Aunt Margaret's Skirts and Bullet Fragment Taping

The lateral X-ray contains two pencil lines on it. You can see these in just about any published version if you look closely. The two lines meet about 2.5 cm above the point of the EOP. The lower line is horizontal and is drawn through the nasion (the bridge of the nose). The upper line extends toward the coronal suture at about a 30-degree angle. What do these lines represent? Could they mark a trajectory from a low entry point near the EOP?

The HSCA and the ARRB asked the radiology staff about these lines. Unfortunately, their memory has faded over the years and the accounts don't match up. Jerrol Custer said he saw Ebersole draw the pencil lines the night of the autopsy. Ebersole thought he was the one who drew the lines too, but that he drew them at the White House.

According to Ebersole, he was asked to go to the White House to make measurements of the skull in the autopsy X-rays for use by a sculptor making a bust of JFK. On page 12 of his HSCA deposition, he states that "one of the key measurements that we wanted to make was from on [sic] the base of the nose to the estimated point of the exit." I don't see why a sculptor would care about the point of exit.

After viewing the original X-ray, he said he drew the horizontal line "to identify definitely the lower line running from the naison." (The word "naison" is not only misspelled here, but the deposition seems to be edited here so the phrase "from the naison" replaces a 29-character phrase.) He said the second line was an attempt to "get a line from the high point of the forehead back to the occipital."

The lower, horizontal line from the nasion to the back of the head does seem to be a distance a sculptor would like to know. And perhaps the distance from there to the high point of the forehead, or from the back to the forehead, is a useful vertical measurement. Again, Ebersole stresses that he was told the measurements were for a sculpture and he was not doing a ballistic analysis.

After making and giving the White House measurements from the X-ray, he had to go back to the lab to correct for the magnification factors. He said he X-rayed a skull back at the lab on the portable equipment to determine the correction factors. Once he had the factors he said he had to phone Dr. Young at the White House and use an expression like, "Aunt Margaret's skirts needed the following change, and gave him the numbers to multiply the numbers I had previously provided from examining the X-rays at the White House Annex."


Jerrol Custer and the Fragments

Jerrol Custer, one of the radiological technicians at the autopsy, testified to the ARRB in October of 1997 that he took X-rays of the skull fragments that arrived from Dallas (X-rays #4, 5, and 6) the following morning. He said Ebersole told him to tape 3 or 4 metal fragments of varying sizes to the bones and make different exposures at different distances. These X-rays were for the purpose of obtaining measurements for the making of a bust of Kennedy. He used the portable machine. (pages 143 - 144)

If his memory is correct, then it is truly bizarre that a sculptor would need to know the sizes of the skull fragments and to have metal fragments taped to them. And if true, it would negate any forensic value the fragment X-rays have. However, it is quite likely that Custer simply misremembers and is confusing two similar X-ray sessions.

When Ebersole was shown the skull fragment X-rays at his HSCA deposition, he immediately noted the better quality of the images compared to the other autopsy X-rays and attributed this to making the fragment X-rays on Bethesda's regular, non-portable machine up in the Radiation Department.

The job of making the X-ray is almost always left to the technicians. Custer was the senior one, so he likely would have been the one doing it. (Reed doesn't remember taking X-rays of the fragments.) A reasonable scenario emerges:

  1. The skull fragments arrive from Dallas the night of the autopsy. These are brought upstairs to the Radiation Department where Custer X-rays them on the regular, higher quality, equipment. He does not tape metal fragments to them. The metallic fragments are noted the night of the autopsy. Sibert and O'Neill's report states on page 5: "Also during the latter stages of the autopsy, a piece of the skull measuring 10 x 6.5 centimeters was brought to Dr. HUMES who was instructed that this had been removed from the Presidentís skull. Immediately this section of skull was X-rayed, at which time it was determined by Dr. HUMES that one corner of this section revealed minute metal particles and inspection of this same area disclosed a chipping of the top portion of this piece, both of which indicated that this had been the point of exit of the bullet entering the skull region."
  2. 14 X-rays are signed over the night of the autopsy, and every inventory made after that show 14 X-rays with 3 of them being the skull fragment X-rays. Thus, the skull fragments were X-rayed that night (but perhaps after midnight).
  3. At some point in the following days, Ebersole is asked to go to the White House. He makes his measurements and goes back to Bethesda to work out the magnification factors. He has to use the portable machine to get the correct factors. He asks Custer, whose job it is to take X-rays, to use the portable machine to X-ray a skull with a piece or pieces of metal taped to it. Custer stated in an interview four years prior to his ARRB deposition, in the 8/31/92 edition of the radiology magazine Advance, that Ebersole told him to take X-rays of a "bullet fragment taped to a skull." In his ARRB deposition, he stated that he used the portable machine.

So, nothing is suspicious about Custer being asked to tape and X-ray bullet fragments. Whether he actually used bullet fragments or a piece of metal of known size is not known. Custer seems to misremember and confuses his X-raying of the skull fragments with his later X-raying of the skull.

Ebersole's story is not suspicious either. Either the White House really was trying to get some basic measurements from the X-ray, or perhaps they were trying to do a ballistic analysis and wanted to determine the sizes of various features and metal fragments.

Back to The Low Entrance Wound Contents