JFK Assassination Files: The Curious Arrb Testimony of Saundra Spencer

Saundra Kay Spencer was a U.S. Navy Petty officer in 1963  and worked at the Naval Photographic Center (NPC) in Washington, D.C.  Her testimony before the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) in June of 1997 is often cited as corroborative evidence that President Kennedy was shot from the front and that there was a massive exit wound in the back of his head.

All quoted material herein is taken directly from the ARRB record.



Spencer testified that on Saturday, November 23rd 1963,  an unnamed FBI agent came into the NPC lab and  brought her several 4X5-inch film holders of  undeveloped negatives of the JFK autopsy. She developed
the color negatives as instructed, made a test print and one finished print for each negative and then gave all of the negatives and prints (“every scrap”) back to the agent. She never saw the prints again and they remain unrecovered.

When Spencer testified before the ARRB in 1997,  she was shown several so-called “official” pictures of the JFK autopsy  and  asked whether the condition of JFK’s body in the official pictures corresponded to his condition in the prints that she made for the FBI agent 34 years earlier. She said repeatedly that they did not match.

For example, Spencer claimed that her own prints showed that JFK’s body “had been cleaned and washed” and that the body appeared “posed” and “pristine.”  The official autopsy pictures, on the other hand, showed a somewhat dirty and very bloody JFK.  Additionally, Spencer maintained that JFK’s “eyes…and mouth were closed on my prints” which was in sharp contrast to the so-called JFK “death stare” in several official autopsy photos. Finally, with respect to the condition of JFK’s  head, Spencer asserted that there was “no similarity” between the official pictures of the head and the negatives she developed. In
her prints, she said,  “there was none of the blood and matted hair…that was not present.”

How can we explain the sharp  discrepancies in the two sets of prints? The most obvious way is to acknowledge that the two sets of prints were taken at very different times that fateful weekend.  Saundra Spencer’s prints are not autopsy pictures at all but are almost certainly POST-autopsy pictures. They depict the condition of JFK’s body after the embalmer at Gawley’s Funeral Home had finished his extensive cosmetic restorations of the skull and body (around 3:00 am November 23rd)  in preparation for an  official “lying in state” and the funeral to follow.

In her ARRB interview, Spencer claimed that she had seen pictures of other autopsies in which “…they have the  opening of the cavity and the removing of vital  organs for weighing and stuff of this nature”
and that she did NOT see any of this in the prints that she developed. Exactly right because her prints were clearly made POST-autopsy and were taken after the extensive embalming procedures were completed when  JFK’s skull was “restored” and  his body  cavities (Y incision, etc.) were closed.

Under questioning, Spencer admitted as much when she said:

Q: Do you have an opinion as to whether the photographs that you developed in 1963 were taken  before or after the photographs that you observed  today?
A: I would say probably afterwards.
Q: So you would think that the photographs that you developed were taken after reconstruction of the body?
A: Yes.

All of this is pretty definitive one would think.


The most controversial part of Spencer’s testimony, however, was a very brief exchange concerning the condition of the rear of JFK’s head. When she was shown an official autopsy picture with the rear of JFK’s head seemingly intact, she said that her prints showed, instead, that there was a one or two inch diameter “hole” in the back of the head.

Her direct testimony is here:

Did you see any photographs that focused
[3] principally on the head of President Kennedy?
[4] A: Right. They had one showing the back of
[5] the head with the wound at the back of the head.
[6] Q: Could you describe what you mean by the
[7] “wound at the back of the head”?
[8] A: It appeared to be a hole, inch, two inches
[9] in diameter at the back of the skull here.
[10] Q: You pointed to the back of your head.

Some assassination critics have pounced on this discrepancy and argued that Spencer is in fact corroborating the large, “gaping” head wound seen by many doctors at Parkland Hospital; and further, that the hole Spencer identified in her prints is evidence of an exit wound and a shot from the front.

We beg to disagree sharply with both of these conclusions.

Recall that almost all of the doctors at Parkland Hospital and Bethesda claimed to have observed a very large “gaping” wound approximately in the right-rear posterior region of JFK’s  skull. For example one of the Parkland doctors, Dr. McClelland, in his Warren Commission testimony, said this about the head wound that he observed:

“I noted that the right posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted. It had been shattered, apparently, by the force of the shot so that the parietal bone was protruded up through the scalp and seemed to be fractured almost along its right posterior half, as well as some of the occipital bone being fractured in its lateral half, and this sprung open the bones that I mentioned in such a way that you could actually look down into the skull cavity itself and see that probably a third or so, at least, of the brain tissue, posterior cerebral tissue and some of the cerebellar tissue had been blasted out.”

It must be obvious that what is being described here is not a small, one or two inch “hole” in the head! Instead, Dr. McClelland is describing a “massive” head wound in the right posterior (not in the very back of the head) with multiple skull bones shattered and brain matter “blasted out.”

Clearly there are no similarities whatsoever between the massive wound described by Dr. McClelland and the small hole that Spencer saw in her developed prints. So what did she see? Who knows, but it most certainly could not have been the right posterior head wound observed by most of the Parkland and Bethesda doctors.

Several  critics of the official version of the assassination have suggested that the gaping back- of-the-head wound must have been “removed” during PRE-autopsy surgery.  Perhaps, but the more logical explanation (already noted) is that the embalming process itself, POST-autopsy, cosmetically restored the JFK skull and removed almost all traces of the large wound in the right-rear posterior. Tom Robinson, the embalmer for Gawley’s Funeral home, testified before the ARRB to precisely that state of affairs. We simply don’t need pre-autopsy surgery (or fraud during the official autopsy) to explain
why Spencer saw no such wound.

Again, all of this would seem to be pretty definitive.



The final issue in this controversy is that  critics cannot logically argue   the case for pre-autopsy surgery (to remove a large wound) and ALSO argue that Saundra Spencer’s  testimony fully supports  their theory of a frontal shot and a massive exit wound. That’s a contradiction in terms. The fact remains that critics actually NEED a large, gaping exit wound in Spencer’s prints to support their own theory of conspiracy. Yet, it’s not there. All she saw was a small hole. So if Saundra Spencer was both truthful and accurate–and we agree that she was both–her testimony simply cannot corroborate evidence of conspiracy as some assassination critics have alleged. They will have to look elsewhere.