Jerrol F. Custer

Jerrol F. Custer

Jerrol Francis Custer was born in 1941. He joined the United States Navy and eventually became a radiology technician at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November, 1963, his body was taken to Bethesda and Custer was asked to take X-rays of Kennedy's body.

Custer was a good friend of Dennis D. David. Both men saw the 16-mm film, slides and black and white photos of the Kennedy autopsy that had been produced by William Pitzer, head of the Audio/Visual Department at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

According to Dr. Joseph Humes, Pitzer was not present at the autopsy. However, he admitted that the Bethesda Naval Hospital was equipped with closed-circuit television. This was the responsibility of Pitzer and over the years had used these facilities to make instructional movies. It is therefore possible that Pitzer had secretly made a 16-mm movie film of the autopsy on President Kennedy’s body, without being present in the autopsy room when it was carried out.

William Pitzer decided to retire in 1966. He told friends he had been offered a good job working for a network television station. It is believed that he intended to make a programme about the Kennedy assassination. On 29th October 1966, Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer was found dead at the Naval Medical School, Bethesda. Investigations by the Naval Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation later concluded that a gunshot wound to the head had been self-inflicted.

Custer was deeply shocked by the death of Pitzer. He told the researcher, William Matson Law: "I realized that the government can do what they want, when they want, and as often as they want. I kept my quiet for 35 years... Truthfully, the only thing I think that actually saved me was they felt that I was too low on the totem pole to worry about... Later on down the line, I thought, "Well, it's about time the truth should come out."

Custer had been forced to sign a "gagging order" after the autopsy. This was not rescinded until the House Select Committee on Assassinations began investigating the case in 1977.

In 1980 Jerrol Custer was interviewed by Vincent Palamara and David Lifton for Best Evidence: The Research Video (1990). He also appeared in the television documentary, JFK: An Unsolved Murder.

On 28th October, 1997, Jerrol Custer provided a deposition to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). He claimed he was certain he took x-rays of the C3/C4 region of the neck and that those x-rays showed numerous fragments. Custer added that he suspected the reason those x-rays disappeared was that they showed a large number of bullet fragments. According to researcher, Michael T. Griffith: "Custer is almost certainly correct. Why else would those x-rays have been suppressed? The missile fragments described by Custer are another fatal blow to the lone-gunman theory, which in turn means there must have been more than one shooter."

He was interviewed by William Matson Law for his book, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence. Custer told Law that Kennedy's neck wound was man-made: "There were no suture marks. It was a big gaping hole." Custer also claimed that a bullet fragment fell out of Kennedy's back: "It wasn't complete because there was some fragmentation. Some area of destruction on the bullet." This bullet was taken away by FBI agents, Francis X. O'Neill and James W. Sibert.

Custer lost his job as a supervisory X-ray technician. He then worked as an armed security guard in Pittsburgh. Jerrol Francis Custer died of a massive heart attack in 2000.

Primary Sources

(1) William Matson Law, In the Eye of History (2005)

Law: How did you feel as the radiology technician-what you saw, taking the X-rays, putting your hands on the body of President of the United States, and the evidence telling you one thing, but yet the report (of the Warren Commission) says something different.

Custer: This is my country. I served in the United States Navy because I knew that they wanted me to serve and they needed me. Butt it was quite disillusioning in that I knew the truth of the matter. I knew why. I won't lie to you-during that time l did what I was told. And I kind of looked at it and thought, "Well, wait a minute. This isn't right. This can't be." But as I've gotten older, I've looked at it more with experienced eyes, looked at the evidence a lot closer with experienced eyes. I've gotten a lot smarter and I've realized that the government can do what they want, when they want, and as often as they want. I kept my quiet for 35 years. One day my wife and I went to a movie and they brought the J FK assassination up and said it was a coincidence that so many witnesses had died for unknown reasons, or heart attacks, cerebral vascular accidents-and I just sat there and thought to myself, "My God! This could happen to me." Truthfully, the only thing I think that actually saved my tush, was they felt that I was too low on the totem pole to worry about. But it literally made me mad. Later on down the line, I thought, "Well, it's about time the truth should come out."

