Richard Sprague: Memo re Dr George Burkley

Dr Burkley and the JFK Assassination

One of the central figures in the assassination of President Kennedy was Dr George Burkley, Kennedy’s personal doctor. Burkley was the only medically qualified witness to possess first–hand knowledge of every aspect of JFK’s wounds and treatment:

  • Burkley had been in the motorcade in Dallas;
  • he had treated the dying president in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital;
  • and he had attended the autopsy at Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr Burkley’s insight into the JFK assassination medical evidence was, however, overlooked by the official investigative agencies. He was not called to testify before the Warren Commission.

George Burkley and the Single–Bullet Theory

Burkley made two contributions to the documentary record, both of which tended to undermine the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald alone had killed Kennedy:

  • On the death certificate that Burkley signed, the back wound was located “at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra” (ARRB MD6, p.2).
  • The autopsy descriptive sheet, the pathologists’ official diagram of the wounds to the body, placed the back wound in the same location. Burkley signed the sheet, “Verified” (ARRB MD1).

The third thoracic vertebra is typically four to six inches, or 10 to 15 centimetres, below the point at which the shoulders meet the neck, and is consistent with the location of the bullet holes in the backs of President Kennedy’s shirt and jacket, both of which are almost six inches below the tops of the collars. A bullet that entered Kennedy’s back at a downward angle at this location could not have gone on to injure Governor Connally. If Burkley’s evidence is correct, the Warren Commission’s single–bullet theory must be false, and the assassination cannot have been the work of just one gunman.

Dr Burkley and the HSCA

In 1977, George Burkley’s lawyer contacted Richard Sprague, Chief Counsel of the newly established House Select Committee on Assassinations, claiming that Burkley “has information in the Kennedy assassination indicating that others besides Oswald must have participated,” and that Burkley was willing to talk. Sprague wrote a memo for the record, which is reproduced below.

Richard Sprague came under pressure from the media and from political opponents, and was obliged to resign from the HSCA. His place was taken by G. Robert Blakey. Like the Warren Commission, the HSCA did not feel the need to interview Dr Burkley, who merely supplied an uninformative affidavit.

Burkley Repeats his Claims of Conspiracy

Dr Burkley made at least two other references to his apparent belief that the JFK assassination was the result of a conspiracy:

  • In an oral history interview with the Kennedy Library, he was asked whether he agreed with the Warren Report’s conclusions about “the number of bullets that entered the president’s body.” He replied, “I would not care to be quoted on that” (Oral History Interview with Admiral George G. Burkley, Kennedy Library, Boston, 17 October 1967, transcript, p.18).
  • The author Henry Hurt claims that “in 1982 Dr Burkley told the author in a telephone conversation that he believed that President Kennedy’s assassination was the result of a conspiracy” (Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt: An Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Henry Holt, 1985, p.49).

Richard Sprague: Memorandum

From: Richard Sprague
To: File
March 18, 1977

William F. Illig, an attorney from Erie, Pa., contacted me in Philadelphia this date, advising me that he represents Dr. George G. Burkley, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy retired, who had been the personal physician for presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Mr. Illig stated that he had a luncheon meeting with his client, Dr. Burkley, this date to take up some tax matters. Dr. Burkley advised him that although he, Burkley, had signed the death certificate of President Kennedy in Dallas, he had never been interviewed and that he has information in the Kennedy assassination indicating that others besides Oswald must have participated.

Illig advised me that his client is a very quiet, unassuming person, not wanting any publicity whatsoever, but he, Illig, was calling me with his client’s consent and that his client would talk to me in Washington.