Gary L. Aguilar, MD and Kathy Cunningham
May 2003


Introduction – Assembling an Impartial Investigative Staff

The so-called Rockefeller Report did not stem the tide of anger over intelligence agency abuses, and was quickly followed by the much more intensive Church Committee investigations.
(see Rockefeller Report)

The next official review of JFK’s autopsy evidence was incidental to an investigation in 1975 that was occasioned by a December 24, 1974 front-page story in the New York Times. Seymour Hersh revealed that, in clear violation of its charter, the CIA had conducted widespread and illegal domestic spying and mail openings of law-abiding citizens. With the Watergate scandal fresh in the public’s mind, President Ford, a former Warren Commissioner, appointed a “blue ribbon” commission to investigate. Ford’s nominees drew immediate concern. The New York Times opined that, “The commission named by President Ford to investigate charges of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency would inspire greater confidence if so many of its members did not have close ties to the national security establishment.”[206] The Times’ Tom Wicker said the commission “looks suspiciously like a goat set to guard a cabbage patch. Having the CIA investigated by such a group is like having the Mafia audited by its own accountants.”[207] (More on this below)

Ford tapped his vice president Nelson Rockefeller, no stranger himself to the unattractive underbelly of the agency, to chair the commission that would bear his name. Ford also proposed the appointment of former Warren Commission counsel David Belin as executive director.[208] Among the charges investigated were those that the CIA had been a party to Kennedy’s murder. In the course of the Rockefeller Commission’s work, investigators found themselves training their sights on aspects of JFK’s autopsy evidence.[209]

“Since I had served as assistant counsel with the Warren Commission,” Belin later reported, “I removed myself from the direct responsibility for any investigation pertaining to the assassination.”[210] The Kennedy work was thus delegated to Senior Counsel Robert B. Olsen. Belin did not keep completely hands off, however. In 1988 he admitted that when Rockefeller’s medical experts convened to review JFK’s autopsy evidence, the irrepressible Belin personally attended that meeting, examining the autopsy photographs and X-rays right alongside his consultants.[211]

Chapter 19 of the Commission's Report dealt with the JFK assassination. The medical portion of this chapter confined itself to "the allegation that President Kennedy was struck in the head by a bullet fired from his right front."
(see Rockefeller Report, chapter 19)

Kennedy’s autopsy evidence came up during the Commission’s investigation of what it described as the “allegation that President Kennedy was struck in the head by a bullet fired from his right front.”[212] JFK’s rearward jerk after the fatal shot had convinced skeptics that the fateful shot had not come from Oswald’s perch, behind the limousine. Besides seeking an explanation for JFK’s seemingly paradoxical thrust, the Commission also dealt with allegations that the forward, “grassy knoll” gunman was not just any old assassin, but a CIA assassin – either Frank Sturgis or E. Howard Hunt. Rockefeller’s findings rebutted all conspiracy allegations, including charges that either Sturgis or Hunt had been involved.

In summarizing its medical conclusions, the Commission noted the unanimity with which the autopsy report, the Warren Commission’s findings and the Clark Panel’s report had all endorsed the lone gunman conclusion. “Nonetheless,” Rockefeller reported, “a re-examination was made of the question whether the movements of the President’s head and body following the fatal shot are consistent with the President being struck from (a) the rear, (b) the right front, or (c) both the rear and the right front.” [213]

“Independent” Panel of Medical Experts Review the Evidence

Robert Olsen reported that he assembled a panel of independent experts to examine all the relevant medical/autopsy evidence. Included were two forensic pathologists, a neuropathologist (a specialist in the pathology of the brain and nervous system), a radiologist, and Dr. Alfred Olivier, the Warren Commission’s ballistics expert, of whom we have already spoken.

On the table were many of the familiar controversies: How many bullets had struck JFK, and from which direction? In which Zapruder frame(s) were JFK and Governor John Connally struck in the back? Does JFK’s abrupt movement prove the origin of the shots from the front? Could the nearly pristine bullet found at Parkland Hospital have caused all of JFK’s and Connally’s nonfatal wounds? And so on.

Relevant to the present discussion, the Commission also asked the Panel whether examinations of JFK’s brain, tissue slides, and photographs of the interior of his chest were “necessary to arrive at a reliable judgement concerning the number of shots which hit the President or the angles from which they were fired.”[214] As we will see, when finally declassified by the JFK Review Board in the 1990s, the form in which the questions were posed, and the nature of the panelists’ responses, revealed a lot about how Rockefeller’s commission, and its independent consultants, went about their work.