Law: Let's go step by step now through the photographs. What can you tell me about this particular one, the "stare of death" picture (photo 1). What sticks in your mind most about this photograph.

Custer: Basically, the wound on the neck, a tracheotomy wound. When we took pictures of the neck, we took two views of the neck. A straight-on view and aside view. Now, in the straight-on view, in that area, you actually saw bullet fragment, also bone fractures where the bullet had gone through. Same thing on the lateral, but it showed you the different perspective. Like I stated before, a good way to tell the depth of a specific fragment is by taking two planes of interest, and then measuring the distance.

When I first saw the body, the neck was exactly like this (photo 1); there were no suture marks. It was a big gaping hole.

Law: And in your opinion was that man-made?

Custer: Absolutely. You could see where this was man-made. Where they had taken a scalpel and went across and down you can see the down marking cut right here (pointing to the bottom portion of the wound).

Law: So, in effect you think that's a scalpel mark?

Custer: Right.

Law: You don't think that's a part of a bullet entry wound?

Custer: No.

Law: Many researchers have said that-what you see down here-this little part right here is part of a bullet-entrance wound.

Custer: You could see the skin where the skin was separated. If a bullet fragment came through there - a bullet went through there - it would be separated, irregular. This was nice and neat like the skin was separated, like somebody took a ruler and just separated thee skin. There were no serrations on it at all. It was perfect. This is one thing for the books. Two films are missing: the AP and cervical spine. They are not in the archives. Basically, because that's a part of the evidence. One reason why Pitzer was killed is because lie was taking movies of the body and the gallery. At that time, people had a fit: "What is your status? What is your clearance? Why are you here? Stop that now! Evict that man."'

Law: Who was William Pitzer?

Custer: At that time he was the chief in charge of the photographic department of the National Naval Medical Center. He and Dennis David were buddies, long term friends. Dennis wasn't on duty that night, but Chief Pitzer' was. I remember seeing him that evening and he was all around. I mean everywhere you went, you saw Chief Pitzer. He was there. And it's funny to the fact that the man-he never noticed what was around him. He kind of turned the commotion off and he was doing his job. That's what he was paid to do.

Law: What was he doing exactly?

Custer: Taking movies.

Law: He was taking movie film of the autopsy?

Custer: Absolutely.

Law: And you saw this?

Custer: I saw this. Later on it was brought out that Commander Pitzer - well of course he made commander farther down the line - had committed suicide by blowing his brains out by putting a gun in his right hand and shooting himself.

Law: What's so unusual about that if you're going to commit suicide?

Custer: Well, it's kind of funny. How can you commit suicide when you have a deformed right hand? That couldn't hold a gun? This was clue to a birth defect. And Dennis David' knew it. Everybody that knew the chief knew it and it was evident that night. When he was taking the movies, you could see the hand was deformed. But suicide was the reason for the death on his death certificate, which, I felt, was part of the cover-up. See, you have to be there. You have to see what's going on. Everything is plain and simple. It's there! It's right in front of you! The government feels the experts, so-called experts, are going to look at everything but the nose on their faces. And if you just stop and look at what's right in front of you and not try and surmise, "Well this is why, this is why that happened." My God-Kennedy's skull was pushed backward! Basic physics! You had to have a force from the front! If you had a force from the back, everything would have been pushed forward. Common sense! Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.

Law: Returning to photo 1. What does it show? What's its importance?

Custer: Well, like I had said before, it shows the tracheotomy wound, the opening, which was a bullet hole. The defect you can see around the eye - I have to bring this out right now. I cannot authenticate these pictures because I had really nothing to do with them. All I can say is what I happened to see. The eye was more protruded at the time, but there's nothing to say that the eye wasn't pushed back in. Because at that time also there was a mortician there doing his work, his job was fixing, making the body more presentable.

Let me go to the other pictures here to show the massive destruction of the skull. These are going to be kind of off-center here. If you'll notice a king-size opening. What's that? You ever wonder?

Law: I wonder about all of them.

Custer: Look at that opening right here.

Law: What does that tell you?

