The Kennedy Casket Conspiracy
Jacob G. Hornberger
of Freedom Foundation
by Jacob G. Hornberger: Another
Nonsensical Attack on Libertarians
a new book entitled The
Kennedy Detail: JFKs Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence,
by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin, promised to reveal the
inside story of the assassination, the weeks and days that led to
it and its heartrending aftermath.
however, while providing details of the events leading up to the
assassination, the assassination itself, and President Kennedys
funeral, the book provided hardly any information on one of the
most mysterious aspects of the assassination: what happened when
Kennedys body was delivered to the morgue at Bethesda Naval
Hospital on the evening of the assassination.
50 years, people have debated the Kennedy assassination. Some claim
that the Warren Commission got it right that Kennedy was
assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone-nut assassin. Others contend
that Kennedy was killed as part of a conspiracy.
It is not
the purpose of this article to engage in that debate. The purpose
of this article is simply to focus on what happened at Bethesda
Naval Hospital on the evening of November 22, 1963, and, specifically,
the events that took place prior to Kennedys autopsy. What
happened that night is so unusual that it cries out for truthful
explanation even after 47 years.
have long maintained that Kennedys body was delivered to the
Bethesda morgue in the heavy, ornamental, bronze casket in which
the body had been placed at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
however, is that the evidence establishes that Kennedys body
was actually delivered to the Bethesda morgue twice, at separate
times and in separate caskets.
How does one
resolve this problem? One option, obviously, is just to forget about
it, given that the assassination took place almost a half-century
ago. But it seems to me that since the matter is so unusual and
since it involves a president of the United States, the American
people regardless of which side of the divide they fall on
lone-nut assassin or conspiracy are entitled to a
truthful explanation of what happened that night at Bethesda. And
the only ones who can provide it are U.S. officials, especially
those in the Secret Service, the FBI, and the U.S. military, the
agencies that were in control of events at Bethesda that night.
The facts of
the casket controversy are set forth in detail in a five-volume
work that was published in 2009 entitled Inside
the Assassination Records Review Board: The U.S. Governments
Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the
Assassination of JFK. The author is Douglas P. Horne, who
served as chief analyst for military records for the Assassination
Records Review Board. The ARRB was the official board established
to administer the JFK Records Act, which required federal departments
and agencies to divulge to the public their files and records relating
to the Kennedy assassination. The act was enacted after Oliver Stones
1991 movie, JFK,
produced a firestorm of public outcry against the U.S. governments
decision to keep assassination-related records secret from the public
for 75 years after publication of the Warren Commission Report in
1964 and for 50 years after publication of the House Select Committee
on Assassinations Report in 1979.
book posits that high officials in the national security state
i.e., the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and U.S. military planned
and executed the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that the man
who replaced Kennedy as president, Lyndon B. Johnson, orchestrated
a cover-up of the conspiracy by telling officials that national
security (i.e., a potential nuclear war, citing Oswalds activities
relating to the Soviet Union and Cuba) necessitated shutting down
an investigation into determining whether Kennedys murder
involved a conspiracy. Hornes book focuses primarily on the
events surrounding the autopsy of Kennedys body on the night
of the assassination. As he himself acknowledges, his book expands
upon the thesis set forth in a book published in 1981 entitled Best
Evidence by David Lifton, which was nominated for a Pulitzer
Prize and reached Number 4 on the New York Times best seller
It was Lifton
who originally challenged the official story that Kennedys
body was delivered only once to the Bethesda morgue. It is Horne
who has set forth in more detail the evidence that establishes that
Lifton was right.
When Air Force
One landed at Andrews Air Force Base from Dallas, Kennedys
casket was placed into a gray Navy ambulance in which Kennedys
wife, Jacqueline, was traveling. Proceeding in a motorcade, the
ambulance arrived at the front of the Bethesda Naval Hospital at
At 8:00 p.m.,
a little more than an hour later, the casket was carried into the
Bethesda morgue by a military honor team called the Joint Casket
Bearer Team, which consisted of personnel from all the branches
of military service, all of whom were in dress uniform and wore
evidence also establishes that at 6:35 p.m. 90 minutes earlier
than when Kennedys Dallas casket was carried into the morgue
at 8:00 p.m. by the Joint Casket Bearer Team another group
of military personnel carried the presidents body into the
Bethesda morgue. That casket was a plain shipping casket rather
than the expensive, heavy, ornamental, bronze casket into which
the presidents body had been placed in Dallas.
was the fact that the presidents body at the 6:35 p.m. delivery
was in a body bag rather than wrapped in the white sheets in which
the medical personnel in Dallas had wrapped it before it was placed
into the heavy, bronze casket in Dallas.
Lets look at the evidence.