The Commission’s final report said that, “The Panel members separately submitted their respective conclusions. They were unanimous in finding that the President was struck by only two bullets, both of which were fired from the rear, and that there is no medical evidence to support a contention that the President was struck by any bullet coming from any other direction. They were also unanimous in finding that the violent backward and leftward motion of the President’s upper body following the head shot was not caused by the impact of a bullet coming from the front or right front.”[215]

JFK’s rearward lurch was explained as a “neuromuscular reaction” to the head shot, perhaps augmented by a “jet effect” caused by forward-ejecting cranial contents propelling JFK’s head backward. Experiments performed by Warren defender Dr. John Lattimer, in which human skulls (and melons) were shot with the type of gun and ammunition allegedly used by Oswald, were cited in the report in support of the presence of a jet effect under the comparable circumstances in Dallas.[216] (See Figure 6) [Improbably, Dr. Lattimer reported that “all [target skulls and melons] fell backward off the stand toward the shooter. No melon or skull combination ever fell away from the shooter.”[217] (Emphasis in original) Though others have repeated these sorts of tests, no one has ever been able to duplicate Lattimer’s results.]

Noted Skeptic, Cyril Wecht, Endorses Two Bullets, From the Rear

Unexpectedly, Rockefeller also reported that, after a five hour deposition, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a staunch Warren skeptic, had “testified that the available evidence all points to the President being struck only by two bullets coming from his rear, and that no support can be found for theories which postulate gunmen to the front or right front of the Presidential car.”[218] Summing up, the Rockefeller Commission reported that it had tried in vain to find either a shred of medical/autopsy evidence, or a morsel of expert opinion, to support conspiracy.

But within days of its June 1975 publication, a crack appeared in the ultra smooth façade of the Commission’s report. On June 12th, the New York Times reported that Cyril Wecht had complained that “his views of President Kennedy’s murder were distorted by the Rockefeller Commission.” In its June 23, 1975 edition, Newsweek Magazine reported that “the flap over the [Rockefeller Commission’s] apparent fudging of [Wecht’s] views seemed enough to ensure that this report on the JFK assassination, like the ones before it, would fail to lay to rest the suspicions of the conspiratorialists.”[219] In published interviews, Wecht proposed a simple way for the government to refute his charges of misrepresentation: he called for “the commission to release a transcript of his statements.”[220] “If that transcript shows in any way I have withdrawn or revised my thoughts of the Warren Report,” Wecht challenged,  “I’ll eat the transcript on the steps of the White House.”[221]

Rockefeller Stonewalls Wecht

Thereafter, a fascinating and illuminating story unfolded. The Vice President stonewalled, resolutely refusing Wecht’s repeated personal requests to see his own interview, a request that, if honored, would scarcely have threatened national security. The famed coroner waited 23 years to be vindicated. Only in 1998 did the JFK Review Board finally send Wecht a copy of his testimony, belatedly bestowing an official confirmation of Rockefeller’s chicanery.[222] Wecht wasn’t the only respected authority who suffered from Rockefeller’s peculiar passion for secrecy. Noted skeptic, Kansas University pathology professor John Nichols, MD, got much the same treatment. When Nichols wrote the Vice President for permission to see the then-secret files from Rockefeller’s autopsy review panel, he got a letter from “White House counsel,” saying, “These materials from the files of the Commission now belong to the White House, and are under the control of the President. As such, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and cannot be made available to you.”[223] With less irony than one might have hoped, for all the government’s preoccupation with keeping Wecht’s testimony and Rockefeller’s autopsy investigation secret, it made an exception for a Warren Commission defender. It shared parts of it for use by one Jacob Cohen, a Warren-friendly author who used Wecht’s material in an harsh anticonspiracy article published in Commentary Magazine in October 1975.[224]

Not the sort of doctor to take his medicine lying down, Wecht went into action. He and two other well-respected forensic authorities[225] publicly charged that, “the Commission has set up a panel of governmental sycophants to defend the Warren Report.” In a May 5, 1975 press release, Wecht charged that “all the members of the panel appointed by the Rockefeller Commission have strong ties to the federal government and close professional relationships with individuals who have formerly participated in studies defending the Warren Report.”

