy in recent years was in respect to what Dr. Humes actually burned in his fireplace the weekend of the assassination. He stated before the Warren Commission that the draft of the autopsy report was “burned in the fireplace of my recreation room” (2H 373). There was a question as to whether he burned an autopsy draft or his autopsy notes—a significant difference. This will get cleared up when we get to his ARRB testimony. Dr. Humes concluded his testimony by declaring that CE-399 could not have inflicted the wound to Governor Connally’s wrist or left thigh, due to the fragments that were discarded while the jacket of the bullet remained intact. He implied that one bullet could have caused both wrist and thigh wounds, but not CE-399. He also suggested that one bullet could have penetrated President Kennedy and also Governor Connally, but not have caused any further damage. This is a key point that is very much underplayed.

House Select Committee on Assassinations

On September 7, 1978, Commander Humes, appearing before the HSCA, was asked a scant 44 questions by Gary Cornwell. This should not pose much of a surprise, since the Warren Commission asked all three autopsy doctors a total of only 304 questions (Humes was asked 215; Boswell and Finck essentially nodded their heads to what Humes had already replied to Specter). With little exaggeration, it could be stated that the testimony of Commander Humes could be the entire autopsy statement. To say, “Humes, Boswell, and Finck,” only means they were all in the same room together at the same time, which Specter allowed them to be while testifying, though you would think the opposite should have been done to avoid collusion. Specter asked Boswell if he agreed with Humes, which turned him into a bobblehead of agreement. Specter questioned Finck more than he did Boswell. This was odd, because a lot of cutting had been done before Finck entered the morgue. What is disturbing is that at least 92 other witnesses were asked more questions than the three pathologists combined. Thoroughness was not the aim of the Commission. But for the HSCA, the third question that Mr. Cornwell asked already makes you think Dr. Humes is being excused for his incompetence. Cornwell asked, “You had received special education and training in the field of pathology; is that correct?” Humes: “That is correct, yes, sir” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 324).

Humes then states the autopsy began “about 7:30 pm in the evening and after some preliminary examinations, about 8 or 8:15” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 324). He said they noticed almost immediately the two wounds, one in the head and one in the back of the neck. Humes is rather liberal, as was Specter before him, with the use of “back of the neck,” since the photos, drawings, and clothing all show the wound in the upper back. Humes, responding to a question by Mr. Cornwell, said the autopsy ended around midnight, even though he said 11 pm to the Warren Commission.

The questioning then turned to the subject of Dr. Humes being interviewed by the Forensic Pathology Panel in the Archives. When Mr. Cornwell said the panel disagreed with Dr. Humes about the location of the head wound, Humes—on the PBS videotaping of the proceedings—was visibly shaken. He attempted to jot down some notes, while at the same time steadying his hand to do so. He told the panel that the small droplet—which looks like a piece of tissue paper one applies to a cut after shaving—in the lower portion of Fox-3 (F-48 according to the HSCA exhibits) was a “wound of entry and that that was the only wound of entry” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 325). Cornwell then proceeded to an observation by Dr. Petty about the supposed defect in the cowlick area (in looking closely at this, the supposed wound appears to be somewhat below JFK’s cowlick area, which was higher on his head). Yet, the alleged defect is much more apparent in the Ida Dox drawings than in the Fox-3 autopsy photograph. This is because Dox was given pictures of gunshot wounds, which she then superimposed in that area of the skull, highly exaggerating what was really there. Documents revealing this kind of alteration by Dox, urged on by Baden, were declassified years later, making it even more offensive. In fact, with Baden in his presence, Dr. Randy Robertson presented these at Cyril Wecht’s Duquesne Conference in 2003.