Custer: That's a hole. This will be brought out in due course. See, I can only go so far with this. There's a lot more information that has to be brought out legally first. Then t will delve in a lot more. But that's a hole. And that can be proven by computer enhancement. Definitely: no ifs, ands, or buts about that. They can complain and say, "No, that's not what this is."

Law: And the next one?

Custer: You see Kennedy on his back. The condition of the scalp-how serrated it is, shredded. Due to fragmentation of the bullet, due to fragmentation of the bone. During the autopsy, the complete skull was held together by the skin alone. But you could take the scalp and pull it forward, backward, any way, shape or form you wanted to do. It wasn't totally attached.

Law: His face was mushy and movable at that point?

Custer: Mushy and moveable.

Law: Yes, but you couldn't perhaps pull it back enough to cover the defect in the back of the head?

Custer: You could drape it across the defect. Law: You could?

Custer: Yes. There was enough of it there. But it was bloody. There were brain cells, brain fragments, all kinds of stuff. Nasty stuff. Now here's one thing that kind of gives a lot of the researchers nightmares. This little nap (above the right ear): a lot of people feel that was man-made. Truthfully, at that time, I did not see that flap.

Law: This flap was not there.

Custer: Not there. I cannot testify to what was done after I left. The mortician was there, things were being done, more parts of the skull were being received that night. Bullet fragments were received after I had left.

(2) William Matson Law, In the Eye of History (2005)

Law: Let's talk about the X-ray films for a minute - I read somewhere, that you took extra sets of X-rays.

Custer: Well, not extra sets. I double-loaded.

Law: What does "double-loaded" mean?

Custer: You put two films in-you've got to remember an X-ray cassette has two screens and they are activated screens. When the X-ray goes through them, they lighten up and you get an image on the film. So if one film is a little bit too dark, one film is just right.

Law: Okay. So what did you do with them?

Custer: I ran [i.e., processed] one film and put the other film in the light-proof box. The processor was an old Pako unit. It was like a table where you ran your film in and underneath there was a light-proof box. You take one, put it in, and put the other in the box. I went through each film that I took and after everything was over and done that evening. I came back and ran the films in the light-proof box, those were all good too. I put them in one of the mailing folders. Tied them up and kept them there for the longest time.

Law: How long do you think they were there undiscovered?

Custer: Couple of months.

Law: And what happened to these films?

Custer: I destroyed them.

Law: Why did you do that?

Custer: Because of the gag order that I had signed. I didn't destroy them right away. After I'd thought on it and pondered on it a little bit, and thought, "Well, if these films happened to surface along the line somewhere, they're going to trace them back to me. And guess whose body is going to wind up in jail." I never thought that later on down the road that they could have been worth millions. Or they could have solved the whole problem.

Palamara: Because of the missing X-rays, missing materials, you could have resolved it.

Custer: But I also could be dead.

Law: Given that there have been several deaths over the years-some unexplainable things have happened to people who had a lot to do with this case thirty-four years later, going on thirty-five, do you have any fear?

Custer: If I were to say no, I'd be lying. I still have a little bit. There still are people around that don't want to be implicated. Who came up with the one-bullet theory? Need I say more? One bullet? Come on. That bullet had to do a fantastic dance.

(3) William Matson Law, In the Eye of History (2005)

Palamara: Do you think the body was tampered with in any fashion?

Law: I know this is opinion, but you are a medical person.

Custer: Let's put it this way. With as much stuff, as much cover up, as much influence, pressure was on that night, and I wouldn't put it past them. They had an inexperienced radiologist. They told him to look for bullets that went in and didn't come out. And a forensic pathologist would look at the person and say, "You're crazy. We're looking for tracking, entrance, exits, degree of inclination." They had two administrative pathologists that hadn't done autopsies in umpteen years-all they did was process paper work, and had never done a forensic autopsy. They had an influencing force in the gallery that literally guided the autopsy throughout the evening. They had two FBI agents that created their own little pandemonium by questioning people that night.

Law: Let's back up a little. When you say there was an influence in the gallery are you talking about Burkley? Or are you talking about someone else? Let's clarify that.

