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President Kennedy's body was placed in an ornamental bronze casket soon after he was declared dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy accompanied this casket on the flight to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and then in a navy ambulance for the 18-mile drive to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the autopsy was performed.

Air Force One touched down at Andrews AFB at approximately 6:00 PM, and the navy ambulance arrived at the Bethesda Naval Hospital at approximately 6:55 PM. FBI Agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neill were in the third vehicle of the cortege. They assisted in the removal of the casket from the navy ambulance and its placement in the Bethesda morgue anteroom just prior to 7:17 PM.

An all-service honor guard was on hand at Andrews AFB to formally receive the casket. After placement of the casket in the ambulance, the honor guard traveled to Bethesda by helicopter in order to again formally receive the casket and move it from the ambulance into the morgue. Organizer of the honor guard, Lieutenant Samuel Bird, in his subsequent report, stated that the casket was moved from the ambulance to the morgue at 8:00 PM.

Late in the afternoon of 11/22/63, Marine Sergeant Roger Boyajian received orders to organize a ten-man security detail and to report to Admiral Calvin Galloway at Bethesda Naval Hospital. In an after-action memorandum, Sgt. Boyajian stated that his security detail reported to Admiral Galloway at approximately 6:00 PM and formed a security cordon to allow unloading of a casket and its carriage into the morgue at approximately 6:35 PM.

Thus, official reports describe deliveries of President Kennedy's body to the Bethesda morgue at three distinct times over a period of approximately an hour and twenty-five minutes.

These events, elucidated many years ago by David Lifton [1], have been rejected by many as bizarre and too complex to have been carried out successfully. Here I will provide proof of their occurrence -- using sources generated and made available by the Assassination Records Review Board -- and discuss their implications.


  Roger Boyajian was a marine sergeant in charge of a detail of marines on the evening of 11/22/63. His orders from Admiral Calvin Galloway, CO of the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) at Bethesda (of which the Naval Hospital is part), were to prevent unauthorized personnel from entering restricted areas around the morgue [2], as well as to prevent the press from interfering with the delivery of the president's casket. On November 26, 1963, Boyajian wrote an after-action memo describing the duties of his team including [3]:

At approximately 1835 (6:35 PM) the casket was received at the morgue entrance and taken inside.

Although he provided no details of its appearance, the coffin he saw being unloaded and delivered to the morgue could not have been the ornamental bronze casket in which the president's body had been placed at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, because, at 6:35 PM, that casket was en route from Andrews Air Force Base.

  Dennis David, Chief of the Day for the Medical School (also part of the NNMC) on the evening of the autopsy, told the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) in 1997 that he supervised the removal of a gray shipping casket from a black hearse at about 6:45 [4]. A group of sailors under his command carried the shipping casket into the anteroom of the morgue. After this event, David witnessed the arrival of the navy ambulance -- carrying the ornamental casket and Mrs. Kennedy -- at the front of the NNMC. He saw Mrs. Kennedy exit the ambulance and enter the lobby.

David also described the hearse as a black Cadillac, which, he was certain, arrived well before the gray navy ambulance. His recollection of the time of arrival of 6:45 PM is consistent with that of Sgt. Boyajian.

In February 2009, the author asked Dennis David what, if anything, he had noticed when he supervised the delivery of the shipping casket to the anteroom. He responded that he "saw marines in the morgue hallway." The ten-man security detail under Boyajian's command was composed of marines, whose presence would be conspicuous to a navy man.

  Edward Reed a technician at Bethesda Naval Hospital, took a number of x-rays of the president's body during the autopsy. In his 1997 deposition to the ARRB, he stated that he reported to the morgue after being paged over the PA system [5, p. 20]. In 1978, he told Mark Flanagan of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) [6] that he arrived at the morgue at around 6:30 PM, where, according to his ARRB testimony, he found that the casket containing the president's body had already been delivered and was being guarded by five or six marine corpsmen [5, p.22]. Reed helped carry the casket into the autopsy room, was present when it was opened and saw that the body was inside a "plastic bag" [5, p. 24; 6]. Mr. Reed's account corroborates those of Boyajian and David of an early arrival of a casket at the Bethesda morgue and, furthermore, provides proof that this casket contained the president's body.

