• Fred Litwin

"JFK Revisited" Misleads on the Weight of JFK's Brain

Updated: Apr 29

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, tries to make the weight of JFK's brain an item of controversy. This is in furtherance of their attempt to prove that there was another brain substituted for JFK's.

You can read here how JFK Revisited distorted the testimony of John Stringer, the autopsy photographer.

Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (57:37)

Douglas Horne: And in one of the photographs she [Saundra Spencer] developed, there was a brain, an intact brain, sitting next to the body, the nude body of the President. Strange, first of all, that it's intact, because FBI agent Frank O'Neill told the Review Board that over half of the mass of the brain was missing.

Dr. David Mantik: So the brain autopsy, or autopsies, there were probably two such events, occurred later and were not done on November 22nd.

Dr. Gary Aguilar: Anybody that has seen the Zapruder film had to have seen Kennedy's head explode and debris flies all over the place. Jackie Kennedy climbed out on to the trunk of the limousine, picked up a chunk of the President's brain, had it with her, took it and gave it to one of the doctors at Parkland Hospital. And when you look at the autopsy photographs of the brain, which I've seen the originals of, you can just see that the brain is disrupted but very little of the tissue is missing, Then we looked at the autopsy report of the brain, what they called the supplemental brain examination, the brain in evidence that's weighed there weighs 1500 grams.

Dr. Michael Chesser: 1500 grams is above average weight of an adult male brain. There was one report of eight thousand autopsies and the average weight of an adult male brain was 1,336 grams. So, they're saying that President Kennedy's brain was well above the average weight.

Dr. Gary Aguilar: Where did all that brain tissue disappear to, that flies around Dealey Plaza, that Jackie has in her hand, that everybody's picking off of their clothing?

Here is an excerpt from Vincent Bugliosi's book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: (endnote 441)

"How much of the president’s brain was missing? From the autopsy report, we know that the left hemisphere of Kennedy’s brain was “intact” (CE 391, 16 H 987). But in addition to lab technician Paul O’Connor’s demonstrably incorrect statement that virtually the whole brain was “missing,” there were others who have said that most of the right hemisphere was missing. FBI agent Francis O’Neill said that “more than half the brain was missing” (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Francis X. O’Neill, September 12, 1997, pp.115–117, 164–166). And too many to quote have argued that since a considerable part of the right hemisphere of the president’s brain was missing, how could the brain, per the autopsy report (CE 391, 16 H 987), have weighed “1,500 grams”? Since the average brain, they argue, weighs around 1,400 grams (at 450 grams per pound, about 3 pounds), how could the president’s brain, after losing so much brain matter, weigh more than the average brain?
The answer is that the president’s brain did not lose much brain matter. “Contrary to the myth,” Dr. Michael Baden told me, people who have said that the president lost a good part of his brain “are absolutely wrong.” Baden says he saw the photographs taken of the president’s brain at the time of the autopsy, and under his direction the HSCA’s medical illustrator, Ida Dox, drew a diagram of the brain viewed from the top. (See sketch in photo section of book.) As Baden said in his testimony before the HSCA, the diagram “represents extensive damage and injury to the right top of the brain” (1 HSCA 304). (“It’s an exact depiction,” he told me.) Note the words “damage and injury” as opposed to saying a large part of the brain was “missing.” And, indeed, the autopsy report says nothing about any significant part of the brain being missing, merely saying, “The right cerebral hemisphere is found to be markedly disrupted” (CE 391, 16 H 987)"

JFK Exhibit F-302: Drawing representing one of the brain photographs from JFK's post-mortem examination and held in the National Archives.

And as for the weight of JFK's brain: (endnote 441)