Custer: Well, let's put it this way. I'm talking about JFK's personal physician. And he let it be known that night, "I am JFK's personal physician. You will listen to what I say. You will do what I say"

Law: Continue with what you were going to say about the Secret Service agents did you say-FBI?

Custer: Now there were Secret Service agents there also.

Palamara: Kellerman and Greer - were you familiar with them? Did you really - Custer: No. They didn't quite get involved with us. They stayed pretty much with the joint Chiefs and that.

Law: Were they there in the gallery?

Custer: I seem to remember seeing the other two gentlemen there, also. But l know for a fact that Sibert and O'Neill were there10 because they were attached to my hip. They were literally-how can I say it? Delegated to stay with me.

Law: What was their demeanor? They filed a report where they wrote: "Surgery of the head area." And there's been speculation that they wrote that because they heard it from a doctor there at the autopsy.

Custer: Right. Now here's the thing you have to remember: these two gentlemen were laymen. When an autopsy is performed, surgery of the wounds is performed so it is possible they could have heard it from Boswell or Humes, or Finck at that time, because he arrived later on and he was more aggressive.

Law: We're talking about Finck, now?

Custer: Right. He was more aggressive in his mannerisms and procedure than Boswell and Humes. Boswell and Humes were like puppets.

Law: Did he seem to be frustrated by being told, "No, you can't do this" or "You shouldn't do that" or "Only take this so far"?

Custer: That's kind of difficult to remember. Because he did what he was told, and if he was frustrated he kind of hid it.

Law: So he just basically went along.

Custer: He went along.

Law: He didn't put up a fuss? I want to get to how all of you must have been under extreme pressure.

Custer: Oh, we were being watched constantly. Everybody watched us. Ah, there were times when I literally had to scream at people to move. In that close area, you're taking X-rays with a machine producing ionizing radiation, and you had to be at a distance of six feet to be safe.

Palamara: Were you aware of the allegations of - I don't know if it was Admiral or Captain David Osborne - about the bullet falling out of the body? During the autopsy? Did you see a whole bullet or a fragment fall out of President Kennedy?

Custer: Well, I wouldn't call it a fragment, I'd say it was a pretty good sized bullet. Because it created such a fuss. They ran over with a set of forceps-and they grabbed it, picked it up and put it in a little basin of water.

Law: Now is this the bullet-when you were doing the X-rays, and you had him on the table and moving him around, didn't you tell me at some point in an earlier conversation that a bullet fragment fell out of the president?

Custer: This was the time that they found that.

Law: Okay. And what happened? What was their demeanor? What happened when that bullet fragment fell out?

Custer: I called one of the pathologists over and said, "Hey, we have a bullet here." Soon as they heard that, they came down off the raised platform and they ran over and they picked it up. Then Sibert and O'Neill also came over and said, "Well, we want that, that."

Palamara: Yes, they wrote out a receipt for a missile so people think it's semantics-was it a fragment? So you're saying it wasn't a whole bullet? It was a sizable fragment of a bullet?

Custer: It was about-see, you're getting in semantics here about the size. It was distinguishable enough to know it was a bullet. It wasn't complete because there was some fragmentation. Some area of destruction on the bullet.

came out the right side of his chest, broke his right wrist, and went into his left leg. So, if you're telling us that the bullet fragment fell out of the back, that blows the single bullet theory to hell right there.

Custer: Right.

Palamara: And also it was too low on the back to exit the neck.

Law: And you're absolutely certain that a bullet fragment fell out of the back?

Custer: Absolutely.

Law: The back wound itself. No doubt about it.

Custer: Absolutely. Right. We lifted him up and boom. That's when it came out.

Palamara: That's corroboration for David Osborne too.

Law: That would explain, "missile received" from Sibert and O'Neill.

Custer: Right.

Law: That's something that I've wanted to clear up.

Custer: They documented everything that happened that evening. If somebody got up and left, they documented it.

Law: Now to my understanding, the logbook, there was a logbook that is normally kept of people that go in and out of the area.

Custer: Right.

Law: Is this correct? Custer: Right.

Law: Now, as I understand it, that's missing. Custer: It's gone.

Law: And has been missing since that night.

Custer: Correct.

