Of the many mysteries that still surround the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years after it happened, the puzzle of the president’s missing brain is perhaps the most vexing. After Kennedy’s autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, his remaining brain tissue was placed in a special container, with the intention of preserving it in the National Archives, along with other evidence from the assassination.
But sometime after the autopsy, Kennedy’s brain disappeared. Its fate remains unknown today.
Now an author says he has solved the mystery. The president’s brother, then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, stole the brain because he was worried it would reveal that the president abused drugs.
That conclusion appears in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James Swanson, a book to be published in November.
The 50th anniversary of the assassination takes place on Nov. 22 of this year. Kennedy was shot to death as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, on that date in 1963. An ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, though he too was murdered — on live, national TV — just two days later.
While a special commission headed by then-Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren conducted an investigation concluding that Oswald acted entirely alone, there has long been widespread suspicion that Kennedy was assassinated as the result of a broader-based plot, and that the fatal shots were fired not from behind Kennedy where Oswald was allegedly positioned, but from in front of him.
In this theory, the gunman would have been positioned behind a fence on an embankment that soon became known as “the grassy knoll.”
The missing brain, some believe, would show evidence that the fatal shots came from in front, ruling out Oswald as the assassin. But author Swanson scoffs at that notion.
“My conclusion is that Robert Kennedy did take his brother’s brain — not to conceal evidence of a conspiracy but perhaps to conceal evidence of the true extent of President Kennedy’s illnesses, or perhaps to conceal evidence of the number of medications that President Kennedy was taking,” Swanson says.
Conspiracy theories of the assassination were the subject of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK. After that film’s release, the government agreed to release millions of previously concealed documents relating to the assassination, after a panel reviewed them.
One of the chief analysts for the Assassinations Records Review Board, Douglas Horne, examined autopsy photographs of Kennedy’s brain. In 1998, he issued a report saying the photos showed a brain that was not Kennedy’s.
“That can mean only one thing -- that there has been a cover-up of the medical evidence,” Horne wrote at the time.
The use of a bogus brain in the photos could bolster the official conclusion that the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head came from the rear, rather then the front as the real, but still missing brain might reveal, say critics of the Warren Commission conclusions.
Robert Kennedy was himself cut down by an assassin in 1968.
SOURCES: New York Post, Vanity Fair, The Consortium