Commanders Boswell and Humes of the Bethesda Medical Center performed the autopsy of President Kennedy. Their testimonies spanning three decades are probably the most self contradictory testimonies in the official record.
Part One - Revisions by Boswell
Boswell was practically silent during the Warren Commission hearings. He spoke up for the first time during the discussion of September 1977 between the Forensic Pathology Panel of the HSCA and the Bethesda prosectors. This placed in the official record a pivotal description of the entry wound of the head, which was contradicted by and denied during his ARRB testimony in February 1996.
On page 43 of his ARRB testimony, Boswell placed the entry into the skull above the hairline and above the ear.
Source: Deposition of Doctor J. Thornton Boswell on February 26, 1996 - Page 43
Q During your answer you were pointing to parts of your head, which, of course, wouldn't be reflected on the record. Could you just describe in a general way -- and we'll be more specific with this later, but when you say that it entered here, you were pointing to --
A The back right side of his skull.
Q Near the hairline, would that be fair, or -
A No. It's up above that. Well, whose hairline?
Q President Kennedy's.
A He had hair cut about like mine, and it was right up here: above his ear and toward the midline. And then the top of his head was blown off. A 14-centimeter segment of it was blown off. And it was on the right side of his brain that was missing.
Boswell affirmed the Autopsy Protocol, which placed the entry wound of the scalp as slightly above the external occipital protuberance.
Source: Deposition of Doctor J. Thornton Boswell on February 26, 1996 - Page 60
Q Dr. Boswell, could you look at the top of page 4 of Exhibit 3 that I have just handed to you where it says, "Situated in the posterior scalp approximately 2.5 centimeters laterally to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance is a lacerated wound measuring 15 by 6 millimeters." Is that an accurate description of where you understood the entrance wound to be at the time of the autopsy, 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance?
During the discussions between the Forensic Pathology Panel and the Bethesda prosectors, Boswell led the relocation of the entry wound of the skull to below the external occipital protuberance. Commander Humes corroborated Boswell by placing the elliptical scalp wound as 2 centimeters below the midpoint of the external occipital protuberance.
Source: FPP interview of Doctors Humes and Boswell on September 16, 1977 - 7HSCA, 246
Dr. PETTY. I'm now looking at No. 2, X-ray No. 2. Is this the point of entrance that I'm pointing to?
Dr. HUMES. No.
Dr. PETTY. This is not?
Drs. HUMES and BOSWELL. No.
Dr. PETTY. Where is the point of entrance? That doesn't show?
Dr. HUMES. It doesn't show. Below the external occipital protuberance.
Dr. PETTY. It's below it?
Dr. HUMES. Right.
Dr. PETTY. Not above it?
Dr. BOSWELL. No. It's to the right and inferior to the external occipital protuberance.
Dr. PETTY. O.K. All right. Let me show you then color photograph No. 42, which then is the -
Dr. HUMES. Precisely coincides with that wound on the scalp.
K. KLEIN. Could you describe that point that you just made?
Dr. HUMES. That's an elliptical wound of the scalp which we described in our protocol. I'm quite confident. And it's just to the right and below by a centimeter and maybe a centimeter to the right and maybe 2 centimeters below the midpoint of the external occipital protuberance. And when the scalp was reflected from there, there was virtually an identical wound in the occipital bone.
K. KLEIN. And what number photograph is that?
Dr. HUMES. Forty-two.
K. KLEIN. Forty-two.
Dr. PETTY. Then this is the entrance wound. The one down by the margin of the hair in the back?
Dr. HUMES. Yes, Sir.
Dr. PETTY. Then this ruler that is held in the photograph is simply to establish a scale and no more?
Dr. HUMES. Exactly.
When asked whether he relocated the entry wound of the skull, Boswell said no.
Source: Deposition of Doctor J. Thornton Boswell on February 26, 1996 - Page 61
Q Is that your signature that appears on page 6 of Exhibit No. 3?
Q. Did you at any point ever change your mind about the location of the entrance wound in the skull?
Part Two - Revisions by Humes
In 1996, Humes described two characteristics of the scalp and the skull wounds that classify them as wounds of entry. He placed the skull wound “directly beneath” the skull wound and the skull wound as “almost round.” These characteristics evidence entry by a bullet with a small incidence angle.
Source: Deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes on February 13, 1996 - Page 109
Q Did you identify a hole that you thought to be either an entrance or exit wound in the back of the cranium?
A Definitely. Definitely. Entrance, there wasn't any question in our mind about it.
Q Did the wound appear as something like a puncture in the bone, or was there a fragment of the bone that was missing and that there was an indentation?