(4) Michael T. Griffith, Missing Autopsy Photos and the Large Head Wound (1st November, 2002)

What follows is a brief summary of some of the historic new evidence contained in recently released autopsy witness interviews conducted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) from 1976-1979 and in interviews of key witnesses conducted over the last three years by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).

What do the abovementioned documents reveal? As we'll see in a moment, they contain, among other things, evidence that a bullet struck Kennedy in the right temple, that there was a large wound in the back of the skull (which of course indicates the bullet came from the front and exited the rear of the head), that several important autopsy photos are missing, that there was NOT a straight path from the Oswald window to the back wound to the throat wound (because the back wound was lower than the throat wound and because Kennedy was not leaning off the seat when the back missile struck), that even Secret Service agents believed there had been a conspiracy, and that autopsy photos were altered (obviously in order to give a false impression of the direction of the gunfire that struck the president).

Here are some of the important new disclosures:

* John Stringer reported that the throat wound was probed. This is key because it's further evidence the autopsy doctors were lying when they testified they were not aware of the throat wound until after the autopsy when Dr. Humes called Dallas and spoke with Dr. Perry.

* White House photographer Robert Knudsen told the HSCA that the probe went downward from the throat wound, which means that if the throat wound was the exit point for the back wound, then the back wound was lower than the throat wound. Knudsen assisted with the handling of the autopsy photos, and may have been present at the autopsy. The fact that the back wound was lower than the throat wound destroys the single-bullet theory.

* Dr. Pierre Finck, the only forensic pathologist at the autopsy, confirmed to the ARRB that there was a fragment trail that went from a point near the external occipital protuberance (EOP) upward to the area of the right orbit (behind the right eye). This is further evidence that the rear head entrance wound was not in the cowlick but rather four inches lower, very close to the EOP and just a couple inches above the hairline. Why is this so important? Because no bullet fired from the Oswald sniper's nest could have made that wound, unless Kennedy's head was tilted nearly 60 degrees forward, which the Zapruder film and the Muchmore film clearly show it was not.

* Saundra Kay Spencer, as established by chain of evidence documentation, processed the autopsy photos that Secret Service Agent James Fox brought from the autopsy. However, she did not process any black and white photos, only negatives and color positives, and she told the ARRB she did not process any of the autopsy photos now in evidence. She said the extant autopsy photos were not the ones she processed. This suggests the black and white autopsy photos were processed elsewhere, and that there were two sets of autopsy photos.

* Joe O'Donnell, a White House photographer who worked with Robert Knudsen, told the ARRB that Knudsen showed him autopsy photos that showed a grapefruit-sized hole in the back of the head. This is yet another witness who saw a sizable wound in the rear of the skull. The evidence of a large wound in the back of Kennedy's head is important because the current autopsy photos show no such wound. In the autopsy photos the back of the head is virtually undamaged. Critics contend those photos have either been altered or the skull was cosmetically repaired before the pictures were taken, so as to conceal the large wound in the back of the head. A large wound in the back of the head, of course, would be characteristic of a shot from the front, not from behind.

* O'Donnell further told the ARRB that one of the autopsy photos Knudsen showed him showed what appeared to be an entry wound in the right temple. This is key because there were several reports out of Dallas of a small wound in one of the temples. O'Donnell's account strongly tends to confirm those reports. Also, a defect consistent with a wound of entry can be seen in the right temple area on the autopsy x-rays, according to three doctors who have examined them (one of whom is an expert in neuroanatomy and another of whom is a board-certified radiologist).

* Tom Robinson, the mortician, confirmed what he had already told the HSCA on the issue of a small wound in the temple, namely, that he saw a small hole in the area of the right temple, and that he filled it with wax. Although Robinson speculated the small hole was made by an exiting fragment, the hole is strong evidence of a shot from the front in light of the reports of a large wound of exit in the back of the head and in light of the other accounts of an entry-like wound in one of the temples. Indeed, White House press man Malcolm Kilduff told reporters at Parkland Hospital that afternoon that Dr. Burkley told him a bullet entered the right temple, and Kilduff pointed to his own right temple to illustrate the trajectory. This was all captured on film. One of the reporters who attended that press conference wrote in his notes "bullet entered right temple" (or "entered right temple").

