The Mysterious Disappearance Of JFK’s Brain

“The human mind is our fundamental resource.” —President John F. Kennedy

In A Nutshell

In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and his brain was locked away in the National Archives. However, three years later, government officials discovered the president’s brain had disappeared without a trace. Needless to say, the disappearance of JFK’s organ has given rise to some pretty crazy conspiracy theories.

The Whole Bushel

Whether you think there was a lone gunman or a conspiracy of Oliver Stone proportions, there’s no denying the assassination of JFK was, well, weird. From magic bullets to changes in parade routes, the case is full of bizarre circumstances and odd coincidences, but perhaps the strangest mystery of all is the case of JFK’s missing brain.

Of course, there wasn’t a whole lot of his brain left to go missing. According to the Warren Commission, two bullets hit Kennedy from the rear, one going through his neck, and the other hitting him in the head, spraying bits of skull, skin, and brain matter everywhere. When Kennedy finally arrived at the hospital, doctors noticed Jackie Kennedy was clutching something in her hands . . . which turned out to be a big glob of the president’s brain. But what happened to the rest of it?

After the autopsy, the brain was placed in an 18-by-20-centimeter (7 x 8 in) stainless steel container which the Secret Service locked away in a cabinet inside the White House. In 1965, Robert Kennedy transferred the brain to a special room in the National Archives along with a locker holding other autopsy materials like his brother’s blood samples and bone fragments. And then . . . well, no one’s sure. In 1966, officials were going through the autopsy materials when they noticed a few items were missing, like the locker full of tissue and, embarrassingly, the president’s brain. Baffled, the government searched for the missing body parts and questioned over 30 people, but no one had any clue where Kennedy’s brain had run off to.

The disappearance of the autopsy materials was kept a secret until 1978 when the House Select Committee on Assassinations publicly revealed that someone had misplaced JFK’s gray matter. Or had they? Maybe there was something more insidious going on. It should come as no surprise that conspiracy theories abound over Kennedy’s missing brain. Most conspiracy theorists suspect the government “lost” the brain to make sure that no one found out how many bullets actually hit Kennedy or what angle they had really come from.

However, another theory proposed by author James Swanson posits that Robert Kennedy stole his brother’s brain to cover up Kennedy’s health problems or possibly his drug use. While it’s true that Kennedy was using large amounts of codeine, Demerol, and methadone to deal with back pain, Kent Sepkowitz of “The Daily Beast” makes a strong argument against this particular conspiracy. According to Sepkowitz, in 1966, analysis of Kennedy’s brain would’ve revealed very little about his physical health. Even today, doctors wouldn’t be able to determine if JFK was abusing medication simply by studying his cerebrum. But regardless of who’s right, the brain is still very much missing. Perhaps there’s some devious conspiracy afoot, or perhaps the brain just got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, proving you can’t trust Washington with anything.

Show Me The Proof

Rome News-Tribune: JFK’s brain lost after autopsy
The Daily Beast: The CAst of JFK’s Missing Brain
The Telegraph: John F Kennedy’s ‘missing brain’ may have been taken by younger brother, claims new book
Boston Magazine: Fifty Years Later, Mystery Shrouds Questions Regarding the Whereabouts of JFK’s Brain
History Matters: HSCA Appendix to Hearings