The May 1, 1975, edition of the Waukegan, IL, News-Sun contained a story by Staff Writer Art Peterson titled, "Another link in JFK death?":
A Navy technician who filmed the autopsy of President John Kennedy may have been an early victim of a mysterious death syndrome that has been a bloody footnote to the assassination&The death of the technician Lt. William Pitzer, should be an early addition to that list, believes a Lake County man who worked at Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital in 1963...[and who] doesnt want his identity made public&The technician had filmed in detail the Kennedy autopsy...The [Lake County] man, who saw many wounded men while serving in Vietnam, said he saw slides of Kennedy's wounds. "It looked like they came from the front," he said. (etc.)
This article deals with the movie stated by the "Lake County man" to have been in the possession of then-Lieutenant William B. Pitzer within a few days of the assassination of President Kennedy. (The manner of Lieutenant Commander Pitzer's death in 1966 has been the subject of other articles [1-7].)
In his scholarly work on the Kennedy assassination, Best Evidence (Macmillan, 1980), David Lifton revealed the identity of the "Lake County man" as Dennis D. David. Mr. David is a key witness in Best Evidence, not as a result of his account of seeing a movie of the Kennedy autopsy being edited by William Pitzer -- which is not mentioned -- but as a result of his account, as chief-of-the-day, of organizing and supervising a team of men in the early evening of 11/22/63 to off-load a shipping casket from a black hearse and carry it into the autopsy room at Bethesda Naval Hospital (BNH) at the National Naval Medical Center. Apparently, President Kennedy's body was in that casket, yet it arrived at the rear of the hospital about 30 minutes before a grey navy ambulance arrived at the front of the hospital carrying Mrs. Kennedy and an ornate casket that she had accompanied from Dallas. Mr. David's account is consistent with Mr. Lifton's theory that President Kennedy's wounds were altered prior to the autopsy at BNH.
Movie of the JFK Autopsy?
If William Pitzer had possession of a movie of the autopsy on President Kennedy's body, how was it generated? In a 1998 interview, X-ray technician Jerrol Custer stated that "Chief Pitzer" -- whom he seemed to know well -- was in the autopsy room "taking movies" . However, shortly before this interview, Mr. Custer revealed to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), "No. I didnt know that name [Pitzer] at that time" [cf. 8]. And shortly before that, he told Walt Brown that Pitzer was present, taking photographs, with no mention of a movie camera .
No other eyewitness to the autopsy on President Kennedy's body on the evening of 11/22/63 has reported the presence of anyone with a movie camera.
An alternative means of generating a film of the Kennedy autopsy may be inferred from the statement by Commander James J. Humes (the leader of the Kennedy-autopsy team) to the ARRB that "there was a closed-circuit television," in the BNH autopsy room, albeit that he stated that the CCTV system was not in operation that evening .
In the same way that no eyewitness (other than Mr. Custer) saw a movie camera, neither was a television camera reported; was a non-obvious CCTV system permanently installed in the autopsy room with lens-access in the ceiling and/or wall(s)? It is noteworthy that one of William Pitzer's areas of professional specialization was the use of CCTV for instructional purposes. In an October 1998 telephone conversation, CDR Humes told me that he had worked closely with Bill Pitzer on films on tropical medicine for use in Vietnam. These films were made on video and transferred to film; Pitzer was in charge of the television part. Therefore, it seemed possible -- if not plausible -- that Pitzer recorded the Kennedy autopsy on videotape via a CCTV system, unbeknownst to those present in the autopsy room, from which he generated the movie film seen by Dennis David. However, if a CCTV system was permanently installed in the autopsy room, few knew of it. Harold Rydberg -- director of the Medical Illustration School and of the Department of Medical Illustration at the Naval Medical School -- who had been in the autopsy room on many occasions, assured me in the strongest possible terms that it was not permanently equipped with CCTV.
A memorandum, dated 5 November 1963, recently discovered among William Pitzer's papers (provided by a family member) expresses appreciation for "television coverage" provided by "Lieutenant W.B. Pitzer" and four gentlemen "who performed under his direction" (Figure 1). (Two of these gentlemen are deceased and the others do not wish their names to be quoted in this article.)
Figure 1. A November 1963 memorandum detailing the CCTV personnel under William Pitzers direction
(names deleted from item 2).
Neither Mr. "A" nor Mr. "B" has any knowledge of a role played by William Pitzer in the autopsy on President Kennedy's body. And neither has any knowledge of a CCTV system permanently installed in the autopsy room at the BNH in 1963.