Wecht emphasized Belin’s Warren Commission roots. Wecht also charged that, “The (medical) panel itself is made up of people who have been associated with the Baltimore Medical Examiner’s Office, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Radiology, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, three facilities which either supplied the members of the original autopsy team or from which selected members of a previous panel had been appointed by the Justice Department in 1968 to defend the Warren Report.”[226]

Wecht’s unrestrained assertions were not without foundation. Rockefeller appointee Werner U. Spitz, MD, the Detroit Medical Examiner, was a close professional colleague of one of the Clark Panel members, Baltimore Medical Examiner Russell Fisher, MD, under whom Spitz had served for several years.[227] Richard Lindenberg, MD, a Baltimore-based, State of Maryland neuropathologist, was described in a once-secret Commission memo as having provided “consultation to the Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland [Russell Fisher] – but is subordinate to him.”[228] Panelist Fred Hodges, MD, a neuroradiologist, was picked from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, the institution that had contributed Russell Morgan, MD, the radiologist who had made the X-ray mistakes discussed above as a Clark Panelist. Pathologist Lt. Col. Robert R. McMeeken, MC was appointed from Pierre Finck’s alma mater, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The Warren Commission consultant who had failed to note the marked discrepancies between the test skulls he shot up and JFK’s skull, Dr. Alfred Olivier, completed Rockefeller’s team of independent and impartial consultants.

A Preordained Outcome?

Declassified files show that besides publicizing the medical panel’s potential conflicts of interests, Wecht was also instrumental in eliciting evidence that the panelists had had a predisposition. On April 15, 1975, Robert Olsen wrote a memo to file concerning his own telephone conversation with Wecht on that date. In it, he noted that Wecht had asked, “whether the Commission would be getting access to the following items which have not been to date made available for examination since the autopsy.” Namely,  (1) JFK’s brain, (2) Kodachrome slides of the interior of the President’s chest, and (3) Microscopic slides of tissue taken from various parts of the President’s body, especially those related to wound areas.[229]

Three days later, the Warren Commission counsel who had “removed himself” from the Kennedy aspect of the probe, David Belin, and Senior Counsel Robert Olsen sat down with their experts for what an internal memo called a “Panel of Consultants Meeting.” The purpose was to review the evidence: JFK’s autopsy photographs and X-rays, relevant Zapruder film frames, JFK’s clothing, the bullet fragments, etc. Belin/Olsen asked the panelists to respond to a list of 14 written questions. Among them, whether examining the missing evidence that Wecht had specified – JFK’s brain, tissue slides, and chest photographs – was “necessary to arrive at a reliable judgement concerning the number of shots which hit the President or the angles from which they were fired.”[230]

What was left unasked in the Commission’s 14 questions is only slightly more instructive than the panelists’s responses. By way of background, in a 1972 New York Times interview Cyril Wecht had first made public the fact that JFK’s brain, tissue slides and chest photographs were missing.[231] Never were the medical authorities ever asked whether there was any value in solving the mystery of the missing material. Belin and Olsen only wanted to know whether the experts could get along without it. The panelists’s responses gave Wecht’s suspicions about their impartiality a boost.

Typical of all the responses was that of Werner U. Spitz: “I do not believe that an examination of the President’s brain would contribute significantly to a clarification of the circumstances [of the murder];” and, “Microscopic examination of skin slides from the bullet wounds would not, in my opinion, have added pertinent data.”[232] Though highly respected for his expertise in these matters, was Spitz really right there was no significant value, or pertinent data, to be found in JFK’s brain or skin slides? Wecht has persuasively argued otherwise.

In a New York Times interview, Wecht pointed out that, “Entering bullets burn and soil tissues around the wound of entry but not at the point of exit. Thus, the microscopic slides might have settled the question whether the bullets that passed through the President’s head and body had been fired from the rear.”[233] The Chief Medical Examiner of San Antonio, Texas, Vincent J.M. DiMaio, MD, supports Wecht’s position. In his authoritative textbook, “Gunshot Wounds – Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques,” the forensic expert explained how entrance wounds can be distinguished from exit wounds by the microscopic examination of tissue samples.

“Microscopic sections through a gunshot wound of entrance show a progressive increase in alteration of the epithelium and dermis as one proceeds from the periphery of the abrasion ring to the margin of the zone of compressed, deformed cells … Exit wounds … with rare exceptions, do not possess an abrasion ring.”[234] Besides the abrasion ring, DiMaio says the microscopic presence of gray-colored “tissue wipe” on a specimen – soot deposited on the skin surface – also tags the tissue as coming from an entrance wound.[235]

Spitz’s position might be justified if the autopsy report had adequately addressed this issue. Unfortunately, the original report’s description of the skin damage is sketchy. In its entirety, the autopsy report has only this to say about the skin:

“Sections through the wounds in the occipital and upper right posterior thoracic regions are essentially similar. In each there is loss of continuity of the epidermis with coagulation necrosis of the tissues at the wound margins. The scalp wound exhibits several small fragments of bone at its margins in the subcutaneous tissue.”[236] 

DiMaio emphasized an important point JFK’s pathologists ignored: As one progressively scans from the periphery of an entrance wound – the outer edge of the abrasion collar – toward the margin of the bullet hole, one expects to see a progressive increase in the amount of tissue damage in an entrance wound. A careful look might also have disclosed the presence or absence of “tissue wipe” in the slides. Since the original report is silent on the presence or absence of these tell tail signs, it’s likely the slides would have added useful information to the expert eye. Besides that, the slides might also have offered additional insight into the overall quality of the original work.

