Sunday, 6 July 2014

How Dave Reitzes Gets it Wrong Part 2

The Parkland Hospital Professionals

The observations of the trauma room doctors and nurses who attempted to save President Kennedy's life have long been a thorn in the side of Warren Commission followers and lone gunman theorists. This is because, as Reitzes admits, “many of these medical professionals made observations indicative—some strongly so—of shots from the President’s front rather than the rear.” For example, Professor and Director of Neurological Surgery at Parkland, Dr. Kemp Clark, swore in his Commission testimony that he had seen a wound “in the back of the President's head. This was a large, gaping wound in the right posterior part, with cerebral and cerebellar tissue being damaged and exposed." (6H20) Similarly, Dr. Robert McClelland noted that “the right posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted. It had been that the parietal bone was protruded up through the scalp and seemed to be fractured almost along its right posterior half, as well as some of the occipital bone being fractured in its lateral half, and this sprung open the bones that I mentioned in such a way that you could actually look down into the skull cavity itself and see that probably a third or so, at least, of the brain tissue, posterior cerebral tissue and some of the cerebellar tissue had been blasted out...." (Ibid, 33)

Despite Reitzes' erroneous and unsupported claim that “the testimony of the Parkland doctors and nurses is highly contradictory and confused”, the above descriptions of a defect in the right rear of the skull were supported by the statements and/or testimony of every other trauma room participant. The only exceptions were Dr. Kenneth Salyer—who stood on JFK's left and did not get a good look at the wound (Ibid, 81)—and Dr. Aldoph Giesecke who, for some reason, got his left and right confused but nonetheless recalled that the wound extended into the occiput. (Ibid, 74) As should be obvious, the appearance of a gaping wound in the right rear of the skull is very much suggestive of a shot from the front.

Then there's the wound in the throat which, from all descriptions, appeared more like an entrance than an exit. Dr. Malcolm Perry told autopsy surgeon Dr. James Humes that the hole was a mere 3-5 mm in diameter. (17H29) He further explained in his Commission testimony that "It's edges were neither ragged nor were they punched out, but rather clean cut." (3H372) Dr. Charles Carrico recalled that the wound measured “4-7 mm...It was, as I recall, rather round and there were no jagged edges or stellate lacerations." (6H3) And Dr. Ronald Jones described it simply as a “very small, smooth wound.” (Ibid, 54) It goes without saying that a neat, round wound measuring between 3 and 7 mm is not what one would expect from an exiting 6.5 mm rifle bullet. In fact, tests performed for the Commission at Edgewood Arsenal demonstrated that such wounds typically measure up to 15 mm. (17H846)

None of this matters in the least to Reitzes. He dismisses it all with the wave of a hand and states matter-of-factly that “they [the Parkland staff] were wrong”. He offers no explanation, elaboration, or—heaven forbid!—discussion of the evidence. Instead he cites a “A study published in 1993 in the Journal of the American Medical Association...comparing the post-mortem findings of a board-certified forensic pathologist to the previous assessments made by trauma specialists”. According to Reitzes, “the study found that the trauma specialists made errors about the nature of bullet wounds (such as the number of bullets involved and in distinguishing between entrance and exit wounds) in 52 percent of the cases.” Whilst this is an intriguing statistic, Reitzes never explains how it relates to the observations of the Parkland staff, let alone how it supports his contention that they were wrong.

As Reitzes tells it, the JAMA study addresses the assessment of wounds, i.e. the question of entrance versus exit. But this has nothing to do with the location and size of the wounds observed by the Parkland trauma room staff. It in no way suggests that a Professor of Neurosurgery, as was Dr. Clark, would be unable to tell the back from the front of the head. Nor that qualified physicians like Dr. Perry and Dr. Carrico would be unable to tell smooth from ragged or 3 mm from 15 mm.

So what exactly does Reitzes think the Parkland doctors were wrong about? He cannot be saying that the autopsy showed they were wrong about the damage to the right rear of the skull because the autopsy report confirms that “the large irregular defect of the scalp and skull on the right” extended into the “occipital” region (in fact, the X-rays show extensive damage to the upper right rear of the skull). And Reitzes cannot be saying that they were proven wrong about the size and appearance of the wound in the throat because that would be absurd. As chief pathologist Dr. Humes explained in his Commission testimony, he had been unaware of the wound in the throat when he performed the autopsy because a tracheotomy had been performed on top of it at Parkland Hospital. It wasn't until the following day, when he no longer had access to the President's body, that Humes spoke to Dr. Perry and learned of its existence. (2H362) But by then it was too late to ascertain the true nature of the wound.

I can only assume that what Reitzes means to say is that critics are wrong to infer from the testimony of the Parkland physicians that shots were fired from the front. But the JAMA study he cites fails to support that proposition. A study which suggests “the odds that a trauma specialist will correctly interpret certain fatal gunshot wounds are no better than the flip of a coin” does not change the fact that the wounds were where they were and looked how they looked. The hole in the throat was still a “very small, smooth wound”. And the damage to the head as seen at Parkland was still in “the right posterior portion of the skull”.

Nothing that Reitzes has to offer in any way demonstrates that the Parkland professionals were wrong in their key observations.


Reitzes spends a few paragraphs discussing Mary Moorman's famous Polaroid photograph which shows, in rather fuzzy detail, the Grassy Knoll approximately 1/5 of a second after the fatal head shot. Picking an easy target, he largely concentrates on describing how researcher David Lifton saw various assassins in the photograph that were, in actual fact, all as imaginary as his ridiculous body alteration theory. Reitzes also dedicates a paragraph to Gary Mack's “Badge Man” image which gathered some interest when it first appeared on television in 1988 but few critics take seriously nowadays. Unsurprisingly, the most intriguing find—made by author Josiah Thompson in 1967—barley gets a mention.

As Thompson explained in his classic book, Six Seconds in Dallas, to see if “the hypothesis of a shot from the stockade fence” could be “validated by the Moorman picture”, he compared it to another photograph taken from her position some time later. What he discovered was that an “anomalous shape” appeared along the fence line in Moorman's photograph that was not present in the comparison picture. He then took eyewitness S.M. Holland “to the assassination site and asked him to stand in the position where he found the curious footprints and saw the smoke”. Thompson took himself back to Moorman's position and saw that, remarkably, Holland's head “appeared in the exact position defined by the shape” in the Polaroid. (Thompson, p. 127)

Whilst the above might be dismissed as a simple coincidence, it becomes all the more interesting in light of evidence first made public by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. The HSCA was presented with a Dallas Police dictabelt recording made at the time of the assassination that, according to analysis by the top acoustics experts in the United States, contained an impulse with the acoustic fingerprint of a shot fired from the Grassy Knoll. When the Committee's experts were asked to pin down the location of the alleged Grassy Knoll gunman, their analysis pointed to the very same spot behind the fence—approximately 8 feet left of the corner—in which Holland stood and in which the anomalous shape appears in Moorman's picture. (8HSCA29) As Thompson later noted, this means that there is a “remarkable convergence of evidence”, eyewitness, photographic and acoustic, “concerning not just a shot from the Knoll from some shadowy corner, but the exact location of a shot from the Knoll...The evidence doesn't lead to various locations and to various battles over which location is correct. Rather, it leads to one, single, unambiguous location.”

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