Saturday, 16 October 2010 20:26

Malcolm Perry, MD Falls into the Kennedy Vortex

Not only did neither [Gerald Posner nor Vincent Bugliosi] address Dr. Perry's inconsistencies, neither ever mentioned the official HSCA memo to counsel Robert Tanenbaum concerning the plausible explanation Mr. Gochenaur gave for the doctor's flip-flopping, writes Gary Aguilar.

The recent death of Malcolm Oliver Perry, MD, [1] a key Parkland Hospital witness to President Kennedy's wounds, provides an instructive opportunity to revisit not only some of the mysteries of JFK's injuries, but also why, ironically, anti-conspiracy witnesses such as Dr. Perry make the case for conspiracy so compelling.

As so often happens with a witness showcased by the government, Dr. Perry's downright odd, flip-flopping behavior strongly hinted that authorities were exerting themselves behind the scenes to push the anti-conspiracy line. His saga also suggests that not only did a respected independent physician bow to those authorities, but so also did the press.

Dr. Perry, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical center, was one of the first physicians to attend to the president. And when he answered questions at a news conference shortly after JFK died, he was the first treating physician to speak publicly about Kennedy's injuries.

It was Dr. Perry's unrehearsed, seemingly pro-conspiracy remarks about JFK's injuries given right after his death, and how they were given a vigorous anti-conspiracy spin by the government, a servile press and the cooperative physician-witness himself, that convinces skeptics to this day that their doubts are well founded.

Dr. Perry at Parkland Hospital on 11.22.63

Little more than one hour after JFK was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital, Dr. Perry appeared alongside neurosurgery professor Kemp Clark, MD to answer questions at a press conference.

A newsman asked Dr. Perry: "Where was the entrance wound?"

Dr. Perry: "There was an entrance wound in the neck ..."

Question: "Which way was the bullet coming on the neck wound? At him?"

Dr. Perry: "It appeared to be coming at him ..."

Question: "Doctor, describe the entrance wound. You think from the front in the throat?"

Dr. Perry: "The wound appeared to be an entrance wound in the front of the throat; yes, that is correct. The exit wound, I don't know. It could have been the head or there could have been a second wound of the head. There was not time to determine this at the particular instant ..." [2]

Dr. Perry's initial impression isn't proof the wound in JFK's throat was an entrance wound. But at no time before the press did he allow that the wound might have been anything but an entrance wound. With but one exception, that of the New York Herald Tribune, to which we will later return, early press accounts accurately reflected Dr. Perry's words.

On 11.22.63 UPI reported that Dr. Perry had said, "There was an entrance wound below the Adam's apple." The New York Times reported that Dr. Perry had said, "Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam's apple ... This wound had the appearance of a bullet entry." [3] The Dallas Morning News reported, "The front neck hole was described as an entrance wound," and it quoted Dr. Perry to say, "It did however appear to be the entrance wound at the front of the throat."

The problem with this account arose with Oswald's arrest. For if he had indeed pulled the trigger, he'd have pulled it from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, above and behind JFK. Informed of the contradiction, Dr. Perry held fast to his initial impression. The Boston Globe's medical reporter, Herbert Black, asked Dr. Perry the next day how the throat wound could have been of entry if the gunman was behind the President. Perry answered, "It may have been that the President was looking sideways with his head thrown back when the bullet or bullets struck him." [4]

The Trauma Surgeon vs. the Press

Arlen Specter and the Warren Commissioners saw these press accounts as a problem for the lone nut case they were building. So much so that Mr. Specter took the unusual step of contacting Dr. Perry and others Parkland physicians in Dallas the week before Dr. Perry testified formally to establish, as he put it, "for the record what was true and what was false on the statements (sic) attributed to them." [5] Specter added that he had tried to obtain recordings of Perry's public comments for Perry to review "prior to his appearance, before deposition or before the Commission," but was unable to do so. [6]

The Commissioners were also concerned. Allen Dulles requested that Mr. Specter send Dr. Perry "the accounts of his press conference or conferences" for Dr. Perry to point out "the various points in these press conferences where you are inaccurately quoted, so we can have that as a matter of record." [7]

There is no evidence that this was ever done. Perhaps the reason it wasn't had something to do with the fact Dr. Perry proved to be a malleable and helpful a witness. Besides, considerable unpleasantness might well have ensued if Dr. Perry and The Commission had been forced to confront the doctor's actual, pro-conspiracy statements.

