Sunday, 12 May 2013 20:18

John McAdams, JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think about Claims of Conspiracy – Three Reviews (2)

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Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, McAdams trudges tirelessly onward, selectively using testimony to reach a particular conclusion. Though readers may find that it’s perhaps a bit short on fact, and a tad thin on logic, JFK Assassination Logic more than compensates by being wonderfully long on misguided patriotism, concludes Gary Aguilar.

Comes now yet another book to chastise Warren Commission skeptics for muddled thinking about John Kennedy’s assassination, JFK Assassination Logic. This time the author is a quirky, staunchly anti-conspiracy, political science professor who teaches at the Jesuit college, Marquette. The author declares his intent on the first page of the preface. “This is not a book telling you what to think about conspiracy theories,” he writes, “Instead, it provides advice on how to think about conspiracy theories … In this book, I will show the reader how to evaluate conspiracy theories.” (emphasis in the original) (p. ix).”

Right off the bat, John McAdams displays a trait that skeptics find both common and infuriating among Warren Commission loyalists – blatant dishonesty. Those prefatory sentences couldn’t be more misleading. No one could read the book, or be familiar with McAdams’ writings, and not realize what the professor really intends. Namely, to show that, once readers have learned from him how to think about Kennedy evidence, they’ll ineluctably know what to think: there was no conspiracy.

This book is not for the uninitiated. To readers with scant knowledge of the JFK case, the book will come off as hopelessly obscure, painfully pedantic and punctilious, and woefully mired in factual minutiae that mostly clouds a clear and simple understanding of the myriad controversies. But to those who need no explanation when things like “399,” the “Stemmons Freeway Sign,” “Z-frame 313,” and the like pop up, McAdams’book should be a great hit, regardless of whether they swear by, or at, the Warren Commission.

Warren Commission fans will embrace it because it endorses what they’ve always wished to believe: their fundamental faith in imperfect national authorities and investigative institutions has not been misplaced, and that disbelievers are overly suspicious, paranoid, gullible fools who are only too willing to believe almost anything about the “evil guvmint.” Skeptics, on the other hand, will delight in it for its abundant, unintended irony: in page after page, chapter after chapter, McAdams systematically and continuously flouts the very rules of fact and logic that he, clearly no logician (as David Mantik has shown), endlessly condemns skeptics for breaching.

Among the transgressions McAdams finds most disturbing are the twin sins of selective presentation of evidence, and the “embrace of” what McAdams calls, “evidence that’s not too reliable.” (p. x) “Everybody knows that writers, newscasters, and producers of documentaries can mislead their audiences by leaving out certain information,” he writes, adding, “The reader of this book may be dismayed to discover how often these omissions happen.” (p. x)

Though knowledgeable skeptics may be dismayed by the common practice of selective presentation of, and omission of, evidence, they will scarcely be surprised by it. Of course some skeptics are guilty. But such practices are at least as common among Warren Commission defenders, including McAdams, as they are the authors of Warren Report itself and other officials who’ve defended the original verdict. This fact is so firmly established by informed skeptics, as well as other government investigators, that it easily qualifies as what McAdams calls “hard data.”(p. x)

The clear pattern of evidence manipulation by government officials and government-favored witnesses (to say nothing of the Warren loyalists who defend them, the professor from Marquette among them) largely explains both the widespread disbelief in the Warren Commission’s conclusions, as well as the mountain of critical literature that has been published during the past nearly five decades. This book is a graduate-level course on how to reach pre drawn conclusions by none-too-deftly cherry-picking witnesses and evidence that support a “patriotic,” pro-Warren Commission verdict, while sedulously ignoring, when not misrepresenting, witnesses or evidence that challenges it.

The constraints of even an overly long review such as this allow but a small sampling of the myriad tortures to which McAdams subjects JFK fact and logic. Given the limitations, this review will focus on how the professor treats witnesses who support the Warren Commission as opposed to those who challenge it. More than one-third of his book is devoted to discrediting pro-conspiracy witnesses, which he does by either citing inconsistencies in their accounts, or by proffering confounding evidence. By contrast, he gives pro-government witnesses virtually a complete pass.

But in no case does McAdams acknowledge that minor inconsistencies are common, even among good witnesses whose credibility is confirmed by their accurate recall of important, salient events.[i] Nor does he show the slightest skepticism about the trustworthiness of conspiracy-refuting official accounts, whether from the FBI, the CIA, dubious police reports or questionable witnesses, especially those of paid, pro-government experts.

His selective faith in anti-conspiracy accounts is so consistent, and so defies the sordid history of the CIA, the FBI and many police actions, both in that era and even now, that it seems that McAdams’s real ambition is a “patriotic” one: he isn’t just defending the Warren Commission in particular, but instead the government and its investigative agencies, generally. After reading even the first few pages, one can’t help but think that McAdams’ real message is, “Don’t trust witnesses; trust instead government officials, their official statements, and their official reports.” This is particularly true regarding Kennedy’s controversial autopsy evidence.

