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An Interview with Jerrol Custer

by Walt Brown

In the spring of this year, a few "medical evidence" questions came up in a discussion among researchers, and I filed them away mentally until I could speak to one or more persons present at the Bethesda autopsy. In following the questions up, I was able to speak with several who were present, and was particularly struck by some issues discussed--and occasionally volunteered--by Jerrol Custer, who was an x-ray technician on duty at the autopsy of President Kennedy at the Bethesda Naval Hospital on November 22-23, 1963.

I started by telling him that I was troubled that Commander Humes, in his Warren Commission testimony, could only name three individuals present at the autopsy (Ebersole the radiologist and two Bethesda commanders), and that by my count, there were over thirty people present. Mr. Custer indicated that the total, counting those who were in and out, would have been closer to fifty, and that it was "crazy" in there, with "people running everywhere." Among the people he noted as present were the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who, he claimed, were "in an uproar." He also indicated that the composition of the audience could best be judged from photos taken by an officer named William Pitzer. [It is possible that Custer was absent, developing film, when Pitzer's photos were exposed to light and ruined.] Custer indicated an awareness of Pitzer's death a couple of years after the autopsy and said he did not believe it was a suicide....

Much of what he said overlapped with work done by previous researchers, but the entirety of the conversation went beyond what had been done by any single writer, and may become the basis of further work. Much of what Custer had to say contradicted the official version: He had been told by an officer that JFK had gone to Walter Reed Hospital prior to the body being received at Bethesda. He also told me that he had been summoned and told to sign a gag order, a procedure that had never been used in his case before. He added that he was subsequently telephoned in the middle of the night, weeks later, and told that the caller was a special investigator for the Warren Commission (which, it should be noted, had no investigators, special or otherwise...), and that the gag order had been rescinded and would he please tell the caller all he remembered. Custer indicated that the phone call in question scared the living hell out of him, and he still has concerns about it and its origins.

I told him, from a thought I put in the book Treachery in Dallas, that it was my experience that autopsies usually featured microphones suspended above the table in order for the pathologist(s) to record their observations verbally, for use later in compiling the official record. He indicated that a microphone was also standard procedure there, except that night.

I also reviewed the theory of the skull cavity wound (reproduced in Treachery and he told me that the proposed theory, of the photo showing both the entrance and the exit in the back of the head,was exactly the way he saw it, but had hesitated to speak out from past fears.

I read him Roy Kellerman's testimony concerning an entrance wound in the hairline in front of the right ear and he agreed withsuch placement.

In discussing the differences in what is shown in the x-rays and the photographs, he indicated that the x-rays were far more accurate than the "stare of death" photo. He also, almost casually, added that when the film was placed under the skull for the A-P x-ray, a bullet fragment fell out of JFK's neck or lower head.

Needless to say, between trying to take decent notes and keep up with some of these revelations, I was trying to catch a breath. In trying to take a step back, I asked him to just generally take me through what happened, so I could get a sense of the flow, the tension, the key moments in the event. He told me that the two FBI agents, Sibert and O'Neill, were "in control" in the sense of crowd control and the "audience." He also indicated that Dr. Ebersole, the radiologist cited above, was frequently telling the pathologists what to do, which prompted a comment from me that such would only be the case if there was more metal to deal with than the official version suggests. Custer told me, in so many words, "You said that, I didn't." He added, however, that someone in uniform was saying things like, "You don't want to explore that area," or "You don't want to do that," and "You don't want to get into that"; clearly orders, not suggestions.

I went back to the difficulty I had with Humes's inability to name more than three people present. Humes was an administrator, Custer told me, and he had never worked on an autopsy with that crew before; so in a very real sense, he didn't really know who they were. I suggested he should have. Custer readily agreed. He also indicated that Humes spent a lot of time on the telephone, and it was his impression that he was speaking to people in Dallas. I told him that it is a semi-consensus within the research community that the phone showed in the left lateral autopsy photo, on the tiled wall, was an in-house phone only. Custer was not certain about the phone, but felt sure, based on what he heard, that conversations were going out of the hospital.

Jerrol Custer and I talked about putting his whole story on the record, and he seemed willing. He made some comments on that day months ago that I am not sure he would want publicized yet, so they will remain temporarily hidden until I can receive his permission to use them. He was gracious enough to read the uncorrected manuscript of Treachery in Dallas,and sent in a "blurb": "Brown has the key that will unlock a mystery that the world has been trying to solve for 32 years..."

I am very thankful to him for his time, for his kind words, and for the additional leads he gave me to follow up, and I hope he keeps his courage up and remains willing to go public with the whole story.

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