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The Untimely Death of
Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer:
A Reappraisal

PART 2 (Part 1 is here.)

by Allan Eaglesham

(Originally published in JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 10(4) July 2005)

Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer died of a gunshot wound to the head on October 29, 1966, at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD. Six aspects of the evidence -- discussed before in terms of indicating homicide -- are reinterpreted in light of new information, notably the autopsy photographs and input from an officer of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; it is deduced that the wound was self-inflicted. Also revisited is Pitzer�s purported possession of a movie film of the autopsy on President Kennedy�s body.

Harold Rydberg & William Pitzer
(Courtesy of Harold Rydberg)

In April of 2000, researcher Joseph Scovitch informed me that materials related to Pitzer's autopsy would likely be archived at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP). I passed this information along to Special Agent DiPaola of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who later told me that his enquiry at the AFIP revealed no Pitzer-related information. However, in June of 2002, Robert Pitzer happened to mention that a document on his father provided by the navy had originated with the AFIP, which brought to mind Mr. Scovitch�s information. What other material might be held there? Immediately we sent formal FOIA applications to the AFIP for the autopsy photographs via the Internet (AE on behalf of RP) and by conventional mail (RP).

In August of 2002, Mr. Pitzer received approximately twenty color and black and white autopsy photographs. (More autopsy photographs were sent later to Mr. Pitzer, bringing the total to approximately fifty.) A month later, researcher Kenneth Hersh saw these photographs [5]. Most, if not all, were reversed, as revealed by the wedding ring appearing to be on the right hand, whereas the deceased wore it on his left hand. The photographs showed the entry wound to the right temple and the exit wound above and slightly behind the left ear; they showed no wound in the left temple.

In March 2004, I saw about a dozen of the autopsy photographs, as good-quality color prints. I confirmed that there was no wound in the left temple (Figure 6). I had with me Vincent J.M. Di Maio�s book Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques (Elsevier, 1985); the wound in LCDR Pitzer�s right temple was closely similar to a hard contact wound of the head from a .38 revolver (Figure 7A).

Figure 6. Approximate appearance and location of the wounds seen in the autopsy photographs.

Figure 7. Close-contact (A) and distant (B) wounds.
[Figures 5-1 and 4-16B, respectively, from Vincent J.M. DiMaio's Gunshot Wounds:
Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques
(Elsevier, 1985)]

This raises the question of why the autopsy doctors did not recognize the right-temple wound for what it was (see Part 1 of this article). I believe that two factors were important:

� They were not forensic pathologists.
� They were confused by the absence of powder burning at the wound.

Petty Officer Harold Rydberg -- head of Medical Illustration and senior instructor for the School of Medical Illustration at the Naval Medical School from 1962 to 1968 -- informed me that none of the navy pathologists were fully qualified in forensics; they completed only a 1-month course [6]. Their experience of gunshot wounds would have been limited, at best, which may explain why Dr. John Ball, deputy medical examiner for Montgomery County, was brought in to examine the body at the scene. If the autopsy doctors had any experience of close revolver wounds it is likely that they had experience also of deposits of soot, gunshot residue and/or powder tattooing in the vicinity of those wounds. I believe that they missed an important clue in this regard, which is present in the autopsy photographs: William Pitzer�s left hand had a heavy deposit of soot on the palm and his right hand had a heavy deposit of soot on the backs of the fingers. This suggests that he held and fired the revolver with his right hand, and steadied it with his left hand held over the barrel. Soot and gunshot residue would thus be propelled into the wound or would be blocked by the palm of the left hand as it escaped from around the barrel, some of which would be deflected over the backs of the fingers of the right hand. The autopsy report states that microscope examination of sections from the margin of the entrance wound �reveal�prominent collections of a dark brown to black granular material presumably representing nitrates.� This statement is indicative of lack of experience on the part of the autopsy doctors; nitrate is not coloured brown on black -- soot is -- and presence of nitrate in the wound would be indicative of a close-contact shot, at odds with other comments they made.

It is noteworthy that an FBI interview report, dated 11/2/66 for Dr. Ball, stated:

When he observed the wound in the head on the night of November [sic] 29, 1966, he observed muzzle marks around the wound and powder burns.

