Friday, 20 January 2023 03:46

JFK Medical Betrayal: Where The Evidence Lies by Russell Kent

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Jim DiEugenio reviews Russell Kent's new book JFK Medical Betrayal: Where The Evidence Lies.

Russell Kent graduated from the University of London with a degree in physiology, which means he studied how anatomy and systems of the body function. He then went to work at a hospital laboratory started publishing. He has now written a book on the medical evidence in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is called JFK Medical Betrayal. It approaches the subject in an unusual manner, one that ends up garnering some valuable insights into the case.


Kent begins his book by writing that the Warren Commission essentially discounted the Parkland doctors’ observations in lieu of the pathologists at Bethesda morgue, where Kennedy’s body ended up the night he was killed. There were two serious problems in doing this. First, the pathologists at Bethesda—Jim Humes, Thornton Boswell, and Pierre Finck—were not really qualified to be practicing forensic pathologists. And second, for whatever reason, they did not do a complete autopsy. If the law had not been broken, the autopsy would have been done in Dallas, by a respected medical examiner, Earl Rose. But as a result of these shortcomings—amazingly—no one really knows the specifics of how Kennedy was killed.

From here, Kent focuses on what happened at Parkland after Kennedy’s body arrived. Dr. Charles Carrico directed the gurney be sent to Trauma Room One. (Kent, p. 19) There, Carrico discovered a very small wound in the anterior neck. He also observed a right posterior wound of the head, down low, “about 50-70 mm in diameter and with the skull sprung outwards.” Carrico saw both cerebrum and cerebellum. (p. 19) Malcolm Perry called for a tracheotomy tube. But by 1:00 PM, Dr. Kemp Clark, the team leader, pronounced Kennedy dead. (p. 20) Nurses Diana Bowron and Margaret Henchliffe undressed Kennedy and washed the body. Clark and Perry went on to write about this large, avulsive wound in the rear of Kennedy’s skull. (p. 21) In addition to Perry, Carrico also believed the anterior neck wound was one of entrance, as did Henchliffe. (p. 22)

According to the author, since LBJ feared further attacks, the new president ordered everyone back to Washington. (pp. 24-25) This led to some rather poorly qualified doctors performing this very important autopsy. Jim Humes had taken a one week course in forensic pathology 10 years prior. (p. 26) But since 1960, Humes was essentially an administrative desk jockey. And he stayed one until his retirement. (pp. 26-27)

Another indication of these doctors’ lack of experience is that on the autopsy face sheet, Thornton Boswell did not affix his name, or that of Kennedy as a patient. (pp. 27-28) Boswell described the back wound as measuring 7 x 4mm, but he located it in relation to two movable parts of the anatomy, the mastoid process and the right acromion. The proper manner is to measure down from the top of head and then left or right of the spine. (p. 29)

Pierre Finck was also an administrative desk jockey who may never have performed a gunshot wound autopsy. He was not certified in forensic pathology until 1961, at which time he was not performing post-mortem examinations. The most logical time for Finck to have done a gunshot wound autopsy was when he was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. But, at that time, he was not board certified. So its logical that he likely assisted in such exams. (p. 30) Finally, Finck got there well after the autopsy had begun.

As many have noted, a lot of the facts in the autopsy report are not backed up by written data. Humes burned his notes and the first draft of his report. This happened around the time he heard Oswald had been killed. (p. 31). Further, the pathologists did not consult the photos in preparation of their report. According to the author, Humes did talk to Perry that night and learned of the anterior neck wound. (p. 32). And this was the basis for the idea that the back wound exited the neck wound.

The author poses a cogent question at this time. Namely, why did Dr. George Burkley—who was Kennedy’s personal physician—not inform the pathologists about all that had happened at Parkland? After all, he was the only physician at both locations. (p. 33)


From here, Kent delves into the creation of the Single Bullet Theory. The FBI concluded that there were 3 shots, and 3 hits: one to Kennedy’s back, one to his head and one to Governor Connally’s back. They discounted the bullet strike to James Tague on Commerce Street and Kennedy’s anterior neck wound.(p. 39) J. Edgar Hoover never bought the Single Bullet Theory.

