A bullet fragment depicted in an autopsy X-ray used to implicate Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy recently has been found to be a faked artifact superimposed on the X-ray sometime after JFK's autopsy.
Such tampering with official evidence could not have been accomplished without the knowledge of high-level federal officials and adds considerable weight to the claims of government cover-up in that tragic event
The X-ray fabrication was the topic of a 2015 paper by Dr. David Dr. Mantik published in issue three of Medical Research Archives, an international scientific peer-reviewed journal publishing articles in all disciplines of medicine, with a focus on new research.
Oswald, an ex-Marine who had attempted to defect to Russia in 1959, was identified in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson's handpicked commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren as the lone assassin of President Kennedy. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had used a 6.5 mm Italian WWII carbine to shoot Kennedy from the sixth-floor of a book depository building in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963.
In 1968, amid controversy over the commission's conclusion, the Justice Department selected four prominent medical experts to review the JFK autopsy evidence. This became known as the Clark Panel, named after then-Atty. General Ramsey Clark.
Although the panels' report was delayed until after the New Orleans JFK conspiracy trial led by Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison, in 1969 it concluded that the Warren Commission had been correct in its major findings though some issues remained in question, such as the location of the president's head wound.
Interestingly, it was this Clark Panel report that first mentioned a fragment said to be from a 6.5 mm bullet found in the anterior-posterior (AP) X-ray of Kennedy's skull. The image of this fragment became a critical piece of evidence, although it was not mentioned anywhere in the 26-volumes of the Warren Commission nor in the original autopsy report.
The fragment in question has been described as "the most curious—and unsolved—mystery in the history of diagnostic radiology."
Larry Sturdivan, a ballistics consultant to the House Select Commission on Assassinations (HSCA), created by Congress in 1976 in the midst of continuing controversy over Kennedy's death, studied this fragment and concluded the object could not be metal and that he had never seen the cross-section of a bullet deposited in such an odd fashion on a skull X-ray. "I'm not sure just what that 6.5 mm fragment is," reported Sturdivan. "One thing I'm sure it is NOT is a cross-section from the interior of a bullet. I have seen literally thousands of bullets, deformed and un-deformed, after penetrating tissue and tissue simulants. Some were bent, some torn in two or more pieces, but to have a cross-section sheared out is physically impossible. That fragment has a lot of mystery associated with it."
Mystery indeed, as the HSCA had relied on the authenticity of this fragment as key evidence in connecting the 6.5 mm bullet piece to Lee Harvey Oswald.
Furthermore, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), formed by Congress in 1994 to study all government documents relating to the assassination, the three JFK autopsy doctors testified under oath that they had never seen such a fragment during the autopsy.
The mystery deepened in 2015 with the work of Dr. David Mantik, a California physician, who along with Dr. Cyril Wecht, a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science, had studied the JFK X-rays and other material for nine days at the National Archives. "Hundreds of optical density measurements were made from the (supposed) original skull X-rays, with a specific focus on the 6.5 mm object that lies within JFK's right orbit on the AP skull X-ray," said Dr. Mantik.
After careful study, Dr. Mantik saw the fragment was strangely transparent. He realized this artifact had been added to the JFK X-ray in the darkroom. He explained it was accomplished by means of a double exposure of a 6.5 mm aperture, such as a 6.5 mm hole in a piece of cardboard. "[T]he first step was to imprint the image from the original X-ray onto a duplicate film (via a light box in the dark room). The second step was another exposure that imprinted the 6.5 mm image onto the duplicate film (i.e., superimposing it over the image of the original X-ray). This duplicate film was then developed to yield the image [as it appears in the X-ray]. This process inevitably produces a phantom effect, whereby objects (e.g., bullet fragments in this case) on the original film are seen separately [emphasis in the original] from the superimposed 6.5 mm image. On JFK's AP skull X-ray, the original metal fragment (that lay at the back of the skull) can be seen separately through the 6.5 mm image."
Dr. Mantik added that the double exposure was so unprofessional it produced a significant overexposure of the 6.5 mm image. He even found one tiny particle of bullet metal inside the 6.5 mm object, indicating the use of a well-known Hollywood technique using photographic double exposure.