In other words, inasmuch as Rockefeller’s experts determined that the original autopsy team had missed the correct location for the entrance wound by a whopping 10-cm, putting it not only in the wrong part of the head but also in the wrong bone, why would a vague description of tissue samples by the same group of incompetents be satisfactory evidence about whether a wound was an entrance wound or not? Unfortunately, none of Rockefeller’s experts expressed any doubts. Not one of them so much as hinted that the tissue slides would have helped confirm a key corollary of the Single Bullet Theory: that tissues taken from the edges of the bullet holes in Kennedy’s back and rear scalp showed the distinctive, microscopic signs of a bullet’s entrance.

Finally, while the available photographs of the brain were undoubtedly helpful, it is hard to imagine that turning the real thing over in one’s hands would have offered forensic experts no significant advantages over images. [And that’s without considering recent, published doubts that have arisen about JFK’s brain photographs from the work of the Assassinations Records Review Board. In 1999 the Board reported that there was evidence that two different “JFK” brains had undergone separate post mortem examinations.[237] And that the photographer of record, John Stringer, had rejected the authenticity of the extant brain photographs. Stringer claimed that he shot images of sections of the brain, which are missing, and that the images in the current file were not taken with the type of camera, or the kind of film, he had used in 1963.[238]]

Rockefeller’s Autopsy Experts: Errors and Omissions

This exceptional performance alone was sufficient reason not to scoff at Wecht’s charge that, by picking medical experts with such strong ties to individuals involved in prior probes, Rockefeller had put the fix in. A reading of the experts’ findings provides additional reasons to suppose the Clark Panel had unduly influenced them: they made some of the same careless mistakes the Clark Panelists had. Moreover, in a transparent effort to buttress the Single Bullet Theory, one of Rockefeller’s experts, Richard Lindenberg, MD, rather hilariously misrepresented Governor John Connally’s abrupt motions in the Zapruder film.

1) Kennedy’s X-rays

As previously discussed, the Clark Panel had made three principal errors in reading JFK’s X-rays. First, that there were bullet fragments in JFK’s neck; second, that no bullet fragments were lodged on the left side of JFK’s skull; and third, that the trail of fragments across the skull lined up between the supposed high entrance wound, 10-cm above the external occipital protuberance, and the supposed high exit wound toward the right front of Kennedy’s skull. As discussed, there are no bullet (or bone) fragments in JFK’s neck, only artifacts that cropped up during the exposure or development of one of the X-ray images. Secondly, there indeed are a few fragments on the left side of JFK’s skull. Finally, the trail of fragments does not line up with the supposed entrance wound – it is approximately 5-cm higher.

Nevertheless, Rockefeller panelist, Fred J. Hodges, III, MD, Professor of Neuroradiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, repeated the first two of the Clark Panel’s errors. He wrote, “Several very small fragments [are] near these fractures [of the transverse process of C7 and T1, in JFK’s neck] are thought to be metallic but the exact technical factors are not available and these tiny densities may be fragments of dense bone.” He also said, “... there are no metallic fragments or bullets in the left side [of JFK’s skull].”[239]

Richard Lindenberg,  MD Rockefeller’s neuropathology expert, repeated the third error. Whereas the Clark Panel wrote that the fragment trail in JFK’s skull, “if extended posteriorly, passes through the above-mentioned (presumed high entrance) hole,”[240] Lindenberg similarly wrote, “Within the skull a great number of tiny lead particles … are distributed along an axis extending from the entrance hole to the frontal region ... .”[241] Lindenberg’s enthusiasm for the official version of Kennedy’s death apparently prompted him to venture unsuccessfully into an area in which he had no expertise: the Zapruder film.

2) Neuropathologist Richard Lindenberg validates the Single Bullet Theory with the Zapruder film

To buttress the Single Bullet Theory, Lindenberg wrote that the same bullet had struck both JFK and Governor John Connally. He argued that the hit occurred during the interval when JFK was behind a sign [Zapruder frames 210 – 225] and thus while he was blocked from the view of Abraham Zapruder who filmed the murder with a home movie camera. As evidence Connally was wounded with the same bullet, Lindenberg said that “on the Zapruder film … no abrupt change in their [the limousine occupants’] behavior is noticeable until the President’s head was struck (frame 313) (sic), suggesting that no wounding of the President or the Governor occurred during this period (frames 225-312) (sic). This fact,” Lindenberg concluded, “signifies that also the Governor was injured while out of sight during frames 210-223.”[242]