The Warren Commission did not agree. With them, the hole in the front of Kennedy’s neck—which was smaller than the back wound—now became an exit wound. These Commissioners were supported by a team of alleged experts at Edgewood Arsenal testing grounds: including doctors Joseph Dolce, Alfred Olivier, Arthur Dziemian and Frederick Light. The Commission eventually concluded that the back wound, which was 7 x 4mm, was the entrance wound and its exit was the anterior throat wound which was about 3-5 mm wide. In other words, the exit was smaller than the entrance. (p. 45)

As the author notes, there is no evidence that any tests were done on trajectory analysis of the bullet though the back, i.e. whether or not it would hit bones in the spinal cord. Even worse, Olivier stated that their experiments, “…disclosed that the type of head wounds that the president received could be done by this type of bullet.” (p. 51) As Kent notes, this is not accurate. Because their experiments showed that this type of skull wound would result in a blow out of the right side of the face. That is not what happened to Kennedy. Another point about these experiments: in wrist simulations, the entrance was always smaller than the exit. Yet the reverse was true about Connally’s wound. (p. 53)

According to Kent, there was disagreement about the Magic Bullet concept. Some of it based on the fact that experimentation showed that such a projectile would not emerge so intact. But it was Arlen Specter who decided to ride out the storm. Beyond that, Light and Dolce thought Connally was hit by two bullets. (p. 55). Dr. Robert Shaw, who worked on Connally at Parkland, testified twice. He could not buy one bullet in Connally, he also was reluctant to accept CE 399, the Magic Bullet.(p. 57) Kent notes that Dolce did not testify before the Commission. One wonders if this was one of Specter’s censoring assignments, like Burkley and his death certificate and the two FBI agents at the autopsy.


By 1967, a strong undercurrent had developed opposing the Warren Commission. Several critical books and essays had gained popularity, and DA Jim Garrison had opened an inquiry in New Orleans. Therefore, the Department of Justice decided to begin a counter attack based on the medical evidence. (p. 68). They first gathered Humes, Boswell, autopsy photographer John Stringer, and radiologist John Ebersole in Washington to review the pictures and x-rays. They signed a false statement about the collection being intact, with nothing missing. (p. 69). A second review then took place by the three pathologists. They said the materials agreed with their original report. (p. 69)

But this was just the beginning of the DOJ maneuver. Deputy Attorney General Carl Eardley now asked Thornton Boswell to write a letter sanctioning an independent panel. Eardley tried to create an illusion that this was Boswell’s idea, but the evidence indicates the letter was written by the DOJ and sent to Boswell to sign. (p. 70). This was the beginning of the creation of the Clark Panel: a panel of four men allegedly independently appointed from academia to review the autopsy at Bethesda. But as with the letter, Kent advances a case that this was not really accurate. That it was really Attorney General Ramsey Clark who appointed this panel.

The four men chosen, likely by Ramsey Clark, were: Doctors William Carnes (pathologist), Russell Morgan (radiologist), Alan Moritz and, most importantly, Russell Fisher (the last two qualified as forensic pathologists). A high point of the book is Kent’s analysis of the backgrounds of these four men, indicating that Clark did not want an honest review, which is why he chose them. (pp. 72-76) This section seemed to me to be original and well-reasoned. For instance, Moritz taught Fisher at Harvard, Fisher was very reliant on government funding, and Fisher knew both Humes and Boswell. Also, Fisher had written a text book that was used by pathologists around the world. (To cavil on this section, I think it would have been helpful if Kent had mentioned Fisher’s role in the investigation of the alleged suicide of CIA officer John Paisley. Click here for that)

The Clark Panel met for two days and the second day was not a whole day. (p. 77) Boswell and Humes appeared before the panel. Kent gives us a good summary of the materials they reviewed. He then mentions that the panel raised the rear skull wound upward by four inches and he supplies reasons for why they did so. Kent also adds that their report on damage to JFK’s brain differs from what the original autopsy report depicts. First, the panel reported significant damage on the left side of the brain which the original report did not, and second was that the corpus callosum was widely torn down the midline. (p. 83) As the author notes, were the pictures the Panel looking at not of Kennedy’s brain? In fact, eventually Fisher admitted that Kennedy’s brain was not sectioned, which he characterized was really a crucial step. (p. 84)

In their description of the now infamous 6.5 mm fragment on the x-rays of the skull, there is no mention that this measurement matches the caliber of the alleged bullet fired at Kennedy. Neither do they say that the dust like particles in the front of Kennedy’s skull are above the posterior entrance wound. This would suggest an entrance wound. Further, the fact that the larger particles are located near the back of the skull would also suggest this origin, as Dr. Vincent DiMaio wrote. (p. 91)

Another deception was that the report described “a track between two cutaneous wounds”, presumably between JFK’s back and neck. But as Kent notes this was an imputation: there was no proven track. (p. 92) The main reason being that this wound—as well as the skull wound—was not dissected.