Using studies of optical density, which differentiates the lightness or darkness of specific points on X-ray film, Dr. Mantik was able to determine that some time before the 1968 Clark Panel, someone in a darkroom had superimposed the fake bullet fragment onto Kennedy's X-ray.
Following his extensive study of this issue, Dr. Mantik concluded, "This mysterious 6.5 mm image was (secretly) added to the original X- ray via a second exposure. The alteration of the AP X-ray was likely completed shortly after the autopsy. Its proximate purpose was to implicate Lee Harvey Oswald and his supposed 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano carbine, to the exclusion of any other suspect, and thereby to rule out a possible conspiracy."
Dr. Mantik said while the purpose of the X-ray alteration could only have been to "implicate the 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano carbine (supposedly owned by Oswald) in the assassination. Its ultimate purpose, however, awaits resolution by professional historians, who have been remarkably reticent about accepting responsibility for their task."
In his paper, Dr. Mantik identified Dr. John H. Ebersole, the assistant chief radiologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital, as the one person who had the means and opportunity to devise the X-ray forgery. Dr. Ebersole, aided by X-ray technicians Jerrol Custer and Edward Reed, took the X-rays of Kennedy's head the night of the Autopsy. At that time no one saw any evidence of a bullet in the X-rays. Custer said the next day, contrary to protocol, he burned the page in the duty log concerning the taking of Kennedy's X-rays on the order of Dr. Ebersole.
Custer also recalled that after the autopsy he was instructed by Dr. Ebersole to make X-rays of bullet fragments taped onto skull X-rays. However, no such X-rays were ever made public. Mantik opined that probably it was decided "alteration was easier to perform in the darkroom via a double exposure."
Dr. Mantik also found that several weeks after the assassination, Dr. Ebersole was called to the Johnson White House ostensibly to assist in preparing a bust of Kennedy. "More likely, in my opinion, the reason for his summons to the White House was to see how he would react to the now-altered X-rays," said Dr. Mantik. "Based on this episode then, the alteration must have occurred within several weeks (quite possibly immediately) after the assassination."
He added that such actions might "explain why the radiologist, Dr. Ebersole, refused to discuss this artifact with me. After all, he was the single individual most likely to possess the required expertise and creativity to perform X - ray alteration." Dr. Ebersole died in 1993, shortly after his conversation with Dr. Mantik.
In recent years, Custer has even questioned the validity of the X-rays themselves. In 1992, after studying the JFK X-rays in the National Archives, Custer decclared, "These are fake X-rays."
Dr. Mantik's conclusions have been supported by others, including Dr, Michael Chesser, an Arkansas neurologist, who noted, "I viewed the original autopsy skull X-rays at the archives this year  and I confirmed his optical density readings of the lateral skull film, which support his conclusion that there was manipulation. Hopefully there will come a time when better copies of the autopsy x-rays and photographs will be made available for review by a wider audience and the evidence will speak for itself. I applaud Dr. David Mantik for his courage in reporting the truth."
Douglas P. Horne, the ARRB's chief analyst for military records including the Bethesda autopsy, commented. "The fact that Dr. Mantik's scientific paper on the forgery indicators present in the A-P skull x-ray has survived the rigorous gauntlet of scientific peer review is further indication that his arguments about the three surviving JFK skull x-rays are sound, and worthy of the most serious consideration. ... [I]t is no longer possible for others who are not radiologists, or MDs (like he is), or who do not hold PhDs in physics (like he does), to dismiss his work as that of a mere 'enthusiast.'"
"[I]n the mid-1990s, I recognized the scientific validity of his pioneering work on the JFK skull x-rays, and at my recommendation he was requested by Jeremy Gunn, the General Counsel for the ARRB, to prepare questions for the three JFK autopsy pathologists... The answers the three JFK pathologists provided to his questions, under oath, corroborated Mantik's assertions that the three skull x-rays in the official collection are indeed copy films (not originals), and are altered images," said Horne.
He added, "The problem with the medical evidence has always been missing and tainted evidence---the destruction of some evidence, and the alteration of much of the evidence that remains in the record today --- [and] is representative of the fact that the U.S. government engaged in a massive cover-up of the way in which JFK died, and therefore intentionally engaged in selling the American people a false bill of goods in regard to how our government changed hands in November of 1963."