Preferred Witnesses: Government Experts and JFK’s Autopsy Evidence

For example, regarding Kennedy’s all-important medical autopsy evidence, on page 147 the professor drops what he likely regards as the coup de grace on skeptics: “Two blue-ribbon panels of scientists – one appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968 and another working for the Rockefeller Commission in the mid-1970s – concluded that two and only two bullets hit Kennedy, both from behind, and inflicted wounds entirely consistent with a lone shooter in the Texas School Book Depository.” In other words, two different panels of government-paid/appointed experts confirmed the government’s original medical/autopsy findings. That’s it. Case closed. Who but a fool could doubt them?

While McAdams is indeed right that two separate groups of nationally recognized authorities essentially rubber-stamped the Warren Commission’s medical/autopsy conclusions, as did the Forensic Panel of the House Select Committee in the 1970s, nowhere does he admit that both official investigations were established in a way that all but guaranteed a pro-government verdict. Nor does he admit that the officials themselves had glaring conflicts of interest and that both groups of experts made so many serious mistakes – uniformly with an anti-conspiracy slant – that one can’t help but cast an obelisk eye at their conclusions.

The Clark Panel

As I’ve elsewhere shown, the Clark Panel made a number of obvious, serious errors, many of which the House Select Committee later corrected.[ii] A explanation for why the Clark Panelists had stumbled so badly may have emerged in an article in the 1977 issue of the Maryland State Medical Journal. Baltimore Medical Examiner and Clark panelist, Russell Fisher, MD, explained partly what had motivated the Attorney General to convene the panel in the first place: he said that Clark “became concerned about some statements he’d seen in the proofs of the not yet published book by Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas … [Clark] decided to get a panel of people together to look at [the autopsy evidence], independently of all other investigations … The result of this panel review was that we found some minor errors in [JFK’s autopsy] protocol, such as the site of the entrance wound as being just above the external occipital protuberance … .” The Clark Panel Report was released, Dr. Fisher said, “partly to refute some of the junk that was in [Thompson’s] book.”[iii]

Sensitive to the Attorney General’s desire to refute Thompson’s theory of a shot from the right front, the Clark Panelists delivered: two shots from the rear. The report was initially suppressed. It was subsequently released just prior to Jim Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw. Only years later, after the House Committee’s forensic panel had had another look, could it be publicly seen how sloppy the Clark Panel had been. The following is a partial list of the errors these ‘blue-ribbon scientists’ made. [Additional information on the Clark Panel can be found in my multi-part, on-line essay, “How Five Investigations Into JFK’s Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got It Wrong.”[iv]]:

1. The Clark Panel judged that both lateral X-rays were “left lateral,” meaning that both were shot with the X-ray beam shooting from the right side toward the left side of JFK’s head, which was placed downward, flat against the X-ray film. Wrong. As was immediately apparent to me, a non-radiologist who looks at skull X-rays with some regularity, as well as to the HSCA’s radiologists, one of JFK’s X-rays is left-lateral, the other is right-lateral.

2. The Clark Panel said that, among the “minor errors” JFK’s pathologists had made was claiming that the fatal bullet struck JFK low in the rear of the skull, near the external occipital protuberance (EOP). In fact, they said, the fatal bullet had actually struck JFK fully 10-cm higher. They also said that the X-ray trail of bullet fragments that the original autopsists said had gone from low in the rear, near the EOP, toward the front of JFK’s skull, was wrong too. The actual trail, the Clark Panel said, aligned with the 10-cm higher, entrance wound they picked. Wrong. As this author discovered for himself, and as the HSCA later determined, and as anyone looking even at the lateral skull X-ray as published by the HSCA can see, the actual fragment trail did not align with the higher entrance wound they picked; it was at least 5-cm higher than that.[v]

3. The Clark Panel said there were no bullet fragments visible on the left side, or the lower portion, of JFK’s skull X-rays. This was evidence, they said, of a sole shot to JFK’s head, arriving from above and behind to the right, and striking the top, right portion of Kennedy’s skull. Wrong. As the HSCA later determined, and as confirmed by me and David Mantik, apparent bullet fragments are visible both on the left side of JFK’s skull and on its “lower portion.” ( No surprise, McAdams repeats this error on page 180.)

4. The Clark Panel said X-rays showed retained bullet fragments in Kennedy’s neck. Wrong. As the HSCA, David Mantik and this author determined, the X-rays at the National Archives show no bullet fragments in JFK’s neck, only X-ray artifacts that look like fragments. (A simple comparison between two different X-ray projections, which radiologists routinely do, makes this abundantly clear, except to Clark’s ‘blue-ribbon’ expert.)

5. The Clark Panel said that autopsy photos revealed that there was a “a well defined zone of discoloration of the edge of the back wound, most pronounced on its upper and outer margin, (which) identifies it as having the characteristics of the entrance wound of a bullet.” The site of this so-called “abrasion collar” – toward the upper edge of the back wound signified that the bullet was traveling downward when it struck the President, as if from Oswald’s perch. Misleading. As the HSCA later found, and this author confirmed, the abrasion collar is more visible toward the lower edge of the wound than the upper, suggesting, as the HSCA later concluded, that the bullet was traveling upward when it struck.

