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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

JFK Revisited Distorts John Stringer's Testimony

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary makes it sound like the autopsy photographer said that he did not take the photos of JFK's brain that are in the current inventory,

Photo of John Stringer from JFK Revisited (53:10)

Here is an excerpt from a transcript of JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass: (53:05)

Oliver Stone: Who was the autopsy photographer?

Douglas Horne: John Stringer. He was a Navy civilian. He was widely respected; he had written a textbook on medical photography for the Navy. So he was the photographer of record. He photographed the autopsy itself and also photographed the President's brain.

Oliver Stone: The autopsy photos of the President's brain are housed at the National Archives. These photos cannot be scanned or reproduced, but are only available to be viewed onsite by researchers authorized by the Kennedy family.

Douglas Horne: Half of the brain photos are taken of a brain from above, superior views, which is what Stringer said he shot of the complete organ. But the other half of the brain photos in the archives are taken of the bottom, called basilar views. We were very careful to question Mr. Stringer about all the photographs he took, and asked him what kind of film he used for black and white, what kind of film he used for color. Jeremy Gunn showed Stringer the color positive transparencies of the brain, and Stringer immediately noted, "well, these aren't Kodak. These might be ANSCO. I don't see the name of the manufacturer on there, but these don't have the right notches in the corner." So Jeremy Gunn said, "Did you use this film with these notches in it?" Stringer said "No." "Did you take basilar views when you shot the brain?" He said, "not as far as I know."

Whoopi Goldberg: Doesn't this all lead to the question: if Stringer did not take these photographs, then who did?

JFK Revisited then makes the claim that Robert Knudsen, JFK's photographer, took photos of another brain. I will cover this in another blog post.

I want to highlight what John Stringer actually told the ARRB. You can read a summary of his interview from April 1996 here, and you can also read his full deposition.

Here is what he said about the authenticity of the autopsy photographs:

Here is his description of the head wound:

During his deposition to the ARRB, Stringer was show various autopsy photographs and he confirmed, every single time, that he took the photographs. Here is the page number in his deposition and the autopsy photographs that he authenticates:

Page Number Autopsy Photographs

161 29. 30, 31

162 1, 2, 3, 4

164 5, 6, 26, 27, 28

168 7, 8, 9, 10, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37

173 11, 12, 38, 39

188 13, 14, 40, 41

192 15, 16, 42, 43

206 17, 18, 44, 45

216 19, 21, 22, 46, 47, 48. 49 (brain photographs)

222 20, 27, 24, 25, 50, 51, 52 (brain photographs)

In terms of the brain, Stringer notes the different type of film. Here is an excerpt from page 224:

Q: Okay. And these are not Ektachrome notches, or you're not certain? It's just that they're different.

Stringer: I'm not certain, but they're different. It's -- I think it's a different type of film. It could be Ansco film, like this.

Q: Did you ever use Ansco film yourself in conducting medical photography?

Stringer: Not very often.

Q: Did you use Ansco film in the -- taking the autopsy --

Stringer: Not as far as I know.

Q: -- photographs of President Kennedy?

Stringer: Not as far as I know.

Q: Is there any question in your mind whether you were the photographer of these images that are before you right now.

Stringer: Yes, if it's Ansco film, and if it's a film pack. I have no -- I have no recollection of using a film pack.

Stringer really is just not certain: (page 221)

Q: Mr. Stringer, if I recall correctly, during the course of the deposition you identified three different factors relating to photography of the brain that would suggest that you would not have an identification number in it; you would not have used a film pack; and that you did not take a basilar view of the brain. Is that correct?

Stringer: I think so, yeah. That is what -- Whether I took that, I don't know.

The plain fact of the matter is that John Stringer's memory wasn't the greatest. Just read his deposition and you will find many instances where he just couldn't remember an incident. For instance: (page 10)

Q: After the autopsy, did you ever speak to any of the physicians who were present at the autopsy regarding the autopsy?

Stringer: No, I don't think so.

Q: So, for --

Stringer: I can't remember.

Or this: (page 50)

Q: Okay. Could we switch from cameras now and talk a little about film?

Stringer: Mm - hmmm.

Q: You mentioned that you would -- it would be typical to take black and white, as well as color film during an autopsy. And that it would typically be the two sheets of black and white that would be used. What kind of black and white film was used around 1963?

Stringer: Panatomic X rings a bell. I don't remember, to tell the truth.

Or this: (page 51)

Q: Do you recall the kind of color film that was used around 1963?

Stringer: Kodachrome, it was. Kodachrome.

Q: Kodachrome or Ektachrome?

Stringer: I think it was Koda -- I'm not sure, to tell the truth. I think it was Kodachrome, though.

Or this: (page 134)

Q: Do you remember seeing an image of the entire -- or the full length of the body of the President?

Stringer: I don't remember.

Q: Under sub A on Exhibit 78, it refers to Ektachrome E3 film. Does that help refresh your recollection as the type of film --

Stringer: Yes, it does.

Q: -- that was used?

Stringer: Yes.

Q: Earlier, if I recall correctly, you had said that you understood that it was Kodachrome.

Stringer: Yeah.

Q: It was Ektachrome E3

Stringer: I would say it was Ektachrome, yes.

Stringer also did not remember a variety of meetings: (page 54)

Q: In the document marked Exhibit 19, it refers on page 14 to a visit that a Mr. Stringer and Jim Kelly and Colleen Boland took to the National Archives. Does that help refresh your recollection as to whether you ever went to the Archives?

Stringer: It does not. I don't remember it.

