Spartacus Blog

JFK Assassination: What Happened in the Trauma Room

To mark the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the BBC showed several previously broadcasted documentaries that all supported the "lone gunman theory" and completely ignored any evidence that has been revealed over the last few years. Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled, Kennedy, Sinatra and the Mafia, suggesting that organised crime was involved in the assassination.

However, the good news was that Channel 5, showed Barbara Shearer's, JFK Assassination: What Happened in the Trauma Room, on Sunday 19th November. The mainstream media mainly ignored the documentary, but an interesting review did appear by Tom Carter on the Socialist World Wide Web.

Barbara Shearer's film attempts to explain what happened in the trauma room of Parkland Hospital in the short period before his death. The most important aspect of the film is that it includes interviews carried out with seven of the doctors in the room in 2013 about what they saw in 1963. These interviews were not shown at the time and since then all these men have died.

This is a list of the doctors who were interviewed with their role at Parkland Hospital in parenthesis: Ronald Jones (chief resident), Donald Seldin (chief of medicine), Kenneth Salyer (resident), Robert McClelland (assistant professor of surgery), Joe D. Goldstrich (medical student), Lawrence Klein (medical student) and Peter Loeb (medical student). The documentary also showed archive footage of Dr Malcolm Perry who was also in the trauma room and announced at the press conference that JFK had died, and Audrey Bell, the operating room supervisor in the trauma room.

Dr Malcolm Perry (right) at the press conference on 22nd November, 1963
Dr Malcolm Perry (right) at the press conference on 22nd November, 1963

All seven doctors agreed about what they saw in the trauma room. They all insisted that because of its size the wound in the throat was an entrance wound. (In order to help him breathe Dr Perry performed a tracheotomy over the small wound and therefore inadvertently destroying crucial evidence concerning the direction of the bullet that hit JFK.) At the time they thought that the bullet to the head was an exit wound. (They changed their mind about this after watching the Zapruder Film in 1975 when they could see that the wound was caused by another shot from the front.)

Dr Perry agreed with them and stated three times at the press conference that JFK's throat wound appeared to be an entrance wound. Dr Perry told Dr McClelland that after the press conference he was approached by a man who he assumed was a secret service agent who told him: "you must never say again that was an entrance wound if you know what is good for you."

Soon afterwards Dr Charles R. Baxter, emergency room director at Parkland Hospital, called a meeting of all the people in the trauma room and they were told that they must never talk about what they had seen during the treatment of JFK. They also received other messages that they were likely to come to harm if they talked about the entrance wound in the throat to anyone else. Although they all felt guilty about it, they went along with this, and the 2013 interviews were an attempt to put the record straight.

When interviewed by the Warren Commission, Perry did what he was told and said that he then believed that a "full jacketed bullet without deformation passing through the 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."

The seven doctors also told the story of what happened to Dr Earl Rose, the chief forensic pathologist at Parkland Hospital. He was later to perform autopsies on J. D. Tippit, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. However, before he could carry out the autopsy on JFK, secret service agents threatened him with Thompson sub-machine guns before taking the body away from him. Dr Rose was an expert on bullet wounds and would have been able to discover the trajectory of the bullets. He would have also been able to consult with his colleagues about the tracheotomy that had taken place by the wound in the throat. Dr Rose pointed out that it was the law that autopsies had to be carried in Texas if the death had taken place in the state. The secret service agents responded to this by pushing him up against the wall as they moved the body along the hospital corridor.

Douglas Horne, Chief Analyst for Military Records for the Assassination Records Review Board, who used documentation from the time, to explain the details of JFK's body to Bethesda Naval Hospital. The records show that the body arrived at the hospital at 6.35pm. Dennis David, an Administrative Technician at the hospital explained that the body arrived in a "plain grey metal box" instead of the original casket.

The autopsy did not start until 8.00pm. It was carried out by James J. Humes and J. Thornton Boswell. These men were not forensic pathologists and had little experience  of examining bullet wounds. The documentary featured an interview with James Curtis Jenkins, who had assisted with the autopsy. Jenkins noticed that the brain had previously been removed (severed at the stem from both sides). Humes and Boswell both expressed surprise at this and said it must have been done in Dallas. However, Humes, later admitted in an interview that he had removed the brain before the autopsy started at 8.00pm. Jenkins later recalled that evening he was asked to type a memorandum for a FBI agent, that said that four bullet fragments had been removed from JFK's head.

Paul K. O'Connor, a laboratory technician at Bethesda Naval Hospital, states in the documentary, that throughout the autopsy Humes was constantly having conversations with secret service and FBI agents. Douglas Horne argues that the wounds were altered between 6.35pm and 8.00pm to make sure that all the bullets were fired from behind JFK. All the seven Parkland Hospital doctors interviewed in 2013 were convinced the throat and head wounds suffered by JFK came from in front of him. The documentary also showed interviews with people in Dealy Plaza that day who insisted they saw gunman firing shots from the wooden picket fence on top of the grassy knoll.