All four doctors signed by April 9, 1968. Yet, it was not released to the public until January 16, 1969. This was just before jury selection began in the trial of Clay Shaw. Kent’s discussion of the Clark Panel is one of the best—if not the best—I have seen in the literature.


The next inquiry into the JFK autopsy was in 1975 under the Rockefeller Commission, headed by President Gerald Ford’s Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller. Incredibly, Warren Commission lawyer David Belin was appointed the chief counsel to this body. He tried to neutralize the issue of bias by having Robert B. Olson run the JFK inquiry. But as Kent writes, Belin showed up during the medical review and took the testimony of two doctors.

A large amount of evidence was made available to the doctors. It would take weeks to absorb the material. They were left alone with it for one day and then sent out to produce reports which Belin wanted in about 7-10 days. (p. 104) But Belin and Olsen also asked questions about the case that were clearly suggestive. Things like, “How many bullets struck the president?” And “From which direction did each bullet come?” Kent goes through these questions and gives us examples of what the replies were.

For me the most revealing exchange was to a question that asked, if the sectioning of Kennedy’s brain was necessary to arrive at reliable information concerning the number of shots or angles that hit Kennedy? Anyone familiar with the process would have to reply in the affirmative. How else could one conclude how many bullets hit JFK’s head and what path they followed? Well, consider this answer:

Although as a routine matter dissection of the brain in gunshot wounds of the head is desirable, it is not an essential element in this case. I do not believe that further examination of the brain would contribute significant additional information relating the angles from which the shots were fired. (p. 111)

But yet Belin loaded up even more by adding questions about whether the skin tissue slides were necessary as were pictures of the chest. Of course, both were missing in the JFK case. But again, the good doctors tell us that, like the brain, they really were not necessary for additional information. Can one imagine a cross examination of that reply under oath in a courtroom? I certainly can.

Making it worse was that one of the doctors, Richard Lindenberg, worked with Finck at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. He was also an odd choice in that most of his papers dealt with aviation accidents. Perhaps this was because he was in the medical corps for the Luftwaffe and came to the USA as part of Operation Paperclip. (p. 114) Needless to say, he later wrote a paper with Fisher. Werner Spitz was also on the panel, and he worked with Fisher for a number of years from the late fifties and during the sixties.(p. 123). Another dubious choice on the panel was Alfred G. Olivier, since he worked for the Warren Commission. As the author notes, all the doctors were from the DC/Baltimore area except for Spitz, who moved to Michigan after living in Baltimore for 13 years. (pp. 134-35)

The Rockefeller Commission continued with the raised rear skull wound, 10 cm about the external occipital protuberance. But as Kent ably points out with photos, although one can make a (weak) case for a wound near that spot in the color photo, that case all but evaporates in the black and white shots. (pp. 120-21)

Finally, the Rockefeller Commission misrepresented Dr. Cyril Wecht’s testimony. He was asked to testify and he did so for five hours in May of 1975. He was critical of the autopsy and the Magic Bullet. His testimony was reduced to three paragraphs in the report and one would never know how critical he was. Misrepresenting his testimony, it looked like Wecht supported the Rockefeller conclusions. This dispute reached the pages of the New York Times. Wecht asked to see his transcript. He was denied. (p. 135)


From the Rockefeller Commission, Kent quite naturally leads into the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). As the author notes, during the first phase of the HSCA, Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Tanenbaum only wanted two forensic pathologists: Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh and Michael Baden of New York City. Attorney Tanenbaum had worked with the latter often since he was in the Manhattan DA’s office and was in charge of the Homicide division for about seven years.