Both the back of the head photograph and the Dox drawing are easily obtainable on the internet. Compare and prepare to be bedazzled! Humes replied to Petty:

I don’t know what that is. No. 1, I can assure you that as we reflected the scalp to get to this point, there was no defect corresponding to this in the skull at any point. I don’t know what that is. It could be to me clotted blood. I don’t, I just don’t know what it is, but it certainly (my emphasis) was not any wound of entrance. (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 326)

Humes then stated to Cornwell that he only had short notice to prepare and hoped they could straighten things out. Humes saw the wound on the night of the autopsy. He knew the HSCA location of the wound was too high. There are certainly valid reservations that the image in the cowlick area is even a wound at all. Maybe if we had both the back of the head photos, as inventoried in HSCA, Vol. VII (medical and firearms evidence), in stereo viewing it would help with the orientation. Cornwell continued verbal probing about the head wound: “If…you have a more well-considered or a different opinion or whether your opinion is still the same, as to where the point of entry is?” Humes then made a rather weird characterization as to his appearance before the pathology panel: “Yes, I think I do have a different opinion. No. 1, it was a casual kind of discussion that we were having with the panel members, as I recall it” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 327). Humes then digressed about the photographs, saying that he first saw them on November 1, 1966, and again on January 27, 1967, when the three (he indicated Finck wasn’t there when talking to the ARRB) autopsy doctors went to the Archives to categorize and summarize their findings.[7]

Humes then stunned everyone when he said that the alleged cowlick area wound would fit as being above and to the right of the external occipital protuberance, and:

…is clearly in the location of where we said approximately where it was…therefore, I believe that is the wound of entry…By the same token, the object in the lower portion, which I apparently and I believe now erroneously previously identified…is far below the external occipital protuberance and would not fit with the original autopsy findings” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 327).

Dr. Humes seemed unaware of Baden’s hidden agenda. Michael Baden was determined to have the HSCA panel agree with the Ramsey Clark Panel of 1968. In that brief 48-hour medical affair, Dr. Russell Fisher and his three cohorts made five alterations to the original autopsy. (see more here)

What is amazing about that feat of medical alchemy is that Fisher did it all without exhuming the body or consulting with the original pathologists, which is probably why Humes appeared surprised before the HSCA. One of the things Fisher did was to raise the rear skull wound 4 inches upward. Yet Cornwell probed no further! Is there any wonder that some critics have suggested the photos may have been tampered with, if the doctor who performed the autopsy can’t remember where the wound of entrance is located on the head of the President of the United States while looking directly at them? This will be even more evident during his ARRB testimony in regard to the X-rays. Mr. Cornwell then asked Humes to step to the easel to locate the wound of entrance on the lateral x-ray of the skull. It is obvious when you watch his testimony on video that Dr. Humes was very reluctant to address the easel. Humes agreed with Dr. Baden on the location of the wound to the skull at the point of a fracture line that juts out a bit. He concludes this tête-à-tête by saying they were presently engaged in semantics about the location of the wound of entrance to the head. After all that has preceded, with Humes admitting he was wrong about the head wound entrance, changing from slightly above the external occipital protuberance to the area of the cowlick, he then revealed something that is equally shocking. Cornwell: “The testimony today indicated that the panel places that (head wound entrance) at approximately 10 centimeters [c. 4 inches] above the external occipital protuberance. Would that discrepancy be explainable?” Humes: “Well, I have a little trouble with that; 10 centimeters is a significant—4 inches” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 329). Cornwell again did not ask Humes to expand on the dilemma. The question is: What does Dr. James J. Humes believe about the wound of entrance to the head? He seemed to agree with the forensic panel and then turns right around and states that 4 inches is significant and that he has a little trouble with that. So, do a lot of other people. This issue was revisited during his ARRB testimony.

When Humes and Boswell were behind closed doors talking with the medical panel, they were both quite vociferous that the entrance wound in the back of the head was below the external occipital protuberance. When the cowlick wound was then pointed out to him he says, “No, no. That is no wound.”

