Phone Conversation between Acting Attorney
General Ramsey Clark and President Lyndon Johnson
Re: Autopsy Photos
1-21-67 12:00 Noon
Time: 7 mins 25 secs at the end of a 8 mins 31 secs conversation
Background: Ramsey Clark was U.S. Attorney General between
1967 and 1969 under president Lyndon Johnson, an
administration that escalated the war in Vietnam, and that
pursued FBI investigations of civil rights activists
under the Counter Intelligence Program. Now Ramsey Clark is
a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and
domestic human rights practices, and claims that "the
greatest human rights violator in the world is my own
RC: Ah, we had three pathologists that performed the autopsy
on evening of November 22nd come in. We had to bring Finck from
Viet Nam. There were only 8 of us, including the three pathologists.
They went into archives last night. (1)The
staff worked till midnight on the autopsy photos and X-rays.
They all three seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. I think
they'll go along with our that they shouldn't talk.
LBJ: They shouldn't what?
RC: They shouldn't talk to anybody. But they are quite defensive
of the criticism of them. They feel their professional reputations
are at stake and what not. They say, "We haven't got it
tied down as an affidavit yet." I hope they have it by Monday.
They'll be working on it today or tomorrow here. They may have
it done before then. But, they're so technical, so reticent about
finding things that they're hard to work with.
They say the autopsy photos conclusively confirm their judgment
as to the bullet entered the back of the skull --- and it's not
perfectly conclusive as to the one in the lower neck. It's very
clear to them that they, there's nothing in the autopsy photos
that contradicts anything that they said.
Now, we've run into one problem last night that we didn't know
of. That is, there may be a photo missing. Dr. Humes, Commander
and Naval doctor, testified before the
Warren Commission (2)that
this one photo made of the highest portion of the right lung.
The other two doctors don't recall if such a photo was made.
They do recall discussing the desired ability of making such
a photo. But there is no such photo in these exhibits.
It could be contended that that photo could show the course
and direction the bullet that entered the lower part of the neck
and exited the front part. We're seeing to run that down. The
only other witness that would have any judgment at all would
be the corpsman, naval corpsman, that took the photos. We have
to talk to him. We're not too sure, until we see what the doctors
That's desirable. We are left with one specific problem. Dr.
Humes did testify before the Warren Commission there was such
a photo [that] we don't have.
LBJ: Wasn't delivered to you.
RC: Not delivered. That's very clear. Another part that is a
concern that's not tied down either --- that's Dr. Burkley's
part. You remember I talked to him on November 8th down at the
Ranch after I talked with you about it. Hadn't discussed it since.
He gets very emotional on the subject. His eyes start watering.
He says that he knew where the autopsy photos were all the time.
They were in his possession. Now, this is not --- He's not entirely
clear on the matter. The possession will become an issue in a
significant way and it had not been until, in our judgment, till
last night because of the missing photo now. I say "missing
photo." There's a contradiction of whether there was this
LBJ: Ah uh. Well, they weren't actually in his possession, were
RC: He said that they were actually in his possession. And that
he received them and had them in a safe in E.O.B. (Executive
Office Building) In a vault sort of thing in E.O.B. He later
released them to Mrs. Lincoln. Probably hidden them. (garbled)
Which I think I know, prepared by Bobby Kennedy. I think Dr.
Burkley knew what he had in every instance. He knew every minute.
He, ah, I tell you the real problem is when you start talking
with him about it what he said is it's just outrageous that anybody
would want those photos. The personal property of the dead president's
family. "Horrible" when he talked about it, thinks
about it. "People shouldn't do that." When you try
to explain that's a real problem, why, he --- "It just won't
do at all."
His inventory (3) coincides
with what we had. Inventory that we got ---material
was delivered to us by Kennedy representative Burke Marshall
(4). So that
would indicate that between his letter and what we received November
1, everything is there. Or if there were another photo, on the
4th (garbled) then Mrs. Lincoln.
LBJ: Ok. I...
RC: I don't really think he had actual possession. I think he
had something, he had constructive possession part of the time.
We have evidence the material was given to him before this. At
the Archives longer than this. Nobody at Archives knew it was
there. Mrs. Lincoln had some storage space including some security
vaults because she was working over there on the President's
papers and all [for the] Presidential Library. [Of] Course people
had the keys, 'course things filed up. (garbled)
LBJ: (sighing) Ok. I'll talk to you later. (abruptly hanging
doctors had not seen the photos before the visit to the Archives
on January 20, 1967. Commander Humes testimony before the Warren
Commission, Vol. 11, page 372:
Commander HUMES. We exposed both
black and white and color
negatives, Congressman. They were exposed in the morgue during
the examination. They were not developed. The Kodachrome negatives
when developed would be 405. They were in film carriers or
as were the black and white. Of course they could be magnified.
Representative FORD. Have those
been examined by personnel at Bethesda?