The Rockefeller Commission

Regarding the ‘blue-ribbon-ers’ of the Rockefeller Commission, one scarcely knows where to begin. One can start by pointing out that Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller appointed as executive director of the Commission, David Belin, a former Warren Commission counsel, and an anti-conspiracy bulldog. Because of his clear conflicts of interest, Belin pledged to absent himself from the JFK aspects of the wide-ranging probe into CIA lawlessness and abuses. But, as I’ve elsewhere shown from the record, he did not keep his promise; he immersed himself substantially in JFK matters.[vi]

Another holdover was Warren Commission ballistics expert, Dr. Alfred Olivier. As I’ve previously pointed out, it was regarding his “duplication tests” that the Warren Commission said that “an extensive series of tests were conducted by the Wound Ballistics Branch of the U.S. Army.” These experiments, the Commission said, “blew out the right side of the (test) skull in a manner very similar to the head wounds of the President.”[vii]

oliver skull

Using Oswald’s rifle, appropriate ammunition and human skulls, Olivier undertook to duplicate JFK’s wounds. Describing Commission Exhibit # 862 – a photograph of a blasted skull from his tests – Olivier testified, “This particular skull blew out the right side in a manner very similar to the wounds of the President  … We found that this bullet could do exactly – could make the type of wound that the President received.”[viii] As anyone (but Warren loyalists, perhaps) can see, Olivier’s blasted test skull looked nothing at all like JFK. Whereas JFK’s forehead and right eye socket were fully intact, the right forehead and eye socket of Olivier’s skull were completely blasted away. This performance apparently earned him a coveted spot on Rockefeller’s team.

The other members of the team fell under a cloud when Pittsburgh coroner, Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, 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 (the Clark Panel) to defend the Warren Report.”[ix] Their subsequent performance more than justified Wecht’s concerns.

As I explored in my multi-part essay, “How Five Investigations into JFK’s Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got It Wrong,” Rockefeller’s “experts” made myriad, obvious errors, errors obvious even to non-physicians,, including some of the same mistakes the Clark panelists had made. Though beyond the scope of this review, interested parties are encouraged to read it. It almost goes without saying that, despite the fact that error tends to be random, going one way one time, and another the next time around, amazingly, all of the errors of David Belin’s patriotic underlings favored the government’s lone gunman scenario.

The bias of the panel was perhaps best exemplified by the remarks of panelist Robert R. McMeekin, MD, the Chief of the Division of Aerospace Pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: “The motion of the President’s head is inconsistent with the shot striking him from any direction other than the rear.” [x]In other words, against known evidence, common sense, and even his fellow panelists, McMeekin said that JFK’s rearward jolt is proof the shot came from behind. No authority but McMeekin has ever taken this position. Fellow panelist Werner Spitz, MD, for example, rightly 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.”[xi] Similarly, Panelist Fred Hodges, MD said 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 … .”[xii]

Although we later learned from the House Select Committee about the many errors of the professor’s “blue-ribbon” experts, even the HSCA was far from faultless. [In my on-line essay, I similarly take a hatchet to the medical/autopsy findings of the House Select Committee.[xiii]]

The point to be emphasized is not that the men who worked on the Clark Panel, the Rockefeller Commission and the House Select Committee were not recognized authorities. They were. Nor is it that they were less than perfect. No one is. It is rather that, in interpreting clues to the murder – the trail of bullet fragments on the X-rays, the location of the bruising on the abrasion collar in JFK’s back wound or the snapping of JFK’s skull – the government’s experts invariably found that the evidence supported the government’s original conclusion: Oswald did it. Or at least that the shots emanated from Oswald’s alleged position, above and behind. Their errors are plain as day. No advanced degree or university appointment is required to see them. Thus, expert opinion from government-appointed “blue-ribbon” experts is not always as hard, or as reliable, as the John McAdamses of the world would have you think. Who, after all, paid these fiddlers? Perhaps more importantly, who choose them, and why?

Just as McAdams sedulously ignores the peccadillos of witnesses who say what he wants to hear, he just as sedulously goes hammer and tong after witnesses who say what he doesn’t want to hear.

Debunking Pro-Conspiracy Witnesses

A case in point is the publicized account of the deaf mute, pro-conspiracy witness Ed Hoffman. He described seeing two men behind the fence atop the grassy knoll, including one who he believed had fired at JFK. McAdams refutes Hoffman by proffering a very selective version of events. McAdams claims that it wasn’t until June 28, 1967, almost four years after the fact, that Hoffman finally “contacts the Dallas office of the FBI, and tells of two men whose actions he thinks suspicious” (p. 260). He then gives the FBI’s unflattering report of an agent’s 1967 interview with Hoffman.[xiv] To discredit him further, he cites unflattering remarks by other witnesses, including some from Hoffman’s father. But McAdams doesn’t tell the whole story, not even close.

McAdams never lets on that Hoffman had great difficulty conveying what he’d seen to others because his writing ability was poor and because almost no one in those days could translate sign language. Nor does McAdams admit that Hoffman did not wait until 1967 to describe what he’d seen on the day of the assassination. Right after the shots rang out, Hoffman said he went to the Dallas Police Department and to the Dallas FBI office to try to describe what he’d seen, only to be rebuffed because no one could understand the deaf mute.[xv]

Hoffman said he also told his father on the day of the assassination. But his father didn’t want him going public for fear of what might happen. Nor does McAdams mention that Hoffman tried to tell his pro-conspiracy story again a few days later, on Thanksgiving. This time to his uncle Robert Hoffman, a Dallas Police Detective who vouched for his nephew’s “character and truthfulness.” To back up the Bureau, McAdams similarly cheats the reader by not telling that Hoffman believed that the FBI agent who interviewed him in 1967 was hostile, tried to bribe him, and that what the FBI reported officially was false.