For example, in contrast to his telling reporters on 11.22.63 that the bullet "appeared to be coming at" JFK, when Mr. Specter asked Dr. Perry, "What responses did you give to [reporters'] questions relating to the source (entrance or exit) of the bullets, if such questions were asked?", he answered, "I could not. I pointed out that both Dr. Clark and I had no way of knowing from whence the bullets came." [8]

Warren Commissioner Allen Dulles followed-up with: "Was there any reasonably good account in any of the press of this interview?" Perry: "No sir." Rep. Gerald Ford then asked: "Were those reportings by the news media accurate as to what you and others said?" Perry: "In general, they were inaccurate." [9]

The Warren Report summarized the bad reporting on Dr. Perry's remarks, writing, "Dr. Perry stated to the press that a variety of possibilities could account for the President's wounds." And it quoted Dr. Perry to say, "I expressed it [his answers] (sic) as a matter of speculation that this was conceivable. But, again, Dr. (Kemp) Clark [who also answered questions at the conference] (sic) and I emphasized that we had no way of knowing." [10]

To buttress that position, the Report added, "Dr. Perry's recollection of his comments is corroborated by some of the news stories after the press conference. The New York Herald Tribune on November 23, 1963, reported as follows:

'Dr. Malcolm Perry, 34, attendant surgeon at Parkland Hospital who attended the President, said he saw two wounds – one below the Adam's apple, the other at the back of the head. He said he did not know if two bullets were involved. It is possible, he said, that the neck wound was the entrance and the other the exit of the missile.'" [11]

Of course The New York Herald Tribune did not corroborate Dr. Perry's actual words. And there were no other news stories besides that of The Tribune that supported Perry's fickle memory, at least none that I could find after a lengthy search. Like The New York Times and Dallas Morning News, they faithfully reflected what Perry had actually said. He had not offered the press a variety of possibilities about the throat wound; rightly or wrongly, he offered them only one – the throat wound was an entrance wound. There is less irony than one might imagine in the fact that the very press accounts that Dr. Perry denounced as false were true, while the one the Warren Commission touted as true was false. But by this time The Commission had what it wanted. So, rather than checking Dr. Perry's account against the verbatim transcript, which should not have been difficult to obtain, the Warren Commission accepted the professor's inaccurate testimony at face value, letting stand in the record a helpful, if false, slur against the press. The press, which could have checked Dr. Perry's testimony against the original footage, obligingly never did; or at least it never complained about Dr. Perry's false slur. Debunking accurate media reports wasn't the only service Dr. Perry provided the Warren Commission.

Dr. Perry vs. Dr. Perry

Under oath before The Commission, Dr. Perry described the wound, saying, "In the lower part of the neck below the Adam's apple was a small, roughly circular wound of perhaps 5 mm in diameter from which blood was exuding slowly. [12] A few minutes later, he elaborated, "this was situated in the lower anterior one third of the neck, approximately 5 mm in diameter. It was exuding blood slowly which partially obscured it. Its edges were neither ragged nor were they punched out, but rather clean." [13]

This account more aptly described a wound of entrance, a fact not lost on his interrogator.

Mr. Specter again pressed Dr. Perry on the point, appearing to ask the same thing, only this time he said, "...was it ragged or pushed out in any manner?"

(Pushed out? This refers to the position of the edges: a wound's edges are pushed out by an exiting bullet. Whereas punched out is an informal term used to indicate the condition of the edges. "Punched out" edges are clean and round, as if made by a hole punch.)

