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Testimony of David Lifton

ARRB in Los Angeles, 9/17/96

Our next witness is Mr. David Lifton.  Mr. Lifton is the author of Best

Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. 

Kennedy.  It's a book that focused on the medical evidence in the 

case and he's currently working on a book about Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Welcome, Mr. Lifton.


Author of Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the

Assassination of John F. Kennedy

MR. LIFTON:  Chairman Tunheim, Members of the Review Board, I 

want to thank you for asking me to testify here today.  From 

everything I've observed the Review Board is doing excellent in 

getting classified documents released to the extent allowed by law.

In addition, although I know you are not chartered by Congress to 

reinvestigate, I suspect that when you close shop the record will 

show that you have taken the most significant steps possible to 

clarify the record 33 years after the event.  

Although transcripts have not been released, the fact that you have

deposed the three autopsy doctors and the autopsy photographer 

constitutes a significant milestone and indicates your seriousness 

of purpose in attempting to answer unanswered questions while 

there's still an opportunity to do so. 

Because in the final analysis what you believe about the assassination 

of President Kennedy is really a function of what you believe about the 

integrity of the autopsy and the body of the President at the time of 

that autopsy.

On a personal level let me provide an example in another area of what 

this law has meant to me, and would mean to any future researcher 

or historian who wants to discuss the planning of the Dallas trip and 

particularly how the motorcade route was selected.  Jerry Bruno, 

who worked closely with JFK was the political advanceman for the 

Dallas trip.  The Warren Commission never interviewed him.  Not only 

didn't they interview him they didn't appear to know who he was.  I 

have seen one memo in the Archives in which one Warren Commission

attorney said, he heard there was a Bruno connected with the 

planning of the trip.  Maybe they should look into that.  Well, they 

never did.

Bruno's role was first discussed in the William Manchester book, Death 

of a President.  In 1971 Bruno published his own book, Advance Man, 

with Jeff Greenfield, who we regularly see on ABC evening news, a 

book in which he spelled out in detail the argument between himself 

and Governor Connally and other Texas political players over the 

Dallas luncheon site, which in turn determined the motorcade route.

In 1976 the House Select Committee on Assassinations was created.

I went to Washington, D.C. spoke with Belford Larson the staff 

attorney in charge of that area.  He too had never heard of Bruno and

was unaware of the fact that Bruno had written a book.  I told him 

who Bruno was and why he must be called.  The document Belford 

Larson wrote summarizing my meeting with him is now available.  In 

1978 Bruno was deposed by the HSCA, but when the HSCA report 

was released in 1979 the transcript of his testimony was not included 

in the published documents.  In fact, it had been placed under seal 

for 50 years, which meant it would be available in 2028, 28 years past 

the millennium.  Maybe by that time we'll know whether there's life 

on Mars.  Now, in 1994, as a result of the JFK Act that transcript if 

available, and it is immensely important.  

I would like you to know what this law has meant to me in terms of my

own time scale.  I was 31 years old when I read Bruno's book, 36 years 

old when I met with HSCA and said call Bruno, you must call Bruno, 

38 years old when he was deposed in a closed-door session, 40 years 

old when the HSCA report was released, and I found to my chagrin 

that the Bruno testimony was locked up for 50 years.  And then two 

years ago when I was 54, and because of this law, I was finally able 

to read Bruno's sworn testimony, for which I believe I was 

somewhat responsible.

Future generations will not have to go through that process pursuing 

an assassination record for the better part of a lifetime.  And I 

commend the Congress for passing this law and a Review Board for 

doing their level best to implement it.

My main reason for appearing here today is to discuss my imminent 

transfer to the ARRB of my earliest and most significant interviews 

of Parkland and Bethesda medical witnesses, an important part of 

the database for my book, Best Evidence.  I'm not here to propound

or defend any theories, but rather to lay the ground work for making

available to future generations of researchers substantial portions

of the data on which I rely.  

When I interviewed these doctors, and other witnesses, starting in 

'66, I asked questions no one had thought to ask before.  For example, 

what was the length of the tracheotomy incision made in Dallas?  

