By John Canal
For decades nothing has stoked the fires of controversy over whether or not there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK more than the conflicts pertaining to the medical evidence.
While numerous eyewitnesses, for example, reported seeing an “exit-like” opening in the back of JFK’s head (BOH) , which strongly suggested he was shot from the front, e.g. the infamous Grassy Knoll, three panels of forensic experts commissioned by the government in 1968, 1975, and in the late seventies concluded in concert, based mostly on certain autopsy photographs, that there had been no such “exit-like” BOH wound---and, incredibly, that the recollections of the eyewitnesses were wrong .
In addition, while the autopsy doctors were adamant the fatal bullet entered low in JFK’s BOH and exited the top/right/front  (which to many seemed to indicate the shot was fired from near ground level), the same panels of experts that refuted the eyewitnesses’ accounts describing an “exit-like” BOH opening reported the fatal bullet entered high in his BOH  consistent with a shot fired from above and behind him. Shockingly these panels concluded, based once again on certain autopsy photographs  (see above), the autopsy doctors had been grossly mistaken about the location where the fatal bullet entered his BOH.
In 2000 this author was challenged to resolve these decades-long conflicts regarding the medical evidence by one of the foremost and highly respected JFK assassination researchers, Barb Junkkarinen. After 13 years of doggedly and meticulously studying the evidence and interviewing dozens and dozens of eyewitnesses and/or forensic experts the explanation for the conflicts that the author found was mind boggling: All three aforementioned panels of forensic experts, none of whom had seen, much less examined, JFK’s body, incredibly discredited the reports of the autopsy doctors and other eyewitnesses who literally had held his body in their hands, basing their findings for the most part on certain photographs. These photographs depicted a virtually undamaged BOH and an entry wound several inches higher than where the autopsists insisted it was . It is the opinion of this author that had the panels heeded the accounts of the autopsists and eyewitnesses they would have learned the BOH photographs they relied on so heavily were NOT taken during the autopsy, but actually taken after the autopsy and, more importantly, taken after the morticians had reconstructed the BOH in preparation for a possible open-casket viewing. It was clear that during the reconstruction process, the BOH opening had been closed and the entry wound in the President’s scalp, probably inadvertently, “moved” higher . The bottom line here is that Doctors Fisher and Spitz, as well as their expert colleagues on the three government panels, had mistakenly based their controversial conclusions on photographs that were virtually of little, if any value to any effort to determine the location where the fatal bullet or bullets were fired from.
The evidence for these BOH photographs being taken after the autopsy is irrefutable and so extensive  it would not be practical to list here. It includes statements by the autopsy photographer himself, John Stringer. Some of these statements were made and signed at his home not long before he died in the presence of the author and several witnesses.
In one statement Stringer wrote that, while he was uncertain because it’d been so long since the assassination, he may have taken photographs after the autopsy . While this revelation by itself is not proof he did take post-autopsy photographs the likelihood he did is raised by the fact that he did not arrive at his home until approximately 4:00 AM (the autopsy was completed before midnight) even though he lived only minutes from the morgue.
In a second statement written for the author Stringer confirmed with certainty that the fatal bullet entered JFK’s BOH low, approximately two inches above the hairline . The point here is that the BOH photos show the entry wound in the scalp high in the cowlick, which can only mean the BOH photographs were taken after the autopsy when the BOH scalp had been reconstructed.
Recently the published work of Peter Cummings, a forensic neuropathologist who works for the Chief Medical Examiner in Boston, added to the mountain of other evidence the BOH photographs were taken later. Cummings proved, based on the autopsy X-rays, that the entry wound in the skull was indeed low in the BOH  where the autopsy report , as well as Stringer (to the author) , stated it was.
Again, because the BOH photographs show the entry wound in the scalp high in the cowlick, the fact that the skull entry was low (approximately two inches above the hairline) is incontrovertible evidence the BOH photographs were taken after the autopsy when reconstruction of the BOH by the morticians was completed.