Commander HUMES. No, sir. We exposed these negatives; we turned
over. Here I must ask the counsel again for advice to the Secret
Mr. SPECTER. Yes; it was the Secret Service.
Commander HUMES. They were turned over to the Secret Service
their cassettes unexposed, and I have not seen any of them
is the photographs. The X-rays were developed in our X-ray
on the spot that evening, because we had to see those right
then as part
of our examination, but the photographs were made for the record
for other purposes.
Representative FORD. But they had never been actually developed
Commander HUMES. I do not know, sir. back
B. Humes, Boswell
and Finck at National Archives The
autopsy physicians were requested by the Department of Justice
to examine the x-rays and photographs for the purpose of
determining whether they are consistent with the autopsy
Humes testimony before the Warren Commission stating that photographs
were taken of the chest. Vol. 11, page 363:
It, therefore, was our opinion
that the missile while not penetrating
physically the pleural cavity, as it passed that point bruised
missile itself, or the force of its passage through the tissues,
the parietal and the visceral pleura. The area of discoloration
apical portion of the right upper lung measured five centimeters
greatest diameter, and was wedge shaped in configuration, with
base toward the top of the chest and its apex down towards
of the lung. Once again Kodachrome photographs were
made of this area
in the interior of the President's chest. back
- April 26, 1965: RFK gets autopsy
materials transferred from USSS to
Kennedy family, with the help of Admiral Burkley, military
Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. That day an inventory is made
and signed by Burkley, Kellerman, Bouck, and others. Item #
1 on the
list is a broken casket handle; item # 9 is a listing of numerous
plus autopsy documents.
- October 28, 1966: Burke Marshall's
Deed Of Gift Letter to GSA Knott
for transfer of the autopsy materials to the archives has an
listing both the clothing and the autopsy materials. Its wording
the April 26, 1965 transfer inventory verbatim, except that
items #1 and
#9 have been taken off the list and the list has been re-numbered
#1 through #7.
- October 31, 1966: When Archives
personnel open the Kennedy footlocker on
the day of physical transfer, both Kennedy family reps (Burke
Angie Novello) leave the room immediately as soon as the footlocker
opened, and before an inventory is taken. On this date, Archives
note that items # 1 and # 9 on the original April 65 transfer
are missing. Fortunately, the Archives staff was on the ball.
If they had
only looked at the Burke Marshall letter (and not compared
it to the April
26, 1965 transfer list), they would not have known anything
- 1966: Inspector Thomas Kelley
of the USSS writes memo of
meeting with Mr. Van Cleve of GSA which several govt officials
which they all express concern about the missing "item
# 9" materials, which
include what was presumably a brain, numerous tissue slides,
the original and
7 copies of the autopsy report (the real original?), and memos
- February 1968: An inquiry by
a panel of pathologists appointed by Attorney
General Ramsey Clark who examined the available autopsy
and x-rays. This includes an inventory of items examined. back
(information by Doug Horne)
of Autopsy Materials HSCA Volume VII back
Thanks to Gregory Burnham for bringing this audio tape to
The transcript was made by Debra Conway from a cassette tape
supplied by the LBJ Presidential Library.
Here are some key incidents and dates from BEST EVIDENCE:
||Salandria critique of medical
evidence published in Liberation
||Secret Service transfers autopsy
photos, X-rays, brain, and slides of tissue sections to
||Epstein interviews Liebeler;
obtains FBI reports
||INQUEST published; implies Commission
||RUSH TO JUDGEMENT published;
Sibert and O'Neill report published
||Lifton/Liebeler meeting regarding
"surgery" statement in FBI report
||Kennedy's donate X-rays and photos
to National Archives under special conditions restricting
acess for five years
||Humes, Boswell, Stringer, and
Ebersole examine and create inventory of collection at
||Lifton contacts FBI Agent Sibert
regarding statement about surgery
Liebeler sends out memo on
autopsy X-rays and photographs, including reference to
Lifton discovery of surgery statement in Sibert and O'Neill
FBI Asst. Director Rosen writes memo responding to
Lifton letter to FBI, and to Sibert airtel to headquarters
regarding the surgery statement
||Justice Dept. requests Secret
Service establish chain of possession on X-rays and photographs
||Humes, Boswell, and Finck reveiw
the X-rays and photographs
||Clark Panel convenes to examine
X-rays and photographs
||Clark Panel report released
||Dr. Finck testifies at Shaw trial
||Five year restriction on X-rays and photos
||Dr. Lattimer sees X-rays and photographs
||Dr.Wecht sees X-rays and photographs
||Rockefeller Commission examines X-rays and
||Congress creates House Select Committee on
||Drs. Boswell and Humes appear in closed session
||Humes testifies in public; Ida Dox drawings
of autopsy photographs shown on national television; X-rays
Evidence Articles on the Lancer
Clark Oral Histories: LBJ Library