A No. It was directly beneath the scalp wound back there, directly beneath it. It was almost round, but a little bit more ovoid, and the inner margins of it were shelved. If we put a BB through that glass over there on the side where it went in, you'd see a little round hole, depending on the size of the missile. On the other side you'd see shelved out, and that's exactly what we had.
Q And the whole circumference of the entry wound was visible without any reconstruction of the skull?
A Oh, yeah, sure.
Q In which bone was the entrance wound?
A Occipital bone.
Humes accepted Gunn’s medical classification the scalp and skull wounds as punctures. He stated that these two wounds were “directly aligned.”
Source: Deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes on February 13, 1996 - Page 180
Q What was your understanding of the correlation, if any, between a puncture wound in scalp and a puncture wound in the bone?
A They're directly over align -- directly aligned.
Q So there was not a penetration of the scalp with the bullet going along the cranium and then going in at some --
A My impression was it went right through from the site of the skin wound, when you looked at the wound from the inside and matched them up with the scalp wound.
Initially during his Warren Commission testimony Humes described a 15 mm by 6 mm wound of the scalp with a corresponding oval wound of the skull. He attributed these wounds to a tangential entry by the bullet.
Source: Warren Commission Testimony of Commander James J. Humes on March 16, 1964 - 2H, 352
Commander HUMES - Turning now to Commission Exhibit 388, where we have depicted in the posterior right portion of the skull a wound which we have labeled "in" or a wound of entrance and a large roughly 13 cm. diameter defect in the right lateral vertex of the skull. I would go into some further detail in describing these wounds. The scalp, I mentioned previously, there was a defect in the scalp and some scalp tissue was not available. However, the scalp was intact completely past this defect. In other words, this wound in the right posterior region was in a portion of scalp which had remained intact. So, we could see that it was the measurement which I gave before, I believe 15 by 6 millimeters. When one reflected the scalp away from the skull in this region, there was a corresponding defect through both tables of the skull in this area.
Mr. SPECTER. Will you describe what you mean by both tables, Dr. Humes?
Commander HUMES. Yes, sir. The skull is composed of two layers of bone. We will put the scalp in in dotted lines. The two solid lines will represent the two layers of the skull bone, and in between these two layers is loose somewhat irregular bone. When we reflected the scalp, there was a through and through defect corresponding with the wound in the scalp. This wound had to us the characteristics of a wound of entrance for the following reason : The defect in the outer table was oval in outline, quite similar to the defect in the skin.
Humes explicitly attributed the elongated scalp wound to a tangential entry by the bullet.
Source: Warren Commission Testimony of Commander James J. Humes on March 16, 1964 - 2H, 357
Mr. McCLOY - Was the bullet moving in a direct line or had it begun to tumble?
Commander HUMES - To tumble? That is a difficult question to answer. I have the opinion, however, that it was more likely moving in a direct line. You will note that the wound in the posterior portion of the occiput on Exhibit 388 is somewhat longer than the other missile wound which we have not yet discussed in the low neck. We believe that rather than due to a tumbling effect, this is explainable on the fact that this missile struck the skin and skull at a more tangential angle than did the other missile, and, therefore, produced a more elongated defect, sir.
Humes reported that a tunnel connected the scalp and the skull wounds. This detail supported his belief that a tangential entry by the bullet elongated the scalp wound.
Source: Review of Autopsy Materials on January 26, 1967 - Page 3
The autopsy report states that a lacerated entry wound measuring 15 by 6 mm, (0.59 by 0.24 inches) - is situated in the posterior scalp approximately 2.5 cm, (1 inch) laterally to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance (a bony protuberance at the back of the head). In non-technical language this indicates that a small wound was found in the back of the head on the right side, Photographs Nos. 15, 16, 42 and 43 show the location and size of the wound, and establish that the above autopsy data were accurate. Due to the fractures of the underlying bone and the elevation of the scalp by manual lifting (done to permit the wound to be photographed) the photographs show the wound to be slightly higher than its actually measured site.
The scalp wound shown in the photographs appears to be a laceration and tunnel with the actual penetration of the skin obscured by the top of the tunnel. In the photographs this is not recognizable as a penetrating wound because of the slanting direction of entry. However, as we pointed out in the autopsy report, there was in the underlying bone a corresponding wound through the skull which exhibited beveling of the margins of the bone when viewed from the inner aspect of the skull. This is characteristic of a wound of entry in the skull.
In 1964, Humes testified before the Warren Commission as a Lieutenant Commander. He was promoted to Commander and retired from the Marines as Captain. Humes moved on to a prestigious mid-western medical school and occupied the chair of Professor of Pathology.
I suggest that Humes’ peers rewarded his pathological behavior during his testimonies.