One of the more compelling pieces of evidence, though, that helps prove the BOH photographs were taken later is the receipt (signed by a Secret Service Agent) for the photographs that was later amended to show that 12 photographs were added to the original total . It’s highly unlikely that it’s a coincidence there were a total of 12 BOH photographs taken .
It might be somewhat understandable to some how the first panel of forensic experts to re-examine the medical evidence arrived (in 1968) at their historically mistaken conclusions—they had been misled by BOH photographs that were virtually irrelevant to determining where the fatal bullet or bullets were fired from. This author, however, could not begin to fathom why two additional panels made the same mistakes as the first one….that is until he learned that Dr. Russell Fisher (deceased), who in his time was one of the leading forensic pathologists in the world and the lead expert on that 1968 panel, employed and trained (at the medical examiner’s office in Baltimore, Maryland) the highly credentialed forensic pathologist, Dr. Werner Spitz , who was a key member of the two subsequent panels of experts .
It came as no surprise to this author therefore that Dr. Spitz and the other experts serving on the later two panels supported Dr. Fisher’s controversial and historically mistaken findings.
What is a surprise to this author, however, is that Dr. Fisher, Dr. Spitz, and their colleagues were never, after all these years, held accountable in the official or even in the public record for their blunders regarding their misreporting of the fatal wounds of President John F. Kennedy…..epic blunders that have all but completely convoluted the JFK medical evidence and helped perpetuate the controversy over who killed President John F. Kennedy.
About the Author
The author, John Canal, is a retired USAF Senior Master Sergeant and the author of Silencing the Lone Assassin: The Murders of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2000), Were Key Autopsy Photos Misinterpreted?, JFK/The Kennedy Assassination Home Page, 2006, The JFK Medical Evidence: New Light on a Lingering Forensic Controversy, (Washington Decoded, September, 2013), and An Exercise in Deception: The Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy (The Student Operated Press (SOP), 2014)
During the 13 years the author spent almost exclusively trying to resolve the major conflicts with the medical evidence relating to JFK’s head wounds, he tried to read the testimony of, or statements (including those made to authors during interviews when they spoke more freely than they did to authorities) by, every witness who examined or saw JFK’s body. In several instances the author personally interviewed eyewitnesses including, the FBI agent who observed JFK’s autopsy, Francis O’neill, Jr., Dr Thornton Boswell, who was on the autopsy team, and John Stringer, the autopsy photographer (twice).
Barb Junkkkarinen, one of the foremost and respected students of the assassination of President Kennedy, once said about the author, “No one knows more about the JFK medical evidence than John Canal.”
Other Notable Comments About the Author
Dr. Robert Grossman, who was on the team of doctors who tried to save President Kennedy’s life at Parkland Hospital, wrote to the author, “I believe your ideas on the autopsy are correct.”
Dr. Robert Karnei who was the resident physician on duty at the Bethesda Medical Center on the night of the autopsy and assisted the autopsists wrote in a letter to the author, “I think your conclusion regarding the change in location of the entrance wound is correct.”
The highly respected forensic pathologist, Dr. Joseph Davis, who was on the panel of experts to examine the medical evidence for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) wrote to the author, “You have shed light on a cloudy subject. I will not disagree with you.”
The author would like to thank the editor of Washington Decoded, Max Holland, for publishing and helping to edit his article, The JFK Medical Evidence: New Light on a Lingering Forensic Controversy, JFK researcher Paul Hoch for consulting with him on analytical and editorial matters pertaining to that article, Barb Junkkarinen for challenging him in 2000 to resolve key and decades-long conflicts inherent to the JFK medical evidence, Dr. John McAdams for posting on his highly regarded JFK assassination website, the author’s article, Were Key Autopsy Photos Misinterpreted?, and Judyth Piazza, the editor of SOP for publishing his 2014 article, An Exercise in Deception: The Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy.
8. A. During a 29 August 1977 HSCA interview, Dr. Karnei stated, “. . . they took a lot of photographs at various times.”
