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"JFK: Destiny Betrayed" Misleads on JFK's Autopsy Photographs, Part Three

Updated: Apr 13


Screen shot from JFK: Destiny Betrayed showing John Ebersole, the radiologist at the JFK autopsy.


Oliver Stone's so-called documentary, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, misleads viewers into believing there are missing autopsy photographs. In the process, the autopsy photographer is appallingly quoted out of context. Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (20:58 of episode 3)


Douglas Horne: On November 1st, 1966, the National Archives and an official from the Department of Justice met with Humes, Boswell, photographer John Stringer, and the radiologist Ebersole. And they looked at the autopsy photographs for the first time and they created a catalog, an inventory simply saying, "this is what this picture describes." During this discussion, the DOJ witness Mr. Belcher, who was an attorney, noted they were discussing missing photographs. Jeremy Gunn, my boss, the General Counsel, did ask why these people signed an inventory which they knew not to be true. And Stringer said, "well, some people do object but they don't last very long."


The statement of John Stringer "some people do object but they don't last very long," is quoted outrageously out of context. He was talking about offering suggestions to a doctor in charge of an autopsy:


Q: Do you remember identification tags during the time of the original autopsy?


A: There were one or two. The rest of the time, they were done away with.


Q: Why were they done away with?


A: There was not time to put them in to get them set up.


Q: When you're referring, then, to being done away with, are you referring to the exposure on the film that would identify it? Or do you mean to the ruler, or the --


A: Well, the ruler.


Q: Does it really take that much time to put a ruler in the photo?


A: Well, they get it set up and all that. I mean, when they were doing it, they were in a hurry and said, "Let's get it over with."


Q: Did you object to that at all?


A: You don't object to things.


Q: Some people do.


A: Yeah, they do. But they don't last long.


If there were awards for statements taken out of context, this would surely take the cake. Is it any wonder that the fact checkers of Netflix turned down JFK: Destiny Betrayed?


Spike Lee: Netflix said no?


Oliver Stone: Yeah. Today I just got the word that National Geographic said no.


Spike Lee: What was the reason they said no?


Oliver Stone: They said they did their fact check. Yeah. Where are you going to find this information except in this film? If they do a fact check, according to conventional sources, of course it’ll come out like this is not true. How can you go and prove that it’s true? It’s very, it’s very tough. You have to have some imagination here.


No imagination is needed to see that Stringer is appallingly quoted out of context.


But let's set aside the misquotation and look at the alleged substantive issue -- the inventory and/or other evidence of missing photos.


Here is the last page of document from 1966 about the inventory of autopsy x-rays and photographs:


There may very well have been discussion of missing photographs. Memory is a tricky thing and given the number of photographs and the nature of the event - after all it was an autopsy of a president - it is not surprising that they might have thought a certain photograph had been taken.


Stringer was asked about missing views:


Q: If those numbers for the holders, 11 and 9, were correct, then, your assumption would be that there would have been approximately 40 negative -- or 40 films exposed on the night of the autopsy.


A. Yeah.


Q: Give or take one or two, I presume.


A: Yeah. There were some views that we -- that were taken that were missing.


Q: Why is it that you say that some of the views that were taken are missing?


A: We went down to see them two years afterwards, and I remember some things inside the body that weren't there.


Views are not necessarily photographs. That is, what Stringer called 'views' were not necessarily photographs, but things he recalled viewing.


Stringer was asked specifically about missing photographs:


Q: Did you ever speak to Mr. Riebe about the apparent discrepancy in the number of films that had been exposed on the night of the autopsy.


A: I don't know whether I did or not.


Q: After the conversation with Captain Stover that you discussed earlier, did you ever raise the issue with him again?


A: I don't know, but we raised the issue when we saw the photographs in '66.


Q: What happened in 1966 when you raised the issue?


A: Nothing.


Q: To whom -- when you say "we raised the issue", whom are you referring to?


A: Well, when we were at the Archives -- whoever was there.


Q: Did you go with Dr. Humes?


A: Dr. Humes and Boswell.


Q: Were Dr. Humes and Boswell under the impression that there were some photographs missing?


A: We talked about it, yes.


Q: And whom did you talk to about it?


A: We talked when we were there. I said there were some missing -- because of that memorandum that it came back that there were some empty holders there. And the fellow that loaded them said there was no way there were any empty holders there.


So, was the only reason Stringer felt there were missing photographs was because of an empty holder?