If Lindenberg had been right, his observation would have given a boost to the Single Bullet Theory. But as even one of his fellow consultants acknowledged at the time, he wasn’t. Connally’s abrupt motion was well known right from start. In its 29 November 1963 issue, Life Magazine published black and white images of the very frames Lindenberg described. Describing the action, Life wrote, “The President’s wave turn into a clutching movement toward his throat (seventh picture) (sic). Governor Connally, who glances around to see what has happened, is himself struck by a bullet (ninth picture) (sic) and slumps over (tenth picture) (sic) … .”[243] The Warren Report related that “between frames 235 and 240 the Governor turned sharply to his right.”[244] In 1967 Josiah Thompson published the most detailed description of Connally’s motion during the frames in question. “[W]e see a very definite change indicating the impact of a bullet,” Thompson wrote regarding frames 234 to 238. “[Connally’s] right shoulder collapses, his cheeks and face puff, and hair is disarranged.”[245] Thompson argued that the Governor’s jerky movement reflected the impact of a later bullet than the one that had hit JFK, a conclusion that the Governor agreed with.[246] Ironically, in his own report to Rockefeller, Lindenberg’s fellow consultant, Werner Spitz, MD, devoted considerable attention to explaining why Connally’s dramatic reaction to the first shot, though occurring later in the Zapruder film than JFK’s, posed no obstacle to the Single Bullet Theory.[247]

Misinterpreting the Zapruder film was not Lindenberg’s only mistake.

3) Dr. Richard Lindenberg, MD: Pattern of skin damage at JFK’s back wound proves the bullet came from above and behind JFK

The neuropathologist also concluded that, “The hole in the skin also shows the markings of an entrance wound: a discreet zone of dark discoloration of the marginal skin, most prominent at the upper and lateral margin of the wound. This zone is practically absent at the lower margin.”[248] With the upper and outer rim of the skin showing greater bruising than the lower and inner portion of the wound’s edge, Lindenberg’s “diagnostic” finding suggests that the bullet must have been traveling in a downward and medial direction, and so from Oswald’s perch, when it hit JFK. It is on the basis of “hard” forensic details such as this that cases may be won or lost. But the expert appears to have been off target here as well.

Rockefeller consultant Werner Spitz, MD wrote that, “There is no doubt that the bullet which struck the President’s back penetrated the skin in a sharply upward direction, as is evident from the width of the abrasion at the lower half of the bullet wound of entrance. The term ‘sharply upward direction’ (sic) is used because it is evident from this injury that the missile traveled upwards within the body.”[249] (Author’s emphasis.) To explain how a downward-sloping bullet had tunneled upward through JFK, Spitz offered two possibilities: “Any small [forward] inclination of the back will increase the downward angle significantly.” In essence, he was suggesting that JFK must have been leaning forward at the moment the missile struck, and so the bullet merely appeared to go upward while it actually continued downward. The other possibility he offered to the upward path through JFK was that the bullet was deviated from its course when it cracked one of the transverse processes of JFK’s spine.

In 1978 HSCA forensic consultant Michael Baden, MD endorsed Spitz’s assertion that the bullet had carved an upward path through JFK’s neck, although not one that was “sharply upward.” As the HSCA’s Forensic Panel Report put it, “the direction of the missile in the body on initial penetration was slightly upward, inasmuch as the lower margin of the skin is abraded in an upward direction. Furthermore, the wound beneath the skin appears to be tunneled from below upward.”[250] Baden endorsed Spitz’s explanation that JFK was leaning forward when he was hit. Though plausible in theory, still images from both the Zapruder and Nix films establish that JFK does not lean forward until after he is hit in the back.

The HSCA endorsed Rockefeller consultant Werner Spitz's finding that the wound in JFK's back was lower than its purported exit in the anterior neck. This presented a problem -- how could a bullet fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository travel upward through Kennedy's neck? The theorized solution to this "upward bullet" problem was that Kennedy was leaning forward when struck, as the HSCA diagrams above illustrate (see HSCA vol. 7, p. 100).

The cropped portion of Zapruder film frame 228 reproduced below, however, shows that Kennedy was upright immediately after being struck. Neither the Zapruder film nor still images of JFK in Dealey Plaza disclose him leaning forward at any moment in the relevant time period.