Humes stated that he stayed with the morticians to help prepare the President’s body until about 5:00 a.m. He began to write the autopsy report about 11:00 pm the next evening. He finished about 3 or 4 o’clock the following morning, Sunday the 24th. Cornwell asked Humes: “was the distance between the wound and the external occipital protuberance noted on those notes?” Humes replied: “…not…in any greater detail than appears in the final report” (HSCA, Vol. I, p. 330). He thought the photographs and x-rays would suffice to accurately locate this wound. He will share that same notion with the ARRB. Is it Humes’ contention that this would be better than the body itself, which he had? How does this explain the ruler in the Fox-3 autopsy photograph? Was someone not measuring? This seems to have been the most opportune time to measure the exact location of the wound. He then continued about the autopsy notes, saying the original notes had the President’s blood on them and he didn’t want them to fall into potentially untrustworthy hands after the fact. He will give a more detailed account before the ARRB. Didn’t military procedure bind him to turn the notes over to his commanding officer, after he adapted the information from them into his report? He wouldn’t have been allowed to take them out of the building. What he took out and what his affidavit specifies are “draft notes.” In other words, a rough outline of notes for an autopsy report. He then wrote a more coherent draft the next day and burned the “draft notes” in his home fireplace. Given the circumstances under which they were written, they may have gotten blood on them, perhaps from the original notes, or from Humes’ gloves or clothing, that is if he wrote draft notes before changing out of his autopsy garb. Or it was the original notes that he burned and he did not want to admit that.

Humes closed his testimony by restating he had no reason to change his opinion that only one bullet struck President Kennedy in the back of the head, without ever being asked. He doesn’t seem as sure, however, as to where that bullet struck. Cornwell closed the questioning and no one else raised one question to Dr. Humes. Odd, that the one man who may have the most vital information about the condition of the late President’s body isn’t probed more aggressively? You get the feeling the Committee is somewhat embarrassed for Dr. Humes, given his somewhat waffling testimony. They shouldn’t have been.

Assassination Records Review Board

On February 13, 1996, the Assassination Records Review Board questioned Dr. Humes for almost 7 hours. The examination was conducted by Jeremy Gunn, General Counsel of the ARRB. Early in the questioning, Gunn asked Humes about JFK’s adrenal glands. Humes seems irritated—as he does throughout the deposition—and said about his conversation with Dr. Burkley, “…the nature of that conversation I don’t think I should discuss with you people” (ARRB p. 29). I have never understood why Humes was so annoyed about JFK’s adrenal glands being discussed. The Parkland doctors spoke without hesitation of what they often called his “adrenal insufficiency.” Why he would feel so bound to what was by then a non-secret befuddles me. The Kennedys no doubt didn’t want JFK’s Addison’s Disease exposed, but today, as in 1996, it’s foolish to try and avoid it as some kind of taboo subject.

Humes repeated that he called Dr. Perry the next morning about 8 or 9 o’clock—which gives us a time frame—and only then learned about the wound in JFK’s throat. Before the Warren Commission, he claimed that he “had to take one of my children to a religious function that morning, but then I returned and made some phone calls and got hold of the people in Dallas, which was unavailable to us during the course of the examination.” Is he serious? He tried, but couldn’t get in touch with any of the Parkland doctors, specifically Dr. Perry. So, let’s see if I get this right: the FBI could compile a complete dossier on Lee Harvey Oswald within hours of the assassination, but no one could seem to find the most important doctor in the world on that night, the one who had obliterated that anterior neck wound with his tracheotomy. Humes admitted to not knowing about standard autopsy protocol for gunshot wounds and autopsy of the neck. He stated early in this testimony that he had experience with gunshot wounds at Tripler Hospital in Hawaii and possibly in San Diego. In this part of his testimony, Dr. Humes still refers to the back wound as the back of the neck, which is amazing after the Clark Panel and the HSCA. He repeats there were some superficial attempts at probing, but the effort was aborted. He doesn’t deny probing—perhaps because of what Robert Knudsen told the HSCA—but only says it wasn’t effective. He also mentions he should have requested JFK’s clothing. He also remembers giving Dr. Burkley JFK’s brain in a pail after his interment. He said that Robert Kennedy, being the spokesperson for the family, wanted to inter it with the body. He stated he gave it to Dr. Burkley about ten days after the autopsy, after JFK had been interred. So, what was the point?