22, 1963, Marine Sgt. Roger Boyajian was stationed at the Marine
Corps Institute in Washington, D.C. On that day, he received orders
to go to the Bethesda Hospital to serve as NCO in charge of a 10-man
Marine security detail for President Kennedys autopsy.
later on November 26 Boyajian filed a report of what
happened. Here is what his report stated in part:
arrived at the hospital at approximately 1800 [6:00 p.m.] and
after reporting as ordered several members of the detail were
posted at entrances to prevent unauthorized persons from entering
the prescribed area…. At approximately 1835 [6:35 p.m.] the casket
was received at the morgue entrance and taken inside. (Bracketed
If you would
like to see a copy of Sergeant Boyajians report, it is posted
here on the Internet as part of the online appendix to Hornes
In 1963, E-6
Navy hospital corpsman Dennis David was stationed at the Bethesda
National Navy Center, where his job consisted of reading medical
textbooks and transforming them into Navy correspondence courses.
David later became a Navy officer and served in that capacity for
11 years in the Medical Services Corps. He retired from active duty
22, 1963, David was serving as Chief of the Day at the
Navy medical school at Bethesda. According to an official ARRB interview
conducted by Horne on February 14, 1997, David stated that at about
5:30 p.m. he was summoned to appear at the office of the Chief of
the Day for the entire Bethesda complex (including the medical school).
When he arrived, there were three or four Secret Service agents
in the office. He was informed that President Kennedys autopsy
was going to be held at the Bethesda morgue. David was ordered to
round up a team and proceed to the morgue and establish security.
He rounded up several men from various barracks, proceeded to the
Bethesda morgue, and assigned security duties to his team.
6:30 p.m., David received a phone call stating that your visitor
is on the way: you will need some people to offload. David
rounded up 7 or 8 sailors to carry in the casket and a few minutes
later, a black hearse drove up. Several men in blue suits got out
of the hearse, along with the driver and passenger, both of whom
were wearing white (operating room) smocks. Under Davids supervision,
the sailors offloaded the casket and carried it into the morgue.
What did the
casket look like? David stated that it was a simple, gray shipping
casket similar to the ones commonly used in the Vietnam War.
Now keep in
mind that the motorcade in which the gray Navy ambulance that carried
Mrs. Kennedy and the heavy bronze casket into which her husbands
body had been placed in Dallas didnt arrive at the hospital
until 6:55 p.m., twenty minutes after Kennedys body was carried
into the morgue by Davids team. Keep in mind also that according
to the official version of events, the Dallas casket wasnt
carried into the morgue by the Joint Casket Bearer Team until 8:00
that after his team had delivered the shipping casket into the morgue,
he proceeded into the main portion of the hospital, where several
minutes later (i.e., at 6:55 p.m.) he saw the motorcade in which
Mrs. Kennedy was traveling (and the Dallas casket was being transported)
approaching the front of Bethesda Hospital. As he stated to Horne,
he knew at that point that President Kennedys body could not
be in the Dallas casket because his team had, just a few minutes
earlier, delivered Kennedys body into the morgue in the shipping
didnt personally witness the presidents body being taken
out of the shipping casket, he later asked one of the autopsy physicians,
a U.S. Navy commander named Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, in which casket
the president had come in. Boswell responded, You ought to
know; you were there.
when Lifton showed David a photo of the Dallas casket in 1980, David
categorically stated that that was not the shipping casket in which
Kennedys body had been delivered at 6:35 p.m. (Horne, volume
4, page 989.)
told Horne in 1997 was a repetition of what David had told Lifton
many years before, which Lifton had related in his 1981 book, Best
Evidence. As Lifton recounts in his book, David gave the same
account to a reporter from the Lake County News-Sun in Waukegan,
Illinois, in 1975.
If you would
like to see Hornes official ARRB report of his interview with
David, it is posted
on the Internet here. (Liftons account is in chapter 25
of his book and is entitled The Lake County Informant.)
Still not satisfied?
to Horne, After Best Evidence was published, a Michigan
newspaper and a Canadian news team located and interviewed Donald
Rebentisch, one of the sailors in Dennis Davids working party,
who had been telling the same story independently for years.” (Horne,
volume 3, page 675.)
So, you have
a Marine sergeant and two sailors, whose statements unequivocally
confirm that Kennedys body was carried into the Bethesda morgue
in a plain shipping casket at 6:35 p.m.
Is there any
more evidence of the 6:35 p.m. delivery of Kennedys body to
22, 1963, Joseph Gawlers Sons, Inc., which, according to Horne,
had been the most prestigious funeral home in Washington for many
years, was summoned to Bethesda Hospital to perform the embalming
of President Kennedys body. On November 2223, 1963,
Gawlers prepared what was called a First Call Sheet
for President Kennedys autopsy, which contained the following
removed from metal shipping casket at NSNH at Bethesda.
who wrote that notation was Joseph E. Hagan, the supervisor in charge
of the Gawlers embalming team for the Kennedy autopsy and
who later became president of Gawlers. When the ARRB interviewed
Hagan in 1996, he stated that he had not personally witnessed the
presidents body being brought into the morgue in the shipping
casket but that someone whom he could not recall had advised him
of that fact.
