Saturday, 02 March 2024 03:56

New book on the HSCA by Tim Smith

Written by

In his new book titled Hidden in Plain Sight, Tim Smith describes and analyzes the evidence in the public testimony of the House Select Committee public hearings, the last investigation. Did it prove what the Committee said it did?

Tim Smith begins his book on the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA)—titled Hidden in Plain Sight—with two pertinent facts about the John Kennedy murder. First, the FBI found that the alleged rifle used in the case fired high and to the right of the target. Yet, the trajectory from the window which the Warren Commission said the alleged assassin fired from was a slight right to left angle. (Smith, p. 6). He then points out that President Kennedy is reacting to being hit before he disappears behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. And the projectile is rising 11 degrees out of his throat. (Smith p. 13) He follows this by saying, this indicates there was no delayed reaction by Governor Connally, but the Commission said there was. (Smith, pp. 15-16)

Also, the governor is holding his hat at Zapruder frame 230, when the Warren Commission says that his wrist has been shattered. Agreeing with Josiah Thompson, the author says that Connally was likely hit at Zapruder frame 237. And further decimating the Single Bullet Theory, Connally always insisted that he heard the first shot. (Smith, pp. 16-17) He concludes his opening chapter by saying that the HSCA hinted at a later shot at Zapruder 327, after the alleged final shot at 313—which further blows up the official story. Today this last concept has become almost an accepted idea on the part of the critical community. (Smith, pp. 30-31)

What Smith’s book does is chronicle and analyze the testimony of all the witnesses who testified in public before the HSCA. In that respect it is unusual, since I know of no other book that has dedicated itself to such a task. That chronicle begins with John Connally and ends with acoustics expert Dr. James Barger.


As Smith goes through the testimony in order, he tries to show that, even with their own witnesses, the HSCA was suggesting the contrary of what would be their conclusions. Although the HSCA ended up maintaining the Magic Bullet and three shot scenario, the testimony of people like Nellie Connally and Robert Groden undermined the ersatz concepts. Smith goes into related areas to show that the cover up about the Zapruder film was a desperate one at Life magazine. He points out the infamous breaking of the plates for the press run of the October 2, 1964 issue in order to cloud the head explosion and Kennedy’s fast rearward movement at Zapruder frame 313. (p. 51)

He returns to the FBI test showing that the alleged rifle fired high and to the right; therefore, at a distance of 60 yards, the shot would have missed by several feet—at least. (p. 65) He also brings in problems with chain of custody, for example the important Warren Commission testimony of Troy West: the man who dispensed paper at the Texas School Book Depository and said Oswald never asked him for any. Undermining the Commission myth that Oswald wrapped the rifle in the Depository paper. (p. 65)

One of the highlights of the book is Smith’s review of the testimony of Ida Dox, the professional medical illustrator who rendered drawings of the medical photos for the HSCA. One of the most startling revelations in the book is that Dox—real name Ida Meloni—said she never saw a picture of JFK’s brain. (p. 80) Smith then deduces that what we may have in the HSCA volumes is a tracing of a tracing. If that; since when Tim asked her if she drew the brain she said she could not recall. (p. 90) But Dr. Michael Baden, chief of the HSCA pathology panel, said she did so.

Smith also delves into the problem that Dr. Randy Robertson first discovered: Baden had her alter the illustration of the back of Kennedy’s skull in order to transform what appears to be a drop of blood in the original, into a bullet wound in the drawing. The book also makes clear, with memoranda, that medical researchers Andy Purdy and Mark Flanagan were aware of this alteration. But when Tim asked her about seeing other illustrations from other books, which the evidence indicates she was supplied with, she did not want to answer the question. (Smith, p. 91) But it is clear that Purdy was the chief researcher on the medical side, and Flanagan was his assistant. (pp. 82-86) And they were securing materials for her. Make no mistake, this was an important strophe by the HSCA. Because it was part of their crucial decision to raise the posterior skull wound from the base of the head to the cowlick area.