I believe that the autopsy photographs show muzzle marks at the wound (again, very similar to what is seen in Figure 7A). Apart from charring around the wound, I did not see powder burns. In an earlier discussion of the wounds [2], I theorized that this description by Dr. Ball applied to a left-temple wound and was indicative of homicide. The autopsy photographs dispel this theory: there was no bullet wound at the left temple.

The reversal of the autopsy prints offers an explanation as to why the navy medical examiner described a left-temple wound (see Part 1 of this article). For obscure reasons, his report is dated February 1, 1967, i.e. three months after the death. If the navy medical examiner used similar (reversed) photographs of the body to refresh his recollection in the preparation of his report, it is possible that he mistakenly described a left-temple wound.

But what are we to make of �fracture, comminuted, supraorbital plate, sphenoid bone, left� as stated on the cover page of the autopsy protocol? In a section of his book, �Secondary Fractures of the Skull,� Vincent Di Maio states [7]:

As the bullet perforates the brain, it produces a temporary cavity that undergoes a series of pulsations before disappearing. The pressure waves in the brain in the case of high-velocity missiles may produce massive fragmentation of the skull. In the case of handgun bullets, the pressure waves are considerably less but still may cause fractures. Linear fractures of the orbital plates are the most common because of the paper-thin nature of the bone�These secondary fractures of the skull are seen most commonly with medium and large-caliber handguns�No matter what the caliber, secondary fractures are more common with contact wounds, where the pressure waves from the temporary cavity are augmented by pressure from the expanding gas. [emphasis added]

Hence, we have an explanation for the location of the third defect in the skull bone and also for the absence of corresponding lesions in the overlying skin or underlying brain. In fact, the third defect is consistent with the right-temple wound being a close-contact shot.


Again, quoting directly from Vincent Di Maio�s book [8]:

In contrast to what is seen on television and read in mystery books, it is rare for an identifiable fingerprint to be left on a firearm, especially a handgun. Only a small surface area is suitable for leaving prints, and the recoil of the weapon causes the fingers to slide and produce smudges.

Clearly, absence of Pitzer�s fingerprints from the revolver is not evidence of homicide.


In discussing this aspect previously [1], I made the assumption that a dermal nitrate test was referred to in the FBI report; in the early 1960s, �paraffin test� and �dermal nitrate test� were synonymous. With closer inspection of the hand-written laboratory notes (Figure 7), I realized that I was in error.

Figure 7. FBI laboratory report on the tests of the paraffin casts.

The autopsy doctors prepared paraffin casts of the palm and back of William Pitzer�s right hand, presumably expecting them to be used for dermal-nitrate analysis, unaware that the FBI had since replaced this test for analysis of gunshot-residue metals barium (Ba), antimony (Sb) by flame atomic absorption spectroscopy. For the latter test, acid-moistened cotton swabs are taken directly from the skin. It appears that the laboratory technician did what he could to collect samples from the surfaces of the paraffin casts, concentrating on dark particles 1-4 from the back of the hand and dark particles 5-8 from the palm, none of which tested positively for barium or antimony. The technician was strictly truthful in saying, �Examination of (the) paraffin cast reflected no substance characteristic of, or which could be associated with, gunpowder or gunshot residue� [1], but clearly this was not the whole story. The assay was not performed properly and there was the clear possibility of false negative results. Most significantly, however, the cast from the back of the hand revealed the presence of �large amounts of blood, skin, and hair� (Figure 7). Blowback of tissues had occurred from the entry wound onto the back of the hand, some of which had been immobilized in the paraffin cast. The right hand had, indeed, been close to the right temple at the moment of discharge.


Lee Andre, an enlisted man in William Pitzer�s command, told me [9] that he entered the TV studio early on the morning of Monday October 31, 1966, after reporting for duty. He found the area cleaned up, apart from what appeared to be a tooth on the floor. I provided Mr. Andre with a sketch of the studio, showing the stanchions, doors, desk, etc., and asked him to locate the movable blackboard, on the assumption that those who cleaned up the studio would likely have replaced it in a location close to where they had found it. Mr. Andre indicated three locations in which the blackboard was sometimes placed, but he showed that, on the Monday morning, it was standing close to where Pitzer�s body had been found (Figure 8). Likewise the putative tooth was on the floor close to where the deceased had been sitting.