If you would
like to see a copy of the Gawlers First Call Sheet, it is
here on the Internet.
was an E-4 Navy corpsman who served as an autopsy technician for
the Kennedy autopsy on November 22, 1963. According to Horne, OConnor
told the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977 and Lifton
in 1979 and 1980 that Kennedys body had arrived in a cheap,
metal, aluminum casket in a rubberized body bag
with a zipper down the middle. (Horne, volume 4, page
In 1979, Lifton
interviewed a man named Floyd Riebe, who was a medical photography
student present at Kennedys autopsy when he was an E-5 Navy
corpsman stationed at Bethesda. According to Horne, Riebe stated
that Kennedys casket was not a viewing casket because the
lid did not open halfway down. Riebe also confirmed that Kennedys
body was in a rubberized body bag with a zipper. (Horne, volume
4, page 990.)
was an E-4 Navy corpsman who served as an X-ray technician for the
Kennedy autopsy. According to Horne, Custer told Lifton in repeated
interviews that Kennedys body was in a body bag. Custer also
told Lifton that he saw the black hearse that brought in the shipping
casket. He stated that he saw two different caskets in the Bethesda
morgue, one of which was bronze. Interestingly, in a deposition
conducted by the ARRB in 1997, Custer denied that Kennedy was in
a body bag even though he had stated the contrary in two separate
interviews with Lifton in 1979 and 1989. (Horne, volume 4, page
Ed Reed, an
E-4 Navy corpsman, also served as an X-ray technician for the Kennedy
autopsy. In an ARRB deposition in 1997, Reed testified that Kennedys
casket was a typical aluminum military casket.” He said that
there were Marines present at the time the casket was delivered.
He recalled that the president arrived in a see-through clear plastic
bag, not in a standard body bag. (Horne, volume 4, page 991.)
to Horne, James Jenkins, another E-4 Navy corpsman who served as
an autopsy technician for Kennedys autopsy, told Lifton in
1979 that Kennedys casket was not ornamental and that it was
plain awful clean and simple and not something
youd expect a president to be in. (Horne, volume 4,
to Horne, John VanHuesen, a member of the Gawlers embalming
team, told the ARRB that he recalled seeing a black, zippered
plastic pouch in the Bethesda morgue early in the autopsy.
(Horne, volume 4, page 992.)
So, what do
we have here? We have eight Marine and Navy enlisted personnel who
were performing their assigned duties on November 22, 1963, and
whose statements unequivocally establish that Kennedys body
was delivered to the Bethesda morgue at 6:35 p.m. in a shipping
casket and in a body bag rather than in the heavy, ornamental, bronze
casket into which it had been placed at Parkland Hospital, wrapped
in white sheets.
We also have
two written reports Sergeant Boyajians report and the
Gawlers report that were filed contemporaneously with
the autopsy, both of which confirm early arrival of Kennedys
body in the shipping casket. We also have a member of the Gawlers
embalming team stating that he saw a body bag in the morgue.
not all. We also have the statement by Dennis David that after he
and his team offloaded Kennedys casket and delivered it into
the morgue at 6:35 p.m., he personally witnessed the motorcade in
which Mrs. Kennedy (and the Dallas casket) was traveling approaching
the front of Bethesda Hospital at 6:55 p.m.
In fact, David
isnt the only one who saw Mrs. Kennedys motorcade (which
contained the Dallas casket) approaching Bethesda Hospital after
the presidents body had already been delivered to the morgue
at 6:35 p.m. According to Horne, Jerrol Custer told Lifton in 1980
that he had seen Mrs. Kennedy in the main lobby while he was on
his way upstairs to process X-rays that had already been taken of
the presidents body. (Horne, volume 4, page 991.)
now turn back to the official version of events. The official version
is that Kennedys body was carried into the Bethesda morgue
by the Joint Casket Bearer Team at 8:00 p.m. in the heavy, ornamental,
bronze casket into which it had been placed at Parkland Hospital.
This is the account given in William Manchesters book The
Death of a President. When the casket was opened, Kennedys
body was taken out, and witnesses confirm that it was wrapped in
the white sheets that had been wrapped around the body by the Parkland
Hospital personnel in Dallas. At 8:15 p.m., the autopsy began.
body carried by a team of sailors into the Bethesda morgue at 6:35
p.m. in a shipping casket encased in a body bag after being delivered
in a black hearse that contained several men in blue suits?
Or was it
carried in by the Joint Casket Bearer Team at 8:00 p.m. in the heavy,
ornamental, bronze casket from Dallas and wrapped in white sheets
after being delivered in a gray Navy ambulance?
