"JFK Revisited" Misleads on Autopsy Photographs of JFK
Oliver Stone's so-called documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, misleads viewers on JFK autopsy photographs -- making it appear that a White House photographer took additional pictures that are not in the record.
Robert Knudsen shown in screen shot from JFK Revisited
Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (54:27)
Whoopi Goldberg: Doesn't this all lead to the question, if Stringer did not take these photographs, then who did?
Whoopi Goldberg: Robert Knudsen was a Navy photographer who was detailed to the White House in 1958. If you read his obituaries in the New York Times and the Washington Post, you will see that he is credited with photographing Kennedy's autopsy. Except officially, he was not.
Douglas Horne: Robert Knudsen was not interviewed by the Warren Commission. So they finally found Robert Knudsen in 1978 and to its credit, the House Select Committee did a deposition. To their discredit, they never published it, they buried it, for fifty years. And it got released in 1993 and I know why they buried it. Because everything he told them about autopsy photography contradicted what they thought they knew in the official record.
Dr. David Mantik: After his death in 1989, his wife was interviewed by the Assassinations Records and Review Board:
Jeremy Gunn: And did he describe for you the wounds that he saw?
Mrs. Knudsen: He told me his whole top of his head was just ... gone.
Dr. David Mantik: He told her that one photograph in particular, presumably the back of the head, had been severely altered.
Jeremy Gunn: Where was the wound covered?
Knudsen's son: Someone had drawn in hair, covering up the wound.
Jeremy Gunn: In one sense, probably worth saying, that what you are saying is very different from what the United States government has said for a long time, and why didn't you say something to somebody?
Mrs. Knudsen: You have to remember that he was a Navy man and he had Top Secret clearance. It was a way of life. You don't go around blabbing. He worked at the White House and he stayed because he never opened his mouth.
Douglas Horne: John Stringer is still the autopsy photographer of record. I think they both took pictures, and I personally think that many of John Stringer's pictures never made it in to the official collection, and a lot of the ones we are looking at are Robert Knudsen's pictures.
This segment follows a segment discussing the deposition of John Stringer. in which they also mislead viewers by claiming Stringer denied taking autopsy photographs of JFK's brain. In fact, he told the ARRB that all of the photographs of the autopsy were authentic.
He told the HSCA that he processed autopsy photographs at the Naval Photographic Center. He said that he did "see the images" but that he did not study them.
Knudsen was reticent about talking about what he had seen because of his secrecy agreements with the Secret Service. The HSCA called Bob Goff, a legal counsel to speak to Knudsen:
Knudsen told the HSCA that he remembered a picture with metal probes going in and out through the wounds in the neck. He was then shown the autopsy photographs and was asked for his opinion.
A few minutes later:
Knudsen had a vague recollection of a photo with metal probes. Purdy probed for more information:
Knudsen then says it was only a negative, and not a print:
Knudsen's memory is not the greatest. Purdy suggests that perhaps he saw an artifact:
The truth is that Knudsen only glanced at the negatives:
Robert Knudsen did not testify that he had taken any autopsy photographs. And he also authenticated the existing autopsy photographs. His only concern was his memory of one negative that showed a probe through JFK's body.
Douglas Horne makes the allegation that the HSCA "buried" Knudsen's deposition. But all unpublished HSCA documents were sealed after the investigation because the House did not pass a bill to declassify its material. Knudsen's deposition is hardly earth-shattering and I can certainly understand why it was not included in the HSCA volumes of evidence.
Robert and Gloria Knudsen in a screen shot from JFK Revisited
She told the ARRB that just before the Dallas trip, Knudsen got a metal splinter in his eye and had to recuperate instead of going to Texas. Did that perhaps affect his vision when he was developing the autopsy photographs? In her interview with the ARRB, Mrs. Knudsen wondered whether he would be able to work on the day of the funeral.
Mrs. Knudsen told the ARRB that "her husband had participated in another investigation into the assassination which she thought the public knew nothing about." This would have taken place in 1988. She promised to bring "the letter which invited him to appear in this forum" but that letter never turned up.
When the ARRB met with Mrs. Knudsen and her two children, they said that Knudsen not only photographed the autopsy, but that he "was the only one to do so." We know this is not true.
To my knowledge, no one outside the family said that Knudsen attended the autopsy.
The family remembered that Knudsen talked about metal probes being inserted in Kennedy's body. This is consistent with his deposition, except that the family believed he took the photographs.
After Knudsen appeared before the HSCA, his family claimed that he told them that 4 or 5 of the photographs "did not represent what he saw or took that night, and that one of the photographs he viewed had been altered." As indicated in JFK Revisited, his son Bob claimed that his father "told him that 'hair had been drawn in' on one photo to conceal a missing portion of the top-back of President Kennedy's head."
Knudsen's family also elaborated on his supposed visit with an inquiry in 1988.
But there was no official investigation in 1988. Might they be referring to a buff conference held in Pittsburgh to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the assassination?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 18, 1988
Somehow assassination buff Dr. Randy Robertson got into the action. He called Douglas Horne of the ARRB and told him that he should talk to Joe O'Donnell, another White House photographer, who could possibly corroborate the allegations that Knudsen took autopsy photographs.
You can read the ARRB report regarding O'Donnell here. He had worked for the United States Information Agency in 1963.
He told the ARRB that Knudsen showed him autopsy photos on two occasions. On the first occasion, he saw a photograph that showed a hole in the back of Kennedy's head the size of a grapefruit. Another photo showed a hole in JFK's forehead above the right eye. A few days later he was shown a photograph that showed no hole in the back of the head. He said he never discussed with Knudsen the discrepancy in the photos.
But was O'Donnell a credible witness? Definitely not.
He also remembered showing the Zapruder film to Jackie Kennedy, and then altering the film:
The ARRB noted that "O'Donnell's memory was uneven. He sometimes had trouble remembering the names of Presidents. He also gave a different timing on his viewing of the two different showings of post-mortem photographs (i.e., both events within a month or so of the assassination) from his first interview (in which he said both viewings occurred within a week or so of the assassination).
Dr. Robertson called Mrs. Knudsen, who was upset when he told her he doubted that Knudsen photographed the autopsy. She then called associates of her husband's to see if they could verify that he took pictures at the autopsy:
In addition, one of the Navy people told her that they did recall a photo showing the back of Kennedy's head to be "blown out." She would not say who this was.
Towards the end of her interview, Mrs. Knudsen said that "the first 6 pages of the transcript" of his HSCA deposition "did not sound like her husband." She felt he would not have signed a deposition with several spelling mistakes. The rest of the transcript did sound like her husband.
A few months later, Jeremy Gunn called Mrs. Knudsen and asked if he had any more leads. She promised to call back, but she never did.
Douglas Horne said in JFK Revisited that many of John Stringer's photos did not make it into the collection and that some of the photographs are those taken by Robert Knudsen. I see no basis for this conclusion. Stringer told the ARRB that he took the photographs and that they are authentic; and Knudsen told the HSCA that he did not take photographs.
In an upcoming post, I will examine the transcript of the meeting between the ARRB and the Knudsen family.
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Steve Roe Blog Posts on JFK Revisited
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