4) Outward-bent fibers in the holes in JFK’s shirtfront proved a bullet exited the front of JFK’s body

In his report, Dr. Lindenberg wrote that, “In the front of [JFK’s] shirt the bullet produced 1.2cm vertical slits in the overlapping parts of the collar just below the collar button. The stumps of torn fibers of the material point to the outside.”[251] In 1964, J. Edgar Hoover had advised the Warren Commission that the FBI lab had found the same thing: “The hole in the front of the shirt was a ragged, slit-like hole and the ends of the torn threads around the hole were bent outward. These characteristics are typical of an exit hole for a projectile.”[252]

Lindenberg was apparently unaware of what Warren skeptic Harold Weisberg had long since discovered,[253] and what the HSCA later reported: “the FBI laboratory’s initial description,” which preceded Hoover’s March 23, 1964 letter, “did not offer evidence concerning the direction of the fibers.”[254] No bent fibers were noted when the FBI lab initially examined JFK’s shirt. The first report they were bent outward appeared in Hoover’s letter. But as Weisberg has noted, even the Bureau was cautious about this “evidence,” essentially contradicting Hoover. During his Warren Commission testimony, FBI agent Robert Frazier said that the outward bend of the shirt fibers was indicative of exit only “assuming that when I first examined the shirt it was ... it had not been altered from the condition it was in at the time the hole was made.”[255] The FBI report and Frazier’s testimony aside, might Lindenberg have independently noted the outward bent of the fibers? Perhaps. But even if he had, the HSCA’s forensic experts echoed Frazier about the dubious value of such evidence: “[T]he panel itself cannot assess evidentiary significance to the fiber direction because of the numerous intervening examinations.”[256]

Finally, the supposed exit holes in the front of JFK’s shirt, it turns out, aren’t really “holes” in usual sense of the term; they are vertical slits. Although the FBI took photographs of the front of JFK’s shirt showing what it said were exit “slits,” the images were not reproduced in any of the Commission’s 26 volumes. Weisberg has suggested that the ambiguous-appearing slits, which he published for the first time,[257] were really not left from the passage of a bullet. Rather, as befits their appearance, they were the result of scalpel cuts made by Parkland Hospital nurses removing JFK’s clothing.

Moreover, the nick on the left side of Kennedy’s tie,[258] said by the FBI to be (like the shirt slits) the result of a passing bullet, was also caused by the hurried scalpels, Weisberg said. His reasoning was based not only on the appearance of the slits and the fact the FBI found no traces of metal anywhere in the fabric.[259] It was also on the Commission testimony of Parkland doctor, James Carrico, MD, who said of the throat wound, "The entrance. All we knew this was a small wound here."

Commissioner Dulles asked, "I see. And you put your hand right above where your tie is?

Carrico: "Yes, sir; just where the tie--" (emphasis added) [260]

As Weisberg bluntly put it, “The Commission blundered into the truth separately when (Warren Commissioner Allen) Dulles asked Dr. Carrico where the President’s front neck wound was and Carrico told him it was above the shirt. Carrico confirmed this to me when he also confirmed the obvious, that this damage to the shirt was done when the necktie was cut off by nurses under his supervision during emergency treatment.”[261] (emphasis in original)

5) JFK’s rearward jolt in the Zapruder film proves he was shot from behind

Forensic panelist Robert R. McMeekin, MD, the Chief of the Division of Aerospace Pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, came up with one of the Rockefeller panelists’ most novel conclusions: “The motion of the President’s head is inconsistent with the shot striking him from any direction other than the rear.”[262] In other words, and against common sense, McMeekin said that JFK’s rearward jolt is proof the shot came from behind. No authority but McMeekin has ever taken this position, not even any of his colleagues on the commission. Werner Spitz, for example, concluded that, “It is impossible to conclude from the motion of the President’s head and body following the head shot, from which direction the shots came.”[263] Fred Hodges concluded that, “The motion of the President’s head as shown in the Zapruder film does not indicate the direction of the shot in my opinion … .”[264]

6) The hardness of forensic conclusions

The point to be emphasized is not that Rockefeller’s experts were less than perfect. It is rather that, in interpreting clues to the murder – whether the abrasion collar in JFK’s back, Connally’s motion in the Zapruder film, the direction of fibers in JFK’s shirt, the snapping of JFK’s skull, or even whether autopsy evidence was present or suspiciously absent – the forensic consultants invariably found that the evidence pointed to Oswald, or at least shots from behind. Expert opinion from superb forensic specialists is thus apparently not always as hard, or as reliable, as its exponents might maintain.

Hedging bets with Rockefeller

Since it was a former Warren Commissioner, President Ford, who had nominated Nelson Rockefeller to head the commission and who had also suggested David Belin be executive director, a Warren-friendly outcome was not entirely unexpected. Such an outcome was further assurred when Warren Commission consultant Alfred Olivier was nominated and when forensic experts with ties to previous investigations were picked. As previously noted, Rockefeller’s, and perhaps Ford’s, preference for reliable appointees was apparently not restricted to those selected to investigate JFK’s murder. In their authoritative 1995 book about Nelson Rockefeller, Thy Will Be Done, authors Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett suggest that the fix was put in the moment President Ford named Rockefeller to head the investigation of the CIA.