Smith writes that Baden’s elevation of the rear skull wound may have been presaged by his association with the Clark Panel doctors. While he was Attorney General, Ramsey Clark had appointed a medical panel to review the JFK autopsy and they had filed a report in which they raised the posterior head wound. Baden made a contribution to an anthology they wrote, and for which Clark wrote the foreword. (Smith, p. 88) As most know, the Clark Panel report first raising the posterior skull wound upward by four inches, was released on the eve of jury selection in the Clay Shaw trial. This made the trajectory of the fatal head shot more credible from back to front, since it now aligned with the nearly straight on positioning of JFK’s head in the Zapruder film, and not the false anteflexed position in the Warren Commission illustrations by Harold Rydberg. (Click here for background on this)

The point being that the HSCA medical panel was gearing up for a Galileo moment for the original Bethesda pathologist, Jim Humes the Kennedy pathologist who had originally written that the wound was at the lower spot. According to Smith, Humes complied by moving both wounds—the head and the back—by about ten centimeters or four inches. Never addressing the question of how wounds move in dead people over time. (p.94)


The next group of witnesses also tended to concentrate on the medical evidence in the case. These were Dr. Lowell Levine, Calvin McCamy and Dr. Michael Baden. Levine was a DDS from NYU and was summoned to recognize if the teeth and fillings in the x-rays were President Kennedy’s, which he did. (p. 99) But as the author notes, this does not guarantee that the rest of the x-ray areas could not have been tampered with.

McCamy had degrees in chemical engineering and physics and was a fellow of the Society of Photographic Scientists and Engineers. One of his missions was to verify the legitimacy of the backyard photographs. As the author notes, when McCamy was testifying about the line across the chin observed by many in the photos, and how the chin appears different in the BYP than in other pictures, things got a bit silly. The alleged expert actually said the following:

This photograph is quite remarkable. This was taken by the Dallas police. It shows that it isn’t the picture that has a line across the chin. It is the man that has a line across the chin. He actually has an indentation right here, and that does show up in these photographs, right in the center and right here. (Smith, p. 108)

As the author notes, McCamy was also allowed to make assumptions based on his reading of the Zapruder film. Smith scores him for being allowed to do this and calls some of his observations “beyond silly” for someone who is supposed to be interpreting the autopsy photographs. (Smith, p. 107)

Next up was Michael Baden. Smith notes that according to the HSCA, the rear back wound was rising at about 11 degrees. (p. 113) He also observes that the HSCA did marginally consider a shot beyond Z 313 at about Z 328—which we will deal with later. (p. 116) Smith also scores the Baden idea that the holes in both Kennedy’s jacket and shirt line up with a bullet wound at the first thoracic vertebrae. (p. 119) Tim Smith disagrees and sides with Admiral George Burkley who signed the death certificate with the damage being lower, more aligned with the third thoracic vertebrae.

Smith goes on to say that Baden bought into the magic bullet idea in defiance of Dr. Robert Shaw’s evidence that there was no fabric deposited in Governor Connally’s back, or any found on the magic bullet, CE 399. He asks: how could this be if the bullet theoretically went through 15 layers of clothing? (Smith, p. 121) Smith also contests a posterior headshot at Z 312. He believes, that this ever so slight bob forward is a smear on the film. Josiah Thompson, Gary Aguilar and Paul Chambers think it is also a result of the braking of the car, as Kennedy, who was already hit, drifts forward. (Smith, p. 115, p. 137)

Baden depicted the wound in the cowlick area as a “typical gunshot wound of entrance”. Which on the original pictures, before the Ida Dox artistry, is simply not true. (Smith, p. 122) Smith also contests Baden on the issue of whether or not the pictures and illustrations of Kennedy’s brain are genuine.

In sum, about Baden, who he spends 31 pages on, the author simply says, “He lied and knew he was lying.” (p. 126)


Continuing with the autopsy, Smith now takes up the evidence of Kennedy pathologist James Humes, and HSCA forensic pathology consultants Cyril Wecht and Charles Petty.

The author reminds us about Warren Commission attorney Arlen Specter and his questioning of James Humes:

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?” (Smith, p. 147)

Only in the JFK case could such questions be raised with a straight face. The author reminds us that Humes did not see the pictures until November of 1966. Which is why Specter asked the question. The big point of Humes’ HSCA testimony is his persuasion by the pathology panel to move the posterior head shot into the cowlick area. (Smith, p. 153). For the Warren Commission, he and his two partners—Thornton Boswell and Pierre Finck—had the entering head shot coming in near the bottom of the skull, four inches lower. Which is a lot of area on the rear of the skull. And, as Smith notes, in their private consultations with the HSCA panel, Humes and Boswell disagreed with that higher placement. (Smith, p.154) But in public, Humes did his Galileo turn.