The value of these accounts are that these are the earliest answers 

on record to these new and significant questions.  

Jumping ahead to 1982.  When I had obtained the autopsy 

photographs made available via an intermediary by a retired Secret 

Service agent, James Fox, I brought these photographs to Dallas 

and was the first person to show several of the Dallas medical 

staff the pictures, basically asking is this what you saw?  The 

Commission never did that, nor did the House Select Committee 

13 years later in their investigation.  None of the Dallas doctors

were ever shown autopsy photographs by any official 

investigative body.  My 1982 and '83 interviews in which I did 

exactly that are on the list of what I am donating in addition to 

the imminent transfer of my audio tape interviews, which I've

already agreed to with Mr. Samoluk. I'm also willing to provide 

transcripts of my 1989 and '90 filmed interviews with several of 

these same doctors, if desired.

Turning now to the report of the two agents who attended the 

autopsy, James Sibert and Francis O'Neill.  I interviewed Sibert 

in early November 1966 questioning him about the statement in 

his FBI report in which he quotes the head pathologist at 

Bethesda autopsy, Commander Humes, is saying it was 

"apparent" that when the President's body had been put on 

the table there had been "surgery of the head area namely in 

the top of the skull."  Sibert said the statement was true.  I tape 

recorded the conversation.  I am donating a reference copy of 

that tape to the ARRB for transfer to the JFK Records 

Collection.  And for those concerned with the taping of telephone

conversations this was 30 years when the laws were quite 

different and in any event all statutes have run and I might add 

that I only tape recorded the FBI in cases of national security.

I interviewed Commander Humes, the lead autopsy pathologist, 

on November 2nd, 1966 and November 3rd, 1966, just days after 

he had been shown the Kennedy autopsy photographs for the 

first time. I also questioned him about the surgery statement and 

the Sibert/O'Neill report.  Substantial portions of those 

conversations are printed in my book.  I am donated high quality

reference copies, computer enhanced I might add, to the ARRB 

for transfer to the JFK Records Collection.

In 1967 I interviewed Godfrey McHugh, Kennedy's Air Force aid 

who attended the autopsy in attempting to develop a chain-of-

possession on the President's body, something the Warren 

Commission never did.  I interviewed the members of the 

military casket team who transported the Dallas coffin from 

Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda Naval Hospital.  These 

include General Phillip Wehle, the Commandant, or the 

Commander, of the Military District of Washington as well 

as all the members of the team which met Air Force One 

upon its arrival from Dallas.  The same squad, as it turned 

out, who escorted the body to grave site on Monday, 

November 25th.  The members of the casket team include 

Hubert Clark, the young sailor from New York; James LeRoy 

Felder, the Army Sergeant from South Carolina; Timothy 

Cheek for the Marines from Florida; Coast Guardsman George 

Barnum from Lake City, Minnesota and Army Special Fourth

Class Douglas Mayfield from San Diego.  I even interviewed 

Lieutenant Burr the Army Captain whose memory was largely 

lost by 1967 when he took a bullet in the head in Vietnam, and 

who I was able to speak with when a nurse brought a 

telephone to his bedside at the hospital where he was 

recuperating from his near fatal wounds.  What hospital, 

John F. Kennedy Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

None of these men were interviewed by the Commission.  

Moreover, I am also contributing my copy of Coast Guardsman 

George Barnum's written report made in December, '63, an 

account of which has many valuable details and one that was

written because a relative of his, who had a connection -- a 

distant connection with the Lincoln assassination from a 

previous generation - told young George write everything 

down it may be important.  Well, it is.