While it’s unknowable whether the FBI agent did correctly understand Hoffman, or treat him shabbily, the professor shows the sort of “academic” he is by taking the Bureau’s account at face value and withholding substantial contrary evidence, including the witness’ side of the story. This, though it’s pretty clear that FBI agents knew what their boss, J. Edgar Hoover, wanted. As the House Select Committee put it (though you’ll look in vain for it in McAdams’ book) , “It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin, a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”[xvi] Other witnesses described the same sort of pressure Hoffman described.

Witness Wilbyrn Litchfield swore that the FBI had pressured him to retract his claim he’d seen LHO at Ruby’s Carousel Club.[xvii] Robert Oswald said the FBI threatened to deport Marina Oswald if she didn’t cooperate. [xviii] (Given Hoover’s fixation, one would have to be a real Warren loyalist to be confused about what the Bureau meant by “cooperate.”) Since these witnesses are not government officials or recognized authorities, Warren loyalists’ general response is to either ignore them or smear them, a la McAdams, and, a la McAdams again, to just take FBI evidence as gospel. But it is not so easy to dismiss credible government officials’ casting doubt on the Bureau:

  • Congressman Tip O’Neill recounted in his book Man of the House, that JFK special assistant Ken O’Donnell was riding in the car behind JFK’s and “told the FBI what I (O’Donnell) had heard [two shots from behind the grassy knoll fence], but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family.” Dave Powers, another JFK aide who rode in the limo with O’Donnell, said he too heard shots coming from the area of the grassy knoll,[xix] not that you’d know it by anything the FBI or the professor ever reported.
  • The HSCA’s chief counsel, Robert Blakey, was an experienced criminal investigator and prosecutor. “What was significant,” Blakey has written, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission, in light of the bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy. At a January 27 [1964] Commission meeting, there was another dialogue [among Warren Commissioners]:

    John McCloy: … the time is almost overdue for us to have a better perspective of the FBI investigation than we now have … We are so dependent on them for our facts … .

    Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin: Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problem. They have decided that no one else is involved … .

    Senator Richard Russell: They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.

    Senator Hale Boggs: You have put your finger on it.[xx]

  • The HSCA laid the Bureau’s testiness about alternatives to Oswald squarely at the Cappo’s feet. “It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin, a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”[xxi] (The Bureau’s ability to prove is legendary. It proved that Nixon was innocent of Watergate after what then-Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, with unintended irony, described as the greatest (FBI) effort since the assassination of President Kennedy.[xxii])
  • Retired FBI agent Don Adams recently claimed that he was assigned to Dallas shortly after the assassination and that he was pressured by his superiors to not follow leads that would lead away from Oswald, to keep mum about his suspicions it might not have been Oswald, and that some FBI files had been destroyed and tampered with.[xxiii]
  • Finally, apparently not even the Warren Commissioners themselves were free from Hoover’s abuse. The Senate Select Committee discovered that Hoover had deployed one of his favorite dirty tricks to deal with the Warren Commission. “[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention.”[xxiv]

These are just established, inconvenient facts. The Bureau successfully leaned on numerous witnesses to confirm Hoover’s conviction of Oswald. Predictably, McAdams does not deign to include “unpatriotic” nuggets such as these, including those sworn to under oath, admitted by government officials, or written as official conclusions, against the interests of the government itself, by government investigators – nuggets that show that the official investigative agency entrusted with solving the Crime of the Century could abuse truth as aggressively as any of the wacky conspiracists McAdams condemns.

Similarly, the professor also spares his readers other, contextually useful tales from the Bureau in the 1960s. For example, on July 28, 2002, AP reported revelations concerning long-suppressed horrors from the mid-1960s, “For more than 20 years, FBI headquarters in Washington (e.g. J. Edgar Hoover) knew that its Boston agents were using hit men and mob leaders as informants and shielding them from prosecution for serious crimes including murder.” It also reported that a known murderer was allowed by the FBI to go free, “as four innocent men were sent to prison in his place.”[xxv] Etc.

Setting aside for the moment the Bureau’s scabrous history under Hoover, and whether it’s sensible to credit the disputed account of as biased a source as the FBI on what Hoffman and other pro-conspiracy witnesses may have said, it’s worth noting something else McAdams withholds about the deaf mute: at least some of what he said was independently corroborated.

Echoing Hoffman’s early account that he’d seen two men behaving suspiciously behind the fence overlooking the grassy knoll was a railway worker, Lee Bowers. The man had a commanding view from his perch atop the signal box of the area behind the grassy knoll from which he observed two men.[xxvi]

Both the FBI and others reported that Hoffman claimed that, at the time of the shooting, he’d seen “a puff of smoke in the vicinity of where the two men” were standing behind the fence.[xxvii] Though McAdams uses a well-positioned Dealey Plaza witness, Sam Holland, to discredit part of Hoffman’s story (p. 15), he omits the fact that Holland, like Hoffman, had also said he saw smoke issue from atop the grassy knoll. (Moreover, like Hoffman, Holland also said that the FBI had falsified his own testimony.[xxviii] As usual, McAdams doesn’t mention this.)