Dr. Perry's answer was not very different this time: "...the edges were neither cleancut, that is punched out, nor were they very ragged ... I did not examine it very closely." [14]

Even though Mr. Specter had gotten Dr. Perry to perform satisfactorily, he wanted even more; he wanted Dr. Perry to say that he believed the throat wound was an exit wound. And Dr. Perry did say it, after Mr. Specter ran through an elaborate "begging the question" scenario.

Midway through his testimony, Arlen Specter asked Dr. Perry a series of questions he would ask most of the Parkland doctor-witnesses: "Based on the appearance of the neck wound alone, could it have been either an entrance or an exit wound?"

Dr. Perry: "It could have been either."

Mr. Specter: "Permit me to supply some additional facts, Dr. Perry, which I shall ask you to assume as being true for purposes of having you express an opinion.

"Assume first of all that the President was struck by a 6.5-mm. copper-jacketed bullet fired from a gun having a muzzle velocity of approximately 2,000 feet per second, with the weapon being approximately 160 to 250 feet from the President, with the bullet striking him at an angle of declination of approximately 45 degrees, striking the President on the upper right posterior thorax just above the border of the scapula, being 14 cm. From the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process, passing through the President's body striking no bones, traversing the neck and sliding between the large muscles in the posterior portion of the President's body through a fascia channel without violating the pleural cavity but bruising the apex of the right pleural cavity, and bruising the most apical portion of the right lung inflicting a hematoma to the right side of the larynx, which you have just described, and then exiting from the hole that you have described in the midline of the neck.

"Now, assuming those facts to be true, would the hole which you observed in the neck of the President be consistent with an exit wound under those circumstances?"

Dr. Perry: "Certainly wound be consistent with an exit wound."

Mr. Specter: "Now, assuming one additional fact that there was no bullet found in the body of the President, and assuming the facts which I have just set forth to be true, do you have an opinion as to whether the wound which you observed in the President's neck was an entrance or an exit wound?"

Dr. Perry: "A full jacketed bullet without deformation passing through skin would leave a similar wound for an exit and entrance wound and with the facts which you have made available and with these assumptions, I believe that it was an exit wound." [15]

Apart from the fact that the angle of declination Mr. Specter described – downward at 45-degrees – is much too steep to fit with the supposed bullet path from JFK's back to his throat, his line of questioning is preposterous. It is a classic example of a well known logical fallacy, "begging the question," in which the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven when, in fact, no evidence or logic is provided to show why that assumption is true in the first place. [16]

None of the Ivy-educated Warren Commission attorneys and staff, and none of the physicians subjected to this flawed and tendentious line of questioning, commented on the obvious logical defect in Mr. Specter's line of inquiry. But Mr. Specter may have felt he achieved his goal.

A Very Private Conversation

Even though Dr. Perry swore that he believed the throat wound was an exit wound, he may not have actually believed what he said. On 2-14-92 an emergency room physician in Baltimore, Robert Artwohl, M.D. told an interesting tale in a "Prodigy" on-line post: Dr. Artwohl said that he had had a private conversation with Dr. Perry in 1986, and that Dr. Perry had said, "one of the biggest regrets in his life was having to make the incision for the emergency tracheotomy through the bullet wound, because he was certain that it was an entrance wound. He remembered making a very good mental note of the wound since he was cutting through it ... speaking with Dr. Perry that night, one physician to another in (sic) Dr Perry stated he firmly believed the wound to be an entrance wound." [17]

Dr. Perry and the Posterior Cranium

When doubts about the Warren Commission in the late 1970s led to a reexamination of the case by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Dr. Perry was interviewed by the HSCA's Andrew Purdy, JD.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of that interview was Dr. Perry's reaffirming his original description of JFK's skull injuries. In a note written at Parkland Hospital and dated 11-22-63, Perry described the head wound saying, "A large wound of the right posterior cranium was noted." [18] Dr. Perry testified to the Warren Commission that, "there was blood noticed on the carriage and a large avulsive wound on the right posterior cranium..." [199 and "I noted a large avulsive wound of the right parietal occipital area, in which both scalp and portions of skull were absent, and there was severe laceration of underlying brain tissue ...." [20] He told the HSCA much the same thing.