When former CIA head William Colby showed up willing to talk, for example, Rockefeller “recommended keeping secret what in some cases even Colby thought unnecessary.” The V. P. had good reasons to do so, according to Colby. “As Eisenhower’s undersecretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare [HEW] and then as his special assistant on Cold War strategy and psychological warfare, Nelson knew about many of the CIA’s covert actions, including the mind-control experiments [which were funded partly through HEW] and assassination plots. Indeed, as chairman of the National Security Council’s Special Group, he was briefed on all covert operations and would have had to approve some of the most questionable ones, including coups and assassinations abroad and continuing mind-control experiments at home.”[265] Too bright a light cast on CIA abuses might have shown an approving Rockefeller standing in the shadows.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that David  Belin, Alfred Olivier and the medical consultants were not the only Commission investigators with potential conflicts of interest. So did several of the commissioners. Colby devoted a short appendix to the backgrounds of the Rockefeller Commission members. Five of them are of particular note:

·         C. Douglas Dillon, as an Eisenhower undersecretary of state, had participated in deliberations over the fate of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, both marked for assassination by the CIA. He was a director of the Institute of International Education, a recipient of CIA funds.

·         General Lyman Leminitzer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been active in planning the Bay of Pigs invasion and supported the CIA’s desire for direct U.S. military intervention, only to be overruled by Kennedy.

·         Erwin Griswold, former Harvard Law School dean, argued in 1971 on behalf of the Nixon administration to block the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers. In 1972, he argued before the Supreme Court that the U.S. Army’s surveillance of citizens opposing the Vietnam War violated neither federal law nor those citizens’ First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly or speech. He lost both cases.

·         John T. Connor was director of David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank. He had also been president of Allied Chemical, in which the Rockefellers held $52 million in stock.

·         Ronald Reagan, former actor and California governor. Reagan, who would soon be President, had no experience with the CIA. He attended few of the Commission’s sessions.[266]

Next: V. The 'Last' Investigation - The House Select Committee on Assassinations

[206] Op-ed. New York Times, 1/7/75, p. 32.

[207] Cited in: David W. Belin Final Disclosure. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, p.80

[208] David W. Belin. Final Disclosure. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, p.80. [President Ford, on January 7, brought forth my name for consideration as executive of the CIA commission.”]

[210] David W. Belin. Final Disclosure. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, p. 178

[211] David W. Belin. Final Disclosure. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, p. 181.

[214] Panel of Consultants Meeting, Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, Friday, April 18, 1975, conducted at the National Archives, Washington, D. C., retrieved from the Gerald Ford Library.

[216] Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States. Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, Chairman. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, June, 1975, p. 263. [Experimental results Lattimer reported in his book, Kennedy and Lincoln, (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980) have raised doubts about his work. Whereas, for example, Warren Commission consultant Alfred Olivier reported that test skulls he shot at were propelled away from him, Lattimer claimed that every skull he shot at recoiled back toward him, just as Kennedy was supposed to have done. Lattimer also said that he also fired at melons, and that every blasted melon also recoiled toward him, a result that has been attempted by others, but never once duplicated.]

[217] John K. Lattimer. Kennedy and Lincoln. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 251.

[219] Newsweek, June 23, 1975, p. 21.

[220] See also AP wire dispatch, 6/11/75.

[221] AP wire dispatch, 6/11/75, reprinted in: The Knoxville Journal, Vol. 110:140, June 12, 1975.

[222] Letter of transmittal dated February 17, 1998 from federal counsel, T. Jeremy Gunn of the Assassinations Records Review Board, to Cyril Wecht. 

[223] White House letter quoted in: Nichols, John. The Wounding of Governor John Connally of Texas, November 22, 1963.  Maryland State Medical Journal, October, 1977, p. 62-63.

[224] Jacob Cohen, Conspiracy Fever. Commentary Magazine, 10/75. In a 12/5/75 letter to Professor Josiah Thompson, Jacob Cohen wrote that “(Rockefeller Commission counsel Robert) Olsen talked to me at length about Wecht’s testimony.” (Copy of letter made available to the authors by Cyril Wecht.)

[225] Dr. Robert Joling, then the President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and Herbert L. MacDonnell, Professor of Criminalistics, Elmira College.

[226] Press Release, May 5, 1978. Copy supplied to authors by Cyril Wecht.

[227] Memorandum for file, from Robert B. Olsen, regarding subject “Telephone Conversation with Cyril Wecht, MD, JD,” 4/19/1975.

[228] Memorandum for file, from Robert B. Olsen, regarding subject “Panel of Medical Consultants Relating  to Investigation of Conspiracy Allegations Concerning Assassination of President Kennedy,” April 19, 1975, p. 2.

