Conspiracy Theories, Mysteries

JFK’s missing brain: did the people protecting the grassy knoll shooter steal it?

No joke. Sometime after the autopsy of assassinated president John F. Kennedy, someone nicked his brain. And it’s been missing ever since.

I did quite a bit of digging on this one, half-convinced the missing brain story was a fiction or hoax that had been re-reported as fact in mainstream media, thereby becoming an urban legend. A bit like the Andrew Carlssin and Rudolph Fentz time travel stories.

But then I found this. These are real government documents from the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of both JFK and Martin Luther King Jr.

According to these documents, the autopsy materials were transferred to Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s personal secretary, for safekeeping at the National Archives in 1965 and placed in a locked footlocker. The materials included preserved tissue samples, blood slides and a stainless-steel container that contained “gross material”. (Let’s assume the pathologists are referring to the “total amount” of the body parts removed, not how revolting it is.) The documents mention a Dr George Burkley—JFK’s personal physician—and says that Dr Burkley clarified “that the stainless-steel container mentioned in the inventory held the brain”.

Then, on Halloween 1966, the locker was inspected and it was discovered that all of the items stored there, including JFK’s brain, were missing. The materials have never been seen since and we still to this day don’t know where they are.

Theft by dark forces?

The assassination of President Kennedy continues to be marred by conspiracy theories. Many still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not acting alone on 22nd November 1963. You’ve probably heard of the ‘magic bullet’, where the Warren Commission said that a single bullet caused all the wounds to Governor Connolly and the non-fatal wounds to JFK, even though that bullet supposedly would’ve had to change trajectory in mid-air. And the eyewitnesses who heard gunshots coming from the grassy knoll and scurried towards the fence at the top to investigate. And the Zapruder footage, which seems to show the fatal bullet hitting JFK from the front and knocking him backwards, showing that it came from the direction of the grassy knoll, not the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald was. (A lot of this was famously dramatised in Oliver Stone’s JFK.)

Picture of JFK taken at the autopsy

Conspiracy theorists believe that there was a second shooter, working with Oswald and firing from the grassy knoll. The grassy knoll shooter is the one who fired the other bullet that contributed to JFK’s non-fatal wounds and the injuries to Governor Connolly, which the ‘magic bullet’ couldn’t have done all by itself. The grassy knoll shooter is also credited with the shot that blew half of Kennedy’s skull across the back of the limousine.

Conspiracists contend that the official autopsy results are a lie and that JFK’s brain was stolen to conceal evidence of a frontal wound, to stop the truth about the grassy knoll shooter from coming out.

Theft by Robert Kennedy?

In the documents, the HSCA themselves suggest a different theory: that JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, obtained and disposed of the autopsy materials without telling anyone. The documents offer the speculations of Burke Marshall, the Kennedy family representative, who said, “Robert Kennedy was concerned that these materials would be placed on public display in future years in an institution such as the Smithsonian and wished to dispose of them to eliminate such a possibility.”

In his book, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, James Swanson says he believes Robert Kennedy took his brother’s brain to “conceal evidence of the true extent of President Kennedy’s illnesses” or “the number of medications that President Kennedy was taking”.

The HSCA said that, according to witnesses, Robert Kennedy’s secretary, Angela Novello, removed the footlocker containing the autopsy materials at Robert’s direction. Evelyn Lincoln believed the materials were simply being moved to a different part of the Archives. The HSCA said this constituted circumstantial evidence that Robert Kennedy hid or destroyed his brother’s brain.

However, they admitted that they had no direct evidence of this and were not able to determine precisely what had happened to the missing materials. And unfortunately no one could go question Robert Kennedy about it—he too was assassinated in 1968.

The aliens took it

Some conspiracy theorists claim that JFK was killed because he knew too much about UFOs and was going to share classified UFO information with the world. As a result, the CIA—or perhaps the aliens themselves—bumped him off. Perhaps they took his brain, too! Being assassinated because of his knowledge of aliens was what was implied by that brilliant (and short-lived) TV conspiracy thriller from the 90s, Dark Skies.

On JFK’s death, I’m not sure where I stand. I remember seeing a documentary on the ‘magic bullet’ and being convinced by Oliver Stone’s JFK that there was a grassy knoll shooter. However, new analyses contend that it was possible for a single bullet to do all that damage if you adjust the seating positions of the president and Governor Connolly. And there are plenty of experts who argue that the fatal headshot really did come from the back—the Depository—where Oswald was.

Still, plenty of unanswered questions remain. Accusations of witness intimidation and evidence tampering. Mysterious, unidentified eyewitnesses such as the Umbrella Man and the Babushka Lady. Oswald’s mysterious meeting with a member of the KGB. And JFK’s missing brain has to be the weirdest of them all.  

The truth is… probably not out there anymore. So I guess JFK will just have to rest in pieces.

If you want my (fictional) take on the JFK conspiracy theories (one that entangles Marilyn Monroe and all hers), have a read of my short story, The Babushka Lady. First published in The Chronos Chronicles from Indie Authors Press, it’s now published in my collection, Million Eyes: Extra Time, available for free download from Elsewhen Press.

Next month: the mystery of the Somerton Man

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