Smoke coming from the grassy knoll atop Dealey Plaza is an obstacle to those who assume the absence of a grassy knoll gunman. (On his website, McAdams dismisses this by falsely, if hilariously, claiming that “modern firearms don't let off big puffs of smoke when they are fired,”[xxix] as if either Hoffman or Holland, or any of the other witnesses, had said they’d seen “big puffs of smoke.” “Big puffs” or no, many modern firearms do in fact emit smoke, including, although it’s likely irrelevant, Mannlicher Carcanos, as Douglas DeSalles, MD and Stanford Linear Accelerator physicist, Art Snyder, Ph.D., proved when they fired Mannlicher Carcanos in shooting tests.[xxx])

If Hoffman and Holland had been the only witnesses claiming they’d seen smoke, it’d be worth the attention McAdams gives it in his book: none. But in 1967 Josiah Thompson reported, “In all, at least seven people standing on the overpass saw smoke in the area of the parking lot and the stockade fence.”[xxxi] Thompson further noted that two Dallas Deputy Sheriffs had “independently reported being told by a witness or witnesses that smoke had been seen near the corner of the stockade fence.”[xxxii] That would seemingly take the number up to at least nine. “Then,” as author Anthony Summers pointed out, “there were the witnesses who actually claimed to have smelled gunpowder in the air. There were six of them, all either distinguished public figures or qualified to know what they were talking about.”[xxxiii] Among them were the mayor’s wife, Senator Ralph Yarborough, Congressman Ray Roberts.

Fifteen credible witnesses saying they’d either seen or smelled firearms-associated smoke at ground level in Dealey Plaza at the moment JFK was felled is an inconvenient obstacle for Warren loyalists, one that McAdams surmounts by entirely omitting it from his book. Instead, he goes after a deaf mute who was almost certainly misunderstood, a witness he crafts of straw by selecting and eliminating evidence that makes it easy to take him out at point blank range. Only Warren loyalists can fail to see the irony in how the punctilious professor has squarely placed himself among “advocates (who) selectively present information that serves their purposes.” (p. 77)

I highlight Hoffman because McAdams does. He is one of six witnesses discussed in a section entitled, “Witness Testimony of a Grassy Knoll Shooter?” (p. 13) Given that Hoffman was the very first witness McAdams presented, one might expect that Hoffman’s account was a core portion of the conspiracy canon. It isn’t. While authors Jim Marrs,[xxxiv] Bill Sloan[xxxv] and James Douglas give Hoffman a sympathetic ear, which this author encourages readers to examine for themselves, one will find Hoffman’s story in virtually none of the respected works of skeptics. It’s in none of the pro-conspiracy books published (unlike McAdams’s book) by university publishing houses. (All university-published books about the JFK case are pro-conspiracy.)

When not slashing deaf mutes, McAdams goes after witnesses who described Kennedy’s injuries in a way that challenged the government’s conclusions, particularly those I’ve cited. Since official evidence – autopsy photos and the autopsy report – show that Kennedy had a gaping wound to the antero-lateral portion of his skull (the right-front side of his skull, in front of his ear), McAdams takes pains to refute witness statements that this author compiled that suggest otherwise.

JFK’s Fatal Wound – Selecting and Eliminating Evidence

The professor writes,

“The tour de force of selectively using testimony to reach a particular conclusion can be found in an essay by Gary Aguilar, who claims to have examined the testimony of forty-six witnesses to Kennedy’s wounds at Parkland Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Aguilar claims that forty-four of them saw a wound to the ‘back of the head,’ contradicting the autopsy photos and X-rays and suggesting a shot from the grassy knoll … To reach this number, however, Aguilar has to be massively selective in the testimony he uses and quite tendentious in how he interprets it.” (p. 28)

McAdams showcases the statements of Clint Hill as his first example of my tendentiously abusing evidence. He writes, “Clint Hill was the Secret Service agent who ran to the presidential limo after the shooting started and huddled over John and Jackie Kennedy on the wild ride to Parkland. Aguilar quotes him (correctly) as telling the Warren Commission that he saw a “large gaping wound in the right rear portion of the [president’s] (sic) head.” Aguilar interprets this statement as supporting his position (that JFK had a rearward skull wound) despite its vagueness. But Hill told National Geographic, in a TV special titled Inside the U.S. Secret Service, that there was a ‘gaping hole above the right ear about the size of my palm.’ (p. 29) ‘Above his right ear’ implies parietal bone and is consistent with the autopsy photos and X-rays.”