Dr. Humes remembers two photographs that he did not see in 1966:


Q: Other than that series of photographs, were the remainder of the photographs all taken at the beginning of the autopsy, do you recall?


A: Virtually all of them were, yeah.


Q: Do you remember --


A: There's only basically two that weren't. One was the inside of the occipital region, which we interpreted as the wound of entrance, for obvious reasons, and one that never came -- whatever happened to it, I was very disturbed by it. We took one of the interior of the right side of the thorax because there was a contusion of the right upper lobe of the lung. So the missile had passed across the dome of the parietal pleura and contused the right lobe. I wanted to have a picture of that, and I never saw it. It never -- whether it was under-exposed or over-exposed or what happened to it, I don't know. And It's three years later when we were looking at it, of course. But we didn't see that photograph. So that was taken later, and the one of the inside of the skull was taken later.


Dr. Humes was asked about missing photographs at his deposition with the ARRB:

Q: As of November 1966, were you of the opinion that there were any photographs of the autopsy that had been taken in addition to those that you were able to see at the Archives?


A: The only one I recall specifically in that connection is the one I spoke to you about later, was the interior of the thorax. I thought we had seen all the others. Maybe we hadn't. I don't know. You got to remember, this was three years after the fact. That's part of the problem with all of this, temporal distortion of memory and what have you, accentuated when you get 35 years away.


Dr. Boswell was also asked about missing photographs:


Q: We're about to look at some photographs that show just the brain. Putting those photographs aside, are there any other photographs that you remember having been taken during the time of the autopsy that you don't see here?


A: The only one that I have a faint memory of was the anterior of the right thorax. I don't see it, and haven't when we tried to find it on previous occasions, because that was very important because it did show the extra-pleural blood clot and was very important to our positioning that wound.


In fact, a photograph of the inside of the occipital region might well be amongst the current inventory of photographs.


The only photograph that might truly be missing is the interior of the chest photograph. Here is what Vincent Bugliosi wrote about this issue: (Note 428 in Reclaiming History)

The 1966 National Archives inventory lists several “miscellaneous items” among the autopsy photographs, including two unexposed, 4 × 5 inch color transparencies. One had been developed (with no image visible), and the other left undeveloped. The 1966 inventory says that “this film was never exposed and therefore never contained an image, but was loaded into a camera as a part of a film pack and was unloaded without being used to depict an image.” Five unexposed black-and-white negatives, also listed among the miscellaneous items, met the same fate of being loaded and unloaded without an exposure being made. (ARRB MD 13, p.10) However, the two unexposed color transparencies described under “miscellaneous items” might explain the discrepancies between the early listings and the current inventory, and the issue of “missing” photographs. Adding two film sheets to the current inventory would mean that the eleven film holders were loaded on both sides (two sheets of film per holder), which would square with the autopsy photographer’s recollection that all the film holders were fully loaded. (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of John T. Stringer, July 16, 1996, pp.131–132, 137, 144)
Although conspiracy theorists would have you believe that the “missing” photograph or photographs (if they once existed) in the Kennedy assassination would change everything we know about the assassination, the fact is, their appearance could only support the photographs already in evidence and corroborate the conclusion that the president was shot from behind. First, Dr. Humes testified what the two missing photographs depicted—the inward beveling of the entrance wound as seen from the inside of the skull (which, unless I’m misreading 7 HSCA 129, has not been lost), which proves it was an entrance wound, and the interior of the chest showing the bruise over the top of the right lung, which corroborates the track of the bullet through the neck. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the “missing” photographs can’t show something different from all the many remaining photographs, which were authenticated by the HSCA in 1978. The suggestion that only two views were singled out for destruction makes no sense considering that the photographs and X-rays that were presumably left behind prove beyond any doubt that the president was shot from above and behind. For instance, with respect to the back (or head) entrance wound, quite apart from the eyewitness testimony of the autopsy surgeons that the wound was an entrance wound, since there are surviving autopsy photos of the exterior of the back wound showing all the characteristics of an entrance wound, including the abrasion collar (7 HSCA 86), how could the missing photograph or photographs possibly change this incontrovertible fact?

JFK: Destiny Betrayed would have you believe that there are many missing autopsy photographs. I have already blogged about Robert Knudsen and Saundra Spencer. The fact is that there might be one missing photograph does not take away from the fact that the autopsy x-rays and photographs in the current inventory are authentic.



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