Under questioning, Humes admitted he did not know who some of the personnel working that night at Bethesda were e.g. photographer John Stringer. Smith adds, this is because he did not do autopsies. (Smith, p. 157) When asked why he did not weigh the brain that evening, he said, “I don’t know.” Humes also said that he did not understand why Admiral Burkley signed the autopsy report, since he did not remember him doing so. (ibid) Smith also comments that Humes only had one HSCA questioner, Gary Cornwell. (Smith, p. 155) Which seems odd considering his importance to the case.

Cyril Wecht is noted for his quite vigorous and effective public dissent from the conclusions of the HSCA pathology panel. He disagreed with them, particularly about the Single Bullet Theory. Wecht wanted certain experiments done, and he did not think that Governor Connally could still he holding his Stetson hat in his hand after his wrist had been shattered. (pp. 167-69). Wecht also objected to the upward and then downward trajectory of the Magic Bullet. (Smith, p. 170). The forensic pathologist also brought up the mysterious problems with locating John Kennedy’s brain, which was missing from the National Archives. Chief Counsel Robert Blakey then indicated that the HSCA had done a study of this and tried to center on the role of Robert Kennedy. Yet the Assassination Records Review Board found out some rather jarring and opposing information about this quite troubling matter. Their information, from two sources, is the brain ended up at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. (Click here)

Charles Petty is an interesting witness. He replaced Dr. Earl Rose as the coroner in Dallas in 1969. He told CNN in 2003 that he thought Kennedy’s autopsy was done well. A remarkable statement which even the HSCA’s Michael Baden did not agree with; in fact, Baden said it was the exemplar of bungled autopsies. (The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, p. 61) When once asked if it would be important to examine the brain if the victim died from a head shot, Petty said “It would be nice if the brain were available.” But he then added that it would not be essential since in the JFK case we had the photos and x rays. (Ibid, p. 62). We have now found out of course, that the official photographer in the JFK case admitted to the ARRB that he did not take the pictures in evidence. Which begs the question: who then did and why? (See Doug Horne’s testimony in the film JFK Revisited.)

In his HSCA testimony, Petty brought up Wecht ten times. He said that there was no evidence that CE 399 shattered the rib. (HSCA Vol. 1, p. 377) But then how did John Connally’s rib get smashed? Petty then When asked if it was accurate to say that the bullet went through wrist bone, he replied it was a tangential shot. (Ibid, p. 378) You can read this for yourself, try not to arch your eyebrows. Charles Petty made Baden look a bit decent.


From here, the HSCA public hearings went onward and downward. About the testimony of an HSCA witness who worked for the Warren Commission, Larry Sturdivan, Smith writes, “It was sad to read, sadder to watch on video and pathetic to read in their Final Report.” ( p. 181). Strudivan’s educational background is a B. S. in physics from Oklahoma State, and an M. S. in statistics from the University of Delaware. But yet the HSCA relied on him for some of its most controversial scientific conclusions, like the infamous neuromuscular reaction to explain the fast and powerful backwards motion to JFK getting hit from a shot from behind. (Smith, p. 189) That ersatz doctrine and its application to the Kennedy case had been thoroughly discredited by the work of Gary Aguilar and Wecht. (Click here)

As Smith notes, there is also another thoroughly discredited piece of evidence that the HSCA accepted as fact. That is the key testimony Blakey used to bolster the Magic Bullet, namely the testimony of chemist Vincent Guinn and his so- called Neutron Activation Analysis testing which linked CE 399 to bullet fragments in Connally. After describing the discrediting work of James Tobin, the late Cliff Spiegelman, Eric Randich and Pat Grant, Smith in the field that is now called Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis, Smith writes:

There is now no reason to believe that the bullet fragments retrieved from Governor Connally’s wrist have any connection with CE 399, the magic bullet. (Smith, p. 209)

There were other facts about the HSCA which tended to work against the Warren Commission. For example their expert could not link the projectile fired at General Walker to the rifle in evidence. (p. 197). They also could not link CE 399 to the rifle. The excuse for the latter was that, due to the repeated firing of that rifle, there was a build-up of particles in the barrel of the weapon. (Smith, p. 198) Also, one of their experts, astronomer William Hartman, said he detected a blur in the Z film at around frame 331 which could have indicated a shot after the alleged final hit at frame 313. (Smith p. 220) They were also hearing testimony from a photographic expert that the boxes in the so-called sniper’s nest had been moved between the Dillard photo taken just seconds after the last shot, and the Powell photo taken several seconds later. (p. 426) Marina Oswald told the committee that Lee Oswald liked John Kennedy and spoke well about him. (p. 249). She also said she did not think Oswald was a true communist. (p. 270) James Rowley, Secret Service chief in 1963, did all he could to conceal the fact that there were prior plots against JFK in 1963. (p. 361)