In an interview on 1-11-78 the HSCA's Andy Purdy, JD reported that Dr. Perry had said he, "... believed the head wound was located on the 'occipital parietal' (sic) region of the skull and that the right posterior aspect of the skull was missing ..." [21] and "I looked at the head wound briefly by leaning over the table and noticed that the parietal occipital head wound was largely avulsive and there was visible brain tissue in the macard (sic) and some cerebellum seen ...." [22]

Thus, on the day of the assassination, under oath before the Warren Commission a few months later, and again fourteen years after that, Dr. Perry gave a consistent description of JFK's skull wound, saying that it involved the posterior skull, the "parietal occipital" area. And he added that he'd seen cerebellum, which is a small lobe of the brain located at the very rear and bottom of the skull. Similarly, author David Lifton reported that Parkland emergency nurse Audrey Bell, who couldn't see JFK's head wound though she was standing along JFK's right side, asked Dr. Perry, "'Where was the wound?' Perry pointed to the back of the President's head and moved the head slightly in order to show her the wound." [23] These accounts would later prove problematic.

Dr. Perry vs. Oliver Stone and Charles Crenshaw, MD

Nothing more was heard from Dr. Perry about the Kennedy case until the Journal American Medical Association brought him back into the fray when it strode into the JFK case in a series of articles published in 1992. JAMA's work was a spirited defense of the Warren Report that came in response to Oliver Stone's film, JFK, and the publication of a pro-conspiracy book by Parkland witness Charles Crenshaw, MD, entitled JFK – Conspiracy of Silence. [24]

Dr. Perry was one of four Parkland Hospital physician-witnesses that JAMA had enlisted to both reaffirm the Warren Report and to discredit the dissident Dallas doctor. [25] JAMA wrote: "Since it is hard to prove a negative, no one can say with certainty what some suspect – that Crenshaw was not even in the trauma room; none of the four [Drs. Jenkins, Baxter, Carrico and Perry] recalls ever seeing him at the scene," [26] and, "...Most of those who know the facts ... question if he was involved in the care of the President at all..." [27] (emphasis in original) Ironically, in 1964 when one of JAMA's sources, Charles Baxter, MD, was asked under oath by the Warren Commission, "Can you identify any other doctors who were there at that time?", the first name Dr. Baxter gave was Dr. Crenshaw's. [28]

Had JAMA, with its legendary research capabilities, merely glanced at the index published by Warren Commission, [29] it would have found that Dr. Crenshaw's name appears in volume VI of the Warren Commission's "Hearings and Exhibits," on pages 31 - 32, 40, 60, 80 - 81, and 141, pages that more than confirm his presence in JFK's trauma room. [This bit of irresponsible journalism ended up costing JAMA nearly a quarter of a million dollars, plus court costs, when Dr. Crenshaw successfully sued the Journal for defamation after JAMA refused to publish a correction. [30]

Among the claims Dr. Crenshaw had made was that JFK's wounds were inconsistent with shots fired from behind. For example, the skull damage Dr. Crenshaw said he saw was not a blowout wound toward the right front of JFK's skull, as the autopsy photographs seemed to show. Instead, Dr. Crenshaw said it involved the whole right side of the skull, including the back of JFK's skull and the cerebellum – the parietal occipital region, in other words. [31] Well, that's not far from how Dr. Perry had repeatedly described the wound over a span of fourteen years. But in the furious reaction to Mr. Stone's movie and Dr. Crenshaw's book, Dr. Perry suddenly remembered things differently.

Dr. Perry vs. Robert McClelland, M.D.