Another oddity is that Dr. Humes claimed to have never even seen the autopsy manual produced by the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, dated July 1960. If this seems like topic hopping, it is because the ARRB did this periodically. Humes admitted the possibility of phone calls during the autopsy, but that he was not directly involved. There are witnesses who report calls between Parkland and Bethesda the evening of the autopsy. Humes said one of the biggest problems that night was the people in the autopsy room. He says he should have thrown them all out. He approximates 15-20 people were in the room that night.[8] He appeared frustrated, however, as to who was actually in the autopsy room.

One of the reasons Humes had no idea who assistants like Jerrol Custer, John Stringer, and Paul O’Connor were is that he didn’t do autopsies. At this stage of his career, he was really an administrator. He initially said that Admiral Calvin Galloway wasn’t there, but then says he may have been, but played no role whatsoever. Yet Galloway was the commander at Bethesda Medical Center. He can’t recall Admiral Edward Kenney being there either, though he may have stuck his head in the door at some point. Kenney was the Surgeon General of the United States Navy, the highest medical officer in the corps. He says if General Philip Wehle was in there, he was unaware of it. This certainly doesn’t seem to line up with the Sibert-O’Neill report, which stated the presence of both Galloway and Wehle. When asked why he didn’t weigh the brain, thymus, or thyroid, Humes repeated, “I don’t know.” He went on to say that he didn’t understand why Dr. Burkley verified and signed the autopsy report. He didn’t recall him doing this.

Dr. Humes stated that all of the photos, excluding Fox-8, were all taken before the head was cleaned. Fox-8 was taken, obviously, after the brain was removed, near the end of the autopsy. As a sidebar, he thought most of the x-rays were taken before the photographs. He also remarked they had all of the x-rays developed during the autopsy. As he stated to the Warren Commission, the skull fell apart when he reflected the scalp. When discussing the removal of the brain, he never mentions Paul O’Connor, though he is listed in the Sibert-O’Neill report. Humes stated that Dr. Boswell may have helped him remove the brain; he wasn’t sure. He felt the brain was disrupted by the “force of the blow rather than by the particular passage of any missile…” (ARRB, p. 103). He said the lacerations were in the mid-brain posteriorly. Keep in mind, when Humes testified before the Warren Commission, he said, “at the time of the post-mortem examination, we noted that clearly visible in the large skull defect and exuding from it was lacerated brain tissue which, on close inspection, proved to represent the major portion of the right cerebral hemisphere.” In other words, one of the two hemispheres was almost completely missing. Oddly, that same brain, when weighed at the supplementary examination, was assessed to weigh more than a normal human brain.

On page 111 of his ARRB deposition, Dr. Humes said he spent 30-45 minutes examining the cranium after the brain was removed. How could you not remember exactly where the point of entry was in the rear of the head?

He said they didn’t actually record the autopsy, because that procedure was relatively new and they had just begun doing that. But it had started recently and you would think that especially with the autopsy of the President of the United States you would want to record the proceedings for posterity—unless there were external forces that felt otherwise. Humes said: “I don’t think any real thought was given to it, to tell the truth” (ARRB p. 118). Apparently a lot of things weren’t given much thought that night.