  Hospital corpsman Floyd Riebe assisted in taking photographs during the autopsy on President Kennedy's body. He told the ARRB [7, p. 28] in 1997 that a gun-metal gray casket, brought into the autopsy room, contained the president's body, which was inside a body bag [7, p. 30] and that Paul O'Connor (see below) assisted in removing the body from the casket. was a medical technician who assisted at the autopsy. In 1997 he told HSCA staff members that a pink shipping casket contained the president's body, which was in a body bag [8]. Mr. O'Connor's observations are consistent with those of Reed and Riebe.

  Like Paul O'Connor, James Jenkins was a medical technician who was interviewed by HSCA staff members in 1977 [9]. Mr. Jenkins was not asked to describe the casket containing the president's body. However, in a phone conversation with author David Lifton in 1979, he said that the casket "was not a really ornamental type thing...not something you'd expect a president to be in" [1, p. 609].

  Gawler's First Call Sheet. Gawler's Funeral Directors (Washington, DC) supplied a Marsellus 710 mahogany casket [10] as a replacement for the ornamental bronze casket, because the latter had been damaged in transit from Dallas. The president's body was interred at Arlington Cemetery inside the Marsellus casket. Gawler's First Call Sheet, dated November 22, 1963, states [10]:

Body removed from metal shipping Casket at USNH at Bethesda.

No time is given for this event; however, it is consistent with eyewitness accounts of delivery to the Bethesda morgue of a shipping casket containing the president's body.


When the plain shipping casket containing the president's body was carried into the Bethesda morgue at 6:35-6:45 PM, the motorcade bringing Mrs. Kennedy was en route from Andrews Air Force Base. One of the vehicles in the motorcade was a gray navy ambulance carrying the ornamental bronze casket that had been flown from Dallas; on arrival at Andrews AFB, it had been placed in the ambulance by an all-service honor guard, under the command of Lieutenant Samuel Bird. The honor guard made the journey to Bethesda by helicopter.

  James Sibert and Francis O'Neill, FBI agents, were in the third car of the motorcade as it traveled from Andrews AFB to Bethesda. Their responsibilities were to maintain constant vigil over the bronze ornamental casket, which they believed carried the president's body, to attend the autopsy and to collect bullets or fragments recovered from the body. Their duties and activities are described in their subsequent report [11] and statements to Arlen Specter [12], to the HSCA [13; 14] and to the ARRB [15; 16].

FBI Agent O'Neill told the ARRB that, upon his (and Agent Sibert's) arrival at the front entrance of the hospital (at approximately 6:55 PM [17]), he observed Mrs. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and probably Dr. Burkley exit the gray navy ambulance, which contained the ornamental bronze casket, and enter the hospital along with Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman. After some time, during which the navy ambulance had not moved, he and Sibert approached Larry O'Brien (president's assistant) and asked about the delay. O'Brien said that SSA William Greer, who had driven the ambulance from Andrews AFB to Bethesda, was not sure how to find the morgue. Since O'Neill and Sibert were familiar with the Bethesda Hospital grounds, they drove to the morgue entrance at the rear of the hospital, with SSA Greer following.

Upon arriving at the loading dock outside the morgue, O'Neill noted SSA Kellerman coming out of a door to a corridor leading into the autopsy room, at which point he (O'Neill) introduced himself to Kellerman. Clearly, Kellerman had found his way from the front entrance of the hospital to the morgue complex.

This author estimates that Sibert and O'Neill, along with Greer and the ambulance, arrived at the morgue entrance just prior to 7:17 PM. Sibert told the ARRB that he and O'Neill assisted Greer and Kellerman in taking the ornamental bronze casket into the anteroom of the morgue at about 7:17 PM [15, p. 45; p. 50]. In their interview with Specter, both agents said that "preparations for the autopsy" occurred at approximately 7:17 PM [12, p. 2].


  Samuel Bird was an infantry lieutenant in charge of a nine-man team (initially, two were added later) composed of representatives of the five armed services -- army, navy, air force, marines and coast guard -- called the "joint-service casket-bearer team" (generally referred to as the "honor guard"). In a report dated December 10, 1963, Lt. Bird described his duties, from 11/22/63 until 11/25/63 when the president's body was interred at Arlington Cemetery [18].

In the early evening of the day of the assassination, the honor guard off-loaded the ornamental bronze casket from Air Force One onto a gray navy ambulance. Mrs. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, along with Secret Service Agents Kellerman, Greer and Landis rode in the ambulance with the casket from Andrews AFB to the Bethesda Hospital entrance.

Bird's report states that the honor guard carried the ornamental bronze casket into the Bethesda morgue at 8:00 PM [18].