McAdams never mentions that I prefaced my witness compilation with, “It was not the author’s intent to list every comment ever made by every witness, but rather to gather the earliest, presumably most reliable, accounts for consideration and comparison.” That aside, apparently McAdams considers me massively selective and quite tendentious because I failed to include in my 1994 essay statements that Hill (may have) made to National Geographic in 2004. (I’ve not been able to get a copy of the video to verify McAdams’ assertions. For what it’s worth, in his new book, Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Hill has again described JFK’s skull damage as involving the upper right rear of the head.[xxxvi])

But McAdams is correct that I offered Hill as a witness who said JFK’s skull damage was rearward. I did so because Hill’s meaning seemed clear enough in the full quote I cited, from which the professor took only a snippet. Here’s what I originally wrote, a longer Hill quote:

“The right rear portion of his head was missing. It was lying in the rear seat of the car. His brain was exposed ...There was so much blood you could not tell if there had been any other wound or not, except for the one large gaping wound in the right rear portion of the head.” (WC--V2:141)

Though McAdams doesn’t tell, I quoted more than just that. In the same essay, I also quoted Hill’s own 11/30/63 statement, in which he said that he “observed another wound (in addition to the throat wound) on the right rear portion of the skull. (WC--CE#1024, V18:744)” Perhaps there are readers who could read all that I wrote and yet agree with McAdams that I was wrong to believe that by “right rear,” Hill actually meant right rear. Nevertheless, by omitting much of what I wrote, McAdams has placed himself squarely among “advocates (who) selectively present information that serves their purposes.”

McAdams also takes aim at Bethesda autopsy technician, Jerrol Custer, who author David Lifton reported had said that, “the rear of the President’s head was blown off.” As David Mantik perfectly put it, McAdams “cites Jerrol Custer’s much later recall of the skull wound as being more accurate than his earlier description (which violates the rule that earlier reports are to be privileged over later ones). In any case, Custer’s wandering recollections for the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) raise deep doubts about his (later) memory. McAdams has again employed special pleading, i.e., selecting evidence favorable to his side and ignoring the rest. (For a photo showing Custer demonstrating the occipital wound, see The Killing of a President by Robert Groden (p. 88).”[xxxvii]

Next, McAdams writes, “Aguilar quotes Doris Nelson, a Parkland nurse, as having been asked by conspiracy authors Robert Groden and Harry Livingstone whether the autopsy photo showing the back of the president’s head as being intact was accurate.” (p. 29) A quick check shows that’s not what I wrote. Rather, I said that the Boston Globe’s Ben Bradlee, Jr. had asked her, according to Groden and Livingstone.

Citing p. 454 of High Treason, I wrote, “As Groden and Livingstone reported, however, journalist Ben Bradlee, Jr. asked her , ‘Did you get a good look at his head injuries?’ Nelson: ‘A very good look ...When we wrapped him up and put him in the coffin. I saw his whole head.’ Asked about the accuracy of the HSCA autopsy photographs she reacted: ‘No. It's not true. Because there was no hair back there. There wasn't even hair back there. It was blown away. Some of his head was blown away and his brains were fallen down on the stretcher.’”[xxxviii]

This amusingly tendentious distortion aside, the professor “refutes” Nelson by sending readers to a photo apparently taken by an interviewer for Life Magazine. In it, Nelson seems to be holding her hand over the right side of her own head, apparently demonstrating JFK’s wound. But McAdams doesn’t explain, either in his book or in his on-line writings, why Nelson specifically rejected the wounds in an official autopsy photograph that Ben Bradlee, Jr. had showed her. Nor does he even mention other evidence we have from Nelson.

In his marvelously comprehensive, on-line compilation, Vince Palmara quotes the following from authors Groden and Livingstone, “Nurse Nelson drew a picture of the head wound, mostly in the parietal area, but well towards the rear of the head. Her drawing conflicts strongly with the official autopsy photograph. When she saw that picture she said immediately, “It’s not true…There wasn’t even hair back there. It was blown away. All that area (on the back of the head) was blown out.”[xxxix]

Though Nelson is indeed holding her hand over the right side of her head in the photo, she also apparently drew a diagram McAdams doesn’t mention that showed a large defect involving both the right side and the rear of JFK’s head, consistent with the vast majority of other witnesses. The professor brandishes Nelson’s photo as the definitive proof of where she really believed the skull wound was – solely on the right side of JFK’s head. Thus a witness demonstrating JFK’s head wound in a photo settles it. Unless it goes the wrong way. Then, you never hear about it.

The professor pocket vetoes 18 photos on pages 86, 87 and 88 of Robert Groden’s The Killing of a President:18 separate witnesses, including seven physicians, demonstrate JFK’s skull damage by placing their hands on the right rear of their own skulls. While most include the right side, above the ear, they all show that the area behind JFK’s right ear was also damaged. None point to damage in front of the ear. The photo of Charles Carrico, MD, for example, has him placing his own hand exactly where he described the wound to the Warren Commission and the HSCA, the top right rear portion of his head. The caption reads, “There was a large – quite a large – defect about here (pointing) on his head.”

McAdams feels strongly about Carrico. He takes after me for including him among my witnesses to a rearward head wound, and also for my not mentioning that Dr. Carrico had drawn a diagram for the Boston Globe that depicted a wound on the right side of Kennedy’s head. I confess I was unaware of that diagram when I wrote my compilation in 1994, but the doctor’s early descriptions seem clear enough. And Carrico’s later vacillations seem clear enough, too.