When the burning of his notes came up for discussion, he gave rationale as to why he did it. He remembered going to Greenfield Village, home of the Henry Ford museum, and seeing the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot. He said the tour guide pointed out a drop of Lincoln’s blood on the back of the chair. He thought that was macabre and didn’t want anyone to ever get these documents, hence the burning of the notes. What follows is some quibbling as to whether he burned his autopsy notes or a draft of the report, Humes replied, “It was handwritten notes and the first draft that was burned” (ARRB, p. 134). Later, Humes goes further: “Everything that I personally prepared until I got to the status of the handwritten document that later was transcribed was destroyed” (ARRB, p. 134). He only wanted to hand Dr. Burkley a completed version…everything else was burned. He added that he may have burned a draft of the report due to spelling errors. “I don’t know. I can’t recall. I absolutely can’t recall” (ARRB, p. 138). So much for a good memory—an absolute pre-requisite for an individual whose work might well include courtroom testimony. When questioned about non-movable points for measurement, Humes got annoyed, he asked if he did anything wrong, and said that he didn’t want to get into a debate. When asked about Burkley placing the back wound at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra, Humes said he didn’t know if that was correct, since he didn’t measure from which vertebra it was. He went on to say, “I think that’s much lower than it actually was” (ARRB, pp. 141-142).

Mr. Gunn then proceeded to have Dr. Humes comment on the Fox autopsy photographs. He begins with Fox-4, which is the left profile. The only comments by Humes are in regard to any incisions being made before the photo was taken. Humes denied this, with the exception of having to make a coronal incision to remove the brain.

[Note: James Jenkins' book, At the Cold Shoulder of History, has suggestions that this was NOT the Bethesda morgue, because of the phone placement, the tiles, and the metal head rest used, as Bethesda simply used a wood block.]

The second photo was the right superior profile, sometimes referred to as G-1 (Groden-1). When asked about the triangular shaped object above the right ear—what the late Harry Livingstone referred to as the “devil ear”—Humes replied, “That’s a flap of skin turned back” (ARRB, p. 158). What Livingstone referred to as “bat wing configuration sutures,” Humes dismissed as a “piece of skull” (ARRB p. 159). The other sharp line that creates another V, Humes again said it’s another piece of skull. On the top of JFK’s head, there is matter that is extruding; Humes notes “that’s scalp reflected that way” (ARRB p. 160).

The next photos were Fox-6 and Fox-7. The matter on the top of the head Humes says is simply scalp folded back. In reference to the object over where the right ear would be, Humes says it is a piece of bone.

The fourth photos Humes looked at was Fox-5, which is the back-wound photo. Humes stated there may have been some slight cleaning in this photograph. When asked about the ruler, he said they may have been trying to record visually the size of the wound. Gunn then asked about the two marks, one at approximately the second-centimeter line and the other at the six-centimeter line. Humes said the one lower in the back may represent a drop of blood, when questioned directly about it, Humes then said, “I have no idea” (ARRB, p. 167). He did not think there were two wounds of entry in the picture. Gunn then digressed about the head wound and missing bone and Humes responded, “It was just a hole. Not a significant missing bone” (ibid, p. 171). During this same exchange, Humes says something that is significant. When Gunn asked him if there was any missing bone in the rear of the skull, Humes said, “There basically wasn’t any…not a significant missing bone.”

The reader should understand a key issue at this point. According to the record, the Harper fragment was discovered the day after the assassination. It was given over to some medical experts in Dallas, photos were made, and then it transferred to the FBI. The Bureau flew it to Washington where it was given to Admiral Burkley. After that, it disappeared. Which means that Humes never saw it. It is certainly an important piece of evidence that represents a rather significant area of space—according to David Mantik—on the rear of Kennedy’s skull. (See the photos presented by Mantik in Murder In Dealey Plaza, pp. 226-27) Could Humes really not have been aware of any of this? And if so, why did Jeremy Gunn not bring it up in the questioning at this point?