Three arrivals, two caskets, one body. What was going on?

In this author's opinion, the information provided above is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that President Kennedy's body arrived at the Bethesda morgue at shortly after 6:30 PM in a shipping casket. The ornamental casket, in which the body had been placed in Dallas, arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital at 6:55 PM, and was carried into the morgue twice. Initially this occurred at approximately 7:17 PM with the casket carried by FBI Special Agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neill and Secret Service agents into the anteroom, and it occurred again at 8:00 PM with the casket carried by the honor guard into the morgue.

I believe that the FBI agents dissembled in their November 26 report [11] when they implied that they maintained constant vigilance over the president's body. Omission of critical time points conveys the impression that their involvement with the ornamental casket was continuous when, in fact, it was not.

Detailed time points are provided in the early part of their report [11]. For example, two estimates of the time of arrival of Air Force One from Dallas are quoted, whereas the actual time of arrival is omitted as are the times of departure for, and arrival at, Bethesda:

On arrival at the Medical Center, the ambulance stopped in front of the main entrance, at which time Mrs. JACQUELINE KENNEDY and ATTORNEY GENERAL ROBERT KENNEDY embarked from ambulance and entered the building. The ambulance was thereafter driven around to the rear entrance where the President's body was removed and taken into the autopsy room. Bureau agents assisted in the moving of the casket to the autopsy room. A tight security was immediately placed around the autopsy room by the Naval facility and the U.S. Secret Service.

Their claim that they carried the casket into the autopsy room is dubious since the president's body had been on the table in the autopsy room for approximately half an hour. In fact, Sibert told the ARRB that he and O'Neill assisted in taking the ornamental bronze casket into the anteroom of the morgue [15, p. 45]. This detail is revealing. If the FBI agents carried the casket into the autopsy room, it is inconceivable that they would ever say otherwise. They may have agreed to leave the casket in the anteroom because of the "tight security...placed around the autopsy room."

If Sibert and O'Neill were prevented from entering the autopsy room at 7:17 pm, when were they permitted to enter? A reasonable estimate is 7:35 PM. Dr. Humes told the Warren Commission that the "body was received at 7:35 PM" [19]. (It is noteworthy that the Warren Commission failed to see the conflict with that time and an 8:00 PM arrival of the body brought in by the honor guard.) When they re-entered, Sibert and O'Neill may have seen the bronze casket open in the anteroom and the body on the table, but did not see the body removed from the bronze casket. Their report states [11, p. 3]:

The president's body was removed from the casket in which it had been transported...

This choice of words indicates that the agents made the assumption the body had been removed from the bronze casket, an event they did not witness. It is noteworthy that they had explicitly stated earlier in their report,

Bureau agents assisted in the moving of the casket to the autopsy room.

It is likely that if they had seen the ornamental casket being opened and the body removed, they would have stated it explicitly in their November 26 report (however, see [20]).

Shortly after their admission to the autospy room, Sibert and O'Neill were asked to leave because x-rays had to be taken [16, pp. 62-63]. Presumably, their removal from the autopsy room was necessary so that the formal delivery of the body by the honor guard could be executed at 8:00 PM.

It appears that the president's body was replaced in the ornamental casket. Medical technician James E. Metzler told David Lifton [1, pp. 630-634] that the president's body was inside the ornamental bronze casket when it was brought into the morgue at 8:00 PM:

I went out to the door, yes...the honor guard was there. They brought in the casket...by the time I got to the door I believe they were just about coming in... The honor guard brought it in and they had to leave. And then I helped put him on the table... [The casket] was dark brown, I believe it had handles on the side of it. It would be something that you'd see at a viewing...

When Metzler was asked if the casket was a ceremonial type, like one you would see in a funeral home for a viewing, he replied, "Yes...exactly." He reiterated his observation of an honor guard by saying, "...this was the bunch that used to take care of the funeral duties for any president...from all different branches."


Two entries of the president's body to the morgue raise the obvious question as to why the president's body was removed from the ornamental casket in which it had been placed at Parkland Hospital. A logical answer is that the wounds observed at Parkland, indicative of frontal shots, had to be altered and reversed to point to shots from the rear.