In my compilation, I wrote that Carrico had said, “(the skull) wound had avulsed the calvarium and shredded brain tissue present with profuse oozing.....attempts to control slow oozing from cerebral and cerebellartissue via packs instituted... .” (CE 392--WC V17:4-5)

Arlen Specter asked him, “Will you describe as specifically as you can the head wound which you have already mentioned briefly?”

Dr. Carrico: “Sure. This was a 5- by 71-cm (sic--the author feels certain that Dr. Carrico must have said ‘5 by 7-cm’) defect in the posterior skull, the occipital region.”

In an interview with Andy Purdy for the HSCA on 1-11-78, Dr. Carrico said, “The skull wound "...was a fairly large wound in the right side of the head, in the parietal, occipital area. One could see blood and brains, both cerebellum and cerebrum fragments in that wound.” (emphasis added). [xl]

I added: “Despite a fifteen-year consistent recollection, like several other Parkland physicians, Carrico's memory seemed to undergo a dramatic transformation when confronted by author (Gerald) Posner. On March 8, 1992 Posner reported Carrico said, ‘We saw a large hole on the right side of his head. I don't believe we saw any occipital bone. It was not there. It (the location of the skull defect) was parietal bone...’.[xli] Both Posner and Carrico would have done well to have reviewed Carrico’s prior testimonies and affidavits before conducting interviews.”

Of course the professor shields his readers from this inconvenient information.

Thus, McAdams doesn’t lay a glove on, nor does he even address, the very essence of my inquiry. Namely, that, as I wrote, “despite over 40 witnesses’ having given opinions on the subject, not a single witness' earliest account acceptably described the anterolateral skull/scalp defect in JFK’s autopsy photographs. Why not? Second, while 45 of 46 witnesses were correct, JFK’s skull wound was on the right side, how could 44 wrongly agree the wound involved the skull’s rear, yet no one recall that it was where it should be - based on photographs - toward the front? In other words, if error is random, and if these authentic images prove the witnesses to have been in error, how could so many experienced witnesses, viewing the body in two very different locations, have been able to accurately identify on which side of JFK’s skull the wound was, yet be universally wrong the wound was more rearward than toward the front?”

This puzzle is particularly pesky given the fact that, as established authorities such as Elizabeth Loftus[xlii] and others[xliii][xliv] have shown, with the professor blithely ignoring them, studies prove that witnesses tend to be very good at accurately recalling “salient” details of witnessed events, the simple location of wounds certainly qualifying as “salient” to the treating doctors in Dallas and other credible witnesses.

Though McAdams ignores or dismisses most of early accounts of the doctors about where JFK’s skull damage was, he positively gushes over the anti-conspiracy implications of their early remarks about his throat wound. Referring to the low location in the neck given for that wound by resident physician Malcolm Perry, MD, and by Kennedy’s senior treating physician, neurosurgery professor Kemp Clark, McAdams writes, “these assessments come from admission notes of November 22, 1963 … long before any of the doctors could have learned of any controversy over the issue and ‘regularized’ their testimony.”

By now, readers will scarcely be surprised to learn that McAdams doesn’t apply the same standard regarding what these same witnesses said about JFK’s head injuries. In the same, ‘unregularized,’ admission notes,[xlv] brain surgeon Kemp Clark said that, “There was a large wound in the right occipitoparietal region … Both cerebral and cerebellar tissue were extruding from the wound.” (WC--CE#392) By hand, Dr. Clark also wrote, “… There was a large wound beginning in the right occiput extending into the parietal region ... ." (Exhibit #392: WC V17:9-10) In his 11-22-63 note, Dr., Perry described the head wound as, "A large wound of the right posterior cranium..." (WC--V17:6--CE#392)

And so it goes. Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, McAdams trudges tirelessly onward, selectively using testimony to reach a particular conclusion. Though readers may find that it’s perhaps a bit short on fact, and a tad thin on logic, JFK Assassination Logic more than compensates by being wonderfully long on misguided patriotism.


[i] Witness evidence: “Minor inconsistencies between witnesses regarding things such as time, speed and distance, all of which are affected by subjective assessments, will usually have a limited affect on reliability unless glaringly different. Minor differences on details can in fact enhance, rather than detract, from the credibility of the witness as too much similarity will suggest collusion.” Canadian Criminal Evidence
[iii] Blaine Taylor, The Case of the Outspoken Medical Examiner. Maryland State Med. J., March, 1977, p. 65-66.
[v] See:
[x] IBID.
[xi] IBID.
[xii] IBID
[xv] Bill Sloan. JFK - Breaking the Silence. Dallas Texas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1993, p. 22-31.
[xvi] The Final Assassinations Report--Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 150.
[xix] - Man of the House, by Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., p. 178. O'Donnell was riding in the Secret Service follow-up car with Dave Powers, who was present and told O'Neill he had the same recollection.
[xx] [xx] In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 29. This testimony was also published in: Mark North in: Act of Treason. New York, 1991, Carroll and Graf, p. 515--516.
[xxi] The Final Assassinations Report--Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 150.
[xxii] Fred Emery. Watergate--The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: A Touchstone Book for Simon & Shuster, 1995, p. 217.
[xxiv] In: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, Book V, p. 47. Also cited by: Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover--The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 549.
[xxvi] 6H287-288
[xxvii] Federal Bureau of Investigation report on the testimony of Ed Hoffman (25th March, 1977)
On March 25, 1977, Richard H. Freeman, Texas Instruments, Semi-Conductor Building, Richardson, Texas, telephone number 238-4965, home address 2573 Sheli, Frisco, Texas, telephone 377-9456, telephonically advised Special Agent (name deleted) that he knew sign language and has communicated with Virgil E. Hoffman, a deaf mute who is employed at his building at Texas Instruments. Mr. Hoffman communicated with him by the use of sign language and Hoffman was concerned that the FBI perhaps did not fully understand what he was trying to communicate. Hoffman communicated the following information to Mr. Freeman:

Hoffman was watching the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, at Dallas, Texas. Hoffman was standing on Stemmons Freeway watching the presidential motorcade, looking in an easterly direction when the motorcade sped away and headed north on Stemmons Freeway. Hoffman communicated that this must have been right after President Kennedy was shot. Hoffman saw two men, one with a rifle and one with a handgun, behind a wooden fence, approximately six feet in height, at this moment. This fence is located on the same side of Elm Street as the Texas School Book Depository building but closer to Stemmons Freeway. Since he is deaf, he naturally could not hear any shots but thought he saw a puff of smoke in the vicinity of where the two men were standing. As soon as he saw the motorcade speed away and saw the puff of smoke in the vicinity of the two men, the man with the rifle looked like he was breaking the rifle down by removing the barrel from the stock and placing it in some dark type of suitcase that the other man was holding. The two men then ran north on the railroad tracks by actually running on the tracks. Hoffman was standing approximately 75 yards from this fence. This fence was at approximately the same height or level as the ground floor of the Texas School Book Depository building.

On March 28, 1977, Virgil E. Hoffman accompanied Special Agent (name deleted) to Stemmons Freeway, also known as Interstate Highway 35 North, Dallas, Texas.

Hoffman communicated that he was driving a 1962 Ford Falcon on November 22, 1963. He parked his car on the west shoulder of Stemmons Freeway at the northbound lane near the Texas and Pacific Railroad overpass that crosses Stemmons Freeway. He could not see the presidential motorcade as it was proceeding west on Elm Street toward the Triple Underpass. He saw the motorcade speed up as it emerged on Stemmons Freeway heading north. His line of vision was due east looking from Stemmons Freeway toward the Texas School Book Depository building. The two men he saw were behind the wooden fence above the grassy knoll north of Elm Street and just before the Triple Underpass. He indicated he saw smoke in that vicinity and saw the man with the rifle disassembling the rifle near some type of railroad track control box located close to the railroad tracks. Both men ran north on the railroad tracks.

He tried to get the attention of a Dallas policeman who was standing on the railroad overpass that crosses Stemmons Freeway, but since he could not yell, he could not communicate with the policeman. He drove his car north on Stemmons Freeway after the motorcade passed him in an effort to find the two men, but he lost sight of them.
[xxviii] Josiah Thompson. Six Seconds in Dallas. New York: Bernard Geis Associates for Random House, 1967, p112.
[xxx] Personal communication.
[xxxi] Josiah Thompson. Six Seconds in Dallas. New York: Bernard Geis Associates for Random House, 1967, p. 121.
[xxxii] IBID, p. 119.
[xxxiii] Anthony Summers. Not in Your Lifetime. New York: Marlowe and Co., 1998, p. 27.
[xxxiv] Jim Marrs, Crossfire.
[xxxv] Bill Sloan. JFK – Breaking the Silence. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1993, p. 10ff.
[xxxvi] Clint Hill, Mrs. Kennedy and Me. New York: Gallery Books, 2012, pp. 290-291, 305-306.
[xli] Gerald Posner, Case Closed. New York. Random House, p.311.
[xlii] Elizabeth F. Loftus. Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996, p, 25 – 28.
[xliii] Loftus, Elizabeth F. Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996, p. 25 – 26. “Items that were highest of all in salience (“salience” being determined by the witnesses themselves) received accuracy and completeness scores of 98. Those that were lowest in salience received scores below 70.” Please note that an item judged not to be salient at all, i.e. “Salience category 0.00,” was still accurately recounted 61% of the time. See also the study to which Loftus refers, Marshall, J, Marquis, KH, Oskamp, S. Effects of kind of question and atmosphere of interrogation on accuracy and completeness of testimony. Harvard Law Review, Vol.84:1620 - 1643, 1971.
[xliv] Elizabeth Loftus, James M. Doyle. Eyewitness Testomony: Civil and Criminal, Second Edition. Charlottesville: The Michie Company, 1992.

Reviews of John McAdams' book JFK Assassination Logic by
Pat Speer
David Mantik
Frank Cassano

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:04
Gary Aguilar

Gary L. Aguilar, MD, is one of the few physicians outside the government ever permitted to examine the still-restricted photographs and X-rays taken during President Kennedy’s autopsy.  He has published widely on the medical evidence in professional journals, books and on-line.  He has  lectured before academic medical, academic medico-legal, and non-professional public audiences on the subject. He is currently Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, U.C. San Francisco, and the head of ophthalmology and the Vice Chief of Staff at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco.

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