Pro-Warren Commission author Gerald Posner reported that Dr. Perry had told him, "I did not see any cerebellum." [32] When told that Robert McClelland, MD, a close Parkland colleague and fellow witness, had said "I saw cerebellum fall out on the stretcher," Mr. Posner claimed that Dr. Perry responded, "I am astonished that Bob [McClelland] would say that ... It shows such poor judgment, and usually he has such good judgment." [33] Mr. Posner did not point out to Dr. Perry that he had himself told the HSCA that he'd seen cerebellum. [34]

Mr. Posner also proved that, when dealing with a helpful anti-conspiracy witness, he wasn't a stickler about following the advice he gave others: "Testimony closer to the event must be given greater weight than changes or additions made years later, when the witness's own memory is often muddied or influenced by television programs, films, books, and discussions with others." [35]

However, not everyone was so polite to Dr. Perry. In 1998, after JFK Review Board counsel T. Jeremy Gunn, JD, Ph.D. quoted Perry's own Warren Commission description of JFK's "right posterior cranium" injury, [35] Perry quickly retreated, lamely lamenting that, "I made only a cursory examination of the head ... I didn't look at it. I was in some kind of a hurry." [37]

The lessons we learn from Dr. Perry about how investigator bias can influence how evidence is handled and how witnesses can be manipulated by investigators are scarcely new. The Warren Commission, the Journal of the American Medical Association and author Gerald Posner are staunch Warren Commission supporters. They therefore were naturally disinclined to check the record of a witness like Dr. Perry who told them what they wanted to hear.

One is left wondering why someone as accomplished, experienced and independent as Dr. Perry would seem to be so willing to make a fool of himself by contradicting himself and by not only turning on the press, but also on a colleague and friend, Dr. McClelland. While it's unlikely we will ever know for sure what was behind all this, a seemingly credible witness has come forward with an intriguing tale that just might help us understand Dr. Perry.

A Knock on Dr. Perry's Door

In a memo written to House Select Committee counsel, Robert Tanenbaum on 6.1.77, investigator Howard Gilbert described an interview with a man named James Gochenaur who had quite a story to tell about conversations he had had with a Secret Service agent named Elmer Moore. Agent Moore apparently told Mr. Gochenaur in 1970 that the Secret Service had sent him to Parkland Hospital to speak with the doctors about the wounds. Agent Moore told Mr. Gochenaur that he felt guilty about what he had done to Dr. Perry a few days after the assassination.

Gilbert: "All right. What did he (Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore) have to say about Kennedy? Or anything that indicates to you that he may have knowledge – ah, or may have done something wrong in the investigation."

Gochenaur: "Ok, what he told me was this, he said that he had badgered Doctor Perry into changing his testimony, he did not feel good about that."

Gilbert: "He – being Moore?"

Gochenaur: "Yes, Moore talked to Perry and, I guess, really laid it on to the poor guy."

Gilbert: "In what respect, what areas did he badger Perry with respect (sic)"

Gochenaur: "Ah, what Perry had seen, as he was doing his emergency operation, apparently."

Gilbert: "Well, in what way's did he indicate to you that he had Perry distort the truth?"

Gochenaur: "In – I think that what he was trying to say was him [sic] to making a flat statement that there was no entry wound in the neck, or that where the position of the wound in the back [sic], what Moore was telling me after he talked about that was the fact that his study, and the study that went into talking with the Doctors [sic], is that there was no conclusive evidence where any of the shots had come from, at that point. Ok? If the report that he had written up ..." [38]

Mr. Gochenaur said that Agent Moore offered him an explanation why he'd done the things he did in investigating the Kennedy case: " [W]e had to do what we were told, in regards to, you know, the way the way they were investigating the assassination, or we get our heads cut off." [39]


It's clear that the story Dr. Perry told about the JFK assassination on the day of the murder is different than the story he later gave. It's not clear, however, why he changed it. Mr. Moore might well have been the agent of change. Or it could have been the influence of Mr. Specter, both in open Warren Commission session or before that in the off-the-record interviews he conducted with the Parkland doctors. Perhaps the influence of both Agent Moore and Mr. Specter explains Dr. Perry's turnabout.

