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Earl Rose dies at 85; Dallas medical examiner on JFK case

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Dr. Earl Rose, the medical examiner in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, died Tuesday at a retirement community in Iowa City, Iowa. He was 85.

Rose's wife, Marilyn, said he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and then developed dementia. The Des Moines Register first reported Rose's death, days after profiling him.

Kennedy was shot Nov. 22, 1963, and taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Minutes after he died, a debate erupted about what do to with the body.

Rose insisted that an autopsy be performed in Texas and stood in a doorway to try to block Kennedy's aides as they removed his coffin.

He and other Texas officials saw the shooting as a state crime, requiring an autopsy by Rose's office. The Secret Service and the first lady disagreed, and Kennedy's body was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where an autopsy was done by pathologists James Humes and Thornton Boswell.

Conspiracy theorists have used the pathologists' findings to try to support an array of claims about plots leading to Kennedy's death.

Rose believed many of those theories wouldn't have gained traction if he had been able to do his job.

He felt "the chain of evidence was lost, for one thing," Marilyn Rose said. "It would have been helpful if other doctors who had worked on Kennedy would have been able to put in their expertise. Also, the autopsy that was done was very inadequate."

In a 2003 interview in Iowa City, Rose told the Associated Press he believed he and his staff should have done the postmortem exam.

"We had the routine in place to do it … it was important for the chain of evidence to remain intact," Rose said. "That didn't happen when the body was taken to Bethesda."

Marilyn Rose said her husband was not angry over what had happened at the hospital, but he tried to be firm in insisting that the autopsy be done in Texas.

"He was trying to do his job and follow the law," she said.

Marilyn Rose said the Secret Service and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wanted the body moved.

"You can understand that because at that point nobody knew who the assassin was or whether it was a conspiracy and if was there more than one [shooter]. You can kind of understand that, and she was not going to leave Dallas without the body," she said.

The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone. It found that Oswald had probably fired three shots, one of which struck Texas Gov. John Connally after striking Kennedy.

Rose conducted autopsies on J.D. Tippit, a police officer killed by Oswald after the assassination; on Oswald; and on Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed Oswald two days after Kennedy was shot.

Marilyn Rose said her husband began speaking publicly about Kennedy's assassination after the 1991 film "JFK" by Oliver Stone.

"As far as I know, he definitely felt it was a lone gunman and that the shots came from behind and that there was no second gunman on the grassy knoll. He felt the trajectory of the bullet was as described — that it hit Kennedy and then hit Connally," she said.

Rose grew up in South Dakota and attended medical school at the University of Nebraska. He moved his wife and six children from Dallas in 1968 to take a position at the University of Iowa Medical School.

He is survived by his wife, five daughters and 12 grandchildren. His son died in 2005.

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