Now, I know
what youre thinking: Theres no way that Kennedys
body would have been delivered two different times into the Bethesda
morgue. Why would anyone do that? Anyway, if Kennedys body
was actually delivered into the morgue at 6:35 p.m. in the shipping
casket, how did it get back into the heavy, ornamental, bronze casket
from Dallas that the Joint Casket Bearer Team carried in at 8:00
p.m.? Why, thats just plain crazy!
to cite some of the adjectives that the noted attorney Vincent Bugliosi
used in a chapter entitled David Lifton and the Alteration
of the Presidents Body in his book Reclaiming
History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy:
preposterous, far out, unhinged,
casket delivery would you guess Bugliosi settled on the 6:35
p.m. delivery of the shipping casket with the body bag or the 8:00
p.m. heavy bronze casket delivery with the white sheets wrapped
around Kennedys body?
on a third casket delivery.
Yes, you read
that right. Vincent Bugliosi, along with noted conspiracy critic
Gerald Posner, author of the 1993 book Case
Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK,
have settled on a third casket delivery into the Bethesda morgue
one that took place between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
that is, after the 6:35 p.m. casket delivery and before the 8:00
p.m. casket delivery.
Are you doubting
me? Are you thinking to yourself, No way, Jacob. Two casket
deliveries were already enough for me. But a third? Now youve
gone too far?
first to set forth Bugliosis position. Referring to Paul OConnor,
the E-4 X-ray technician cited above, Bugliosi writes,
told the HSCA [House Select Committee on Assassinations] investigators
that the presidents body arrived in a pink shipping casket
and told Lifton that the body arrived in a cheap, pinkish
gray casket, just a tin box. But FBI agent James Sibert
told me that he, his partner, Francis ONeill, a few Secret
Service agents, and a few others he doesnt recall, carried
the casket from the limousine at the back of the hospital to an
anteroom right next to the autopsy room…. He vividly remembers
that it was a very expensive one, definitely not a shipping
casket and he recalls it was very, very heavy….
[The] November 26, 1963, report of FBI agents Sibert and ONeill
reads that when the presidents body arrived in the autopsy
room, the complete body was wrapped in sheets.… (Bugliosi,
pages 106970; bracketed material added).
ONeill helped take the casket inside, and there, waiting
for the Presidents body were [autopsy physicians] Dr. James
Humes and Dr. J. Thornton Boswell…. When the funeral motorcade
arrived at the hospital, Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy were escorted
to upstairs waiting rooms while the casket was brought to the
morgue. There, Drs. Humes and Boswell, with help from FBI agents
ONeill and Sibert and Secret Service agents Kellerman and
Greer, removed the body…. (Posner, chapter 13, page 299; bracketed
that the presidents casket could have been delivered only
one time to the Bethesda morgue, Bugliosi and Posner obviously concluded
that FBI agents Francis ONeill and James Sibert and Secret
Service agents Roy Kellerman and William Greer must be the only
ones telling the truth and that the enlisted men who stated they
carried the presidents body into the morgue at 6:35 p.m. in
a shipping casket had to be speaking falsely.
It is clear
that to both Bugliosi and Posner it is inconceivable that the 6:35
p.m. group could be telling the truth. Bugliosi ridicules the veracity
of Paul OConnor, while Posner mocks the veracity of OConnor,
Jerrol Custer, and James Jenkins.
Marine Sgt. Roger Boyajian, who filed the after-action report on
November 26, in which he stated unequivocally that the presidents
casket had been carried into the morgue at 6:35 p.m.?
Dennis David, the Chief of Day for the Naval medical school, who
later retired from the Navy as an officer, who stated that the presidents
body had been carried into the morgue at 6:35 p.m. in a shipping
Donald Rebentisch, a member of Davids team, who stated the
Floyd Riebe and Ed Reed, two other enlisted men who confirmed the
Joseph Gawlers Sons, Inc., whose representatives filed a written
report on November 22 23, 1963, which stated that the presidents
body had arrived in a shipping casket?
Most of them
arent even mentioned by Bugliosi and Posner, and Posner describes
them collectively as bit players at Bethesda orderlies,
technicians, and casket carriers.
level a very simple question at Vincent Bugliosi and Gerald Posner:
Why in the world would these eight enlisted men, who were simply
doing their jobs on the evening of November 22, 1963, have any reason
to lie or concoct a false story about bringing the presidents
body into the Bethesda morgue?
and Posner can explain why they didnt carefully focus on and
analyze the statements and testimony of all these witnesses, but
let give you my theory on the matter. In my opinion, the reason
they didnt do so is that they knew that if they did, their
own position would immediately become untenable.
Bugliosi and Posner know that the chance that each of all those
witnesses came up with the same fake story independently of all
the other witnesses who were saying the same thing is so astronomically
small as to be nonexistent.
for all the witnesses to have all come up with the same fake story
about the 6:35 p.m. delivery of Kennedys body into the Bethesda
morgue in a shipping casket would have had to involve one of the
most preposterous conspiracies of all time. Bugliosi and Posner
would be relegated to becoming conspiracy theorists and ridiculous
ones at that. They would be alleging that eight enlisted men in
the United States Armed Forces who were suddenly called to duty
to serve at the autopsy of President John F. Kennedys body
conspired to concoct a wild and fake story about how they delivered
President Kennedys body into the Bethesda morgue in a shipping
casket at 6:35 p.m. on the evening of November 22, 1963. Oh, I forgot
the conspiracy also would have included the most prestigious
funeral home in Washington, D.C., the funeral home that the U.S.