Figure 8. Locations of blackboard (A) and "tooth" (B) in the TV studio on the morning of 10/31/66.
The investigators� doubts regarding the trajectory may have arisen because they assumed that William Pitzer was standing facing the stepladders when the trigger was pulled. Blood-spatter pattern was not a routine component of forensic investigations in the 1960s. The pattern in Figure 3 indicates that blood fell from some height onto the floor for a period of time, a strong indication that the deceased was seated and thus facing away from the stepladders, not towards them. If, indeed, William Pitzer shot himself while seated, with the blackboard behind -- from which the bullet ricocheted -- it is plausible that the spent slug would come to rest where it did (Figure 1). It is probable that Mr. Andre mistook a sliver of skull bone for a tooth.


I recently learned from a member of the family, who learned it from Mrs. Pitzer herself, that she had asked a third member of the family to obtain the wedding ring. The third member of the family returned without the ring with the account that a contact person in the navy had stated that the left hand was damaged, preventing removal of the ring. In contrast, the autopsy report states:

The upper and lower extremities�exhibit no remarkable gross lesions. No evidence of abrasions, contusions, or lacerations are noted in any part of the body with the exception of the head wounds.

Likewise, neither Kenneth Hersh nor I saw damage to either hand in the autopsy photographs (despite information to the contrary [10]). The third member of the family may have forgotten to request the wedding ring or decided that it should stay on the hand of the deceased, and invented the story of the mangled left hand.


In a recently published interview [11], Dennis David stated:

Lieutenant Commander Barb Munroe�said, �[D]id you know Bill�s dead?� And I said, �No, what happened?� Then she said, �Well, he shot himself.� I said, �I don�t believe that.� And she said, �Well they found him with a gun in his right hand, and he blew his brains out.� And I said, �But Bill�s left-handed�� �That was the first time I had heard he was dead. I asked, �Well, why did he commit suicide?� And she said �It�s highly questionable that he did.� I said, �Well, it stands to reason.� And then she said something to me about, �Did you know that he�d had some pretty good job offers?� And I said I had, and that just before the last time I�d seen him, just before I�d left Bethesda, he�d told me that he had some very lucrative offers from a couple of the national networks like ABC, CBS, to go to work for them. I said, �I suspect it was probably because of some of the films and the material he had from the assassination.� She said, �You know he had those?� And I said, �Yes, because I was over there a couple, three days after the autopsy and saw them.� She kind of nodded her head as though she agreed with me, or something like that. [emphasis added]

In August 2002, I attempted to contact Commander Munroe/Munro/Monroe via the Retired Naval Personnel Navy Locator service in St. Louis. Shortly after, I received a telephone call from a lady at the Navy Personnel Command, Millington, TN. She informed me that �Munroe� was the correct spelling, and that two women were potentially applicable, one in her fifties and one in her eighties. Clearly, the lady in her eighties was the one I sought. In early September, I received a form letter from Millington stating, �Your letter has been forwarded to the service member: CDR Barbara Munroe (Retired).� On September 16, 2002, I e-mailed Dennis David:

Almost three weeks have passed since the Navy Locator Service sent my letter on to Commander Munroe. I have heard nothing from her, I am sorry to say.
        Yet it is encouraging to know that she is still alive. There is the possibility that she would corroborate that Bill Pitzer had possession of a movie film of the JFK autopsy. Also, she may be able to add information to help us understand his death.
        It is understandable that she would be unwilling to respond to a communication from a total stranger.
        Please consider writing to her. You can do so by placing a letter with her name on it, i.e. Commander Barbara Munroe, in an envelope to: Navy World Wide Locator (
        If you say in a covering note to the Locator Service that you were colleagues at the NNMC, dates, your service #, etc., it will expedite matters. The service costs $3.50.
        Thanks for considering it, (

On January 20, 2003, I followed up with a similar e-mail message to Mr. David, suggesting again that he make contact with CDR Munroe; as far as I know, he did not follow through. In June 2003, he e-mailed me the telephone number of Ruth Moeller in Bethesda, MD, as a possible link with William Pitzer. A few days later I spoke with Captain Moeller. She did not recall William Pitzer or Dennis David, but she had known Barbara Munroe well; CDR Munroe had died about a year before.


