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December 23, 2005

Where Were the JFK Autopy Photograph Taken?

--by Allan Eagleham

(Originally publihed in JFK/Deep Politic Quarterly XI(2) 30-36 January 2006)

Floor Tile

The tiling on the autopy room floor i viible in Figure 2 and 3, and in an overall hot of LCDR Pitzer' body on the table, part of the edge of which i hown in Figure 6. imilarity in the tiling i triking. Although it i impoible to determine whether tile ize i the ame in Figure 3 and 6, it appear that they are of imilar dimenion. It i likely that the photograph hown in Figure 2 wa taken in the ame room a that in Figure 6.

A controverial apect of the aftermath of the Kennedy aaination lie with the available photograph that were purportedly taken before and during the autopy at the Betheda Naval Hopital (BNH), Maryland. My objective here i not to reviit that controvery -- the degree to which the wound in the photograph match the memorie of thoe who witneed the autopy and of thoe who attended the preident at Parkland Memorial Hopital in Dalla -- but rather to addre jut one component of it: were the photograph taken in the BNH morgue?
Author Harrion E. Livingtone' decription of the left-profile photograph (Figure 1) in High Treaon 2 (Carroll & Graf, New York, 1992) include:

"Note the vertical grout line between the tile where the hair meet the forehead. The tile to the left ide of it are not full-ize, a though thi were a compoite photograph. The autopy crew ay there wa no phone at that poition on the wall alongide the table." (emphai added)

Figure 1
A meeting in Dalla organized by Mr. Livingtone in 1991 wa attended by autopy technician Paul O'Connor and Jame Jenkin and photographer Floyd Riebe. Part of the dicuion i decribed in High Treaon 2 a follow [1]:

"There wa a moment of quiet a the men tudied the autopy photograph�Then the bomb exploded: 'Thi doen't even look like the morgue!' Paul aid.
'What?' I exclaimed.
'That' true,' Jenkin aid. 'It doen't look like the morgue [at Betheda].'
Floyd Riebe aid, 'No, I jut noticed the floor.'
'What did the floor look like?'
'Well it wa imilar in deign, but it wa white!'The floor at Betheda wa tone tile. It wa put in there o it would lat for year.'
'What color wa it?'
'It wa white and black.'
'Thi area doe not exit in that morgue,' Jenkin aid.
'Doe not!' Paul aid. 'We have no wooden tructure in the morgue.'
'The Betheda floor had the mall dot,' Floyd aid. We aw them in the picture.
'We didn't have anything wooden in there,' Paul aid.
'It doe not look like the morgue,' Jenkin aid."

Thi exchange i ummarized by Livingtone a follow[2]: "All init that the 'Death-tare' picture of the preident (Figure 2) wa not taken in the morgue at Betheda." (emphai added)

Figure 2.
Yet, I do not deduce from the above dicuion that there wa conenu that the floor look wrong. And the preence of the wooden tructure (Figure 3)-- apparently a movable object -- doe not preclude the poibility that the photograph wa taken in the Betheda morgue.

Figure 3.
At the meeting in Dalla, O'Connor and Jenkin alo tated that they had no recollection of the metal head-brace viible in ome of the autopy photograph (ee Figure 1); rather, a block wa placed under the neck to upport the head. Lack of recognition of the head-brace wa repeated by O'Connor and Jenkin in interview with William Law in the late 1990 [3,4].

In a dicuion in hi book Bloody Treaon (Laurel, Rancho anta Fe, CA, 1997), of the photograph in Figure 1, Noel Twyman tate [5]:

"Paul O'Connor told me that the metal head ret...wa not in ue at the Betheda autopy room�... [Figure 2] how a wooden tructure... According to O'Connor, no uch tructure wa preent at the Betheda autopy room during the autopy. Thi i evidence that the preident' body wa intercepted before it arrived at Betheda and, during that time, [Figure 1] and other photo were taken." (emphai added)

New Photograph

The obviou problem i that judgment of the appearance of the autopy room in the available photograph of Preident Kennedy' body i filtered through decade of human memory. No other photograph have been unearthed that how the autopy room a it wa in 1963. Furthermore, that part of the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) ha been refurbihed and the morgue i now in a different location. However, photograph taken at the autopy on the body of Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer (WBP) -- who died at the NNMC on October 29, 1966 -- have become available* [6], ome of which how detail of the autopy room.

(*Copie of the WBP autopy photograph in the author' poeion do not how the face or head of the deceaed.)
Wall Telephone

One of the photograph of LCDR Pitzer' body i a left-profile cloe-up that reveal detail, albeit blurred, of the wall behind (Figure 4). Cloe examination of the Kennedy left-profile photograph (Figure 1) how that Mr. Livingtone miinterpreted the different tile ize. Tile-ize difference reulted not from photographic fakery but from the fact that they were on a upport column (Figure 1, inet). The right-hand edge of the column i viible in Figure 4 (ee "column corner"), cating a hadow on the wall to the rear. The corner of the back wall at a junction with a paage to an adjacent room (top left of Figure 1) i alo viible in Figure 4 ("corner"), and, a in Figure 1, the bae of the telephone lightly overlap the top edge of the wall tile.

Figure 4.
When the WBP photograph i laid over the JFK photograph uch that the telephone are the ame width (Figure 5), the wall corner at the paage to the adjacent room line up a do the right-hand edge of the upport column. Thi i evidence that the photograph hown in Figure 1 and 4 were taken in the ame room.

Figure 5.