Q: As you're sitting here today, does it seem to you to be very unlikely that you went to the Archives; or you just have no recollection, one way or another?

Stringer: I don't think I went. I don't have any recollection of it. And after '77. I was living in Vero Beach. It does say that I was staying with my daughter. Whose name is wrong here. It's R-u-s-k.

Q: Mrs. Rusk, rather than Mrs. Ross?

Stringer: Rusk. I certainly don't remember going to the Archives with these people. I don't know how I would have gotten there.

More on Stringer's memory: (page 62)

Q: I'd like to show you a document that has been marked as Exhibit MD 80. Could you take a look at that document and tell me whether you've ever seen that previously?

Stringer: Yes, I, evidently, wrote that; yes.

Mr. Gunn: I'll state for the record that on its face Exhibit MD 80 appears to be a letter, dated September 11th, 1977, from Mr. John T. Stringer, Jr. to Mr. Donald A. Purdy, Jr.

Mr. Gunn: Mr. Stringer, do you have any recollection of having written the letter?

Stringer: I guess, I must have. But that was in 1977. I don't have a copy of it.

Mr. Gunn: As best you can tell, is that your signature -

Stringer: Yes.

Mr. Gunn: - at the bottom of the page?

Stringer: Yes, I would say it is. Yes.

Mr. Gunn: Does the letter help refresh your recollection about any contacts, even through writing, that you may have had with the House Select Committee on Assassinations?

Stringer: Well, evidently, this was from them, but - But I don't even, - I mean, this is bringing back memories, but I don't remember -

Here is another example of Stringer's memory: (page 154)

Q: Okay. Early in the deposition, you made reference to identification tags being used. Do you have a recollection as to whether there were identification tags used at the time of the photography of the brain?

Stringer: No. I don't remember. But there should have been.

As you can see, John Stringer's memory is quite spotty. Just above Stringer says that he cannot remember if identification tags were used when the brain was photographed. Here is an excerpt of his testimony about the brain photographs: (page 217)

Q: Mr. Stringer, If I remember correctly from earlier in your testimony, you said you had not recalled that there were any basilar photographs of the brain of President Kennedy. Can you identify whether the photographs that are in front of you now are basilar or superior views of a brain?

Stringer: They're basilar.

Q: If I recall correctly, earlier in your testimony, you said that there were identification cards that were used for identification of the brain when photographs were taken. Was that correct?

Stringer: Well, there's a ruler there, but there's no identification on there.

Q: Based up on these being basilar views of a brain and based upon there being no identification cards, are you able to identify with certainty whether these photographs before you now are photographs of the brain of President Kennedy?

Stringer: No, I couldn't say that they were President Kennedy's. I mean, there's no identification. All I know is, I gave everything to Jim Humes, and he gave them to Admiral Burkley.

Q: Do you have any recollections in 1996 about what the appearance of the brain of President Kennedy looked like at the supplementary examination?

Stringer: No.

Q: Are you able to determine whether the photographs in front of you now are consistent with or not consistent with the brain, as you remember it from 1963?

Stringer: Well, it has to be, if that's Mr. Kennedy.

Q: Well, that's the question.

Stringer: Yeah.

Q: Does the brain in the photograph that you're looking at seem to be more hardened or drier than you recall at the time you conducted this supplementary autopsy?

Stringer: No.

Stringer does not deny that that the brain photographs are of President Kennedy. It's just that there is no identification tag, and we have seen that Stringer said that he did not remember if identification tags were used at the time the brain was photographed.

Faced with Stringer's poor memory, one could easily conclude that he just didn't remember using Ansco film. We have already seen him get confused by Kodachrome and Ektachrome.

But to Oliver Stone and James DiEugenio, that is enough for them to reach another conclusion -- that a different brain was photographed.

Which is more likely? A different brain, or a lack of memory for minor details after 32 years?

“Finally, a significant problem that is well known to trial lawyers, judges, and psychologists, is the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Witnesses frequently, and inaccurately, believe that they have a vivid recollection of events. Psychologists and scholars have long-since demonstrated the serious unreliability of peoples' recollections of what they hear and see. One illustration of this was an interview statement made by one of the treating physicians at Parkland. He explained that he was in Trauma Room Number 1 with the President. He recounted how he observed the First Lady wearing a white dress. Of course, she was wearing a pink suit, a fact known to most Americans. The inaccuracy of his recollection probably says little about the quality of the doctor's memory, but it is revealing of how the memory works and how cautious one must be when attempting to evaluate eyewitness testimony.
The deposition transcripts and other medical evidence that were released by the Review Board should be evaluated cautiously by the public. Often the witnesses contradict not only each other, but sometimes themselves. For events that transpired almost 35 years ago, all persons are likely to have failures of memory. It would be more prudent to weigh all of the evidence, with due concern for human error, rather than take single statements as "proof" for one theory or another.”

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Dec 20, 2021

Fred ignores the fact that John Stringer wasn't the only autopsy witness/participant to cast doubt on the extant file of JFK's autopsy photos. So did all three of Kennedy's pathologists. As I've elsewhere written:

In order to document the path of the nonfatal bullet through a bruised area at the top of JFK’s lung cavity, Humes had told the Warren Commission, “Kodachrome photographs were made … in the interior of the President’s chest.” No such images are known to exist. Despite his signing off that the file of photographs was complete in 1966, in an affidavit prepared by the US Justice Department, Dr. Humes nevertheless continued to remember that he had taken these images. In 1978, the HSCA reported, “[Humes]…

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