The discussion then went to Fox-1 and Fox-2, usually referred to as the “stare of death picture” in the photographic record. This showed Kennedy from the front, thus including the tracheotomy. Humes suggested there might be an exit wound in the inferior portion of the wound that was obliterated by that tracheotomy. (ibid, p. 175)

Humes then proceeded on to Fox-3, the back-of-the-head photograph. When Dr. Humes was in closed session with the HSCA forensic panel, he picked the lower point, the little white droplet, as the entrance wound. And this is what the three autopsy doctors said was the entry point of the rear skull wound. Then before the HSCA in public session, he chose the higher point, near the cowlick area, as the point of entrance. Now, before the ARRB, he can’t pick either, while looking at the photograph. (See pp. 180-83) He was simply unable to identify the entrance wound in the back of the head. He then went on to say he isn’t aware of where the HSCA forensic panel placed the wound. He commented that it is possible the scalp is being pulled forward in Fox-3. He added that he cannot place the entry wound in the high mark, close to the cowlick area. He also doesn’t have the “foggiest idea” of what the marking is toward the bottom (white droplet), near the hairline (ARRB, p. 180). He says he has problems identifying the entry wound in the photos, but didn’t on the night of the autopsy. He also says he can’t see ANY wound in the upper area in the black and white copy of Fox-3. The flap above the ear was possibly dura, according to Humes. Despite what any of us might think, and for whatever it is worth, no matter what anyone thinks of the photos, the doctors at Parkland Hospital, the morticians, Mrs. Kennedy, and Clint Hill and almost all of the medical personnel place a wound in the back of the head. And although Humes was befuddled by the photos as presented to him by Gunn, the lead pathologist did revert back to his original work for the lower location of the skull wound in his 1992 interviews in the for the Journal of the American Medical Association. And with Gunn, as we shall see, Humes seemed to defer to that earlier opinion.

Humes waffled once again, when asked about a reflected scalp photo of the posterior portion of the head. He now said he cannot recall it specifically. He can’t seem to identify Fox-8—the mystery autopsy photo—as either posterior, frontal, or parietal. He says the scalp is reflected downward in Fox-8. Humes seemed to imply that the large gaping hole is an exit wound, though you get the impression he thought he was looking at the temporal-parietal area of the head, not the occipital region. Humes also seemed troubled about not seeing a photo of the interior of the thorax. He regretted not having a photo of the posterior cranial fossa, where the defect was. On page 203 of the deposition, Humes stated that the right side of the brain, the cerebrum, appears to be intact. He says, “That’s not right, because it was not” (ARRB p. 203). He then realizes he was looking at the photo of the brain backwards! In his confusion, he suggested the left cerebrum was disrupted due to the explosion of the bullet striking the skull and the brain bouncing off the interior of the head. The discussion turned to the X-rays, with the anterior-posterior X-ray discussed initially. He said the large gap in the top right quadrant was the result of being removed by the path of the missile. The second x-ray, lateral, was then probed for any details Dr. Humes might be able to add to the record. He noticed fracture lines in the top of the parietal bone as well as into the occipital bone. He thought there were fragments towards the vertex in this picture. He also said he had previously seen fragments corresponding to a small occipital wound in the x-ray, but now doesn’t see it (ARRB p. 222).

Again, this is a key evidentiary point that Gunn seemed to understand and was prepared for. In the autopsy report in the Warren Report, Humes described a line of particles in Kennedy’s skull that went from the low wound in the posterior up to a line of particles up higher. Gunn expressed it like this:

Gunn: Do you recall having seen an X ray previously that had fragments corresponding to a small occipital wound?

Humes: Well I reported that I did, so I must have. But I don’t see them now. (ibid)

In other words, the way this lower wound connected to the particle lines in the upper skull was now gone. Did someone make them disappear? In other words was the X ray altered? Or as some people think: Did that lower to upper trail simply never exist? If it did not, then did the trail of fragments in the upper skull forensically reveal a shot from the front? At any trial of Oswald—like the Harper fragment—this would have been a significant issue for the defense. And it would pose a serious problem for the prosecution.

Humes also said he didn’t understand the big, non-opaque area that takes up half the skull. He didn’t remember seeing this the night of the autopsy. He was then asked, rather awkwardly, about the existence of a photo or X-ray of a probe inserted into the posterior thorax. Humes responded, “No, absolutely not” (ARRB, p. 224). Yet, in his Warren Commission testimony, he talked about superficially attempting to insert a probe. He also mentioned taking X-rays of extremities in case a missile might have lodged there, but no serious pieces of metal were ever found.

