Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, military aide to President Kennedy, always publicly maintained that he never left the dead president's coffin unattended from the time it left Parkland Hospital in Dallas on November 22, 1963, until it arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, DC, that evening. This assertion always made me doubt David Lifton's "body alteration" thesis. Lifton, in 1981, published his book Best Evidence, which asserted that JFK's body had been altered sometime between Dallas and Washington on the day he was murdered, by conspirators who were intent on making it look as if he had been shot from the back instead of the front. This was how, according to Lifton, Lee Harvey Oswald was framed. Lifton had much evidence to support his theory: 1) the wounds as described by the Parkland doctors were not the same wounds described by the Bethesda doctors; in other words, the wounds changed between Dallas and DC; 2) JFK's body arrived in a coffin at Bethesda that was considerably different from the one in which it departed Parkland; 3) James Humes, Bethesda autopsist, stated that "...surgery of the head, namely in the top of the skull..." had been performed before the body arrived at Bethesda; the problem was, no such surgery had been performed by the Dallas doctors. Lifton theorizes that someone got access to the body as it lay aboard Air Force One awaiting departure to Washington after the assassination. This required the coffin containing the president's body be unattended for a period of time. All who were aboard the plane, including Jackie Kennedy, admitted that they were not coffin-side for the entire time the plane idled on the runway at Dallas Love Field...except for one General Godfrey McHugh. McHugh never left his dead president's side, or so he said.
A new book makes McHugh out to be a liar. According to Steven Gillon's just published The Kennedy Assassination 24 Hours After: LBJ's Pivotal First Day As President, McHugh DID leave the coffin. He furiously roamed around the plane as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field, demanding to know what was causing the delay in takeoff. When the pilot told him they were waiting for the judge to arrive aboard Air Force One to swear in LBJ, McHugh confronted Johnson in the plane's bathroom where the new president was babbling nervously about a worldwide plot. "It's a conspiracy. They're going to kill us all," LBJ sputtered. McHugh was shocked by what he saw, but was oblivious to its real significance. LBJ's erratic behavior might have been a ruse to distract the one person who was most loyal to JFK, thus leaving the coffin unattended for conspirators to highjack the body. What did they do with the body? Lifton thinks they either smuggled it aboard Air Force Two where it was flown to Washington surreptitiously for body alteration at Walter Reed Medical Center...or it was simply hidden aboard Air Force One, and then pirated off the plane when it landed at Andrews AFB. From there it was airlifted by helicopter to Walter Reed. Either way, JFK's wounds, according to the sworn statements of attending physicians who treated him at Parkland and performed the autopsy at Bethesda, changed dramatically between Dallas and DC. Of this there is no question. How did this happen...and why?
As wild as the theory seems, Lifton's book is well worth the read.