Most of the CCTV feeds at the National Naval Medical Center went out from the television studio in Building 144 (where LCDR Pitzer's body was found, October 29, 1966); but feeds were generated at other locations within the hospital. Mr. A has no recollection of feeds from the autopsy room. Mr. B recalls CCTV generation from the autopsy room on a regular basis, not of autopsies however; the autopsy room was used for routine teaching purposes. This is consistent with CDR Humes' statement to the ARRB :
[The autopsy room] would accommodate maybe 20 or 30 people, because we used to have conferences in there. Routinely, at the end of each week, we would retain the organs from the autopsies of that week. In fact, not only did we review them there, there was a closed-circuit television. They went to Andrews Air Force Base, NIH, and it was a closed-circuit instruction program.
Mr. B told me that for the CCTV feeds from the autopsy room to elsewhere in the hospital and beyond, "we wheeled in a television camera."
We Wheeled in a Television Camera
Often, it is impossible to prove a negative. But, this may be as close as one can come to proving that the BNH autopsy room was not permanently equipped with a CCTV system. If it had been permanently equipped, then it is unlikely that the CCTV team would have gone to the considerable trouble involved in transporting a bulky camera from Building 144 to that location.
It is a tautology that if no television or movie camera was present, then the movie film of President Kennedy's body -- reported by Dennis David -- was not generated in the BNH morgue during the Humes/Boswell/Finck autopsy.
Messrs. A and B confirmed CDR Humes' statement (see above) that there was a CCTV link with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) directly across Wisconsin Avenue from BNH. They are unaware of a similar link with Andrews Air Force Base, but both stated that there was a microwave link with Walter Reed Army Hospital and that CCTV feeds passed between the two military medical institutions in both directions.
In Best Evidence, David Lifton made a persuasive case for the president's body having been taken to Walter Reed prior to its arrival at BNH . If a pre-autopsy was performed at Walter Reed under the gaze of a CCTV camera, it is within the bounds of possibility that the proceedings were recorded by William Pitzer at BNH.
A few years ago, I asked Dennis David to show on a blank face sketch what he recalled of President Kennedys wounds as seen in the 16-mm movie film in William Pitzers possession (Figure 2). His depiction of the wound at the rear of the head is similar to the descriptions of the Parkland doctors in Dallas and dissimilar from what is seen in the extant autopsy photographs.
Figure 2. Dennis Davids depiction of
President Kennedys head wounds.
In a recent telephone conversation with Mr. David, I asked: "Is there any doubt at all in your mind that the body in that movie was John Kennedy's?" He responded: Absolutely none.
If, a movie was taken of the deceased president's body, it did not occur during the autopsy carried out by Drs. Humes, Boswell and Finck at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. That William Pitzer had possession of such a movie would indicate that it was generated via closed-circuit television, possibly through a link that existed with Walter Reed Army Hospital. This scenario is consistent with David Lifton's theory that the president's wounds were altered prior to arrival in Bethesda.
I learned from one of the new witnesses that the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) was not equipped to convert videorecordings to movie film. These conversions were made at the Naval Photographic Center (NPC) in Anacostia, Washington, DC . (It is possible that this equipment was available in-house at Walter Reed, as their facilities were more "state of the art" than those at the NNMC.) I contacted Saundra Spencer  but she was unable to suggest names of people who might have been involved in such work at NPC. On February 1, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on conversion-to-movie at NPC of videorecordings made at the NNMC and/or at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Walter Reed Hospital, during the period November 22-26, 1963.
The result of the request will be reported here in due course.
April 22, 2007
On April 19 and 20, I received telephone calls from Sarah English (FOIA Requester Service Center) and Christopher Madden (Navy Office of Information), respectively. They had concluded from the time period mentioned in my request that the information sought was linked with the assassination of President Kennedy. They suggested consulting the National Archives and the Kennedy Libary.
Their search was complicated by the fact that the Naval Photographic Center no longer exists under that name or at that location.
 Eaglesham, A.R.J., Palmer, R.R. (1998) The Untimely Death of Lt. Cmdr. William Pitzer. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 3(2) 6-16.
 Eaglesham, A.R.J. (1998) Interpretations of New Information in the Pitzer Case. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 3(3) 15-20.
 Eaglesham, A.R.J. (1999) Pitzer: An Update. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 4(3) 19-30.
 Eaglesham, A. Hersh, K.F. (2004) The Pitzer Case: Autopsy Photographs Released. JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly 9(2) 22-24.
