'Overwhelming Evidence Oswald Was the Assassin'

A 1966 U.S. News & World Report interview with Arlen Specter, assistant counsel for the Warren Commission.

President John F. Kennedy waves to onlookers approximately one minute before he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Fifty years later, conspiracy theories still abound.
+ More

Is there more to the assassination story than appears in the mass of testimony and findings made public by the Warren Commission? In this exclusive interview with Arlen Specter, the lawyer who investigated the physical facts, you get in precise detail what the evidence proves about that fateful day in Dallas three years ago.

[READ MORE: JFK: 50 Years Later]

Q: Mr. Specter, were you the Warren Commission's chief investigator on the facts about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- how many shots, where the shots came from, other facts?

A: I would not describe my role at all beyond what appears in the work of the Warren Commission. It is possible from the notes of testimony to observe that I was responsible for taking the testimony of Governor Connally, Mrs. Connally, the autopsy surgeons, the doctors from Dallas, the wound-ballistics experts — so that is apparent from the area what my role was. But I think, as an assistant counsel for the Commission, it would be presumptuous of me to characterize my role as that of "chief investigator" on a key part of the assassination investigation.

Q: You indicated you were responsible for the evidence concerning the autopsy. Is it your understanding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation did get a copy of the final, official autopsy report?

A: I would have no way of being able to state categorically what distribution there was on the autopsy report. I do know that the autopsy report from Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell and Dr. Finck was in the hands of the Commission early in January when I joined the Commission, so that the Commission had it at that point. I would presume the FBI had it. [Comdr. James J. Humes, Comdr. J. Thornton Boswell, and Lieut. Col. Pierre A. Finck were the pathologists from the armed forces who performed the detailed autopsy of President Kennedy. Dr. Humes was chief autopsy surgeon.]

Q: You have no certain knowledge that the FBI had it?

A: Oh, absolutely not — I had no way of knowing precisely when the FBI got which documents which were not under their general investigative ken.

Q: How do you explain the difference between the autopsy report and the FBI's report of December 9 on President Kennedy's wounds — the FBI having reported that one bullet went in only to a finger's length, whereas the autopsy report said it went through the President's neck?

A: The FBI's report in early December reflected the doctors' comments overheard by FBI agents who were present at the autopsy. Those comments were based on factors which were originally thought to be true on the night of the autopsy, when there was relatively limited information available to the doctors actually performing the autopsy.

At that time, the autopsy surgeons did not know that there had been a bullet hole on the front of the President's neck. The bullet hole on the front of the President's neck had been obliterated by the tracheotomy performed by the Parkland [Hospital] doctors in Dallas. [Parkland doctors cut a hole in the President's windpipe in an effort to help him breathe.]

The autopsy surgeons, on the night of November 22, had very limited information. For example, when they started their autopsy, they knew that there was a hole at the base of the back of the neck and a finger could probe between two large strap muscles and penetrate to a very slight extent.

The autopsy surgeons in Washington also knew that there had been external heart massage applied at Dallas. They also had the fragment of information that a whole bullet had been found on a Dallas stretcher. So it was a preliminary observation, or a very tentative theory, which was advanced in the early stage of the autopsy, that the bullet might have penetrated a short distance into the back of the President's neck and been forced out by external heart massage, and that the bullet might have been the whole bullet which was found on the stretcher in Dallas.

When we first reviewed the FBI reports, we were very much concerned with that tentative autopsy conclusion which had been formulated. But, when we later took testimony from the autopsy surgeons and had the whole picture, knowing more — for example, the evidence of the path of the bullet through the President's neck, showing that it entered between two large strap muscles and then went over the top of the pleural cavity and sliced the trachea and exited in a hole in the front of the neck, or at least showing that there was a bullet path through the President's neck, without getting at this juncture into the question of whether the bullet entered or exited in the front of the neck — when this whole picture was presented later, it was apparent that the preliminary conversations reported in the FBI document were only tentative.