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Where Is JFK’s Brain? A Mind-Boggling Mystery & Conspiracy Theory, Explained
John F Kennedy
Pop Culture

Where Is JFK’s Brain? A Mind-Boggling Mystery & Conspiracy Theory, Explained

Six decades later, questions still surround the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, the biggest (and most bizarre) may be... what happened to JFK's brain?

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a magnet for conspiracy theories virtually from the start, encompassing a magic bullet, a second gunman, the Mafia, and even his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. However, none of them is as bizarre as those surrounding the whereabouts of JFK's brain.

The facts of Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963, are well-established by now, even if virtually each and every one is guaranteed to have a conspiracy theory attached. What’s not well known, however, is what happened to Kennedy's brain. In fact, JFK’s brain is unaccounted for, nearly 60 years after his death.

John F. Kennedy's Assassination and Autopsy

Kennedy motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 (Photo: Victor Hugo King, Library of Congress)
Kennedy motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 (Photo: Victor Hugo King, Library of Congress)

President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived in Texas on Nov. 21, 1963, as part of planned a two-day, five-city campaign tour. He needed to unite the state's Democrats, and secure its electoral votes, if he hoped to win reelection the following year.

After stops in San Antonio and Fort Worth, Kennedy arrived on Nov. 22 to Dallas, where his presidential motorcade rolled through the streets, to the cheers of onlookers. However, six floors above the crowds, in the Texas School Book Depository, was Lee Harvey Oswald, a disgruntled former Marine. As the open convertible carrying the Kennedys turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza at 12:30 p.m., Oswald fired three shots, striking the president in the back and head, and hitting Texas Gov. John Connally in the back.

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Kennedy was rushed to nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. (Connally recovered from his serious injuries.) An autopsy was performed that night, confirming the president's death was caused by two bullets. One struck JFK in the back and exited through his neck. The other hit his head, fragmenting upon impact with his skull.

Theories have long circulated about a "magic bullet," the FBI, KGB or others hiring Oswald, Kennedy secretly surviving, and so on. However, it's safe assumption that Lee Harvey Oswald was a disturbed man who acted alone.

Was JFK's Brain Stolen to Conceal Evidence?

Lee Harvey Oswald (Photo: FBI)
Lee Harvey Oswald (Photo: FBI)

Six decades later, questions still surround the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, the strangest by far is, what happened to JFK's brain?

Kennedy's brain was removed during the autopsy, which may sound macabre, but it's hardly unusual. It was stored for three years in the National Archives, the federal agency tasked with the preservation and cataloging of government records. (Thankfully, it wasn't put on display, like the Constitution.) But then, in 1966, JFK's brain went missing.

Some conspiracy theorists believe the brain was stolen to conceal evidence that Kennedy wasn't shot from behind, but rather from the front. To their minds, that would prove Oswald wasn't the assassin. However, it would also means the autopsy was a sham, as was the famed Zapruder film, which captured the exact moment of the assassination. That's to say nothing of the testimony of eye witnesses, or the findings of the Warren Commission.

Another theory contends President Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, ordered the brain to be removed from the National Archives. However, in this scenario, Robert Kennedy's motive had nothing to do with the details of the assassination itself. Instead, theorists say, it was an effort to conceal the illnesses that afflicted JFK, and the medications he took during his time in the White House. The Robert Kennedy theory was put forward by author James Swanson in his 2014 book End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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Perhaps the least-sensational possibility, of course, is that the organ was simply misplaced, accidentally discarded or destroyed.

There is a lot of material in the National Archives, and it’s plausible mistakes were made. What’s more, if someone did accidentally damage or lose JFK's brain, and then realized the gravity of the situation, it’s easy to imagine they would never come forward to admit to a mistake of historical proportions. Long story short, we don’t know where the brain is, or what happened to it. It's likely we never will.

Why JFK’s Brain Remains a Fascinating Mystery

John F. Kennedy (Photo: Library of Congress)
John F. Kennedy (Photo: Library of Congress)

John F. Kennedy has been dead for six decades. Had he not been assassinated on Nov, 22, 1963 -- and he been very long-lived -- JFK would have turned 105 years old this year. Yes, that's highly improbable, if not entirely impossible. But it illustrates the point that JFK, brain and all, is an important part of America's past, but not necessarily its present.

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So why is there an enduring fascination with his missing brain? It’s not about JFK's brain itself so much as it is about his myth and, by extension, the lore of the Kennedy family. They were arguably as close to royalty as the United States has seen. The Kennedy White House became romanticized as Camelot, because of its blend of glamor and power. (Jackie Kennedy herself first made the comparison, in a Life magazine interview.) In the years that followed, the Kennedy family forged a political dynasty that lasted until 2009.

Were the brain in question that of King George VI of England, it’s safe to assume there would be a similar level of interest and intrigue. People would similarly wonder at the missing brain of a Hollywood star. Say, Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley.

But as it happens, the brain that’s unaccounted for belonged to JFK, untimely death led to the so-called “interrupted promise” with America. Because that interrupted, rather than left fulfilled -- or broken, considering this is politics -- the attention, wonder and intrigue involving JFK's brain may never fully fade.


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