military had selected to handle the embalming of the presidents
tell, Mssrs. Bugliosi and Posner: What would have been the motive
behind such a conspiracy?
we try to imagine how the conspiracy got arranged, we can figure
out what the motive was.
see: Carrying out his orders to establish a team of Marines for
security at Bethesda Hospital, Marine Sgt. Boyajian calls the team
together and says, Men, Ive got an idea. Lets
conspire to come up with a fake and false story about how the presidents
body got delivered to the Bethesda morgue. Well tell everybody
that his body was brought to the morgue in a black hearse that contained
several men in blue suits and that Kennedys body was contained
in a shipping casket and in a body bag. The team goes along
with the idea.
Marine Sergeant Boyajian arrives at the morgue, he collars the Chief
of the Day at Bethesda medical school, Dennis David (a bit
player who would later become a Navy officer), and whispers
in his ear, Hey, dude, my Marines and I have come up with
a great idea. Were conspiring to concoct a fake story about
how we delivered President Kennedys body into the morgue in
a shipping casket at 6:35 p.m. Would you like to join our conspiracy?
Wow! That sounds great! Yeah, Ill talk to my team about
it. So David goes to his team and convinces them to join the
Oh, but wait
there are also the other bit players to contact.
So, the conspirators approach the X-ray technicians and photographers
and, after some persuasion, convince them to join the conspiracy.
left is Joseph Gawlers Sons, Inc. No problem. When they hear
about the idea, they think its fantastic, and theyre
willing to risk the good reputation theyve built up over the
years to become the most prestigious funeral home in Washington
and quickly join the conspiracy.
And for what?
Whoops! It still isnt clear what the motive of all those orderlies,
technicians, and casket carriers could have been.
Let me use
the adjectives that Bugliosi employed to describe this supposed
conspiracy among what Posner described as bit players:
preposterous, far out, unhinged,
is convinced that such an impossible conspiracy took place, there
is only one conclusion that can be reached: Those eight enlisted
men and the representatives of Gawlers funeral home, all of
whom were suddenly and unexpectedly called to do their duty on the
evening of November 22, 1963, were telling the truth. President
Kennedys body was carried into the Bethesda morgue at 6:35
p.m. in a shipping casket and inside a body bag.
The next question
naturally arises: Was the ONeill-Silbert-Kellerman-Greer casket
delivery that Bugliosi and Posner settled on the same casket delivery
as the Joint Casket Bearers Teams casket delivery? Or
were they two separate casket deliveries?
address the issue. In fact, he doesnt even mention the Joint
Casket Bearers Teams delivery of the Dallas casket,
which would seem odd, since it was prominently mentioned in William
Manchesters famous book on the assassination, The Death
of a President. Perhaps Posner had difficulty reconciling the
two different accounts and just felt it would be simpler to leave
one of them out of his analysis.
on the other hand, does address the issue. What is his approach?
Obviously convinced that there could have been only one casket delivery
that night, he conflates the ONeill-Sibert-Kellerman-Greer
casket delivery and the Joint Casket Bearer Teams casket delivery
into one casket delivery.
for Bugliosi, however, is that the evidence does not support his
position. Instead, the evidence leads to but one conclusion: three
separate casket deliveries, as follows:
First casket delivery. We know this from the statements of Marine
Sergeant Boyajian, Chief of the Day David, the six other enlisted
men, and the Gawlers funeral home report.
p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Second casket delivery. We know this from statements
made by FBI agents ONeill and Sibert and Secret Service agent
Kellerman, as shown below.
Third casket delivery. We know this from the official report of
the Joint Casket Bearers Team, as shown below.
We have already
reviewed the evidence that establishes the first casket delivery
and its time of delivery of 6:35 p.m.
now review the evidence that establishes the second casket delivery,
which took place sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In their official
report of November 26, 1963, ONeill and Sibert stated
in part as follows,
at the Medical Center, the ambulance stopped in front of the main
entrance, at which time Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and Attorney General
Robert Kennedy embarked from the ambulance and entered the building.
The ambulance was thereafter driven around to the rear entrance
where the Presidents body was removed and taken into an
autopsy room. Bureau agents assisted in the moving of the casket
to the autopsy room.
Keep in mind
that the ambulance arrived in the front of the hospital at 6:55
p.m. Keep in mind also that the Joint Casket Bearer Team didnt
deliver the Dallas casket into the morgue until more than an hour
later, at 8:00 p.m.
On March 12,
1964, an official
memo of the Warren Commission recounted the following exchange
between Warren Commission counsel Arlen Spector and FBI agents ONeill
What was the time of the preparation for the autopsy at the hospital?
Approximately 7:17 p.m.
What time did the autopsy begin?
Approximately 8:15 p.m.