By invitation of a family member, I participated in a search of the Pitzer residence in suburban Washington, DC (Figure 9A), during the weekend of November 13-14, 2004. Apart from a few items of furniture in the basement family room (Figure 9B), the house was empty.

Figure 9. The Pitzer residence.

Figure 10. Location of a movie-film spool.
Nothing of significance was found. However, to make a thorough search would have meant causing significant damage to the family-room ceiling and wall paneling (Figure 9B), which William Pitzer had personally installed.

It is noteworthy that, approximately three weeks before my visit, an empty movie spool had been discovered above ceiling tiles in the kitchen (Figure 10). A prospective buyer of the property noticed evidence of dampness on the kitchen ceiling and asked as to its origin. When a tile was pushed upwards for inspection, a 5-inch chocolate-colored metal spool became visible. It was for 8-mm film.

As intriguing as this discovery is, I feel it would be a mistake to ascribe great significance to it. Eight-mm film was the medium for home movies before it was supplanted by video in the 1990s; it was not used professionally. A movie spool that originated at the NNMC would have been for 16-mm film. Most probably, this item was placed in a location in which it was likely to be discovered -- as a joke or with the intention to mislead.


I have not been given any of the autopsy photographs, therefore I�ve been unable to have them examined by forensic experts. In this complex subject matter, lay opinion carries little weight. Although my previous attempts under FOIA to obtain copies of the autopsy photographs had failed because of lack familial ties, I made another attempt in May, 2004: �To lay this matter to rest to the degree possible, these photographs must be examined by forensic experts and their professional opinions made public.� In late June, 2004, I received a denial of this request, which I appealed shortly thereafter:

The purpose of this letter is to request that you reconsider this decision on the grounds that public interest aspects -- summarized in my original request but not responded to -- outweigh privacy considerations under FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). You did not elucidate what the privacy claim is based on: who will suffer and what kind of injury.

I am grateful to James Lesar for his suggestions on wording the original request and the appeal. In early November, 2004, this response arrived from the Office of the General Council in the Department of the Army:

After a careful review of the issues presented in your appeal, we have determined that the information you requested was properly withheld�Accordingly your appeal is denied�You may, if you so desire, seek judicial review of this determination in the federal court system�


Two navy colleagues told me that William Pitzer would have been the last man they would have expected to commit suicide. Although broadly held, this view was not monolithic. For example, a family member detected a chink in the armor. An FBI report of an interview at the Pitzer residence on the day after the death states:

[redacted] could not specifically recall the remarks [redacted] to indicate this trend of thought, but stated that [redacted] would not be surprised if the death were ruled a suicide.

An FBI report of an interview with a neighbor of the Pitzers includes the following:

She recalled that Mr. PITZER had been extremely upset several years ago when [line redacted] reportedly changed his attitude. [Redacted] had no other information concerning any periods of depression on the part of PITZER.

Arlington National Cemetery
And a report of an interview with another naval colleague includes:

PITZER was a perfect image of a Naval Officer and�a perfectionist. During the past six months or seven months, PITZER appeared to be on edge and became very irascible when the slightest thing went wrong.
        Approximately six months ago, PITZER informed [redacted] he was going to take some leave and stated that �he just had to get away from it all.�

Mrs. Pitzer told investigators that her husband had been �mildly despondent� on the day before he died:

�she commented that Subject had�attended the funerals of two close friends on the preceding Monday and Friday and after the second he had seemed mildly despondent for a time. She recalled that Subject made a remark such as �That�s two this week. I wonder who the third will be,� and surprisingly expressed a preference for a military funeral.

Harold Rydberg is of the opinion that William Pitzer was the kind to suffer from �military syndrome� -- with which goes a fear of loss of identity on retirement [12]:

I will always miss him and all he inspired in others�his greatest accomplishments were to come up through the ranks and be an inspiration to other enlisted men and women. It was his greatest pleasure to help others. The loss of that still keeps me on military syndrome, the loss of identity. To you and [me] this might not have been a reason, but that was his whole life: the military.