This approach was drastically altered under the second Chief Counsel, Robert Blakey. Blakey added seven doctors, and this now made for a nine person panel. Baden had just finished a book he co-wrote with Fisher and Charles Petty, who would be on the panel and was the new medical examiner in Dallas. In fact, Baden wanted Fisher on his panel, but he wisely declined the invitation. Petty had trained in Fisher’s facilities and said that Fisher was the best forensic pathologist he knew. (p. 153) Baden also chose Werner Spitz who had been on the Rockefeller Commission Panel and was a friend of Humes, and had been Fisher’s deputy in Baltimore.

Kent, after describing briefly the other panelists—Davis, Coe, Weston, Loquvam and Rose—concludes that Wecht was the lone independent doctor. He had not published with any of the others and had no personal relationship with Fisher. Plus, he was familiar with other aspects of the JFK case.

There was an overwhelming amount of material to learn and absorb, and again this could not be done in just the four days the panel met together. But yet, miraculously, at the end of the fourth day, “it became apparent that the members were in substantial agreement with respect to the interpretation of the evidence.” But further, for whatever reason, Wecht was in a sub group and therefore was not allowed to question two of the original autopsy doctors: Boswell and Finck. (pp. 156-57)

Andy Purdy was the HSCA writer/researcher for the medical panel. He wrote that one of the panel’s functions was to override the idea that the original autopsy doctors’ views should be given greater weight.(p. 163) But Humes would not give in easily to the panel’s desire to raise the rear skull wound upward. In fact, this part of the HSCA discussion provoked Loquvam to say there should have been no recording made of it. The original radiologist, Ebersole, now admitted there were x-rays missing. (p. 165)

The HSCA panel ended up supporting the Clark Panel on the elevated rear skull wound. Why? The author thinks this was for two reasons. First, in reverence to Fisher. The second was to escape any possibility of extensive damage to the cerebellum, which about seven witnesses saw at Parkland. (pp. 189-90) And Kent comments that the panel largely ignored the Parkland witnesses and their observations.

In fact, Kent concludes that Baden misrepresented Dr. Robert Shaw’s reasons for doubting the Magic Bullet. Baden said it was because of John Connally’s testimony. But Shaw did not buy it because “he did not think the bullet was tumbling or had struck anything before hitting the governor.” (p. 191) He therefore doubted any bullet could have emerged like CE 399.

Wecht ended up being the sole dissenter. He criticized the panel for seeming to accept the work of urologist Dr. John Lattimer and ignoring the pioneering work of pathologist Dr. John Nichols, who had testified at the Clay Shaw trial. When Wecht testified before the committee he raised some very cogent and consequential objections to the Single Bullet Theory. These were ignored by the medical panel. The committee then questioned Wecht in a hostile manner.

The Single Bullet Theory was going to be honored again. But it would not live long as the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) did their own inquiry. Partly at the request of the final chairman of the HSCA, Louis Stokes. As Doug Horne related to this reviewer, Stokes told the ARRB that no one was satisfied with what the HSCA did with the medical evidence.

In his chapter on the ARRB, Kent focuses on what their outside experts wrote after they were brought in to view the evidence. That is people like forensic radiologist John Fitzpatrick. He was an acquaintance of Executive Director David Marwell. But he specialized in broken bones in children, not bullet wounds. (p. 236). Forensic pathologist Robert Kirschner said the raised entrance in the skull was likely the proper head wound, but he could not match it to the x-rays. He asked to see CE 399 but was skeptical of it. He thought there should have been a large wound track and a gaping exit wound in JFK’s throat. Such was not the case. (p. 241)

Kent concludes that a completely independent forensic pathology team should have been called in. One that was free of any establishment American influence. (p. 247) In fact he suggests a team from the United Kingdom’s Guy’s Hospital Medical School. He specifically names three men: Francis Camps, Donald Teure, and Keith Simpson. Together, they investigated many unlawful deaths in the London area. For instance, all three were involved in solving the Rillington Place murders. These men could and should have been brought in, for example, to the HSCA panel, but they were not. Whatever they would have concluded they would not have been accused—quite rightfully as was the case—of bias.

This is an unusual book in its approach. To my knowledge, the medical evidence has never been studied in the new manner that Kent utilizes. It’s almost like a C. Wright Mills approach to the case. For just that he should be appreciated. But beyond that, he studied several medical archives to actually garner the connections between the men who were tasked with examining the forensic facts of Kennedy’s death. With a surfeit of evidence, he proves they were the wrong choices. Which is why their work has not stood the test of time.

Last modified on Friday, 20 January 2023 09:11
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.

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