[229] Memorandum for file, from Robert B. Olsen, 4/15/75, regarding subject: “Medical Aspects of the Assassination of President Kennedy – Telephone Call from Dr. Cyril Wecht.” Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library

[230] Panel of Consultants Meeting, Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, Friday, April 18, 1975, conducted at the National Archives, Washington, D. C., retrieved from the Gerald Ford Library.

[231] Fred P. Graham. Mystery Cloaks Fate of Brain of Kennedy. New York Times, 8/27/72, p. 1.

[232] Letter from Werner U. Spitz, MD to Mr. Robert B. Olsen, Senior Counsel, Commission on CIA Activities Within the U.S., 4/24/75, obtained from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[233] Fred P. Graham. Mystery Cloaks Fate of Brain of Kennedy. New York Times, 8/27/72, p. 57.

[234] Vincent J. M. DiMaio. Gunshot Wounds – Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques. Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, London: CRC Press, 1985, p. 72 – 73.

[235] Vincent J. M. DiMaio. Gunshot Wounds – Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques. Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, London: CRC Press, 1985, p. 97.

[236] Quoted from the Supplemental Autopsy Report, p. 2, reproduced in the Warren Report.

[237] George Lardner. Archives Photos Not of JFK’s Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board. Washington Post, 11/10/98, p. A-3.

[238] ARRB deposition of John T. Stringer, July 16, 1996. This subject is discussed in detail by author Aguilar, in: “The Medical Case for Conspiracy,” in: Charles Crenshaw. Trauma Room One. New York: Paraview Press, 2001.

[239] Report of Fred J. Hodges, III, MD, professor of radiology (Neuroradiology), The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, “prepared after inspecting pertinent evidence at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., on 4/18/75 at the direction of Mr. Robert D. Olsen.” Photocopy from the Gerald R. Ford Library, p. 3 and 4.

[240] Clark Panel Report, reproduced in ARRB Medical Document #59, p. 11. Also reproduced in: Post Mortem, p. 590.

[241] Report of Richard Lindenberg, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, signed May 9, 1975. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library, p. 5. Lindendberg was Director of Neuropathology and Legal Medicine for the State of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

[242] Report of Richard Lindenberg, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, signed May 9, 1975. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library, p. 10-11.

[243] The Assassination of President Kennedy – Split-Second Sequence as the Bullets Struck. Life Magazine, 11/29/63, p. 24.

[245] Josiah Thompson. Six Seconds in Dallas. New York: Bernard Geis Associates for Random House, 1967, p. 71.

[246] “Governor Connally viewed the [Zapruder] film and testified that he was hit between frames 231 and 234.” In: The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy – Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964, p. 106.

[247] Report of Werner Spitz, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, dated 4/24/75, p. 2. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[248] Report of Richard Lindenberg, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, signed May 9, 1975, p. 2. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[249] Report of Werner Spitz, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, dated 4/24/75, p. 1. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[251] Report of Richard Lindenberg, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, signed May 9, 1975, p. 3. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[252] Excerpt of letter from Hoover to Warren Commissioner General Counsel J. Lee Rankin reproduced by HSCA in Report of the Forensic Pathology Panel, Vol. 7:90. Full letter reproduced in: Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 600.

[253] Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 599 – 601.

[255] Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 600. Frazier’s Commission testimony appears at: 5H61.

[257] Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 597 – 598.

[258] The FBI report Weisberg reproduced on page 599 of his book Post Mortem placed the nick on the left side of JFK’s tie.

[259] “No bullet metal was found in the fabric surrounding the hole in the front of the shirt … X-ray and other examinations of the clothing revealed no additional evidence of value.” From: FBI report published in CD 205, p. 153 – 154, reproduced in: Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 599.

[261] Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem. Frederick, MD, 1975, p. 598.

[262] Letter dated 4/25/75 from Robert R. McMeekin, MD to Mr. Robert Olsen, Senior Counsel, Rockefeller Commission, p. 1. Retrieved from Gerald R. Ford Library.

[263] Report of Werner Spitz, MD to the Rockefeller Commission, dated 4/24/75, p. 3. Retrieved from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

[264] Report of Fred J. Hodges, III, MD, op. cit, p. 9.

[265] Gerard Colby, Charlotte Dennett. Thy Will Be Done – The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil. New York: HarperPerrenial, p. 735 – 736. Reference is also made to: Tad Szulc, “Why Rockefeller Tried to Cover up the CIA Probe,” New York, September 5, 1977.

[266] Gerard Colby, Charlotte Dennett. Thy Will Be Done – The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil. New York: HarperPerrenial, p. 833 – 834.