 Eaglesham, A. (2005) The Untimely Death of Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer: I. The Case for Homicide.
 Eaglesham, A. (2005) The Untimely Death of Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer: II. The Case for Homicide Reconsidered..
 Eaglesham, A. (2005) The Untimely Death of Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer: III. Opinion -- The Wound was Self-Inflicted.
 Law, W.M., Eaglesham, A. (2004) In the Eye of History, p. 116. Lancer Publications, Southlake.
 Brown, W. (1995) An Interview with Jerrol Custer. JFK Deep Politics Quarterly 1(1) 12-15.
 Assassination Records Review Board Deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes, College Park, Maryland, February 13, 1996, p. 58.
 Lifton, D. (1988) Best Evidence, pp. 685-690. Carrol & Graff (paperback), New York.
 Law, W.M., Eaglesham, A. (2004) In the Eye of History, pp. 309-313. Lancer Publications, Southlake.
A Question of Color
Shortly after this article was published here, I received a message by email:
Interesting article. Did any of those who supposedly saw the "movie" or who worked with those cameras ever say whether the images were in color or b&w?
Only Dennis David has said that he saw the movie in Pitzer's possession, and if my memory is good, he said he saw color slides too. Come to think of it, the assumption at that time was that those slides were produced from the movie. If the movie was generated from TV, it would have been in B/W. Am I following your thinking?
Yes, you certainly are...I worked for [a TV station] that went color in 1954. They could only do color in the studio and the cameras were huge and weighed hundreds of pounds. In 1963, color cameras were extremely expensive, trouble-prone, and difficult to use unless there was a huge amount of light on the subject. All of that argues emphatically against the possibility of color at [Bethesda Naval Hospital]. For one thing, they could not be hidden from view -- everyone in the room would have seen it. And the camera had to be fairly close to the subject, otherwise there wouldn't be enough available light to get a viewable image. And since close-ups would have been mandatory for autopsies (otherwise why record them?), long lenses would not have been practical. So, if anyone claims that the Pitzer images were color, they cannot be telling the truth.
The crux of the article is that no TV camera was present at the Humes/Boswell/Finck autopsy. If a TV camera had been there, everyone would have known it. Furthermore, the fact that the CCTV crew wheeled a camera into the autopsy room for broadcast from there is as good a demo as any that no TV camera was fixed to the wall or invisibly installed in the ceiling, which -- until now -- has been my theory (despite remonstrations to the contrary from Harold Rydberg). William Pitzer could have been in possession of 35 mm color slides as well as a B/W movie. However, if my two contacts say that the TV camera(s) they worked with generated B/W images and Dennis David maintains that the movie film he saw was in color, then a significant disconnect exists. Either way, it's an aspect that needs to be covered.
I emailed Dennis David, and he responded:
I recall that the film was in color.
And I emailed Messrs. "A" and "B":
Did the CCTV system that you worked with generate black and white or color images?
Mr. "A" responded:
The CCTV system was equipped with both monochrome and color cameras. Color was limited to a surgical camera, mounted on a pedestal that permitted the camera to overhang the operating table, and a color film camera for slides and films. The bulk of the work was monochrome using Dumont cameras.
Before Mr. "B" responded, I emailed the next logical question:
Were CCTV feeds from Walter Reed in color (as well as monochrome)?
To which he replied:
We did have both color and monochrome television equipment, either of which could have been transmitted to Walter Reed. I don't remember if we received color television feeds, or just monochrome, from Walter Reed.
Is it at least theoretically possible that Bill Pitzer had a color movie in his possession -- within a few days of the assassination -- that was generated as a result of a CCTV feed from Walter Reed?
Mr. "B" responded:
I would agree that it would be highly likely that both color and monochrome signals could be transmitted between NNMC and Walter Reed.
Mr. "B" also told me that he worked for DAGE Television as a field engineer stationed at a major hospital in Chicago, prior to moving to the NNMC in 1958. In Chicago they had a color television camera installed over one of the operating tables. Information on DAGE hardware available in the 1950s is available here, showing the brand/type of equipment they had at the NNMC. The Chicago and NNMC cameras were similar in operation to the film chain shown in the brochure. The major difference was that the NNMC "surgical" camera was movable.
Added April 12, 2007: Emails from Daniel Marvin (here)
Offered without comment other than that Dennis David came forward with his account of a JFK-autopsy movie in William Pitzer's possession
twenty years before Marvin's claim to have been asked by a CIA agent to murder "Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer" (a lieutenant at the time).
Top of the Page
Dark Corners Menu