B. John Stringer, the autopsy photographer wrote, “Photos were taken when directed by the autopsy surgeons.” MEDPHOTO, By John Stringer
C. Other witnesses at the postmortem whose observations support late photography included Captain John Stover, an officer at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center; John Van Hoesen, one of the morticians; Joseph Hagan, supervisor of the team of morticians; Floyd Riebe, the assistant autopsy photographer; Jan Rudnicki, who assisted the autopsy doctors; General Godfrey McHugh, who observed the autopsy; Jerrol Custer, an X-ray technician; and James Sibert, one of the two FBI agents who observed the autopsy.
Stover: “It seems to me that the photographer, and I guess it was Mr. Stringer at the time, came back in. I think he wasn’t satisfied with some of the shots and decided that he wanted some more. He was back in more than once, I believe. In other words, the pictures weren’t taken all at one time. As I remember it, he did return to shoot a couple of extra shots.” Lifton, Best Evidence, 667.
Van Hoesen: “When we got up there, nothing had been started; then we had to wait for the autopsy; and then periodically, more pictures were being taken—you know, different angles and so forth; where the entry was, and so forth; this angle, and that angle . . . . ” Lifton, Best Evidence, 666.
Hagan: He told ARRB interviewers during a 18 June 1996 interview that when he arrived with the mahogany casket, the autopsy was almost over; he only had to wait in the gallery about 20 minutes before the autopsy was concluded. The body of the president was being “cleaned up” and photos “were being taken.” ARRB MD182, 3.
Rudnicki told HSCA interviewer Mark Flanagan in 1978 that personnel took photos throughout the autopsy. HSCA Contact Report, 8 May 1978.
McHugh: “In my interviews with Godfrey McHugh in November 1967, he gave vivid descriptions of what seemed to be reconstruction, carried on in his presence while photographs were being taken. On this information and the changes made on the receipts, I based a theory that pictures had been created sometime after midnight in the morgue.” Lifton, Best Evidence, 658.
Custer: “Photographs were being taken all the time.” ARRB Deposition, 28 October 1997, 39.
Sibert: “This photo [BOH photo] must have been taken later.” William Matson Law, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence (Southlake, TX: JFK Lancer Publications, 2004), 94.
9. During an interview with Mr. John Stringer (the autopsy photographer) by the author at Stringer’s home on 30 April 2011, he stated in writing that he may have taken pictures after midnight.
10. During an earlier interview with Mr. John Stringer (the autopsy photographer) by the author at Stringer’s home in 2003, he stated in writing the entry in the skull was low in the BOH 2.5 cm to the right of the External Occipital Protuberance.
11. Television documentary on the JFK assassination by NOVA, November, 2014
12. The Warren Commission Report, Appendix IX, Autopsy Report, pp. 538 – 543
13. During an earlier interview with Mr. John Stringer (the autopsy photographer) by the author at Stringer’s home in 2003, he stated in writing the entry in the skull was low in the BOH 2.5 cm to the right of the External Occipital Protuberance.
14. From Captain J. H. Stover, Jr. MC, USN Commanding Officer U. S. Naval Medical School to Roy H. Kellerman Assistant Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, 22 November, 1963. This was a receipt for the autopsy photographs that were supposedly taken on 22 November, 1963 and turned over to the custody of the Secret Service. It shows that 12 photographs were added to the original total of 28 color and/or black and white photographs.
15. Report of Inspection by Naval Medical Staff on 1 November, 1966 at the National Archives of X-Rays and Photographs of Autopsy of President John F. Kennedy. On 1, January, 1967 another inspection of the same materials was performed. Both inspections show that 12 BOH photographs were taken supposedly on 22 November, 1963.
16. Werner Spitz, “A Tribute to the Late Russell S. Fisher,” American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology, Volume 9, Issue 4, December 1988, 355-356
17. Rockefeller Commission Report, 18 April 1975, p. 261, Panel Members reviewing medical evidence from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy included Werner U. Spitz, M.D.; Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives (HSCA) Appendix II, (pathology), p. 517
NOTE: Many of the above sources were taken from New Light on a Lingering Forensic Controversy, by John Canal. This article was published (and edited) by Max Holland 11 September, 2013 on his online news journal, Washington Decoded, and heavily edited by JFK researcher, Paul Hoch.