Finally, I have brought with me today a very special copy of 

the Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination.  And 

this relates somewhat to what attorney Belin was referring to

earlier.  As everyone knows the original was an eight 

millimeter positive.  Copies of that film were immediately made 

for the FBI and the Secret Service, and within days Zapruder 

sold the original to Time Life.  Although it was reported at the 

time that he obtained $25,000 for his film.  In fact, the contract, 

which I provided ARRB shows he was paid $150,000.  And that 

would be about a half million dollars today.  I disagree with 

Belin who said it would be a million.  I had a banker compute 

this and that's one of the many things we would probably 

disagree on is the rate of inflation since 1963.  The payments

were made in a series of six $25,000 payments that occurred 

shortly after the first of each year through 1968.  Despite the 

substantial price paid for the film, for all rights, it was not

exploited by Time Life as a motion picture film, i. e., it was 

never shown on TV or sold in any documentary form as a 

moving pictures.  No newsreels, no TV specials, nothing.  Yet 

one of the most controversial aspects of the film were never 

addressed by the Warren Commission was the violent 

backward motion of the head depicted on the frames

following the fatal shot.  What this means has been debated

back and forth over the years.  Passions run high on both 

sides.  For reasons I never understand, the Warren 

Commission failed to address the issue.  In other words, 

if we're to believe the record, the Warren Commission 

apparently didn't notice the very thing which has fueled the 

assassination debate for three decades.  And of course the

public didn't even know it was an issue because Time Life 

chose not to show it as a motion picture film after paying 

$150,000 for those exclusive rights.  I might add, Professor 

Liebeler appeared here this morning and put the B.K. Jones

report, a fellow from UCLA, on the table here and his 

contributing it.  Thank you very much Professor Liebeler we

already have that in the Archives.  That was contributed 15 

or 20 years ago with the Rockefeller Commission when that 

was already submitted to try to explain the backward snap 

of the head.  But in anyway it's being resubmitted and I 

suppose there's no real danger in recycling that sort of thing.  

The film is important for another reason.  Because Zapruder 

was filming through a telephoto lens, some of the frames 

show the wounds and so the film constitutes an unusual 

photographic record of the President's wounds in Dallas. 

In order to do any work with the Zapruder film, whether 

about the wounds or about the motions shown, the velocity,

the car, et cetera, the clearest possible copy is required.  In 

commercial production applications a device known as an 

optical printer is normally used to copy motion picture film 

frame by frame particularly if blowups are to be made.  But 

optical printers are not designed to accept home movies 

which are an eight millimeter format.  In 1967 Life sent the 

film to Manhattan Effects, later EFX, a New York City film lab.

Where film technician Moses Weitzman designed a device

permitting a high quality full commercial optical printer to 

accept an 8 millimeter home movie film.  Then in one fell 

swoop he enlarged the Zapruder film from 8 millimeter to 35 

millimeter format.  The kind used in standard motion picture

work.  The result is stunning as anyone knows who has seen 

the movie, JFK, or who has purchased a laser disk copy of 

that film.  One reason for the clarity is that Weitzman used a

liquid gate, or a wet gate as it's called, which permits a liquid

of the same index of refraction as the emulsion of the film to

come in contact with the frame when it is imaged.  The result

is that scratches are eliminated or greatly reduced in the copy.

The very best of these 35 millimeter negatives and inter-

positives were given to the customer Time Life and I would 

hope that Review Board would attempt to locate these with 

all resources you have available to you.  They are a priceless

record of our history.  But with regard to the 35 millimeter 

negatives, known as technician copies, which Weitzman kept

in his lab, these he gave to another researcher and they 

remain as they always have, completely unavailable to the

research community.  But in 1990 before that transfer took 

place, I had the opportunity to work with one of these 35 

millimeter negatives.  The best of the lot I'm told.  One which

had been loaned to the producer of the TV show, Nova,  by 

Weitzman. First I supervised making high quality timed liquid 

gate contact interpositives.  Then, using funds provided by 

several researchers - and this project cost between 10 and

$15,000 - I rented the services of an optical lab in New York 

and for about a week I worked at the optical printer taking 

the next step that would be necessary by an archivist in order 

to preserve the record and create a progenitor for all future 

35 millimeter prints.  Operating the printer myself I also made 

high quality liquid gate interpositives from the 35 millimeter 

negative.  Then I made interpositive blowup sequences directly

from that same 35 millimeter interneg.  Some focusing on 

Kennedy, some on Connally, some on the two Secret Service 

agents in the front of the car.  