I have written elsewhere that the government has made myriad errors in its various investigations of JFK's medical and autopsy evidence. [40] And rather than the errors being typical human, random mistakes – some favoring conspiracy, some against it – they instead tended uniformly to distort evidence along anti-conspiracy lines. The same pattern seems evident in the behavior of Dr. Perry, who appears to have allowed himself to be used to further the anti-conspiracy agenda by publicly denouncing accurate, pro-conspiracy press reports, which the government irresponsibly never cross checked; by contradicting his own, earliest (and therefore most likely reliable) statements; and even by ridiculing the account of a highly esteemed, close medical colleague, Robert McClelland, MD. Unfortunately, as I've also elsewhere written, [41] a scenario such as we've seen with Dr. Perry could be written about a number of the other Dallas doctors, with Dr. McClelland, MD being a notable exception. (William Kemp Clark, M.D. was another notable exception, and his story is should be the subject of a separate article.)

Although it's scarcely a surprise to many who are familiar with their work, celebrated Warren Commission defenders Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi were silent on Dr. Perry's peculiar flip-flopping when they selectively quoted his comments to make their anti-conspiracy case. Not only did neither address Dr. Perry's inconsistencies, neither ever mentioned the official HSCA memo to counsel Robert Tanenbaum concerning the plausible explanation Mr. Gochenaur gave for the doctor's flip-flopping.

Following his brush with history in the early sixties, Malcolm Perry quietly carried on a long and distinguished career as a professor of surgery at several respected universities, including the University of Washington, Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Texas Southwestern. He died at age 80. During those years he apparently spoke almost nothing of the assassination, even when among fellow physicians. [42]

~Gary L. Aguilar, MD

End Notes

1.     David Stout, “M.O. Perry, Kennedy Surgeon, Dies at 80.” New York Times, 12.8.09,%20obituary&st=cse
3.     New York Times, 11.23.63.
4.     Boston Globe, 11.24.63. p. 9
5.     3H378
6.     3H378
7.     3H377
8.     3H375-376
9.     3H376
10.  Warren Report, p. 90
11.  Warren Report, p. 90-91.
12.  3H368
13.  3H372
14.  3H388
15.  3H373
17.  Prodigy interactive personal service, 2-14-92, 7:45 AM, in:” Arts Club” bulletin board, books-nonfiction. In a posting to John Hensley (NXVX71A) from Robert Artwohl (BSMK63A)-copies available by request with SASE to author.)
18.  17H6, Warren Commission Exhibit #392.
19.  3H368
20.  3H372
21.  7HSCA295.
22.  7HSCA302.
23.  Lifton, David. Best Evidence. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988, p.704.
24.  Charles Crenshaw, MD, JFK – Conspiracy of Silence. New York: Signet Book, 1992.
25.  Breo, D. “JFK’s death, part II – Dallas MDs recall their memories.” JAMA, May 27, 1992; v. 267(20):2805.
26.  Breo. JAMA. Vol. 267:2804.
27.  Breo. JAMA. Vol. 267:2805.
28.  6H40.
29.  15H761
31.  Crenshaw, p. 79.
32.  Gerald Posner. Case Closed. New York: Random House, p. 312.
33.  Ibid.
34.  7HSCA302.
35.  Posner, p. 235.
36.  ARRB depositions of Parkland witnesses, p. 19.
37.  ARRB depositions of Parkland witnesses, p. 23.
38.  HSCA Memo from Howard Gilbert to Robert Tanenbaum, dated June 1, 1977, HSCA Record Number: 180-10109-10310, Agency File Number: 014182, p. 22.
39.  HSCA Memo from Howard Gilbert to Robert Tanenbaum, dated June 1, 1977, HSCA Record Number: 180-10109-10310, Agency File Number: 014182, p. 21.
40.  Gary Aguilar, Kathy Cunningham, "How Five Investigations into JFK’s Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got It Wrong."
41.  GL Aguilar, CH Wecht. The Medical Case for Conspiracy. In: Crenshaw, CA, Trauma Room One. New York: Paraview Press, 1992, p. 170-286.
42.  Obituary, Dallas Morning News, 12.08.09.

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