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Autopsy Photos and X-Rays

Enhanced anterior-posterior X-ray from Kennedy autopsy
Enhanced anterior-posterior X-ray from Kennedy autopsy.

See HSCA Medical Panel Report, p.111.

If the autopsy report is inadequate, and medical witness accounts contradictory, then what about the "hard" evidence - autopsy photographs and X-rays? Shouldn't they provide clear evidence of how many bullets there were and from what direction they came?

Unfortunately it is not that simple. The extant photographs and X-rays are limited and poor-quality, and have been subject to varying interpretation. There is for instance no photo clearly showing the fatal entrance wound, though there is testimony that one was taken. Other photos, including one of the chest and one or more with a probe through Kennedy's body illustrating a bullet path, were testified to but are not present in the collection.

The release of the House Select Committee on Assassinations' files in the 1990s, and new interviews with autopsy participants, have added to concerns that the photographic and X-ray record of the autopsy has been tampered with. Saundra Kay Spencer, the woman who processed autopsy photos after the assassination, told the Review Board under oath that the pictures in existence are not from the set she developed. Photographer John Stringer similarly disavowed the existing brain photos which he is supposed to have taken.

The HSCA did authenticate the X-rays as genuine using stereo viewing (which would detect tampering among pairs of photographs of the same subject), and verified via anthropomorphic analysis that it is indeed Kennedy in the photos. But HSCA files reveal that the photographs failed another key authenticity test, and this failure was buried and subsequently misrepresented in an HSCA report. The X-rays are similarly the subject of authenticity disputes.

When autopsy photographer John Stringer was shown the Archives' brain photos in a 1996 deposition, he was asked "whether the photographs in front of you now are consistent with the brain, as you remember it from 1963?" Stringer replied, ""Well, it has to be, if that's Mr. Kennedy." To which Review Board Counsel Jeremy Gunn responded: "Well, that's the question."



How Five Investigations into JFK's Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got it Wrong, by Gary Aguilar, MD and Kathy Cunningham.

Archive Photos Not of JFK's Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board, by George Lardner, Jr.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations and the Autopsy Photographic Evidence, by Gary Aguilar, MD.

New Witness Speaks on Medical Evidence, by William Law.

What's Wrong With These Pictures?, by Barb Junkkarinen.

Problems with the JFK Autopsy X-Rays and Photos: Have the JFK Autopsy Materials Been Faked or Altered?, by Michael T. Griffith.


ARRB Staff Memos (by Doug Horne):

Clark Panel Report. 1968 Panel Review of Photographs, X-Ray Films, Documents and Other Evidence Pertaining to the Fatal Wounding of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.


Documents (cont.)

HSCA Medical Panel Report (Volume VII of Final Report):

ARRB Medical Testimony:

HSCA Medical Testimony:

ARRB Medical Documents (Exhibits):

  • MD 4. Supplementary Autopsy Report.
  • MD 14. Review of Autopsy Materials by Humes, Boswell and Finck. See also draft inventory (MD 12) and signed inventory (MD 13).
  • MD 16. CBS - Memorandum from Bob Richter to Les Midgley. See also MD 17.
  • MD 68. President Johnson's Notes on Conversation with Acting Attorney General Ramsey Clark (dated January 26,1967).
  • MD 95. NARA Document-Annual Inspection of Kennedy Autopsy Material dated January 19, 1996.
  • MD 150. FBI Internal Memorandum To: Mr. Belmont From: A. Rosen (dated 11/26/63), Recommending that FBI Not Request Autopsy Photos and X-Rays from U.S. Secret Service.
  • MD 230. ARRB Meeting Report of May 10,1996 ARRB In-Person Interview With Ms. Gloria Knudsen and Children Terri and Bob (Surviving Family of White House Photographer Robert L. Knudsen).

Related Starting Points


HSCA Medical Interviews. See particularly John Ebersole, Robert Knudsen, and Regis Blahut.

ARRB Medical Interviews. See particularly Saundra Kay Spencer, John Stringer, Floyd Riebe, Jerrol Custer, Francis O'Neill Jr., and the Knudsen family.

Books of Interest

    Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK
James H. Fetzer, editor
Catfeet Press, 1998
Stewart Galanor
Kestrel Books, 1998
    Inside the Assassination Records Review Board
Douglas P. Horne
Douglas P. Horne, 2009
    Murder In Dealey Plaza
James H. Fetzer, editor
Catfeet Press, 2000
    In the Eye of History: Bethesda Hospital Medical Evidence in the JFK Assassination
William Law
JFK Lancer Productions & Publications, 2004
    Post Mortem
Harold Weisberg
Skyhorse Publishing, 2013

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