Some of the testimony from people like J. Lee Rankin is hard to take. About the FBI, Rankin said that, “Well, as to their cooperation with us, I thought it was good.” Rankin said that later, after the investigations of the Church Committee, especially concerning the fact that J. Edgar Hoover knew about the CIA plots to murder Castro and did not tell the Commission about it, his opinion about their character changed. I guess we should be thankful for that. (Smith, p. 394). Rankin also said there was no pressure against finding a foreign conspiracy. Odd, considering the fact that they never even interviewed Sylvia Duran of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. In fact, Luis Echeverria, the Secretary of the Interior at the time, more or less stopped any Commission inquiry into Mexico City. It is hard to comprehend how Rankin, Chief Counsel to the Commission, could not have known about this. By the way, Echeverria went on to serve as president of Mexico from 1970-76.

Rivaling Rankin was the testimony of Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach was pressed as to why it was so important for him to write a memo 72 hours after the assassination saying the public should be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin. His reply was, “I don’t think that is artistically phrased. Perhaps you have never written anything you would like to write better….” It was also later revealed that Katzenbach did not believe the CIA was involved in any assassination plots. He says be based this on assurances that CIA Director Dick Helms gave to President Johnson in his presence in 1965. (Smith, p. 405)

No comment.


Some of the questioning by the HSCA, to be kind, did not seem complete, well-prepared or vigorous. To point out some examples, there was Louis Witt, the Umbrella Man. He claimed he did not know the Latin looking man standing next to him on Elm Street as they stood, and then sat on the curb as the limousine drove by them. (p. 432) He claimed he did not even realize the president had been fatally shot. And he did not know this for sure until after he returned to work that day. (p. 437) He said he was not aware of the path of the motorcade route on November 22nd. (Smith, p. 429)

As most know the HSCA tried to insinuate that if there was a conspiracy to kill JFK it was likely done by the Mob. Therefore they called people like Lewis McWillie, Jose Aleman and Santos Trafficante. McWillie disagreed with the committee as to when he was in Cuba and when he returned to Texas, and also that Jack Ruby was only in Cuba for six days and not a month as the Cuban records show. (pp. 444-45) Aleman claimed he heard Trafficante say that Kennedy would not be re-elected, he was going to be hit. (p. 459)

Trafficante was in a denial mode. He said he never carried poison pills in order to kill Fidel Castro. In fact, he said that all he did was act as an interpreter in the plots because the U. S. government asked him to. He denied the Aleman claim. And he said he never knew Jack Ruby and Ruby never visited him while he was in detention in Cuba. (pp. 463-68)

I will not deal with all the witness that Smith describes and analyzes. But I will say that he goes through every witness involved with the controversial acoustics tape, with which the committee decided that there was a shooter from in front of the limousine. (pp. 487-518) And which, in 2021, Josiah Thompson used as the cornerstone of his book Last Second in Dallas.

So, this is clearly the most complete and in-depth compendium with which to measure the quality and comprehensiveness of the HSCA public hearings. On top of that the author includes four appendices, one on Howard Brennan, one on Sylvia Odio—neither of whom testified in public for the HSCA—one on the photographic puzzle called Black Dog Man and the last is on Life’s three versions—during which they broke the presses at great expense—of its photo essay for their October 2, 1964 issue. The last two pieces were written by Martin Shackleford and John Kelin.

As per Brennan, he simply refused to testify before the committee. Under any circumstances. (Honest Answers by Vince Palamara, pp. 186-89) And Tim is at pains to show why he would not, even under subpoena. Why the HSCA would even want him to appear is kind of puzzling.

According to Gaeton Fonzi, Odio was willing to testify about the visit to her Dallas apartment by Oswald, or his double, just a few weeks before the assassination. But she was eliminated from the agenda at the last minute for nebulous reasons. (Fonzi, The Last Investigation, pp. 258-59) Gaeton ends his fine book by saying she was now willing to testify in public and on TV—after being reluctant for many years—because she was frustrated. She was angry because the truth had been bottled up by forces she could not understand, yet she felt powerless to counteract. When Fonzi told her the HSCA would not call her for televised public testimony, she replied with, “We lost. We all lost.”

Smith has written a worthy and unique book that continues the excavation of why the House Select Committee—which Fonzi called the last investigation—ended up as disappointing as it was.

Last modified on Thursday, 07 March 2024 09:41
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

Find Us On ...


Please publish modules in offcanvas position.