The interview concluded with Humes stating how confused he has been and how even more confused he was before the HSCA. The final page of the deposition, in a letter from Dr. Humes to Mr. Jeremy Gunn said:

I experienced great difficulty in interpreting the location of the wound of entrance in the posterior scalp from the photograph. This may be because of the angle from which it was taken, or the position of the head, etc. It is obvious that the location of the external occipital protuberance cannot be ascertained from the photograph. I most firmly believe that the location of the wound was exactly where I measured it to be in relation to the external occipital protuberance and so recorded it in the autopsy report. After all that was my direct observation in the morgue and I believe it to be far more reliable than attempting to interpret what I believe to be a photograph which is subject to various interpretations. (ARRB, p. 248).

Did Humes suffer from intellectual agnosia? He didn’t seem to remember the location of the alleged entrance wound into the back of the head of the President of the United States. From his different testimonies over the years, he couldn’t seem to recall a number of things. Dr. Humes seemed to want all of this to just go away, but as long as doubts, inconsistencies and subterfuge exist, hopefully there will be enough interest around to keep pouring over the record, trying to figure out what really happened. Dr. Humes passed away in May of 1999. I think we can agree that at a trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, the defense would have looked forward to cross examining Humes. That questioning would not have resembled the examination given to Humes by Arlen Specter for the Warren Commission.

Addendum, from James Jenkins’ book: Earlier, it was noted that Humes was uncertain about Galloway and others; more to the point, he had no idea who James Jenkins or Paul O’Connor were. Jenkins stated for the record that he had never assisted in an autopsy performed by Humes, whom he characterized as “…more of an administrator.” So the autopsy of the murdered president was conducted by a man who knew none of the corpsmen involved. The second pathologist, Boswell, was a moonlighting lab pathologist, and the final addition to the lineup was supposed to be the guy to keep them informed by reviewing their work, an Army Lt. Colonel. The radiologist was not a pathology radiologist but a radiation oncologist. When Humes asked for an outside forensic pathologist to join them, the request was denied. Dr. Milton Halpern, the medical examiner in New York City, expected to be called in to oversee the autopsy. He was surprised when he was not called.


[1] It goes without saying that it would be challenging if not impossible to take pictures of the body at the same time you take photos of the interior of the skull cavity, even though the latter group of exposures have vanished without a trace.

[2] Part of that bizarre numerical inconsistency is due in part to the fact that some of the so-called “Fox” poses involved four exposures, multiplying Humes’ 15-20 estimate to 60-80, but still coming up short. Add to that the bizarre fact that three full sets of X-rays were taken, as they were going to X-ray until they found something, and the number grows again.

[3] It has been argued that JFK’s coat was “bunched,” but although that could explain some discrepancy in the coat, it would not explain the shirt.

[4] It should surprise no one that Rydberg, upon seeing the photos after he made the drawings, immediately impugned the accuracy of his own drawings. Dox, at best, admitted to having help with her tracings.

[5] There is no tangible evidence as to the provenance of the skull pieces, or who delivered them.

[6] James Jenkins, in his recent publication, insists that the lungs were not penetrated.

[7] Finck was not present for the November, 1966 look-see; he was brought back to DC from Viet Nam for the 1967 event.

[8] In the recent work by Jim Jenkins, At the Cold Shoulder of History, the number is suggested as 30 or 31.

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 May 2020 03:26
Tim Smith

Tim Smith has been a college professor for 33 years. He currently teaches philosophy, logic, world religion and intro to Biblical Hebrew. He has an interest in all aspects of the Kennedy assassination, especially the physical evidence in the case. Tim also has spent enormous amounts of time reading the testimony of the 488 witnesses that appeared before the Warren Commission and the 52 witnesses that gave public testimony before the HSCA, which he used for my Masters thesis.

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