"Basically, the president’s whole brain was still there,” Baden said. “The right hemisphere was severely damaged and torn, but less than an ounce or two of his brain was actually missing from the cranial cavity. If you squash a tomato, some would look at it and loosely say that most of the tomato was missing, but actually it’s still all there, only it’s mashed. That’s the only explanation I can give you for how some people have said that a big part of the brain was missing. But they are wrong.” However, since Baden conceded that the president had indeed lost at least an ounce or two of his brain (there are 28 grams to an ounce), I asked him how he explained that the president’s brain, which weighed 1,500 grams (CE 391, 16 H 987), ended up weighing as much as it did, more than the average brain of around 1,400 grams? Was it simply that he had a larger brain? “When the brain is injured,” Baden said, “this causes edema fluids to leak out of the blood vessels into the surrounding brain tissue, causing the brain to be swollen and increasing its weight. The increased weight to the president’s brain is from the swelling.” (Telephone interview of Dr. Michael Baden by author on March 29, 2002)
But in response to Dr. Gary Aguilar telling Dr. Boswell about the “1,500 grams” of “brain weight,” Dr. Boswell told Aguilar, “I suspect that weight was probably the formalin-fixed brain” (Transcript of taped telephone interview of Dr. Boswell by Dr. Gary Aguilar on March 8, 1994, p.2, submitted to author in letter from Aguilar of August 29, 2000). And Dr. Baden said that completely independent of edema, “Once a brain is put in formalin, it sometimes can gain or lose up to 100 grams dependent upon the concentration of the formalin solution. If the formalin fluid is more concentrated, then it will remove fluid from the brain and make the brain slightly lighter than it was on removal from the cranium. If the formalin fluid is less concentrated, then the brain can gain fluid by absorbing water from the formalin and getting slightly heavier. I don’t know which was the case here, but usually the brain is weighed before it is put in formalin. Here it was weighed after” (Telephone interview of Dr. Michael Baden by author on April 11, 2004; CE 391, 16 H 987).
It should be added that it is only an assumption that President Kennedy’s brain weighed around 1,400 grams before the assassination. We don’t know that, it being mere speculation. Actually, the average weight of the brain for someone the president’s age (it varies with age, not the size of the person) is 1,366 grams, and the range is from 1,069 to 1,605 grams. And the average weight increase after formalin soaking is 8.8 percent, the range being from 3.3 to 19.2 percent. (Ludwig, Current Methods of Autopsy Practice, p.666; see also Blinkov and Glezer, Human Brain in Figures and Tables, pp. 3–4, 277, for discussion and tables on the increase in brain weight when there is formalin fixation by immersion, which we had in the case of JFK’s brain, as opposed to perfusion or injection of the formalin through the blood vessels. The latter technique results in less weight increase than the immersion technique. Also, the concentration of the formalin, as Dr. Baden says, affects the weight, and there appears to be no record of what the concentration was in this case.)"

Here is an excerpt of CE391, which is contained in Volume XVI. Note that the brain was weighed after it was fixed in formalin.

Once again, JFK Revisited is creating controversy where none exists. James DiEugenio wrote the screenplay and his book, The JFK Assassination, examined Vincent Bugliosi's book, Reclaiming History. and discussed the brain-weight issue. And so, while DiEugenio must certainly have been aware of what Bugliosi wrote about JFK's brain, viewers of JFK Revisited are not -- because he deemed that information not worthy of inclusion.


Pat Speer has some interesting comments on the weight of JFK's brain.

Suppose Kennedy's pre-mortem brain weighed 1500 g. This is not unreasonable in that the brains of some famous and semi-famous men were reported to have weighed as follows:
Roger Craig (1300 g), Vladimir Lenin (1340 g), J.D. Tippit (1350 g), Michael Jackson (1380 g), Corey Haim (1390 g), Ron Goldman (1400 g), Martin Luther King (1400 g), Lee Oswald (1450 g), Dale Earnhardt (1450 g), David Ferrie (1480 g), Christopher Wallace (1490), Dylan Klebold (1500 g), Chester Bennington (1530 g), River Phoenix (1540 g), Russell Armstrong (1600 g), William Pitzer (1625 g), and Andy Irons (1664 g).
Suppose the doctors over-estimated the amount that was missing, and that only 20% was actually missing. That's a 1200 gm brain. (James Jenkins, Humes' and Boswell's assistant, who handled the brain and infused it with formalin, told a 1991 conference hosted by Harrison Livingstone that the brain he infused was approximately the size of a woman's brain, and weighed 1200 or 1300 gms.)
Suppose then that the formalin procedures added 25% onto this weight.
These are all reasonable adjustments. And yet they arrive at the supposedly impossible number of 1500 gms.
Now consider that 1500 is a nice round number and that it seems possible, even likely, that whoever weighed Kennedy's brain rounded up.
Well, this means the formalin procedures would only have to have added 20% onto the weight of Kennedy's pre-formalin-infused brain.
Sometimes what seems impossible is well within the grasp of the possible.

Update 2

Here is an excerpt from the autopsy of Guy Banister:

As you can see, his brain weighed 1,540 grams.

Update 3

Here is a table on brain weights from the book, Current Methods of Autopsy Practice, by Jurgen Ludwig: (page 666)

You can see the range of weights for men's brains, as well as the increase in weight due to fixation in formalin.

Here is another source, The Human Brain in Figures and Tables: (page 3)

Dr. Humes used a formalin concentration of 10%.

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