How could preparation for the autopsy begin at approximately 7:17
p.m. if the Joint Casket Bearer Team didnt deliver the body
into the morgue until 8:00 p.m.? Of course, since we know that the
body had already been delivered to the morgue at 6:35 p.m. in the
shipping casket, preparation for the autopsy could have begun at
In fact, recall
that X-ray technician Jerrol Custer, one of the enlisted men who
witnessed Kennedys body being brought into the morgue in the
shipping casket, saw Mrs. Kennedy entering the main lobby of the
hospital as Custer was heading upstairs to process X-rays of Kennedys
How could Custer have been processing X-rays of the presidents
body if the Dallas casket containing the presidents body had
not yet been delivered by either the Joint Casket Delivery Team
at 8:00 p.m. or by ONeill, Sibert, Kellerman, and Greer sometime
between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.?
In a deposition
that was taken by the ARRB in 1997, Sibert was asked about the 7:17
p.m. time that he and ONeill had referred to in their 1964
exchange with Specter:
will read for the record, if you will read along with me. Question:
What was the time of the preparation for the autopsy at the hospital?
Answer: Approximately 7:17 P.M. Do you see those words?
I guess my question in part is: Does the time that is provided
here, 7:17 P.M., help you identify the approximate time that the
casket was unloaded from the Navy ambulance?
Well, that could have been the time that it was unloaded, the
7:17 or just a short time thereafter when they got it in
there. And, of course, they had to take the body out of the casket,
put it on the autopsy table and this would be all the preparation
too. (Horne, volume 3, pages 713 14.)
If there was only one casket delivery, how could it be unloaded
at 7:17 p.m. and also 8:00 p.m., as reported by the Joint Casket
Here is what
ONeill wrote in a sworn
statement to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in
at the National Naval Medical Center of Bethesda, the ambulance
stopped at the front entrance where Jackie and RFK disembarked
to proceed to the 17th floor. The ambulance then travelled to
the rear where Sibert, Bill Greer (Secret Service), and Roy Kellerman
(Secret Service), and I placed the casket on a roller and transported
it into the autopsy room.
once again, the implication is that the casket is promptly delivered
after the 6:55 p.m. arrival of the motorcade. Also, notice that
there is no mention of the Joint Casket Bearer Team and that ONeill
states that he, Sibert, Greer, and Kellerman transported the casket
into the morgue on a roller.
affidavit signed and delivered to the House Select Committee
on Assassinations in 1978, Sibert reinforced ONeills
motorcade from the airport arrived at the Naval Hospital, Bobby
Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were let off at the administration building.
Mr. ONeill and I helped carry the damaged casket into the
autopsy room with some Secret Service agents.
testimony of Secret Service Agent Kellerman before the Warren
Commission in 1964:
What time did that autopsy start, as you recollect it?
Immediately. Immediately after we brought him in.
in his testimony, Kellerman became more specific:
Lets come back to the period of our arrival at Andrews Air
Force Base, which was 5:58 p.m. at night. By the time it took
us to take the body from the plane into the ambulance, and a couple
of carloads of staff people who followed us, we may have spent
15 minutes there. And in driving from Andrews to the U.S. Naval
Hospital, I would judge, a good 45 minutes. So, there is 7 oclock.
We went immediately over, without too much delay on the outside
of the hospital, into the morgue. The Navy people had their staff
in readiness right then. There wasnt anybody to call. They
were all there. So, at the latest, 7:30, they began to work on
Kellerman is reinforcing ONeills and Siberts testimony
that they delivered the Dallas casket into the morgue sometime between
7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Ask yourself: How could they begin to work
on the autopsy no later than 7:30 p.m., given that the Joint Casket
Bearer Team didnt deliver the Dallas casket until 8:00 p.m.?
Horne, a Washington Star article dated November 23, 1963,
referring to the motorcades 6:55 p.m. (or 6:53 p.m., as another
account asserted) arrival at the front of the Bethesda Hospital
with Mrs. Kennedy and the Dallas casket, also noted that the
ambulance containing the casket was not driven away from the front
of the hospital facility for at least 12 minutes after it arrived,
i.e., at about 7:07 PM (or at 7:05 PM at the earliest, depending
on which arrival time one uses). (Horne, volume 3, pages 677-78.)
That fits with ONeill, Siberts, and Kellermans
testimony that the Dallas casket was delivered to the morgue between
7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
now review the evidence that establishes the third casket delivery,
the one at 8:00 p.m. by the Joint Casket Bearer Team.
infantry 1st Lt. Samuel Bird, the Joint Casket Bearer Team was the
honor team charged with formally carrying President Kennedys
body into the Bethesda morgue. As previously stated, the team consisted
of soldiers in dress uniform and white gloves representing all the
branches of the military.
10, 1963, Lt. Bird filed his official report of the Joint Casket
Bearer Teams delivery of the presidents casket into
the Bethesda morgue on the evening of November 22, 1963. The report
stated in part:
Casket Team consisted of one officer, one NCO and seven enlisted
men (from each branch of the Armed Forces)…. They removed the
remains as follows: 1. From the ambulance to the morgue (Bethesda)
2000 hours [8:00 p.m.], 22 Nov. 63. (Bracketed material added.)