If �military syndrome� was a contributory factor, it begs the question of what would have made LCDR Pitzer take the final step on the afternoon of October 29, 1966, when he was at least three months from retirement. Two eyewitnesses saw him in his dress-blue uniform that afternoon; did he attend an important meeting at the NNMC that had an acutely depressing effect on him? Mrs. Pitzer said that he -- an inveterate note-maker -- would have, for certain, left a written explanation. Although a notepad and pencil were found on the other chair, within arm�s reach of where he was sitting when he apparently took his life, there is no evidence that he left a suicide note. On the other hand, he apparently wrote a brief letter approximately 75 minutes before he died, to a woman with whom he had recently spent time during a business trip to Pensacola. Although other documentary items of evidence in the FBI file are Xerox copies of originals, this letter is provided in retyped form as part of a report of an interview with the woman in question:

        Saturday afternoon
        29 October 1966

        Received your very welcome letter yesterday, but have been just too busy to call or write you. Have just tried to call you at 2:45, but you were out. Please [redacted] do not write to me anymore. You will hear from me, but please do not write. I am in deep trouble at home, so there�s no good in hurting any other person at this time.
        I am sure you will understand and I long to be with you, if no sooner than in January. The trip is on for the week of 23 January. [Redacted] will be coming back with me.
        It was such an enjoyable week for me and I wish for you the very best of everything. Until you hear from or of me, I am always,

Some aspects of this strange note are consistent with contemplation of death, and some are not. Within a few minutes of writing it, LCDR Pitzer was seen in his car, presumably taking it to the post office for mailing, after which he returned to the television studio. If he had not been contemplating suicide, it seems likely that he would have planned to mail it on his way home that evening.

In a recently published book on the Pitzer case [13], author Kent Heiner made this important statement:

�if [Dennis] David had not been mistaken about which hand was Pitzer�s dominant hand, he may not have mentioned his late friend to any reporter or researcher; few outside Pitzer�s family and acquaintances would know his name or his story.

When forensic expert Herbert MacDonell opined that the death-scene photograph (see Figures 3 and 4 in Part 1 of this article) shows a bullet wound in the left temple, I felt certain that William Pitzer had been murdered. However, my meeting with SA DiPaola, viewing of the autopsy photographs, and reconsideration of the available information -- described above -- have brought me to the belief that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. In my opinion, there is no physical evidence indicative of homicide, just as there is no evidence that LCDR Pitzer was in possession of a movie film of the Kennedy autopsy beyond a few days after the Kennedy assassination.

[1] Eaglesham, A.R.J. and Palmer, R.R. (1998) The Untimely Death of Lt. Cmdr. William Pitzer. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 3(2) 6-16.
[2] Eaglesham, A.R.J. (1998) Interpretations of New Information in the Pitzer Case. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 3(3) 15-20.
[3] Eaglesham, A.R.J. (1999) Pitzer: An Update. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 4(3) 19-30.
[4] Telephone conversation between Daniel Marvin and Joyce Pitzer, January 29, 1995.
[5] Eaglesham, A. and Hersh, K.F. (2004) The Pitzer Case: Autopsy Photographs Released. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 9(2) 22-24.
[6] Rydberg, H. (2003) E-mail communication, April 20.
[7] Di Maio, V.J.M. (1985) Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, pp. 217-218. Elsevier, New York.
[8] Di Maio, V.J.M. (1985) Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, pp. 35-36. Elsevier, New York.
[9] Andre, L.R. (1998) E-mail communication, October 15.
[10] Heiner, K. (2004) Without Smoking Gun, p. 47. Trine Day, Oregon. �LCDR Pitzer�s autopsy photographs have recently been released to a family member, who claims that they do show damage to the ring finger, with the ring still present.�
[11] Law, William (2004) In the Eye of History, p. 25. Lancer Publications, Southlake.
[12] Rydberg, H. (2004) E-mail communication, December 26.
[13] Heiner, K. (2004) Without Smoking Gun, p. 50. Trine Day, Oregon.

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