There is no need here to provide all of the contrasting evidence given by the Parkland Hospital doctors versus what eventually was written in the final autopsy report. This subject has been discussed in other texts. Suffice to say that the contemporaneous reports by the Parkland Hospital doctors, which were ignored by the Warren Commission and by the HSCA, clearly indicated that the throat wound was one of entry and the head wound was one of exit. The three-quarters-of-an-inch tracheotomy made at Parkland Hospital across the entry wound in the throat subsequently became a much larger gash, not only in length but in width; the autopsy report described it as "a wound with widely gaping irregular edges" with a length of 6.5 cm (i.e. a little over 2.5 inches) [21]. And the head wound that was located principally in the occipital region at Parkland Hospital extended well into the parietal region at Bethesda.

The accounts of Saundra K. Spencer to the ARRB in December 1996 and June 1997 provide additional proof that the president's wounds were altered. Petty Officer Spencer, stationed at the Naval Photographic Center at Anacostia, was in charge of the "White House" laboratory. In a telephone interview she said the following [22]:

  On November 23, 1963, she received three or four duplex film holders (six or eight shots) of color negatives from a federal agent named Fox, which she understood to be autopsy photographs. She developed the negatives, made prints and gave all materials back to Fox.

  The president's body was "very clean" unlike other autopsy photographs she had seen.

  There was a circular wound at the base of the front of the president's neck, about the size of a person's thumb.

  There was a wound in the back of the president's head, at about the center, 3 or 4 inches above the hairline. It was about 2 to 2.5 inches wide, which she described as a "blown out chunk."

  She saw no damage to the side of the president's head.

  She could not tell whether or not there was damage to the top of the head because the negatives she processed did not show it.

In a deposition [23], Spencer repeated some of these observations. She noted that although she was in charge of the White House lab, she worked under Chief Robert Knudsen who acted as her supervisor and liaison with the White House. Her observations included:

  A photograph showed "a brain laid beside the body...But it didn't appear that the skull had been cut, peeled back and the brain removed..." As to whose brain it was, she could not say.

  The throat wound appeared as "about the size of like your thumb pressed in."

After being shown the extant "official" photographs of the autopsy by the ARRB's Jeremy Gunn, Spencer noted the following:

  None of the photographs was developed by her. In addition, the print paper used for the photographs she was shown was not the same type of paper she used in November 1963 when she processed the color negatives received from Agent Fox.

  None of the photographs she developed in November 1963 was in the inventory of photographs she was shown by Gunn during her deposition.

  In the photographs that she developed, the brain was less damaged than that depicted in the photographs shown to her during her deposition.

The importance of what Saundra Spencer told the ARRB cannot be overstated. Her descriptions of the wounds in the throat and head were as described by the Parkland Hospital doctors. Therefore, the photographs currently in the official inventory at the National Archives are untruthful representations of the wounds. One example of this is the photograph which shows the back of the president's head intact, concealing the real wound which the Parkland Hospital doctors found.

US Information Agency photographer Joe O'Donnell's phone interviews with the ARRB in January/February 1997 [24] confirm the observations of Saundra Spencer. O'Donnell, a friend of Robert Knudsen, stated that, at some time after the assassination, he was shown two sets of photographs by Knudsen. The first set included a photograph of a hole in the back of the president's head (about the size of a grapefruit), and a round hole in the forehead, just above the right eye, about three-eighths of an inch in diameter. In the second set, the hole in the rear of the head was gone; the hair, apparently wet, was neatly combed over the region of the hole. The wound over the right eye also was gone.

Clearly, at some point there existed photographs that documented the wounds that the president incurred in Dealey Plaza, as observed and reported on by the Parkland Hospital doctors. Based on the observations of eyewitnesses at Bethesda, the wounds were enlarged after the president's body left Parkland Hospital. The casket/body chicanery at Bethesda Naval Hospital, between 6:30 and 8:00 PM on the evening of the assassination was a necessary component of the body-alteration process. In his recently published book, On the Trail of the JFK Assassins [25], Dick Russell includes an important interview with Doug Horne. Horne describes having an epiphany in 2006 while writing a book on his work for the ARRB:

The evidence for three separate casket entries into the morgue...is overwhelming and unimpeachable, and the honest researcher cannot simply be in denial about these events if (s)he takes a scientific, empirical approach to the evidence

[W]hat (David) Lifton had speculatively called the pre-autopsy autopsy began about an hour and a half before the official one.

I am absolutely convinced that Humes and Boswell were engaged in a deception that centered around getting the body early and performing certain manipulations on it.

Mr. Horne's self-published book is expected to be available in late 2009. It could be the big breakthrough in the study of the JFK assassination.