I'm holding here one of those 35 millimeter interpositives.  It's 

a timed liquid gate contact interpositive, which I am today 

donating to the ARRB for placement in the JFK Records 

Collection.  From this archival item, this 35 millimeter 

interpositive, it should be possible to make many negative 

positive pairs.  That is, this 35 millimeter interpositive can be 

the progenitor of many 35 millimeter internegatives and they 

in turn can be used to create 35 millimeter positives, whether 

they be slides or motion picture film.  Although I defer to 

Moses Weitzman, you can call this item the Lifton interpositive

made from the Weitzman internegative.  I cannot over 

emphasize the high quality of the original Weitzman 

internegative.  One researcher who has worked in this area 

tells me that although he has bought rights for the film from 

the Zapruder family, when it comes to actually using pictures 

for his book, the negative from this interpositive, producers' 

positive images that are clearer than he can obtain from the

corresponding source item at the National Archives.  It does 

not surprise me that this is the case because Weitzman is a

fine technical person and the internegative he made, which 

was done in 1967, is certainly equal and probably better than

anything made by Life for the FBI or Secret Service back in

'63 and '64, and may be better than anything made today in 

1996 depending upon what has happened to the original film

over the intervening decades.

With regard to this item, I am donating this negative to the 

ARRB without any copyright claim whatsoever.  This copy 

has one limitation, the left hand 20 percent.  The images 

between the sprocket hole is not visible precisely because 

it was copied on a standard commercial optical printer.  

Which brings me to my final point.  I would like the Zapruder 

family, i.e., the LMH Company, to donate the original Zapruder 

film to the JFK Collection in the National Archives.  As 

mentioned before, they were paid $150,000 from 1963 through

1968.  Plus the contract indicates additional monies from foreign 

and other sales.  Then about 1975 Life sold the film back to 

Zapruder for $1.00.  Then the process started again.  The film 

remains in the control of the Zapruder family.  Tens of thousands

of dollars have been flowing to the Zapruder family every time 

a significant Kennedy assassination anniversary rolls around.

Every time any producer or network or broadcast entity wants 

to do a film on this subject.  To the Zapruder family I ask, when is 

enough enough.  I have been in too many situations where

people, serious researchers or producers, could not use this 

film because they could not afford it.  I myself could not use the

Zapruder film in the best evidence research video.  A serious 

video dealing with issues pertaining to the autopsy and 

distributed nationally by Rhino Video via MCA, because of the 

extraordinary $1.00 per cassette charge that Henry Zapruder, 

Abe's son, told me, "Sounded about right for a royalty."  And 

so we use a diagram instead.  And so I say to the Zapruder 

family, donate this film to the National Archives, not a copy but 

the original.   It is the Rosetta Stone for this case and the issue 

now is authenticity.  If the film has not been tampered with 

then it is an accurate record of the wounds and it is a time clock 

of the assassination.  However, and more importantly, if the 

film has been tampered with in some way, as may has alleged 

and I might add  I believe, then that matter must be investigated

in the future.  In short, it represents an assassination record 

that has to be clarified and that cannot be done properly by 

examining a copy.  This is the week to do it, Mr. Zapruder.  

Inscribe yourself in the book of life forever.  Donate your 

father's film to the JFK Collection at the National Archives. 

Remove all copyright constraints, it is the right thing to do.  

I am now handing over a list of audio interviews I intend to be 

donating to the Archives, plus this film.

Again, I want to thank the Review Board for the work they are 

doing.  I think few people in the public realize the enormous 

number of documents involved or the complications involved 

in organizing such a huge database and clearing it for release.

Thank you all.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM:  Thank you very much, Mr. Lifton.  Thank 

you so much for the donations.  They are very significant and I 

think will be very helpful to the interest of the American public.  

Any questions for Mr. Lifton?

(No response.)

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