A copy of
the Joint Casket Bearer Teams official report is posted
on the Internet here.
You will notice
that the report makes no mention of ONeill, Sibert, Kellerman,
or Greer or the roller that ONeill, Sibert, Kellerman, and
Greer used to carry the casket into the morgue.
also notice that the report contains the following memorable incident,
later recounted in Manchesters The Death of a President:
casket was being moved inside the hospital, Brigadier General
[Godfrey] McHugh relieved [illegible] from the casket team and
awkwardly took his place. (Bracketed material added.)
ONeill, Sibert, Kellerman, or Greer relate the McHugh incident
in their account of delivering the Dallas casket into the morgue.
There is something
else to consider: A member of the Joint Casket Bearer Team denied
that ONeill, Sibert, Kellerman, and Greer helped the team
carry the casket into the morgue. According to Lifton,
Cheek [a member of the Joint Casket Bearer Team] whether two FBI
men were present when the ambulance was unloaded. No,
he replied, there were just the six of us. I asked
this because Sibert and ONeill reported they helped with
the casket, but made no mention of a casket team. (Lifton, chapter
16; bracketed material added.)
the following sworn
testimony before the Warren Commission on March 16, 1964, of
Commander James J. Humes, one of the physicians who conducted the
autopsy on the presidents body on the evening of November
What time did the autopsy start approximately?
Humes: The presidents body was received at 25 minutes before
8, and the autopsy began at approximately 8 p.m. on that evening.
(Warren Commission Report, Volume II, page 349.)
How could the body have been received at 7:35 p.m. (i.e., 25 minutes
before 8:00 p.m.) if the Joint Casket Bearers Team didnt
deliver it until 8:00 p.m.?
examine the thesis originally developed by Lifton and later expanded
upon by Horne to see if the evidence is consistent with three casket
deliveries into the morgue.
one concludes that Marine Sergeant Boyajian, Chief of the Day David,
the other six enlisted men, and Gawlers funeral home entered
into a quick, preposterous conspiracy to concoct a fake story about
the delivery of the presidents body, we begin with the fact
that President Kennedys body was offloaded from a black hearse
containing several men in blue suits and delivered into the Bethesda
morgue in a shipping casket at 6:35 p.m.
means that the Dallas casket that arrived twenty minutes later at
6:55 p.m. in the motorcade with Mrs. Kennedy did not contain the
there was an obvious challenge for whoever did this and wished to
keep it secret: how to get the presidents body back into the
Dallas casket so that it could be formally delivered into the morgue
by the Joint Casket Bearer Team just before the autopsy would begin?
As Horne explains,
that was what the ONeill-Sibert-Kellerman-Greer casket delivery
had to be all about. Soon after the arrival of the motorcade, they
drove around to the morgue and carried the empty Dallas casket into
the morgue sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
between 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., the presidents body was then
wrapped back into the white sheets in which it had been wrapped
in Dallas, placed back into the Dallas casket, and carried back
out to the Navy ambulance, enabling the Joint Casket Bearer Team
to officially carry it back into the morgue at 8:00 p.m.
There is actually
no other reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence.
Kennedys body is delivered at 6:35 p.m. in the shipping casket.
The middle delivery of the Dallas casket the one between
7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. was used to effect the transfer of
the body back into the Dallas casket, so that it can then be carried
back out into the gray ambulance and then be delivered formally
into the morgue at 8:00 p.m. by the Joint Casket Bearer Team, enabling
the autopsy to formally begin 8:15 p.m., which is the time that
everyone agrees the autopsy formally began.
Why was all
this done? That is a very good question.
explanation is that officials were concerned about the possibility
that someone might try to attack the motorcade from Andrews Air
Force Base to Bethesda Hospital and steal the presidents body
and, therefore, decided to secretly separate the presidents
body from the Dallas casket and secretly transport it to the morgue
to obviate that possibility.
It seems to
me that that would have been a plausible explanation, if they had
announced it publicly at the time. But they didnt do that.
Instead, they engaged in secrecy, deception, and cover up, and have
would undoubtedly respond, No way, Jacob! Not high government
officials. They would never lie to the American people. Only bit
players like Marine sergeants, Navy enlisted men, and long-established
funeral homes would do that.
But keep in
mind that it is undisputed that several months after the events
at Bethesda Naval Hospital, it wasnt bit players
consisting of orderlies, technicians, and casket carriers
who secretly conspired to concoct a fake story about a North Vietnamese
attack at the Gulf of Tonkin, with the intent of securing a congressional
resolution that would lead to the Vietnam War. Instead, it was the
new president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the entire
Joint Chiefs of Staff, who entered into that secret and deadly conspiracy.
It seems to
me that if high government officials would conspire to lie about
a military attack that they had to know would bring on a war that
would result in the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers
(and millions of Vietnamese people), high government officials would
be fully capable of lying about casket deliveries on the night of
November 22, 1963.