* O'Donnell said that Knudsen showed him other autopsy photos that showed the back of the head intact. This corresponds with the other evidence that there were two sets of autopsy photos, one genuine and the other altered.

* Knudsen's wife, Gloria Knudsen, and both his children, told ARRB interviewers that four autopsy photos were missing and that another photo had been "badly altered" (and "severely altered"). They also reported that he told them that four or five of the autopsy photos he was shown by the HSCA did not represent what he saw during the autopsy.

* Mrs. Knudsen reported that Knudsen told her that the background in the autopsy photos he was shown was wrong. This agrees with the reports of other witnesses at the autopsy that the photos in evidence show things in the background that were not in the autopsy room at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

* Knudsen's son Bob recalled that his father mentioned seeing probes inserted into three wounds. The WC said there were only two wounds of entrance, one in the back and the other low on the back of the head. Three entrance wounds means there must have been more than one gunman.

* Knudsen himself told the HSCA that he firmly recalled at least two probes inserted into wounds and that he believed he recalled one picture in which three probes were inserted into wounds. Again, three wounds of entrance equals conspiracy, period. In fact, in this instance two probes might mean conspiracy since it's unlikely the pathologists would have probed the head wound.

* Knudsen volunteered in his HSCA interview that there was "something shady" about the third piece of film that he handled. Incredibly, the HSCA interviewer did not ask him to explain his comment.

* Knudsen confirmed that Saundra Spencer processed color autopsy photographic material at the naval lab, and that he was personally aware that the black and white photos were done elsewhere.

* The special agent in charge of the Miami Secret Service office told the HSCA he believed some elements of the Secret Service might have been involved in a conspiracy in the assassination.

* Secret Service Special Agent Elmer Moore "badgered" Dr. Malcolm Perry into changing his story that the throat wound was an entrance wound. This is revealing. Researchers have always suspected that Dr. Perry was pressured into changing his initial (and very firm) diagnosis that the throat wound was an entrance wound.

* Robert Bouck, who was the chief of the Protective Research Division of the Secret Service in 1963, told the HSCA he believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy.

* Special Agent Fox made black and white autopsy photo prints at the Secret Service lab.

* Dr. Robert Karnei, who viewed and assisted with the autopsy, told the ARRB he clearly remembered that a photo was taken showing a probe inserted into the body. No such photo is to be found in the autopsy photos in evidence.

* Another new witness discovered by the ARRB is John Van Hoesen. Van Hoesen was a mortician who was present when Robinson reconstructed the skull. He told the ARRB he saw an "orange-sized" hole in the back of the head. Incidentally, Robinson himself told the HSCA he very clearly recalled seeing a large wound in the back of the skull, and he even diagrammed the wound for the HSCA interviewer. Robinson, of course, not only saw this wound for a prolonged period of time, but he also HANDLED it. Is anyone going to seriously suggest that Robinson "confused" this wound for a wound that was "really" above the right ear?! (The current lone-gunman theory posits, and the extant autopsy photos show, a large wound above the right ear.

* Yet another new witness is Earl McDonald, who was a medical photographer at Bethesda Naval Hospital. McDonald trained under Stringer, in fact. McDonald told the ARRB that at Bethesda he never saw anyone use a metal brace like the one seen holding the head in the autopsy photos. Other medical technicians at the autopsy have made similar observations, i.e., that the background in the autopsy photos doesn't show the autopsy room at Bethesda.

* X-ray technician Jerrol Custer, who was present at the autopsy and assisted with the autopsy x-rays, testified to the ARRB that he was certain he took x-rays of the C3/C4 region of the neck and that those x-rays showed numerous fragments. Custer added that he suspected the reason those x-rays disappeared was that they showed a large number of bullet fragments. Custer has a point. Why else would those x-rays have been suppressed?

* Custer told the ARRB that he saw a large bullet fragment fall from the back when the body was lifted for the taking of x-rays.

* Custer further told the ARRB that he wanted to put his personal marker on the x-rays during the autopsy, so as to be able to identify them, but that he was unable to mark all of them because a senior military officer ordered him to stop marking them.