Phone Conversation between Acting Attorney General Ramsey Clark and President Lyndon Johnson Re: Autopsy Photos

Date: 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 government."


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 conclude.

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 photo.

LBJ: Ah uh. Well, they weren't actually in his possession, were they?

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 up)



1A.The autopsy 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 cassettes, 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 them over. Here I must ask the counsel again for advice to the Secret Service. Mr. SPECTER. Yes; it was the Secret Service. Commander HUMES. They were turned over to the Secret Service in their cassettes unexposed, and I have not seen any of them since. This is the photographs. The X-rays were developed in our X-ray department 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 and for other purposes. Representative FORD. But they had never been actually developed for viewing. Commander HUMES. I do not know, sir. back to text

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 report. back to text

2. Commander 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 either the missile itself, or the force of its passage through the tissues, bruised both the parietal and the visceral pleura. The area of discoloration on the apical portion of the right upper lung measured five centimeters in greatest diameter, and was wedge shaped in configuration, with its base toward the top of the chest and its apex down towards the substance of the lung. Once again Kodachrome photographs were made of this area in the interior of the President's chest. back to text

3. Relevant dates are:

  • April 26, 1965: RFK gets autopsy materials transferred from USSS to Kennedy family, with the help of Admiral Burkley, military physician to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. That day an inventory is made out 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 body parts, 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 attachment listing both the clothing and the autopsy materials. Its wording matches 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 to read #1 through #7.
  • October 31, 1966: When Archives personnel open the Kennedy footlocker on the day of physical transfer, both Kennedy family reps (Burke Marshall and Angie Novello) leave the room immediately as soon as the footlocker is opened, and before an inventory is taken. On this date, Archives personnel note that items # 1 and # 9 on the original April 65 transfer inventory list 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 was amiss.
  • 1966: Inspector Thomas Kelley of the USSS writes memo of meeting with Mr. Van Cleve of GSA which several govt officials attended, in 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 on autopsy photography.
  • February 1968: An inquiry by a panel of pathologists appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clarkwho examined the available autopsy photographs and x-rays. This includes an inventory of items examined. back to text (information by Doug Horne)

4. History of Autopsy Materials HSCA Volume VII back to text

Thanks to Gregory Burnham for bringing this audio tape to our attention. 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:

 3/65 Salandria critique of medical evidence published in Liberation
 4/26/65 Secret Service transfers autopsy photos, X-rays, brain, and slides of tissue sections to Robert Kennedy
 5/31/65 Epstein interviews Liebeler; obtains FBI reports
 5/66 INQUEST published; implies Commission changed autopsy
 8/66 RUSH TO JUDGEMENT published; Sibert and O'Neill report published
 10/24/66 Lifton/Liebeler meeting regarding "surgery" statement in FBI report
 10/29/66 Kennedy's donate X-rays and photos to National Archives under special conditions restricting acess for five years
 11/1/66 Humes, Boswell, Stringer, and Ebersole examine and create inventory of collection at Archives.
 11/2/66 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 report

FBI Asst. Director Rosen writes memo responding to Lifton letter to FBI, and to Sibert airtel to headquarters regarding the surgery statement

 1/67 Justice Dept. requests Secret Service establish chain of possession on X-rays and photographs
 1/26/67 Humes, Boswell, and Finck reveiw the X-rays and photographs
 2/68 Clark Panel convenes to examine X-rays and photographs
 1/17/69 Clark Panel report released
 2/24/69 Dr. Finck testifies at Shaw trial
 10/71 Five year restriction on X-rays and photos expires
 1/7/72 Dr. Lattimer sees X-rays and photographs
 8/23-24/72 Dr.Wecht sees X-rays and photographs
 4/75 Rockefeller Commission examines X-rays and photographs
 10/76 Congress creates House Select Committee on Assassinations
 9/16/77 Drs. Boswell and Humes appear in closed session
 9/7/78 Humes testifies in public; Ida Dox drawings of autopsy photographs shown on national television; X-rays also shown.



Medical Evidence Articles on the Lancer Web Site

Ramsey Clark Oral Histories: LBJ Library



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