The only other
explanation for the multiple casket delivery that I can conceive
of is a nefarious one, the one that is carefully detailed by Horne
in his 5-volume work: that U.S. military officials at the Bethesda
morgue, including the autopsy physicians, perhaps following orders
based on national security, used the period of time from 6:35 p.m.
to 8:00 p.m. on the night of the autopsy to alter the presidents
body in order to hide any evidence of wounds resulting from gunshots
that came from the front of the president, e.g., from the grassy
One of the
most fascinating stories that Horne describes involves the testimony
of Tom Robinson, a member of the Gawlers embalming team. When
Robinson was questioned by the House Select Committee on Assassinations,
he made the following cryptic statement:
that the people moved (autopsy). The body was taken….and the body
never came….lots of little things like that. (Horne, volume 2,
not my ellipses. They are also not Hornes. In fact, neither
are the parentheses around the word autopsy. Thats
exactly how Robinsons testimony appears in the official transcript
of his testimony. As Horne points out, thats fairly unusual,
given that people dont ordinarily speak using ellipses and
parentheses. Those sorts of things are used in written communications,
not oral ones.
testimony was recorded, Horne decided to look up the tape and listen
to the actual recording of Robinsons testimony. His office
located the tape labeled as Robinsons testimony in the National
Archives. Unfortunately, however, the tape contained something else
on it, and Horne was not able to locate another tape with Robinsons
testimony on it.
Perhaps I should
mention that after Robinson gave his testimony, it was ordered sealed
for 50 years, along with testimony provided by other people for
the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Keep in mind also
that the Warren Commission had ordered many of its records sealed
for 75 years. It was only thanks to the JFK Records Act, enacted
in the wake of Oliver Stones movie JFK, that such records
were ordered opened to the public.
If you would
like to see the pertinent excerpt from the official transcript of
Robinsons testimony, it is posted
here on the Internet.
It might interest
you to know that the personnel who participated in Kennedys
autopsy, both military and civilian, were required by U.S. military
officials to sign written oaths of secrecy in which they promised
to never reveal what they had witnessed at the autopsy, on threat
of court martial or criminal prosecution.
In fact, as
Horne pointed out,
amount of effort by the HSCAs Chief Counsel, Robert Blakey,
was required to get the Pentagon to lift the gag order during
the late 1970s. Even then, some participants at the autopsy (such
as James Curtis Jenkins) were hesitant to talk about what they
had witnessed, and others (such as Jerrol Custer) still stubbornly
refused. Many of the enlisted men present in the morgue, as well
as civilian photographer John Stringer, have recalled quite vividly
the threatening manner in which this letter was delivered to them
by CAPT Stover, Humes immediate superior and the Commanding
Officer of the Naval Medical School at Bethesda. (Horne, volume
1, page xxvii.)
If you would
like to see a copy of the oath of secrecy that people were required
to sign, it is posted
here on the Internet.
Do you now
see why the authors of The
Kennedy Detail: JFKs Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence
might have chosen to omit a detailed account of what happened at
Bethesda Hospital on the evening of November 22, 1963, notwithstanding
their promise to reveal the inside story of the assassination,
the weeks and days that led to it and its heartrending aftermath?
Specifically denying Liftons (and Hornes) contention
that President Kennedys body had been kidnapped
(the term used by the authors) and omitting any reference whatsoever
to Lt. Bird and his Joint Casket Bearer Team, the sum total of the
authors account of what happened at the Bethesda morgue that
night was the following sentence: There was a presidential
suite on the seventeenth floor of the hospital, and as Bill Greer,
Roy Kellerman, and Admiral Burkley accompanied the casket to the
morgue for the autopsy, Clint Hill and Paul Landis escorted Mrs.
Kennedy and her brother-in-law the attorney general to the suite.
(Blaine and McCubbin, Chapters 15 and 22.)
of whether one believes that President Kennedy was killed by a lone-nut
assassin or was the victim of a conspiracy, the American people
have a right to know exactly what happened at Bethesda Hospital
on November 22, 1963, and why.
Who were the
men in blue suits who got out of the black hearse that delivered
the presidents body in a shipping casket at 6:35 p.m.? What
were their names and who did they work for? Were they Secret Service,
FBI, or CIA? Are they still alive and, if so, where are they? Did
they file written reports of their actions on that evening and,
if so, where are those reports today? Why, when, and how was Kennedys
body separated from the Dallas casket? Why all the secrecy and deception
associated with the delivery of the presidents body into the
John F. Kennedys autopsy took place almost 50 years ago, we
the people the citizens of the United States living today
have a right to know everything about what happened on the
night of November 22, 1963, and why. Notwithstanding the lapse of
almost half a century, U.S. government officials, including those
in the Pentagon, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the CIA, have
a duty to provide us with the complete truth.
from The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Hornberger [send him mail]
is founder and president of The Future
of Freedom Foundation.
© 2010 Future of Freedom Foundation
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