Acknowledgments The author thanks Allan Eaglesham for comments and suggestions on the manuscript and for providing web-page space. The author also credits Doug Horne for his contributions which helped in establishing a logical timeline for FBI Agents Sibert and O'Neill.



Sources & Notes
[1] Lifton, David S. (1988) Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. New York: Carroll & Graf.
[2] "Morgue" is often used to signify the room in which the autopsy on President Kennedy's body was conducted. In this article, "morgue" will refer to the suite of rooms comprising an anteroom (or cooler room), autopsy room, changing room and storage rooms (see Paul O'Connor's sketch here); where possible, distinction is made between the anteroom and autopsy room, otherwise the term "morgue" is used.
[3] ARRB MD 236 - Call Report of September 5, 1997 Telephone Interview of Roger Boyajian (Former NCOIC of Marine Security Detail at Autopsy of President Kennedy), With His Contemporaneous After-Action Report Attached. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md236/html/md236_0005a.htm.
[4] ARRB MD 177 - Call Report Summarizing 2/14/97 Telephonic Interview of Dennis David. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md177/html/md177_0001a.htm.
[5] Deposition of Edward F. Reed to the ARRB. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Reed_10-21-97/html/Reed_0001a.htm.
[6] ARRB MD 194 - HSCA Summary of 4/21/78 Telephonic Interview of Edward F. Reed. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md194/html/md194_0001a.htm.
[7] Deposition of Floyd Albert Riebe to the ARRB. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Riebe_5-7-97/html/Riebe_0001a.htm.
[8] ARRB MD 64 - O'Connor-Purdy HSCA Interview (8/29/77). http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md64/html/Image0.htm.
[9] ARRB MD 65 - Jenkins-Purdy HSCA Interview (8/29/77). http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md65/html/md65_0001a.htm.
[10] MD 129 - Gawler's Funeral Home "First Call Sheet." http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md129/html/md129_0001a.htm.
[11] ARRB MD 44 - Sibert and O'Neill Report on the Autopsy (11/26/63)--"Gemberling Version." http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md44/html/Image0.htm.
[12] ARRB MD 153 - FBI Internal Memorandum To: Mr. Belmont From: A. Rosen (dated 3/12/64) Summarizing, in Q and A Format, An Interview that Same Date of BUAGENTS Sibert and O'Neill by Commission Staff Member Arlen Specter. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md153/html/md153_0001a.htm.
[13] ARRB MD 46 - Sibert Affidavit for HSCA--Retyped by Sibert With Comments Added (10/24/78). http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md46/html/Image0.htm.
[14] ARRB MD 47 - O'Neill Affidavit for HSCA--Retyped by O'Neill with Corrections and Minor Changes Implemented (11/8/78). http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md47/html/Image0.htm.
[15] Deposition of James W. Sibert to the ARRB. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Sibert_9-11-97/html/Sibert_01a.htm.
[16] Deposition of Francis X. O'Neill, Jr., to the ARRB. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Oneill_9-12-97/html/ONeill_0001a.htm.
[17] Clint Hill, Warren Commission Hearings Volume 18, p. 744.
[18] ARRB MD 163 - Cover Sheet Titled: "Joint Casket Bearer Team" (unsigned and undated) containing time line of events, with report titled "After Action Report, Joint Casket Team--State Funeral, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy," dated 10 December 1963, and signed by 1st Lt. Samuel L. Bird, OIC--Joint Service Casket Team, attached. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md163/html/md163_0001a.htm.
[19] James Humes, Warren Commission Hearings Volume 2, p. 349.
[20] In their ARRB depositions, Mr. Sibert and Mr. O'Neill said that they witnessed the opening of the ornamental casket and removal of the body [14, pp. 45-46; 15, p. 69].
[21] Warren Commission Exhibit 387.
[22] ARRB, MD 233 - ARRB Call Report of December 13,1996, Telephone Interview of Saundra Spencer (Formerly Stationed at NPC. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md233/html/md233_0001a.htm.
[23] Depostion of Saundra Spender to the ARRB. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/medical_testimony/Spencer_6-5-97/html/Spencer_0001a.htm.
[24] ARRB, MD 231 - ARRB Call Reports of Telephone lntenriews of Mr. Joe O'Donnell (Former USIA Photographer Who Saw Robert L. Knudsen's JFK Autopsy Photographs) of l/29/97 and 2/28/97. http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/master_med_set/md231/html/md231_0001a.htm
[25] Russell, D. (2008) On the Trail of the JFK Assassins. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.