Barbara Shearer's, JFK Assassination: What Happened in the Trauma Room, makes no attempt to explain the people behind the assassination, but does provide a possible reason why Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to cover up the idea of a conspiracy.

As soon as he became president LBJ decided to secretly tape all his telephone conversations. All told he recorded over 800 hours of discussions on the telephone. He told close aides that he did this for two main reasons. (i) It would help him write his memoirs; (ii) He could use this information to apply pressure (blackmail) on politicians and businessmen. LBJ informed his longtime personal assistant Mildred Stegall that if he died unexpectedly, she must destroy the tapes and their transcripts). However, when died of a heart attack at San Antonio, Texas, on 22nd January 1973, Stegall did not carry out his instructions. Instead, she placed them in sealed boxes and sent them to the LBJ Presidential Library with the instructions that they must not be opened until at least January 2023.

The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 was applied to the Johnson tapes (some are still being withheld for national security reasons). However, the tapes dealing with the Kennedy assassination have proved very interesting. Soon after the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, Johnson received a phone call from J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, insisting that Cuba's communist government was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In fact, when Oswald was first arrested by the FBI he was charged with being part of a conspiracy to murder JFK.  LBJ insisted that the word "conspiracy" be dropped.

President Johnson telephoned his close friend Richard B. Russell (4.05 pm, 29th November 1963) and asked him to join the Warren Commission. Johnson tells Russell that Earl Warren also turned him down. He feared that the report when published would destroy his reputation (it did). Johnson blackmailed him into accepting the post. He told Russell: "You want me to tell you the truth? You know what happened? Bobby (Kennedy) and them went up to see him today and he turned them down cold and said, "No." Two hours later, I called him and ordered him down here and he didn't want to come. I insisted he come. He came down here and told me no - twice. And I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City and I said, "Now I don't want Mr. Khrushchev to be told tomorrow - and be testifying before a camera that he killed this fellow and that Castro killed him and all I want you to do is look at the facts and bring in any other facts you want in here and determine who killed the President. And I think you put on your uniform in World War I, fat as you are, and would do anything you could to save one American life. And I'm surprised that you, the Chief Justice of the United States, would turn me down." And he started crying and he said, "I won't turn you down. I'll just do whatever you say."

Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard B. Russell in December 1963
Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard B. Russell in December 1963

In another telephone conversation to Russell later that day (8.55 pm) LBJ tells why he wants the commission to report that Lee Harvey Oswald is the lone gunman: "The Secretary of State came over here this afternoon. He's deeply concerned, Dick, about the idea that they're spreading throughout the Communist world that Khrushchev killed Kennedy. Now he didn't. He didn't have a damned thing to do with it."

How did President Lyndon B. Johnson know on 29th November 1963 that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the assassination when only a few days earlier, Hoover had told him that a communist conspiracy had killed Kennedy. Did he already know at this stage who did it? Or did he have other reasons to want to believe Oswald was a lone gunman. Johnson's defenders pointed out this passage from the telephone conversation with Russell might explain his motivation: "It has already been announced (members of the Warren Commission) and you can serve with anybody for the good of America and this is a question that has a good many more ramifications than on the surface and we've got to take this out of the arena where they're testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that and chuck us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour."

So, did LBJ organize a cover-up to save the world from a nuclear war? Or was there another reason for the cover-up.  What did the Secretary of State say that convinced him that Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro were not involved in the assassination? I suspect it was because he was told the JFK had been carrying out secret negotiations with Cuba. On 20th September 1963, JFK gave permission to authorize his old college friend, William Attwood to make contacts with Carlos Lechuga, the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations.

Arthur Schlesinger explained to Anthony Summers in 1978 why the CIA did not want John F. Kennedy to negotiate with Fidel Castro during the summer of 1963: "The CIA was reviving the assassination plots at the very time President Kennedy was considering the possibility of normalization of relations with Cuba - an extraordinary action. If it was not total incompetence - which in the case of the CIA cannot be excluded - it was a studied attempt to subvert national policy.... I think the CIA must have known about this initiative. They must certainly have realized that Bill Attwood and the Cuban representative to the U.N. were doing more than exchanging daiquiri recipes…They had all the wires tapped at the Cuban delegation to the United Nations….Undoubtedly if word leaked of President Kennedy's efforts, that might have been exactly the kind of thing to trigger some explosion of fanatical violence. It seems to me a possibility not to be excluded."

Was LBJ told that Khrushchev and Castro did not have any motive to kill JFK? In fact, they had every reason to want to keep JFK alive. However, LBJ still wanted the Warren Commission to argue that JFK was killed by a lone gunman. Would that be the case if he believed JFK was killed by the Mafia? Highly unlikely. He must have suspected the conspiracy was organised by people he could not afford to upset.


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