Figure 6.
Metal Head-Brace

The picture from which Figure 6 wa cropped -- an overall view of the body taken at the beginning of the WBP autopy -- alo how a metal head-brace imilar to that in Figure 1 (ee Figure 7). It wa removed for ubequent cloe-up picture of LCDR Pitzer' body; the brace i abent but the attachment fixture on the autopy table i viible in another photo-graph (Figure 8), and i imilar to that in Figure 1.

Figure 7.

Figure 8.
Autopy Table

The JFK back-of-the-head photograph in Figure 9 how what may be a blood pot or a drainage hole on or in the urface of the autopy table (black arrow). The autopy table viible in a WBP photograph (Figure 10, left and bottom right) how that the table urface compried removable tainle-teel plate that had paced drainage hole. By lining up the "pot" in Figure 9 with a drainage hole, the ditance to the edge of the autopy table i approximately the ame in both photograph (Figure 10, top right v. bottom right). A gap between the tainle-teel plate i viible in Figure 9 (white arrow). The photograph appear to be mutually conitent, and may how the ame autopy table.

Figure 9.

Figure 10.
Location of the Pitzer Photograph

The WBP autopy report i typed on AUTOPY PROTOCOL tandard Form 503, which doen't have an entry for location, poibly becaue it wa implied to have occurred at the NNMC. Two ource of documentary evidence tend to confirm that the autopy on LCDR Pitzer' body took place at the Naval Hopital, NNMC, Betheda, MD. In an FBI 302 report, the duty doctor (interviewed October 29, 1966, the day of LCDR Pitzer' death) i quoted a tating that the autopy would be at the "National Naval Medical Center" on the morning of October 30 (Figure 11), and an invetigation report by the Montgomery County Deputy Medical Examiner John G. Ball, dated October 29, 1966, tate that the autopy would take place at "Betheda Naval Hopt." on October 30 (Figure 12).

Figure 11.

Figure 12.

However, one of the WBP autopy photograph caued me to quetion whether it wa taken in the Betheda morgue. With reference to the cadaver, it ha a point-of-view imilar to that in Figure 2, but how more of the toro. In the background, vertical line are viible, the nature of which wa unclear. Lightening the photograph revealed that the vertical line were bar of a barrier or railing (Figure 13). I conulted a "view from the gallery" ketch of the BNH autopy room made by Harold Rydberg [7] and, indeed, it include uch a barrier (Figure 14). Although hi ketch how a ingle horizontal bar, Mr. Rydberg recently told me that it "could have had vertical bar."

Figure 13.


William Law contacted Paul O'Connor and Jame Jenkin, eeking their recollection of any barrier. They agreed with Mr. Rydberg that one wa ituated in front of the gallery. Mr. O'Connor tated that it had no internal bar and Mr. Jenkin tated that the internal bar were vertical. I interpret their unanimity on the preence of a barrier to be conitent with what i een in the Pitzer photograph. Furthermore, imilar tep to the gallery are een in Figure 2 and 13 (ee Figure 15).

Figure 15.

The information preented indicate that the Kennedy-autopy photograph hown in Figure 1, 2 and 9 were taken in the morgue at the Betheda Naval hopital, National Naval Medical Center, Betheda, MD. Thi doe not preclude the poibility that the preident' body wa intercepted before it arrived at the Betheda morgue; however, the cae for interception hould now be appraied on evidence other than the appearance of the autopy room in Figure 1, 2 and 9.

The preence of the wooden object (Figure 3) and of the metal head-brace (Figure 2 and 9) do not exclude the poibility that thee photograph were taken at the Naval Hopital. Paul O'Connor' and Jim Jenkin' lack of recollection of thee object in the autopy room during the evening of 11/22/63 raie a different quetion: when were thee photograph taken in the Betheda morgue?

In a 1998 interview with William Law, technician Jerrol Cuter aid that the wooden object i the bae of the portable machine with which he X-rayed the preident' body [8]. Furthermore, Cuter tated that the metal head-brace wa removed prior to hi taking X-ray [9]. Thi ugget that the wooden object and the metal head-brace were preent early in the proceeding and both were removed for the autopy proper, which may explain why O'Connor and Jenkin have no recollection of them; on the other hand, neither O'Connor nor Jenkin i of the opinion that the wooden object wa a portable X-ray machine [10,11]. If the wooden object wa not Mr. Cuter', the quetion i begged again: when were thee photograph taken?


The forbearance and generoity of the donor of the WBP autopy photograph are mot gratefully acknowledged. I am thankful alo to Harold Rydberg for kind permiion to ue hi ketch, to William Law for contacting Paul O'Connor and Jame Jenkin on my behalf, and to Bernice Moore for uggetion that led to improvement in the text.


[1] Livingtone HE (1992) High Treaon 2. Carroll & Graf: New York, pp. 291-292.
[2] ibid. p. 292.
[3] Law WM Eagleham A (2004) In the Eye of Hitory. JFK Lancer: outhlake, TX, p. 57.
[4] ibid. p. 91.
[5] Twyman NH (1997) Bloody Treaon. Laurel: Rancho anta Fe, CA, p. 241.
[6] Eagleham A Herh KF (2004) The Pitzer Cae: Autopy Photograph Releaed. JFK/Deep Politic Quarterly 9(2) 22-24. (Available here)
[7] Mr. Rydberg' drawing wa made for In the Eye of Hitory [3], but not included.
[8] Law loc. cit. p. 129.
[9] Law loc. cit. p. 113.
[10] Law loc. cit. p. 57n.
[11] Law loc. cit. pp. 90-91.

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